Erica L Hernandez

writing and blog about grief and loss, death and beyond, child loss, mood management, bipolar education, and domestic violence, and finding spiritual moments in a crisis.

Grief Symptoms, grief process

 

Grief beckons in strange ways.  Tiredness can set in and weigh you down, sapping your strength and draining your motivation.  It can distract your brain and nearly eliminate your ability to concentrate or focus on tasks.

My beloved son died a couple years ago, then this year my dad died and then my mom in quick succession. It was with some relief that my dad left this world after living for nearly fifteen years with Alzheimer’s disease. He wasn’t really living anymore and it was tremendously stressful for my mother to care for him.  It was challenging for me to find time several times a week to go help them.  My mother moved in with me in January when he left us, then at the end of June, she left this world quite by surprise.

Logically, I believed it was better that she left while she was still living, before the suffering set in, pervading more of her time.  She was still living that last week, dancing, going to tai chi, painting, and helping me with cooking and cleaning.

The aftermath is challenging.  I have days of brain-fog, hours of heavy tiredness, and other times of irritability, while I try to maintain my responsibilities, postponing grief. Thank god it doesn’t demand constant work, then I’d be a basket case!!  LOL!

Before my mother’s death, cooking was my strength.  I might feel tired of it at times, but I was good at it.  After my son’s death, I could not cook at all for a while, feeling overwhelmed with grief.  After my mother’s death, I get started and then feel very stressed trying to keep track of the steps, the ingredients, and the timing.  To heck with trying to talk with someone at the same time, or keep track of what my children are doing!

Our culture doesn’t appreciate the homemakers among us, nor does it sufficiently appreciate those of us humans who cook for others after work.  The longer I have cooked, the more I have appreciated others cooking for me and this grief lesson has accentuated my appreciation for others who cook for me.

I miss my mom and that quality time we spent together in the kitchen.  Today was sort-through-her-things-day and my sisters did it while I worked.  It leaves me aching to watch her things go to the St. Vincent de Paul, to watch my sisters glibly rush the process of disposing of her belongings.

In what ways do you feel overwhelmed or underappreciated?  What losses in your life leave you trying to cope with grief? How does grief impact you, change you, or cause you to struggle?

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Depression and Anxiety Management naturally

Have you ever been depressed? Diagnosed with depression or anxiety?  Lots of people have experienced one or both of these.

Some people get sad when they’re depressed, some get bored, or just uninterested.

Some people have social anxiety, some panic attacks, and for some their anxiety is triggered by trauma.  There are lots of kinds of anxiety.

What do you do to get rid of them, the negative moods, whether you’re depressed or anxious?

I uncovered some really interesting research.  It reports that people who experience depression or anxiety also experience brain atrophy.  Literally the neurons in the brain die back, causing brain shrinkage from depression, anxiety, or mania.  This may explain why people with those diagnoses struggle to THINK and SLEEP. Those are some pretty basic operations of the brain, wouldn’t you say?

I also found research that a 90 minute walk in a natural setting may help prevent depression! (https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/)

Bipolar sx:rose

The same research demonstrated brain growth and how to get that brain back on track!!  They took two groups of 60-year-olds (40 in each group).  The control group stretched indoors for 45 minutes per day for 6 weeks and the treatment group walked outdoors for 45 minutes per day for 6 weeks.  After 6 weeks, the treatment group, who were walking outdoors, showed a significant increase in neurons.  That equals brain growth.  That likely means, easier to think, easier to sleep.  It likely means feeling better, happier, less anxious.

Now, for some people with significant depression or anxiety, exercise isn’t enough.  But it is a hell-of-a start!!  Nearly anyone can benefit from exercise.  Those who have suffered from depression or anxiety simply need it even worse.

Sometimes it is hard to get started if you’re feeling crummy.  I tell my clients to start with baby steps.  That might mean the first goal is to once a week walk two blocks or it could be to start by keeping track of what you’re already doing with no change. Then try to add a little bit a day, a few minutes, and so on.

I am attaching a symptom tracker for depression and anxiety.  Using one of these on a regular basis can help you become more self-aware.  This empowers you to make choices that can help you feel better.  Good luck!

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Spirit Message in a Mug!

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that my thirty-year-old son committed suicide over two years ago and since then I have had numerous miraculous experiences I can attribute to nothing else besides spirit.  In my case I attribute them to the spirit of my son.

A few days ago, a coffee mug appeared in my house.  I’m the one who buys dishes and I didn’t buy it.  My mother lives with me and she has all homemade dishes since she’s a retired potter.  No one in the house knows anything about this mug.  The mug has a lovely saying on it by anonymous: “to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”  I found the mug, liked the expression, and wondered where it came from.

Later I was talking to my son about some missing things in my house I thought he could help me find and I get this message from him: Go read the mug you found!  I reread it tonight and realized it was a message from him. It is really important to mothers, to know that their children love and value them.  When a child suicides, there is often blame placed on the mother, that somehow it was her fault.  Our culture is so quick to blame.  Each situation is unique and only I know how much I loved and cared for my son.  Only I know how much effort I put into being honest with him and teaching him everything I could about how to grow up self-confident and happy.  I couldn’t change or protect him from the horrors of the world, nor could I protect him from traumas inflicted on him by other people.

He gave me this mug with this beautiful expression as his way of reminding me that he knows all of those things and that I am the world to him.  This is a valuable message to all of us.  Each of us is the world to someone.

Creative Spirit Gifts

Spirits are creative about the gifts they give.  There are times when you might think something is a coincidence or you misperceived or you miscounted.  Basically, you assume this thing you can’t explain is your mistake.  What if it isn’t a coincidence and it’s not your mistake? What if those serendipitous situations, those “coincidences”, are gifts?

A week ago, on my shopping day, I counted the number of loose tea bags I had left.  These are a sack variety that I use to make tea with on a daily basis.  Lately, I have used two a day, one for a coffee substitute and one for tea.  I counted eight, enough for four days.  Then I made extra tea for two different people so I should have been down to enough for three days.  I was disappointed but I figured I’d manage somehow until I got to my regular shopping day. Then I forgot about it.

This afternoon, Wednesday, eight days after my Thursday shopping day, I suddenly thought about it as I was making tea.  I realized I shouldn’t have any left, but I do. I have three left.  Now I could say, ‘maybe I miscounted’.  But, frankly, I counted them twice.  Today there were three left.  They extended themselves or some spiritual being extended them for me. A little gift from my son, I like to think.  Pennies from heaven are treats and pretty common.  But tea bags from heaven are unique!  Thanks, Shawheen!

spirit messages in smells

Special smells from spirit:

Have you ever smelled something that wasn’t there? Now some people might consider that psychotic and it could be.   But you know yourself and I know myself.  I know I am not psychotic.  But I have smelled things that weren’t there.  It’s happened numerous times and I’ll share one example with you.

First, I’ll explain a little about psychotic features. They rarely come on out of the blue. Most people who experience psychotic features experience them with other symptoms as well.  They might come on with a lack of interest or motivation to do things, less facial expressions, difficulty organizing one’s thoughts, among others.  Sometimes psychotic features appear with depression or mania.

So, when none of the above symptoms are present, it’s possible that although one is perceiving something that isn’t there, it might not be psychosis.

This is what happened to me.  I was working in my office and my elderly mother was dropped off by a friend so I could take her to her CPA’s office.  The CPA works in her home and has a lovely garden outside her home.

Previous to this incident, my father died, about three months ago.  My father was a coffee lover and drank 1-2 cups of coffee every day.  He always chose coffee ice cream and often would choose coffee candy.

I take my mom inside the CPA’s office, noticing the garden but not very consciously.  While we are sitting in the office, I notice that my hands smell like coffee.  It’s a strong smell, like coffee grounds.  I do not drink coffee and I do not make the coffee in my home that is drunk.  I asked the CPA if she had just made coffee but she hadn’t.  There was no explanation for the coffee smell on my hands.

On the way out, I notice the lovely garden, still wondering about the smell of coffee on my hands.  When I returned to my office, the smell was still on my hands.  There is no coffee in my office.  At about this time, I realize that my father is reaching out to me from the other side.  He wants me to “be in the now”, notice the beautiful things, the garden.

When you experience odd things, notice what is happening at the time.  There is something you need to pay attention to.  For me it was the garden, the beauty in the now!

Spirit tricks

Spirits have a funny way of trying to get your attention.  My daughter seems to avoid the idea that her brother, though gone from the physical world, is still very much alive and well in another dimension.  He has shown her some very sweet things over the two plus years since he died, but she refuses to connect the dots.  That big brother of hers adored her, let me tell you!

Recently, she and I were in the kitchen.  It was past bed time and her father, brother, and grandmother were already in bed.  She was pushing my boundaries, not going to brush her teeth like she’d been told. I noticed she was putting something in the freezer; a graham cracker with chocolate sauce and sliced strawberries. “I wanted to see if it would freeze over night!”  She says. Silly, because she’s smart enough to know it will.  She’s just satisfying her sugar addiction!

I get her off to bed and myself also.

The next morning when she comes in the kitchen, she opens up the freezer.  “It’s gone!” She is furious.  She’s convinced her grandmother ate it, but although her grandmother also has a sweet tooth, she doesn’t eat dessert for breakfast. Her brother isn’t up yet and her father also doesn’t eat sweets in the morning.  She looks all around in the freezer.  “Maybe it fell to the side.”

She doesn’t find it and we eventually have to go get her and her brother to school.  Every one leaves for work, school or a class.

In the afternoon, she goes to a friend’s house and her brother and I head home.  He knows nothing about the treat she made herself, but he’s in the freezer looking for some frozen berries.  “Hey, there’s a graham cracker here with chocolate on it.  Did Gabriela make this?”

I’m astounded.  I have to come see it with my own eyes.  “Holy crap!  It’s there!” Right where she said it should have been, on top of a bag of wontons.

I tell her brother the story then.  “That’s a Shawheen trick no doubt!”  He tells me.

And I have to agree.

When his sister gets home I tell her. “Shawheen put the graham cracker back.”

She has to check and it is still there.  I don’t know if she’ll ever admit her deceased brother is trying to contact her.  I imagine he’ll keep trying.  But her brother and I know it’s him.  He’s keeping an eye on us, offering us guidance, humor, and love.

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Help the homeless, help the world

Do you ever wonder how you can help the growing homeless population in your town?  I hear people talk about the problems with the world, with little clarity about what they can do to help.

There are times in our lives when finances are tight and we can’t afford to help others.  During those times in my life, I’ve meditated, sending out love to the world and thoughts of peace on earth.  This is something anyone can do.  If you’d like to meditate, yet struggle with it, try going to your search engine and putting in: UCLA marc.  Free guided meditations will come up.  Try them!

When our financial situation improves, there are other things we can do.  I’d love to hear your ideas of things you have done to help the world, the homeless population, the mentally ill, the disabled, and those less fortunate than we are.

Before my son died, nearly three years ago, I used to go cook for the homeless.  I would pack up my camp stove, my family and food, and we would hang out under the Jefferson street bridge between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I would take tortillas, beans, cheese, home-made salsa, and coffee and offer food and hot coffee to the homeless population.  It was rewarding to be able to do something, however small, to ease their suffering.

Until recently, my own suffering made it impossible for me to face that kind of need outside my work hours.  More recently, however, I’ve found myself reaching out again to help.  It could be very small, like offering my returnable bottles to a homeless person, or offering a warm hat to someone on the street.  For the last few months, I have found homeless men regularly camping near the market I shop at, so I’ve begun bringing them food when I’m done shopping.

I’ve struck up a conversation with one gentleman who is there regularly and he gave me an idea.  He told me a story about once getting a sandwich at the White Bird Clinic, in Eugene, Oregon.  Apparently, it wasn’t a regular service, but a donation from a concerned citizen.  So, I went home last night and cooked up a huge pot of grains (like rice) with beans and home-made tomatillo salsa and I took that down to White Bird Clinic.  I left it there with more salsa, plates, napkins and spoons.  I dropped by after lunch to pick up my empty pot and canning jar.

I share this with you as an offering of an idea.  Do you have time sometimes to drop food off at your local service station for the homeless?  Do you live in a country where this isn’t a problem?  If so, your government is clearly handling things better than ours is.

Or take it as a challenge!  One-up me!

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Mood Management, Bipolar Disorder natural treatment, routines

Please remember that this site is not meant to be a substitute for professional help.  If you have a diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder, or you think you might, please seek professional help in person!

Once you have begun working with a therapist or doctor, this site can be added support.

When working to manage mood, particularly bipolar disorder, routine matters a lot.  It helps to create a routine that allows you to go to bed around the same time and get up around the same time.  In previous blogs I have talked about the importance of sleeping 7-9 hours per night.  Feel free to read that blog, now, for a discussion of why it is important to sleep about 8 hours per night.

Part of getting a good night’s sleep, is working on your evening routine.  It is helpful to get enough darkness, so be sure to read the blog on dark therapy and bipolar disorder.  It is also important, during high energy periods, to develop a calm evening routine.  This means visiting with only family or perhaps one friend.  When one is struggling with high energy, ie on the manicy end of the spectrum, there is a lot of stimulation inside the body.  With all that inner stimulation, the body cannot tolerate a lot of stimulation out of the body.  So, it is important to minimize numbers of people, lights, sounds, and stabilize with comfortable temperatures.  It is important to do calming activities, like meditation, hot baths or showers, listen to calm music, and do calm hobbies.  Calm hobbies might include handwork, journaling, or reading, activities which can be done sitting down.

If you ever wake up in the middle of the night, or before achieving the ideal number of sleep hours, it is very important to do calm activities which may enable you to return to sleep within an hour or so.  I highly recommend looking at the blog on dark therapy if this is an issue for you.  Then I recommend trying meditation.  If meditation doesn’t work within twenty to thirty minutes, it is a good idea to leave the bed, and choose soothing activities for thirty to sixty minutes before returning to the bed for another round of meditation.

It is also really important to keep televisions and other screen devices out of your bedroom along with anything that has light.  Research has shown that having nightlights or light entering through a window can interfere with anyone’s sleep.  So a good set of black out curtains is also a very good idea.

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Spirits rest, Life-force energy renewal

Do you sense you’re experiencing synchronistic events, rather than coincidences? Do you talk to your loved ones after they’ve passed?   I have had two loved ones die in the last three years and I have learned that they are very available to communicate with while no longer in the physical body.

Over two years ago my son died.  He was only thirty years old, was in recovery from drug addiction, and struggling with debilitating depressions.  He had had a spiritual awakening at Serenity Lane and had continued following his spiritual path after that.  In a debilitating depression, he overdosed, and I lost my beloved son.

It wasn’t more than a month after he died that he began communicating with me from beyond the veil and he has been available to me on a daily basis since then.  You may have read other posts about some of the miraculous experiences he has shared with me.

Two months ago, my father died.  He had lived his life with great integrity, but as an atheist, with no belief in the afterlife.  He was convinced the end was the end.  He believed that he would decompose into dirt and worms, with no belief in a soul.  He had also had 15 years of chronic illness with Alzheimer’s disease.

When he died, he was initially unresponsive from the spirit world.  My son, Shawheen, told me, “Give him time, Mom, he’s adjusting.”

I began talking to him, telling him what happened, how he should notice that he still lives, he just isn’t physical anymore, that we can still communicate, even though I am here in the physical world and he is in the spirit world.  Each time I reached out to him and sensed confusion, I explained the best I could about the ending of his physical life and the continuance of his spiritual life.

For a while I got nothing, then I seemed to get grunts, then confusion, and over the weeks, gradually he seemed more aware.  Eventually after 6-8 weeks I sensed something like an awakening.  It was like he was suddenly alert and able to respond.  He seemed younger, bouncy, jolly and very receptive.  It was a 180-degree change from his confused, unresponsive state from before.

In consultation with a psychic, I was informed that when physical bodies are very ill, it can take them a while to finish resting.  During their rest period, just after physical death, they may be unresponsive, as if in a sleep.  During this time, the angels are returning the depleted life-force energy to the spiritual body.  While the physical body ages and becomes ill, the life-force energy is depleted and needs to be returned or reinforced.  She explained that my communications with my father likely helped him somehow.  Maybe in some way I was helping the angels revive his life-force energy.  It is a beautiful idea, anyway, that while here in the physical plane, we can actually help our spirit loved ones!

Natural Bipolar Disorder treatment, sleep

This blog is not a substitute for therapy.  If you think you might have a Bipolar Spectrum disorder, it is my recommendation that you seek treatment right away.

In my last blog on Bipolar disorder, I shared information on dark therapy, an innovative new approach to the treatment of Bipolar disorder.  Dark therapy stems from the idea that we all operate on circadian rhythms.

Most researchers agree that the majority of the population needs 7-9 hours of sleep.  If you have a Bipolar spectrum disorder, moods are characterized by changes in these numbers of sleep.  People with Mania or Hypomania will likely sleep significantly less than that, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or healthy.  In Depression, those numbers may increase or decrease.

From my perspective, the first step to treating someone with a mood disorder is to help them increase their awareness of their symptoms.  A tracking device is used on a daily basis to help people become more aware of which symptoms they experience, and which activities reduce those symptoms.

In the process of reviewing those symptoms, we pay special attention to sleep and explore sleep hygiene.  When sleep is an issue around moods, it is important to get clear with ourselves, how dark our bedroom is, how calming are our activities before sleeping, and what activities we do during the day that help us sleep or impair our sleep.

At that point we have a choice.  If we want to feel better, we’ll adjust those things as needed so sleep gets easier.  As it gets easier and more balanced, our mood ought to stabilize and the symptoms will likely decrease.

A hot shower or bath, meditation, journaling, and warm milk or herb tea are all good activities before going to sleep.  Sitting still doing an art project can be good as well, something focused like knitting, crocheting, carving, or cross stitch are good examples.  When writing in a journal, focusing on negative experiences during the day will need to be balanced by processing the positive sides of things for some people to facilitate going to sleep.  Intensified emotions may interfere with going to sleep so it is important to consider this when choosing what to write, read, listen to or talk about before going to sleep.

There is a large array of supplements to aide sleep.  If you feel that you need those or prefer them over other options, I would encourage you to reach out to a naturopath, acupuncturist, or herbalist to explore your choices.

Erica Freeman, LCSW

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