Resilience and Creative 30 Day Journals

Resilience is an excellent thing to strive for in this complex era. This project invites viewers to create a 30 day visual journal to cultivate hope, momentum, and postivie self regard in a low pressure, low key way. This video introduces ideas from the field of psychology who contributed to our understanding of well being.


Embracing TIME through Creative Art Expression

How do we create a sense of control when things feel our of control? Engaing in a creative project and narrowing down time to embrace the things we can control is a great way to start. These instructional videos offer a simple format to use collage material for creative self expression.

Monopoly as a metaphor of inequality in the USA

downloadThe best way to truly comprehend the inequality in the USA is to use the metaphor of a Monopoly game. The rules are pretty simple- everyone starts with the same amount of money, and as you work your way around the board, you can buy real estate when you land on a property. You then get to charge your opponents rent when they land on your spot, and rent keeps increasing as you buy houses and hotels to add to youe property. The goal of the game? When everyone is bankrupt, you win. Simple, right?

Let’s imagine the African American experience in the US. If each time around the board of a Monopoly game represents a year, then the first 350 times around the board, the African American player got nothing (slavery started in this land in roughly 1619). The rest of the players are using the income they were given at the beginning of the game. Finally, in the next 50 rounds around the board, the African American player gets a tiny bit of money to start catching up. If you have ever been that far into Monopoly game, the chances of EVER catching up are simply impossible.  The frustration felt in the game is the SAME frustration many African Americans experience every single day. This metaphor might seem silly, but this the easiest way to comprehend our situation that was 401 years in the making. What do we do?  How do we switch to a new game?

The economic disparaties in the US are massive. Please read more to learn about our shocking stats that happened in just the past decade: Pew Reserach Center. When our expectations no longer meet our reality, anger, frustration and disquiet erupt in what is often referred to as the Tocquville effect.

What is the short term solution at this point in the story? Stay curious. Stay open. Listen. Learn. Vote. Ask questions. Real change is something ALL of us have to do together. Let’s sort this hope thing out together, one conversation at a time.  This is not a time to sit this one out or stay quiet. Let’s evolve together.


10 Books to Inspire You During COVID-19

06-kansas-city-merit-2005-awardsMany of us walked into the COVID-19 pandemic with great intentions of reading, learning, and being productive in some inspired way. The reality for most of us involved  spending time doing everying but accomplishing our lofty goals (like sitting around doing nothing). Please give yourself a “hall pass” for not being productive during this time. Non-productivity was a very important thing you were doing, and served as a healthy coping tool.

As we shift into a different stage of our pandemic, you might be getting some energy to read, think, grow, and might still have lots of down time to do new things. Although our worlds appears to be opening back up, this will look different for all of us, and you might be retreating back home to regoup. Please check out this list of inspirational books. I am saving you the time of combing through the hundreds of books out there that claim to be helpful. The books below are by authors who really, really know what they are writing about, and will leave you feeling changed in some postive way. Please check out this list below for some inspiration (in no particular order):

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way isn’t just a book, but a twelve week process to explore creative growth and change. If you “do” this book (one chapter a week), it will change your life. Really! I have led several of these twelve week groups and observed participants radically change their lives. The change didn’t happen overnight, but offered a space for people to contemplate change, quiet down the negative noise in their head, and then take creative risks. This book has a bit of a cult following due to its success rate (The New Yorker een gave it a great review).  You might want to find a pal or a group to “do” the Artist’s Way group for the additional support. Please look around your community or online for a group to join.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

I only learned about Jordan Peterson through clients who came to therapy sessions completely blown away by his books and podcasts. I observed people really changing, growing, and becoming emotionally intelligent as they abosrbed the ideas proposed in this book. Dr. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and suddenly trending everywhere online in TED talks, podcasts, quotes, etc. This guy is the real deal.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

If you are late to the Brene Brown party, my apologies. Her books have been trending for the past few years. She became famous following a viral TEDx talk, and many podcasts, attention from Oprah, etc. Her research on shame and vulnerability enlightens readers to challenge everything they previously thought about being, vulnerable. It turns out, that vulnerability is the key to strength, power, creativity, success and growth. This shift in thinking is expressed in a funny, snarky, and easy-breezy way in her writing style.  Braving the Wilderness is just one of many of her amazing books. I recommend them all (along with her podcasts, TED talks, classes, interviews, etc).

The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

This book will change your life. Dr, Eger is an octogenerian psychotherapist who specializes in PTSD due to combat trauma. This book weaves together her clinical experience and her personal story of surviving horrific experiences during the Holocaust. This powerful book is a game changer, and will shift your perspective on life, attitude, empathy, joy, love and emotional intelligence. This is NOT a light read, but you should rise to the occasion if you are in the mood, and READ THIS BOOK! Dr. Eger sees her work as a 21st century companion to Man’s Search for Meaning (see below).

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

You might have come across this book at some point in your life. Perhaps you read in in high school? The Library of Congress ranks it as one of the ten most influential books in America. The essence of Man’s Search for Meaning is that free will can be narrowed down to one thing- attitude.  As our world shifted around in the past few moths due to COVID-19, this book can serve as a great guide for exceptional living in times of uncertainty.  Yes- there are two slightly graphic, intense books about the Holocaust on this short list, but they actually inform one another. Dr. Viktor Frankl had a deep friendship with Dr. Eger (author of The Choice) who is listed in the previous recommendation. Read them both.

Unf*ckology by Amy Alkon

There are plenty of irreverant, snarky books out there inviting you to change, grow and become a new and improved person. What sets this hilarious book apart is that Alkon’s banter is backed up with references, resources, and real research. If you are looking for a pick-me-up to grow your self esteem pronto, this book is really in a league of it’s own. It will change your attitude, help you stifle the negative self talk, and you will wonder why you didn’t jump on the “confident person” band wagon a long time ago.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Can one person make a difference in the world? As you learn more about the  work of Dr. Paul Farmer, you will be amazed, and inspired. Dr. Farmer’s founded Partner’s in Health, and has worken in Haiti for the past several decades, opening hospitals to some of the most impoverished people in the world.  It is easy to be cynical these days, and the antidote to the toxic stuff we see all around us is to  fill our heads with real information about real people doing profoundly good work in the world.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi

What makes life worth living? Neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul Kalanithi explores this topic in an intimate book written by him while navigating through treatment of stage IV lung cancer. This book was a best seller a few years ago, and also was Pulitzer prize finalist. If you missed it, now is a great time to read it. It will make you cry, but also make inspire you to live everyday more inspired.


You Can Draw in 30 Days by Mark Kistler

There are TONS of drawing books out there.  I searched high and low for THE ONE drawing book that really teaches people how to draw. I was looking for one that was simple, clearly written, offered a place for immediate gratification, had some humor, didn’t make me feel bad about myself, or make me give up on trying to draw. Mark Kistler’s You Can Draw in 30 Days is THE ONE. Trust me.

Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory

The irony of living through a pandemic is we really found out that the “I have no time” excuse we had been using all these years was a bit bogus. The extra time we actually got in quarantine didn’t always lead us into a place of being more creative. Enter- Art Before Breakfast. This books offeres loads of  gentle invitations to make art in five and ten minute exercises. The real secret of why this book is an awesome companion to have during our COVID-19 pandemic is that  little tiny accomplishments can mitigate the stress of not having an actual end to things.   The warped feeling that comes from uncertainty of near future things is making all of us CRAZY. That is the truth. What can we do about it? Finding  very short, very non-intimidating activities that have actual endings are great tasks to make us feel normal. A quick five minute drawing this the perfect tool for navigating thourgh our current season of crazy.


PS- The Image at the top of this post is of the Downtown Kansas City Library’s parking garage. Kansas City is AWESOME.

PPS-I am exploring the world of becoming an Amazon Affiliate, so the links above will take you directly to Amazon.

Collective Grief and COVID-19

IMG-1236 (1)Grief has descended upon human race fast and furiously this season. For people who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, grief is sending many into uncharted emotional territory. For those whose lives have been disrupted, grief is also a very real thing. This post will offer some creative avenues to accompany you on this grief journey, as traditional forms of support have been disrupted due to social distancing.

Ideas in this blog post come from the book, On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Her template for the emotional journey of the grief cycle offers a helpful way to organize and make sense of our emotions.  As you read through the grief stages, please write, draw, doodle, or create a visual template to explore your grief journey in this COVID-19 pandemic. Feel free to use the template above. Regardless if your loss is tiny or gigantic, your emotions are real. A newer idea in the grief world is a diagnosis called complicated grief, in which grief is unrelenting, lasting for many months or years beyond a traditional grief cycle. Please reach out for help if you are struggling with your emotions. There are several links at the end of this post to guide you to the right place.



When we experience loss, denial is often the first emotion we feel. On occasion, we have time to prepare emotionally, but our new COVID-19 reality materialized so quickly, collective denial was one of the first emotions felt by many.  Denial is a coping mechanism, a normal reaction to massive change, and perhaps a gentle way of helping us make sense of things that just don’t make sense.

It is  remarkable how quickly we shifted to our at-home lives, but looking back, many of us might have felt like we were in zombie mode for those first few days and weeks of our quarantine. Many of my clients have felt some guilt and shame around not being productive during this quarantine time. Please give yourself a “hall pass” if you have not been productive during this time. Can you attribute your lack of motivation to  denial or just coping, and the idea that you were in the process of acclimating to your new world?

If you lost a loved one related to COVID-19, please be gentle with yourself in this grieving process. We are often able to shift out of denial as we come to terms with the world around us, but for many people who did not get to be with their loved ones due to restrictions on visits, they missed the opportunity to experience all of these emotions and preparation for loss in real time.


Anger is a human emotion that can consume us. Anger is powerful, intense, scary, and can often rule over us if we allow this strong emotion to run the show. If emotions are information, anger is one that is telling us we have been violated in some way. As denial disappears, anger is often the first emotion to materialize as we make sense of our loss.

The difference between a feeling and an emotion is quite simple. A feeling is something we can name, and an emotion is often something our body feels before it becomes a conscious thought that can be named. If you are experiencing anger, this is normal, this is real, and you have every right to be angry. What can you do with your anger? That might be a topic for another blog post (stay tuned, we will get there as we unpack all of this emotional stuff). Anger can sometimes provide movement. Can you check in with your body, explore your anger, allow it some wiggle room? Can you give yourself permission to articulate it by naming it, drawing about it, or telling a loved one about it?

If you lost a loved one due to COVID-19, your anger might be more amorphous and hard to get a hold of. What we know about grief is we often have to travel through an emotional journey of sitting with emotions before we are ready to move on.  I have had many clients try to short change grief work, explaining their lack of interest in processing a big loss.  Eventually the needed work catches up, but everyone’s timetables for exploring grief might look a bit different.

Please be gentle with yourself and remind your friends to be gentle with you too. My observation from working as a therapist for the past few decades is people often get stuck in the anger stage of grieving,  lose sight of the grief journey, and are left with the sense that their essence is based in anger. When we get to “classify” our anger as part of the grieving process, anger can serve as simply an emotion rather than something that defines us.


Bargaining is a challenging stage of grief, and probably one the most difficult ones to walk through in the grief cycle. When denial and anger have already been felt and processed, our mind often wanders in the direction of, “why,”  and “what could I have done differently to have altered the outcome?” This is a huge grief stage to tackle, because it really addresses our sense of control vs. lack of control. COVID-19 is proving to be a prime example of something that is out of our control on many levels.

Bargaining also involves the existential angst we might have with our higher powers. People often bargain with the universe, thinking they can alter a permanent outcome by doing something in the here and now to retroactively create a different outcome. Self blame in loss is very, very common in young children. Kids often take on huge burdens of self blame for things far out of their control (numerous case studies described children who thought they caused the World Trade Center to collapse during 9/11). Communication is a key element to mitigate the inner dilemma in children and adults. As we suffer silently carrying these huge worries in our head, it is challenging to make sense of these complex emotions.

As we come to terms with our real lack of control with some things in the world, we can make peace with this grief stage. If you lost a loved one due to COVID-19, please let yourself feel all of the feelings, and please find a safe and trustworthy person to voice your thoughts. Self blame can be catastrophic,  as you might wonder things like, “Did I not wash my hands enough? Did I infect my loved one? Did they know how much I loved them, even if I couldn’t be with them in their last days or moments?” Please voice these feelings you might be having. Even if they are not accurate, they are real emotions, because you are feeling them. What I love about the grief cycle, is it offers a space to recognize that we are not alone in the journey, as many of the things that feel endemic to our head and heart are felt by many as they walk through their own grief journey.


Many of us are now several weeks into this pandemic. My own family is on day 45 of being home at this writing. The term, “pandemic fatigue” has been coined to reflect the sense of ennui many of us our currently feeling.  As we await the green light to return to the world, we might be feeling down. In the grief cycle, when we come to terms with the lack of control created by loss, and grapple with the “bargaining stage,” the sense of helplessness or depression might emerge on your emotional landscape. This is normal, natural, and a big part of loss.

When the world opens up again, it might look and feel a lot different than the one we knew just a few months ago. This is a place where sadness and loss might be truly felt.  As you can name these feelings as you are experiencing them, please take the time to do so. If you are feeling off as you walk back into your open world, this is actually a sign of mental health. The world will feel different, and you might respond by feeling nostalgic of grief stricken about our recent past. Please allow yourself to embrace these emotions.

If you lost a loved one related to COVID-19, sadness, depression, and feelings of loss  might take time to process. The collective grief we are feeling, compounded with personal grief are all really profound. Please encourage your loved ones to give you space, love, acceptance, and please do the same for anyone you know who is grieving a loss related to this pandemic.


These stages of loss are not linear, nor exact, but serve as a framework  to help make some sense of your journey. Acceptance happens when we can recognize loss as a part of life, and feel less consumed by the experience. Grief is an excellent teacher, and in the end, offers us a space to grow, gain wisdom, and increase our emotional intelligence. Acceptance does not mean we gave up on loving our loved one who passed, it means we have found a place for it to live in us, while still carrying on with our own lives. Although this post is not as robust as a therapy group, it might still serve as a helpful space to heal, reflect, and engage your creativity for your healing journey.

Creativity can serve as an excellent avenue to get out of a dark place. You might be thinking you are not creative enough to engage in self expression as a form of healing, but please take a small risk to try something, even if it is just a simple doodle as you are reading this post. Art created in art therapy sessions is often raw, messy, ugly, and powerful. The honest form of self expression is often surprising as we can communicate things that cannot be expressed verbally.  Visual information can serve as a vehicle for self expression of emotions that often have no words. Please use your creativity as a guide for self expression.

Because we do not have community to sit with in person, Zoom has served as a unique vehicle for simulated condolence calls, but  really can’t replicate what happens face to face with community support. If you know someone who is  grieving due to a loss, please reach out to them, give them some love, and make plans to spend time with them in the near future. We will get through this. Humans are resilient.

If you are struggling emotionally, please follow these links for more help:

Grief Resource Network

Grief and Mourning Resource Page

This blog post was written in memory of Melvin Solomon, who passed away this week due to COVID-19 related causes. The post was also written in memory of Rick Beiles, another amazing person whose life was cut short by COVID-19. May both of their memories be for a blessing. 


Create an Emotional Safety Plan During COVID-19

img_0722The Covid-19 pandemic has brought much of the human race to a standstill. Many of us cannot leave our homes except to get basic necessities. The short term goal in this process is to stop the transmission of a rapidly spreading virus, but the long term outcome might just be how it impacted our mental health. Grief, anxiety, and depression are very real things happening as our species engages in a very non-human activity of self isolation. Finding ways to mitigate this emotional roller coaster can be essential for the here and now.

If you are feeling out of sorts today as you sit in your home, this is actually a sign of mental health. This paradox might sound odd, but it’s true.  Let’s start this chat by acknowledging that what you are feeling is REAL, OK, and NORMAL. How are you actually feeling? Please tell your loved one or someone exactly how you feel today ( or send a response in here to this blog). Acknowledging your emotions can be hugely helpful in reducing your distress levels. Please complete this sentence: Today I am feeling _______________________. If you are having a hard time filling in the blank, please use this list of possible answers: overwhelmed, scared, anxious, calm, terrified, confused, numb, spacey, angry, nervous, loved, sad, uncertain, bored, curious, content, grief stricken, relieved, etc.

When people experience trauma, they often feel a wide range of emotions,  including emotions that don’t seem to match up with the current experience. This is all a normal part of trauma.  NAMING our emotions or the thing that is happening can actually help us get a hold of the experience, and while we are still in the thick of it with this COVID-19 journey, acknowledging it in real time can reduce some of the emotional distress. We don’t want to fall down an emotional rabbit hole here, so let’s add one more tool to incorporate along with naming our emotions…. a handy, dandy emotional safety plan.

An emotional safety plan is a tool to use when your experience is so intense, it shuts down the thinking part of your brain (your pre-frontal cortex). Writing an emotional safety plan in advance of an incident can remind you to do something to pull yourself back, and bring that thinking part back online.  I worked in an inpatient psychiatric facility for many years we found so much value in this tool, that all employees (ranging from the CEO to the janitorial staff) attached our emotional safety plan onto the back of our name tag. If we got triggered, overwhelmed, or were trying to not get sucked into extremely stressful moments, we were encouraged to look at our safety plan, and use it to help us get regain a sense of equilibrium.

What would your emotional safety plan look like this week? There is no “perfect” way to make a plan, but the idea is to make a list when you are calm that you can use when you are not calm. Feel free to use a few of these prompts:


NAME IT (the feeling or thing I am experiencing):



SOMETHING I CAN TELL MYSELF TO GET THROUGH A REALLY HARD MINUTE,  HOUR, DAY (we are all having a LOT of these in our current pandemic/self isolation, maybe a little mantra here might be helpful):

An emotional safety plan is simply a list  to give you perspective on the here and now, and provide some emotional regulation. This is not designed to move you away from your emotions (remember we decided a few paragraphs ago that feeling our feelings is profoundly important. This is just an extra tool in case your emotions overpower you. If your distress is overwhelming, or if you are in  emotional or physical danger, please see the hotline numbers at the bottom of this link.

1-800-799-SAFE -Domestic Violence Hotline

1-800-273-8255 – Suicide Hotline

If you find this whole conversation a bit out of your comfort zone, please watch this excellent interview with Dr. Brene Brown on the profoundly important act of being real and expressing emotions during this really challenging time. She was interviewed this week on 60 minutes:

Cocooning vs. Quarantining- Words and Attitude

african monarch butterfly on white calla lily flower

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Let’s switch up the negative names of our new Coronavirus reality to something slightly more life affirming. We have been told to hunker down and quarantine (the word hunker is defined as to squat or crouch down low). Before we switch up the names though, we might need to re-imagine what we are doing. Can you use the metaphor of a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly to mark your current experience of being stuck at home? Please try this project to muster some resilience.


  • Please find some  paper in your home, or just use your imagination to conceptualize this creative angle on our strange situation.
  • Please divide your paper up into three sections.
  • In the first section, please create a caterpillar. If you are not feeling the creativity urge, maybe just jot down a list of things you were doing a few weeks ago that might represent a less robust version of yourself (for all of us who were stretched thin, this might not be too hard to imagine). My list would probably include drinking too much coffee, not completing projects, not returning phone calls, etc
  • In the second section, please draw a cocoon or chrysalis (chrysalis is the technical term any third grader might remind you of, should you refer to the metamorphosis of a butterfly using the word cocoon). Again if this is too base or juvenile for your liking, please use this space to jot down a list of enjoyable and life affirming things you might explore during this home time.
  • In the third section, please draw a butterfly to represent a new and improved version of you who might walk out of your home when this is all over (yes- it will end). Imagine yourself reconnecting with the outside world in a new way with wings or something cool like that. A fresh perspective which is just about the same as new wings. We will all be different. Social isolation is not in our genetic makeup, so reconnecting with our species will probably be pretty spectacular. Again, if the butterfly metaphor is a bit pedestrian for you, perhaps just jot down a list of how you might envision reconnecting with the world.

More than two billion people are currently on lockdown in their homes on the planet as of this writing. That number might actually go up, as experts have warned that this week is going to look pretty grim. This unprecedented experience is perhaps the first time in human history that such a massive number of people are all essentially doing the same thing.  The quest to stop the transmission of Coronavirus is being called a variety of ominous things such as shelter in place, lockdown , quarantine, social distancing, self isolation, and other negative things. In some cities, this experience is being enforced with harsh punishments for violations, with soldiers in the streets. What would happen if we changed the languaging to conceptualize this as something more palatable to the human experience? Could we call it cocooning? hibernating? pausing? resetting our compass?  Slowing down? Respecting our elders and fragile fellow humans? Being a great Homo sapien?

How we conceptualize this whole thing will really determine our mental health throughout this experience. If we shift our experience to call this cocooning, we will be emerging from this quarantine as a completely different person, community, world, and species. Things could go wonderfully or terribly in this process, but there are some theories being kicked around that this might be a jump in consciousness caused by a radical shift in re-evaluating our values, and a radical appreciation for life we might have ignored just a few weeks ago. Stay safe and be well.


The Power of a Pencil

Humans have been creating art for at least 64,000 years (based on a recent discovery in  Spain of cave paintings created by Neanderthals).The simple pencil, a ubiquitous item of  homo sapiens, is one we perhaps take for granted as one of the most powerful tools our species has created. Without it, we might not have accomplished as much as we have in our modern era. The engineering, collaboration and  ingenuity of how today’s pencil evolved is simply unprecedented.  Please watch this short movie, I, Pencil: The Movie for some inspiration and appreciation of human creativity:

Are interested in purchasing your very own pencils? Click on image of pencil above to go directly to Amazon!