Category: mental health

Being Thankful in Challenging Times

Okay, so it’s been a few days since my last post. I got sick. So far it seems, I am very happy to say, that I haven’t gotten the coronavirus. I am still waiting for results though. What I did get was a reaction to my seizure medication and a recurrence of my DRESS Syndrome.

It’s a fascinating time to be figuring out a minimally known syndrome like DRESS. It’s basically a nasty allergic reaction to a medication that causes my body to start fighting itself and could start doing some major damage to my internal organs. It showed up a couple months ago and reappeared last week. Hopefully, it will be cleared up in the next few weeks to never return again.

Here’s what makes it interesting to me. It reminds me that I really don’t understand what sick means or maybe more accurately I don’t identify with it in some way. I feel it and I am frustrated by it, but I look at it and don’t quite recognize it. People remind that I’ll make it through, that everything will be okay and I think, “Well, obviously. This is just a bump. It isn’t something insurmountable.”

It’s a strange thing. I’ve been given these things, these gifts in some way, epilepsy and DRESS to help me look at the world and come to know myself. There’s a good chance that for the rest of my life I’ll be taking medication to try to prevent my brain from doing internal lightning strikes while using medication that may suddenly push my body into attacking itself. It’s a good chance, I suppose, to let go of that need for control, to instead reach into that deeper being to find trust and balance, to know that I’ll keep breathing until it’s time for me to be done and with any luck that will be a long way down the road.

It does have me looking at this pandemic from an interesting personal light. The medication that I’m taking to clear up the DRESS Syndrome will, for the time-being, lessen my ability to ward off viruses. It doesn’t seem a great time to do that. But, if I don’t my body could beat itself up pretty badly and I’d like to keep all my internal organs in good shape.

So, I am thankful right now for the ability to work from home, the people who’ve helped me with errands and getting my dog out so I don’t need to go out very often, the masks my sister made for me, and for all the people who wear masks, maintain social distance, and do all those other kindnesses keeping others in mind knowing that even if they aren’t sick they could be carrying the illness and could impact someone who might not be able to fight it off as well. Some days I am really frustrated with my health struggles of the past few months, but mostly I am grateful for the gifts I have been given and the life I have the good fortune to have.

I hope that each of you reading this piece can find your gifts and good fortunes and that you are well and finding joy. Take good care.

The Caterpillar’s Cocoon

It’s been over a week since I posted last. Where does the time go? Time is operating on a different speed since we went into quarantine and I still don’t quite understand it. Yet, it feels good. My days have adopted a new rhythm.

Pretty much as soon as I started working from home I turned off my alarm clock. Now my alarm is the four leggeds that live with me. It’s a nice way way to be, to wake up slowly, spend a little time just cuddling before the dog needs to go outside or the cats start getting territorial.

I work my day with the creatures telling me when I need breaks by crawling up in my lap or starting to nose at me, encouraging me to step away from the computer for a little while to fill a toy with snacks or open the door to let someone out or to just pause and pet.

When work is over there’s time for long walks, guitar practice, crocheting, getting in touch with friends and family, writing, maybe some Ojibwe language practice, or some time to read or watch a movie. Night comes and sometimes I turn on a meditation video to fall asleep with. It’s a simple life, this time quarantine, but it feels good.

I know many are struggling a great deal and I feel empathy for them. For me, however, in many ways this has been a time of healing and renewal. I find myself continuing to hope that when the quarantine ends that it may find me like the caterpillar coming out of the cocoon, ready to spread my wings and fly into a new phase of life.

The Emotional Winter

This may just be a short post, but it is a thought that I wanted to share before it gets lost somewhere in the cobwebs of my mind.

I was talking with one of my students earlier today. We were just chatting a bit about school and life and just how things were going for them these days. They were feeling rather down. It seems right now that’s how a lot my students are feeling and how a lot of other people I know are feeling too.

The student told me something that I had heard before from several others. They said that they were just trying to keep things going, keep everything normal, and just push on through. I said to them that I respected that approach, but things aren’t normal right now, why would doing the same thing as we do in a normal situation work?

Then I suggested that it’s like the seasons. Right now we’re in a sort of midwestern winter of reality. We can’t walk out in it in only our summer of self-care and expect not to be frozen and in deep pain. We need to wrap ourselves up in caring and gentleness right now if we are to do our work and face our reality. Our reality is there and needs to be faced. There is work to be done. We just have to prepare ourselves for the weather and sometimes just sit by the fire to keep our beings warm.

Too Much For a Morning

Woke up this morning to the news that both John Prine and Charlotte Figi (the little girl who inspired the creation of Charlotte’s Web , the CBD oil that became world known for its effectiveness in treating a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome) died yesterday from the COVID-19 virus.

Then I read a bit about the voting yesterday in my home state of Wisconsin. Like many, I wonder how many will die from voting this year. I followed that with a look at my email. There I read a message from the university president about the likelihood of budget cuts in the upcoming year. It’s now 8:09 a.m.

You know there are some days that we just need to take off a bit. So, with John Prine in the background I am taking a little time to just write. I’ve got a meeting in a couple hours that I’ll join in, but I’m taking my crocheting with me and my dog too and just taking the time to listen to other folks from around the state to hear how they are handling this situation. It’s good to come together even when we can’t do it in person.

I don’t know what else to do in this moment. I like to solve problems and it’s hard when I can’t. I suspect many of us have that problem with this situation we are in. All I can do is tell myself what I tell my students– be gentle on self.

There’s nothing really new or inspirational in this post, but I feel it needed to be written if only for my own comfort. Still, I hope that maybe, just maybe it could offer a little comfort to someone out there to know that you’re not the only one who is sometime having those days where the bad news just seems to pile up and all you can do is step back to take pause and let it pound its way through. I hope that you’ll take good care of yourself today and know that we will make it. Things will get better again.

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.