Creativity in Life

The word “creativity” may make you think of artsy types, ready to craft a mask, whip up a painting, play an instrument, or pen a novel. And it is, in part, but it’s also about coming up with something new. In this case, let’s consider creative new ways to communicate, to stay connected, to motivate employees to stay engaged and do their best work even while working from home, and also, to entertain ourselves and find some joy in even the most trying of times. And, for those of you who would like to stretch yourself in the traditionally creative sense, keep reading, I have a few ideas for you too.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”-English proverb. We have found this to be true during trying times in our history which turned up products that changed lives. Take a look at the list of things we may never have had without tough times that caused someone to think outside the box.

  • Toll House Cookies: Ruth Graves Wakefield accidentally created the recipe while baking for her guests as the owner of the Toll House Inn. During the great depression, running out of baker’s chocolate, Wakefield settled for cutting a chocolate bar into pieces assuming the chocolate would melt. Instead, it hardened into tiny chips and became the first chocolate chip cookie. Families in the area of the Inn sent the cookies to their soldiers overseas who then shared them amongst the troops and began writing home begging for more–they became a global phenomenon. She eventually gave the recipe to Nestle, who compensated her with the only thing better than money: a lifetime supply of free chocolate.
  • Basketball: The game was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a sports coach, but for the first three years, it was actually played with a soccer ball. Then in the midst of a recession, Naismith encouraged A.G. Spalding to create a ball specifically designed for the new game. With few changes, this is the same Spalding ball you see on the courts today.
  • M&M’s: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Forrest Mars, Sr. (of the Mars Company) saw British soldiers eating pellets of chocolate coated in a hard candy shell. The shell kept the chocolate from melting in the soldiers’ hands. Mars patented the product and started producing M&M’s, exclusively selling to the military in World War II.
  • Pilates: Physical trainer Joseph Pilates conceived the idea of the workout known for core strengthening, flexibility, and balance while a prisoner of war in an internment camp during WWI. He honed his method of “contrology” on fellow inmates, aiding in the rehab of injured veterans. After the war, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the US and collaborated with dance and exercise experts to nail down the system we know simply as “Pilates.”
  • Meetup: New Yorker Scott Heiferman was in his apartment on September 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. In the aftermath, he found himself surrounded by neighbors he’d never even met. Following the tragedy, Heiferman observed the desire for community and that led to the creation of social networking site Meetup, where users can meet like-minded individuals in their area and make plans for face to face meetups.

And today there are already examples of crafty new products, businesses pivoting to meet new demand, and new uses of existing products. I’ve seen several ads for keychains that look similar to bottle openers but have been designed to open doors, press elevator buttons, and other tasks acting as a stand-in for fingers on high touch surfaces. In other countries there have been 3D printed handles attached to refrigeration doors in grocery stores that can be opened using a forearm rather than a hand. And businesses, even locally, that were previously in the space of building cabinetry that have now taken up crafting acrylic barriers for public spaces in an effort to meet the new demands of safety for businesses. School shop classes and computer labs have in some areas started implementing use of their equipment to create face shields. Shortly after the virus struck and stay-at-home orders were issued, restaurants were finding ways to create online bodega offerings by continuing to buy from their suppliers in bulk and then make household sized quantities of products available in a market that was difficult to find many products. And this next story I hear about our teens… While it may not be one of productivity, these kids are inspiring to me because this ingenuity is exactly what we need in our future generations. There was an article written about a year ago titled, “The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is… Google Docs” which describes that our teens are creating google docs, sharing them with friends—often as they sit in class—and due to the nature of Google Docs ability to see live updates by any of the document holders, are chatting with their friends much the way our older generations used to with passed folded notes.

Stories like these are inspiring to me, I love to watch the way people come together in support during times like these that are so difficult in so many ways. And to see that some businesses are able to find new ways to bring in revenue at a time many financial forecasts have flattened, it’s inspiring and has me hoping that others are looking for ways to do so themselves. I’ve also read that groups of co-workers who are now forced to work from home but are single, and thus, feeling very alone, have begun creating Zoom calls every morning with their colleagues so they can virtually sit side by side and do their jobs—and not feel so isolated. I’ve also read that there are nurses, who are understandably fatigued and stressed and overworked, that are finding ways to lighten spirits during their shifts. One story that stuck with me was a nurse who had two patients on a non-Covid floor who had to frequently get up to urinate, requiring help each time. The patients were apologetic, feeling they were pulling the nurse from more important duties. She reassured them, and realized they had senses of humor that would appreciate this boost—she created an “award” for them at the end of her shift for “most frequent use of the facilities”. The initial embarrassment was turned into a laugh for the patients and the nurse and lightened the mood all around.

And, now for the creatives and the creative hopefuls among us—let’s inspire you to keep going with your talent or your desire to learn a skill. Want to learn the guitar, or learn new songs? Fender has online classes found here in bite-sized pieces. How about the piano? Want to learn with Harry Connick, Jr showing you the ropes? Check this out. If writing is more your style, there’s playwriting, guidance for getting that novel written you’ve had rattling around in your brain, or a cool article from none other than Judy Blume, of tween girl fiction fame, with some tips on writing a children’s book. And if you’re looking for some visual art inspiration, I was impressed with this page Berkeley put together. There are also some great online art classes being offered by artist collectives like this—there is some free content to get you started and the classes utilize a number of different medias, from painting and sketching, to mixed media. And for the parents among us looking for outlets for the kids, take a look at Camp Creativity for some fun free content.

Let this be a time of creativity. The change in perspective by introducing a new idea lightens the spirit, helps move through darkness to hope, and may prove the path to a whole new business or product. If you are a supervisor to others, take some time to consider new ways to motivate your team—the morale boost can help not only their mental health but the fiscal health of your business. If you are a health care worker, are there ways to inject some levity in your day in even small ways? Quality patient care and provider burnout are uniquely tied together, so look for ways to help ease your daily stress, even if you simply create an “award” to bring a laugh. Are you working from home and lonely? Consider starting Zoom calls with colleagues so you can still have some office chatter while sitting in your home office. And, if you’re a parent facing burnout, look for Facebook groups for your area or for parents with children of similar age, or take a look at Meetup to find some peer support. Often, having those groups can make you feel less alone in your frustration and you find humor in commiseration. All or any of these ideas can help prevent or alleviate the depression and boredom I’m seeing so often around me.  Take a chance – take a leap – and try creatively something new in meeting a need you or others around you have.  

Wishing you creativity and hope this coming week,

Dr. Beth

Sources for past inventions and products:

https://www.interestingthings.com/gallery/20th-century-inventions-in-times-of-crisis/

Hope, Love, Faith

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Hope, Love, Faith

Last weekend I spent a lot of time coloring and processing what was happening within.  This weekend I have spent a great deal of time in reading and prayer.  And both weekends I have sought out time with friends or family – through FaceTime, Zoom, or other mediums in order to feel connected.  One thing I believe we are all learning is that much as we are all individually having to handle this crisis given the need for social distancing; we are also in this together – with the entire world.  I keep replaying in my mind a song from the 60’s … “what the world needs now, is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…what the world needs now, is love sweet love, no not just for some, but for everyone.”  (You can listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUaxVQPohlU).   

And so, we look for love and connections through our faith communities, our friends, our families, and even our pets.  Pope Francis really touched me this weekend when he spoke and said simply, yet powerfully, “We are all on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other … [we] have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”  This made me begin to think about how I share my hope and love.  And I do have hope for our futures.  It will not be the same future we imagined 30 days ago perhaps; but it can be one that is even more connected with each other, working toward common goals.  I’ve seen small examples of games in the neighborhood like putting a teddy bear in the window for children to find on a walk with their parents during a break in studying at home.  Or neighborhood children (and adults) who have left messages in colored chalk for others walking by.  I loved running across one while walking Finley the other night – just a reminder of not being a solo in the neighborhood, but part of a bigger whole.  Or the neighbors offering to do grocery runs or other errands if someone cannot get out to do their own at this time.   And yet … reminding everyone to stay in as much as possible.  There is hope in the fact that we are reaching out to one another in love … through chalk, teddy bears, or 15-minute errands. 

I’ve found this weekend I also want to express myself in different ways – by returning to some artwork — not to express my emotions, but to enjoy the freedom of creation, the hope in creating something that didn’t exist.  I read a brief article somewhere this morning that said people are reaching out to plant more gardens (it mentioned similar to victory gardens around World Wars I and II).  And we are in a war for our lives and a cure, are we not?  Many are looking at creating something no matter what level of talent they may have.  I would encourage you to reach out and try something this week.  Perhaps a crayon drawing.  Or plant some herbs or flowers if you have the materials or can get them via pick up at one of the local stores like Ace, Home Depot, Walmart, or Lowe’s.  Color a mandala (Go to this link for some free ones to print https://printmandala.com/) or do some paint by number on an app like Happy Color.  One favorite I had as a child and only takes a piece of paper and crayons or markers is to scribble lines and curves all over a blank piece of paper, and then color the spaces in forming a picture among the shapes.  Or, color all of the shapes in, then color over it in black, and lightly scrape off the black letting colored shapes show through the black.  Have children?  In addition to the above projects that would also work for them, check out Highlights at https://www.highlights.com/parents/crafts/31-kids-crafts.  And remember Pinterest always has 100’s of ideas. 

Scribble Art Sample
Scribble Art Sample

Pope Francis speaks of our vulnerability, a favorite topic of Brene Brown as well.  She had her first new podcast recently, and spoke about FFT’s, Frightening (or another F word) First Times.  So many are wondering how does one get through a frightening time like a pandemic?  And Brene said, honestly, none of us knows – it’s our first time, we are all vulnerable and exposed in walking through this time.  Pope Francis said, “The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules”.  A student of mine asked me this week if I’d ever survived a pandemic.  As well as sending her a history lesson 😊 I also spoke of the fact we are vulnerable, we are all in the same boat of one day at a time, and reaching out for support from friends, faith communities, and therapists or other care providers during our time of fear and vulnerability; and to our physicians and hospitals if we do become ill.  But allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another – share your fear, allow another to cry or be with their feelings, offer your hope and strength when you have it, be present fully in the moment by text, video chat, letter, email, phone call – will allow you to also move forward “choos[ing] what matters” (Pope Francis).

And so hope, and love, come through faith, connection, vulnerability, giving, and risk in trying new things.  We will not find hope if we hide in a corner.  As frightened as a person may be, the only answer is to come out into the light.  Be vulnerable with another and connect.  Risk doing so and expressing yourself honestly, perhaps for the first time; but at the least for the first time during a pandemic.  Give to others through any way that comes to you to do so.  And walk in your faith, whatever it may be, and take it just one step at a time, one day at a time, through these darker times.  Regardless of your faith, I would encourage you to reach up for strength and hope, reach out in love, and reach in to find one thing to be grateful for each day.  If we each do our best, just our best as we are able to do today, we will make it through this time together.   

Take care of yourself,

Dr. Beth

Caring for Yourself in Times of Fear and Illness

This week has been a stressful one for many people.  The combination of the coronavirus, the stock market, the grey skies and rain, school and college closures, and the world news each day has been very hard.  But . . . in all of this, did you catch any of the good news?  It’s a bit hard to find, I learned, as I went to locate some for you to try to balance the week.  I did finally find a couple of pieces: 

            The La La Land Kindness Café in Dallas has hired 9 foster kids who aged out of the foster care system and were having trouble locating jobs.

            How about the House and the President agreeing, within just a couple of days, to relief legislation for victims of the coronavirus? 

            The Dow started a rebound today – that’s very good news for most!

            All of the fast action employers and schools/universities are taking to protect their employees and students – it seems unprecedented to me, although it may not be.  From Amazon in Washington to ASU to Ford to many others many are limiting exposure by providing employees with laptops and having them work and study virtually.  

All of these are truly ideas that are very positive news – and get covered in the anxiety so many are feeling, and the care for family that is often at the root of this.  Just tonight I learned one of my sisters-in-law may have been exposed to it, and her father likely has it.  Yet of the 16 members of my family nearby, she is the only one, which is good news thus far. (Edit 3/15/20: Good news! Her father’s test results reflected negative results.) See how we can flip it?  In psychology it’s called reframing the bad or difficult situations by looking at life a bit differently, without denying the hard does exist as well.

We sent out notices about Covid-19 procedures for our office this week.  Now it’s time to also offer some concrete help along with the above reframe tool.  The American Psychological Association and the National Association for the Mentally Ill are the two sources I’m using for the ideas that follow.  I wanted you to have some resources to print or click for the coming weeks.  What I know from 911 and other events is that when we are faced with being bombarded on social media and news media with information that is difficult, we tend to seek out more information and stay focused on the difficult situation.  This merely drives fear and anxiety up further.  We do need to know what we can do to try to protect ourselves; but once we know, i.e.:  wash hands to count of 20, do not shake hands and stay a further distance from others, and isolating someone with clear symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, we need to also look at how we care for our family and selves in a way that minimizes the fear and focuses on good things in life.  And, in the situation we have right now, we also need to know how we can cope with isolation whether from working at home, not going out for social events, not being able to travel to family or friends on trips we have had to cancel, or other reasons.  And we must have a method to deal with the uncertainty, fear, loneliness, depression, resentment, and challenges we face trying to secure things we may need.  So, here goes!

  1.  Make sure you have some games to play that are age appropriate for you and your family, and especially if you have children.  If isolated, the family will need ways to entertain themselves, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and get through the days together.  We know that closeness breeds irritation, so have some things that can break up the days and draw you together, not apart.
  2. Have a plan with your doctor.  My physician sent out a text announcement to all of his patients tonight just letting us know he’s there, where to go for trustworthy medical information on the virus, and what to do if we are having symptoms.  Reach out to your pediatrician, cardiologist, pulmonologist, or primary care to know ahead what to do and how their office is managing this.
  3. Use the tools that help your mental health on a regular basis.  So…do:
  4. Keep up your physical activity – there are some great YouTubes on how to do yoga, walk along with you to keep your steps up (I like Leslie Sansome’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9yI2LGZRE0), and many others depending on what you prefer to do.
  5. Make sure you have enough medication or supplements like Rescue Remedy, Vitamin C and B, and other things around to keep you feeling better and less anxious. 
  6. Stay on a schedule.  We can get very loosey-goosey when at home too long or too much.  So make sure you keep an agenda to normalize your life and not fall into the doldrums too much.
  7. Make sure you can connect with Messenger, FaceTime, and the others available.  It helps for you to actually see friends, not just text.  We’re learning that the more texting that is done, the lonelier people are becoming.  So, in this time of increased stress – reach out even more and if you can’t touch one another, at least see one another.  I know someone who was separated from a loved one for quite some time, and they would watch a favorite show while connected on Facetime.  Another dad who was away who would play checkers with his children.  Get creative in your connection!
  8. I know you get tired of it – but remember to breathe when anxious.  Or start a mindfulness app during this time.  The website has a number of these on the Links page, and this is a great time to learn to do it and practice.
  9. Listen to music that uplifts you – for me that might be one thing – but what is it for you?  Listen!  Music does a lot to impact our moods.
  10.  Keep some numbers available if you need to reach out to a warm line, i.e.:  you’re not suicidal but you are feeling isolated and need to connect.  See SAMSHA’s line for disasters at 1-800-985-5990 or locally at 602-347-1100.  And remember AA, Al-Anon, and many other groups have online and phone meetings.  Take care of your sobriety as well! 
  11.  Pay attention to your spiritual practices.  I love labyrinths and downloaded the Mount Mojo Labyrinth Journey app to my cell phone quite some time ago.  I can walk it by finger on the phone even if I have only 5 minutes and can’t get to one locally.  Or, call a friend to pray.  Watch a Joel O’Steen, Beth Moore, or even your own pastor or rabbi may have something online to watch or even just listen to. 
  12. Humor, humor, humor!  You have to laugh!  I go to Bob Newhart videos, Carol Burnett, or Tim Conway as well as Friends and Frazier.  My mom loved SpongeBob Square Pants (I did not ever figure that one out!)  How about funny movies often free on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and other places you may have membership. 

All of these are tools – now you just need to use them.  As I said in my letter to current clients, I’m here and I am available.  Feel free to call and schedule an in-person or video therapy session.  The teletherapy appointment is on an encrypted service that meets HIPAA standards, we don’t use FaceTime or other things that might seem easier – but don’t offer the privacy.  So, if you can’t come – we’ll walk you through how to set it up. 

May you find these ideas helpful – and know there is a hand to reach out to.  And keep reaching out to friends as well.  Do you have other ideas?  Let us know and we can share those on our Facebook page. The disasters end.  The illnesses come to an end in such large proportions.  The blue skies come out again.  Something my mama told me growing up is that “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.  Obvious, right?  But it kind of normalizes problems and difficult times.  And reassures us – that “Joy will come in the morning!” (Psalms 30:5).  And so it will!

Take good care of yourself!

Dr. Beth

PTSD: Feel like yourself again

“It felt like a malignant tumor that was spreading through my entire life. It was a jumble of fear, depression, anxiety, irritability, and feeling jumpy all at once and it stayed with me day and night. I didn’t want to see my family and friends, and didn’t want to talk about it—what if they thought I was crazy?” This isn’t a quote from any single source, it’s the story of many. About 8 million adults have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in a year. Have you, or someone you love, gone through a shocking and dangerous event?

PTSD often connotes images of fatigue wearing military, veterans, and first responders. Those are certainly prolific examples of people who have faced trauma and tragedy, but they are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Traumatic events happen to any number of people, any number of ways, on any given day. “Trauma” may be one big event like a house fire, a car accident, or an assault, or it could be a series of events– like a prolonged life-altering illness, an abusive situation, or even the act of being a caregiver. While the circumstances of trauma are wide and varied, the physical manifestations of the trauma can look quite similar.

It is typical to experience the above in the days and even weeks following the trauma, but if they continue, it’s time to reach out for help. Psychotherapy does work, sometimes therapy alone is enough and sometimes it is partnered with medications for the most effective treatment. There are a number of approaches therapists can use to help you process the feelings you’re experiencing, see the areas that the intrusive thoughts are holding you back, and help you move on to a fulfilling life once again. As a supplementary technique, music therapy has also shown to be very effective for helping those with PTSD.

If you or someone you know isn’t progressing in life after trauma, reach out for help. There is hope, and you can regain control of your life. For more information on PTSD and how we at The Wholeness Institute can help, visit https://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/ptsdtherapy.html

Managing News – Rather than Being Managed by News

Given all that is in the right now, it seems remiss to discuss something other than current big news topics. The world is full of happenings that are heart-wrenching and sometimes polarizing, and it can feel like a lot to take in. I have a couple of ideas on how to be a healthy news consumer if you find yourself losing sleep over our nation’s, or our world’s, issues.

Start by limiting your exposure. Such a task can be hard to do—popular media reports all the big, splashy headlines and many of them are horrifying to read. It can be tough to be faced with atrocities on a daily basis, yet you want to stay informed. What to do? Watch news coverage in the morning or mid-day and keep the evenings lighter, with programming that isn’t as heavy hitting.  Watch or read a maximum of an hour (ideally less) of news a day. If you’re viewing a televised news broadcast, once the highlights are over (normally about 15 minutes into the show) much of the content is repeated. Repetitious messages are what tend to turn into brain worms—things you can’t escape. Ever heard a chorus to a popular song and had it stuck in your head for days? That is a great example of how repetition stays with you. This replayed information, whether music, news related, or self-talk, has the same staying power.

Second, consider the sources where you obtain your news. The best place to get your information isn’t always your TV. Your smart phone or other electronic device is a powerful news agent. Use an app that displays the headlines, allowing you can pick and choose which articles to read instead of being offered a producer’s view on what is relevant. One of my favorite apps is called Flipboard. You’re able to pick a number of topics that you are interested in and the feed shows you headlines from each. Mix it up with some heavier hitting news, some entertainment, DIY, gardening, you get the idea—there’s something for everyone. If you choose to try an app, a quick sidenote—keep the “push” notifications turned off. Without that feature activated, you are able to open the app to view the news and allow yourself control of your exposure rather than being inundated by notifications. Another observation I hadn’t considered previously was brought to my attention by Katie Couric on her podcast. She said she still reads a paper version of a newspaper, citing that she gains knowledge on the editorial slant based on where articles are placed upon the page. On an e-reader, that layout is fluid and the editorial bias is not as easy to detect—another important factor in digesting these stories is understanding more about the reporter, the producer, and (more so) the news agency’s views or motivations for the story.

Another idea? Look for an area to take action. What in the news is troubling you most? Refugees? Take a peek at the article linked here, I love the insight it shares–both in how to help AND how to keep perspective on what your personal contribution means to the greater picture. If this touches you, then look for ways you can fit outreach into your life. One person I am aware of makes speeches, another works with her church’s refugee ministry, and another offers counseling time on a pro-bono basis. Is your hot button drinking straws and plastics in the ocean? Make a change, buy stainless steel straws, get yourself a reusable water bottle, and do your best to not buy single serving drinks. Remember, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ― Mother Teresa

If you are still experiencing looping thoughts, limit your ruminating about the news, talking about it, and worrying about it. Pray if that works for you, do some mindful meditation to center yourself, or simply distract yourself and put your mind on something else. Practice self-care, and allow it to distract you. This may be different for each of you—unwind with a bath, take in a movie, meet up with friends for dinner—whatever makes you feel whole again. It’s important in difficult times to really take charge of what is going into our minds. Be curious. Be considerate. Be open minded. Participate to the extent you are able in order to maintain a balanced life.   And then live in the other zones of your life.

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Hope in the Midst of Difficulty

~Beth Sikora, PhD

Love recognizes no barriers.  It jumps hurdles,

Leaps fences, penetrates walls to

Arrive at its destination full of hope.

~Maya Angelou

Someone suggested that I write about hope this week.  I must admit that as I sat down to think about it all I could think of was what the past week or two held:

  • Hurricane Harvey in Texas;
  • Hurricane Irma in Florida, Georgia, and other southeastern states as well as the islands are Barbuda, St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, and others;
  • The memory of 9/11/01;
  • The repeal of DACA and then the actions since hinged to the “wall” between the US and Mexico; and lastly;
  • Suicide prevention week that was from 9/10-9/16 this year;
  • The hacking of Equifax.

Is it any wonder the person suggested hope?  It can feel fleeting and difficult to hold onto, can’t it?

So what is hope, anyway?  Above I shared some pictures that I believe bring and remind us of hope, and perhaps the magic of a picture can speak to weary hearts today.

 

According to Scioli & Biller (2010) HOPE is a combination:

  • Mastery of feeling one can take care of a situation and/or get the help to do so PLUS
  • Attachment or the ability to connect with others PLUS
  • Survival or having the tools to get through tough times PLUS
  • Positive future or looking forward to something in the future PLUS
  • Spirituality of some kind rather than a sense of being rudderless in the sea PLUS
  • Non-spiritual which is the ability to reach out to what is all around and within you.

When we have all of this, we truly have HOPE.  As Emily Dickinson said:  “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.

 

Recommended Reading:  The One-Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie

You’ll Get Through This  by Max Lucado

The Book of Hope by Birgitta Jonsdottir

 

Reference:

Scioli, A. & Biller, H.B.  (2010).  The power of hope.  Deerfield Beach, FL:  Health Communications, Inc.

Living Life Within and In Community

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It’s been quite a start to 2017, hasn’t it? As a country we have waited, and now have, a new president in office; and this brings reactions for most, regardless of the person we voted for in November. The news and social media filled with stories, pictures, editorials, and comments from the public. I can’t look at my personal Facebook page without being inundated with posts pro and con. Whatever else 2017 brings we have a year of change, growth, and living life in the middle of it.

It’s living life in the middle that is what so many of us look for in guidance, support, ideas, and spiritual support.  I spent a couple of hours, as I do each Sunday morning, reading and listening to spiritual and psychological leaders. This is my weekly reset time. The burdens of the world, my life, my family’s lives, my clients, and my friends can weigh heavy at times, other times lightly, but I need reset time regardless. I came across an author of whom I’d not previously become acquainted, Frederick Buechner. One of the themes I understand his writing talks about is that of “listening to your life”. I might call it paying attention, or living life in the middle. Essentially, he is saying we have to be aware of what is happening in and around us each day, and by noting these things we learn about ourselves. He also says to listen within to our quiet places, to Spirit within, to memories, reactions, discernment, and guidance we are given.

As I pursued this thought today I also thought about hope. What Buechner was saying, in essence, is that there is always hope if we go within; by doing so we will grow, and that enables us to deal with our faults, life around us, and each other. An unusual source who was talking of hope this morning was Tom Brokaw in an interview with Maria Shriver. He reminded her, and me, that hope also requires action. So while Buechner reminded me to go within and listen, Brokaw reminded me that then I must determine what step I need to take, to choose to be active in my community, country, and world.

Finally, I listened to Henri Nouwen, who in his writing reminded me that both are intertwined. If I go within, in solitude, I strengthen my connection to community. Thus, in going to my center I can connect to others at their centers. This brings deeper connection, but also requires deeper respect, trust, and also requires action where called. An unusual thought came to me as I pondered this. I recalled a conversation with my father when he was 83 or 84. In trying to make a decision on a ballot he asked my thoughts, and shared he had also asked my brother’s opinion. He wasn’t going to follow either of us blindly, but he was attempting to discern what to choose. We had a thoughtful decision on the topic and I never did know what he decided. But his decision required that he go within, then reach out to community, and finally go back within to decide and then act.

I believe in tumultuous times we all need reminders of the basics. This applies to personal upheaval such as a new diagnosis, or death of a loved one, or a job not panning out as hoped; and it applies to business decisions, personal choices; as well it applies to community or national situations such as a police officer killed or lock down at a school due to violence. In the many situations and events we are confronted with weekly we can remain balanced as we go within, go to Spirit, and then reach out. There is nothing earth shaking or new above. But the truth, from writings years ago, discussions 10 years ago, and last week’s interview all came together to remind me to go back to the basics. In doing so I was reminded of my own belief, as Brokaw said, “there is always hope”.

(See Tom Brokaw’s interview, “I am hopeful” with Maria Shriver in The Sunday Paper).

What Brain Injury Looks like in Every Day Life

Allow me to introduce you to some people I’ve met in the past. First, please meet my 76-year old friend, Mimi. At 74, she was active in her church, minister of communion to those at home, running to meetings and luncheons, heading out to her exercise class followed by coffee and talk with the ladies. Now, she sits in her chair most days, can’t concentrate long enough to read, so she pages through magazines occasionally and frequently tells the same story over and over—or forgets things completely.

I’d also like you to meet Jackie. A professional woman who used to run her own business, hire and fire, as well as take care of a family and participate in many recreational activities. Today she struggles to organize her day, has mood swings and sleeping problems that tire her out, and rather than the 20 hour day with 4 hours of sleep it is 4 hours activity and 20 hours of rest.

Finally, let me introduce you to James, who 3 years ago, was top salesman in his region. Running, going, stretching to meet those demands as well as be dad and hubby. Then, suddenly, the phone was terrifying and the thought of leaving the house too much.

What happened? And, what’s the big deal, right? I’ve just described plain old, ordinary garden-variety Alzheimer’s and Depression right? It’s not as easy as that.

We are learning so much more about the brain. When I began in this field over 20 years ago we would have treated these from the paradigm of mental illness and taken it no further. Today, research has shown us that the brain, that gelatin-like mass under our skull, does so much more, and much more precisely than we’d ever imagined. Thus the condition of the brain itself, the way it sends messages, how blood and oxygen flow through it, and the way in which it may have been jolted in the past and impacted the present, all are considerations in the condition of someone, all extremely important.

Have you ever worked on a computer that is DOS based, not Microsoft Windows, or Apple iOS based? If you have and attempted to run a program that is Windows based on it you’ll know that you must have the right software for the program running your computer. If it’s on a Windows platform you must have Windows software, etc. Or have you tried to load a program for which your computer doesn’t have enough space? Or even better, attempted to retrieve information from a corrupted disc? Brought back your worst nightmare at the computer, huh? Well, this is like our brain.

The hardware is the structure of the brain and the protective skull that covers it. The software consists of all the electrical impulses, the neurotransmitters, the thousands of ways in which the brain communicates to allow us to move our right hand when we want to, or know which is left, or figure out a puzzle, or allows us to be appropriately angry or sad without feeling out of control. There is nothing that we do, literally nothing, that doesn’t come in some way from the functioning of our brain.

So that’s new? Haven’t we always known this? Well, not so much. We used to think it took a massive head injury that resulted in surgery and/or coma to cause difficulties later. Thus after an accident when taken to the emergency room if you could walk, your eyes reacted to light, and you sounded like you knew who you were then you were sent home deemed “shaken up but fine”. No one paid attention or related the fact that another woman I know couldn’t organize her work space, was teary for months and months, became very depressed, couldn’t remember things, and had become extremely irritable after an auto accident. Well guess what? When she was rear-ended by a semi-truck going 55 miles an hour and walked away from a totaled vehicle–she wasn’t fine. Her brain had been jolted and, think of a Jell-O mold here, had sloshed back and forth against her skull, causing trauma to the structure of the brain that can’t be seen on X-rays, CT, or sometimes even MRI. But can be seen in neuropsychological testing that allowed her to finally realize she isn’t crazy, she’s lost function in her frontal lobe that controls her organization as well as to her temporal region that controls memory. And what is more important is that all the psychotherapy in the world will not correct this. She needs specific tools to overcome the deficits and make life easier. She also needs time for her brain to heal. And the understanding that it isn’t her fault, it isn’t a moral defect, it is an injury. Thankfully, in her case, after 2 years she regained most of her abilities but still deals with difficulty in organizing and planning and has to work much harder at it than she ever did.

So, let’s go back to the individuals you met earlier. First, back to Mimi, our 76-year old with “Alzheimer’s”. The doctors for a year and a half said it was just “aging” when she complained of not remembering everything. Possibly true. And then there was a surgery with aftercare mismanaged by the surgeon and a cardiologist, a physician, and mental health provider who all deemed her depressed. Eventually, 6 months later she was diagnosed and treated for the pulmonary embolisms that were impacting her ability to breathe and eventually her heart so that very little oxygen was getting through her body. Now, we have a woman who has had mood problems in the past, but her memory, moodiness, ability to initiate and concentration are all poor. Why? The brain needs oxygen which it didn’t get it and these damaged pieces can never be regained. So, Alzheimer’s? Likely not from the brain scans and MRI’s already done. Oxygen deprivation to her brain, highly likely. Reversible? No. In her case she’s not gotten worse, fortunately with oxygen flow restored, her symptoms stabilized and with help from her family she is able to live with her husband well.

Remember Jackie? The previously successful “superwoman”? She had hit her head numerous times throughout life in sports injuries and domestic violence. She did okay, had some problems, but managed. But then came a sports injury that left her significantly impaired for a few days and gradually her overall functioning reduced and she needed more and more support from staff. Eventually the coping became too much, her mood took a huge dive, and her ability to work became compromised. Just depression? No. Just a personality disorder? No. Significant damage to temporal and frontal lobes, some parietal dysfunction, and both her hardware and software have been impaired.

Finally, James, no major head injury. But he has a genetic background of bipolar and major depression. The software is corrupted, and the stress of managing on a corrupted software program became too much. Much as your computer starts freezing when a patch or some other fix is needed, he also froze. And it’s been a long way back to speed with medication and life management changes and dealing with pain in his emotional past. Not just depression, but bipolar disorder.

We can’t be too careful when it comes to evaluating ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients in terms of hardware and software deficiencies. The 76-year old woman had family members who kept asking questions, and asking for new doctors, and pushing hospital staff to reconsider what they found to be obvious. Eventually the answer was found, but not before the damage was relatively severe. We must be proactive in evaluating people and not just settle for the easiest, the quickest, and the least difficult explanation when the “fixes” for these diagnoses are not helpful. We must demand our health providers keep looking and search for the answers. And you deserve to understand your brain and your loved one’s brains. It may never happen to you or a loved one, but we don’t know what we’ll be given to deal with, do we? As Mrs. Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates…You never know what you’re gonna get”. If you are interested in learning more, any of the following books are great references and fairly easy reads on the basics of the brain. Then you too, can advocate for someone — or perhaps for yourself.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised) by Dr. Daniel Amen

CDC Website for Sports and Children – Heads Up Program at http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/index.html