#makeitrealmonday, Suicide Prevention* for the Holidays

‘Tis the season where some adults are giddy with child-like excitement about the holidays. They choose to replace the annoyance and ick of the musty smell of the attic with the joy and yay of the Christmas ornaments and decorations that sent them into the crawlspace. Screaming at kids to put away their toys is hushed to avoid hypocritical glances from sed children as you steal all available shelf space to set up Christmas village. 

Other people are unaffected by yuletide greetings. The media spends some of their valuable air time making sure that those people are cared for by airing Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about suicide prevention. What’s wrong with that? The rate of suicide during the holidays is at its lowest all year.

Myths About Suicide

The Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed that 65% of stories during the holiday season “perpetuated the holiday-myth”. In order to help those in need ANY time of the year, it is important to dispel some myths of suicide. Each myth about suicide can best be combatted with a bright beacon of truth. 

  • Myth: Suicide rates are the highest during the holidays. I blame the lovable Jimmy Stewart and NBC’s annual presentation of the family classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, a movie that revolves around a seasonally depressed family man contemplating suicide. The CDC study of suicide shows the average number of death by suicide is highest in MAY and JULY; it is the lowest in December and November. Perpetuating this fiction means that family and friends who can help a loved one with suicide ideation aren’t receiving the tips needed when they are most useful. 
  • Myth: Only depressed people die by suicide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports only 54% of deaths by suicide are by people with diagnosed mental illness. Not only are diagnosed friends and family members receiving help, but they are being constantly assessed by their mental health professional to make sure that the right level of treatment is provided if suicidal thoughts plague their client. Divorce, loss of employment, or diagnosis of serious illness are more likely to foreshadow a suicide attempt because of a shared public sense that seeking help from a mental health provider is reserved for “more serious issues”. These acute stressors, ones that are event-based, should rally friends and family to make sure life’s unpleasant surprises are manageable.

Spark Note Summary

Our social media accounts are populated with our doppelgängers, smiling pictures of our kids making sweet messes while designing art projects to be posted later. Where are the pictures of those same kids screaming at red-faced, exacerbated, overtired parents about how they “don’t wanna play arts and crafts!”? Let’s be brave and post a picture of real life on social media tagged #makeitrealmonday

*If you, your friend, or family member is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, every day of the year: 1-800-273-8255.

You Don’t Need a New You for the New Year

If you have been frustrated that “Lessons Learned” is not loading fast enough on your iPhone, it’s not my fault. The Uber Powerful Wizards of Technology, see also Apple, recently confessed they were deliberately slowing down our “old” iPhones. This announcement seems tonally appropriate for the time of year where we all take a harsh look at who we are and what we did over the past 365 days to make resolutions to be a newer, better, smarter version of ourselves when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. Umm…why?

The calendar gives us several excuses to create a brand new you: the Jewish New Year, birthdays, or my favorite, the beginning of the school year. Somehow New Year’s Eve cornered the market with the invention of New Year’s Eve resolutions. But, it is just a gimmick capitalized upon by gyms, weight loss programs, the vitamin and supplement industry, and well-intentioned Jewish mothers. Resolutions are a premium form of self-shaming. You spend valuable psychological and emotional energy asking yourself, “What did I do wrong that I need to change RIGHT NOW?” Save your energy for dealing with your kids who are STILL on winter vacation. If someone could make up resolutions, I thought I would invent my own New Year’s term, “the resolution cycle”.

It’s a Vicious Cycle

A perfect example of the “resolution cycle”

The “resolution cycle” starts with a time period of emotional self-flogging, harshly judging yourself for a series of decisions you have made. Then, a boost of optimism! This year will get different! With a tweak of your attitude here and some changes to your outward appearance there, you will be much happier in the days to come. It all ends when life does its thing and lands you on a chute instead of a ladder causing you to run back to the old you who knows how to survive those events. This cycle is the reason I prefer not to see clients this time of year when they seemingly need help the most. Who wants to shake up your coping mechanisms, your survival skills, when you are about to spend the next few weeks back in the family jungle that made them necessary?

Good For You, Good “To-Do”
It is easy to beat yourself up regardless of the time of year. The new year should be about celebrating you and setting goals. 2018 will be your best year ever by remembering what you did in the past and setting a path for the future.

  • No task is too small to applaud: There must have been days this year when you finished the laundry without several cycles of wrinkle release. (I can’t think of those days, myself, but I have much more faith in you, my dear readers.) How about the other small victories: getting your child to complete homework without a fight, getting praise for a project completed at work, getting to enjoy a date night with your partner. These events are all worthy of a celebration. You need to remember these magical confluences of events were actually possible because of you! You figured out a new way to prioritize your time or tapped into a new source of patience. Your 2017 self had some great moments! It is that YOU, not some holiday imposed version of a new you, that will get you through the next 12 months. So, when 2018 bites you in the butt or slaps you in the face, you have the skills necessary to react like a setback is more of a tickle than a trauma.
  • Vegetables aren’t the only things to finish: Our parents never had to succumb to hiding vegetables in desserts. They simply gave us a choice, eat your vegetables or you don’t get your reward (dessert). While rewinding your internal home videos to applaud yourself, make a note about things that you started but didn’t finish. I’m not talking about things you never started, like past years’ resolutions that are on your internal “Empty and Broken Promises” shelf.

    I love Reader’s Digest! This gem is entitled, “I will be happy next year if I can…”

    I mean the books you started to categorize and alphabetize but didn’t make it past the first cube in your bookshelf. (Come on, that can’t just be me…) I mean the photos you started to organize in your computer and send to Walgreens or Shutterfly to print but still have your son’s diaper free lap around the kitchen amidst his first day of kindergarten picture. Then, choose which one or two to complete in the upcoming year. Like our beloved iPhone batteries that are drained by background apps, we are drained by the anxiety produced by unfinished tasks. (It’s also a great cheat for next year’s “‘Atta Girl” list.)

Spark Note Summary

We know we should say, “I Love You” as often as possible instead of waiting for Valentine’s Day. Well, we don’t need to wait until New Year’s for healthy introspection. Like switching lanes in traffic, change is never easy and not always good. Change needs to start from a place of strength and proceed in baby steps. Sometimes that even means looking back in order to plan how to move forward. You know, just like how I’m going to have make sure to back up my old iPhone before giving into my husband’s resolution to get the new one.

A Monster Calls: Let Our Kids Answer

Young adult literature is my guilty pleasure. (OK, one of them. I’m a sucker for the Real Housewives of Wherever You Are.) When I worked in a bookstore, I got the same questions as when I was an English teacher: What do you recommend for a young person who is a good reader? When that girl was me, I was “forced” to read the classics, Little Women, or adult fiction, like the Clive Cussler series. The good news is the stories we love in the movies originated from young adult books. The bad news is the content is not something that is emotionally or psychologically friendly for tweens and teens to read alone. I’m here to help.

 From Cover to Cover

Click here for the link to Amazon to read reviews.
Our fears are ignited with the first sentence of the book, “The monster showed up just after midnight” (1). In a little more than 200 pages, Conor found out how to stop the monster and free himself, “And by doing so, he could finally let her go” (205).

On the surface, a monster born from a yew tree, taunts Conor during the nights after the cancer killing his mother tortures him all day. Conor isn’t as afraid of the monster as much as he is the nightmare that wakes him nightly.  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness teaches parents what Conor learned in school: “Don’t think you haven’t lived long enough to have a story to tell” (23). Conor’s true fear is one we all share, regardless of age: having the courage to speak YOUR truth aloud without shame.

  • Who? Conor is dealing with getting beat up by bullies in middle school while his mother is getting beat up, again, by cancer. He gets help getting back and forth to school from his grandmother and less-than-helpful advice from his estranged father.
    The yew tree in Conor’s backyard becomes the monster.
    The monster is the character who provides the best guidance for navigating the anger, fear, and powerlessness that Conor faces as the cancer steals his mother.
  • What? Jewish folklore explains the reason Jewish people tell so many stories (guilty) is because nobody knew the true name of G-d, so their stories were prayers that granted miracles. The monster explains he will disappear after three stories are told: the monster will narrate the first two stories, and Conor must tell the third story, his nightmare, to the monster. Conor learns some lessons about the human condition to help his relationship with his grandmother and father. Rather than his grandmother being good or evil, we all learn with Conor that the world is gray. Our judgement of others as good or evil reflect our morals. The monster’s second story follows the lesson of “The Hangman,” doing the right thing when you are not personally affected.
  • When? Traditionally, developmental psychologists only address common markers in life, births, deaths, weddings, and graduations. But, since late in the first decade of the new millennium, we are starting to understand that the life span has markers in adulthood, too. By the time we meet Conor and his mom, we are beyond learning about life before and after cancer. The line is drawn between before and after the “little talk”. BEFORE Conor was being bullied and stopped being friends with Lily, he didn’t need to think about processing his mother telling him she may not survive the latest experimental treatments. AFTER their “little talk”, Conor had no privacy because everyone knew he was going to lose his mother.
  • Where? A Monster Calls lives where children do, at home and in school. It doesn’t take long for the monster to wreak violence in both settings. He destroys parts of Conor’s grandmother’s house. He beats up Harry, the school bully, who has been punching and kicking Conor for weeks. The more Conor tries to be invisible, to live nowhere, the more the monster causes destruction everywhere.
  • Why? There is a purity in children because they do not understand nuance. Asking “why” isn’t annoying repetition. It’s taking a firm stance in what you know to be the truth. Some parents use a child’s insistence of understanding to reminisce ye olden days where children were seen and not heard. Conor’s nightmare, the story he tells the monster, the story he needs to tell in order to accept his mother’s death, is the perfect example of the damage of silencing children. Conor tries to get control of his heart and home to help his ailing mother which summons the monster. Conor tries to be perfect, tries to be invisible, which causes the monster to destroy places and people. Conor acts out to earn punishments worthy of the guilt he feels in his nightmare. But, being visible is not the solution to being invisible; for Conor, the nightmares became more frequent. Telling the monster his nightmare, sharing HIS truth aloud, chased the monster away.

…And How?

Patrick Ness finished this novel for another author, Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could decide where her characters would go. Ironically, the poetry of a story about disappearing due to death reminds us to make sure our children don’t feel invisible. We need to indulge in their passionate arguments about why a purple sky makes sense in their 6 year old drawings and why they are certain they are in love in their 16 year old relationships. Our insistence on teaching them “the truth”, will create monsters that will stop them from sharing their truth.

On the Road to Change With Father Time and Gandhi

When I was in college, I got really bored with how my room looked. Changing the colors of my comforter or posters was not enough to make my restlessness go away. So, I rearranged my 3 pieces of furniture each quarter. This is a bigger deal than you think. As a smart control freak, I prepared for each move by cutting Post-It notes to represent each piece of furniture and placed it on a graph paper blueprint that I had drawn to scale. (No, I’m not kidding.) I have repeated that behavior in the 7 places and 6 classrooms I’ve lived in since then.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m good at accepting change or easily ready to make changes to myself. Anxiety and depression are characterized by the overwhelming feeling of being stuck, being unable to change how things are now in order to make things better later. Change is not easy. Maybe that is why there are just as many steps to change as there are to grief.

Cracking Open the Window to Leap Through

Johari’s window

Grad school provided me with two memorable frameworks with which to approach counseling. My homeroom-esque class with the best professor and mentor a loud, know-it-all needed (shout out to the one and only Dr. Victoria Junior) came with an introduction to Johari’s Window. In my practice, it is common for clients to reach out for help for problems that border panes 1 and 2. My clients know there is something not right but just can’t quite articulate the problem. In order to crack that window wide open, we work to crawl, walk, run, retreat, and regroup through the stages of change. (The names of the stages are mine, not the clinical terms.)

Substance abuse and addiction training required the ultimate textbook for understanding all change. This is literally the textbook on the stages of change.

  • Problem? What Problem? There are not enough examples, videos, PowerPoint presentations, or tantrums to get you to see there is a problem. The bad news? Your loved ones must continue to beat their heads against the wall and fill the air with their voices despite its apparent lack of efficacy. The good news? Something is getting through at a subconscious level that is prepping you to proceed to stage two.
  • Oh, That Problem? It’s Not a Problem. Deaf ears are now more like selective hearing. You have gotten the message that there is something in your lives getting in the way of an angst-free existence. But, at this stage, the problem is YOURS; your loved one believes it is manageable.
  • OK, My Problem is a Problem. Time to buy colored pencils, Post-It notes, and erasers.

    Hiro from Heroes when he learned to stop time

    Lots of erasers. You are ready to put a plan in place. We have one stage left before the plan is put into action, but we have a plan!

  • I Did It! Despite the fact that change has been working, albeit at an uncomfortably slow pace, it is clear to everyone that you are making new choices. New behaviors are obvious and should be applauded by all onlookers. Don’t be surprised if physical exhaustion accompanies all of this psychological and emotional change.
  • That Worked..Kinda. Although change may vastly improve your physical and mental health, it is not always easy to maintain. People need to meet the NEW YOU. You need to see how the new you interacts with your old friends and family. An occasional appearance from your stage 1, 2, 3, or 4 self is to be expected, not shamed.

Spark Note Summary

Just because you seek out doing things differently, doesn’t mean you are ready for a change. Anxiety and depression don’t start overnight or disappear in the daylight. There is a process to learning how to see your problems even before you start to address them. Your best friend on this journey is time. Just ask Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

LeVar Burton, Accidental Therapist Extraordinaire

Click here to bask in the nostalgia of the theme song!
Before the costume designers of Star Trek: The Next Generation chose an 80s banana clip for a futuristic visor, LaVar Burton was the host of Reading Rainbow. Each episode had a theme similar to ones that my son has in his pre-K class…space, animals, transportation, etc. Books were read to us by famous celebrities like Kermit the Frog. LeVar Burton took us on “field trips” to a fire house or farm. But, the best part of each episode was at the very end. A child just like me, a cute, book-loving precocious child, would tell us all about a favorite book. These were heartfelt testimonials that always ended with the phrase, “But, you don’t have to take my word for it.” No? But, I do! You love books…I love books! We are virtual book club buddies!

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy is a real, accepted modality for treatment of some mental health issues. It started with the turn of the century when soldiers were given medical books to learn about their injuries. In the 1960s, bibliotherapy became an official modality under the American Library Association, and psychotherapists mainstreamed the practice as an additional tool during more traditional therapeutic treatment. As Lessons Learned begins adding an occasional book review, it is important to understand the mental health benefits of reading.

  • Pacing: Shakespeare wrote in poetry, iambic pentameter, for his audience to get caught up in the music of his words. Before you twitch into a mess of
    Click here to hear modern day iambic pentameter.
    horrible memories of school, it may help to understand that iambic pentameter is exactly the same cadence as the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. Prose also has an intentional rhythm. Short, choppy fragments mirror the mood of the character. Endlessly long sentences (see anything Faulkner wrote) drone you into a lull; “what did I just read in those two pages that were three sentences long?” Mental health practices of mindfulness and meditation help suffers of anxiety and PTSD, for example, use careful control of breath as a self-healing tool. Being whisked away into an author’s linguistic pacing can have the same benefits. 
  • Guided imagery: All of my students will tell you I have a hard and fast rule about movie adaptations of books. I refuse to watch a movie in which I’ve read the book. I refuse to read the book if I’ve seen the movie. Case in point: I’ve seen all 8 Harry Potter movies without cracking the spine on any of the 7 novels on which they are based. My snobbery is based on protecting myself from dashed expectations. As I read any book, I imagine what the characters look like, how they speak, how they dress, etc. I like to use my internal CAD programming to design their homes and neighborhoods. Getting lost in the story is why reading a book with Fabio on the cover can be more healing than one with Dr. Phil on the cover. One of the most preeminent medical facilities, the Cleveland Clinic, has concluded: “Imagery can stimulate changes in bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory patterns. It can help you tab inner strengths to find hope, courage and other qualities that can help you cope with a variety of conditions.”
  • Empathy: One of the major impacts of bibliotherapy is to see yourself, including your challenges, in a character. It is also extremely cathartic reading how someone just like you works on fighting mental illness without stigma or despite of it. This process, forming a bond with a character that reminds you of yourself, builds empathy. It also allows you to have empathy, not sympathy or pity, for yourself. Now that you are starting down the path of empathy for yourself, you have made the most difficult step in self-care: appreciating who you are without apology. Not sure what the difference is between empathy and sympathy? Watch this remarkable animated short.Spark Note Summary

Bibliotherapists are most often English majors with a depth of knowledge about “who” and “what”. Therapists are most often psychology majors with a depth of knowledge about “how” and “why”. As a woman with a bachelor degree in English Education and a master’s degree in psychology, I am your unicorn. As this blog takes on an occasional book review, have some faith in the magic of some more of the lessons I have learned.

The Happy Leopard (A Working Title)

lepardRight now, my biopic would be rated PG13. That’s a cumulative rating. Like most of us, my 20’s were mostly R-rated, filled with inappropriate behaviors that matched my intoxication with freedom by living a time zone away from my parents. As the distance grew, so did the level of responsible, irresponsible behavior. I was never arrested. I didn’t get fired from my job as a new teacher. I also didn’t treat my body with the level of care and respect that I should have…and I knew it.

kundun
A child is believed to be the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama, whom the lamas called “Kundun.” The boy matures in both age and learning, especially after his mentor dies.

Surviving those years allowed me to calm down and earn a PG rating of life. Life’s spotlight intentionally shifted away from me as my levels of self-care and self-love began to match the care and love I had for others. I became your favorite underdog biopic. Think Rocky or Kundun.

Now that I’m in my 40s, I am embracing the decade of f*#k-its. Like most of my compadres of the same age, my skin is stretched to the size that I’m comfortable in (metaphorically, of course) where attitude reign supreme whether deserved or imagined.  Just like Patch Adams, I celebrate the parts of me that caused the insecurity of my 20s and played up the sensitive side that brought me love (husband and son) in my 30s.

Your Identity Acronym

In order to help clients, I need to understand their biopics. Most therapists focus on one theory, cognitive behavioral theory (CBT), systems theory, just to name some popular ones. But, working with real clients means understanding how thoughts, feelings, biology, and relationships all factor into WHY they need help and HOW to help them. Thank goodness for Arnold Lazarus and his multimodal therapy acronym, BASIC ID.

  • BehaviorNo secret decoder ring necessary. Separate your thoughts from your actions. What are you DOING that is getting in the way of a goal? What can you DO to put yourself back on track? Basic Madlibs treatment plan: Give me a verb.

    I won’t lie. It is still a lot of fun using inappropriate words to fill these out.
  • Affect: This one is difficult because it is dependent on your emotional intelligence. Not only is the challenge identifying your feelings, but in order to understand and treatment plan for the conflict leading you into therapy, you need to work on the triggers for those emotions. You also need to put those feelings on a sliding scale, rage to irritation, sadness to depression, etc. The chain link of BASIC ID actually begins here by connecting the behaviors with the emotions; it’s the old chicken or the egg, psychology style.
  • Sensations: The focus is on the mind-body connection. Hands tingling, heart racing, limbs that seem to be slogging through a sea of Elmer’s glue just to walk to the door…Your feelings may be easier to understand by discussing their physicality. It’s important to focus on how your body responds when relaxing. Practicing mindfulness is essential to this aspect of therapy.
  • Imagery: I tend to think in pictures, so this one is easy for me. But, as you combine your actions, emotions, and physicality, memories will begin to stir. Before you flinch…GOOD memories are vital to any treatment plan. Connecting to past success in dealing with current stress is a major focus of my practice. It’s easy to lose sight of how many obstacles you have overcome on your own when you have to seek help from a professional to solve your current problem. Tapping into the memories of the “you” who can slay giants, at age 6 or age 60, builds up great momentum toward success.
  • Cognitions: Keep in mind, BASIC ID is not a literal, step-by-step process. It’s a clever way for therapists (and clients who want to learn) to conceptualize the presenting problem and create a treatment plan for A WHOLE PERSON. Your self-talk, self-image, and self-concept are words with immense power.
  • Interpersonal functioning: So many of my clients come to me because someone else told them they have a problem. Your support network is key. Learning who to have cheering you on and with whom a relationship has run its course is important to managing life’s stressors. How much those people have contributed to your overall mental health, or lack thereof, is essential to creating a path to a strong version of yourself.
  • Biological dimension: Horrible wife confession: I often tease my husband about having low blood sugar when he is a few items short on the “Honey Do” list. It is impossible to parse out the difference between the sensations of illness or medical conditions and those attributed to mental health illnesses. Are you tired because you caught the flu from your son or are you depressed? The beauty of this method of diagnosis and treatment is the permission for therapists to consider both with dismissing either.

Spark Note Summary

People are beautifully complex. The treatment models that try to disqualify thoughts and amplify feelings or focus on relationships without figuring out real sensations are limiting. The healing process truly begins, and lasts, when you can understand and accept all parts of you and your life. It’s not magic. It’s pretty basic…

A Reason, A Season, Or A Lifetime

I have a crew. We have been a dance crew, a tailgate crew, a movie crew…you name it, we have banded together to laugh and cry for the past 22 years. But, we didn’t start that way. "Hey! I'm not just a fair-weather friend. IWe met in college. (Go Cats!) To bore you with the backgrounds would sound like a logic puzzle: 2 of the crew were from NJ, all but one of the crew were roommates at one time, 2 of the crew majored in theater, 2 spent a year abroad in France, blah, blah, blah. We spent four years getting to know each other. At any given time, some were closer to me than others. The magic happened when the cocoon college years were over; that’s where the work began.

It should not come as a surprise that psychologists have studied the art of making friends. It should also not be surprising that their tips for making friends are eerily similar to dating tips. Like most topics, my take on friendships is a mixture of common sense and humorous practical tips.

First, There is a Reason

Mommy friends are a hot commodity. Once you become a parent, you develop an incredible need to find out if YOU are normal, THEY are normal, or LIFE will ever be normal again. The same can be true when you are starting a new job, moving to a new town, or starting a new hobby. Transition is the best chance to start a new friendship. Just be careful not to fall into a few pitfalls:

  • Self-deprecation will never make it out of a friendship’s honeymoon phase. Healthy adults celebrate themselves and their accomplishments,

    fishing-for-compliments
    Fishing for compliments

    like rewards for surviving the teenage and twenty-nothing years of “ooops”. You are not looking for a cheerleader; you are looking for more a teammate.

  • Strangers don’t know where you’ve been or what it took to get where you are now. (Thank goodness!) New meetings with new friends act like a snapshot of this version of you. This is your chance to become the version of you that has been exiled to “what if world.”

Then, It Has Been a Season

After the reason becomes less urgent, you have accepted your role as a mistake-making, best-intentioned parent…or employee….or neighbor, the NEED for friends also becomes less urgent. You need to decide who you want to know better. You need to ask yourself if there can be more connection with your new friend than the context of your initial meeting. It’s also ok if your new friend becomes a new memory.

  • No more first date rules. You need courage if you want your new buddy to become a real friend. Religion, politics, past relationships…all topics are on the table. When we were younger, our views swung between the ones in line with our parents and those in complete, rebellious opposition. pile-of-shoesThe gift of cultivating friendships as an adult comes from living in the Big Gray World. Your ability to be close to someone with different views is a sign that you have a tremendous capability for empathy. After all, you have had more time than your younger self to wear more shoes…

With Enough Time, Friends Last a Lifetime

I have nothing fancy or funny to say about the depths of love I feel from my crew. It took time. Time together AND time apart. Those days, months, and years let you know if the friends you have made can be responsible with the most precious thing you have to offer…yourself. You cannot measure your friendships in secrets kept or capers completed. Frankly, it is not even important how often you see each other or talk on the phone. You have earned lifelong friends when the time apart has no effect on whatever time you steal together.

Spark Note Summary

Part of life’s roller coaster is choosing who is best to join you on the ride. As you change, you need to find new friends and reconnect with old friends. Accepting that is okay for friends to come and go gives you permission to have fun by meeting new friends. There is always a reason to grow your support network that will carry you through a rough season and become part of the family that you rely on for your lifetime.

Can ANYONE Follow the Bouncing Ball?

I’m not really a do-er. Don’t get me wrong – I’m really busy. (See also: a working mom.) multitasking momBut, when it comes to down time, I talk a good game. I would love to craft something that makes my house more of a home. I need to stretch and meditate during yoga to let the toxins out of my body. Instead, I’m a self-proclaimed couch potato. Except….

My fingers are busy…

They are fast forwarding shows on my DVR.

They are clicking on Facebook and swiping back to Angry Birds. (Don’t judge; I’m still playing Angry Birds and shunning all invitations to Candy Crush and Pokeman Go.)

They are tapping on Safari to load my tracking info from Amazon faster.

Like most Americans, I suffer from cultural ADHD.

Following the Code: Nature vs. Nurture

I am surprised how often I am asked about “real” ADHD. My answer, always careful not to offend, is that there have been a lot of environmental factors, our ever-growing technology, that may have contributed to the over-diagnosis of an actual struggle for thousands of children and adults.

I was first taught about ADHD when I was studying to be a teacher. It was the latest example of a real mental illness that had become mainstream due to the dedication of altruistic doctors who felt terrible about not recognizing this illness earlier. Added to the need to correct earlier mistakes was the near-immediate impact of an early drug; Ritalin showed a marked improvement in handwriting! kid writingNow, parents were demanding the miracle drug that calmed down their sons (yes, mostly boys) long enough to care about capital letters touching the top and bottom lines of their paper.

ADHD diagnoses rose 43% between 2003 and 2011. The newest version of the DSM (released in May 2013), the manual that details names and criteria for mental health disorders, has included new guidelines for diagnosing and treating adults. But, when you actually examine the criteria, you will see that ADHD is a very specific combination of struggles.

  • Inattention: Someone with ADHD must check off at least 6 of the following attributes for a minimum of 6 months. Not only does inattention have to last persistently and consistently, but these behaviors should rise to the occasion of being inappropriate for age or developmental level. Some of the qualifying behaviors are: failure to pay close attention/makes careless mistakes; doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly; doesn’t follow through on tasks; and losing things necessary to complete tasks (glasses, paperwork, etc.). I ask you: anyone know of a pre-teen who can’t check these boxes? That’s. Not. ADHD.
  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Another mega-list of behaviors that must add up to at least 6, over 6 months, and are not explained away by being THAT age. This list reads like a daily journal for my 4-year-old.

    The face of ADHD?
    The face of ADHD?

    I have actually met a four-year-old on ADHD medication; it’s hard to figure out how that toddler qualified. Here are some behaviors that may check boxes for ADHD: fidgeting, running and/or climbing, loud participation in “leisure activities”, and excessive talking or blurting out.

There is another set of criteria that involve caveats, like behaviors that interfere with typical activities and timelines for initial onset of behaviors. IF you can still qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, there are a bunch of permutations of that diagnosis. I think of these like the rules for spelling: “i” before “e” except after “c” and if it sounds like “ay”…

 Spark Notes Summary

Our big, supercomputer brains are always being rewired, by diet, supplements, medication, or age. Certainly, our fast-paced, technologically-driven environment can simulate a real mental health disorder. Unplugging your technology gives your brain its chance to unplug and slow down. Oh, and you know the bouncing ball on the screen that you follow to sing along favorite songs, I’m always two lines ahead…out of place and out of tune.

…All the King’s Horses and All the Kings Men, Couldn’t Put Humpty Together Again

adrienne rich
Words That Kept Us Going

I just spent the last few days with my sister wife. We are not Mormon. We were co-workers for four years where we shared a husband, hers by true love and marriage and mine by work. Notice the use of the word “shared”. We lost this incredible man not too long ago and way too soon.

Ironically, these same few days overlapped a funeral. Although the loss was family (by marriage), I was not sad or upset. I went to the service to give love and support to those who were related to him by blood and felt his loss deeply.  My distance lessened when I recognized the profound sadness all around me. There was a daughter estranged from the family for so long she was unmentioned and unrecognized during the service and burial. There was a widow of more than four decades of marriage lost to dementia; I wasn’t sure if she understood what terrible occasion we were marking.stages of grief

The grief and loss that comes with death always triggers discussions of the five stages made popular (to the tune of being available on WebMD and Wikipedia) by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Let me join the professional bandwagon  by saying…crap!

Picking Up the Pieces

The grieving process occurs all through your life. It is not just when there is a death. It is important to remember, and not belittle, that LOSS is an obstacle you have survived – from the moment you were not able to use your pacifier until the moment you were not able to remember your name. Keeping that in mind, here are some of the real struggles of grief and loss:

  • Identity: With my full opinionated support, my friend has never referred to herself as a widow. (I am cringing right now.) As I mentioned in an earlier blog about identity, so much of growing older is adding relational titles. When those titles are lost, sister, daughter, wife, the process that originally took the first two decades of your life (at least) needs to re-start. Who wouldn’t be angry about a second puberty?
  • Belonging: According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, maslowethis motivation, to belong in a group, is a vital stepping stone to developing a healthy self-esteem. Consider the losses in your life that were unrelated to death, my earlier example of a child’s loss of a pacifier. The demarcation that parents celebrate as a sign of maturity is met with the loss of confidence about self-soothing. Down the pyramid you go! Now, you have to search your environment for survival and safety again. We all do it. We just forget that from the perspective of a toddler, and some professional counselors, that loss needs to be acknowledged as evidence that you are strong enough and resourceful enough to survive all kinds of losses. Even a small loss can be used as fuel to get a small gain for a bigger loss.
  • Isolation: You lost your job. Becoming a parent wasn’t what you expected. Your child isn’t interested in playing Legos with you. All of these dashed dreams trigger the grief and loss stages. They also separate you from friends and family. person aloneYou have become the embodiment of fear — the living and breathing “what-if” monster. You shy away from people who shy away from you. Until you reinvent yourself, and choose whether your old friends should be your new friends, a self-imposed, community approved, isolation is in effect.

Spark Note Summary

Death is not the only reason we suffer from grief and loss. Each time we don’t live the life we expected, we have to reinvent ourselves. Bringing the successes and lessons learned from a past life into the next life (cue Indigo Girls “Galileo“), makes you strong enough to start again. You just have to start by salvaging the right pieces…

Becoming the Master of the Universe

As an in-home counselor, I travel…a lot. I was coming home from the city when I noticed a delivery truck on a side street. I was stuck in traffic, so my mind stayed with the relatively common sight for a while. I was a little amazed about how and why all of the strangers in their cars (in a neighborhood with a reputation for violence) all complied with a scrawny man directing traffic. He wasn’t a cop! He wasn’t even a crossing guard with an official vest! Then, it came to me. He. Was. He-Man!

he manStop shaking your heads, fellow children of the 80’s. You know exactly who I mean. He-Man, the Prince of Eternia, would “hold aloft his magic sword” and say, “By the power of Grayskull!” The glittering cloud that changed the boy-next-door to a muscle-clad, gentleman hero was not the real magic. The real magic happened when he held the sword, post-transformation, and said, “I HAVE THE POWER!” Yes! We can all have the power!

…The Power to Fight Depression and Anxiety

Self-efficacy is your belief that you have the power, the ability, to solve a problem and achieve a task. We have all experienced periods of wavering self-efficacy. That’s “normal”. For the approximately 40 million American’s suffering with anxiety and depression, self-efficacy is a key factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is not practical to teach self-efficacy. It is possible, however, to recognize when you are “psyching yourself out” by learning about some mind games you play with yourself. (We call these cognitive distortions around the professional water cooler.):

  • All-or-Nothing: things are in black and white categories. Your brain is starting to lose perspective and becoming too anxious to slow down.
  • Overgeneralization looks like a downward spiral

    Overgeneralization: a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Guilty as charged on this one; all it takes is for one thing to go wrong before I start “noticing” all of the things that have spiraled out of my control.

  • Mental filter: pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively. Those of you that live near nature will recognize this inability to see the forest for the trees. How can anything around you be manageable when all you see is the negative in front of you?

    tunnel vision
    Mental filters give you tunnel vision.
  • Disqualifying The Positive: positive experiences “don’t count”. Imagine someone who has won the lottery but trips out of the bank after depositing their millions; if experiencing this cognitive distortion, all that person will tell you about his day is how he embarrassingly tripped in public.
  • Magnification (catastrophizing): Exaggerate the importance of things; your “whoops”  or someone else’s “hooray” both register a 10+ on a scale of 1-5.
  • Minimization OR “binocular trick”: inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny. The opposite of magnification, this “skill” is the ability to evaluate your own desirable qualities, the ones everyone reminds you they love and admire about you, to a microscopic piece of shmoo on your ego.

You know which one of these, or two, or three, applies to you. If not, don’t worry. One share of this blog with friends and family will have them all running to you to tell you who you are based on what you do. Yay, family bonding activity?!?

Spark Note Summary

superheroYour supercomputer of a brain can convince you that you are capable of great things. It can also trick you into thinking that you are powerless to change. Recognizing those tricks will help you maintain a strong sense of self-efficacy letting your super brain persuade you to achieve super goals and embrace your inner super hero.