The payoff

The Restore Us team is proud to reflect on the empathy lessons and support shared in all of 2018. We are honored to have been invited to various agencies to support hardworking emotionally invested peers. The payoff always comes from the feedback when we learn that our program did as designed and those in attendance can say they feel restored to higher levels of empathy and compassion towards both self and others. I have to be honest, we always leave our trainings and workshops feeling incredibly restored ourselves. The inspiration is ever present. We aim to support those supporting others. We are always humbled to learn the countless stories of people in our community working hard to heal, stabilize and empower others. We felt invigorated by the team spirit at UMFS Child and Family Healing Center, working to honor family systems. We are indebted to the Case Managers at Focused Outreach Richmond and all they do to support homeless veterans. We admire deeply the caregivers of mentally ill family members in the NAMI CVA membership that give endlessly to advocate and support. We are amazed at the efforts made by Project Life team members working tirelessly to inspire and empower youth in foster care. We are encouraged by participants in the Healing Arts Festive and the Community 50/50 project striving to reach and lift up urban youth. We are so proud of our affiliation and are dedicated to continued empathy missions.

Sustaining the village

Back when Restore was specifically geared towards sustaining mental health providers I often used the sentiment that “social workers have the same burnout rate as teachers”. Every time; without fail, a collective “ohhhh” was the response. It’s no secret that teachers are put to the test in ways that non teachers cannot accurately grasp.

What I do know is that teachers are honorary social workers and clinicians and healers and behavior regulators and nurses and referees and nutritionists. I could keep going but you get it. We send our kids off for 6, 7 hours a day and teachers are tasked with everything. Literally everything. And get this? They also get blamed for everything. It’s the very definition of a catch 22.

I can think of no better way to utilize my empathy preaching skills than to empower teachers with the knowledge to access their very own empathy superpowers. Thank you to Patrick Henry Charter School for sharing your hearts, minds and unfathomable patience with our precious babes. It was an honor to share the basics of empathy awareness with you.

Last night’s, “The Anatomy of Empathy”.

Still reeling in gratitude for the energy and interest in “The Anatomy of Empathy”, held at Ellwood Thompson’s last night. We are very much looking forward to continued opportunities to provide a platform for this important topic. As promised, links to many of the projects and programs discussed.

The inevitable.

The anniversary of September 11th was met this year with the news of a catastrophic hurricane barreling towards the east coast. While most of us were preparing to bow our collective heads and visit the pain of the terrorist attacks of 2001, Hurricane Florence continued to gain momentum, making it almost impossible to focus elsewhere.

The enormity of inevitable pain can be all consuming. If I let myself, I could wallow and worry and wallow some more. Actually I do. I spend time with fear. I imagine loss and tragedy and explore searing realities for myself, my family, strangers. All of it. I can make my heart race and my body tense with the twists and turns of the what if train. I struggle to concentrate and neglect the present. I do this. It’s a ritual of sorts. A fearfest.

Then I snap out of it. Then I take inventory and accept the unknown. Then I extend empathy to those suffering and to myself. Then I research and plan and donate and mobilize. Then I convert worry into action. Even if action means not worrying at this moment.

Emotional shoe horn.

Assisting in the cultivating of self-awareness can be akin to magic. And self-awareness is key to accessing empathy. And by key I mean everything. Self-awareness is everything. So I suppose that makes the Restore Us team members, magicians. No one wants to see their own "stuff". It can be challenging; really, really challenging. And those dang comfort zones, so comfy. 

The Restore Us Program had the chance to put our skills to the test in the ring. The horse ring. We were lucky enough to pony up with Checkpoint One, a 33 acre horse farm offering equine assisted therapy. The horses are the therapists. And amazing therapists at that. By the end of a few of our workshops it was evident. There was no denying the truth. Horses are empathy police. 

Putting yourself in someone else's shoes can be anything but comfy. It can stink and hurt and be frustrating, scary even. Imagine those shoes are a size 12 and you wear a 10.  You might have to admit you need some extra socks, some layers to keep your foot from sliding around. And man, you don't want to trip so maybe you need to walk a little slower in those big shoes. You might even lag behind others, lose the race this time, be late. Or suppose the shoes are a 7 and you wear a 9. You would definitely want to take any extra layers off, reveal the true size of your foot. Gosh, what if you haven't exactly tended to those toenails of late. You might have to face the music about your unsightly feet. Expose them completely. And ouch, manipulating into a snug unfamiliar space can be painful and constricting. It can make some people panic, cry, flee. These are all realities, most of which cannot be avoided-if you're truly trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes, that is. 




The far reaches.

The Restore Us Program was honored to share our program with housing counselors from all over Virginia last week at the Virginia Association of Housing Counselors Spring Conference in Virginia Beach. The passion in their work was palpable. Their commitment to fair housing, access to support and guidance and fierce advocacy was beyond words. The Restore Us program shared our content with this amazing crew because they asked us to; but truly, the empathy ranneth over. 

We have stumbled on the beautiful realization that our program has applicability far beyond our initial belief. Empathy is relationship currency. We have yet to find a population that does not connect to this material. 

With that said, we have also yet to discover a population that does not benefit from being reminded of their inherent ability to empathize and consequently the awareness needed to ward off the dangers of connecting too deeply, for too long. It is a delicate dance. We are so honored to teach others to tango, for sustainability, for effectiveness. 

Thank you so much for having us VAHC. And thank you for ALL that you do to better the lives of others. 


The era of peer support and lived experience.

There is a compelling discussion on the table surrounding dynamics of the new and rightfully acknowledged "lived experience" as it pertains to support and guidance. There is no better education than one that has transpired in your heart; your mind, your soul. 

Empathy is front and center on the resume of lived experience. The Restore Us Program is built on the relevance and worth of connecting  genuinely with others, whether through inherent skill, personal experience or traditional education.

This is the era of peer support counseling. There is now; alas, a credential for those that have walked the painful; dark, hopeless paths and now stand tall with gratitude whispering,  "follow me, I know how hard this is. I can help lead the way." These words bring hope where there was none. These words resonate deep. These words save, inspire, motivate and bond. 

The Restore Us Program tips our collective hats to all the helpers. The classically trained, the natural caretakers, and the ones who trudged through pain and desperation and then turned back to shine the light for those behind you. 

Thank you for being you, for doing all that you do. 


Traveling with Anxiety

The holidays are here and for a lot of us that means holiday travel. Notice I didn't just simply say "travel." Oh no -- holiday travel is a whole other stressful, panic-inducing, gut disturbing type of travel. Crowded airports, bumper-to-bumper highways, and tense screaming matches about today's political unrest are just a few things that can cause even the most "zen" individual to bite their fingernails or feel a bit out of sorts this holiday season.

As a member of the Restore Us team, I bring not only skills and knowledge gained from a robust career path as well as a genuine caring spirit about our clients' experiences with us -- I also bring my past and present experience with anxiety in many forms. Why is this valuable to the Restore Us program and more specifically to you, reading this right now? Because at least 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental health condition. So bearing in mind that anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are extremely common, it is paramount that we -- as humans standing next to and living among those who truly might be suffering -- find ways to connect with and empathize with folks who may be living with anxiety.

I've collected a few of my own ideas about and around travelling with anxiety. I greatly encourage you to give thought to this list if you're travelling for the holidays this month or know people who are. Perhaps you're a person who feels uneasy when boarding a plane or entering a crowded department store? Or maybe you know someone who you've always thought seemed especially nervous when preparing for a twelve-hour car ride to visit family or has reached out for comfort before flying across the country to see a faraway friend or loved one? I'm hoping this list will provide ideas for those out there that might get more than a little "slightly edgy" when traveling during these next few weeks.

I have been diagnosed with a specific anxiety disorder that hugely impacted my day-to-day life. For me, feeling overwhelmed by stress and fear were daily occurrences brought on by tasks or activities that seemed to be handled with ease by those around me. After months of a focused therapy class, a lot of meditation, and regular one-on-one therapy sessions; I can say with overwhelming gratitude, that my life has drastically improved.

That being said, travel anxiety was (and still is at least a little) something I suffered from every time I boarded a plane, got in a car, or was in large crowds and groups of people. And when it came to travelling, it wasn't just the going to and from, it was literally just being in a different place than the comfort of my own home.

How did I cope?

  • Having a really, really good friend.

Having a trusted close friend or loved one close by that I could be honest with about when and how I was being "triggered" made a world of difference. This person knew my anxieties well and could offer support and reminders that I was stronger than I knew in moments of heightened uncertainty or fear and that though it didn't feel that way in the moment, I'd be just fine -- after all, I'd traveled many times in the past and made it through each time -- even if there were bumps in the road!

  • Food!

Being absolutely sure that meals were going to be an item on my list of worries that did not have to be worried over. In my case, having a lot of medical belly issues, anxiety only further aggravated my digestive woes. But, belly aches are commonplace for many who live with anxiety. So, knowing you have some "say so" or veto power over restaurants or dinner plans helps to soothe concerns that can come with not having your own kitchen to prepare meals you know fit your dietary needs. I also highly recommend bringing your own snacks to have on hand just in case you get stuck in a situation where you feel "overruled" about what's for dinner! 

  • Flower Power!

While I'm all about peace and love -- I'm actually being literal here. During travel, I've often taken a little supplement called "Rescue Remedy." It is literally flower and herbal extracts. While "natural healing and medicine" might not be for everyone, many folks feel a few drops of this stuff on the tongue helps to calm nerves before entering stressful situations. You can grab a little bottle of this stuff on Amazon for about $12.

  • Puppy (or other pet) Power!

When possible, travelling with a companion animal helps enormously. The newest furry member of our family, our pup Ari, has become a comfort to me in times when I'm feeling anxious or even just a little bummed out. To some it may sound odd, but just breathing in her scent or snuggling her can soothe my anxiety or calm me down when I'm feeling panicky.

  • Time Outs!

Taking plenty of breaks to practice deep breathing techniques or just taking a bit of alone time for moments to meditate or to simply get away from people and crowds is crucial. It's not selfish at all and can honestly do a lot to restore your social wells so that you're more prepared to interact with friends, family, and even strangers.

  • You're not alone in your anxiety.

To some degree we should all normalize all of this a little bit. For a lot of us, just knowing that feelings of uncertainty or feeling uneasy about travelling is normal and fairly common can reduce symptoms of travel anxiety. Hearing those powerful words "me too" can go a long way for someone feeling anxious.

Whoever you are and wherever you go this holiday season, I hope that you're good to yourself and good to others. Sometimes it seems like the hysteria of getting trying to get perfect gifts for those in our lives can make us act like monsters to those who enter our lives for mere moments. They say goodness prompts more goodness, and you never know what those fleeting interactions can lead to out in the world. Your kindness could lead to turning someone's moment of anxiety into something that they can suddenly manage.