Shannon Armitage, LMFT

Adult, Child, Couple, and Family Therapy in Seattle

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And heaven and nature sing…

We’re almost there, people.  The shortest day of the year is less than 2 weeks away.  We’ve entered the most gradual stretch of the receding daylight curve; longer days are on the horizon.

My kids have been practicing “Joy to the World” in preparation for their Christmas pageant.  Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, the lyric: “and heaven and nature sing” seems particularly meaningful this time of year.  I know lots of folks who fall more in “the bleak mid-winter” camp of carols, but I think even our Scroogiest instincts can be trained to listen for nature’s song around us.

Here in Seattle, we’ve had an especially cold and crisp start to the season.  Usually, we are socked in with clouds and rain this time of year.  But days of cold, clear skies have led to many dark and star-filled nights:  a rare treat for us in cloud country.

And for those of you living in the ever-widening snow-belt, how do you hear nature’s song amongst the snow plows and salt trucks?  In what way is the snow an opportunity to connect with neighbors and nature?  How do you find snow drawing you outward, even as the cold temperatures tend to drive you back indoors?  What opportunities for playing in nature (preferably between noon and 2 p.m.!!, per my earlier posts!) appear at your doorstep?  Which songs do you sing while shoveling the walk?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the busy and the rush of the season.  When the pace feels too frenetic, remember to look outward toward nature and neighbors and find those sweet, sonorous moments.  Repeat the sounding joy!


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Letting Cooler Heads Prevail

This summer in Seattle has been a hot one–for us.  Last summer I barely cracked open the sunscreen. This summer I’ve had to be slathered every day since Memorial Day.  I’ve run the fan most days and slept with the windows open in my room.  What most people in North America think of as a “normal” summer feels like a special sun-filled holiday for us.

Now, I’m not one to complain about the heat, but it did catch me off-guard the other day.  I had just finished my morning run.  It was barely 10 a.m., and the thermometer was well on its way toward the 90-degree mark.  I was doing my usual “cool-down”, walking around my neighborhood when I stared to think: ” What is wrong?  I’m not cooling down.  If anything, I feel hotter than I was during my run.”  Then it dawned on me, “Oh, it’s just really hot out today; I gotta get back inside to cool off.”

I know, this story sounds so weird, but coping with heat is just not something we Seattlites do often enough to develop any really expertise.  Atlanta, y’all got us beat on this one.

But in dealing with the heat this summer, it reminded me of our all-too common human shortcoming:  to deal with change as if NOTHING has changed.  We resort to our old habits and apply them to the new situations, expressing shock when they fail to work.  Everyone does it.  Who hasn’t driven a rental car, pulled into the gas staion, and been surprised to find that the gas tank is on the OPPOSITE side of your ususal car?  Habits are a powerful force.

So when you find that you’re trying the same strategies that no longer bring the same results, it’s time to ask yourself:  What has changed?  How can I cope with what’s true now?  How can I change my thinking and behavior to get more of what I want, and less of what I don’t want?  How can I stop feeling so hot and sweaty?

Stay cool, friends.  And if you can’t figure out how to do it on your own, help is out there!

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Breaking Down Barriers to Wellness

Many folks who I see in my private therapy practice have very challenging financial situations.  Even with a greatly reduced sliding scale rate, their fees represent a big financial commitment to wellness.  Though they struggle to make ends meet, they continue to do the work because to do otherwise would mean remaining stuck in unbearable situations.

I was overjoyed to learn that a client of mine received a Washington Women in Need grant, so she could continue our work together.  With her WWIN grant, she can focus on doing the work to get herself on track towards a healthy future for herself and her family, while easing the financial pressure that comes with ongoing therapy.  Since receiving the grant, I can see a renewed sense of hope and optimism that she can actively meet the needs of herself and her family.

If you are or know of a woman of limited means in need of health/educational services, please visit to find out about qualifying for a grant.  Help is out there!

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Surviving Out Loud

Getting a mood disorder is like getting the flu.  It strikes seemingly at
random.  No one is to blame.    No one should feel ashamed or guilty that they
have it.  There’s no vaccine or miracle cure, but there is hope. It sucks, but
it will get better with treatment and care.

That’s why I love Katherine Stone’s album of postpartum mood survivors over on her great Postpartum Progress site.  Just beautiful families who have overcome great hardship to survive
and thrive.  As Stone says, “We aren’t defective. We aren’t strange or unusual.
We are great moms who were waylaid temporarily by a terrible illness.” 

And there’s nothing shameful in being laid up by a terrible illness.  Indeed, in the
same way that catching the flu can make a body more resistant to future illness,
surviving a postpartum mood disorder makes a family tougher and more resilient
in the face of future struggles. 

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The Finish Line is not the Finish

I’ve been thinking about the Boston Marathon tragedy, especially while running.  Of course, there is no sense to be made out of senseless acts.  But now I feel this kinship with runners everywhere who heard about, saw, or experienced the horrific events and wondered, “Why? Why the marathon?”

I know for me, running is a way to get out of my overly-busy head and into my under-used body.  As a parent, it’s my chance to be alone with my thoughts and to have my body all to myself.  I get to control my route, my speed, the music in my head.  When I run, there is no Caspar Babypants, no cries of “Mom! Mom!”  I’m alone with the sound of my footfalls and breath, surrounded by nature and weather. 

When I run a race, I think of it as this rare treat:  hours to myself to do nothing but run.  I have no one’s needs to attend to but my own.  When I finish the race, however, that’s when the real work begins.  I go back to my work as a therapist, as a mother, a spouse, a sister, a daughter.  When I re-enter, I hope to go forth better than when I started the race.  I hope to re-enter with greater stores of patience, empathy, compassion,, humor, and forgiveness.  I have found all of these things with running, as I suspect many of the Boston runners have, too.  We runners know: the finish line may represent the end of the race–but also the beginning of a much longer course.

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Jean would have Loved this Run

I did not feel like running today.  I was achy and cranky, not unlike Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in this old SNL skit.  But it was one of those beautiful winter-turning-to-spring mornings, with nothing but gloom and rain forecast for the afternoon and evening.  I’d dropped my girls off at school, so if I were going to get a run in, this was my chance.

I plodded off on a favorite route, and it didn’t take long for my mind to quiet and make peace with my complaining body.  The mountains peeked out from the clouds, the daffodils were up, and the long-absent ta-tweet ta-tweet tweet of robins had returned.  I turned onto a wooded trail, and thought:  Jean would have loved this run.

Jean–not her real name–was a former client of mine.  She’d worked for an airline and travelled the world.  She’d loved to run along the beaches of West Seattle.  Then she was diagnosed with MS.  When I worked with her, she was living in a nursing home, unable to move from the neck down. 

She could be at turns wickedly funny, bitterly angry, bored, depressed, and optimistic.  She loved to hear the latest MS research.  Even if it wouldn’t help her, it comforted her to know someone was trying to sort out the puzzle of MS.  Naturally, she hoped someone would come up with an answer that would cure her.

No answers came soon enough for Jean.  Her illness progressed in the way MS does:  randomly.  She’d fall 6 steps back, then inch a couple forward.  Near the end of our time together, I’d sit with her.  She was unable to say much beyond, “Help me.”

I tried telling myself, She still knows who I am; I’m here to help.  But there was frustratingly little I could do.  I could tell she was listening to what I said, so I told her everything I could think of about her life.  I recounted everyone in her life who loved her, named her friends, pointed out all her favorite travel destinations on her world map, retraced her favorite running routes in West Seattle, talked about the glorious late-summer days we were having, promised to take her outside once she was well enough to get out of bed again.

We never did get to sit outside together.  By my next visit, she had returned to the hospital, for what would be the last time.  That weekend, I went for a run.  The air had the crispness of fall in it, but the sun was still bold and warm.  I remember not wanting to run that day either.  I hadn’t slept well the night before, and I felt tired and groggy.  But it was too beautiful a day to pass indoors, so I went.  I approached a hill, and thought briefly of stopping, and then I thought of Jean and picked up the pace.  “She would have loved this run.  She would have loved everything about this day.”  I could just feel her striding beside me, and I knew–knew in bones–she was gone.

My intuition, sadly, was right.  It’s been some months since Jean died.  I think of the many conversations we had.  She often felt she wished she’d done more in her life, which always stunned me to hear it coming from someone who’d had a fantastic career and travelled the world.  But that’s what hope does: It goads us to want more, do more.  It gets us up in the morning, but it can also keep us from finding contentment in the present.  It can down-play the past.

Jean, despite her trying circumstances, never stopped wanting for her life.  Even when she was brought low by MS, there were still milestones she wanted to reach.  She was still a runner at heart.  When my mind and body complain, and I think about stopping, I hear saying, “Go, Go, Go!”  And I keep at it, thinking, “She would have loved this run.”