All posts in Dr. Robin Norris

“I wouldn’t know what to talk about.”

“I wouldn’t know what to talk about.”
This is sometimes the reason people don’t go to counseling. You’re not quite sure what to say to the stranger in the room in front of you. However, something inside of you says that you need to discuss your day with someone else outside of family, friends, or co-workers. It can be awkward at first.

You essentially get invited into a room where there will be a possibility of comfortable chairs or even a couch. You then have the opportunity to tell someone you have never met before, what’s going on. It’s not like a medical exam in which you would sit on a table with crinkly paper. There are no pills or any shots. The counselor may ask you questions, sometimes on initial paperwork or in person that can be detailed and quite personal. Write down what you feel comfortable writing down, and eventually discuss things that you may not at first feel comfortable discussing. Don’t expect that every single counselor knows every detail of your life. They don’t know about you until you share about yourself.

If you’re coming into counseling to talk about not feeling great about your job, well then that’s what you talk about. Chat about not feeling great about your job and all the bits and pieces that go into that. Don’t feel like you need to discuss what was going on in your life when you were a five-year-old if you’re 45 years old and you’re simply not liking your job. However, know that if there are issues in addition to your job a qualified counselor can help you to talk through those things. A good counselor will not judge you for not wanting to talk.  A good, confident, clinically trained counselor will not judge you for any of your most intimate secrets.

Counselors are people that clients can come to talk about the hard or embarrassing stuff in life. Counselors are the people trained to not shy away from topics such as the mechanics of a sexual encounter, the pain of losing someone to suicide, or the thoughts that go on in your head that you might not feel like you want to be having. There is a very broad range of wellness and illness and with it comes the ideas and activities that each of us has in our daily life. A counselor can help you sift through them. Not every session is deep and dark and tricky. Some might be for some people, while other may never have these types of discussions. People come talk to us about their jobs, their parenting, their relationships, their next awesome business idea, or about the people that are bullying them and they just don’t know what to do. People talk to us about the life choices that they are making with drugs or alcohol and they want to find out more about healthful choices they can make for their bodies that may not be as damaging.

There is no right way or wrong way to talk to a counselor. Simply be the respectful person that you are and remember that the counselor is human too. Counselors themselves have been through many life experiences and hundreds of classes that can help guide you to make the decisions that are best for you. So, when you feel like you don’t know what to talk about with a counselor simply say that. Tell the counselor you have never sat with someone like this before and that you’re not sure what to do next. This is probably not a first session ever for the counselor, in which case they can guide you to help discover what it truly is that you’re there to talk about. Try it out. You never know what you might learn.


Bipolar – Some Tips from Research

A couple of summers ago I was asked to be a contributor towards a college textbook for master’s level aspiring counselors. The topic I appreciated researching about for this project was Bipolar. Formally entitled Manic-Depression, Bipolar carries with it moods of all sorts for the person that is living life with it. It is marked by shifts and mixes of depression and high-energy with at times anxiety. Reality testing is a big component in that sometimes what others outside the person with bipolar see are interesting ideas and thoughts that can lead to greatness or if trending to far in a direction, disaster.

This past spring I attended a mood disorders conference at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, which excitedly was open to professionals and the general public. Dr. Kaye Jamison, a pioneer on this disorder as she herself has it, was one of the presenters. She outlined beautifully her more recent research of giftedness and geniuses among poets, actors, and musicians that have been noted as having Bipolar. Some examples of individuals that have been noted as having some form of Bipolar disorder are Hans Christian Anderson, Richard Dryfuss, Mary Lambert, Robin Williams, and Catherine Zeta-Jones we have gotten wonderful works.

Magazine: If you have Bipolar there is more research and support than ever before. BP magazine would be one place to start your journey of learning. Each addition host articles about other people’s journey throughout life with the disorder as well as share tips and suggestions about research oriented items to consider. For example it has been noted that folks with Bipolar disorder can be more sensitive to seasonal changes or the daily rise and set of the sun. This can affect medication management during different times of the year.

Book: Another resources that I thought was written in quite a humorous way but very well is the book Two Bipolar Chicks by Wendy Williamson and Honora Rose. Throughout this small manual these two women with Bipolar outline different practical things to consider from stylish types of pill cases to how to have your loved one understand what a mood shift looks like and what to do next.

Blog/Theatre: If you are someone that learns about yourself by sharing with others you may want to consider Started by Jennifer Marshall a fabulous mom to two children, and wife extraordinaire whom blogs on, Jennifer knows all too well the life of bipolar and creates a national theater platform for others to take center stage and share about their journeys.

Film: At the Hopkins conference I had the pleasure of listening to and meeting Filmmakers Paul Dialo and his wife Kristina Nikola. Paul wrote the movie Touched by Fire a tale of two individuals with Bipolar that meet in a psychiatric hospital. Paul and his family fully know first hand what Bipolar is because he works diligently at keeping his own moods level with his Bipolar. He shared that while he note only listens to his doctors about staying on Lithium, he drinks a certain helpful vegetable juice, talks walks every day, and is so rigid about his bed time that he was told if either of his two children were born after 10pm then he simply shouldn’t be present for their births. He loves and trusts his wife who is one of the first people that would notice if his mood was trending in a direction he may not be aware of. From his speech I took home the concept that you should not give up hope. And that while folks with Bipolar have a flame for life it can burn very beautifully as long as it stays within the parameter of the campfire. Spouses, kids can start to notice when embers are jumping out. Dr. Kaye Jamison noted that once a brain is at the outer level that this is dangerous and residual damage can be occurring. When those embers start to jump out be careful to allow others to help you from your forest fire beginning.

Medications: So far among all the research that I have done, lithium continues to be one of the main drugs of choice for many individuals with Bipolar. It can vary in dosing, does unfortunately mean blood tests to make sure that your system is not collecting toxic levels, but can come in tablet, pill, or liquid form. This is important to discover what works best for you as the taste has been something folks have mentioned can vary and prompt food choices about post ingestion. Ask your physician about any of the uni-polar medications used for depression, because the literature to date indicates that certain ones can prompt a manic episode to begin.

Non-medication: Fisher Wallace Stimulator noninvasive electrical brain stimulation. There are mixed reviews about if this items works, but there is enough positive commentary about this machine and it can be used in the comfort of your own home, that I would want you to do your own research about and talk with your physician if this is something you feel would be appropriate for your life.

Food: I am not going to tackle this in this blog as I will be for sure talking more about this is other blogs. There is no doubt in my mind that food is fuel and the type we put into our bodies can for sure affect some of the reactions are body puts out.

Support, support, support. Did I say it enough? Overall I want you to know that you are not alone. There are tons of people with bipolar and tons of people willing to help you along your life with it. Reach out! This is not a disorder you will live well with if you isolate. You don’t have to be an extrovert, but you need to build a small tribe of trusted folks so you can teach them about your needs.


Adult Grief

Adult Grief

I wanted to write some things today about grief and loss to honor all of our feelings about the loss of someone close to us. Often times I have someone come into a session and say that they’ve lost someone close to them and they’re not sure how they’re supposed to be feeling.

Everyone grieves differently; there’s no one way to grieve. There’s no perfect or correct way to grieve. Your sleeping can change, your eating can be challenged in that you either want nothing or a lot more. You may not want to talk to others, or go back to your everyday life of keeping up your space or going to work. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed her concept of the stages of grief which include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial is when you really feel like your whole body and your whole mind is just trying to re-create what happened so that it didn’t happen. You can’t believe that your loved one went off to work and was killed in a car accident on the way home. You can’t believe that your parent who just retired and was moving around in great health died from a sudden heart attack. You can’t believe that your child playing on her bicycle died by the end of the day because she hit her head in just the spot to cause permanent brain issues and loss of life when she fell off into the grass even while wearing her helmet.

Denial can be very strong. It is real and you completely feel to the core that the horrible story you are living must’ve happened to someone else’s family, but surely not your own. You may not want to help with the planning of the funeral because you just know it’s not possible that your family member is gone. You may not want to talk with or hear from the doctors, nurses, paramedics, or people close to you because they are saying that the person you adore is no longer breathing.

The intensity of being angry is different for each person. Don’t fear it if it’s there. There can be anger towards a spiritual being that you feel is responsible for this. There can be anger towards physicians. There can be anger towards other family members who had nothing to do with the loss. You can just plain feel mad because you’ve been hurt and there’s nothing you can do to change the trauma that occurred in your life. You CAN NOT trade your own life for theirs. The anger can be intense at the beginning, and it can stick around for quite some time. Be kind and caring towards yourself if you are feeling mad. If you are generally not an angry person then sometimes guilt can arise if you have acted in a way that is not normal for you, like saying or doing things that are hurtful towards others. This feeling is your reaction to the loss.

Bargaining is when you wish that if only you had gone to work, then the other person could’ve stayed home and you would’ve been the one killed in the accident. Bargaining can be the thought that had I not watched that television show, I would have been in bed next to them and then they couldn’t have passed away in their sleep. You want to trade back the time. Bargaining can be when you’re trying to trade your life for others and it just not possible. It’s a time of confusion.

Sadness can lead to depression. Depression is the blues times a million. It can come with a loss of the desire to be around. You can experience a change in eating and sleeping. You may just never want to go on again. You might not have the energy to want to even try to keep living. You don’t know what you’re going to do with the loneliness. You don’t want anyone else to support you, you just want to sit at the bottom of your hole like Eeyore when his tail is gone and never have anyone pull you out. Your self-care can go down in terms of showering, in terms of being present for others, in terms of being the person you were before the loss of this loved person. Depression can come with behaviors that you don’t want to have. You may start driving faster once you get in the car, because safety doesn’t matter to you. You might decide you want to spend all of your money because what’s the point of it, anyway? You may take on some more addictive behaviors such as drinking or taking drugs. Your faith and your hope have been shattered, and your every day existence makes no sense anymore. It’s OK if you start to feel like this, but get help! Don’t isolate, it will only make you feel worse. Everyone grieves differently. Some people grieve privately. Some people grieve publicly. Some people like to be alone on a hike in the woods. Others may like to be surrounded by people, but not necessarily to be comforted. The closer you were to the person, and the more sudden the death, the more likely you’re going to have a longer time healing.

If you have time to prepare, or if you were to consider the loss of a loved one developmentally appropriate such as they were 104 years old and they had a full life, then your grief might look different than if it was your 12-year-old daughter who went off to school and did not come home.

Some people, after a person’s death, take on projects to honor the loved one. Be careful not to go too fast or use all your energy because you are running away from crying. Celebrations of life are important and are a powerful way to continue to live and remember. You need your strength to keep on going. You may go on a campaign to make sure others are not lost in the same means that your person was. You might become a mentor, a sponsor, a donation organizer. Remember there is no one way to grieve. Your loved one is gone, and that is painful no matter how you choose to continue living. Honor yourself through kindness of yourself first.

We wake up every day assuming we have the next minute, assuming we have the next hour or the next day and weekend. But, our reality is that we don’t know and that our assumptive world we had was lost when our loved died. You have changed forever. Grief brings us back to mindfulness and helps us make choices when we’re going about our busy days.  You don’t fully forget; it’s a wound that heals with a scar over time, but one that stays forever. You may go about your day not realizing on the calendar that your loved one is gone years after, until someone posts a memorial or a remembrance picture on Facebook in which case you find yourself in your car on the way to work or at lunch crying as if you just lost them yesterday.

All of that is well within the realm of natural human feelings. We’re meant to feel all confused and twisted up inside when we grieve.

Reach Out
If you find yourself in such a hole that everything about you has changed, and you don’t even know who you are or want to exist on the planet anymore, please, I would urge you to reach out. Reach out to family. Reach out to friends. Reach out counselors or spiritual leaders. Reach out to anybody that you can, even if it’s just going to the grocery store so you can have an interaction with the person you’re buying tissues from. You matter, and the people that are gone would not want you to suffer or worse.

Laughter is a part of love and the process
Finally, the one part about grief that I don’t ever hear enough about is how, for all the years if you had a great relationship with the person that has died, there can be laughter again in your life in remembering their spirit. You are not dishonoring your loved one if you laugh, if you enjoy, if you see moments that you wish you could’ve shared with them. I know this is confusing that there is nothing funny or fun about death, but you weren’t necessarily living as if this person was dying while they were alive. And, even if you were there may have been moments while this person was dying that had joy, hugs, humor, and even belly laughs involved. It’s OK to gain those moments back. My hope for you with your journey of loss would be that you learn how to heal, though I completely understand that you will never forget. You will become a new you and you will be able to have the hope and reality of a full set of emotions as all humans deserve to have. Be kind and loving towards yourself as you continue to live on after death.


Try to Be an Orange Rhino and Not Yell So Much

One of my favorite books for real life parenting was written by Shelia McCraith entitled, Yell Less, Love More. Sheila is a mom of four boys that from time to time in order to corral her gaggle would resort to yelling. I was never fully a yeller until I started to hear, “But mom, she’s not…..” After enough rounds in the car or in the house of hearing this and I turn into Grumpy Cat. While it is not at all my children’s responsibility to begin or end my own action of my yelling moments, the concepts of the Orange Rhino mom really come into play.

Sheila mentions that you should not yell at your kids, but occasionally and rarely for your kids. So yelling at my daughters to “Stop Arguing,” in a loud guttural tone is not best but if one were about to be in real danger like the tree branch they are swinging on is about to crack, then yelling is permissible.

The reason I wanted to write about this is because I hear from moms that they are tired of the kids arguing, and that yelling is the only thing that gets them to stop.   It for sure isn’t the only thing, but after enough rounds of your head ringing it’s an innate action that comes to mind and mouth. Even with decades of child development training under my belt and a round working at a preschool at Yale, I too am working on not being as my kids have called me, A Grumpy Cat.

For me it’s trying as best as I can to prepare for the moment. Have I had enough to eat or have I drunk enough water that day? Did I need a 10-minute break somewhere in my day that I never built in because I would just do 1 more thing? Did I encourage the family to stay up later last night because we were all having fun, not reminding myself that when the kids get the sleep they need they are happier in general? These are some of the questions I am in the process of answering at my own home. I would encourage you to create your own list. If you find that you are yelling more than you would like, pick up a copy of Sheila’s book and find some moments to laugh and cry with another mom who has been there.



Belief vs. Hope and the Pain in Between



Belief vs. Hope and the Pain in Between
By Dr. Robin Norris

I thought that this would be an interesting topic that many of you could relate to. While I have written hundreds of papers over the 22 years of school I attended, this is one of the first truly open-ended opportunities I have to create my own topics. It’s exciting and scary all at once. I hope it turns out ok and I believe it will be a worthwhile journey.

When I think about my passion for counseling, it is that I have a true desire to help people to reduce emotional and sometimes even physical pain. Early on in my training about Addictions I learned about the HALT concept. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired are the states in which a person should take a moment, step back from his decision making and think through the feelings involved and the next course of action. This is a solid group of words and really gets to most of the core of when we need to stop, but none of them take into consideration P for pain.

What about if you are scared, worried, have post surgical neuropathy, or have joint aches from an unknown illness? How do you then step back and make your best action oriented decisions. It is quite the challenge and for some can feel insurmountable and may lead to an early death. You simply can’t get beyond the feeling of pain to have a clearer thought. It’s as if you want to put pain on the shelf for 10 minutes, get the clarity, and then take it back if you must. This is not a fun way to exist, let alone live.

Pain is real. Pain sometimes goes away and sometimes it doesn’t. I want to help you to turn chronic suffering and discomfort into triumph. In athletics when we have a goal that we so badly want to reach sometimes we don’t realize we are actually in pain and the body takes on a whole new level. That is where hope and belief come into play full force. I am action oriented and hope is but a mere noun. Hope is something similar to a wish of which it may come true. But belief is an action. It is how we work on giving the wish that best possible chance of survival. I believe people can live a less painful life and that when that belief becomes integrated into the core of who we are it too turns into action. Some actions items common when we believe that we can have reduced pain someday are to change our habits, to meet new people, listen for guidance from others or to read more in order to become as educated as possible. We keep seeking out the answers until our pain subsided.

That is my lofty goal. I want you and I to be action-oriented partners along this journey of life. You are worth it!


Back to School



Well it’s that time of year again. The weather in the morning is starting to be cooler kids are all starting to rustle about school supplies and new to them clothes. As a mom I’m excited and sad all at once. I’m excited because it’s a new opportunity for my daughter to make new friends and to have her try out the skills that she’s been working this summer. I am excited for her and her new venture of first grade but I must say I’m a little sad because I enjoy being with my daughter. She’s a cool kid. I like the way she interacts with her younger sister. Like just last night she dressed her up as a ladybug and then as a butterfly, and then as a baby all the things a toddler likes to be.

My first grader will be gone about 40 hours a week between the buses and the classes. 40 hours is a lot of time.

40 hours to socialize, to sit, to run, to play, to do some more sitting. I can only hope as her mom that the things that she continues to learn from my husband and I are the things that transfer over to school such as, being the kind kid, not the bully. Being the person to reach out to the new person when they may not have any new friends. Being the person to share her things as she has plenty of things. I hope she has challenges and that she learns to fail gracefully and success happily. 40 hours – I will miss her and think about her for most of it.

This summer was a different kind of summer for her. While some of her friends may have been going off to far off places and seeing Disney World, my daughter got to learn what a Staycation looked like. She got to use local pools, go to local parks, learn to cook more, learn to negotiate with her sister, learn to take walks in nature. My student loans for my doctorate are absolutely daunting, so my daughter got the opportunity to learn what it was like to have to make choices and to continue to save up for the things that she thinks someday she might really want.

If I had it to do over again I’m still very glad I have my doctorate. A part of me wishes that the timing didn’t collide while I had my children. That’s the part I can’t do over. The nights that I studied that I can’t get back, the weekends that I wrote, the time I now need to work to pay it all off. I value education very much and am thankful that my first grader has access to a safe, wonderful, fair environment to launch her education with as well. I can’t begin to instill in a first grade girl how neat it is that she has the opportunity to discover whom she is becoming in as much of an equal environment as humanly possible to provide to her.

So that’s how I feel about first grade starting next week. I already know she will not be on the same bus as her best friend. She will not be in the same classroom as the other three kids she knows from last year. I’m going to let that unfold and for her to discover on Friday so that she can see who she can become without me influencing everything. The hardest part is the letting go as our kids grow. I watch and listen to parents sending their students off to college. It is about really remembering we are there for their guidance, we are there for mentoring, we are there to give them boundaries, but really the rest is all theirs not ours. I’m so lucky to be a parent and so lucky to be a parent of two very cool kids.

Happy School Year!