Regina E. McCarthy is president and owner of Blue Stone Healing Center in the Chicago area. She works with clients at the holistic level, helping them to heal at their deepest level. Regina is passionate about the work she does and feels extremely honored to be part of her clients healing journey.
She is married and has three children. Her kids are her heroes because they constantly teach her courage, to be who she is, and not to worry about what others think of her. It takes courage to show your vulnerability.
When Regina was little she was her dad’s favorite (okay, we all say this!), but he also intimidated her. He was big; she was little. He was loud; she was quiet. He was strong; she was skinny. But she loved him just the same and believed he could do anything, which he often did. He was born to Irish immigrant parents in the four-room apartment they lived in above a grocery store in Chicago. When he grew up, he became an entrepreneur and built a construction company from the ground up, with her mom as secretary. He was a visionary who followed his intuition. He was also brilliant and could solve complex math problems in his head like no one else, and he figured everyone could, too.
In primary school, Regina had to ask her dad for help with simple fractions. They just didn’t make sense in her head, and to him, that didn’t make sense. After his long, hard day of work, she felt like she was bothering him. She remembers cringing as she made her way to where he was sitting, reading the evening newspapers. He was tired and it was never a fun experience asking him for help, but it started Regina on her journey of questioning why math was so hard for her, why people respond the way they do, and how could she get what she needed without feeling guilty for asking.
Eventually, she survived her dad’s lessons and even grew to love math. As an adult, she learned where she held emotions in her body and how to feel them. She kept asking questions about life, relationships, and why we do what we do. Regina also learned to follow her intuition, which led to her interest in holistic psychotherapy. She had always been interested in the whole person—body, emotions, mind and spirit—and how they work together to form us as individuals. Our physical wellbeing, our emotional responses, our brain’s interpretation of events, and our spiritual connections were fascinating subjects. Regina now realizes these were all a part of her interactions with her dad, and he helped make her the person she is today, for which she is eternally thankful.
1. Bullying has been a buzzword in the book world for the past couple of years. Do you think of Courageous Gilbert the Groundhog as a bullying book?
Yes and no. It is a bullying book because it teaches real practical tools to not be bullied. If you know your feelings and can feel them (by not going into shock and numbness) then you have the ability to stand up to the bully. By yelling into your hands, stomping your feet, and practicing your courage (leave me alone! that is not OK to say to me) you have a better chance of not being caught off guard when someone begins to bully you. Going into shock is probably the toughest part of being bullied. You are caught off guard, your body and brain go offline and you are left speechless. This book also teaches the deep breathing techniques, and about anger, fear and sadness.
2. Can you explain what you mean by trauma/shock? Give an example?
Trauma is a part of everyday life. Getting bit by the neighbor’s dog, falling off your bike, witnessing a car accident or a playground fight is traumatic. Most children are resilient and only need a hug and a wipe of their tears to feel better and return to their day. Others are more sensitive and will feel threatened or overwhelmed. When this happens, a child responds automatically with their reptilian brain. This activates a huge amount of energy, like an adrenalin rush. They then go into the fight/flight or freeze mode to protect themselves. If they do not shake off the energy, that gets aroused during the traumatic event, or use it all up, (as in fighting or running) they get stuck or traumatized. They then may shut down, go numb or dissociate. This is known as shock in the body. It is a good idea to literally shake off the excess energy that gets aroused, run in place, or yell into their hands, like in my book. If they don’t, they have a greater chance of developing trauma symptoms later in life, like anxiety.
The techniques in my book along with meditating, yoga and mindfulness will help the child create the relaxation response in the body instead of the stress response.
3. What prompted you to write Gilbert?
Courageous Gilbert came to me in the middle of the night. It was the weekend after I had been away at a retreat type workshop working on personal issues. I had heard that as we remove the muck of our past, we begin to shine and our creative juices begin to flow. That is exactly what happened for me. I woke up, grabbed my laptop and headed to my son’s room as he was away at college. Now normally, I would have just gone back to sleep thinking, oh that was a nice dream. But this time was different. I just knew I had to write it down or it would be gone. I wrote till dawn, and then realized I had not one client scheduled for the week. That has never happened. I knew this was a sign to keep writing.
4. Why did you make the main character a groundhog?
That morning as I filled my teakettle with water, I glanced out my window to see an unusual creature walking in front of my house. We have squirrel, raccoons, fox, skunks, coyotes, beavers and deer. I asked my husband what it was and he told me a groundhog. I had never seen a groundhog. I knew right then and there that was a sign that he had to be my main character. Symbolically, groundhogs represent wisdom, grounding, digging for the truth. Groundhogs dig deep into the earth to make their homes. This symbolizes the need to go deep into our lives to find meaning, and reveal our hidden truths.
5. What inspired the Old Oak Tree to become a character in your book?
I knew Gilbert had to find someone neutral to talk with and learn from. Tree roots dig deep down into the earth for water and nourishment, their trunks are strong/solid and provide a grounding place to sit and relax, and their tall branches stretch up to the sky, connecting the heavens to the earth. The mighty oak tree is a symbol of courage and strength of character, and legend has it that it is the most powerful of all trees. I love this about trees. They are grounded and powerful, and spiritual. What better teacher for Gilbert? It took a long time to come up with just the right face—compassionate yet frank.
6. How do you bring together your own childhood experiences with writing for children today?
Being the sixth of ten children I became very curious about people, how they behaved, and why they treated others the way they did. If you can imagine our household: ten kids, two parents, one dog, several cats, fish (always a fish or three), a rabbit and various other small pets. People always coming and going, meals to be made, laundry to start, homework to finish, and never ending dishes. At times it was fun, at times it was chaotic, at times it was loving, and at times it was overwhelming.
I sought refuge in nature. One of my favorite activities was climbing trees. We had what seemed to me a perfect, HUGE, maple tree right in front of our house. It had just the right placement of branches that with a little jump, I could pull myself up, hook my leg over the lowest branch, and begin my ascent. The higher I climbed the safer I felt. From that place, I could sing with the birds, spy on the neighbors, and feel hidden from the world. As a little girl, I thought my dad was my mighty oak. He was tall and powerful. Looking back I realized he was more angry than powerful. I was just a little girl, and honestly, he scared me. I decided to stay under the radar, out of the way, and definitely didn’t speak my truth.
As an adult, I’ve learned that I need to speak my truth, speak up for myself to take care of myself. Otherwise, I will be ‘bullied’ into all kinds of things, like volunteering when I really have no time for myself and my own family, taking a job that I know will not feed my soul, and eating or drinking what I do not want.
So I wanted to write a book that would give children and adults tools to help them calm their anxious body, become aware that emotions are anywhere in their body, and learn a new way to express them. Once they develop a relationship with their emotions, they will be able to take care of themselves in a way I did not learn as a child.
7. If you were to meet up with the kid who bullied you in 4th grade at a class reunion, what would you say to him/her?
If the subject were brought up, I would say that today I understand why that happened, but I did not as a young girl. Back then I felt hurt, and sad. But I did not know what to do with those feelings so I stuffed them and pretended they did not exist. I do not remember anyone talking about feelings.
8. What are two strategies that parents, teachers, and other caregivers can use to help children understand and express their emotions?
Reading and storytelling are great ways to help children connect with emotions. By helping them identify the emotion in the book and then discovering ways to express them in a healthy appropriate way. Like in my book! Asking questions like, when is the last time you felt sad, where did you feel sad in your body and what does sad look like and sound like?
9. What are some of the feeling words children should learn to express? Other than the usual happy, sad, and mad.
Feeling words children should learn to express: happy, sad, mad—yes—but also afraid, lonely, jealous, frustrated, nervous, and embarrassed.
10. The breathing exercise is a centerpiece for Gilbert readers. Why is that so important?
The breathing is important because we live in a beautiful world that tends to focus on the negative. As young children, we can inherit our elders’ way of dealing or not dealing with their anxiety. Through TV, electronic devices, newspapers, radio and everyday life, we are bombarded with drama, trauma, and chaos. This seeps into our nervous system. Deep breathing gets our nervous system grounded and calm.
11. Are kids different then when you were growing up or do they face different struggles?
I do not feel that children today are that different, nor do they face entirely different struggles. Their world is different with faster modes of transportation and communication, newer laws and explicit media. However, the same issues of love, acceptance, and self-esteem still exist.
12. Are you working on a second book? What will that be?
My next book will explain how the bully became a bully, and that is why I feel that is more of a bully book. How the actions of Peter Opossum’s caregiver created the bully in Peter. And what we can do for and about the bully. And how to protect ourselves from them. I guess both books really are about bullying, but it will be more of the main focus of my second book.