Category: mental health

Using Time Wisely

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the US as the most obese country in the world in 2019. The World Health Organization tells us that we are one of the most depressed countries in the world.

The US is among the highest CO2 producers in the world. We continually are dumping poisons everywhere. We are continually putting poisoning our own food and the water we drink. Why?

We have a fascinating opportunity right now. At other times people might pay thousands of dollars to go on retreats to step away from their regular day to day lives and step into something new. We’ve all been given the opportunity for free. Sure, maybe it doesn’t come with an exotic vacation spot or maybe we’re still doing a lot of our work from before and some new jobs too, but we’ve got something here. How can we use it?

I keep thinking of something a friend use to say. He’d be presenting to groups, talking about all sorts of important environmental issues of the day and he’d tell people. “Don’t worry about protecting the earth. The earth, she’ll be fine. It’s us that we need to that we need to be concerned about. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to drink the water. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to breathe the air. We’re the ones who will no longer have food to eat.”

He was right. I suspect that this virus is simply another warning. The warnings are getting bigger and more intense each one after the other. We need to figure this out. What can we do?

You are there in your personal retreat. How can you take this time to care for yourself body, mind, spirit, soul? How does your relationship to this place where we live, this earth change? How do we show her respect? How do we stop poisoning her and poisoning ourselves in the process? When we walk together again who will you be? Who will we all be?

The Place I Am Today

I used to be a community organizer. I like to believe some days that I still am, but other days I wonder especially as I sit here writing in my bed, alone, with my dog laying on my feet, and not knowing how to impact the place where I live.

I began as a student back in the 1990’s with the fire of a teenager and the wisdom of someone who’d seen almost nothing beyond her own home. I got a lot shocks and a great deal of love. I fell often. My teachers helped me find my footing and brush myself off over and over again. We got a lot done and I found a place where I belonged. I’m still in touch with people from those days. Some, I would say, count among my closest friends.

After my years as a student, I took on being an organizer professionally. I learned the ideas of Myles Horton. I came to understand that it isn’t my job to solve the problems that a community faces, but to ask the questions, to hold up the mirror so that the community members might see the answers that they hold and find the solutions for the themselves. It was in asking the questions that I made connections and built friendships.

I’ve moved from here to there over the years, but so many connections remain along with the lessons we’ve learned together along the way and all the struggles that we’ve won and lost. It sometimes seems that I might reach out almost anywhere and find some connection, someone that I’ve known or someone who’s connected to someone I’ve known.

Yet, here where I am right now it seems the connections are tenuous at best. I can see the challenges. But I am in a strange place. It is one of those places where two communities share the same space and are in some sense tied together, yet in deny each other and I don’t know how to change that. Maybe it is what life is in a small town with a university. There is the university and there is the town. There are some who are really part of both and there are some who just live or work in one and are part of the other. Then there are a few like myself who work here and reside here, but don’t really belong to either. I am not sure what to do with that. This is an interesting time and place to look at it. I wonder if it would be different in a larger town or a larger university? My suspicion is that it would, but I can only hope to someday see.

I wonder how many of us there are in these situations. These places where we work and reside and yet are not a part. How does this change? Can it change with time? What does it take to be in the community and not the organizer or what does it take to be an organizer in a community that has two or maybe more personalities?

Reminders of Respect

Today’s words are in memory of a childhood friend and in honor of those who are surviving right now in situations less ideal than my own.

We’d just started our sophomore year of high school. It must have been maybe the second week of classes. I don’t remember the exact date. What I do remember is walking into school that day to find my classmates in the hallways crying. Eventually the pieces came together. There had been a party. Kids were drinking. He was beaten. He didn’t survive.

We went to a small school. Some of us had known him since kindergarten or maybe even before. Now he was gone and a space in our lives was empty.

I was talking with some of my students yesterday. They’re in college now, just a few years older than I was when I first learned how alcohol can kill. They reminded me that people today do just like we did then. They use alcohol and drugs to fight boredom and frustration.

I’d been talking with one of the staff of Someplace Safe this week too. We know that alcohol and drugs plus people stuck together with limited outlets means an increase in violence.

If you’re reading this and find that this staying home thing is increasing your drinking, I am going to ask you to take a look at how that drinking is impacting you and your relationships with the others you’re sharing space with. Are you being respectful to yourself and those others? You and your relationships are worth more than the bottle.

If you’re one of the people who’s in an unsafe space. First, I send you love and strength. You’re not alone. Please, if you are able, call, email, or text, your local domestic violence support group, a friend or family member, police, or someone else you can trust. These are hard times. We all need our support systems. Groups like Someplace Safe are finding creative ways to keep working and get people into safe places out of harm’s way. You deserve to be safe and treated with caring and respect.

Take good care friends.

The Blizzard of Dementia

My father was born in a blizzard in 1928. He entered a world of isolation where it was impossible to travel. He entered a world where the whirls of snow kept people apart from one another. But, eventually, the snow melted and he grew and thrived and the world was good to him.

Dad entered his 92nd year in another blizzard. This one had a name. We’re calling it COVID-19. This one is different. It has me wondering about the many other people across the world with aging family and friends in the same situation as my father. He has dementia and lives in a memory care unit.

Up until just a few years ago his mind was really quite sharp. Not too many years back he was able to live in an apartment on his own, then a care facility, and just a few months ago we made the decision to move him to memory care. I am thankful we made that decision and think we did the right thing. I wonder about him too.

Like others across the country, his facility is closed to visitors now to protect the health of the patients and care providers and the inhabitants are following strict regulations to keep everyone safe.

Before this virus, Dad had visitors a few times a week, mostly family. I couldn’t usually visit because I live a state away, but I had the comfort of knowing people could and were spending time with him. We have great faith in the staff of his living facility and have seen that they are doing wonderful work, but I wonder is that the equal to family and friends? A year ago I would have called him, but today the phone only confuses and frustrates him. A video call would be out of the question.

There was a moment when I saw him over the Christmas holidays that he said to me with tears in his eyes that he wanted to go see his Ma. He said that Ma shouldn’t be alone at Christmas. I explained to him that she wasn’t alone. That she was well and happy in heaven and that he’d see her there again some day. The words calmed him. I find myself caught now between wanting to be there with him holding his hand and making everything okay, thinking he shouldn’t be alone during this time, and just wishing he could go be with his Ma.

Dementia is a strange force in our lives and, I think, becomes even more so when outside forces join in taking our loved ones from us as this virus is doing right now. I am trying so hard right now to come up with some great and inspirational words, but none are coming. So maybe there is nothing more right now than to say– If you’re one of the people out there who’s been disconnected from someone you love because of dementia, if you’re struggling through not being able to be next to them much less communicate with them right now, you aren’t alone. There are a lot of us out here and we will get through this blizzard one way or another. Take good care my friends

How Do We Respond To All The Violence?

Some of my students and I were meeting today for our regular learning circle. It turned out not to be the circle I’d expected. I’d gone in with a list of questions and updates to make sure that everyone’s community projects were on task and ready to be done in just a few weeks.

Instead, we got into other conversations. One of the topics of conversation was the recent mass shootings. We discussed how violence has become the norm, the students spoke to how their response to the growing number of shootings in our country is to do their best to ignore it. They expressed how this is the only way that they feel they have to handle the immense fear, grief, and anger. They spoke of becoming hardened to feeling.

I suggested to them that this hardening seems to me much like that of depression or burnout and that maybe our society is burned out and that’s not okay. They agreed that this may be the case. Not surprisingly, they had no clear answers on what to do. But, I think the conversation was good and healthy and maybe part of what needs to be done. They talked with each other. We came together as community and acknowledged our fear face to face. That coming together and just talking is part of the healing I am sure of that. Community is essential. That’s not social media discussion or meetings to act or anything else other than just coming together as people and just letting the conversation flow.

I had another interesting conversation later in the day. A friend offered to me that part of the problem we may be facing today is inter-generational trauma. My friend spoke specifically to the trauma carried by white people from generation to generation from our role that we’ve played in so much destruction and enslavement of many kinds. Something there made sense to me, not just for the dominant group, but for all of us.

What is it that we do with our history? I’d always heard of the concept of multi-generational trauma associated with Native cultures. There is much to suggest that it is very much a reality. What if it is true of all of us? What if we carry the experiences and energies of past generations? What if we are deepening and speeding up the process with the intensity of the growth of violence in our lives?

Many Native peoples have found their way in life through a revitalization of cultural history, by learning their languages, practicing their spirituality, returning to traditional foods, and simply listening to their stories.

While I believe firmly in pressuring the government to take appropriate actions to address the growing violence and I think it’s important to partake in non-violent protest to make our voices heard, I think there is something more, something for the long term.

I think there is a knowledge in the work being done in Native communities to address inter-generational trauma that is part of addressing the growing issue of violence in our communities. We need to ask ourselves each day, “How can I treat myself and all my relations with respect and caring?”

This begins, I believe, with taking pause, breathing deep, and treating ourselves gently, feeding ourselves in healthy ways physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This gives us the energy to reach out.

We reach out to feed our relations whether those be fellow people or the earth and its other inhabitants. We take time to breathe together and get to know each other, to heal each other’s wounds.

That’s where we begin and that’s where we ultimately find the long term answers, in caring for ourselves and each other, in building our spiritual and emotional connections, in becoming a community.

It seems so simplistic and yet so challenging and so lost over so many generations. Yet, it is what we need. So, today, care for yourself, treat yourself with respect, and reach out with the same caring and respect for all those around.

The 28th Day of the Challenge

I’m feeling good. 6 cups of fruits and vegetables is becoming something I can do. More accurately, at least 1.5 cups at a meal is what I can do. That’s the way I’ve been looking at it. I’m eating about 1.5 cups most days at breakfast, then at least 2-3 cups with lunch and dinner. Those amounts somehow seem more reasonable than thinking about eating 6-9 cups a day. I suppose it’s simply the act of breaking things down to make them manageable. In any case, it seems to work.

I need to drink some more water yet today. I didn’t keep a good count, but I think I’m between 6 and 8 glasses. I can feel just a little headache coming. So, it’s time to drink more.

I had a good weekend. I think my diet changes are improving my overall mood and energy. Yesterday was the fair and the art show. Today, I cleaned, did laundry, caught up on dishes, cooked a few meals for lunches this week, froze a couple pounds of beans, took the dog to the park, basically just did a lot. That’s been hard lately. It’s been too easy to find excuses and just spend time lazing in bed watching Netflix and napping. I am proud of myself for starting to regain my energy and hopeful that I am on a good path.

Preparing for the Journey

I drove home to Wisconsin last weekend to celebrate Easter with my family. It’s a bit of hike for just a weekend, about an eight or nine hour drive each way. But, it was important. I needed both to get away to relax and to go see family especially my dad.

Dad turned 91 last month. He’s had a good journey through this life, seen a lot of both sorrow and joys, but largely I think joys have won out, six kids, twelve grandkids, and seven great-grandchildren all surrounded in love.

Things are changing with him now. They have been for several years at least, but now it’s moving faster. Dad is walking away, heading toward the next journey. Dad has dementia. No big surprise these days at 91, still it’s strange to watch, to see him go, and to feel the feelings that go with it.

I went home last weekend knowing it might be the last visit when Dad would know me. What a strange thing to wonder if one’s own father will recognize them. This time he did, though I think for a moment he may have confused me and one of my sisters. She and I look a lot alike so that made sense. Others, with healthy, functioning brains, confuse us as well.

There are a lot of sad stories out there about elderly people left alone in nursing homes with no one to visit them. I never understood that. How could someone leave an elder to die alone? I think I have some perspective now. It’s not necessarily a lack of love, but too much. It takes a lot of strength to be with the person you love when they are no longer there.

This became clear to me when my sister JoAnn, who is the primary caretaker for Dad, got a message from his care facility letting her know that he was having a rough day. We decided to stop by and check things out in person rather than just calling back.

We got there to find Dad confused and frustrated and as is becoming typical, not wearing his hearing aids. He thought some of his belongings were missing and he’d gone into other people’s rooms to find them. He’d come out with other people’s belongings and still believing his things were gone. He argued with us and the staff person, telling us if we didn’t find his missing clothing he’d just go find it himself.

It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to feel that unsafe in my home even more bizarre to think that without his hearing aids Dad just saw mouths moving, but couldn’t hear enough to understand the words being said. What would that be like to be in this place where nothing makes sense anymore?

I don’t know, but I can tell you that seeing Dad in that place tore my heart out. I can see why people stop visiting their aging parents when each visit acknowledges the pain and confusion and the reality that there is nothing we can do to make it better other than maybe just being there.

JoAnn was able to put his hearing aids in and work with staff to put away the belongings he’d taken while I just sat with him for a bit to help him calm. Then JoAnn and the staff reassured him by taking a look through his closet and assuring him that everything was there. Dad was calm and maybe a little reassured by the time we left. I came back later in the day to find him still confused and concerned about his belongings, but in a better mood and able to carry on conversation, albeit a strange conversation. At least he trusted me as I assured him that both he and his belongings were safe and cared for.

On Easter we had a family party. Dad was able to join us and proudly shared his little paper bunny basket full of candies with everyone. Most of the afternoon he just smiled at everyone. He did, at one point, introduce a granddaughter to her own father, but at least he knew who both of them were on some level. He just didn’t know they knew each other.

We were all glad that he could join us, but I think we all recognized with sadness that this was probably his last family party. He may live for more years, but he is, at the same time, leaving us. I don’t think any of us know quite what to do with that. I know that each moment of recognition, every hug and kiss means more to me than ever before.

Minnesota now feels a million miles away from home in Wisconsin. Dad can’t hold conversations on the phone anymore. He needs to see faces to be able to connect the sounds and have it make sense. I told him when we parted that I’d write to him. He thanked me and let me know that he wouldn’t write back. Dementia does sometimes encourage honesty, I guess.

I don’t know if I will ever get to really talk with him again. Even if we are someday in the same place together, will he be there?

I don’t know what all this means other than hold your elders close, honor them, love them, comfort them. The journey in this world is hard. Hopefully the spirit world gives comfort someday.

Honoring the Dead– A Dream

I thought I’d start with dreaming the night before last because of my brainspotting appointment, but apparently I was even more worn than I thought. The dreams didn’t begin until last night. I am strong believer in looking at dreams to learn. For myself, I find that in dreaming is where I put things together that I don’t let myself think in my waking hours. I can learn a lot if I listen to my sleeping self.

I was awoken by a dream last night where a student of mine had committed suicide. In waking life, I don’t know the person, but in the dream world I knew them well. I spoke at their ceremony to a crowd of many, a lot of young people there. I told them, “I am honored to be here, but I don’t want to be a giver of eulogies. I don’t want to see any of you here in this same place as our friend. I want you to remember that the best way to honor those who have passed is to live.”

I was thinking on this dream this morning and pondering how we treat death. I grew up Catholic. The first funeral I remember was of my Uncle Clarence. I must have been six or seven when he died maybe. He was a WWII veteran and his casket was draped with a flag. I remember a solemness and honoring. I knew he was an important man from how he was being honored. I don’t remember any more from there.

A few years later was when I really started seeing dying– my mom, my grandma, my Aunt Florence, my cousin Mary Sue, a classmate Steve, and other older relatives. I also sang in the church choir for our small rural congregation so I sang at funerals. I once counted it out, I’d been to 13 funerals in just a few short years. It’s funny now that I remember it was 13 funerals, but I don’t remember for certain how many years.

In my tradition people are expected a time of mourning, but honestly I don’t know how long it is. I know that shortly after the passing of the person there’s a funeral, a wake, and a burial. All this happens really quickly, just a day or two. All sorts of people shake your hand, maybe share a hug, and say “my sympathies”, a phrase they’d never use in any other part of life. Then everyone moves on and the dead person is gone forever. They’ve moved on to a perfect world called heaven, but how can it be perfect if the love you knew together isn’t there and they can’t reach you and you can’t reach them?

My adult spirituality has been influenced by many forces; Quakers, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Anishanaabe and other Native peoples, a variety of Christian faiths, and of course Atheists.

I learned quite a few years ago that the traditional folks among the Anishanaabe light a fire for four days and nights upon the passing of someone. This a time to honor their lives and the light helps guide their way into the spirit world. I learned more recently that the journey isn’t over at the end of those four days. For a full year people don’t speak of the person. This isn’t a hiding away. This is in respect. As the person travels to the spirit world, when they hear their name they’re called back. We honor them and let them move forward to let their spirits head home. At least that’s the way I understand it. I am a white girl just saying what I think I understand. I welcome those who know to tell me better or to tell me it’s time for me to hush.

I appreciate this. The beings who pass on aren’t whisked away to some pseudo perfect place and they’ve not lost contact with us. Even after that year, maybe even more so after that year, they are still there just on the other side of the river. That year, it isn’t a silencing. It’s a time to gather ourselves. I grew up in a world in which you grieved for some unknown period of time and then you were supposed to accept that the person was gone and move on. There was no more reason to grieve. You could remember on special occasions, but then let it go. Life isn’t that way. Those who’ve impacted us, impact us forever. Even when their bodies are gone their spirits remain and that’s o.k. that’s good. Carry those beings in a good way and honor them by being alive.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Adventures in Brainspotting

The reason I started this blog, and a reason I often ignore in my writing is that I’ve been a community activist and organizer in one way or another since the 1990’s and it’s worn me down. I don’t know if it’s just been the work and the struggles along the way on my adult path or things from childhood that I just didn’t know how to deal with. I suspect stuff from overall happy childhood that overwhelmed and confused me actually had a lot to do with it. But, my life hasn’t always been the sustainable one that I believe in. It’s still not, but I think I am healing one way or another and I want to be a voice to remind others they can be well too.

I started seeing a counselor again a few months ago. Winters can be hard. I love the briskness and going out in the snow, but the cold makes us all cold even our spirits at some time or another.

I went yesterday for my brainspotting appointment. It’s an amazing form of therapy. I don’t know how much is real and how much is simply conjured by the mind, but it doesn’t really matter as long as it feels real I suppose. It’s a simple technique. The therapist just moves a pointer to a spot that conjures up feeling for the patient watching it. Then with the pointer at that spot and some comforting sounds playing the patient just watches.

I started yesterday with a slideshow of pictures from my childhood. Some were memories, some were actually more memories of pictures that I’ve seen a thousand times in family photo albums. Then, came the memories of funerals and people I’ve known who’ve passed on; my grandma, my mom, friends. I could feel just a light pressure in my chest.

Then I felt the pressure on my arms, like someone gently holding me, and the tension moved to a spot at the top of my head. Now, some of you who’ve read my blog before know that I have epilepsy. I was diagnosed about five or six years ago. My conscious mind was scared then, worried that this power might cause a seizure. But, a voice within me told me I was o.k., that I could go forward. In my mind I began to walk, hiking the miles of roads and trails, feeling the powers of the bear, the buffalo, and even for a moment the wolf around me, seeing the rivers run.

There’s more to that, but that’s enough for now. I came back into myself tired from the journey. My counselor told me that it was unlike others she’s seen. She could tell there was a lot going on in my mind and had a hard time knowing when to step in. She could also feel the temperature in the room change with what I saw.

Like I said, I don’t know what’s technically real or not, but it doesn’t really matter I suppose. Reality is subjective. What matters is the healing, feeling stronger, healthier, knowing where that strength comes from and remembering to honor the source. Those are my thoughts for the morning. Wishing you all a blessed day.

The New Year Update– Spring Edition

In some ways January 1st seems so long ago. But, here in west central Minnesota I can just look out the window and it seems like only yesterday. We’re still knee deep in snow with the promise of a really exciting blizzard in the upcoming day or so. Right now, it’s in the upper 30’s so the snow is melting and rain is coming down. The streets are running with rivers and many Morris residents are busy moving everything in their basements to higher ground and making sure their sump pumps work. I, meanwhile, am being thankful at being a renter without a basement.

So, where things from that list of lofty goals I made back in January. Well, here’s the update.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts– I think I better get to work on this one, but I’m not horribly far off. This is number 6 with just 41 more weeks in the year.
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books — I’m a little behind on this one too, actually about the same amount as I am with writing my blog. I am six books in right now and working on number seven. I must highly recommend “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. What an incredibly inspiring person. I’d also say read “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living.” It’s a beautiful tale of life in its final moments. “The Education of Will” was quite good too.
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits– I’m doing ok here now. I did have a really rough time for a few weeks when the majority of my diet was pizza and burgers. I don’t know how much I got depressed because of what I was eating or how much I was eating so poorly because I was depressed. But, I am doing a lot better now and feeling better too.
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)– I’m not starting running until I don’t have to plow through snow drifts to do it.
  5. learn to play guitar– I found someone who teaches guitar, that’s a start. Right?
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects– I’ve got 1 done. I actually switched to crochet, but I’m going to count it.
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training– We started with dog training. Then it got snowed out so many times that I decided to start again in the next class series. He is learning tricks pretty well. Now, if I could just get him to learn not to chew on his human.
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time– Not perfect, but doing well here. It helps to have my book reading goal. I can’t read and do Facebook at the same time. Spring will help too. I have a commitment to not looking at social media when I am out walking and I love to get out when the weather is nice.

So, that’s where it’s at. While I’m not quite where I aimed to be at this time, I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve been able to do and am glad that I set goals this year. What about you? Who else set New Year’s goals and where are you at?

Every week I have my students write down two goals for themselves. One is a project goal to remind themselves about what they want to accomplish on the effort that they are working on with their community partner for the semester. The other, and this is maybe the more radical one for college students, is a self care goal. Most of my students are pretty generic in their self care goals. They want to sleep, to eat vegetables, or to study. But, that’s o.k. It’s makes no difference to me if they have some simple goals or even if those goals stay the same all semester. I just want them to write that self care goal every week for 15 weeks. I want them to leave the program thinking that it’s important to take care of themselves as well as to have a direction in the work they choose.

That’s why I put together my New Year’s goals this year and why I am coming back to them now in March to check in and see how I am doing, because I am important enough to take care of. We all are. I hope that you’re finding a good way to care for yourself today.