Category Archives: Giving Back

The lesson of helping

In our society we have started to see taking care of ourselves as selfish.  Self-love is seen as a form of narcissism that is undesirable.  I see generations of people that believe that they aren’t loved if their friends, partners, co-workers or employers don’t make sacrifices for them.  My pet peeved statement of “If you loved me you’d….”  We believe it is our duty to give of ourselves for other’s happiness.

But what happens when we give too much?  I remember I was at a Business and You seminar.  The lecture before lunch was “The more you give, the more you will get back in return”.  There was a very strong energy in the air of giving, of self sacrifice and of love.  The belief is that with self-sacrifice the energy you put out will be returned to you in spades.  After this heart warming lecture the main facilitator asked each of us to take a bill out of our wallets.  This was about 20 years ago, before cash cards and credit cards were in common use, and in my walled I had a $5 and my drivers license.  I knew that we were about to break for lunch, an dI was skeptical as that $5 was my lunch money, with no other possibility for food in sight.  The assistant facilitators then started clapping their hands and shouting the words “Pass, Pass, Pass, Pass”.  The energy was taken up by the group, and everyone was passing the money back and forth throughout the group of about 30 people and 10 facilitators.  I notice that most of the money that is being passed is a $1.  I struggled with wanting to be part of the group with the energy of “give to get”, all while the other attendee’s that at times were angry and aggressive that I was not participating. I held on to my $5, knowing that it is going to be a long afternoon if I lose it and don’t get to eat.  The co-facilitators are making noise while yelling “PASS! PASS! PASS!” and encouraging me to pass my money, the other people in the group are getting visibly agitated that I won’t, and I am becoming increasingly anxious as I don’t want to part with my $5 as I feel as though I’m a bad person for my selfishness.  All of a sudden the primary facilitator claps his hands and states “All right everyone, lunch!  See you in an hour!”.  I hear someone call out “I had a $20 out there, and that is my lunch money!”  The response was “see you in an hour”.  I believe I went to Subway with my $5, and was incredibly grateful that I didn’t give it away in the energy and frenzy of the moment.

Afterwards we were reminded that while it does help you to give, giving away all you have doesn’t help anyone.  When you only have $5 for lunch, it isn’t very smart to let go of that $5 just on the hope that it will come back to you.  There is balance in all things, and giving too much is just as bad as giving too little.

Part of my job is to give of myself.  I give my love, my effort, and my energy to my clients.  And I know more than most the struggle of wanting to give more than I have.  I have worked with kids that have asked me to drop them off at the church to see if the church is giving out food, so their family can eat for the day.  I have worked with families that don’t have shoes for the kids.  I know that I have the resources to buy these families what they need, if only for a moment.  And there is a part of me that feels selfish that I have what I need and don’t give of my abundance to help others. I have also sacrificed my own desires, wants, and at times personality for my clients and my relationships.  All of this has come at a price though.  I find myself giving more and more of myself until I am unable to sustain even myself, let alone others.

In life-guarding there is a saying: “Don’t make two victims”.  If it is going to create a situation where it is likely that someone else will have to jump in to save you and the other person then isn’t it better to keep from sacrificing of yourself?  I have seen this happen financially and emotionally to clients and friends.  I hear the words “I felt guilty that I didn’t….”  fill in the blank.  I didn’t call my dying father, that I didn’t help my destitute sister, that I didn’t…..  I have also seen the results of not setting boundaries and recognizing what one is capable of.  Yes, your father is dying, but you haven’t created enough strength in and of yourself to be able to handle the fact that he molested you as a child and hasn’t taken accountability for his actions.  Yes, your sister is destitute, and if you give her the money to buy a new air conditioner for her house you drain your own resources so you don’t have them for your family.

There is balance to giving of yourself, and taking care of yourself.  It is a delicate swords edge to walk, and I fall on either side more often than I would like to admit.  And I know for a fact, that if I don’t set boundaries with the world around me and allow myself to take care of me, I will be sucked dry quicker than I can snap my fingers.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue  is when the caregiver is struggling.  When most people think of compassion fatigue (if they have heard of it before) they think of the caregivers for those with terminal or prolonged illness. They don’t think of those that care for family and friends with depression and anxiety. It can manifest in several ways, though the first one to be displayed is often irritability and criticism toward the person to whom they are giving care to. Followed by anger, depression and hopelessness.

The best way I’ve ever heard depression described is it is like wearing a 100lb backpack, with 20lb weights attached to each wrist and ankle. Even brushing teeth is a struggle with you are carrying so much weight, let alone exercise, working, cleaning, and spending time with friends. By the time a person with depression makes it through their day they are exhausted, and rarely have energy even for niceties at home. They often ask for help and prayers from friends when feeling overwhelmed or helpless.

In the beginning being the friend or partner that is sponsoring and supporting someone with depression actually feels empowering. It feels good to provide care and support to someone, to feel as though you actually matter. When the depression keeps going though, it starts to take its toll on both the person with the depression and the caregiver.   When the caregiver hasn’t experienced depression themselves they don’t have a good frame of reference, and often feel frustrated when it appears like their partner isn’t even trying. They offer advice and support, only to have it turned away and the depression continues. The caregiver starts feeling as though their love isn’t enough, that they aren’t enough, creating their own feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Then the irritation starts. Instead of feeling compassionate a supportive the caregiver starts to feel irritable and resentful. It starts to feel as though nothing they do is ever enough and they start to give up hope.

Anxiety is very similar. Instead of feeling weighed down with every movement it feels as each task requires jumping through fire. In every moment there is some anxiety and fear. Sometimes, moving through the anxiety or fear is easy, until hitting a wall. After pushing through their anxiety throughout the day, but at moments a terror hits and makes taking another step forward the scariest thing they have ever done. People who do not suffer from anxiety struggle to understand. The times they have been hit with anxiety they have “dug deep” and just kept going. They don’t quite understand constantly living in a state of fear, and they think that the person with anxiety can do the same thing. There is confusion when the person with anxiety hit walls that the sponsor can’t see, and from the outside it looks like the person with anxiety just isn’t trying.

The anger and resentment builds with the impression that the person with anxiety or depression is just dragging them down. The person that is trying to be sponsoring and supportive starts to be feel contempt and starts making critical statements, which just exacerbates the problem. The person that started out as a sponsor is now one of the problems. They are struggling with compassion fatigue. This is when the works begins for the caregiver.

The first step is to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy and exercising regularly. It is easy to get lost in your partner’s or friends problems and forget basic self-care. The caregiver is then often quick to become resentful, believing that they are giving and giving without getting anything back. Make sure that you are working toward your own goals and doing your own hobbies. Make sure you are doing the things that you usually do to pamper yourself, following your usual exercise and work routine. Make sure you are spending time with your friends. If you aren’t taking care of yourself then there is no one to blame but you.

One of the worst struggles of a partner struggling with depression is the lack of support for you. Make sure you aren’t just bitching to your friends, but some kind of professional support for yourself. There is a good deal of emphasis on finding outside support for the person struggling with depression, we don’t think of outside support for the supporter. This can include support groups found through NAMI or finding your own therapist. These resources can provide education and the knowledge that you aren’t alone in feeling the way you feel. They can help remind you to take care of yourself, and give you tips on how to move through their struggles and remain supportive. As much as your partner and friend need help and validation while they move through their struggles, you need some as well.

In the process of supporting a friend or partner that is struggling with depression it starts to feel like you don’t know where you stop and they begin. You feel guilty when you are happy or enjoying yourself while they are obviously miserable or terrified. You don’t feel as though you are able to tell them where they are pushing you too far, or tell them when you need to take care of yourself. There is a fear that if you do, you will be struck down by the universe for being a bad person. After walking on eggshells for a while you the irritation spikes until blow up on the person you are trying to support. The eggshells aren’t as necessary as you think they are. The person with depression or anxiety doesn’t think you have to lose yourself for them, or that you should never have your needs, wants, wishes or would-likes met. It is your responsibility to figure out what your needs are. It is your responsibility to know what your wants, wishes and would-likes are. It is also your responsibility to ask for them. Nicely. If someone is struggling with depression or anxiety they have enough difficulty taking care of themselves without trying to read your mind. There is no need to snap at them because they didn’t figure out what you needed and give it to you.

Living with depression and anxiety is a struggle. Both for the person struggling and their sponsors and supporters. It is easy to get dragged in to the struggle and start to experience frustration, anger and hopelessness, even depression and anxiety of your own. It is easy to see your partner or friend as not trying and feel resentment. If you take steps to take care of yourself; find your own support, take charge of your own needs, set personal boundaries, and find support of your own you will find a much smoother path for yourself, and even possibly for your partner or friend.


Wisdom, happiness and courage

“Wisdom, Happiness, and Courage are not waiting somewhere out beyond sight at the end of a straight line; they’re part of a continuous cycle that begins right here. They’re not only the ending, but the beginning as well.”
Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

So many people in life seem to be searching. They seem to be searching for meaning, contentment, fulfillment. People look for these things outside of themselves. The best place to look is inside.

Opening the wisdom, happiness and courage that are stored in our heart requires digging through the protections we have put in place. One of the first steps to Fulfillment and happiness is to tap in to our own center, where our courage lies. Another step once we learn how to tap in to our own beauty is to share our energy with those hurting the most. Each person deserves happiness. Each person has wisdom, happiness and courage within them. The circle is finding the center within ourselves, and then helping others.

It isn’t OK to steal


Never do for others what they can do for themselves.  It makes them less.

Most of us want to help.  When our friends come to us with problems and we want to jump in and help them solve the problem.  Because our problems suck, we often jump to helping our friends and family, and sometimes complete strangers solve their problems.  And isn’t it funny that we can generally see solutions better when we aren’t stuck inside the problem?   Add to that our genuine desire to help others. 

What we forget in our mad rush to be helpful to our friends and to distract from our own difficulties is that the people we are helping are big boys and girls.  All of us are adults with the knowledge how to survive in this big bad world.  When we rush in to save the day, we take away from our friends, our partners, and even those complete strangers the confidence that they can solve their own problems. 

One of the most difficult parts of being a therapist is seeing several solutions to someone’s problems, wanting to help, and wanting to give advice.  I want to rush in when a client isn’t advocating for themselves with their spouse, their parent, their case worker, whatever and do the advocating.   I want to do what I can to make their life better, easier and happier.  Often the things I want to do are those things that the client can  do for themselves, they just won’t.  There are so many reasons that they won’t, depression, fear or just plain obstinacy, and sometimes all I want to do is step in and save the day. 

What I do when I do that though is steal from them.  I steal their ability to save themselves.  I take away the knowledge that they can take care of their own lives, and I actually make them just a tiny bit weaker.  I make them doubt their own ability to step in and save the day.  I make them more likely to have to run to someone else.  Isn’t it my job to make them stronger?

Remember, there is a very fine line between offering possible solutions and rushing in to save the day.  It makes us feel good to help.  Just remember, it isn’t OK to steal. 



The state of the budget

Normally I work to write about ways to find a different starting point in life.  Working to come from a place of strength and peace instead of powerless and frustration.  Recently though a great deal of the talk in the news has been about budget cuts.  When I listen to where money is being pulled from, and the support people are giving to the cuts that are happening it seems as though some education needs to take place. 

The first place money is taken from during times of difficulty are generally services for those with lower incomes.  A friend who works with the mental health crisis response team in San Antonio has found that their services are being cut.  Medicaid is paying providers less.  Programs such as Planned Parenthood are having up to 90% of their governmental funding cut.  Often people support these cuts, believing that their money should not go to these programs.  I see bumper stickers that talk about wanting to “keep my money and not give it away”.  What I don’t know that people see is that the money is going to go out of their pockets one way or another.  It will just go to different places. 

The mental health crisis center in San Antonio, Texas will no longer accept walk in patients.  What that means is that the therapists will only be utilized when the police are called out for something that has a person with a mental health problem involved.  Those people that walk in to the clinic in crisis will be turned away.  What that means is that many of them will either go to the hospital or the police will be called out.  More of them will end up in the ER or in jail.  The cost of providing services through the crisis team versus the ER or jail is a no-brainer.  Especially since those utilizing the ER will go many times, each time they are in crisis.  The people utilizing the ER for crisis management won’t have the money to pay, so the county ends up picking up the tab.

With Planned Parenthood, women will loose their well-woman check-ups and access to birth control.  Women and girls that would be getting wellness checkups will no longer have access to these services, which means they will not get these services, and will wait until things are critical ending up in the ER.  Women that are using birth control will no longer have access to affordable birth control and will be more likely to have children instead.  Children that will end up receiving services. 

The services and programs that are loosing funding got their funding in the first place because a need was found.  It was determined that spending money on these programs would save money elsewhere, such as emergency rooms and prisons.  And I think what gets my goat the most is that we continue to send millions over-seas loaning money to other countries, tax cuts are given to oil companies that make billions in profit, and our politicians pander to those who have the money to buy them instead of those who need them. 

In full disclosure I will admit that these budged cuts are personal for me as well as professional.   Payments for Medicaid have gone down, and programs that I provide services for are not able to afford those services.  I am not the only person I know with these struggles, friends and colleagues are facing their own budget cuts, and face lay-offs.  I know I can manage though.  Watching my low income families struggle hits me hard.   Food programs are loosing money, and I work with kids who’s families at times don’t have the food to feed them.   Yes, yes, I know, don’t have kids you can’t afford to feed.  But what do we do with the kids that are here now and can’t afford to eat? I work with teens who get birth control from planned parenthood because they are sexually active.  I will see the fallout from this first hand, watching powerless from the sideline.  

Knowledge does change things.  This is an education issue.  Please, educate people about what taking money from these programs really does, communicate with your government representatives.  Please help keep programs such as Planned Parenthood up and running. 

Humane Society

Most communities have a local Humane Society.  The Human Society focuses on re-homing orphaned dogs and cats, as well as educating the population on spaying and neutering their animals.  The humane Society is a non-profit organization that does not receive funding from local, state or national entities, and relies on volunteer work, fees from adoptions, and donations to maintain their programs. 

The Humane Society is a great way to give back.  You can easily give back by asking for a live trap, and trapping the feral cats and taking them in for spaying and neutering.   This reduces the population of stray cats.  This is more effective than just trapping and killing the cats as returning the cats to their territory keeps new cats from moving in and having more kittens. 

You can also help by working at the agency, being a foster home (get as much information as you can, you don’t always know what you are getting in to), or just donating food and money.  To learn more about volunteering in Austin’s Humane Society go to their website. 

GEN Austin

After reading the book Reviving Ophelia 12 mothers raising teenagers created GEN (Girls Empowerment Network) Austin in 1996.   Originally called the Ophelia Project the program was created to address the ongoing difficulty girls have with loss of self esteem, leading to self harming, sexualized behaviors, drug use, and eating disorders. 

Because they are a non-profit agency they rely a great deal on volunteer work to help in their mission.  I myself work with the program speaking with girls in middle schools about a variety of topics including bullying, sexuality, self esteem, and communication.  This is an excellent program with an amazing goal.  If you are interested in volunteering with them, click HERE, or visit the GEN Austin main page

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a nation wide organization providing mentors for children 6-18.  Asking for at least an hour a weekfor 18 months the program provides structured mentoring for at risk youth in the community. Being a Big is a good way to give back to your community. While Big Sisters are in ready supply (the waiting list for a girl to get a Big is about two weeks in Austin), boys have a harder time finding a Big Brother. The waiting list for a boy can be up to a year.  The program makes sure to do same gender matching showing that either more boys are in need of mentors or fewer men are volunteering.

Studies show that children who have spent about 18 months with a “big” are:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • more confident of their performance in schoolwork
  • one-third less likely to hit someone
  • getting along better with their families

Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers had the greatest impact in the area of alcohol and substance abuse prevention. For every 100 youth between ages 10 and 16 who start using drugs, the study found, only 54 similar youth who are matched with a Big will start us
ing drugs. Minority boys and girls were the most strongly influenced; they were 70 percent less likely than their peers to initiate drug use.

If you areinterested in being a “Big” you can either click here or contact your local BigBrothers Big Sisters office. 

Boys and Girls club


In the words of Jonathan Alter of Newsweek:

Here’s a statistic worth memorizing: it costs $70,000 a year toincarcerate a prisoner, and $1,000 a year to take care of a kid at aBoys and Girls Club. Failing to invest in prevention isn’t just cruelto the kids; it’s cruel to the country. As James Alan Fox, a notedcriminologist, says, “You can pay for the programs now or pray for thevictims later.” That category of “victims” keeps growing. It nowincludes us all.                                     


Boys and Girls clubs offer after school activities to increase academic performance, prevent teen pregnancy, decrease crime, decrease poverty.  Knowing that  juvenilecrime is most likely to occur between 3 pm and 6 pm (Fight crime:Invest in Kids website, 2007) Boys and Girls clubs provide supervisionand meaningful activities for children and teens.  You are able to giveback in the following ways:

Time is a precious commodity and we can always usesome of yours. Volunteer and mentoring opportunities abound ineducation, technology, sports, fitness & recreation, preventionprograms, character & leadership development.

Your Talent is vital to the Clubs. We needorganizational support in marketing, public relations, technology,human resource management, finance/resource development, operations,& facility maintenance

Treasure, in the form of event sponsorships, in-kind, as well as monetary contributions is what keeps us going.

Boys and Girls clubs are able to do the following things:

  • In spite of high school dropout rates for Latino and African American students, 90% of Club members graduate.
  • Club members had a 15% higher overall GPA than their peers, and 87%fewer absences. More important, they have greater expectations fortheir futures.
  • Texas spends $99,000 per year for each child in juvenile detention.The Club spends just $200 on programs and services that are provendeterrents to juvenile crime. Club kids see firsthand the value ofattending school and avoiding drugs and gangs, and are able to picturethemselves as successful, caring and productive adults.

They ask for at least an hour a week for 12 weeks for volunteer work.  This is an excellent way to give back to your community and work with at risk kids.   

Girls for a Change

Girls For A Change (GFC) is a national organization that empowers thousands of teen girls to create and lead social change. GFC provides girls with professional female role models, leadership training and the inspiration to work together in teams to solve persistent societal problems in their communities. Explore their web site to learn more about how you can join their movement and how girls are transforming our world–and reinventing girl culture–through GFC!

Currently GFC does not have groups located in the Austin / Central Texas area.  This is a volunteer run organization and an excellent way to give back.  If you are interested or see the need for a group you can find the information on starting one here