A New National Holiday

Special Lesson: Professional counselors are careful with self-disclosure. Only when the benefit is to enhance the therapeutic relationship is the boundary crossed. This blog is personal, but the hope is the conversations that ensue help enhance all of our relationships.

I have a vivid memory of being a child and asking my parents where they were when Kennedy was shot. It was a common assignment for children of Boomers. We had it easy! There was ONE major event noteworthy enough for all students to explore. If replicated today, my son’s assignment is more like a multiple choice test, the Challenger‘s explosion or the fall of the Berlin Wall. As I publish, today is September 11. My TV and Facebook are littered with memes telling me not to forget or always remember. As I’m told to be respectful and solemn, all I can feel is frustration that there is no “lesson learned”.

Never Forget….

My 9/11 story starts with a routine drive to my job as the HR manager of Borders Books. I heard a snippet on the radio with key words “plane” and “New York”. I changed the channel and shook my head.

La Guardia has two runways, each 7,000 feet long, compared with those at JFK Airport, which are up to 14,000 feet, and Newark Airport, where they are up to 11,000 feet.

I grew up in NJ with the Manhattan skyline outside of my window. It was common to hear a broadcaster in Chicago appalled about a plane crash in New York; they simply didn’t grow up knowing how short the runway is at LaGuardia. So, I went back to the offices and started to count cash for the registers while brainstorming a snarky comment to deliver to a coworker with whom I bet on Monday Night Football. As I started wheeling the cash drawers to the register, that same coworker was walking towards me asking me if I heard what happened. Nope. I was not going to let him beat me to the punchline. I quickly quipped some friendly antagonistic comment and tried to wheel to the front of the store. This coworker was a better friend than I gave him credit for because he took me by the shoulder, took me to the stockroom, and put me in front of the TV we use to sneak peaks at football games. I sat on two crates grasping at a box of tissues watching in disbelief with the rest of America for the next few hours.

Me and my big brother

I wish watching the landscape of my childhood be destroyed was the only way I passed the time that morning. It took me an hour or two to realize that neighborhood that I watched crumbling was where my big brother went to work daily. Thankfully, he was late to get off the subway that day. Not too late, however, not to be stuck in a nearby building watching the day become soot-covering night. The cell phones weren’t working as everyone with loved ones trying calling out or calling in. I learned from my mother that he had reached his then-pregnant wife just long enough to say he was safe but stuck. I remember musing that my brother, who is 6’1″ with a personality twice the size, must be going crazy thanks to a small case of claustrophobia. He made it home safely hours later, but I don’t need a running news story to remind me what it felt like to watch in fear that I was going to be the oldest one in my family if those terrorists won.

Always Remember…

Shortly after the building were cleared, the next line of heroes went to Ground Zero. In the same breath, our country banded together and started the two decade trip of falling apart.

EMS salary info from the Bureau of Labor
  • I remember how the Patriot Act went after my library card in case I recently checked out the Catcher in the Rye.
  • I remember how while saying “thank you” to EMS and firefighters with our mouths, we let them collect government benefits to offset the poverty that defines the working poor.
  • I remember how my best friend’s stepfather (who through time and space has always been an extra parent to me) grabbed his old pipe fitter tools and went to help adding mesothelioma to Agent Orange on the list of unreimbursed lethal consequences of his patriotism.
  • I remember how the prevalence of children experiencing PTSD from the perpetual news coverage hit record highs as parents accidentally traumatized a generation who didn’t understand that planes weren’t constantly flying into buildings.
  • I remember how we reached into our country’s history of ethnic hatred to be afraid of Muslims, or anyone we thought looked like one.

Spark Notes Summary

My husband and I are friends whose son, one of their four, was born on September 11. He is the living symbol of what we should remember. Barrett is always happy and optimistic. He loves to spend the morning with his mother dancing to Britney Spears with freshly painted nails before taking the afternoon to go fishing and learn gun safety with his dad. To truly honor and respect what was lost, we should make September 11 National Barrett Day. The holiday would be centered around celebrating our best selves and accepting the beauty of seemingly contradictory ideas. Feel free to decorate your home with pink dollhouses and fishing poles as you carpool with your neighbor to the EMS parade featuring the men and women whose pay has met their esteem.

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 Court of Common Sense and Sensibility

When I grew up, “like” was part of the (annoying), everyday vocabulary. Shows like Seinfeld and Friends gave us more phrases that sunk into our common psyche and rose out of our mouths seemingly without thought. Now, it seems that “Don’t judge me” is the next phrase to permeate our culture. I’m told that comedian Kevin Hart may be to blame. Neither my mother nor my mother-in-law have a clue who that is. Yet, they have both used the phrase “don’t judge me” multiple times in the last few weeks. In a society filled with efforts to stop Mommy Shaming and Body Shaming, I am in complete agreement that we should all be cautious of our glass houses. But, when did having a different opinion get you labeled as “judgy”?

Presentation of Evidence: What Are You REALLY Saying?

Being called “judgmental” is not a slur hurled at you from strangers. It takes place in the course of a regular conversation with someone you know. But not someone you know well. Your lifelong bosom buddies would never accuse you of passing judgment when your opinion differs from their own because you speak the same language. So, here is the internal monologue taking place when you are accused of shaming or judging someone.

  • “Please don’t point out I’m unsure of my opinion.” The feeling of being judged begins when you interpret that someone’s facial reaction or verbal response has devalued what you just said. In other words, somehow, you are “wrong.” When you are passing on someone else’s opinion, it works like sharing on Facebook — the original content is not your own. The problem is not that you lack an ability to accurately recall the phrase or article you are repeating. The problem is your memories are emotion-based; thus, there is room for misinterpretation of fact based on how that information was emotionally digested.
  • “This is not a discussion. I just need to be heard.” There is a lot of research, clinical and anecdotal, about the positive benefits of emotional venting. It is physically and emotionally healthy to release feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment. However, these benefits are lost if you do not choose your audience well.

Spark Note Summary

My response to the accusation, “Don’t judge me,” is…WHY NOT? I welcome differing opinions from others who have lived a different life. Without healthy, respectful disagreement, it becomes hard to learn. It’s hard to learn about others. It’s hard to learn about yourself.

 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: COMING SOON…BOOK REVIEWS! GET READY FOR SOME SPECIAL BLOGS THAT RECOMMEND BOOKS THAT MAKE YOU THINK, CONNECT, AND LEARN!

Just A Skip In the Record…the Record…the Record

record-playerYes, the title of the blog reveals my age. It also reveals my love of my beloved 80s, and my ability to make those of you hiding your love for our decade of crazy coming-of-age smile.

I hope that smile continues as you read (or re-read) the first post that started it all. I’ve been out of town and out of time this week. So, my loyal readers, please accept my apologies for re-posting the first blog for Lessons Learned. Next week is going to be a doozy…trust me!

Validation in the Carpool Lane

Tuesdays are my market days. They are also the days my husband catches up on sleep from Monday’s day job before Tuesday’s night job. I try to sneak some quality time in with my husband by convincing him there will be a delicious home cooked breakfast lovingly prepared once I bring back the groceries.

First confession: although mostly true, this deal is to make sure I have help unpacking the car and the groceries.

Second confession: this week, I lied about breakfast. By the time I got home, it was much more like lunch.

I know, it was a white lie. But, this week, I’m not talking about the many shades of lies. I want to explain WHY I lied. You see, I was late with the routine of food shopping and breakfast making because I was chatting with the three moms I see at drop-off every morning.school drop off

You know the scene: the same group of parents (can be moms or dads) pulls into their usual parking spaces, can be overheard using the same pleas and cheers to get their children out of the car, and gives you the same nod or smile or quip of understanding. Solidarity. I wouldn’t call us friends. We don’t socialize outside of the few minutes we have after the kids go inside of school or while we are waiting for them to come out. Those few minutes, however, are not gabbing about recipes or weather. These mommies and I are engaging in group therapy about the trials, tribulations, and emotional upheaval of parenting special needs children.

Traditional Group Therapy

Group therapy is an essential part in the treatment plan for some mental illnesses. Struggles with addiction and anger, for example, depend on the dynamic of group therapy. In grad school, our textbook for group therapy was The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom. Since there are not SparkNotes (believe me, I looked), I can sum up some of the major benefits of group therapy that are discussed:

group therapy

  • Hopefulness:Therapy groups contain members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
  • Universality:Being part of a group of people who have the same experiences helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
  • Information sharing:Group members can help each other by sharing information.
  • Self-esteem:Group members can experience a boost in self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy when they share their strengths and help others in the group.
  • Cohesiveness:Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Catharsis:Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt, or stress.

(There is a great article that details more of these positive outcomes on VeryWell.com for anyone who wants to learn more.)

DIY Groups

 Feeling more hopeful, emotionally stronger, and more connected seems like a dream. There are all kinds of ways to join a traditional group in order to chase this unicorn, MeetUp, Facebook groups, and PTOs. Our school district even has a monthly meeting where my mommy group is invited to listen to speakers and get information on our kids’ challenges while the district provides babysitting. How dreamy, right? How many times have my carpool friends and I attended? None. Top down groups like the ones offered by districts, community agencies, or advocacy groups often miss the mark for those of us in the grind. The times never work for our work or family schedules. The topics may be poignant but not the help we need on the day we need it. I don’t need to know the benefits of occupational therapy or the latest changes in disability law on the day my son decided to throw a fit and stare at the sky in the middle of the parking lot.

Spark Note Summary

No man is an island. It takes a village. Whatever motto makes sense to you as long as the message is clear: you need help. We all do. Your support circle is right in front of you…smiling and mouthing “I know” in the next parking spot over.

Validation in the Carpool Lane

Tuesdays are my market days. They are also the days my husband catches up on sleep from Monday’s day job before Tuesday’s night job. I try to sneak some quality time in with my husband by convincing him there will be a delicious home cooked breakfast lovingly prepared once I bring back the groceries.

First confession: although mostly true, this deal is to make sure I have help unpacking the car and the groceries.

Second confession: this week, I lied about breakfast. By the time I got home, it was much more like lunch.

I know, it was a white lie. But, this week, I’m not talking about the many shades of lies. I want to explain WHY I lied. You see, I was late with the routine of food shopping and breakfast making because I was chatting with the three moms I see at drop-off every morning.school drop off

You know the scene: the same group of parents (can be moms or dads) pulls into their usual parking spaces, can be overheard using the same pleas and cheers to get their children out of the car, and gives you the same nod or smile or quip of understanding. Solidarity. I wouldn’t call us friends. We don’t socialize outside of the few minutes we have after the kids go inside of school or while we are waiting for them to come out. Those few minutes, however, are not gabbing about recipes or weather. These mommies and I are engaging in group therapy about the trials, tribulations, and emotional upheaval of parenting special needs children.

Traditional Group Therapy

Group therapy is an essential part in the treatment plan for some mental illnesses. Struggles with addiction and anger, for example, depend on the dynamic of group therapy. In grad school, our textbook for group therapy was The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom. Since there are not SparkNotes (believe me, I looked), I can sum up some of the major benefits of group therapy that are discussed:

group therapy

  • Hopefulness:Therapy groups contain members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
  • Universality:Being part of a group of people who have the same experiences helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
  • Information sharing:Group members can help each other by sharing information.
  • Self-esteem:Group members can experience a boost in self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy when they share their strengths and help others in the group.
  • Cohesiveness:Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Catharsis:Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt, or stress.

(There is a great article that details more of these positive outcomes on VeryWell.com for anyone who wants to learn more.)

DIY Groups

 Feeling more hopeful, emotionally stronger, and more connected seems like a dream. There are all kinds of ways to join a traditional group in order to chase this unicorn, MeetUp, Facebook groups, and PTOs. Our school district even has a monthly meeting where my mommy group is invited to listen to speakers and get information on our kids’ challenges while the district provides babysitting. How dreamy, right? How many times have my carpool friends and I attended? None. Top down groups like the ones offered by districts, community agencies, or advocacy groups often miss the mark for those of us in the grind. The times never work for our work or family schedules. The topics may be poignant but not the help we need on the day we need it. I don’t need to know the benefits of occupational therapy or the latest changes in disability law on the day my son decided to throw a fit and stare at the sky in the middle of the parking lot.

Spark Note Summary

No man is an island. It takes a village. Whatever motto makes sense to you as long as the message is clear: you need help. We all do. Your support circle is right in front of you…smiling and mouthing “I know” in the next parking spot over.