Pockets of Pain & Hope

I believe that there are some of us who walk this earth who carry just a little more pain with is than others. It’s like coins buried deep down in the pocket of your jeans that are destined to stay there for eternity. That’s the depth of our sadness, the coins a small, constant reminder of the pain, hate, and cruelty in the world. Its not necessarily a burden we carry, just a few coins of sadness that we’ll always carry with us in this life.

That doesn’t mean we are pessimists. For in the other pocket we always carry a few nickels of hope. While we know we can’t change the world or take away the pain, the hope activates us to at least make it a little better. In the darkness, we still find the courage to shine our lights.

As a spiritual being in human form, I can’t yet always prevent my light from growing dim, or keep out that voice of despair saying “this is too much pain”.

But then I’m reminded I’m not alone. Pacer sticks her snout under my arm and gives me her wide smile. I think of my family and friends. 

You are the ones who give me the light to keep going and share it with the world. It’s all of you I am most grateful for in 2021.

Connecting with Winter to Support Your Emotional Well-Being. (My post from @WanderlustCounseling)

I think a lot of people get Winter Solstice (which we celebrated on Dec. 21st) confused with Fall Equinox.  

Winter is actually about the re-birth of the light, the re-birth of the sun.  Fall is about the coming darkness, as we shed layers and leave old pieces of us behind, and enter into the unknown.  It’s really that period right before winter that is the darkest.  It’s not uncommon for people to feel lost.  I call winter the “Wanderlust 1” phase, while summer is “Wanderlust 2″…a time when we are fully ourselves, full of energy, and dancing in our brightness.  In winter, the work is deeper.  And even if we’re still wandering in darkness, if we can grasp onto the light, slowly getting brighter each day (even when we can’t see it behind the clouds), we have a North Star to guide us out of the night.  
What is the light?  That sun rising within us?  

I would give it a few names…hope, love, meaning/purpose.  But how I think we can utilize the light is by setting an intention.  What do we want to explore during winter?  What changes/growth might we want to start preparing for in the spring?  

In therapy, this is the time to do the deep work.  The trauma work, the shadow work*, when we start working at the root of deep wounds and begin the healing process.  Let’s learn from the trees here too…when a tree is sick, other trees send over nutrients to help it heal (actually, there are plants, fungi, and mycelia involved too).  In short, asking for help is not only okay, it’s often part of the healing process.  Also remember that healing deep wounds often happens slowly, much of it under the surface, covered by a blanket of snow, and invisible to the naked eye.  

*Shadow work, in short, is about bringing into light the parts of us that have been rejected or deemed unacceptable in the past.  Truly, those are important parts of us.  

May your light, and the light of others, guide you through the dark.  Know that the light is always there, even if you can’t see it at the moment.  


A poem within a word.
Carrying joy and sadness.
Hope and defeat.

The word itself flows like a stream.
Sometimes trickling.
Sometimes falling.
Always reflecting a glimmer of light.

I won’t let you go
Unless you ask.
Then I’ll send you off
With a wish, a tear, and love.

But if you choose to stay
We’ll jump in together.
Hand in hand.
I promise it will be a splash.
Following the current.
Riding the waves.
Catching the sparkles.
Surrendering to each other.
So free.
You and me.


Stars & Roots 

Sometimes I feel young, fresh from the ground. 

Other times I feel old as a star.

Not tired and waning.

Wise and vibrant. 

All that I’ve seen
Lies deep in my bones. 
Like roots of a redwood.
Underneath new skin, a fresh layer of bark. 

I am old and young.
Ancient and new.

Stardust at my core.


It hurt again
I didn’t know what to do
So I went the moon
To borrow some light
Until I can find my own
Once again 
I’ll find my way
Out of the dark.


He said it felt like home.

I wanted to beg “take me back there.”

But my words got lost in the wind.

He would never be able to follow my trail of tears.

His path would never lead to my front door.

So instead I mailed my love

To a future that would never be mine.

(Still, I can’t let go of the glimmer of moonlight coming through the window)

How to Thrive Rather than Just Survive This Winter:  How to Keep Those Winter Blues at Bay

Did I catch you with my title?  Good.  Now that I’ve got you hooked, I’ll admit it’s a bit misleading.  That’s not to say I won’t give you some solid mental health tips, but we’re going to dive a bit deeper than that.

As a therapist, my job is not that of a fixer.  I’m a healer.  I don’t fix things that are broken; I help wounded people heal. Essentially, I use my curiosity to help my clients uncover what the root of their troubles are.   And we heal from the ground up.

With that being said, what I want to explore with you in this article is what is at the root of winter blues, or what some people call seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

Until recently, most people thought that SAD was related directly to the amount of light, or rather lack thereof, each day.  I’m sure anyone who’s moved to Estes Park from the midwest will tell you that they don’t miss the 3 straight months of grey skies and no sun.  While I don’t discount the influence of light and think a supplement of Vitamin D would be beneficial for most people, that wouldn’t explain why the people of Tromso, Norway, where inhabitants receive only 2-3 hours of indirect sunlight November through January, see little difference in their mental health in the winter.  Or why my own experience with SAD changed in my early twenties.  Or why some people in Estes Park have SAD, and others don’t.  To go one step deeper, I wonder if YOU have experienced SAD every year of your life, or only some years?  And finally, why did the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) decide to leave out SAD in their latest edition, and instead list it as a specifier (“with seasonal pattern”) to major depressive disorder?

Is it possible that in the winter something else changes besides how long the sun appears in the sky?

A quick side note on depression:  To date in my career as a therapist, I have never met anyone who is depressed for no reason.  There is ALWAYS a reason.

When I was an intern at Harmony Foundation, my supervisor theorized that SAD had to do more with lack of getting outside, rather than sunlight.  That seemed like a pretty valid theory.  Personally, I know that my own experience with SAD diminished when I started trail running outside in the winter rather than always being inside a gym (not to discredit the gym as research shows there are substantial mental health benefits to exercise).  Plus, have you ever met one of the skiers or snowboarders in town?  They are STOKED when the first big snowfall hits.  

One other theory that I’ve read in various sources is that our social habits tend to change in the winter.  Besides major holidays, people tend to gather less in the winter, and even that option wasn’t considered a possibility for many this past year.  In his book “Lost Connections” Johann Hari theorized that most cases of depression and anxiety are due to disconnection in relationships.  When I worked with people with alcohol addictions, I can’t recall any instance of a client saying they were an alcoholic and went to the bar everyday.  Maybe that’s where the drinking started, but it didn’t become a problem until they started drinking at home every night, alone.  

While I won’t claim here that I have THE answer to seasonal affective disorder or winter blues, I will say that lack of connection to Nature, to other people, and to ourselves might be at the root.  However, I do want to clarify that connection is different from being at work or in a store and saying “hi” to people.  Real connection means that when we are together, we have the space to truly be ourselves and allow for the others to truly be themselves as well.  We can speak freely about our emotions and thoughts.  It ensures empathy and an allowance for each person, animal, tree to be amazing just as they are.  We connect, meaningfully, at our cores.

Before I move into ways to stay mentally healthy, or even improve mental health this winter, I won’t pretend that in the COVID era, things are tougher.  Much tougher.  As I wrote in an article last year for the EP Trail Gazette, it’s okay to grieve, to just allow the tears.  Once we find that release, it creates space for other possibilities.  For instance, re-reading what connection is, you may already be able to come up with different, creative ways to gather and connect with others.  

Mental Health Tips for Winter (in the Covid Era)

Mindset: To Dread or To Find Opportunity this Winter?

One other thing I learned when reading about the people of Tromso, Norway, is that they use a mindset tip similar to what I use with the athletes I work with.  When a race, or winter, is on the horizon, do you view it as a threat or a challenge?  When we view things as a challenge, we also tend to see opportunities for play and for growth while a threat is scary and we either want to fight it, flee, or shut down (depression)…and good luck fighting snowflakes.  

List Out Things You Are Looking Forward To

Remember that big snow storm we had in March?  I deemed it “The Great Snuggle Weekend of 2021” and wrote a list of all the things I planned to do: play on my neighborhood hill, bake banana bread, read a book, and snuggle with my pup.  Even if you are more like me, a summer person, there’s so much to look forward to in winter, especially in Estes Park. I’ll list a few below in more detail, but for starters, I’m looking forward to hot drinks at my favorite coffee shops in town and being able to walk into a restaurant without an hour wait!

Getting outside

In the mental health world, recent years have seen a boom of research and articles on the effect of nature and mental health.  In short, nature has been shown to reduce stress, calm our buzzing brains, and boost mood, not unlike an antidepressant.  You don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy outdoor activities either.  In town, there are still plenty of opportunities to hike, but just a simple walk around your neighborhood or bird watching from your deck will have benefits. The key is to see the beauty that is around you. If you can hike, you can also probably snowshoe.  If you don’t want to invest in a pair, you can rent a pair for a whopping $5 at Estes Park Mountain Shop.  If that’s not your speed, Trout Haven and the YMCA offer ice skating. Then there’s my personal favorite: good ol’ sledding, great for kids of all ages! And that leads to my next tip…


Perhaps my favorite part of winter is that it offers  constant opportunities for warm drinks, either made at home or stopping at a coffee shop on the way home from an outing.  I’m already day dreaming of finding a cozy spot upstairs at Inkwell & Brew and gazing out their large windows. Then there’s getting to wear oversized sweaters to work and calling it “fashion”, wrapping myself under blankets (or my dog, who sometimes pretends she is a weighted blanket), and fuzzy socks.  Truly, all these things are a form of self-soothing. Still, if you have a partner, child, or fur-kid around, research suggests two is better than one.  When we cuddle with someone we care about, we release what are known as the “feel good hormones” (serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine). 

Connecting with Others

This, I believe, is the biggest one.  Save for last year, I considered winter to be my favorite time to be a local in Estes Park because I could truly get the sense of being part of a small, mountain community.  While nothing can fully replace in-person interactions or hugs, virtual interfaces did help many of us stay in touch with loved ones and I would heavily encourage anyone to use it who for various reasons can’t see loved ones in person.  On the red-nosed reindeer side, I think there’s more hope this year with more education on the virus and treatment. Regardless, we beautiful humans in town have adapted as best we could, and when I simply asked in a locals online forum what community gathering opportunities were available, I received much more feedback than I expected.  From trivia at Rock Cut Brewing to locals night at Chippers Lane and Dine Around Town in March, there was something for all ages and interests.  If necessary, I know we’ll adapt and change again.  The key is that we maintain and strengthen our ties to one another through whatever means necessary.  We thrive in community through compassion, cooperation, and connection. 

This article was originally published in Live Well, Estes Park Trail Gazette.

Your Apartment

I visited your place yesterday.

I knew you wouldn’t be home.

I didn’t go in.

Just visited the tree.

The one just outside your window,

where the squirrels and birds would play.

I thought maybe, maybe,

if I looked up,

I’d see your reflection looking out.

Down on me.

[I sense you more when I’m back here,

in the air coming off the lake.

I wonder if the cashiers at Target

notice your absence. ]

But you’re too far to touch.

Farther than just three stories up.

Only close enough to feel,

in the damp bark of the tree.

The Love That Wasn’t Meant to Be

[When my parent’s divorced, sometime around when I was 8 years old, I could never understand how two people could have once said they love each other, and then not have it work out. To make sense of it, my young brain said “love isn’t real.” As an adult, you can only avoid it, love, for so long. As much as I tried. Now, I’ve realized, part of my growth understanding what my parents could never explain to me. And it fucking hurts.]

I miss you
I love you

I wanted to text
At least 5 times last night

Better to feel all of it now
Rather than prolong it
I finally decided

But maybe, maybe
We could wait until we start to fight
You’re wrong, I’m right
Then maybe this would hurt less

We’ve already been through this
Now three times

Each time
The pain intensified

Why did you have to touch me again?
Why did you have to comfort me as I cried?

The tightness in my throat, choking
The sadness rising
Until the release
I’m still waiting it for it to stop.

Old wounds
Awakened inside of me
Of love not lost
Simply just not to be

I never understood
Now just feels so unfair
So cruel

To love you so much and know
That we’re not meant to be.


33 and I’ve never felt so free
I’ve got the Earth under my soles
The Sky under my wings.
Life in my veins.

I’m 33
Still young
My sun hasn’t fully reached its peak.

But it’s getting closer
With the breeze I swear I catch the scent of fall.

In my health, I know I could live double, triple 33
66, 99.

I either don’t think I will
Or I don’t want to
Or both
Either ego or a spiritual thing
Again, probably both.

Do I fear Death?
When I’m feeling unsure
Unsure of what’s next
Unsure of myself.

Mostly, I fear living a life unexplored
The stories of others.

I know I can’t explore it all
But in my Heaven
The journey won’t end.

My older sister, she only got 36.
I’ll hug her again
Maybe Pacer won’t bite.
We’ll run and play forever.

Then I come back
To the Here
The Now.

I reassure myself
I am on my path
I feel it mostly in contentment, but also joy
I have explored, learned, and gained so much already
It’s hard to see what lies ahead
Beyond what I create.

And that is enough.


Pull me in.
Hold me close. 
Just don’t grasp
or I’ll slip through the cracks.
But set me free
and I’ll always come back.
To the promise of 
a gentle kiss.

One More Night

One more night at my spot in the clouds.
To read, to write.
To wander, to breathe, to be.
And maybe to cry a little too.
Away from it all…
Or maybe I’m in it all?
Alone with my pup.
Here with the pines.
The flowers and the bees.
The snow melt cascading behind.
Mountains surrounding.
What else more?
More complicated, most likely.
Save for the love of family and friends,
My world needs little else.


What makes a “Best Day Ever”?

It can be a lot of things.  

And you can have several.  Many actually.

A lot of my best day evers happen to be in the mountains, usually with Pacer and Sandi. (First picture, Sandi, Pacer, and I on Handies Peak during Pacer’s Big Day.)Sometimes it’s just spending quality time with family and friends.  Both make my soul feel brighter and my heart want to explode.  

Every time I say “Best Day Ever” now, I remember Amanda saying it, literally on her deathbed, when we had an indoors picnic with my little cousins. (Second picture.)  On that day we all cried.  But there was SO MUCH LOVE.

I’m still discovering the wisdom of her words in that moment.  I think somewhere in there is taking for granted the little, amazing things life has to offer.  And that most of us don’t (allow ourselves to) have nearly enough “Best Day Ever(s)”.