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November 16, 2016

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Moving Forward: The story of a PQ alumna

By: PQ Alumni Student

I didn’t realize how much of my life I was hiding from, and how much I didn’t know about myself, until the three months I spent at Pacific Quest.  Prior to going to PQ in February, I was in a severe depression. I hated every minute and everything about myself.  It was a time that I don’t wish upon anyone.  I hid behind alcohol, sex and shopping, anything that would avoid the idea of feelings, and moving past my pain. I was filled with anger, and major giddiness because the emotions were almost non-existent. I wanted nothing to do with the way I felt, and the fact that I was drowning slowly, falling into pieces I would not be able to pick up myself.  I pushed away friends, family, anyone who cared for me, and I refused to see therapists or take my medication regularly.  After a very dark few months and three days in a psych ward, I realized how much I needed help.

Pacific Quest alumni student shares her experience at PQ and beyond.

Alumni student working in the garden

When I first came to PQ, I fought it, not interested in anything, but as time went on and I learned more about myself I began to love it there. There was no doubt that the program was not easy, but the things I learned and overcame at Pacific Quest, I am convinced saved my life.  I found out at PQ, I have major childhood traumas, anxiety issues and my medications were wrong.  My therapist and the PQ guides helped me regain confidence, realize how incredible I can be, learn to channel my anger, my impulsivity, and cope without addictions taking over. They helped me get on the right medication track, and work out many great things with my family. I have never cried, laughed, yelled, struggled and enjoyed myself so much in my life. It was so worth it.

Leaving PQ was tough, it was like leaving a world of comfort, new strategies, a healthy living style and having to realize that the real world is tough.  I don’t want to go back to where I was, so I have to choose to move forward. I graduated from PQ into a transition program. I fought it for some time, but after about 2 months, I pulled it together. I began to remember all that I learned in Hawaii, and how capable I am. I regained motivation, and the capability to function.

I am now in college, doing excellent, enjoying it and getting the services I need to succeed. I am also working part time in the restaurant industry.  I have been making friends and I’m not pushing anyone away, and even with my family things have improved.  As for my anxiety, I used to get panic attacks to the point where I could not breathe; it felt like I was having a heart attack, with my body spasming.  I could not control it, or understand it, and I was very scared.  Since I graduated PQ in the end of May, I have only had a total of 3 anxiety attacks that I could not control. I now know great deep breathing techniques and body exercises to limit my anxiety to get any farther. I had one therapist tell me “we fear the fear of anxiety” and that has stuck with me forever. I can now tell my triggers, and when I am getting anxiety.

I feel like a whole new person.  My ability to love myself with no one else and to accept the help that I need and want to do well is something I never felt before.  I’m now at a place where I have taken control of my life, and I could not be happier.  I’m convinced Pacific Quest saved my life, and helped me understand how amazing it is to be on this earth and how lucky I am to have gone to a place like that, and be able to grow from it.  It is and will always be a memorable experience I will never forget and will forever be grateful for.

December 1, 2015

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The Best for Your Teen: Treating Teenage Depression

Parenting teens is never easy, and when your teenager is diagnosed with clinical depression, it can become overwhelming. You may feel exhausted from lying awake at night worrying about your child. The despair over failed attempts to communicate is tough to bear. Endless fights and open defiance create chaos that affects the entire household. Parenting a teen suffering from depression often feels like an impossible task. But there is help for you and your teen.

The Journey Forward

The first step in helping your teen survive and recover from depression is to consult a doctor, counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional for assistance in finding the appropriate treatment.

In some cases, primary care doctors will prescribe an antidepressant medication, but it is vital to do your research. Studies of the effects of these types of drugs in teens is limited. Take time to evaluate the benefits and risks and be sure to ask your teen’s doctor plenty of questions. Medicating is not always the answer—or at least not the whole answer— and alternative options exist. If medication is not the answer, open your mind to the idea of alternative therapies.

Psychotherapy, a.k.a. Psychological Counseling, is a standard treatment option that may be a strong alternative to helping your teen uncover dangerous and unhealthy behaviors or thoughts.  Not only does psychotherapy highlight these behaviors, it also functions to explore relationships and experiences, and to learn coping methods for solving real-life problems.

Psychotherapy treatment, however, should be used depending on the clinical needs of your teenager. Cognitive capabilities, behavioral issues, and interpersonal strengths and weaknesses are all factors to consider. There is a high prevalence of depression among teenagers, and although psychotherapy is considered a “standard” option, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best treatment option for your child.

November 10, 2015

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Study Update: The Newfound Effect of Sleep Deprivation

“Consider the implications for students pulling all-nighters, emergency-room medical staff, military fighters in war zones and police officers on graveyard shifts.”

This statement comes from Stanford University postdoctoral fellow Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski. But what, exactly is she referring to?

Sleep, or lack thereof, is one of the most influential powers affecting our mental and physical well-being. A new study coming out of UC Berkeley further emphasizes this fact. The study proves that sleep deprivation lessens our ability to read facial expressions with accuracy. Don’t think it’s groundbreaking stuff? Think again.

Sleep Deprivation & The Brain

“Sleep deprivation appears to dislocate the body from the brain,” says professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley, and senior author of the study, Matthew Walker. Results found that not only does the sleep-deprived brain have trouble distinguishing between threatening and friendly faces, but there is a disconnection in the neural link between the brain and heart that enables our bodies to process distress signals. A lack of sleep also creates a lack in appropriate heart-rate response when viewing various positive and negative facial expressions.

Adolescent Sleep Patterns

Adolescents are known for their erratic and sometimes odd sleep patterns, but it is crucial to know when a greater problem exists in order to help quickly prevent related issues. “Insufficient sleep removes the rose tint to our emotional world, causing an overestimation of threat,” says Walker. “This may explain why people who report getting too little sleep are less social and more lonely.”

Biological sleep patterns naturally shift later during adolescence, often making it difficult for teens to be able to fall asleep before 11 pm, according to the Natural Sleep Foundation. Teens also typically live different lives on weekdays vs. weekends, resulting in irregular sleep habits throughout the week, throwing off their biological clocks. Along with this, teens also need more sleep than adults—between 8 and 10 hours is optimal for proper functioning. Combine these facts together, and it’s clear why most teens do not get enough sleep.

Sleep Issues May Signal a Larger Problem

Teen sleep issues can sometimes predict several other problems, possibly related to drinking and drug use. These issues can also be a sign of teenage depression. Identifying a true sleep issue, and the subsequent problems resulting from it, is crucial to helping your teen lead a productive, risk-reduced life. Pacific Quest understands the value of a good night’s sleep. All students participating in both our adolescent and young adult wilderness therapy programs get at least 9 hours of sleep every night. A set schedule works to reset their natural circadian rhythm, so students can begin to get rest that is necessary for meaningful change to take place during waking hours. Once students learn to manage their sleep issues, they are able to allocate more energy on self-care, emotional issues and daily responsibilities.

Irregular young adult and adolescent sleep patterns are just one sign your child may need help. To learn about more signs, download our free Parent’s Guide here.

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September 22, 2015

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Suffering From Social Media Depression: How Much is Too Much?

Using social media is a routine activity that research shows can benefit teens and adolescents by boosting their communication skills, elevating their connection to their community and even increasing their technical expertise. But how much social media is too much? And what is the fallout if your teen is obsessed with, or dependent upon, being online?

A study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on the influence of social media on our teens cites that “Facebook Depression” is a very real condition—A direct result of spending immense time online, yet not feeling accepted by one’s peers. The psychological phenomenon, “social comparison,” marks comparisons often between the monotonous and dull moments of our teens’ lives with the bright and extraordinary posts showcasing their friends’ lives.

This condition may cause anxiety and depression in teens.

Other dangers of too much social media include cyberbullying [link to cyberbullying article here], sexting and exposure to potentially inappropriate content.

The Rise of Social Networking

It’s easy for teens to get caught up in a virtual world. Social networking offers an instant connection to friends and peers; it allows teens to reach out and interact without having to leave the safety of their room and it affords them a favorite way to procrastinate. The above study also found:

  • Teen interaction on social networking sites is on the rise by 22 percent
  • Teens log onto their favorite sites more than 10 times per day
  • A generous amount of social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet

Should your teen take a social media vacation?

Because of the susceptibility to peer pressure and the lack of moderation, not to mention the dangers of social comparison, both teens and adolescents are at risk of developing anxiety and depression when surfing social networking sites. Online expressions are mimicking offline behaviors: bullying takes on the form of cyberbullying, cliques threaten privacy issues and sexual experimentation shows up on cell phones. Research on depression in teenagers has strong ties to Internet addiction and excessive social media exposure.

If you have concerns that social media may be a destructive force in your teen’s life, then a social media detox may be in order. Your teen should feel good after using Facebook. If, instead, they are feeling bad after even moderate use, it is time to reevaluate and step away from the keyboard.

Getting a Grip

There are several things a parent can do to lessen the likelihood of anxiety and depression descending upon their teen as a result of excessive exposure to social media. Here are several practical tips:

  • Control the privacy settings
  • Establish ground rules
  • Learn your teen’s habits
  • Place the computer in a central location in the home
  • Warn teens from participating in questionnaires and giveaways
  • Monitor the pictures your teen posts
  • Set the example for safe social media use
  • Limit the amount of time on social platforms
  • Limit cell phone use
  • Teach your teen about online reputations and online fingerprints
  • Discuss internet use, thoughts on usage and online security dangers

If your teen boasts questionable behavior online or displays signs of depression and/or anxiety, stronger steps than the one’s listed above may be necessary. Wilderness treatment programs like the one offered through Pacific Quest can help. Call us for more information.
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September 3, 2015

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Dealing with Cyberbullying

With the start of a new school year, talk of cyberbullying is sure to skyrocket. And it’s for good reason—70 percent of students report seeing frequent bullying online, according to Teens no longer butt heads passing in the hallways. Instead they take their drama digital, and often attack through text messages, malicious websites, emails, and via social media. Although cyberbullying is more prevalent among teens, remember that people of all ages can be affected. From young children to middle age adults, cyberbullying is a hurtful, serious issue that we should know how to deal with at every age.

Child Cyberbullying

Unfortunately cyberbullying can take place as soon as children begin using technology and feel comfortable enough that they’re parents aren’t watching. Fifty-two percent of young people report being cyberbullied and have simply begun to accept it as an everyday part of life. Discuss appropriate online behavior with your child as soon as they begin using computers and cell phones, and set up an action plan they can follow if they witness cyberbullying or become the target of an attack.

Teen Cyberbullying

The alarming fact is that adolescents are not as emotionally able to withstand the bullying and humiliation. This harassment can lead to thoughts of hopelessness, loneliness and decreased self-worth and even contribute to depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior. According to studies conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying victims are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who have not experienced this form of attack. Because cyberbullying occurs online, it can follow teens from school into the home and affect their every waking hour.

Teach your teen to prevent cyberbullying with these tips:

  1. Think before you type: The first initiative in ending cyberbullying is to stop your own teen from participating. Stress to your teen that they must step back and take a breath before reacting and posting online. Once things go on the Internet they can be nearly impossible to take down.
  2. Sign up for the positivity page: Help your teen create an online space where they can spread positivity and promote the thoughtful acts they witness at school.
  3. Always talk to a parent or teacher: It is important to ignore the cyberbully while documenting the attacks. Let your teen know the lines of communication are always open and encourage them to always report the behavior.
  4. Never participate in the gossip: Your teen may not feel they are a cyberbully if they are simply passing along the gossip. Let your teen know that participating in this type of behavior at any level is wrong and will not be tolerated.

Adult Cyberbullying

Because cyberbullying is often a result of an imbalance of power, it can affect people of all ages. “It can take on a sadistic quality, in which the bully, not satisfied with merely humiliating his victim, seeks to torment his quarry to the point of self-destruction,” notes an article on This torment on adults often takes the form of “trolling” or a contest where the bully feels the need to bait their victim in order regain the power they feel they have lost. Once “hooked,” the troll will then use aggression and repeated negative actions to wear their victim down.

Preventing cyberbullying is a group effort. If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, take the issue seriously, no matter their age. Adolescents may not always be vocal about being bullied, so keep an eye out for warning signs. Pacific Quest’s Wilderness Therapy Program can serve as a source of help for your struggling adolescent or young adult. Our goal is to transform students into confident, empowered and well-balanced individuals who can create lasting change.
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September 1, 2015

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Helping Your Teen Cope With Death: Recovery After Loss

Death is a fundamental part of our lifecycle. What is more, the death of a loved one is an event each one of us will experience, likely multiple times throughout our lifetimes. Confronting death and accepting loss is a personal experience you cannot compare with someone else’s. You’ll grieve in your unique way, and healing will travel its course differently in each of us.

It is essential that parents understand adolescents grieve differently than adults. While teens maintain an adult understanding of death, they do not yet have the experiences—or developed coping skills—that an adult has.

Understanding Your Teen’s Perspective on Death

To help your teen cope with their grief after they’ve experienced loss from the death of a loved one, parents first need to understand how their teen views death.

For starters, they experience intense emotions like sadness or loss, differently. Their grief will come and go, often, being strongest felt during certain milestones in their life. They may show sadness in brief surges—the intensity of the emotion will depend on the type of relationship they had with the one that passed.

The emotional and social maturity of your teen greatly influences how he or she reacts to death:

  • He or she may act out in anger at family members
  • He or she may exhibit impulsive behaviors, such as substance use
  • He or she may show a reluctance to talking about their feelings
  • The reality of not being invincible may cause your teen to question his or her faith and understanding of the world
  • He or she may withdraw from family, yet spend more time with friends instead

Helping Your Teen Cope with Loss

When a death occurs, teens may experience feelings for which they have no words to express.  Although it may be challenging, it is best to talk with them, taking the lead and encouraging them to express their feelings in a way that makes them most comfortable.  
Here are some suggestions that may help your young teen cope with the loss of a loved one:

  • Encourage your teen to ask questions. Answer them honestly, with real words like “died” rather than “went to sleep.”
  • Communicate to your teen that he or she is not at fault.
  • Help your teen understand that feelings such as anger and guilt are normal. Explain that these feelings will come and go over time.
  • Keep routines as consistent as possible. Continuity offers teens a sense of safety at a time when emotions are running high.
  • Reassure your teen that he or she is in no way disloyal to the person who died if they are feeling happy or if they want to have fun.
  • Most importantly, create a safe place for your son or daughter to talk about their feelings.

The Dark Side of Grief

Each of us spends a different amount of time working through the various stages of grief, and each stage is experienced with a certain degree of intensity. Speak with a grief counselor, adolescent psychologist, or other mental health professional if you’re concerned your teen is masking their pain through unhealthy outlets and/or self-destructive behavior.

Therapy programs, such as horticultural therapy and wilderness therapy, help teens break down their grief, confront their feelings and develop effective ways to communicate their emotions. At Pacific Quest, our Wilderness Therapy Program offers whole-person therapeutic healing through therapeutic modalities such as expressive mind-body therapy. Through this approach, we can help to encourage acceptance so that teens move safely through their grief. To learn more about Pacific Quest, or to speak to one of our specialists, call us at any time at 808-937-5806. We are ready to help.

In the words of Shakespeare, “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it . . . break.” (Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1)

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December 10, 2010

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“This I Believe”

We love to spread around good news when it comes back to us at PQ.  This month a father of an alumni student reached out to share about his experience attending a speech his daughter gave at school.  Below is the father’s description of the speech and the alumni PQ student’s speech in written form.  Both father and daughter gave permission for us to share this.  For confidentiality purposes we have kept the identities of our alumni clients private, changing the wording of the email and speech slightly.

Reading the students speech produced chills in my spine.  It is amazing that she is able to share this with the world and serve as an inspiration to her fellow student body. I want to extend a huge thank you to the student and family who chose to share this with us.  We are very proud of you!!

Father’s email to PQ:

About a month ago my daughter voluntarily gave a 20 min speech to her entire school (400 students and faculty).  She wrote it  herself.  She told us she was going to tell the school “her story,” but she wouldn’t tell us the details. She said we had to see it if we wanted to hear it.  I took the day off work and attended along with my wife and our 15 year old daughter.

To me, it was nothing short of incredible.  She delivered her material with remarkable poise and confidence.  She said things in front of 400 people that she’d never said to her mother and me.  Every parent in the place had tears in their eyes.  I was literally speechless.

Kids  have come up to her since then telling her that they are having challenges and that she was inspiration to them.


Before the summer of 2009, I went through things that I thought would not happen to me until I was older, or even ever. I do not feel the need to go into vast detail about the things I struggled through during the early years of my high school career, but I will say this: they changed my life forever. I will never forget the things that I have been through or the feelings that were attached to them. Still, even now, I can feel those feelings, even though some of these experiences occurred over eight years ago. Looking back on who I was as an eighth grader or freshman and comparing it to who I am now, a senior who has done five years of high school, my personality and point of view on life are vastly different. And that is not simply because I have grown up.

Let me start off by saying I have never seen myself as a mean person. But that was not the case when it came to my family. For some reason, which I never truly understood until the summer of 2009, I was not nice to my parents or my younger sister. I would get angry very easily. I was extremely impatient and would freak out if I didn’t get my way. I took my problems with friends or school out on my family, and would very often say mean and insulting things. My sister and I were not friends by any means, because I was frequently wounding her with verbal abuse and mean names. I was in the mind-frame that because they were my family, they would love me forever no matter what happened. For some reason, I believed that I had the ability to say and do whatever I wanted when it came to my family and that everything would always be alright. But what I never considered was that my family would always love me, but they didn’t have to like me.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. My family started to genuinely dislike me. Now, they still loved me of course, and I know they always will. However, they began to dislike spending any time with me at all, because we were always fighting. My sister was afraid of me. We very, very rarely had a conversation where I was nice to her. She even told her friends about how much she disliked me, and about how she wished I would just be nice for once.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love my family more than anything in this world and would do anything for them now. And I have always loved my family. There is no other way for me to describe my feelings for them. Even while I was yelling and screaming at my parents and my sister, I have never felt any feelings but love for them. Of course, I have been angry or upset with them, and I have said that I hated them, as I’m sure many kids have burst out in a fit of rage. But I have always loved them. With that said, I sadly have not always appreciated how loving and caring they are. I used to be rude, short-tempered, and impatient. I was truly just plain mean.

On top of all of this, I was suffering from depression. This is where my story gets fuzzy, because I do not feel the need or want for all of you to know my personal struggles. However, I will give you a brief overview of what I was going through. When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t have many friends. There was a group at school, created by two students, called the IHA. It stood for the I Hate A___ club. My only friend for three years was my best friend to this day. Could you imagine how it felt? Looking back on this, I can still feel the sense of not belonging to any community. I felt like an outsider and a loser for three whole years.

This is what truly started my depression. I was not severely depressed until I started high school, though. Throughout middle school I surely felt depression, but I never knew how serious it could get until I started at high school.

Although during the middle of eighth grade I began to make friends with people, high school was a whole different story. I went into it with a confidence that maybe this would change things for me, and that I could finally have some friends, some people that truly cared about me. And while I did have friends, and I did meet new people that slowly but surely became my friends, I still felt somewhat alone. Friends came and went, none of them staying for much longer than a few months. For some reason, people really liked to pick on me and spread rumors. I was classified by so many different labels: “bitch”, “slut”, “stuck up”, and so on. I like to think these labels do not accurately describe me.

So, because of the environment at my old public high school, and also because I was failing my classes, I got sent to boarding school. I absolutely LOVED it there. I had amazing friends, I was doing better in school, and I finally felt like I belonged. I thought that maybe, just maybe, this would be a new start for me. A place where no one knew my past and didn’t have to know it if I didn’t want them to. I took full advantage of this opportunity, and quickly made friends with many people. For a short time, my depression subsided. My family and I became close- closer than we had ever been before. My mom and I became very good friends, talking on the phone every day and enjoying each other’s company. My sister and I started to have a good relationship, because I wasn’t insulting her or yelling at her anymore. My father began to be one of my role models, and we shared some fun times that I will never forget. Life seemed to finally be looking up for me.

However, unfortunately, in the winter of my sophomore year, I became involved with some people that were not healthy for me. I met a boy that I quickly started to like, and we soon started dating. After dating a while, I realized that we had fallen in love. I was so unbelievable happy. But, sadly, things started going downhill. He became, at least in my perception, jealous, controlling, manipulative, and just plain mean. He was emotionally and mentally abusive. He got angry very easily and would always blame everything on me. Every time we fought, which was extremely often, it was always my fault. I started to feel terrible about myself and my depression slowly but surely came back. He made me think that I was a terrible, messed up person, and I began to hate myself.

This is when my depression became truly severe. We dated for a year and half, and because of all of the fighting and blame put on me, I fell into a deep slump. Nearly every time we fought, he would claim that he “never wanted to see me again” and would break up with me. Even though we would get back together a few days later, every time he said those words they hurt even more.

When we finally broke up for good, my depression became more serious than I ever expected. I was never happy. I can’t remember one instance during this time period of my life where I genuinely felt happy. I spent every day thinking about how I could get him back and prove to him that I wasn’t as bad as he thought. You might be thinking, “how could she ever stay with someone like that who was so terrible to her?” Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks me that—he truly made me feel as if I deserved what I was getting. I was blind to his faults, and instead criticized myself for not being a good enough person to be able to keep him as mine.

My family and friends tried everything they could to make me see how terrible he was. Sadly, the depression I was in made it so that I was not nice to the people who truly cared about me. I went back to my old habits of being impatient, mean, and rude. Even though my parents began to dislike me again, they still tried their hardest to help me get out of this horrible situation. My sister became scared for me and would tell her friends about how much she was against my relationship with this guy. My family wanted so badly to help me solve my problems, but nothing worked. Once again, I was a dreadful person to be around.

December of my junior year (my first junior year) was the final straw. My family was tired of trying to help me see how bad he was for me. The teachers and guidance counselor at my school were worried for my health and well-being. My grades were well below what I needed to get into the colleges I wanted. My parents and the school agreed that something needed to happen to get me away from this awful person.

One day, I got pulled out of English class by the Dean of Students. He told me that he needed to have a conversation with me, and led me to a room in the top of the health center. As soon as I walked in, I knew that I was in deep trouble. My parents, the Assistant Dean of Students, the school nurse, and the school guidance counselor were all sitting around the room looking at me. The Dean of Students asked me to sit down, and slowly began to tell me that I would be leaving school.

As you can probably assume, I was devastated. Like I told you, I absolutely loved it there. Although my ex-boyfriend was making my life a living hell, I still felt at home there, and couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else. I started bawling, begging them to let me stay and telling them that I would do anything, ANYTHING, to stay. Evidently, nothing worked. They told me to go to my room, pack a duffle bag, and go home. I was told that I could study for exams at home and then come back to take them, and that I would be getting the rest of my stuff then. I cried and screamed the whole way home.

I began school again at my local high school in January of 2009. I made new friends, and started getting out of my depression stage. While I was starting to become happier in general, I was still not a very nice person to my family. We began fighting nearly every day again. My friendship with my mother started to dissolve, I instigated many problems with my sister, and I created a hostile environment in my household. I can still remember a fight with my parents, about something that I had posted on Facebook. Looking back on it now, it really wasn’t a big deal. But because I was stubborn and felt entitled to do whatever I wanted, I was enraged that my parents would even think to tell me what I could and could not post on my Facebook page. I became furious with my father when he asked me to please take it down, and stormed up to my room, away from him and my mother. I refused to speak to them and started packing a duffle bag. I decided that I was going to run away to my best friend’s house for the night. She only lived a few streets away and what could my parents possibly do to punish me? I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the front door. My father ran after me, screaming at me and asking what the hell I thought I was doing. I stood in the middle of my front yard, barefoot with a duffle bag, in the rain, yelling at him that I was running away to Allie’s and was sleeping there for the night. Of course, he told me that I was not allowed to do this and if I did I would be in serious trouble. But I was defiant and quite frankly just didn’t care, so I stormed off to her house.

As you can probably guess, I got in a whole bunch of trouble. My parents and sister both tried extremely hard to get me to come home, but in my fit of tears I convinced my best friend’s mom to let me stay. She told my parents that she would take care of me and bring me home after school the next day. Even though my parents were enraged with me, they let it happen. They knew that fighting it wouldn’t change anything. I was set on staying there, and because I felt so entitled to whatever I wanted, that wasn’t going to change.

That’s just one of the many stories. I could tell you about endless nights of fighting and tears. I couldn’t see it, but I was spiraling downward. Fast. My parents and my sister noticed how bad my life was becoming, and how quickly our family was starting to fall apart. They were scared for our relationships and were willing to do anything to save it. My parents did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, and in the summer of 2009, they sent me away to a wilderness therapy camp in Hawaii.

I know what you might be thinking: Hawaii? That doesn’t sound so bad. However, this was not the Hawaii that people see on TV or in magazines. I was living in mountainous woods, far from city centers and very far from Hawaii’s well-known tourist sites. I worked in an organic vegetable garden every day, with some self-reflection and therapy time sprinkled in. No one truly believes me when I insist that it was not, in fact, fun and I did not, in fact, spend my summer “vacationing” in Hawaii.

Living at a wilderness therapy camp, no matter where in the world it is, is not easy. You are not allowed to contact your family in any way other than letters. You cannot see your family until a certain amount of time has passed. You are not allowed to have any contact with the outside world. You get all of your personal belongings taken away from you, and the only things that are yours are your sweatpants, t-shirts, shorts, underwear, towels, sunhat, and journals. You sit in your hale (Hawaiian for hut) day after day, thinking about how in the world you got to where you are now. Some days are work days. This means that you go out into the garden, are given a job, and you work until your task is complete. Sometimes it is as easy as planting some lettuce, other times it is as hard and working with a staff member to cut down banana trees. Other days are therapy days. This means that the therapists come to camp for the day, and your assigned therapist will meet with you for a check in. They will tell you what your family is thinking about your experience, and will help you through your issues. Other days are reflection days. On these days, you sit in your hale for the entire day and think. You literally just sit there and reflect on what you’re going through and how to change your faults. You write in your journal every day as a requirement. However, it soon becomes more of a comfort than a requirement.

When I first arrived in Hawaii, I genuinely believed that I did not “deserve” to be there. I thought I was perfectly fine the way I was—why was I being treated as a suspect? Moreover, I thought that I deserved better. Looking back, I now realize that even my choice of words—“I do not deserve to be here”—suggests that I did deserve to be there. At that point, I believed I was entitled to whatever I wanted, and whatever that “want” was, it was more important than anybody else’s feelings, needs, or concerns.

I spent my two and a half months in Hawaii reflecting on myself, my family, and my life. Was this really who I wanted to be? Did I want to spend nearly every day fighting with my parents and sister? Did I want to be easily angered or upset?

I most certainly did not want any of those things. So I worked. Living in Hawaii at a wilderness therapy camp helped me reveal the imperfections in myself that I never knew I had, and it gave me the chance to change them. Through talking, both formally and informally, I exposed my most volatile emotions to myself as well as to everyone else in the camp. By exposing these feelings, I began to accept them, ultimately learning how to control them far better and be patient in the midst of inner chaos. The structured program of Pacific Quest, from the first stage of isolation and powerlessness, to the next stage of growing community and autonomy, to the arrival of my parents and the news I would soon be leaving Hawaii, allowed me to realize I cannot win every battle, nor can I fight every one. I started to understand that I must work through my struggles, yet accept certain things that I cannot change. I discovered that I have the ability to be patient, calm, and accepting, and I found the strength to validate myself and not always look to others to show me that what I am doing is correct.

My family and I now have the best relationship I could ever imagine. In fact, they’re watching right now. My mother is my best friend, and I talk to her every day about the things going on in my life. My sister and I are closer than ever, and we never fight. She is truly the best sister and friend I could ever ask for. My dad and I are very close, and every time we are together, we have fun. I no longer take advantage of my family’s love and care, but instead try to reciprocate the amount of love they give me every day.

Now, I don’t mean to make this a sob story or dwell on my personal conflicts, or to make this all about my journeys through life. This is supposed to be about what I believe, right? Okay, so here’s what I believe. I believe in simply believing. It might sound stupid, and it might not make sense to you. But let me explain. I believe that if you have the confidence and self-assurance that you can do whatever task you are given, that you will be able to. I believe that if you can believe in yourself, you can do what you put your mind to. I believe that if you can believe in others, they will be able to believe in themselves. I believe that if you simply just believe, everything will become just a little bit easier.

Just try it. Just try believing. In anything. In yourself, in others, in the power of whatever. I don’t know what you all believe in.  But here’s something I do know—simply just believing is what helped me get through all of my tough experiences in life. The day before I left for Hawaii, my mother gave me the necklace that I still wear everyday. It says “believe” on it. Every time my father sent me a letter while I was in Hawaii, he would mention something about believing in myself, in others, in anything. I didn’t know then how significant that small word would become to me, but it is what helped me through my journey at Pacific Quest. It is what helped me improve my relationships with my parents and my sister. It is what changed my life.

March 5, 2010

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Analytic-rumination hypothesis

A client recently brought a very interesting New York time article to my attention, entitled Depression’s Upside.  The article considers the evolutionary significance of depression and suggests that depression has positive impacts on people.

A plaguing (but important) element of depression is rumination.  While many people’s experience of rumination is negative, Scientists Andrews and Thomson propose that the negative effects of rumination are what allows people to learn from past triggers of sadness.  They call this the analytic-rumination hypothesis.  Their hypothesis points out that people would learn from situations and events that made them sad if they didn’t ruminate about it.  The article states “If depression didn’t exist — if we didn’t react to stress and trauma with endless ruminations — then we would be less likely to solve our predicaments. Wisdom isn’t cheap, and we pay for it with pain.”

I am fascinated by the implications of this hypothesis and the positive angle it takes on pervasive negative thoughts.  This hypothesis may be integrated in a CBT fashion in helping clients realize the positive aspects of ruminating and help them move beyond it.

Check out the link to the article above for more information.  The article also looks at the effects rumination has on frontal lobe blood flow and attention difficulties.  Thank you to my clients who send me news articles!

October 13, 2009

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Healthy diet may decrease depression risk

Spanish scientists revealed research findings today that suggest a healthy diet lowers risk of suffering from depression.  The research results are aligned with a trend in recent years, associating nutrition with improved mental health.

New York Times article “Nutrition: Lower Depression Risk Linked to Mediterranean Diet” highlights aspects of the Mediterranean diet that are play a role in staving off depression.  Included in the list of essential components of the diet are “fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil and fish.” Scientists emphasize the role that healthy fats play in neurotransmitter funtioning, noting that the membranes of neurons are essentially fat, and thus depend directly on a diet with a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats.

As with all research results, looking at methods with a critical eye is important.  This particular study does not prove a correllation per se, but rather an association between nutrition and lower risk of depression.  It is virtually impossible to create an empirical study that eliminates outside variables.  With this in mind, this study provides yet another association between nutrition and well being, consistent with research being done gloabally.

This article drew my attention for several reasons.  First and foremost, nutrition is a cornerstone at Pacific Quest.  We recognize the importance that diet plays in well being, as we have observed this first hand (with the students and ourselves!).  Secondly, the aspects of the Mediterranean diet noted in the research results is remarkably similar to the diet our naturopath created for PQ students.  In fact, PQ students rely on fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, and fish as a major part of their diet.  They eat olive oil too, however, coconut oil is the primary source of oil – and it is local too!