Episode #23: Becca Skolnick
Becca B. Skolnick, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of MindWell NYC, a group private practice in Manhattan specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based approaches. She works collaboratively with clients to teach them coping skills and help them think and behave more adaptively in line with their goals and values.
Becca’s drive and passion for psychology started when she was a young child growing up with a mother with Scleroderma, a chronic connective tissue disease. Becca’s mother went through an incredible number of health challenges related to Scleroderma including but not limited to kidney failure, Sjogrens Syndrome, adult-onset diabetes, Raynaud’s Syndrome, and countless surgeries. Despite this, she was not defined by her illnesses and instead taught Becca and everyone she came in contact with the importance of celebrating life. Her life was filled with love, adventure, humor, travel, friendship, and generosity. She also informally counseled numerous people – patients, friends, family, doctors – on how to live a meaningful, genuine life and manage chronic illness. Becca’s mother’s giving spirit and incredible ability to maintain a realistic yet optimistic perspective in the midst of hell had a strong influence on Rebecca’s decision to become a clinical psychologist. Sadly, Becca’s mother passed away in October 2017 at the age of 63. Becca now walks around with waves of grief – another “invisible illness” that is not talked about enough despite the fact that it will affect most people at some point in their lives.
While sorting through her mother’s belongings, Becca Skolnick made an interesting discovery: a printout of an article her mother had written, focusing on advice for helping children cope with a chronically ill parent. As Becca read, she experienced a sense of familiarity. The article mirrored her real life in so many ways; it was advice that her mom, Susie, had put into practice over the course of her 32-year journey with scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune rheumatic disease. On today’s episode, Becca and I talk about who her mom was: a friendly and spunky person who resisted being defined by her illness but didn’t hide it either, and who had a remarkable way of connecting with and humanizing people. We also discuss why it was so cathartic and rewarding for Becca to republish her mom’s original piece on Thrive Global — with her added commentary from a personal perspective, and also through her professional lens as a clinical psychologist. Finally, we talk about the many ways in which Becca continues to honor the incredible person her mom was.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS BECCA AND I CHATTED ABOUT:
The different symptoms and challenges that came with her mom’s scleroderma diagnosis
Her memory of being a young child and being resistant to her mom getting a walker
Her mom’s spunky “firecracker” personality and ability to make friends with anyone
How Becca became aware that her mom’s condition was chronic, not temporary
Her sense of anxiety around the unknown, and how she developed ways to cope
Why she tried to live a normal life, despite the circumstances of her mom’s condition
How she’s taking grieving for her mom (who died in October 2017) one step at a time
The empathic person her mom was--and how that factors into Becca’s approach with clients
How practicing acceptance (an idea for which her mom was a role model) plays into her work
The Thrive Global piece that featured her mom’s article and Becca’s responses, decades later
The small and big things she does in her life today to honor her mom’s memory
PLUS, BECCA’S FIVE TIPS FOR PRACTICING ACCEPTANCE:
Identify thoughts and behaviors that keep you fighting reality (e.g., "This shouldn't be happening") and respond with more adaptive thoughts that acknowledge the reality (e.g., "Even though I wish this weren't happening, it is."
Don't try to hide or ignore your "invisible illness." For example, my mother took her medicine in public, talked about her health challenges, and found ways to make meaning by informally counseling others with similar health issues. It certainly does not have to be the biggest part of your identity or the main thing you discuss, but the more you hide it, the more shame and nonacceptance you might feel.
Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up when you face the reality of a situation. In other words, don't try to push down emotions - they will come up later. If it's not a good time to think about it (e.g., you're at work), then be sure to block off time.
Practice mindfulness to ground yourself in the moment and do one thing at a time.
Consider ways to change your body posture and physiological sensations to open yourself up to the idea of acceptance. For instance, take slow deep belly breaths, relax any tension in your muscles, uncross your arms, relax your facial muscles and slightly curve up the sides of your mouth as if you're almost smiling. Changing the body can change the mind.