Monthly Archives: October 2011

I’m Still Here

Not every day is a good day. Some days everything seems to go wrong, everyone seems against us and it feels like nothing will ever get better. Such black-and-white thinking will surely lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. In this struggling, courage is persisting through and braving to try again. To have even the slightest amount of hope and the ability to say, “I’m still here.”

Advertisements

Music as a Tool

Music, like other mediums, is a conduit of emotion. Singing or dancing along to a favorite song connects you to it, fully immerses you in the music and makes you a part of the experience.  Where your attention is focused – on the melody, the beat, the lyrics, the tempo, the various instruments, etc. – differs by the song, as well as differing by each individual’s own preferences.

Music can certainly affect mood. Certain songs may encourage you to be in a good mood, a “happy place” or even a “sad place” depending on the mood of the song itself and your relationship to it.  For example, listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” can lift me from a sad, depressed mood and inspire hope. For me, the upbeat tempo and the lyrics, “Don’t worry about a thing,/’Cause every little thing gonna be all right”  provides positivity. For another person, the same song may not have the same effect.

Specific songs can bring you back emotionally to a prior time and place of hearing the song. Much like a  time machine, the song transports you to a previous time. Songs can connect you to those in your life who are absent, due to distance or death. I personally cannot listen to a Bob Dylan song without thinking of my father, whose favorite musician was Bob Dylan. As my father passed away in November of 2010, this can function in a positive manner or a negative manner. Listening to Dylan music has acted as an agent in my grieving process, both allowing me release through crying and allowing me closeness to my father through memories of times we listened together.

As music and memory are so interconnected, you must be aware of songs that bring up negative memories and emotion for you. I try to refrain from listening to music that produces negative memories (and emotions) in myself, such as songs that my ex-boyfriend frequently listened to. Certainly there are songs that bring up positive memories and emotions as well.  Music can inspire empowerment through lyrics that show triumph and overcoming. It can inspire connectiveness and the feeling that “I am not alone.”  Songs can tell stories, beg you to think about issues and, reversely, invite you to get absorbed in the aesthetics.

In this way, music can be used as a distraction from current unpleasantness or pain. In times of stress or crisis, listening to music can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Calm, instrumental pieces can be used in relaxation techniques.  There have been several studies that even suggest  music can improve memory. One such study reports that, “[a]utobiographical recall in patients with dementia improves significantly when music is playing…” (Lancet).

I am, by no means, even close to an expert on music. But I do know this, when I’m having a terrible, stressful day, when nothing seems to be going “right” and I feel myself sinking into depression and anxiety, music helps. As I listen to Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up”, singing along to the lyrics, it doesn’t solve my problems or make everything better, but in that moment I can focus on the words in the song and I can believe that I’m going to, “turn out fine.” Sometimes a brief moment, such as this, allows me to alter my mood and offers positive thinking an entrance.

Only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again and
It’s a circle, circling around again
It comes around again

Procrastination

I have so much to do.

Not just today, but everyday. Always. I’m a mother of two daughters who are three and seven. They take dance lessons and swim lessons. They have health issues that require doctor appointments and tests. They need lunches packed, homework help, stories read, projects planned and all the amazing things that go along with being three and seven. Including tantrums and dramatics.  I’m attending school for social work and I’ve set a goal to achieve a high GPA. This requires research, homework, papers, traveling to and from school, etc. I live in a house with my kids, my partner and our four pets. Four pets that require a lot of care and attention. And the house? That requires a lot of attention as well. I have chronic health issues that require appointment to doctors, therapies, medications and the need to sometimes slow down and take care of myself. And this isn’t even mentioning half of the things required daily and those that surprisingly pop up.

I have a lot to do. And, I’m sure, so do you.

It can get overwhelming fairly quickly. The easiest way to not get overwhelmed is, of course, to just not do it. Procrastination. I swear it was invented just for me. But despite the desire to just put things off, many of these things simply must be done.

Here’s one way I manage my procrastination: I make a list. A list?, you say. Yes, a list.

Remember to get some milk. Don’t forget to pick up the prescription! I need to start that paper for school! Laundry needs to be folded… I should email Mary…etc.

When the thoughts of all I need to do are flying through my head…instead of ignoring them, I write a list. I write mine on whatever paper is nearby. I’ve even written them on napkins because that’s what was available in the moment. I jot the items down in shorthand, as they come to me. And once I begin writing it’s not unusual for things to appear that I hadn’t realized I needed to do. Just write.

Once I’ve gotten them all down, I add one more. A simple one. Make a list is a good one. Or an item that I’ve already completed. Trust me here. When I look at a list of things I’ve (quite often) put off for a while, I feel pretty guilty. And horrible. Adding an item that I know I can cross off immediately,  feels good. I truly don’t know why, but putting a line through an item on my to-do list gives me satisfaction. That good feeling often propels me to continue on, if only so I can cross more items off my list.

And then I begin doing them. I don’t go in any kind of order. I just start doing the items on the list, with the ultimate goal to complete them all. If it’s a particularly long list, I likely won’t. If it’s a particularly short list, I also might not complete it. But the point of making a list isn’t to make yourself feel horrible about not “doing it all.” The point of making a list is to, a) organize and visibly see what needs to be done, b) have a sense of accomplishment in completing any of the tasks, and c) get some of what needs to be done completed. Even if you complete one thing, it’s one more than what was completed before!

As a self-proclaimed perfectionist my plan is usually to do everything amazingly well. If I do one thing amazingly well & a few others decently well, I call the day a success.  Some days, if I do one thing even half-way well, I call the day a success. There will always be more things to do, tasks to be completed. For today, see what you can do, right now, in this moment with all the resources you have.

Besides, it feels pretty awesome to cross off completed tasks. 🙂

Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy?

As I was scrolling my Facebook feed this afternoon I came across a new post from The PushBack blog. A project of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, the PushBack is a  blog where young parents and those who work with and for them can present truthful stories of their lives.  The  post, entitled ‘Prevention Campaign Promotes Stereotyping’, and written by Natasha Vianna examines a YouTube video  by the DC Campaign.

Supposedly the video is part of a campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. Instead the video uses ridiculous stereotypes of teen parents.  Natasha accurately states that, “By using a teen mother’s life as a way of scaring people into choosing an alternate life, you are offending and seriously harming that teen mother. You are pressuring her into accepting the failures.”  After watching the video, I was angry and offended. Like Natasha, who is also a former teen parent, it hurts to see teen pregnancy continue to be stereotyped, especially by a campaign that is claiming to be promoting teen pregnancy prevention.

This and other stereotypes are largely inaccurate and based on unfounded assumptions. They perpetuate judgement and prejudices.  Negative stereotypes, like the one portrayed in this video, may even cause people in the targeted group to view the stereotype and it’s behaviors as the norm, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and setting them up for failure. While our goal is to reduce teenage pregnancy, we also need to support and encourage teenage parents to succeed. Presenting stereotypes such as these, only hurts, offends and alienates current and former teen mothers. And is an ineffective way to decrease teen pregnancy.

To check out the blog post, and the video:

Prevention campaign promotes stereotyping | The PushBack

Taking Care of Yourself

I had my afternoon planned. I was going to find a frame for a picture of my dad from upstairs in my house, I was going to get some schoolwork completed ahead of schedule and I was going to write a blog post here about Triggers. As I was upstairs, looking through a box of frames, one of my cats suddenly screeched, jumped and ran like a bat out of hell over the box of frames and my hand.

My initial feeling was confusion. I didn’t see any reason why she was so suddenly spooked. As I looked down I saw that not only had she scratched my hand to the point of bleeding, but she had scratched the picture of my dad. Three deep scratches entirely through the picture.

You may be thinking, so what?, and not knowing the significance, I wouldn’t blame you. The picture of my dad was actually part of his memorial program from his funeral. I had wanted to frame it so I could look at it daily. As the cuts on my hand began to sting and bleed, I felt angry. And sad. I wanted to scream and yell at my cat. I wanted to throw things. I just didn’t want to feel this way.

Taking a moment to calm down, I took deep breaths and tried to focus. I knew that getting angry and acting on it wouldn’t help the situation. My picture would still be scratched. So would my hand. My cat would still be scared. I decided in that moment to move on. Holding onto any anger would only make things worse. Instead I took another deep breath, sighed heavily out, and went to check on my cat.  She was still quite scared. I still don’t know what scared her but, as my pet, it was my job to calm her down and comfort her.

Coming back down the stairs, still quite a bit frazzled from what happened, I decided to try and see what positive I could find in the situation. I had been running around all morning, doing errands, and was really running on empty. I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch. Sure, I was getting things done and being productive, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I fall into this trap quite often, the trap of taking care of everyone around me and never quite getting to the part where I take care of myself.

So instead of doing all the (very productive) things I had planned for the afternoon, I’m going to make myself some lunch, sit down and eat it, and maybe watch some Sons of Anarchy (such a guilty pleasure!). I can do the other things later on. And I’m not going to feel bad about it. Of course there needs to be a balance in our priorities and what we do, but taking care of ourselves needs to be included in that.

I once heard an analogy that has been labeled the “Oxygen Mask Theory”. It boils down to this:

When you’re on an airplane you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in putting on theirs. If you don’t put your own mask on first, you’d likely pass out from lack of oxygen before being able to assist anyone else (your child, your family members, your friends, the guy sitting next to you who can’t figure it out, etc). It makes sense it that context. In day to day life how often to we put the needs of others before the needs of our own?

Yes, everyone matters. And, if you’re like me, you want to help everyone. In anyway you can. But don’t you count as part of “everyone”? Don’t you matter too? On an airplane, putting on your oxygen mask allows you to better help everyone around you. In life, taking time to take care of yourself also allows you to better help everyone around you. This is so important as a parent. Or a social worker. It also serves as an example of what we wish for others to strive to do.

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Columbus Day

 For many it’s a day off from school or work and, I guess, reason enough to celebrate. For me, it goes back to history and the manner that history is taught across our country.

My seven year old daughter came home from school this past Friday and told me how her teacher read her a book about Christopher Columbus to explain “Why we celebrate him.” When I asked her what the book was about she told me it was about “some guy” who sailed on 3 boats, the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria and who “discovered America.” Then she rattled off the grade-school rhyme that many educators use to teach students about Christopher Columbus:

“In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

What my daughter describes being taught is not much different from the myth of Columbus that is perpetuated throughout many classrooms in the US. A google search of ‘Christopher Columbus rhyme” brought up numerous pages with lesson plans for teachers, incorporating the rhyme and other myths. Some common myths of the Columbus story: Columbus thought the earth was round when everyone at the time thought it flat. Columbus set sail to search for much-needed spices. Columbus discovered America or Columbus was the first European to discover America.

These statements simply aren’t true. Columbus, and most people of the time, knew the world was round. Columbus didn’t set sail in search of spices. His primary  motive was the search for gold and a secondary motive of spreading European Christianity. That Columbus discovered America is false for several reasons: a) Columbus landed on many islands in the Americas (as seen in the map above) but never touched ground in continental North America, b) many explorers, including Leif Erikson, the Viking, landed and founded settlements in the Americas, many years before Columbus and, c) Native Americans discovered the Americas, including North America, tens of thousands of years before Columbus was even born. In sum, these statements are false, though the greatly exaggerated and omitted parts of the Columbus story are what truly make me upset.

In fourteen hundred ninety three, Columbus stole all he could see.

Christopher Columbus is portrayed to be a hero. Humanizing factors of his character have been exaggerated and focused upon. The history that is omitted and, often not know by many Americans, does not fit in alignment with a hero. Christopher Columbus was directly involved in the enslavement and genocide of entire cultures. “[He] introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.” (excerpt from Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen)

Other acts of cruelty committed or ordered by Columbus included sexual slavery, rape, punishments by way of cutting off a native’s nose, ear or hands for resisting slavery, sending dogs to hunt after natives and maiming them, killing natives to be fed to the dogs and many more horrific atrocities. Not to mention Columbus’ role in the destruction and genocide of the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks cultures.

So, why does Columbus get the hero treatment? Why are the parts of his cruelty omitted while the parts of his exploration played up? Looking back on my childhood education I wish I had been taught the true story of Christopher Columbus; the truth of all history. Teaching children blatant lies about history, often omitting the negative details, does not benefit them or the adults they grow to be. If more people in our world were taught all of the truth and not just bits and pieces, they could potentially form better, more informed choices.

Of Interest:

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen. I received a copy at my high school graduation from one of my teachers. It was an eyeopener at the time and a book I recommend to everyone.

Transform Columbus Day, webpage for the Transform Columbus Day Alliance who actively rejects the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his legacy of domination, oppression, and colonialism. As well as rejecting historical misconceptions regarding Columbus.

NY Times, Slavery and Colonialism Make Up the True Legacy of Columbus.

Huffington Post, Eric Kasum: Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery

Mental Illness Awareness

Today is National Depression Screening Day (US)

Everyone experiences stress, sadness and anxiety sometimes. Unlike the normal emotional experiences of sadness, such as during a loss or major life event (for example: divorce, retirement, becoming unemployed), depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with one’s thoughts, behavior, mood, ability to work, sleep, eat or enjoy once pleasurable activities.

Depression and other mood disorders can not be seen on an x-ray. Yet mental illness is just as painful. And the stigma associated with the disease often prevents many from seeking help and getting treated. Without treatment, the frequency of depressive illness as well as the severity of symptoms tends to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide.

Symptoms of Depression include:

• persistently sad or irritable mood
• pronounced changes in sleep, appetite and energy
• difficulty thinking, concentrating and remembering
• physical slowing or agitation
• lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
• feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and emptiness
• recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
• persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain

National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) gives people the opportunity to take a free, anonymous questionnaire assessing their risk for mood and anxiety disorders and provides referral information for treatment. Visit www.HelpYourSelfHelpOthers.org to find a local organization offering depression and anxiety screenings or take a screening online today. More information can be found about NDSD at Mental Health America.

NDSD is also part of the larger Mental Illness Awareness Week, an effort to bring awareness to mental illnesses. To learn more about mental illnesses, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness by advocating mental health awareness, support, education and recovery.