Summer: A Time of Wonder

Summer is a wonderful time to reflect on the magnificence of being alive. Enjoy reading Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” below. This week, see what you can discover in the magic of a summer day and savor each moment. If you need a little help, the hummingbird picture above can be the focus of your contemplation.

Hummingbird photo from Maggie.

Hummingbird photo from Maggie.

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

~~Mary Oliver

 

Namaste.

Simply Self-Care

My Backyard Oasis by Rachel Sanford

My Backyard Oasis by Rachel Sanford

 

I took a break last week from posting. I needed it. The holiday weekend had me “holidayed” out. I didn’t do much but I felt like it after weeks of too much doing and not enough being.

Instead, I spent the afternoon relaxing in the thirty dollar wading pool (for adults), my daughter and I got at Sam’s Club earlier this season. I was so happy sunning and doing nothing. It reminded me (once again) that I need to stop more often and experience life with “ease and joy” as one of my mindfulness teachers says. Likewise, it doesn’t take a “special” situation or circumstance for this to occur. In mindfulness we call this as “informal” practice. Simply, paying attention to what you’re doing.

This week, I encourage you to take 5 minutes a few times each day to pause and become fully engaged in the moment you’re in. Then take 15-20 minutes once or twice during the week to intentionally choose an activity that eases stress and brings you joy. Your to-do list will still be there when you’re done but it may not seem as urgent or oppressive. A little “time-out” can go a long way.

Namaste

 

An Unstoppable Spirit: Paula Sims Turns 55 in Prison

This post is in honor of my friend, Paula Sims, who’s been incarcerated for the past 20+ years following the deaths of her two daughters due to postpartum psychosis. In spite of serving so much time in prison and countless denials of her appeal for clemency, her spirit remains strong and resilient. She inspires me to be a better person because she continues to rise above her circumstances every day of her life. What follows is part of a letter I received from her this past week.

“Yesterday was Summer Solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. In many cultures, it is a day of celebration. So, a few of my friends and I celebrated the radiance of summer by giving extra thanks for the sun and its life giving warmth of our planet. Plus, we honored the beauty of creation by enjoying it by going outside to the “Yard,” walked in the grass and simply sat in the sun at a picnic table and socialized. Also, I enjoyed the fresh air, basking in the warmth of the sun, and marveling at the beauty of the day. We always revel in the bounty of creation and are thankful for all our blessings.

I continue to keep real busy with my ADA (service dogs) attendant job, Toastmasters, etc. I had a great 55th birthday a month ago, and my room-mates and several friends down the hall showered me with cards, gifts and sang “Happy Birthday” to me:). On the unit, my room-mates and friends had a party with good food and fellowship. My brother, Aunt and Uncle, were able to visit for 4 hours. We had a super time and they’re fine. They plan to visit again around my brother’s birthday in August.

I’ve got more “great news.” On June 10th, I completed my goal of doing 10 speeches in Toastmaster’s which I’d been working on since April 2, 2013. My 10th speech, “Don’t Give Up” based on a story about how the great Russian writer, Alexander Solzenheitzen, overcame his prison experience, led to my winning “Best Speaker of the Night.” This story has inspired me for years. I hoped it would inspire my audience and I believe it did. Also, I shared one of my many dreams as a young girl, to become an artist. At the end of my speech, I showed a few of my drawings.

Drawing by Paula Sims

Drawing by Paula Sims

Now, that I’m a certified public speaker on Toastmaster’s International website, I hoped to get some speaking engagements to share my story about my daughters and my postpartum psychosis, bringing more awareness to PPD/PPP, and helping to save lives. But until that happens, I’ll keep working on being and advanced speaker at our weekly meetings! I’ll keep you posted. Okay?”

Paula concludes her letter by asking me to send a birthday to Andrea Yates who turned 50 recently.

I believe that we can all learn from Paula, her strength, her generosity and her gratitude for the gift of life. Happy birthday, friend.

Namaste.

Why Can’t We Have a Baby? The Stigma of Infertility

Just like people with “mental health” conditions feel there’s something wrong with them, so do couples who experience infertility. Like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bi-polar disorder, infertility often creates feelings of shame, insecurity, failure and the sense of being “damaged goods.”

Occasions like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be painful reminders of how life doesn’t always go as planned. For years, we’ve said with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders that no one expects to feel miserable after having a baby which is “supposed to be” one of life’s most wonderful experiences. Yet, 1 in 7 moms and some dads will have an episode of postpartum illness.

As a psychologist, I’ve been counseling couples experiencing infertility for over 25 years, and know that occasions like Father’s Day/Mother’s Day can be very challenging. Here are some recommendations to help you cope.

  1. Acknowledge whatever you’re experiencing. If you feel angry, sad, unhappy, lost, or numb, to name a few, let yourself be aware of what you’re feeling. Yes, men have a rough time on these occasions too.
  2. If you don’t feel upset or out of sorts, that’s okay. Everyone deals with the challenges of infertility in his/her own way. Respect the feelings you’re having even if they’re different than expected.
  3. Give voice to what you’re going through. Again, men are generally not eager to share uncomfortable or painful emotions because they’re raised to be the “strong ones” and want to be able to fix what’s wrong whenever possible. Instead of holding it in, speak to your partner or someone you trust. Letting go is healing.
  4. If unpleasant thoughts and feelings start to pile up, shift gears. Do something that has nothing to do with Father’s Day or fatherhood. Focus your attention on watching sports on TV, playing a video game, working in the yard or any activity you usually enjoy.
  5. Plan a pleasant day with your partner. Go biking or hiking or take a walk along the beach. Picnic at your favorite park. Go see a movie or visit a winery. Celebrate the two of you just the way your are.
  6. Stay away from restaurants or places where families may be gathering. Graciously decline requests to attend Father’s Day events. Respect your limits. You don’t have to “man up” today.
  7. Be proactive. Plan how you will spend the day in advance. Don’t be caught off guard if you can help it.
  8. FINALLY, remember there are many ways to become a family, and if you want to become a dad, there will be a way. Stay open to the possibilities life brings. You may not become a dad the way you imagined, but once you are it won’t matter how you got there.

Namaste

 

“Climb Out of Darkness” to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health

Last week, I blogged about “Teens Tackle Depression Stigma,” and what two Michigan teens are doing to reduce stigma about what I call “emotional health” conditions (depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar, eating disorders, etc). Click here to view the post.

This week I want to mention two events that are occurring in June also aimed at reducing stigma. The first is “Climb Out of Darkness,” sponsored by Postpartum Progress.  This event, started by Katherine Stone, focusses on raising awareness and diminishing the stigma associated with “emotional health” conditions affecting pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and pregnancy depression. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with these illnesses.” Click here to learn more about it, find a climb near you, and register. 

The other event , “KNOCKOUT STIGMA,” offers St. Louisans a fun, interactive platform to raise awareness about mental illness, one of the most unrelenting human diseases. While raising awareness to combat the negative effect of STIGMA, this event will connect our community to the worthwhile work of Independence Center. Held at The Title Boxing Club in Rock Hill, participants will enjoy a fun one-hour workshop while benefitting a good cause. Click here for more info.

DID YOU KNOW? One in five people worldwide have a “mental” disorder at some point in their lives. Over 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.Treatment works, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a licensed professional. STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION and NEGLECT prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001)

While we’re making progress in reducing stigma, there’s still to do. Please help support these events, and those you know with “emotional health” conditions. Namaste.

 

Teens Tackle Depression Stigma

A month ago, one of my colleagues mentioned that her daughter had an article which was about to run in a very important publication. She said she couldn’t tell me where yet, but sent me a link just before Memorial Day to her daughter, Madeline’s piece with the other co-editor of their high school paper, Eva, which was published in The New York Times.

If you haven’t seen this already, click on this link-http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/opinion/depressed-but-not-ashamed.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. Until more of us speak up about our personal experiences and encourage our family and friends to do the same, we support the conspiracy of silence which contributes to people of all ages and stages of life with “mental illness” including depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, addictions and eating disorders feeling alone, isolated and flawed. The word alone makes you feel bad

As I tell my clients, no family is untouched by “mental illness.” Everyone has emotional health vulnerabilities inherited from their gene pool,  and under the right circumstances, they develop into clinical conditions. In my family, several generations have experienced clinical depression and anxiety, and I experienced some mild depression following the birth of my first child.

In fact, women often  experience clinical episode during times of hormonal and major life changes-puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. To encourage childbearing women to say something and not “suffer in silence, ” when experiencing postpartum depression, New Jersey created their “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign. For more info on this program, click on this link-http://www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/postpartumdepression/pdf/PPD-brochure.pdf. Or, visit Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress and find a Climb to help support your recovery.

To hear more about Madeline and Eva’s editorial and the story behind the editorial, listen to their NPR interview by clicking here- http://www.npr.org/2014/05/24/315445104/students-struggle-with-depression-and-with-telling-the-story

And, let your voice be heard. Namaste

Back to Mindfulness AND Self-Care.

May turned out to be a “too busy” month for me. While our double graduations, my mom and daughter’s birthdays, my anniversary, and Mother’s Day all went well, I’m realizing today that “too much of a good thing” is still too much. Despite a busy life, like many of you who follow us, I usually have enough time to sit on my porch or walk around our lovely neighborhood, all of which restores me and helps maintain my health-mind, body and spirit.

Not this month though which was supposed to be our “Mindfulness Marathon which led me to two important insights. First, I need to keep practicing self-care whatever is going on because this is the foundation of my health and well-being. As a psychologist, I talk about four pillars of health-exercise, nutrition, sleep/rest and stress reduction. Even with my regular mindfulness practice when these are lacking or diminished by life’s busy-ness, I’m more out of sorts, short-fused, reactive, and “crabby” which my daughter informed me yesterday.

The second insight in the absence of self-care, “mindfulness” does prevent me from losing perspective altogether and falling into an abyss of unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, from which I struggle to return. Throughout the month, there were many times I was able to observe my experience and my changing thoughts and emotions and know that “this too shall pass.”  I had moments of joy and elation peppered with frustration and irritation and more neutral times, “living the full catastrophe” over and over again.

So, back to mindfulness AND self-care. For me, and maybe for you, I’m reminded that I need both for life to go well. What happens to you when you lose sight of either one or both? What can you do to practice each this week? Let us know.

Namaste.