Stories We Live By

By Marla ChalnickVon-Burg_Life-Story copy

My best friend gives me a subscription to Real Simple magazine every year. I mostly browse through and read the recipes before tossing it in the recycling! This month I noticed an article on Telling Your Life Story. This is a favorite topic of mine. I am always on the lookout for the benefits of the stories we tell ourselves and others and the importance of the words we choose.

The author of this article, Jenifer Lindley believes that we naturally think of our lives as stories. Changing the way, you tell your story can help you weather the plot twists that come your way.

Dr. Jonathan Adler believes stories are how we make sense of our lives.

As we describe our narrative, we can hold on to the important parts, filter out the trivial, and find a meaningful pattern in it all. Like an editor, our brains pull out significant conflicts, important characters and turning points to shape our sense of who we are. You are both the main character of your story and the narrator of your life. You may not have control over all your circumstances, but you can choose how to tell the story.

You may be a person who describes the most deflating interpretation of your circumstances. Researchers at Northwestern University interviewed hundreds of people to learn their life stories. They found that individuals who weave ‘contamination stories’, score lower on levels of well-being than those who tell “redemption stories” that emphasize the silver lining.

The field of ‘narrative psychology’ is growing and researchers and therapists are finding practical, do-it-now ways you can tweak your own inner stories. Such edits can help you become more resilient, have better relationships and make better decisions. I’ll share specific, useful ideas about how you can fine-tune your story in my next blog.  Please stay tuned!



Anxiety Answers by Marla Chalnick

anxiety couple

Written by Mum on the Run. (Condensed and Edited)

To the man whose wife or partner has anxiety,

You might have guessed, or she may have told you, but either way there are things you should know about ANXIETY,

Anxiety isn’t one size fits all; it isn’t consistent and sometimes it’s hard to recognize. You might think she just snapped at you, but it was anxiety that did it. You might think she’s angry, but it’s anxiety that has a choke hold.  You might think she’s not enjoying herself when you go out and it’s your fault, but that’s not it at all. It’s anxiety.

There isn’t a day that goes by where she doesn’t think. She thinks about everything and usually it’s the worst case scenario. She worries that something will go wrong. She worries if she leaves the house something terrible will happen. She worries about her kids, her parents and about you. That’s why she texts you 100 times a day. She has to check on you or she feels like her head will explode.

Sometimes she wonders why you’re with her. If you knew about her anxiety would you still be there? Would you regret it? Would you rather be with someone else?

She wants you to know that she’s recognizes this is tough on you; the pressure on you is immense. Don’t think for a second she doesn’t love and appreciate you. She knows you want to fix her, but you can’t. She’s not broken.

But, you can help. You can see when things get overwhelming. Take her hand and tell her you’re with her. You can do things with her, or take over and tell her to sit down and breathe. Sometimes she won’t know what she needs, but as long as you are patient, she will feel your love.

Anxiety is heartbreaking. She wishes she could be free. Free of the voice that follows her around listing her insecurities.

She appreciates you, she loves you. She’s vulnerable and scared. Knowing you are by her side, she is fiercely loyal. Forever and ever, you just need to take her hand and tell her: “I am with you.”


A wife, a woman, a mum who has anxiety

Counseling At A Distance

Back in May. 2015 I wrote my first blog about telephone counseling. Over the last few months, I concentrated on becoming a Distance Certified Counselor. Many states are recognizing the benefits of working in creative ways to reach clients, who because of geography, chronic disease or disability are unable to receive counseling in the typical face to face method. My new credential looks like this: Distance Certified Counselor, or DCC.

Distance Counseling is nothing new. Sigmund Freud often corresponded with his patients by letter in between regularly scheduled appointments.  Its popularity has increased over the last 20 years as the therapeutic world embraced the digital world. I participate in distance counseling in order to reach a wider range of people in various locations and to reach people who are unable to participate in typical face to face sessions.

Distance Counseling is an approach that takes the best practices of traditional counseling as well as some of its own unique advantages and adapts them for delivery to clients using electronic means.  I prefer using telephone, teleconferencing, and texting when working with my clients. We now know some clients prefer the anonymity of a distance counseling relationship and are more likely to open up and self-disclose than they would be in a traditional counseling setting.

Distance Counseling is accessible.

            Distance Counseling is convenient.

            Distance counseling provides anonymity.

For those individuals who are ambivalent about therapy or who may be uncomfortable with traditional models of therapy, Distance Counseling may be your answer. This is particularly true for individuals who are suffering social phobia, agoraphobia or anxiety disorders.

If Distance Counseling if intriguing to you, please be give me a call.



Finale by Marla Chalnick

My mom died on December 5th, just two weeks’ shy of her 90th  birthday. She left us the greatest gift. She made her wishes about the end of her life very clear to our family. She wanted to remain at home and pass away in her own house. She did not want any extraordinary measures to prolong her life. She did not want any service. She wanted her ashes buried next to my father at Valhalla cemetery.

She contacted a local funeral home and paid the final expenses. Writing instructions down very specifically on her favorite yellow legal pad and it witnessed by her caretaker seemed exactly what was needed.

This was not a binding legal document, but in my other’s case that didn’t matter. We were all aligned with her requests and were prepared to honor them. Her passing went exactly as she planned.

Not all families are so fortunate. The end of life is not usually a subject for conversation at the dinner table. There are many reasons why adult children and their aging parents avoid this discussion. For example:

Parents may believe it’s not necessary,

They may not want to talk about serious illness or death,

They may not want to be a burden.

To deal with this problem you might consider asking your parents 2 simple questions, even if you know the answers.

Do you have an advance directive?

If not, why not?

See if the answers give you any clues what’s stopping them.Dig a little deeper. You might say that you would feel better if you knew your loved one’s wishes before any problems arise. Try, “I love you and I wouldn’t want to do anything you didn’t agree with if you were ever unable to tell me yourself.

If you still meet with refusal, don’t push the issue on that occasion. Changing behavior takes time and often many conversations. Be willing to drop the subject if your loved one gets angry or upset, but explain you want to revisit the conversation again.

Then follow-up. A news story or the experience of a relative or friend might be the perfect opener. If you know your loved one’s doctor or religious advisor that might be helpful, suggest meeting with them.

If you’d like to read more about end of life planning, check out the work of these experts:

Doug Smith, author of “It Takes a Village to Say Good-Bye”

Stephen Kiernan, author of Last Rights:  Rescuing the End-Of-Life from the Medical System

Dr. Angelo Vallendes,  author of The Conversation

In our society, there’s a strong tendency to avoid talking about death. Don’t wait until your parents are too sick or too impaired to provide you with insights into what they want!





West Palm Beach: A Poem by Marla Chalnick

West Palm Beach

My mother is waiting to die in her sleep.
Her brain has been scrubbed clean.
I struggle to trust this renovation.

My 90-year-old mother lives alone in
a row of condos that resemble army barracks.
She is surrounded by counters covered,
closets overstuffed, piles, boxes
leave little room for her to move about.
It’s the kind of place where middle class
New York Jews go to live with disappointment.
Looking forward to the Early Bird Specials,
they wait to die, just not yet.

The Benefits of Baking by Marla Chalnick

dear-stress-lets-break-upPeople who bake use any excuse to heat up their ovens. They bake a cake to crown someone’s birthday, labor over cookies to celebrate a holiday, and whip up brownies because everyone loves chocolate. But it turns out that baking is about more than creating something sweet to eat. Baking, especially when it’s done for others, can be accompanied with a host of psychological benefits.

Baking is a productive form of self-expression and communication.

“Baking has the benefit of allowing people creative expression,” associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, Donna Pincus, told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of literature for connection between creative expression and overall wellbeing. Whether it’s painting or it’s making music [or baking], there is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”

Stress is related to a host of mental and physical problems, and finding ways to cope with that stress is important for leading a healthy life.

Here is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”

Stress is related to a host of mental and physical problems, and finding ways to cope with that stress is important for leading a healthy life.

When baking for other people, baking can also be a helpful way to communicate one’s feelings. Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, points to the cultural norm of bringing food to someone when a loved one has passed. Sometimes there are no words, and only food can communicate what you’re trying to say. She told HuffPost, “It can be helpful for people who have difficulty expressing their feelings in words to show thanks, appreciation or sympathy with baked goods.”

Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, told HuffPost, “In many cultures, in many countries, food really is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we really all relate to. I think it could border on an unhealthy issue when it replaces communication in the traditional sense, but if it’s done along with communication, it is absolutely a positive and really wonderful thing.”