Surviving Storm Harvey

by Anise Flowers

My Storm Harvey Appreciation List

I am grateful…

We did not receive the brunt of hurricane force winds.

Despite multiple tornado warnings, none touched down in my area.  I kept both children sleeping close by but did not have to move them during the night for another tornado warning.

The pond that any rainstorm causes in my backyard did not rise toward the house. 

I was able to keep the TV off most of the time as the images of flooding all around the greater Houston metropolitan area were so devastating.

I had my Avon lady, my house cleaner, my handyman, and the neighbors on my street all close by.  I never felt alone.

We only lost power for 2 hours.

Nextdoor and Facebook were my lifeline to my community near and far – even if the pictures made me cry.

Jeffrey Royed, the Woodlands Weather Dude, posted daily weather information without any of the hype of TV news.  I hungrily awaited each new update and appreciated his heart and humor.

Friends and family reached out by text, email, or on Facebook, some of whom I hadn’t talked to in years. 

My Mom taught me to keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer so we never had to worry about needing groceries.  And I had plenty of dog food and dog prescriptions for the duration of the storm.

The first responders and citizens of Houston helped each other when 3 trillion gallons of rainwater caused flooded areas spreading across over 50 miles in multiple directions. 

Experts knew how to release water from the dams as needed so that the overall damage was not even worse.  Although my heart breaks for the two neighborhoods just to the north of me where water went up to the rooftops.

When the water was rising in my neighborhood (one street away) at the end of day 3, I had an invitation to stay with dear friends if needed.

I did not need the suitcases I had packed because Harvey changed course and did not return to Houston a second time.

After 3 days with a 100% chance of rain every hour, the rain finally stopped.  After 3 days of constant Flash Flood warnings, the warnings stopped.

At the end of day 4, the sun came out.  We took a magnificent walk through the neighborhood enjoying the sunlight and the cool breeze at 71 degrees.  An end to multiple days of stress and lack of sleep.

My 2 boys, my 3 dogs, and my home remained safe and dry.

“Uncle Harvey” overstayed his welcome but my city has responded with Love.  And I believe Love will continue to prevail in the aftermath.

I am so deeply grateful.

The Illness of Depression

by Anise Flowers

Last night I read my son a book called Mr. Happy.  Mr. Happy lives in Happyland and smiles all the time.  He meets Mr. Miserable, who is always frowning, and brings him to Happyland.  Gradually Mr. Miserable changes his frown into a smile.  And by the end of the book, Mr. Miserable is laughing uncontrollably.  I like this book because I believe that life is supposed to be joyful.  And I think children should know that they can move into better feeling states when feeling down.  However, I also believe that there is a serious illness called Clinical Depression. 

Most of us feel blue from time to time.  And that is when a visit to Happyland could lift your spirits.  But Clinical Depression is a very specific illness.  Most people with clinical depression have lifelong bouts with the illness.  Often people feel depressed in response to a life event like a divorce, the lost of a loved one, lose of a job etc.  This sadness in response to a life event is called an “Adjustment Disorder” according to the diagnostic manual used by psychologists (DSM-V).  If somes takes an anti-depressant while recovering from one of these life events, most likely it was an Adjustment Disorder rather than Depression.  For those with the chronic illness of Depression, sometimes medication and/or therapy is helpful.  And for some people, all treatment for depression is unsuccessful.  In some cases, Clinical Depression is a terminal illness -- in the same way that Cancer is sometimes treatable and sometimes terminal.

My mother had an aggressive, rare form of uterine cancer.  Despite the best medical care available and a super positive attitude, she did not survive.  No one blamed her afterward for leaving us.  No one called her selfish.  Generally when a clinically depressed person ends their life, they are viewed are extremely selfish.  And most people do not realize the extent of the suffering their loved one is enduring.   

Near the end of my marriage, my husband told me he has been suicidal every day for four years.  He was on anti-depressant medication, in weekly therapy, and had very supportive friends and family.  Yet the darkness and wish to die still engulfed him for years.  Most of the time, he kept these innermost feelings hidden.  In a similar fashion to the brilliant comedy of Robin Williams, Scott generally appeared happy and seemed to be the life of a party.  His extreme depression was swirling underneath of surface of that façade.  Unfortunately, Scott’s depression became terminal.  And while I was heartbroken when he died, I never blamed him or judged him for the choice that he made.  I knew that he was extremely afraid of death.  And living must have become completely unbearable for him to make that choice.

Sometimes when a depressed person commits suicide, the person’s spouse, parents, or family members are blamed for driving the person to commit this horrible act.  This laying of blame is also ridiculous.  Society would never blame the family members when a person dies of cancer.  I know a woman whose boyfriend died and his family publicly and privately claimed that the suicide was her fault.  In reality, there was nothing that she did to cause the terrible loss.  This young man was also in therapy and on medication.  As an extreme brand of mental illness, sometimes depression is terminal in spite of the treatment.

I believe that when my mom died of cancer, she became whole, healthy and joyful again.  And I believe that when a depressed person ends their life, they become happy and ecstatic once again.  Loss is always sad.  And every case is different.  My wish is for everyone is to find a way to live in Happyland.  And I also wish for the world to understand mental illness is just as serious as physical illness.  In neither case should we waste time blaming our loved ones.


by Anise Flowers

As I approached my first Mother’s Day, I reflected on the experience of motherhood.  I feel like my life finally started when Tucker was born.  I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was born to be a mother.  And now I have moved into my life purpose.  I have never been happier. 

I have also learned over the last five months that mothers make mistakes.  And sometimes, in the desire to look perfect, we don’t always share the vulnerable and challenging moments.  So today, I am sharing the honest mistakes that occurred alongside the most joyful time in my life.

Tucker spent three nights sleeping well in our hospital room, only waking every 3 hours to nurse.  And then, during our first week at home, he was up all night for 4 nights.  As a new mother, I was doing my best to soothe and comfort him.  Later I realized that I should have just been feeding him more often because my milk had come in and he wanted to nurse all the time in those early weeks.  We survived.  And after those few long nights, Tucker was able to turn his days and nights back around.

Tucker also went through a phase during the first month of “fussy nursing”.  One night, I was mad at him.  Because he would keep latching on and off, crying and hitting me with his tiny fists.  Of course, I felt terrible for experiencing anger at an infant.  And I knew none of the behavior was his fault nor intentional.  But it was a real and passing emotion. I’m sure all mothers feel frustration and anger at times.  The important thing is how you cope with these new stressors.  I am a very calm person, a “mature” mother, and Tucker is a very easy going baby.  And with all of that said, parenting a new infant is very frustrating at times.

After that phase, Tucker had a few weeks when he was just fussy for a short time, often in the evening.  This is incredible frustrating – when you know he has been fed, changed, and you are holding the baby but he is still crying.  Famous pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton, talks about the nervous system still developing and sometimes an infant just needs to cry.  Two friends of mine who are fathers shared their experiences around fussy infants with me.  One dad said he did the “shut up dance” and the other dad would turn up the volume of the TV while he held his crying infant.  I found this interesting that men were more open to admitting that sometimes you cannot comfort your infant, despite all of your efforts.  Woman did not tell me those stories.  Are we too concerned about looking like a great mom to admit these dark nights of early motherhood?  I remember times when I just had to lay him down in the bassinet for a minute (usually, to go the bathroom).  But it was also the chance to take a deep breath, and then patiently pick up the crying baby again.  At the time, these nights of walking around the house in circles until Tucker finally calmed or fell asleep felt long.  And now, it feels like such a long time ago as that phase passed by so quickly.

Other mistakes I have made…

  1. At times, I would think Tucker was happily cooing to himself -- only to discover that he had turned sad and I didn't realize.

  2. Eventually I learned that you must offer BOTH breasts before concluding that the baby is just tired and not hungry.  For on different days, at different times, he would have a preference for one side over the other.

  3. I forgot my baby once, just once, for a few seconds.  I was standing at the checkout of Lowe’s with my brother and sister-in-law with my back turned to the stroller.  And, in conversation with Shawn, I started to walk with him until the cashier said “Aren’t you going to take the baby?”  Eeek!! I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten very far without Tucker.

  4. One lovely afternoon, I took Tucker out onto the back porch.  I was working at the table on my laptop and he was in his bouncy seat.  Then, I spilled a glass of ice water on Tucker.  Even with a lid and straw on the cup, he was drenched.  And screaming!  I’ve never heard him so mad.

  5. Once I left him without enough milk to drink.  I had to attend a work dinner and a friend graciously offered to take care of Tucker.  Over the course of several months, Tucker had only drunk from a bottle 3 times.  Generally he would just play with the nipple and not actually drink. While trying to teach him to take the bottle, I poured a lot of breastmilk down the drain.  But this particular night, he actually sucked down the couple of ounces and wanted more.  Who knew!  And then I heard him on the other end of the phone screaming for more.  That was a terrible feeling – to know that your baby was hungry and you had a 20 minute drive to get back to him.  Tucker eventually fell asleep while waiting for me and survived just fine.  (Incidentally, he has never taken the bottle again since.)

Sometimes when a stranger hears that Tucker is my first baby, they reply “oh he must be so spoiled.”  And if I could spoil him more, I would.  But the truth is that as a single mother, I cannot possibly spoil him.  Tucker is going to think I can’t tell time.  Because so often I say “one second” or “one minute” when he starts crying because I can’t always go to him right away.  Tucker is very content and frequently plays happily on his own.  Then, when he is distressed, I do my best to meet his needs as quickly as I can. 

So I have made mistakes, as all mothers do.  And I know that I have done many things right as well.  Mostly I’m proud to just stay calm no matter how upset Tucker may become.  One thing I did well was starting to put Tucker to bed awake around two months of age.  And now he still goes to bed awake, whether at home or in a hotel room.  He will talk happily or squirm around; and then go to sleep on his own.  I knew that all babies wake up during the night and they need to know they can fall back to sleep on their own.  One big victory for Mom!  (And I’m lucky to have a happy, cooperative good sleeper).

Pregnancy was an amazing experience – to grow a human.  That the female can then completely feed another human is miraculous as well.  And in the modern age of digital baby monitors, my favorite “TV show” now is Tucker.  I love to see him sleeping on the monitor – a priceless image that never gets old.  I’m sure there will be many more mistakes to come.  But that is alright. Because Tucker will know that he was very deeply wanted.  And I know that I was born to be his mother.  A dream come true for both of us.

Choosing Love

by Anise Flowers

The year was 1918.  One day, Alice Johnson exchanged smiles with a handsome older boy.  She was excited to learn later that Herald was the brother of her classmate, Sibyl.  And, as these things often happen, Sibyl told Alice that Herald liked her.  Thus began their courtship.  Herald took Alice for buggy rides (always escorted by her mother of course).  They went to yard parties and box suppers.

By the next year, when Alice was 15, her mother said, “You are too serious about that boy.  You must break up with him!”  Ah, the infinite wisdom of parents who are often misguided in their attempts to thwart young love.  When Herald heard the news of mother’s proclamation, he reacted by telling Alice “I think we should get married this weekend.”  Alice thought this was a brilliant idea!

Herald came to the house on Saturday to pick up Alice and, naturally, her mother said she could not go anywhere with him.  Herald told his sweetheart to walk out to the buggy with him and say good-bye.  Herald got into the buggy, held out his hand to Alice and said “Let’s go.” There are single moments in a person’s life – moments in which a decision must be made.  And that decision can change the course of the rest of a life And in that moment, young Alice chose love.  She made the momentous decision to hop into the buggy with him.  I am inspired by her ability to follow her heart and chose love, without fearing the censure of her parents.

Of course, there were a few immediate obstacles.  First, Alice’s brother rode after them on horseback but was unable to catch the couple.  Also, Alice had on an old dress since her mother had said she couldn’t get married.  So she had to borrow Sibyl’s nice dress & coat to get married in.  Then, they traveled 8 miles to the county seat in Neosho, Missouri.  Upon arriving there, Alice had to lie and say that she was 18 years old (not 15).

Life is a serious of decision points where we can turn down a path and end up in a totally new direction.  How do you make major life decisions?  Do you follow your heart?  Or, are some of your decisions based on fear?  Sometimes we move toward a positive goal and sometimes we run away from a place, a person, or a fear.  Marianne Williamson said “Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.”  I aspire live as Alice did, making decisions from a place of love & joy.  I believe that when you follow your heart to what feels right, wonderful things always follow.

Despite the perilous beginning, Alice & Herald were married for 29 years and had 6 children.  Sadly, two of them died as infants from pneumonia but the other four have lived long happy lives.  I think the couple would have been married for many more decades if Herald had not died at age 50.  I believe he was Alice’s one true love.

Alice’s optimism and belief in love would continue throughout her life.  She lived to be nearly 93 years old and she had 4 more husbands.  Five husbands might sound bad, but she only divorced twice and two more husbands died.  Her daughter, Helen, was absolutely mortified if anyone found out that her mom had been married 5 times.  I always thought that 5 marriages was really admirable.  To me, it demonstrated the essence of Alice’s character – a decision to live all of her life guided by love and joy. 

Life is a serious of single moments which can be lived with passion and love or can be lived with sadness and fear.  The choice is always yours to make.  And a single moment can change the course of a life.  A decision to follow one’s heart, to choose love.  Herald reached down his hand and invited Alice  with “Let’s go.”  And where would I be today if my great grandmother hadn’t jumped into that buggy? Now is the time to decide how you will live all the moments of your life. 

Validate Me

by Anise Flowers

When you have a parking ticket validated, what does it mean?  Validation means “Yes, you were here in this place, in this time.  Yes, you were here.  You stood in this place.”  People in pain are often seeking validation.  Unfortunately, what they often receive instead is unhelpful advice or platitudes.

For example, Tami’s son died in a car accident when he was only 23 years old.  She lived in a very small town.  For more than a year afterward she was reluctant to venture out to the grocery store for fear of running into someone she knew who would want to talk to her about Nate.  And then one day, she was feeling better so she went to Wal-mart.  And then it happened -- She ran into the well-meaning friend.  The friend who had two young adult sons of her own and told Tami “You are better off because now you don’t have to deal with all of the problems of young men – drugs, alcohol, unemployment…”  Seriously, she essentially told Tami, you are better off now that your child is DEAD.  Giving validation would have been something like “Yes, you are here in this terrible space of grief at this time. And that is perfectly okay.”  Validation.

My friend, Susie divorced after more than 30 years.  She was absolutely shocked to discover that her husband had been cheating for a couple of years with his assistant.  A woman she considered a close personal friend.  Susie experienced a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for a few days.  Friends told her she just needed to “get over it” and “move on with her life.”  As if one can simply “get over” a 30 year marriage.  This well-meaning advice was not helpful.  All Susie wanted was someone to validate her devastation.  Yes, you are here in this devastating place, the ruins of a long, happy marriage.  And it is okay to feel devastated.  Validation.

Sam is 33 and has been diagnosed with Hogkins Lymphoma.  He is a successful film editor and had been in perfect health up until the shocking diagnosis of Cancer.  Cancer is a bad word to the extent that we even call it the “C-word.”  Sam has started chemotherapy for a very treatable form of cancer.  But he can no longer go to his church on Sundays.  His church, which should have been a place of emotional support, now must be avoided.  Because his “friends” at church have been persistently asking Sam what is on his Bucket List – implying that he has Cancer and is going to die young.  So he better get started on that List right away.  And he has a very treatable form of cancer!  But even if he didn’t, this question from friends would not be helpful.  No one is listening to hear where Sam is – that he is a space of hope and optimism for his treatment.  He wants his friend to validate his experience.  He just wants them to reflect back – “Yes, you have cancer and that is scary but the chemo is going to treat it.”  Yes, you are here in this scary place at this time.  And that is okay.  Validation.

As human beings in a social world, we often want to speak words to each other to comfort  And we are often very anxious – for we don’t know what to say to those that we love.  A loved one dies.  A spouse leaves.  A child goes off to college.  And a well meaning friend says, just give it some time and you will feel better.  Time? I don’t care about time?!  I am hurting right now! Don’t tell me just to wait!

            When my mother was dying, one of her closest friends, came to visit.  And she told my mother that God had a plan for her in heaven, some job or task that he needed her to do.  This was extremely unhelpful.  Not only was it not comforting to my mother but it greatly upset her. 

            By contrast, when my mother said to me, “I don’t understand.  I don’t understand why other people recover from cancer and I didn’t.  I don’t understand why this is happening now.”  I replied with “I don’t understand either.  I know you have many things left that you want to accomplish.  Grandma Iola died this year but she was 92. She lived a full life and she was ready to go.  Her death made sense to me but I don’t understand your illness either.” 

I didn’t offer an explanation.  I didn’t try to fix anything.  I didn’t tell her how great life would be as an angel.  I did not offer any theology at all.  I simply agreed with her.  I validated her feelings. 

So I’ve realized recently that this is the single most important thing I learned as a therapist.  And I hope I can do it consistently with my friends and family.  I VALIDATE their feelings.  I go directly to where you are emotionally and say ITS OKAY TO FEEL THAT WAY.

There is no right or wrong way to feel, just like there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  I hate it when someone says “He hasn’t cried about his wife’s death.  He isn’t dealing with it properly.”  Where was it written that one has to cry in order to grieve?  That is ridiculous.  We all cope with life and feelings in our own way.  And the most powerful gift you can offer a friend in distress is simply to hear them.  And say, yes, of course you are scared because your child has cancer.  Of course you are angry that your wife cheated on you.  Of course you are sad about your friend’s death.

            In therapy, the first appointment is called the Intake.  That is when the psychologist or therapist gets the story.  And it usually takes all of that 1 hour appointment just to get the background and the story of why the person has arrived at the doorstep of therapy.  Shockingly, more than 70% of people never return after the first appointment.  Did the therapy fail?  What happened?  Research shows that those clients never return because they feel better.  Imagine. They feel better after simply telling their story to someone who listens without judgment, or advice, or platitudes.  Someone who just listens and validates where they are.

Next time you have a friend in pain, could you just listen? And could you do that without adding on a solution, or a platitude?  Without saying “You should rush your child this specialist I know.”  Or “Time heals all wounds.”  Or “You are better off without a wife.”  Or “She is in a better place now.”  Could you validate where they are at this time in this place of emotional upheaval?  Could you validate your friends and family? Could you just say of course you feel that way.  That is perfectly normal.  I hear you and I understand how upset you are. 

What if that conversation in the grocery store were to end differently?  When Tami said what a shock her son’s death was, what if her friend said “Or course it was a shock.  22 years old is so young.  I can’t imagine how that feels as a mother.” And then they might have hugged.  Her grief would have simply been validated in the moment.  If you can do this for loved ones, you will begin giving those you care about a tremendous gift.  “I validate that you are here, in this place, today.  And that is perfectly okay.”

Second Chances

by Anise Flowers

There is a line in a song from my favorite Kenny Loggins album that says “You get one chance at a life to give it all and get it right.” You get one chance at a life.  Wow, that really puts the pressure on to get things right.  This idea can drag you into the mire of regrets.  Do you spend time reflecting back on choices you have made?  Decisions where you think you went wrong?  Should we dwell on those past events?

I certainly have personal regrets.  Regrets about a business that was not profitable and how I would run things differently now.  Regrets about women who abruptly left my life, ending significant friendships.  And more than anything, I have regrets about the unraveling of my marriage.

If I could travel back in time now, I would handle the marriage demise so much differently.  I would know that I had to stay happy for myself, no matter how depressed my husband became.  I would not feed into his sense of unworthiness.  I would appreciate more and complain less.  I would reach for a state of love, even when the conditions around me were pulling for anger and rejection.  I would live my chance much differently.

The song says “You get one chance at a life to give it all and get it right.” But wait, there is more.  The chorus goes on to say “But you get endless second chances to take it One Chance at a Time.”  Endless second chances, as in an infinite number.  To take life, one chance at a time.  For me this means that regrets about the past are a waste of time and energy.  For living life one chance at a time means living NOW, in this present moment -- In this present “Chance”.  What a huge relief for my soul to know that life is a series of new beginnings.  New chances for a successful business.  New chances at meaningful relationships.  Endless opportunities to make all of my dreams come true. 

Have you ever received a second chance?  During my graduate degree in Clinical Child Psychology, we had to pass a General Exam with both written and oral components.  While this was a stressful process, everyone usually passed as long as you completed the necessary preparations.  But not Me. I failed my General Exam.  To say I was devastated does not begin to describe the experience of failure.  I was 27 years old and had been an A student all of my life, excelling at academics.  The fall off of this cliff was enormous and painful.  However, I had a second chance.  I met with the three faculty members to listen to their suggestions.  One professor, Dr Gouvier remarked that I didn’t express my knowledge well enough in response to the verbal questions.  He didn’t doubt my knowledge base, but felt that I needed to be more grounded in psychology and give a more in depth verbal response.  I took this suggestion to heart and passed the General Exam the next time. 

In fact, I still think about this important experience today as it affects my current job.  For the past 10 years, I have been teaching workshops to other professionals.  And I often get asked difficult questions in front of large groups of people. This is kind of like having endless oral exams!! So the skills I learned, the ability to answer those tough oral questions, is critically valuable even now. 

As the song says, you have second, third, fourth, endless chances.  So, I hope you are feeling relieved. You don’t have to live life feelings as if you need to get everything right.  None of us will.  We will all have regrets and mistakes.  The key is residing in the knowledge that second chances are endless.  You are inherently blessed with second chances.  Now you can relax, breathe into the present moment.  And fully experience your life Right Now. One moment, one day at a time.

“You get one chance at a life to give it all and get it right…But you get endless second chances to take it One Chance at a Time.”  -- Kenny Loggins