CURTIS

Name:  

Curtis Anne Moore (Named after my grandmother and great-grandmother; nickname “Cam” which I go by).

Age: 64

Born and raised: Charles Town, WV

Currently live: Nitro, WV

Pets: Maggie – terrier mix

Bentley – chihuahua mix (both rescues)

Do you have a place where you feel happiest? Where is it?

I love being in the woods – most any woods in any season. I grew up in a rural area and we often played in the woods and just generally spent a lot of time outdoors. The times I have felt the happiest have been in the woods, by a stream. The sounds of the water and the rustling trees has always soothed me. I even have a sticker on my car of a John Muir quote – “Into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”

I feel like everyone, whether they know it or not, is driven by a question, and their life is lived in service of answering it. Do you have thoughts about this? Do you agree? Disagree?

I do agree as it has been true for me. However, I fear too many people are unaware of their question(s) because they are too busy just trying to survive.

I have spent so much of my life asking questions of both myself and my clients that I am inclined to think another question I have been trying to answer is “what is the real question?” I think the answers can only come when we figure out the right questions.

In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, there is a technique called the vertical (or downward) arrow. Simply put, it’s a process that asks the repetitive question of “if ___ is true, what would that mean to me?” then repeating that same question after every answer. Eventually we get to the bottom, to the core belief that is holding us back. From there, the work is to build back up to a healthier perspective.  Without the right questions, we can’t find the right answers.

If you do agree, what is the question your life is trying to answer?

My question has been “why am I the way I am?” I struggled emotionally as an adolescent as I was figuring out my identity. Then, as a young adult I had a series of unsuccessful relationships. In the early 90’s I stumbled across the book REINVENTING YOUR LIFE by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko.  This was the first time I read something that started answering my question.  I went to therapy for the first time then and twice thereafter to work through family issues that I had learned influenced the kinds of relationships I was struggling with. By the time I met my wife 16 years ago, I had figured out quite a bit about myself. But, in true fashion of how the universe seems to work, the concept of childhood emotional neglect recently dropped in my lap and reminded me I still have not fully answered my question. I guess that could mean there is no final answer, that this is a journey and not a destination.

Growing up, did you have siblings? Did you get along? Where did you fall in birth order?

I am the youngest of 3 children in my family. I was born on my sister’s 7th birthday and was told she was excited that day, but not so much after she figured out I was sticking around! I also have a brother 4 years older than me. We all got along for the most part, only fighting occasionally. However, we were not close. I shared a room with my sister until she was a teenager, so I was just the annoying little sister. For some reason, I don’t remember much about my brother.

I spent most of my time alone or with my parents, but felt closer to my father than anyone. Unfortunately, there was a lot of alcohol use in our home and extended family. My mother had the most obvious “problem”, so as was common in their generation, real communication took a backseat. Consequently, we didn’t learn to talk about difficult issues or feelings, so it kept our relationships superficial.

Do you have a singular passion?

Not really! I’m a true Gemini, so I have passions in different parts of my life and they have shifted and changed over time!

I am a recently retired mental health counselor (LPC), but still work a few hours a week for my previous employer, providing mentoring and training. In pondering this question it became clear to me my passion around work has been, and still is, twofold. First, since my introduction to schema therapy in the early ‘90’s, I came to believe in what is now referred to as functional psychotherapy. This approach focuses on discovering the root cause(s) of mental illness and uses an integrated approach to treatment. The more I helped my clients answer their “why” questions, the more I saw them begin to heal. Self understanding and self-compassion are critical components to healing. It was, and still is, my passion to share this perspective with other counselors, challenging them to do the deep work with their clients for longer lasting, effective change.

My second work-related passion has been to promote quality in my profession in addition to quantity. I understand successful businesses have to make money, but I’ve never understood offering poor to meager quality services to that end. The community mental health center I worked in had a terrible reputation in our community because we helped “those people.” It was, and still is, my passion to prove a person can get as good, if not better, quality care from our agency as seeing a therapist in private practice. Whoever said someone who has their own practice is automatically a better clinician than someone working in community mental health? It has never made sense to me, so I am still doing my part to change that perception.

My personal passion is a little more complicated. Two years into retirement, I’m still trying to figure out who I am outside of my profession. Last fall I encountered some serious gut issues that resulted in giving up alcohol and taking better care of myself with diet and exercise. It required a huge shift for me, but I’m happy to report I’m still on that path to wellness. Currently, my personal passion is to be as healthy as I can be mentally, emotionally and physically.

Do you have a favorite book or poem?

My favorite work of fiction is SIX OF ONE by Rita Mae Brown.  My favorite non-fiction book is REINVENTING YOUR LIFE by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. Though I read a lot of poetry when I was young, I don’t recall a favorite poem but I have collected many quotes through my life that have guided me well. Some examples:

“I would rather a man hate me than overlook me. At least if he hates me, I make a difference.” – Hugh Prather

“I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.” – Amelia Earhart

“On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100% and that’s pretty good.” – Vinny Genovesi

Do you, or did you have a career? What was it?

I obtained my Masters degree in 1986 in Counseling & Rehabilitation from Marshall University in Huntington, WV. I had gone to work at Prestera Mental Health Center in 1984 while in school (community mental health). I retired from my full time position with Prestera in 2020, but still work part time providing mentoring and training. During my tenure with Prestera, I worked as a case manager for seriously mentally ill adults, Case Management Supervisor, adult outpatient therapist, adult outpatient supervisor and finally Director of one of our county offices for the last 5 years of my full time career.

What drew you to your career?

I grew up with a father who dedicated his life to service. He went to college but left, enlisting into the Army Air Corps to fight in WWII. He then came home and worked in public service as a deputy sheriff and later in life as a county commissioner. I watched him help others my entire life and saw how others benefited from that help. As I mentioned, I was a Daddy’s girl, so it was no surprise when I went into the helping field. I knew I had found my niche in Counseling 101 so I was lucky to find my calling early in my life.

How did you find the how to live newsletter?

I stumbled upon your newsletter in my newsfeed on Facebook. I fell in love with your writing – so genuine and real! I love your topics and content because they relate so much to issues I’ve encountered in my work.

Why do you think there is such a stigma against talking freely and openly about emotions?

I think it goes back to an erroneous belief that expression of emotion is considered “weak.” In our culture, women tend to be “allowed” and expected to express emotion but are constantly fighting this perception of weakness. Is it the result of living in a largely patriarchal society? Maybe. Are men so threatened by women that the only way we can be silenced is to frame our emotional expression as weakness to keep us subjugated? Maybe.

If your question extends to the stigma against mental health, I think it goes to misinformation and a general lack of knowledge of mental illness. People fear what they don’t understand but the catch is, they have to want to understand. That’s where a lot of the problem is – willful ignorance.

What is one book you think everyone should read? REINVENTING YOUR LIFE by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko with EMOTIONAL ALCHEMY by Tara Bennett-Goleman a close second! Both of these books offer the best explanation I have found as to why we are the way we are.

If you were to meet your younger self right now, what belief would you tell her to let go of?

The belief I can love people well. It took me a long time to deal with my codependency and realize it wasn’t my responsibility to do the work for other people, but to focus on myself. Interestingly enough, I’ve found the more I worked on myself, the more I sought out healthier relationships. I no longer try to fix people and it’s liberating! “You can lead a horse to water…”

Is there something you’d like us to know about you, or life as you see it, that I didn’t ask? What is it?

Oh, there’s a bunch!

  • I am a singer/songwriter (more singer than songwriter these days) and recorded a cassette tape of several of my songs in the mid ‘90’s.
  • I came out as a lesbian to my parents when I was 16 (that would have been in 1975!). Though it was under weird circumstances, it all turned out well as I didn’t have to hide my life from them from then on. Now, I am in a wonderful relationship with my wife of 16 years (married 6)!
  • I am a “hawker/peddler” who has a booth at a local antique mall. My father was an antique dealer all my life.  He gave me the love of old things, so yet another way I followed in his footsteps.
  • I’m pretty sure I’m not done, that there is something left for me to do – I just don’t know what it is yet. My parting piece of wisdom is to stay open, ask questions and listen for the answers because they’re there waiting to be found.
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SUSAN

FEATURED READER: SUSAN, age 73

Born and raised: New York Currently live: California

Pets: None at this time, though I have had dogs, cats, birds and fish in the past

Do you have a place where you feel happiest? Where is it? Right now I feel happiest in my little cottage in the woods in Marin County, CA

I feel like everyone, whether they know it or not, is driven by a question, and their life is lived in service of answering it. Do you have thoughts about this? Do you agree? Disagree? I do agree.

From an early age I was taught that being of service to others was a great life purpose. When young I was a Girl Scout, and took part in activities to help my community. When I grew up, my career was in Customer Service/Support.

I also owned and ran a successful restaurant in Mill Valley, CA from 1974-1977 that donated to many local clubs and activities.In addition, for 15 years I sang for people at the end of their lives with the Marin Threshold Choir. The choir started out as a local endeavor and grew to encompass over 2000 women in the US and many countries abroad.

What is the question your life is trying to answer? “How can I use my talents, money and interests to be of service to others, while also supporting myself and living my best life?”

What are your views on marriage? I was married for 18 years to a man 25 years older than me.

We had a lot in common early on, but as he grew older it became harder for me to relate to him, as he needed to slow down, and I was just hitting my stride. This caused irrevocable problems and the marriage ended. I have never wanted to remarry.

Growing up, did you have siblings? Did you get along? Where did you fall in birth order? I had twin brothers who were 2 years younger than me. We got along pretty well, and once we were adults we really liked each other a lot.

One of them passed away at the end of 2020 as collateral damage to Covid. The other lives across the country, but we communicate almost daily.

Do you have a singular passion? More like multiple – I love cooking and enjoying food. And gardening, and walking in Nature

Do you have a favorite book or poem? Cross Creekby Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is my favorite non-fiction book, and I reread it every few years. I also deeply enjoy detective fiction by women writers like Laurie R. King, Rys Bowen, Nancy Atherton, Elizabeth Peters, Sue Grafton, Louise Penney and Jacqueline Winspear, each of whom has written series with wonderful characters.

I love the poetry of Rumi, especially this poem.

Do you, or did you have a career? What was it?

Initially I went to college to become an art teacher, but the birth rate had dropped in the early 1970’s and schools were being closed. So I went to work as a grocery clerk, where I met my husband, who was a customer.

The short version of our romance is the he checked ME out!

We opened a restaurant together a few short months after we married, and ran it for three years. Afterward, he became a cabinet maker and carpenter, and I went into sales, marketing and customer service, working for a variety of local businesses, and even helping to start a secretarial recruiting company in San Francisco.

What do you find are the four hardest things about aging as relates to your physical body? Loss of physical strength, loss of hearing, loss of memory, and loss of bladder control!

What do you find are the four hardest things about aging as relates to your mental health? I have to constantly fight loneliness, physical decline, pain and worry about money.

Why do you think that America overlooks its elderly population? Our culture worships Youth. When elders are slow, hard of hearing or otherwise impaired, l feel that there is little compassion on the part of many younger people to understand and be willing to accommodate us.

Are we afraid, and if so, what are we afraid of? I don’t feel we’re afraid of the elderly, per se. Some people may shy away from them because they fear their own aging or death. Others may feel that the elderly are taking up space and precious resources. In my personal experience, I feel loved and respected by those close to me, for my wisdom and humor.

Do you think we’d be better off if life and death were topics that we all grew up learning about in school? Yes, I do. I was about 6 years old when my aunt’s only son passed away in his sleep.

My parents brought me to the funeral. My aunt questioned why my mother did so, and mother replied “She has to learn sometime.”

My father nearly died of a heart attack two years later, and I learned that my parents were also mortal. In 2002 I joined the Threshold Choir and learned to sing gentle songs for those in struggle, to prepare me to handle my own mother’s death, which didn’t happen until 2008.

I was able to sing a her bedside as she went down the path to the end, It was a most blessed form of service.

When you look with clarity at the world today, what is your fear for future generations? Each generation has had its trials and tribulations to figure out. I feel that the future will either bring lasting peace, or our species will end up dying out, like so many millions of others. But I am betting that the next generations will figure it out, and continue to evolve.

What would you tell them right now if you had their ear?

I would tell them to always seek the path that comes from Love, and Honesty and Faith.

Is there something you’d like us to know about you, or life as you see it, that I didn’t ask? What is it?

The poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann has guided me for many years. These last few lines are what I truly believe:

“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

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HOW TO WRITE COMPLEX EMOTIONS

From the time we’re small, we’re all taught how to see and think.  Advanced study will teach you how to look at scholarly work as a pattern that can be taken apart and studied. While being able to know what we think about the things we read and see are obviously critical, the more dedicated we are to the mind, the less connected we become to ourselves. In my writing class, I am going to teach you what school never did: how to feel. 

In Writing Complex Emotions, we are going to learn how to feel our somatic sensations; to identify the splashes and pulses trapped beneath years of avoidance and academic discourse, and learn how to capture their textures on the page. 

Whether you’re a literary wonder like George Saunders or a beginner, understanding emotions aren’t enough. You must feel them. Let me show you how.

This is a 4-hour workshop, split into two sessions. I am charging just $50 for this first two-session workshop. If it goes well, I will move the price to $100. So, if this interests you and you want in on the cheap price, please sign up now! 

Email amanda@amandastern.com with the subject line EMOTION.

Payment via Venmo, Paypal or Zelle.

THIS CLASS MEETS VIA ZOOM on MAY 16th and 17th from 10 am-12 pm. You will get a private Zoom link the day before the workshop.

LONGER DESCRIPTION

Feelings are hard to describe, much less write. Most writers rely purely on the physical to get their emotional point across. To indicate loss to the reader, the writer might rely on subtext, and by doing so they write about things on the surface: a bereft father catches sight of a man swinging his young daughter around on the beach. We understand and feel the gulf between what one man has lost and the other takes for granted. The more details we provide about both of these men and their daughters, the more we will feel because these details will signal the weight of absence. Often, in literature, what’s seen represents what’s not there. 

Writing emotion through staging and subtext works to elicit the appropriate feeling in your reader, but sometimes that isn’t enough. What if your aim is to offer readers articulation for the unsayable? Instead of nodding toward the gulf, how do we describe what the gulf feels like inside our bodies? 

In this class, I will take you through methods that will teach you to identify and write all possible emotions. You will learn how to drop inside your body for exploration, pulling the somatic sensations into your throat and onto the page. I will also teach you how to create emotion in the atmosphere. At the end of this class, you’ll have learned how to elevate not only your prose but your communication skills.

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ANXIETY & THE BODY

When you have anxiety as a child, you lack the words for what you feel inside your body, and what you feel inside your body is so acutely awful, so wretched and horrifying, most anxious kids will spend their time actively looking for ways to avoid feeling the percolating dread filling their chests, bubbling into their throats and tingling down their arms.

The more they turn away from their own feelings, the more they suffer. If no one intervenes, they grow into teenagers who can easily find unhealthy ways to numb their suffering (which achieves their goal of avoidance) through alcohol and drug use. By now, these kids have gone so long trying to avoid what’s in their bodies, they’ve grown to fear not just the feelings, but the bodies that contain the feelings. They can’t drop down into their feelings, so they rise up and get trapped inside their heads.

This disconnection between head and body makes ignoring your body easy. When they grow into adults, this separation can be so acute that in order to actually feel their bodies they need to overeat or undereat to the point of discomfort. They drink to excess or rely on drugs to either numb or amplify their terrifying feelings. Their relationship to their body becomes dysregulated and they’ll spend years trying to work through it all.

If you have children, how do you prevent all this from happening? Well, you must start teaching your child how to listen to her body. When she’s angry, ask her where she feels it and what it feels like. Don’t let her get away with “I don’t know” or “You’re so annoying.” Make this question a habit. Ask her to point to where she feels her sadness, her gladness, her laughter.

If we can begin to train our children to listen to themselves early, we have a much better chance of reaching them when they’re teenagers. And they have a much better chance of developing a healthy relationship with their body.

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Anxiety & REALITY

I’ve had a hard time writing blog posts about mental health this past month. There’s more than enough to write about, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by reality.

Anxiety is basically a fear of feeling fear, which means it’s a fear of experiencing and facing reality. And the reality of living in this world is very hard to face, even if you’re not the one in the direct line of suffering.

It’s hard to write blog posts about mental illness when kids are being separated from their parents at the border when black and brown people are killed because they’re not white, when white supremacists are bringing back the Swastika, when women’s rights are still up for debate, when patriarchy is still our default mode, when discrimination leeches its way through every category including gender, when the president of the United States is a white-nationalist leaning sociopath.

Our systems and institutions are so dysfunctional and dangerous they give rise to mental instability and it’s us, the people, who are persecuted for these structural deficiencies.

All this is to say, hi. I’m still here. I’ll write more soon, I promise. I’m just taking a mental health break from my mental health blog to shore myself back up.

Love, Amanda

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LOW TOLERANCE OR HIGH OVERWHELM?

Sorry for the silence, I’ve been…overwhelmed.

I am overwhelmed by the large things that loom, the various and tedious tasks linked to each large looming thing, the subtasks and those subtasks, the accumulating emails, the highly un-editable online W-9 pdfs, this side hustle, that side hustle, the newest side hustle I agreed to before thinking it through, the following through, the reaching out, the unaggregated notes written in a variety of places offline and on, the labyrinthine hell of trying to get a refund, the children, the children, the parents separated from their children, the children, the children, the children.

Please consider donating to my fundraiser to RAICES. Advocates say the most meaningful thing we can do is pay the bail for these children.

BAIL.

FOR CHILDREN.

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WHAT IS A PANIC DISORDER?

In the past year, while I’ve been traveling and talking about my memoir LITTLE PANIC and my life long panic disorder, I’ve noticed something interesting: a lot of people claim to have something they don’t actually have.

Do you have a panic disorder?

Probably not.

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

Perhaps.

A panic disorder is the chronic suffering from repeated and frequent, unprovoked panic attacks. There are no triggers. It’s not anxiety a person feels in those periods of time, it’s pure, unadulterated panic. Life-threatening panic. I lived for 25 + years with a panic disorder. My life was interrupted by frequent seizures of unprovoked terror. The distinguishing feature of a true panic disorder is a person’s fear of having a panic attack. This fear becomes so intense that the sufferer will go to great extremes to avoid suffering from a panic attack. Their lives get very small, and often people become agoraphobic.

It becomes an untenable way to live, and often, depending on the type of person you are, the will to be freed from fear’s dictatorship, forces a person to make a choice: succumb or fight back. I fought back, only after succumbing.

It’s not a badge of honor to claim something that you don’t suffer from, but for some reason, many people claim to have a panic disorder when they don’t. This makes it harder for people who truly suffer to be seen and heard, and taken seriously.

So…you might have occasional panic attacks, and you might have a ton of anxiety, but unless your life has been altered daily by frequent bouts of panic, you, my friend, are in the clear.

And you know who else is in the clear? Me. I still have panic attacks, but only about two a year. I am in remission. I’d like to get clear about who suffers and in what way so that we don’t muddy the waters for those who truly need care. So, the next time you have a panic attack, you don’t need to worry that you have a panic disorder. You probably don’t.

BUT…if you do have frequent and chronic panic attacks that interfere with your everyday life, please go see a psychiatrist and a therapist. No offense to primary care physicians, but I find they don’t take mental illness as seriously as those in the mental health business.

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