Courtney’s Blog

How to Respond When a Loved One Says “I Have Depression.”

What should you say when someone you care about admits to having depression? It’s hard to know the “right” way to respond, but what you say in that moment really matters.

If someone you know starts this conversation with you, here are a few pointers on how to respond in a helpful and loving way, that continues the conversation and supports your friend or family member with depression. Armed with a few of these phrases, maybe you’ll be a little less apprehensive about saying the “right thing.”

This may be one of the hardest conversations you’ll ever have, but it’s also among the most important.

 

“Here’s How I Saved My Marriage” (The Best Marriage Advice I’ve Collected)

I used to think “saving your marriage” was only for dire situations. That “marriage saving” was like last-ditch, life-support, right-after-the-marriage-counselor-and-before-the-divorce-attorney kind of work.

 

And then I grew up.

 

Saving a marriage is like saving a bicycle tire that isn’t brand new: it probably needs to be pumped up regularly. It may even need a patch. If you know how to save your marriage, you can save it BEFORE it becomes an emergency.

 

One Panic At a Time

 

The first marriage lesson I learned was my sophomore year in high school. That was WAY too early to start thinking about marriage advice, but TV star Paul Reiser’s book Couplehood had come out, and somehow I ended up with a copy as a gift. I still remember, all the way back to February of 1995, the advice Reiser gave about being upset in a marriage. He said only one member of a couple can be “up a tree” at any time. Only one of you can be upset, frustrated, or just plain losing it. And if your partner is “up a tree,” as he called it, then you have to stay on the ground and be the rational one.

 

I was just starting to experience, at the time, how easy it can be to freak out when your partner is upset. Their frustration feeds your frustration in a big ugly loop, and suddenly you’ve both lost your cool and pffffft! There goes the healthy relationship. (It’s as easy as that when you’re 15.)  As an adult, my husband and I both have been able to cultivate really calm reactions when the other person is freaking out – it’s almost a little unnatural, but it helps us keep the situation from spiraling out of control. One person up a tree at a time, like Paul Reiser said.

 

You Don’t Win Without Him

 

My mentor and dear friend, Lee, is in her 90s. With the life she’s lived, she’s offered me lots of great advice over the years, especially about running my speaking business. But she gave me one warning that really stuck with me: don’t get too big for your britches, or your marriage will suffer.

 

She told me about how, early in her career, she was so proud of succeeding on her own. In her day, women running businesses were an exception, not a rule. Clients were flying her all over the world, and money was coming in. She told me she was getting treated like a star on the road, and when the applause ended she came home to her husband, she couldn’t shake the expectation that she was still The Star. Her husband felt ignored, unloved, and taken for granted. And she didn’t even notice until he warned her to change or he was going to leave.

 

“You BOTH have to win, for it to be a good marriage,” she told me. “Every success of yours, you have to thank your partner, because it’s shared. And if you don’t see the role they played in your success, you aren’t looking hard enough.” Every success is shared.

 

Stop Worshipping At The Altar of Quality Time

 

I’m on the road a lot, which is where I was when I heard this next bit of good advice. I was talking to some audience members after one of my presentations about being excited to go home and spend time with Jamie, my husband. I said “what I really need is some quality time.” Her response surprised me…

 

“Quality time is great,” she said. “But we’re all so obsessed with quality time that we don’t’ realize TIME when we have it. Don’t wait so long for quality time that you miss opportunities for ANY time.”

 

I realized she was right. That nighttime Netflix “Office” binge isn’t time I ever thought of as “quality time.” It’s too short and too late for deep conversation or fun activities. But I can either replace it with something I value more, or turn it into an intentional bonding experience with Jamie (we’re currently going with the latter, and keeping a running list of new inside jokes thanks to the Dunder-Mifflin crew). Thanks to kids, jobs, dishes, and life, you may not get a lot of dedicated quality time, so stop waiting around for the perfect moment and just make meaning out of the moments you DO have.

 

Your Marriage Isn’t Your Dumping Ground

 

The final lesson is one my husband, Jamie, and I learned ourselves the hard way. It had been one of those days. One of our rescue dogs had barked and lunged at another dog on the trail. I had warned Jamie earlier that he wasn’t choking up on the leash enough, so when the dog acted up I immediately launched into I-told-you-so mode. That afternoon we’d run ourselves ragged with work and chores, until it was time to feed the dogs AND make dinner AND put away the dishes, at which point Jamie snapped at me that he couldn’t reach the dog bowl because I had opened the dishwasher in the way. I was about to snarkily respond about how easy it was to just SHUT the dishwasher when I realized…

 

We were taking the stresses of the day and basically making them the other person’s fault. We were tired and busy, and we couldn’t snap at anybody ELSE in our lives, so we turned to the person closest to us and made it THAT person’s problem. Which is a great way to build animosity. The fact that my life is stressful isn’t my husband’s fault. 99% of the time, he makes my life easier, not harder. So it’s not fair to make him my dumping ground for all the blame of the stress I’m carrying around.

 


 

Your marriage doesn’t need white knight on a horse saving, it just needs a gentle, nudging reminder saving. What are you doing to pump up your marriage every once in a while?

 

 

 

How to Overcome Anxiety at Work

Do you find yourself second-guessing your abilities at your job? Do you worry about what your boss thinks about you? Do you worry about getting fired all. the. time?

 

These 3 simple steps will help you be a little less nervous and anxious about your workplace performance, and they’re easy enough that you can start them TODAY!

 

***(Calling attention to the special caveat because I can’t say it enough: actual anxiety disorder is a separate thing, so work with a mental health professional if you think that’s what you’re dealing with.)

Stop Hating Your Job

Your alarm goes off. You roll over and bury your head under the comforter. You pinch your eyes shut and wish for it to be Saturday. But it isn’t.

 

If you hate your job, every day feels never-ending. Because we spend so much of our lives at work, it’s better to at least like what you do, even if you don’t love it. So how can you stop hating work, if you and your job just can’t get along anymore?

 

Remember What You Used to Love About It

My dad used to work as an investor. He was so good at his job, they promoted him to manager. He was flattered, except… he hated managing people. He’d rather hole up in his office researching stocks all day. He started to wish he could just go back to his old role, until he got better about protecting his time, and scheduling blocks on his calendar devoted to stock research, where he wouldn’t be interrupted about management issues.

 

If there was something about your job you used to love doing, make time to prioritize that work. There’s probably SOME reason you took this job in the first place, hopefully more than just money (because research shows that thanks to a process called “habituation” or “hedonic adaptation,” the happiness we get from money wears off pretty quickly). Whatever the reason you chose this profession, and accepted this job offer, remind yourself of what your hopes and expectations were, and take steps to build those activities back into your day. Even if, like my dad, you’ve been promoted to new tasks, you can still keep one hand in the activities you love.

 

Plug In To a New Arena

 

Maybe your job hasn’t changed… maybe you’ve changed. Maybe since you started this job, you’ve discovered new passions or skills, and you’d like your work to incorporate some of those new interests. Especially these days, there are lots of creative ways to step outside your normal work functions, like volunteering on the committee for an interest group. You could also spearhead some of the community and volunteer initiatives, or take on training the interns if you’re passionate about teaching. Getting involved in a different part of your company should have you seeing your work and your workplace in a different light, and give you the opportunity to fall in love all over again.

 

Ditch a Complaining Crew

 

Could your work buddies be fueling your bad mood at work? Most likely, yes. If you’re burned out and disillusioned at work, the odds are good that your office friends feel the same way. And the odds are really good that you talk about it together. While sharing your struggles can be a good way to get emotional support, “venting” has been proven to be an unhelpful form of coping, because it keeps the anger simmering right at the surface.

 

To get rid of on-the-job anger, top hanging around people who are burned out and find a new crew. Seek out a completely different friend-set; in fact, hanging with the interns might remind you of how inspired and excited you felt when you first got into the industry

 

Remember the Purpose

I was seventeen pages into editing the annual report, and I was about to give up. If I spelled a single donor’s name wrong, it could cost us a future donation. My eyes were starting to cross and I hadn’t even eaten lunch yet. On my way to the kitchen, I veered off course. I headed out the door and across campus, straight to the shelter where the animals were housed. Ten minutes later, covered in slobber and a pile of cocker spaniel-mix puppies, I was ready to finish the annual report and raise even more money to find homes for those puppies. I just needed to be reminded why my work was so important.

 

In so many roles, we’re buried in our own little piece of the puzzle, and we don’t’ get to see how our piece fits into the larger mission. But when we pop our heads up from our desk and take a look around, we see how our piece is important to our customers, our colleagues, and the world. We see why we do what we do, and we’re reminded that it matters.

 

 

Maybe your job is horrible. Maybe your boss is rotten, the pay is terrible, and your coworkers are jerks. Or maybe you’ve just lost your passion, and you can find it again. Hating your job takes a toll on your mental health, so before you write up that resignation letter, try these 4 steps and see if you can fall in love all over again.

This Was the Moment I REALLY Became a Mom

After battling cancer several times in my 20s, I thought I’d never be a mom. But in May of 2011, all that changed with one phone call…

…but not the way you might expect.

What NOT To Say To a Grieving Friend

When a friend is grieving, you want to be there for them. You want to help them. You want to make them feel better.

 

As a three-time cancer survivor, I’ve spent a lot of time around grief and loss. In my nonprofit work with survivors and others in grief, I’ve heard many of the same phrases used time after time – phrases that are supposed to be comforting, but end up being frustrating to the person grieving.

 

Many of the things that come out of our mouths when someone we know is hurting are actually meant to make US feel better, not them. We feel uncomfortable watching them cry or be upset, so we say things we think will encourage them to feel happy instead of sad. But that’s like using a fly swatter to stop a Lear Jet!

 

Here are 4 common phrases you should avoid saying to a friend who is grieving:

 

“It Will All Be Okay”

 

Most of the phrases on this list minimize grief, in some way. This particular phrase grates on my nerves, because it also sounds like the person saying it has a crystal ball. In reality, life will likely be “okay” for your grieving friend, but it will never be what it was. It may never feel quite as full. Or as secure. When you say “it will all be okay,” what your friend hears is “you won’t miss <whatever or whoever it is> that much anyway.” Your friend isn’t yet at a place where it’s all okay, so allow them to process their grief in their own time.

 

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

 

I really struggled with hearing this phrase after my friend Ruben died. If you’ve heard me tell the story of Ruben, you know he was full of life and had just married his true love, Jen, when he passed away. When people said “everything happens for a reason,” it felt like they were saying “Ruben was meant to die.”. In my life, I have experienced many gifts that have come from bad situations. I believe that we can find meaning and hope in even the worst of grief. But I can’t pretend to know the reasons why difficult things happen. I think, facing loss, people want to believe they know something, because feeling powerless is uncomfortable. But it’s not the time or place to school your grieving friend on the mysteries of life.

 

“I Know Exactly How You Feel”

 

Empathy is a beautiful thing. When we’re hurting, one of the most powerful gifts we can receive is someone who just “gets it” to be with us. If you’ve understand your friend’s grief, you’ll be able to support them in a way few others will. But… in my experience, most people who say “I know exactly how you feel,” are the very people who don’t know exactly how I feel. The people who know how I feel say something else, like “I get it. I’m here with you.” Real empathy doesn’t require a comparison.

 

“God/The Universe Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

 

This phrase is similar to “Everything happens for a reason.” It presumes the speaker knows the inner workings of life’s great plan. It’s meant to be a compliment, telling your grieving friend that he or she is strong, but it runs the surprising risk of coming across as a guilt trip. For example, I know a woman who lost her son who heard this phrase, and it made her feel like “Do they mean it’s my fault? If I hadn’t been so strong, this wouldn’t have happened to me?”

 

 

These phrases to avoid all have one thing in common: they’re meant to provide perspective to a person grieving. But you can’t give perspective to a person grieving – they can only come to that perspective in their own time. There are no magic words to make them stop crying and say  “you’re right! It’s not as bad as I thought!” Grief doesn’t work like that. In fact, the old Stage Model of grief, originally developed by Kubler-Ross, has been proven incorrect. Grief comes in cycles and waves, there is no linear pattern.

 

So don’t try to say anything meaningful or deep. Just be there. That’s the best thing you can do.

 

 

 

What Healthy Relationships Reveal About the Nature of Change

“I can’t change who I am for you!”

If you’ve ever felt pressured to change yourself to be in a relationship with someone, you’ve experienced UNHEALTHY change. Do you know the difference between healthy change for a healthy relationship, and unhealthy change?

In relationships, some change is natural, normal, and good. But some change is bad, and a partner who requests certain kinds of change is a red flag. Learn the difference between the two kinds of change in a relationship, and what healthy, resilient couples know about the nature of change.

3 Ways to Stop Squabbling At Home

 

Every family has its fights.

 

But there are helpful ways to argue, and hurtful ways to argue. If your family needs some new strategies to keep conflict at a minimum, here are some things to try:

 

 

With Your Kids

 

Have you ever been in a fight with your teenager or pre-teen and felt like “this just makes no sense! They’re not making any sense!”? My son first joined our family as a teenager. The first year or two was the “honeymoon period,” where we avoided the typical teenage disagreements. But before too long, we caught up to the typical family dynamic, and suddenly Mom and Dad knew absolutely nothing and our advice was dumb and we were arguing as though we’d been a family forever. (It’s a weird milestone to celebrate!)

 

I remember one of our first big disagreements, and I was just flabbergasted trying to follow my son’s train of thought. Neither one of us was making any headway, and in a flash I realized “I don’t need to understand his entire thought pattern. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to me. It makes sense to him.”

 

As adults, we get pretty familiar with our own thought processes. We can track our frustrations back to their root causes, if we take a moment to try. But even WE sometimes have trouble articulating our thoughts and feelings when we get upset. Can we really expect kids and teens to be better than we are?

 

Instead of jumping to conclusions about why your kids are upset, check your assumptions. Ask them questions to understand what’s really behind their frustration. By questioning your kids, you’re doing two things: 1) understanding the real root causes of their anger and 2) giving your kids an opportunity to speak up, which helps them feel less powerless and therefore less frustrated. When you ask questions, you naturally defuse the tension, and you stand a real chance of keeping the same problem from coming up time and time again.

 

 

BETWEEN Your Kids

 

When your children are at each other’s throats, it’s natural to want to send them both to their rooms. And you probably want to cancel any fun plans you had for the day, too, right?

 

In theory, sending them to their rooms is intended to give them time to cool off and mellow out (and it keeps you from having to listen to them yelling!) But when they go to their rooms in the middle of a conflict, your kids just go up there and stew on the fight. They relive it in their minds, and they run the risk of fueling their anger or feelings of hurt even further.

 

Sending them to their rooms and canceling activities causes kids are missing out on a key strategy that can help stop conflict: positive interaction. Research shows that even a single positive interaction can help cool down a conflict. It seems counterintuitive to “reward” kids for fighting, but facilitating some kind of fun activity where the children have to work together, will help the conflict pass sooner and with fewer lasting effects on their relationship.

 

 

With Your Partner

 

Life is stressful and hard. But you can’t really yell at the dog for eating your slipper, or the mailman for waking the baby, or the checkout guy who overcharged you for whole wheat pasta but you didn’t realize until you got home and it was too late because you’re way too tired to go back to the grocery store now.

 

So you turn to the nearest adult and take it out on THEM. Because THEY promised to unload the dishwasher and forgot. Again.

 

It’s common. We all have days where we give eeeeeeeveryone else the benefit of the doubt besides our partner. But taking your stress out on your spouse leads to a feeling called “contempt,” which psychologists consider to be the #1 predictor of divorce. When you feel contempt for your partner, it goes beyond frustration into a feeling of disgust, like the person isn’t worth your time or even human.

 

To avoid feeling contempt for your partner, especially when you’re disagreeing, remember to focus on shared goals. It helps to verbalize those shared goals, so say something like “I think we both agree that we’re happier when the house is reasonably tidy. Is that fair?” Or “I know we both want the same thing: to have a comfortable amount of money in savings.” You may disagree on what “reasonably tidy” or “a comfortable amount” is, and that’s what the disagreement can focus on. But you can keep coming back to your shared goal, when you feel yourself getting pulled into anger. And remember, a shared goal can be as simple as “We both want to have this difficult conversation without yelling”!

 

 

There’s no such thing as a conflict-free home, but you CAN make conflict healthier and more productive!

 

The Best Way to Beat Procrastination and Get Motivated

Procrastination.

We treat it like a bad word. But if you THINK about it that way, you’re more likely to stay stuck.

Procrastination isn’t a bad personality trait or even a bad habit.

Here’s the single best way to tweak the way you think about procrastination so you can get moving and stay successful.

I Am Breakable

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first day I realized I wasn’t invincible.

 

Do you remember the first moment you felt… fragile? Human? Breakable? For me, that moment was 20 years ago today. Well, really 20 years ago in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning.

 

On that day, 20 years ago, a precious friend of mine was murdered.

 

We were freshmen in college. She had chosen a small liberal arts college in Illinois, while I went to a big university in New York City. That summer after we graduated from high school, before we went off to college, our moms went to lunch together. At lunch, her mom said to my mom, “I just don’t know how you can send Courtney to New York. I would be so nervous. I’m so glad Andrea chose a small school in a small town.”

 

That conversation still haunts me, 20 years later.

 

My friend Andrea was everyone’s friend. It’s easy, when you lose someone in a tragic way, to remember them through a lens that makes everything they did seem angelic. But Andrea really was an incredible person, even in life. For one birthday, she refused all presents and instead spent her birthday money adopting the Golden Lion Tamarind monkeys at the Brookfield Zoo. Instead of a party, her parents took her, me, and another friend to the zoo to visit “her” monkeys. She seemed to love every person and every animal she ever met, and the feeling was mutual. I never heard her gossip, which is no mean feat for a teenaged girl. And I’ll always remember her in her grey Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, as she climbed into the car to go to school every morning. Any other teenager might have been teased for wearing shirts covered in cartoon characters, but if she was, Andrea didn’t care. She had a spirit that was so young and yet so old, at the same time.

 

Andrea’s death didn’t just make me feel breakable because it reminded me that I, too, could die any time. Her death made me feel breakable because I did break, from the inside. I broke when I heard the news, and I continued to break for weeks and months A world where the kindest person I know could be killed didn’t make sense.

 

I still fight against that feeling that the world is supposed to make sense. It’s supposed to be controllable. It’s supposed to be fair. We hate feeling weak and powerless and human. We try lots of fancy tricks to keep ourselves from feeling out of control, like climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, or distracting ourselves with too much food or too-expensive toys. But I’ve discovered that when I pause for a moment, those tricks don’t work. The only thing that works for me is to embrace reality. I am vulnerable. I am breakable. I won’t last forever.

 

When I remember that, like Andrea, I’m only going to have a set amount of time, it’s tempting to freak out. But just a minute past the freak out, I feel focused. I know what that most important things I could be accomplishing in my limited time are, and I have the ability to go and do them. Realizing you are breakable gives you tremendous focus.

 

As you go about your busy life, don’t be afraid to be breakable. It may be just the gift you need, in order to be unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With love to Andrea, her family, friends, and all who miss her.