Uncategorized

Free 1st therapy session

Stephen is very nicely offering people a free therapy session! 🙂

Psychotherapy, Counselling and Personal Development in Glasgow, Scotland

After the positive response to my offer at Christmas, I thought I would repeat the offer of another opportunity for anyone to use a therapy session totally free and with no obligation to continue.  It gives people a chance to get an idea of what therapy can be about and to ask any questions about the process, for example.

I’ll probably keep this open til the end of February and would be grateful to anyone who can spread the word via blogging, Twitter etc. if you know of anyone who might benefit from some time to speak in confidence about anything, or ask questions about therapy etc.

Just contact me via the appointments page on my website.  Session can be done face-to-face or via Skype.

glasgow therapy counselling people b4 profit

Stay well.

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Coping Skills, Life, Uncategorized

What to do when things aren’t working

I’ve heard other people on blogs and in person express the sentiment that they’re trying everything they know how to do, and it’s not working. What do you do when nothing seems to work?

I’ve been struggling with feeling like nothing’s working recently and then feeling even more hopeless as a result. I’ve been having a tough time since my uncle and and grandmother passed away. I’m grieving and being reminded of past trauma and the recent trauma of their deaths in intrusive and unpleasant ways, all the while being apart from my family (away at college) and trying to literally survive and not fail my classes.

So what do you do??? I wish I had more answers than what I have, but I’ll share what’s getting me through so far, and if anyone has any other ideas, please let me know.

Validate yourself. If you’re trying everything you know and using all the skills you have, you’re probably trying really hard and dealing with some pretty hard stuff! Give yourself some credit and acknowledge that you are struggling.

Think about what you mean when you say “things aren’t working.” Sometimes the skills I use do work; they just don’t solve all my problems. For example, the goal of distress tolerance skills in DBT is to get you through the moment without worsening the situation. They’re not supposed to make you feel happy or to get rid of whatever was causing the strong emotion. If I hold ice up to my face (the TIPP skill) in place of acting on crisis urges, then the skill worked. Even if I am still really upset and the crisis urges come back soon, the skill got me through that moment. I expect that skills will help more than they are able to. Having more realistic expectations here would help, I think.

Make sure you’re doing the things that have helped in the past. Personally, I know that I have to eat enough and sleep enough and get exercise and see my friends and have time to myself regularly in order to maximize my okay-ness. Sometimes I get frustrated thinking, “But I slept so much! I ate three meals! I did so much good work and tried so hard! Whyyy am I not feeling better?” and maybe it’s because I’m avoiding my friends and haven’t had a real conversation with anyone in a week. Not doing one essential thing, even when you’re doing all the others, could be the missing piece.

Ask for and accept help from other people. You don’t have to do everything alone! Friends, family, strangers, online friends, old friends, therapists, doctors, etc. can all help! For example, my mom visited me at college this past weekend. She has offered to do this in the past, but this was the first time that I accepted her offer. She was willing to help, and I knew it probably would make me feel better and was desperate. Her visit ended up going great, and I felt much better afterwards deep down.

Still on the topic of asking for help, I sometimes know that I need help but don’t know what I need. When people ask, “What can I do?” or “How can I help?” I don’t know how to answer. I’m still working on learning what I need, but here are some things that I have asked for: a hug (many times), for my friend to let me vent, for my therapist to reply to my email, for an extension on an assignment, for someone to eat a meal with me, for a friend to send me something in the mail, to schedule an appointment with a doctor, to set up a time to facetime a friend. These are things I can ask for! People can always choose to say no, but asking doesn’t hurt and often helps a lot!

Maybe consider bigger changes in your life. I know that if I keep on feeling this badly, taking a semester or a year off of school is an option. Dropping some classes is an option. Going to an inpatient, residential, or day treatment center is an option. Changing my therapist is an option. Transferring schools or switching my major are options. There are lots of options!

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Radically accepting that 1) you are having a tough time right now, and that 2) there are things you can’t change and have no control over, can allow you to see a situation more realistically and therefore make better decisions about the things you can control. I can’t change the fact that my uncle and grandmother died, but I can celebrate their lives, think of fond memories, and strive to embody the qualities I admired in them.

Have patience. I know that this can be really hard to do. But giving things time and just pushing forward can work. Hold on. Time may not heal everything, but it can help with a lot. I have a saying that I like: “There are good days and bad days. Keep going, and you’ll find both.”

Life, Therapy

What trauma feels like (for me, for now)

(This is about trauma and talks about death, with mentions of self harm and suicidality.)

I’ve had lots of upsetting things happen recently — my mom lost all the hearing in one of her ears suddenly, my uncle was dying and then died, my grandmother was in the hospital and then died — those are the main ones, but my great uncle also died, my aunt’s neighbor died, my family has been very chaotic… taken all together, within a month, it’s traumatic.

I’m used to PTSD and the anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks as a result of that. But with PTSD, it’s post-trauma. I can use opposite action to face fears because I know (at least, rationally) that I am safe now. I can ground myself in the moment with phrases like “this reminds me of something scary, and, in this moment, I am safe.” I can point out the ways that this situation is different from the traumatic one.

Now it’s different. I’m not living in PTSD anymore; I’m living in trauma. It is happening now.

Trauma is something that overwhelms your ability to cope, something that threatens your life or that of someone you love. These events have definitely overwhelmed me: I feel like everything is “too much” very often; I’ve developed new self harm behaviors; I fantasize about dying to escape it all; accomplishing little things, or even getting out of bed and getting meals, are hard. And the lives of people I know and love were threatened and taken.

I know that my subconscious agrees that I’m overwhelmed because my PTSD (from a car accident) has disappeared. I’ve heard that having flashbacks means that your body and brain are ready to process through the trauma that you couldn’t process at the time. Well, clearly my body isn’t well enough to process old trauma anymore. I’ve had one night of traumatic nightmares and intrusive thoughts relating to the accident in the past few weeks. Just one! I suppose I should thank my body for this, for not giving me even more distress that I’m not capable of handling.

On the other hand, I have had nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and lots of strong anxiety, sadness, and other emotions about the current issues.

And when I have startle reactions, like when the phone rings, or someone knocks on my door, or I hear indistinct raised voices, or my mom texts me, those reactions are actually the response that is needed in that situation. It’s not a post-trauma startle reaction. It’s not out of place. It’s serving an essential purpose. It’s getting me awake from my slumber so that I can drive my mom to the hospital. It’s preparing myself for the news that my grandmother died.

This trauma is happening now. It’s awful. Here are some other things I’m experiencing that help show what this trauma feels like.

  • Constantly high anxiety
  • Checking the facts and finding that the intense emotion is justified: people are in danger.
  • Screaming when startled
  • Splitting headache
  • Not knowing what will happen
  • Feeling like my world is collapsing around me
  • Trying to maintain any sense of constancy in my life
  • Things so chaotic that I don’t know when I’ll next eat
  • Expecting my life to be turned upside down and inside out multiple times in the near future
  • Having to always be ready to drop everything for my family at a moment’s notice
  • Waking up to my mom calling me saying she’s in the emergency room
  • And not being fazed by it because it’s become so commonplace — constant danger is the norm
  • Dissociating so much that I can’t read more than a couple of sentences
  • Dissociating the moment I consciously try to stop avoiding emotions
  • Dissociating in order to survive — because if I don’t, my emotions are unbearable, and I get very suicidal, or can’t eat, or can’t get out of bed — so, dissociating is keeping me alive
  • Needing to use my crisis survival skills toolkit many times every day
  • Almost always wanting to die
  • Crying when I didn’t call my mom because I think that if I don’t call her, someone will die — and then having my grandmother die the next day and confirming my worry
  • Not knowing where I am
  • Not being able to participate in a normal, casual conversation because everything reminds me of the awful things going on, and I don’t want to talk about them
  • All of my thoughts leading back to the trauma
  • Saying “HELP” inside my head or writing it on paper or my skin frequently
  • Wanting very badly to be able to escape and not being able to

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Life, Positives

I forgot we live in a universe

Today has been a rough day for a number of reasons that I don’t want to dwell on right now.

I wanted to hurt myself, but I decided I would look at my pros and cons list (pros and cons of hurting myself vs. using skills and not hurting myself) before I did anything in order to be sure that I was making the right decision.

I didn’t know where I put my hard copy of my pros and cons list, so I went hunting through the photos on my phone in my “Lists” album, where I keep pictures of a lot of my go-to self care / skills info. Instead of finding it, I came across a picture of strategies I had a while ago for “reorienting yourself,” or grounding yourself.

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my list

I was feeling dissociated, so I tried some of these. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I tried to really see everything around me. I counted how many limbs I have. I realized that I am not in imminent danger, and neither is anyone in my family. I reviewed what I did earlier in the day.

And, I zoomed out in space. I imagined myself where I am, in my room, and then I zoomed out… to our house… our town… neighboring towns… our state… this part of the country… North America… the globe… little earth… the moon… our solar system… our galaxy……

It was at this point that I wondered if the Milky Way is part of a cluster of galaxies. Are there other galaxies near by us? Do galaxies even cluster together??

So I followed my train of thought because it was positive and a good distraction, and it made me feel curious and interested (emotions I haven’t felt much recently).

I googled “is the milky way part of a cluster.” It turns out it is! It’s part of the Virgo Supercluster.

Hmmmm, cool!

Then I remembered that there was some youtube channel I couldn’t remember the name of that had a bunch of good astronomy videos I had liked. I wanted to find the channel, so I got my computer and dug through google drive to find the website that I had made for my high school astronomy class, thinking my website would help me find the youtube channel.

I looked through the website and was reminded of the cool things I learned in astronomy that year. I had pictures of the moon and of Jupiter and its four Galilean moons that we took right outside our high school one evening. I had essays I wrote about the more philosophical parts of astronomy. They were good to read.

I eventually found the part of my website where I linked to the youtube channel I was trying to find. Yay! I went to the channel, SciShow Space, and watched some videos.

One was about how the universe could be shaped like a torus (a donut). I had never really thought about the shape/topology of the universe before. I assumed it was spherical and infinite, I suppose. At the end of the video, the person talking said that if the universe were a torus, that you’d maybe be able to look out into the sky and see our galaxy, the Milky Way, but much younger — the way it was many years ago. You’d be able to wave to yourself.

Mindboggling. The universe is so weird.

A supernova could explode in our direction at any time and obliterate not just us, but our planet, our sun, and our solar system. There are things out there that operate on such different scales than our lives normally revolve around.

I can’t believe I forgot we live in a universe. There is so much more that exists than just me and my family, than everywhere I’ve been in my life, than our entire planet… there is so much more.

So, yeah, wow, that sticky note was actually incredibly helpful. Zooming out in space was just what I needed to do. And looking through the “Lists” album on my phone was the thing that led me to that, so that was helpful, too.

It was also good because it rekindled interests I forgot I had. There were many years growing up where I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I used to think about the universe a lot.

It also made me think more about geometry, math, science. I love geometry so much. I think I’ve briefly mentioned on here that I’m in engineering school. I’ve loved math and science for as long as I can remember. Since I’ve been on winter break, I haven’t gotten to spend much time on those interests. I was actually really craving math homework recently.

Wow. It was really good to be reminded of all that — the things I love to do, the universe we live in, the awe and wonder and imagination.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.
This is what we see when we look at the darkest part of the sky — not dark at all, but filled with galaxies, billions of light years away. Source: “Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014” from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day website


Did you forget that we live in a universe??

Have you ever been reminded out of the blue of (good) things you had forgotten?

Life, Uncategorized

My uncle died

I don’t really want to write anything about this, but I think I’ll feel better just saying something and putting it out in the world. I’m still working on accepting that this is real, so writing this helps make it more “official.”

My uncle died about a week ago.

If anyone who I’m close to is reading this, they’ll now know that it’s me writing this blog… if they didn’t already know… I hope that no one I know finds this blog. If you do, please don’t read any more and let me know that you’ve found this…

Anyway, that aside…

I’ve been really sad. Which is understandable.

He was my uncle from my aunt’s second marriage after her divorce. He was only in our family for a few years. But he was SO loved…. he was the best uncle, such a great stepdad to my cousins, and he brought my aunt so much joy and love…

Part of my sadness isn’t just at the loss of my uncle, but sadness for my aunt and my cousins. I’m close with my aunt and my cousins, and I really feel for them.

My aunt and uncle only got married a few years ago, but they’ve known each other almost their whole lives. In my aunt’s junior high (middle school) yearbook, my uncle wrote that he loved her. They were really good friends in school. My uncle had had a crush on her ever since then. His marriage to my aunt was his first marriage. His friends told him to give up on trying to find true love and to lower his standards… then my aunt got divorced, they reconnected, and he married what he considered to be the perfect woman.

I’m sad at the loss of their beautiful, inspiring, loving relationship. I’m sad that they didn’t get to spend more time together. They only had a few years of marriage.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to know him any better. He was such a good guy. He died of a brain tumor, and towards the end, it was hard for him to understand what people were saying because the tumor affected that part of his brain. But, while the things he did say were often random and out of place, they were almost always incredibly positive and loving. He said SO many times in his last week or so, “If you ever need anything, you just let me know. I’m here for you.” “You know I’ve always liked you, right? You’ve always been good to me. I love you, you know that?”

He told my aunt, “You’re gorgeous. I’m the luckiest guy.”

It’s heartbreaking….

——————————-on a slightly different note——————————–

A lot of the things meant to be comforting at the funeral, in songs I’ve been listening to online, and in things people have said have to do with Christianity and God. I’ve had a rocky relationship with Christianity, and at this time, I’m not exactly religious. I don’t believe that my uncle is in heaven, I don’t believe he’s in a better place, and I don’t believe I’ll see him again someday in heaven. When people say these things in an attempt to comfort me or themselves or to find some meaning in the horrible situation, it just makes me feel worse, because I don’t think they’re true. I believe my uncle is GONE and I will NEVER see him again, and that makes me really sad.

So, here are my own ways of “making meaning” out of this loss, without religion.

  • I’m sad because I’ve lost someone significant
  • “Grief is the price we pay for love”
  • He’s not in pain anymore
  • I’m glad we all got to have some time together instead of none at all
  • He and my aunt did finally marry each other
  • We had lots of good times together
  • He lived a full life, especially the last few years
  • We have memories
  • We have pictures
  • We all got to say goodbye to him, and he got to say how he wanted to be remembered and say goodbye to us
  • He died surrounded by family

Of course, these things don’t make it all better. I’m not trying to make it all better. I’m still really sad.

Goodbye, Uncle [____]. I said goodbye every time I left your house and hugged you goodbye. I said goodbye on your last day when I left you there unconscious but alive. I said goodbye a few hours later when you were still warm but with no breath or heartbeat, when the funeral home men came to carry you out. I said goodbye at the funeral home to your body all dressed up and covered in flowers. I said goodbye when I put a rose on your coffin at the gravesite. I’ve said goodbye a lot, but I’m still saying it… I can’t believe it’s goodbye forever.

I miss you. We all miss you. We love you, you knew that. And we know you loved us. Your memories will always be with us… I love you…

Life, Therapy, Uncategorized

Self harm or self care?

(Please note: This is about self harm and suicidal urges, self-destructive thoughts, and specific ways I try to harm myself (including with food).)

I’ve been struggling recently with basic self care. Anything that I know is good for me or that will help me is hard for me to do.

I used to self harm myself in one specific way. I told my DBT therapist over the summer about it, and I’ve been tracking it on my diary card and using skills like distraction, “riding the wave,” etc. to not engage in the behavior. And, I’ve been successful! I haven’t done that behavior in over three months. Yay!

But… the urges to hurt myself or kill myself haven’t gone away. I have the urges as much as I did when I was still using the behavior. Sometimes I’m successful in using distraction or some sort of positive coping mechanism to manage and resist the urge. However, if the urge is very strong, or I’ve been feeling it constantly for several hours and nothing seems to be helping, or I’m too hopeless to believe skills will work… then I bargain with myself.

I say, “Okay, fine, I won’t kill myself. But, as a compromise, I won’t eat dinner. I know that eating dinner is something that will help me and make me feel better, and that is exactly why I won’t do it.”

I’ll say to my emotion mind, “I know you have the urge to hurt yourself. You can’t do that because it’ll mean you have to stop trauma work. But you still feel intense shame and anger at yourself and want to harm yourself. So, here’s something. I know you feel tired and want to go to sleep. How about you just don’t go to sleep?” And then I stay up until 2 am and don’t get enough sleep and feel more angry and guilty the next day and even more tired.

I’m still harming myself, just in less obvious ways. Not eating enough. Not sleeping enough. Not brushing my teeth. Avoiding friends because I know they’ll make me feel better. Avoiding using skills because I know they’ll make me feel better. Not submitting applications because I’m mad at myself and don’t think I deserve it. Eating chocolate late at night because I know it’ll keep me awake, and I want to prevent myself from taking care of myself and sleeping.

It’s almost easier to self harm in these ways because it’s a smaller decision to make. It often doesn’t require action, just intentional inaction.

Writing this out is helping me realize that self harm is still an issue for me, even if it doesn’t leave visible scars. I’m losing weight, even if it’s not noticeable. I’m hungry all the time. I sometimes have an erratic sleep schedule. My teeth hurt often. My eyesight is getting worse because I refuse to look up from my phone or computer when I start to get a headache. I feel as though I need to feel the pain of the headache because I deserve it.

So, it’s not good. There are negative consequences to doing these things. My “cured” self harm has really just been transformed into different behaviors because I was replacing the behavior, not acting opposite to it.

To be fair to myself, I do sometimes just distract and not do anything harmful. I sometimes reach out to friends or my therapist. I sometimes eat meals because I know it’ll make me feel better. There are just some times that I don’t…

I think the solution is opposite action. Instead of acting on the urge to harm myself, I want to acknowledge that it’s an urge, use the self talk that my therapist and I came up with, and act opposite to the urge.

The self talk is along the lines of,

  • “This is emotion mind talking. It’s strong, but it’s emotion mind.
  • Using skills has helped in the past.
  • Sometimes skills take a while to work.
  • Skills “working” is relative.
  • Distress tolerance is supposed to help get you through the moment, not make you feel better. If you feel better, that’s an added bonus.
  • When you are feeling better, you like feeling better.
  • In the times that you’re not feeling like this, you would want to take care of yourself and help yourself feel better.”

Opposite action to the urge to hurt myself and to the emotions of shame and guilt is to be kind to myself. Some options are: putting lotion on my skin instead of hurting my skin, eating food, hanging out with friends, wearing pretty clothes, watching or reading something funny, etc.

Opposite action to self harm is self care. It’s hard to do because it’s the very thing that the self harm urges are telling me not to do. That’s where the self talk comes in. I have to believe it’ll work and have enough perspective to remember that there’s more than this moment and that self care or skills have helped in the past.

If I’m not thinking clearly enough to do the above, then distraction, calling my therapist, or other skills (if I’m willing to use them) are helpful.

In conclusion… self harm is still a problem for me, and I, Wise Mind Me, want to use the techniques listed above to take care of myself as opposite action to the emotions and urges I sometimes feel. I do deserve to feel better.

Positives

Major accomplishments of 2018

I have actually made a lot of progress in 2018.

Mental Health

I’ve gotten more serious about making actual progress in therapy instead of using it as more of a temporary fix to my immediate problems and worries. In the winter/spring, I made a bunch of new lists to follow in different situations. Over the summer, I started DBT, which has really helped me. I learned more about emotions. I was a little clueless before. I can now generally identify what I’m feeling — sadness, anger, shame, fear, love, etc. — and understand where that emotion came from and whether or not it fits the facts of the situation. I didn’t really know that shame was an emotion before this year, and I feel shame a lot!

I also learned what dissociation is, what it feels like for me when it’s happening, and what I can do to stop it. Another thing I didn’t know that was happening to me a lot!

I made the decision to start prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD. I’ve been doing behavioral exposures on my own to things I avoid and things that scare me for the past few months, and already I can see a significant improvement in my PTSD symptoms. There are some reminders that I can fully tolerate now, like pictures of brains, and some reminders that don’t give me as bad flashbacks, like car chase or car crash scenes in movies. I am also doing exposure stuff in therapy and plan to do more.

Relationships

I’ve developed some very close friendships. I have one friend in particular that I’m very close with. I think it may be the most intimate (emotionally intimate) relationship I’ve ever had. I tell her so much. She tells me a lot, too. I love her and am so glad we’re friends.

I’m also much closer with my parents, mainly thanks to the DBT program I did this summer and the family therapy that came with it. They now understand the nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, and suicidal thoughts I struggle with. Although we still don’t always get along, it’s nice to not have to carry around those secrets anymore. I can also get emotional support from them sometimes, especially my mom. She has made an effort to learn how to validate my feelings, and it makes such a difference. Talking to her does actually make me feel better sometimes. It also feels like they’re on my team now. For example, my dad got me “stress relief essential oils” for Christmas, which I probably won’t use because essential oils have upset me before, but it was a sweet gesture that shows he cares and wants to help.

Because I did the program this summer, many more of my friends know that I have mental health issues and am in therapy. Everyone was asking what I was doing over the summer. I could have lied, but I chose to be vulnerable and tell them the truth. I’ve done a lot of vulnerability exposures in the past few months. They are hard but generally bring me closer to people. I recently also told my friends at college that I am in therapy. I kind of let it slip in front of a fairly large group of people at a Secret Snowflake gift exchange. This was a big deal for me because I’m not close with most of those people. But it was fine, and I feel so much better.

Adulting

I can now file an insurance claim! I can call my insurance company, I can set up my own doctor’s appointments, I can choose to take over-the-counter medicines and buy them on my own, I bought my own razor for the first time. A lot of these accomplishments have to do with me being away from home and being able to do things without my mom’s permission.

I set up some certificates of deposit, which mean I’ll be making some money, or at least not losing any to inflation. Planning for the future!

The place where I live at college has a kitchen (unlike last year), and I also had a portion of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable share this fall. As a result, I can now cook or prepare various vegetables for myself. I can make eggs (scrambled or in an omelette) fairly quickly. I can clean a kitchen and feel okay/confident about its cleanliness. I learned to use a gas stove (my family has an electric stove). I plan on doing more cooking next semester.

School

Well, I’m two semesters closer to getting a degree!

I declared my major, but that may change…

I think I’ve gotten better with procrastinating. I haven’t turned anything in past the deadline this semester!! 🙂 One skill that particularly helps me with this is setting a timer for 20 minutes and saying that I’ll only work on it for that amount of time. It helps me to get started on things and not be overwhelmed by all I have to do.

I’ve learned more about engineering and realized how much I like it. 🙂 Although I’m still not entirely sure about what to major in within engineering, and I sometimes think about becoming a psychologist, writer, dancer, or artist instead, I know that I really do like engineering, too. 🙂

General Health

I’ve consistently been getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night. 7 hours is now low for me. There are weeks where I get less, but for the most part, I really have been getting more sleep. This makes me feel so much better emotionally!

I lost some weight unintentionally over the summer and became more underweight than I normally am, but I’ve been seeing a nutritionist at school, and I’ve gained some of it back! More importantly, I am building better habits of eating, like eating 3 meals a day, every day, and snacks in between. I’m keeping more snacks on hand. I’m eating more calorie-dense foods first. If I skip breakfast, I’ll have two dinners instead of simply having only 2 meals that day. I think these strategies will continue to serve me well.

I haven’t had too many headaches! 🙂

Other

I started this blog!!! 🙂 Having a blog is something I’ve dreamed of doing for years. I’m so glad I finally did it and that I am still at it several months after starting. It feels like it gives me more purpose. What I didn’t expect from blogging was getting to read so many other people’s blogs, which has been really nice.

In the spring, I was baptized into a church, and I later left it. It was a very stressful, confusing experience at the time, but I think it has helped me understand what I actually believe, which makes me more confident and causes me to have fewer existential crises. People in this church group also gave me a lot of hugs. I generally avoided physical touch before then, but now I willingly accept hugs, enjoy hugs, give good hugs back, and am comfortable asking friends for a hug when I feel like I need one.

It’s hard to believe that my first time in group therapy was just last year. I’ve made some good friends through group and learned just how not-alone I am. It’s also been eye-opening to be able to talk with people about mental illnesses and similar struggles. I feel like I understand people better.

Lastly, I’ve been dancing for years, and last spring, I finally learned how to do a pirouette! 🙂 One of my goals over winter break is to be able to spin around twice in a pirouette instead of once.

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Yay! This was uplifting to write. 🙂 I’ve liked reading people’s reflections on the year. Do you have an accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?