Keep a watchful eye on your skin

Keep a watchful eye on your skin

“This is what it looks like. This is what you’re looking for,” my mom said as she pointed at a blackish-red spot on her arm. “Your aunts, your cousin and I have all had skin cancer. You have my skin. Keep an eye out.”

I had many of these conversations with my mom when I was a kid. My parents, like everyone of their generation, grew up without sunscreen. My dad got a tan; my mom got cancerous spots. Every time she went to the doctor to get one removed, she would point it out to me, explain what to look out for, and remind me of the importance of sunscreen. Every time we spent time outside, we would religiously apply my SPF 30. I still do so.

My mom was not alone. One-in-5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age 70, with 1 percent of those being melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanomas, as well as other skin cancers, are up to 20 times more likely to occur in fair-skinned people than in those with dark skin. It is deadlier and more common in men than in women, and the average age of diagnosis is 65.

Luckily, skin cancer is generally visible, and can be caught quickly if you know what you’re looking for. You just need to remember your ABCDEs.

A: Asymmetry. A normal mole will appear symmetrical. If the mole or spot becomes an irregular shape, it’s time to go see a doctor.

B: Border. An irregular, scalloped or ill-defined border on a mole can be a symptom that the mole is cancerous.

C: Color. A regular mole is all one color, while a melanoma is much more likely to be varied in color.

D: Diameter. Always get a spot checked out if its diameter is more than 6 mm, or a quarter inch.

E: Evolving. If a spot changes, it’s time to go to the doctor.

Following these guidelines, you’re much more likely to catch melanomas in time. That being said, it is still a good idea to get your skin checked once a year for melanomas and other skin cancers. Wear sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when you’ll be in the sun for more than 15 minutes, and be especially careful with children, as severe sunburns in childhood and adolescence are more likely to contribute to a later cancer diagnosis.

In other words, avoid sunburns, keep an eye on your skin, and you can start to incorporate sunscreen into your daily skin care routine during this Skin Cancer Awareness Month. You deserve to feel good in your skin every day. Get in touch with me if I can help you with that!

Rikki Techner is a skin care specialist who formulates her own line of artisan, small-batch serums, cleansers and moisturizers with her Mind Body Skin Care. She is a licensed esthetician and does facials and make up at the St. Louis Wellness Center. Contact Rikki at 314-422-0308 or Rikki@MBSCSkincare.com. Rikki sells her skin care line at several farmers markets in the area. Check her Instagram page for the schedule.

Finding her new purpose

Finding her new purpose

Losing a pregnancy helped therapist refine focus


I remember the 2019 incident as if it were yesterday. Nervously trying to peek at the ultrasound screen to search for any signs of Blu moving, listening impatiently for a heart that would never beat, my eyes darting between the screen and the technician’s blank stare, waiting to hear her casually tell me, “Your doctor’s office will call you with the results.” The technician’s poker face was the worst. And that day, one of my greatest fears was confirmed — Baby Blu had miscarried, most likely due to a “genetic defect.”

I was wrought with grief and desperately needed time to process the life I had envisioned, that would unfortunately never be. I began to work on healing myself — and trust me, even as a psychologist, on some days grief blanketed my being and seeped through to my core, leaving a cavernous hole in my heart that would never quite feel whole again.

During my grief journey, I decided to seek therapy for support, as I wanted to be proactive and work through any thoughts or feelings in a supportive environment.

I realized quickly that people in our lives have the best intentions, but they say the dumbest things to people who are grieving. After smiling through the caring but hard-to-hear comments — “At least you already have a child” and “Thank God you were not that far along” and “It was a blessing, you never know what kind of defect it was” — I knew that I did not want to go through such deep pain without a professional. I am not the cursing type, but I had a few urges to let loose with some people, realizing that death is one of the most uncomfortable topics, and most people rarely get it “right.”

While doing consistent self-healing work and meeting with my therapist, I found many ways to honor Blu’s short life, and most importantly, I started my perinatal practice: Blu’s Rainbow. And during this time, though considered high-risk based on medical complications and recent loss of pregnancy, I was blessed with a baby boy. I continued to seek support from my therapist throughout my pregnancy, as I feared losing him and having my heart re-broken.

Discussing pregnancy loss 

The more I advocated for myself, conducted research on perinatal mental health, and worked with my team, the greater my passion for perinatal mental health grew. The statistics were astonishing, and I was surprised at how little people and doctors in the field openly discussed pregnancy loss, postpartum depression and anxiety in women and men, postpartum psychosis, and the importance of social-emotional health during and after pregnancy.

I also shared my story and received messages from women who had suffered in silence and were still grieving the loss. Did you know that 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage? Why do we feel the need to hide our experiences? Many mothers I have worked with are ashamed to tell their stories due to fear of judgment and feeling like a failure. They may blame themselves for pregnancies not being viable and suffer in silence, believing they are alone. Research also shows that fathers grieve, but struggle with talking about their feelings, due to societal pressures to “man-up” and support their partners. Talking about the loss and finding ways to honor the life, no matter how young or old, can be therapeutic.

After having a successful pregnancy following pregnancy loss, advocating for myself, and working on my mental and medical health, I now know that maternal health is sacred. I know that I had privileges others may not have, and I want to empower women and families to take control of their maternal mental health.

If left untreated, perinatal mental health issues can have a devastating impact on mother, baby and family. Perinatal mental health screening, assessment, and treatment are imperative for the health of the family system, as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) remain under-diagnosed and under-treated. Moreover, perinatal depression affects 1-in-5 to -7 women and 1-in-10 new fathers will suffer from postpartum depression. According to the CDC, 20 percent of pregnant women were not asked about depression during a prenatal visit and 50 percent of pregnant women were not treated. These numbers are higher for women of color and those in lower socioeconomic communities.

My mission at Blu’s Rainbow is to ensure that families feel seen, heard and supported during pregnancy, following delivery, or in the unfortunate loss of pregnancy. My goal is to advance maternal mental health through individual and group therapy programs specifically designed for women and families throughout the perinatal period or grief journey. As I treat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I am most proud of my ability to connect to women and families on an “I get it” kind of level, which makes all the difference.

Baby Blu’s memory lives on in every story told and each life touched.

Charie Motley. Psy.D., PMH-C, is a therapist who does individual, family and couples counseling. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in Missouri and Illinois, and a certified perinatal mental health professional. You can contact her at 636-344-6766 or info@blusrainbow.com.

Tai chi and me

Tai Chi and me

Postures and principles guide my acupuncture work — and life

Principle 1: Relax
More than 30 years ago, I enrolled in my first tai chi class. This practice, along with yoga and nutrition, introduced me to the fact that health originates from one’s center, and that what we do constitutes our most powerful medicine for life. Tai chi means literally the “supreme ultimate” or the “ultimate energy” and serves as a balancing health practice, a moving meditation, and a formidable martial art.

The movements of tai chi develop ease, balance and power. The key to tai chi practice is allowing each movement to be guided by certain principles. The foundational principle of tai chi, and possibly the most underestimated, is RELAX.

My first tai chi instructor used to say, “The first principle of tai chi is relax. If you can fully embody it, you don’t need the others.” As an acupuncturist and bodyworker for over 30 years, I can attest that this applies not only to tai chi practice, but to almost every facet of life and health.

A meditation teacher told this story: An old grandfather had never flown before, so his kids got him a plane ride so he could finally experience it. He went up in a small Cessna and flew for about an hour. When he returned, his kids asked him what he thought of the ride. His response, “It was pretty cool, but I didn’t quite trust that little plane … so I never let my weight down all the way.” Most of us go through life this way, not quite trusting, always bracing against uncertainty, worry and life’s many ever present adversities.

Tensions mount in layers

As we age, tensions quickly mount and layer, to the point where we tighten without even being fully aware why. I would refer to an old friend from college, one of my first massage clients, as “pipe-cleaner man” because he reminded me of the little figures I’d form as a kid from my dad’s fuzzy wire pipe cleaners. I would lift my friend’s arm and then just let it go and it would just stay suspended in the air — and he didn’t even realize it. I’ve since had hundreds of clients holding similar tensions, even in the midst of thinking they were completely relaxed.

In my acupuncture practice I tend to look at tension as a function of the liver energy. This energy manages toxicity in all forms, and seeks to ensure an even flow to body and mind. When something stagnates or blocks flow, within or without, the response is to act, to seek to manage and control the problem and restore balance. When we perceive a problem, but can’t quite resolve it, we seek control wherever we can find it. Our muscles tighten, preparing to act, but often find no productive action. So we brace against the problem, and that tension — unfulfilled and multiplied by life — becomes chronic and unconscious. As an example of this phenomena, watch the news and pay careful attention to how often your body, shoulders, neck, jaw, belly tighten and brace against the problems over which you can have little effect. (One study by a Harvard researcher showed that watching just three minutes of negative news in the morning makes one 27 percent more likely to say their whole day was bad.)

As tension multiplies, it constitutes an ever-increasing expenditure of energy which itself impedes free movement, reduces focus, blocks circulation and ultimately wears us out. We become a house divided against itself.

Restorative movement

Tai chi uses movement to restore relaxation and ease. The key to this process is awareness, the reason tai chi is considered a moving meditation. Stop and notice your body. Are your shoulders relaxed? Your jaw? Is your breathing full and easy? Most of us are exerting some degree of unnecessary tension all the time.

The process of relax in tai chi is one of subtraction. Moving very slowly, we systematically remove effort and tension from the movement, retaining only the minimum necessary energy and intention to achieve the movement. This includes the whole body. I stand and lift my arm, letting go of every effort and tension that doesn’t serve that particular movement. In this sense, the practitioner becomes the movement and lets everything else fall away. Doing tai chi, you become tai chi. The body and mind become unified in a single action, a unitary practice. Unified, you become at ease yet powerful, focused and efficient.

The accumulation of tension pervades life, so the practice of ease is endless. After 30 years there is still always more to let go, always another layer. But the practice, like tension, accumulates. Stresses make less impact, and the body and mind become more steady, grounded and resilient. All actions begin to embody the practice. In China, tai chi is considered a longevity practice, with a lore that includes many masters living youthfully far beyond a hundred years.

I find it useful to give my acupuncture and bodywork clients a tai chi move or two as homework. The practice helps sustain the balance and ease achieved in treatment and allows the client to be proactive toward their own health. In coming articles I’ll discuss more principles of tai chi movement, but they all begin and end with: RELAX.

Jeff Patterson, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., has been an acupuncture specialist for more than 20 years. Before he practiced acupuncture and massage, he taught tai chi to college students and senior citizens. You can contact him at 618-223-9735 or acupuncturejeff@earthlink.net.

Finding solace in connection

STRESS AWARENESS MONTH

Finding solace in connection

It’s no secret that stress is an increasingly common concern for Americans. With everything going on in our world, it affects our lives, and stress levels are high. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how to deal with it.

In moments like these, it’s normal for people to feel alone in their struggles, and to avoid sharing with others how they are coping. There is an expectation that we deal with our stress in private while projecting an image of perfection to the world around us.

Struggling with the weight put upon us is seen as a weakness, and sharing those struggles with others is seen as putting an unfair burden on them. As a result, many people suppress their stress, which leads to even greater struggles and a feeling of intense isolation.

The secret that no one wants to admit is that everyone struggles — if not now, then at other times of their lives. With everything we’ve been through — in our families, communities and nation — most of us are feeling the effects in one way or another. Pretending as if we aren’t struggling is doing nothing to solve these problems. We often frame burying our stress as a sign of strength, but the truth is that our stress will always come to the surface one way or another, and ignoring it just increases the chance that it will show its face in ways that we can’t control.

An alternative to hiding your true emotions, as scary as it might seem, is to be honest with the people around you with how you’re feeling. Opening up to someone about what you’re going through not only gives you the opportunity to talk through your emotions and process them in a healthy way, but it also gives others permission to do the same. It can be challenging to be the first person to show vulnerability, but once someone else has taken that step, it doesn’t seem so hard.

It takes courage to be honest with yourself and with others about how you really are doing. When we can let go of the need to be perfect and instead prioritize honesty on every level, we can take steps to finding solutions, and let others know they are not alone.

 

Grace Smith, BA, M.Ed. candidate, is a graduate student completing her field experience internship for her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She currently provides reduced-fee counseling at StLWC. You can contact her at gracesmithcounseling@gmail.com.

Alcohol Awareness Month: How to help a loved one

Patience and support can help create change

Starting the conversation with a loved one about their alcohol use or abuse can feel uncomfortable and awkward.

One of the first things to do before the conversation is to educate yourself and learn more about alcohol abuse.

Feeling comfortable with the facts can help give you the confidence needed to at least begin the conversation. Also, understand that initiating the conversation is only the beginning. Change is a process, and it’s generally more productive to start with short conversations about your concerns than to enter the conversation with the expectation that you will convince the abuser to quit.

Be sure to use “I” messages, and talk about how you are feeling about the situation. Stating your concerns is more productive than using the word “you” — and making accusatory statements.

Remember that you’re a human being talking to another human being who’s battling a chronic condition.

Some tips adapted from Meta Addiction Treatment:

1. Approach them lovingly.
Alcoholism can make your loved one aggressive, irritable, violent, and irrational. So approach your person with love and only when they’re sober. Ask to meet with them during lunch or their favorite meal of the day. Make sure to ask about how they’re doing. Inquire about their life, job, family, and potential stressors. Ask them if they’re feeling lonely, neglected, or bored. Let them know you care. And then listen.

2. Listen more than you talk.
Your loved one is much more likely to confide in you if you listen to them without interrupting or judging their behavior. Simply listen. Acknowledge what’s going on with them even if you don’t agree with their behavior. Make them feel safe. Addiction happens for a reason, even if your loved one is hesitant to talk about their personal experiences.

3. Be specific about what you’ve seen.
Share your perspective. Let them know that you understand the challenges they’re facing. At the same time, let them know that you’ve noticed they’ve been drinking more. Tell them about times when they might have lost control of their alcohol usage. Rather than using language like “You are” or “You didn’t do this,” try using phrases such as “I feel like” or “I’ve noticed that.” The key is to get them to realize the effect their addiction is having on those around them.

4. Be supportive, don’t accuse.
Individuals struggling with alcoholism expect others to criticize, insult, and belittle them. They also expect people to reject them. Instead of pointing out the responsibilities they have neglected, you can kindly express something along the lines of “You’re such a hard worker but I feel like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately. That isn’t who you are. Is there something going on that’s causing you stress?” Monitor your tone and let them know that you’re willing to support them.

5. Gently discuss future consequences.
This can be tricky, but you should talk about the consequences of addiction. Help your friend or loved one see what the future could look like for them if they continue abusing alcohol. Most alcoholics avoid thinking about the future. Instead, they use alcohol in the present to forget about what happened in the past. But you can help them visualize what a life overrun with alcohol abuse would be like, especially when compared to a sober future not controlled by alcohol use. Talk about what they hope their family, career, and health may look like in the future. Helping your friend or loved one visualize the life they want might help them start thinking about what they need to do to abstain from alcohol.

6. Have treatment options ready.
If your friend or loved one is receptive to what you’re saying, you need to be ready to talk about professional treatment options. Educate yourself about recovery programs. Let your loved one know that treatment can help rebuild their family, restore their health, and obtain the future they envision. You should also be prepared for your loved one to reject it.

7. Be prepared to set boundaries.
If your friend or loved one seems unwilling to change, you need to set some boundaries. Don’t be afraid to set limits and be sure to enforce the boundaries you set. Remember, you don’t want to enable them to continue abusing alcohol. Continue to lovingly encourage them to seek out professional help. You might even consider staging an intervention with a professional interventionist.

Again, don’t expect this to happen all at once. Your loved one didn’t develop the problem overnight, and it won’t be solved with one conversation.

Please contact me if you need someone to talk to about this. I am here to support families of those with alcohol and/or substance abuse issues, and I have experience with this.

Valerie Wells, CADC, has more than 20 years of experience in working with families of addicts, including facilitating groups and individual therapy. You can contact her at 314-605-6949 or vlwells2000@yahoo.com.

Between belonging and exclusion

Between belonging and exclusion

We all desperately crave for belonging (not a huge discovery), but at the same time we often, as a response to our longing, exclude. And I wonder if this is a particularly American response? Is this exclusion which includes a dogged competitiveness and, dare I say, meanness born out of our capitalist, boot-strap-pulling roots? I’m not sure, but buy me a beer and let’s talk about it.

You might have heard from your parents at one point the aphorism, “If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when old, you have no brain.” While this didn’t apply to me, I think it appeased my parents for a time until they realized I was politically a lost cause. The saying seems to imply that in youth we value compassion, and as we age we value the practical arm of authority.

And yet, in my conversations with young people these days, I am amazed by the seeming lack of compassion and empathy that characterizes the cancel culture in which they live. The same moral piety that I saw with some of my evangelical peers at Wheaton College in the 1990s feels eerily similar to that of the Gen Z students of today. In both groups, the first step in any engagement is to not only identify what is wrong, but classify it as unforgivable. Many of them seem to lose the nuanced understanding of transformation and redemption. The puzzling part of it all is that young people on both ends of the political spectrum work from this same neo-puritanical mindset, though I doubt either would admit it.

The state of where we are right now is complicated, but one of the chief issues is fear of exclusion. And this fear carries with it the highest of stakes because at our core what we want more than anything as human beings is to belong. I don’t mean belonging as a means of assimilating or fitting in, but belonging as a deep sense of self-worth, a trust that we are known and loved for exactly who we are. Belonging as a state of unconditional love.

A radical concept

Unconditional love has always been a radical concept, and yet with each generation those conditions shift rather than disappear.

What does unconditional love look like?

It looks like celebrating people’s intentions even when they fall flat. It looks like encouraging one another in the midst of failure. It looks like holding each other accountable with a spirit of compassion and patience. Sometimes it looks like stepping away rather than stirring the pot. It looks like sitting in someone’s worst moments with them without feeling like you need to fix it. It looks like living into the idea that none are worthy but all are welcome.

If grace is getting what we don’t deserve and mercy is not getting what we do deserve, then unconditional love is that cocktail of grace and mercy shaken and poured for all of us.

So for all of you longing to participate in the good, the true and the beautiful at the expense of a culture that separates people into those who are in and those who are out, profoundly simple expressions of unconditional love and belonging are there to be found.

Kelley Weber is a spiritual director, mindfulness educator and enneagram consultant. She teaches theater in Clayton schools. You can contact her at 314-308-0861 or aspiralspace@gmail.com