Living Life In A Different Way

January 17, 2010 by  
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Why is it that only in a crisis do we realize the value of life?  Why is it only then we know what is important and we become our best selves?

Reading, watching and talking about Haiti I see and feel the devastation but I also recognize the compassion of strangers coming together in solidarity to help.

I’m no Pollyanna and know there a number of individuals that take advantage of disasters by looting or setting up fake charities to collect money from the well intentioned.  But I’m not talking about those people because they are the minority.  I’m talking about the millions of people that want to help and are helping.

I believe when Barack Obama, Clinton and George Bush stood together at the White House, asking their fellow citizens to join together in benevolence and kindness they meant that.  Committing to assist is a transformational act.

I’m sure many of the politicians, doctors, journalists and others who are now on the ground in Haiti are not thinking about their personal finance, or fame or anything else.  I believe most of them are in high gear to help, and are thankful not to be a victim in this catastrophe.

Now, anyone who has gone through any type of loss knows that life’s value system changes after a tragedy. But unfortunately some of the changes loose steam as life goes on.

At some point we knew what is important; love, health, friendship, laughter, but somehow the struggles of life start to take a toll and we start to forget.

Why can’t we live life remembering that every day counts and that love has to be tended to and cared for?

All of us who don’t live in  poverty, and therefore have food to eat and a bed to sleep in, spend a lot of our time thinking how to climb up the social and economic ladder often at the cost of relationships and simple contentment.

How many hours do we spend working or in front of a computer?  How many hours do we spend with ourselves and others?  When was the last time we asked ourselves what can I do for you today?  Or sat quietly enjoying the weather, a good meal, or good conversation?

We are always in a hurry and multitasking.  We drive and put make up on at the same time.  We dine and check our email.  We shop and talk on the cell phone.

Are we ever quiet so we can check in with ourselves?  How often do we even remember such basic things as taking deep breaths?

The world is moving fast and unless we make a concerted effort to be in touch with ourselves, others and the world, we are just like chickens running around with our heads cut off.

I have a hunch all the people in Haiti when they come back, they will spend time with their families and friends and appreciate them in a renewed way.  They will be inspired by a smile and inclined to simple pleasures.  But I also have a hunch that in time that will lessen and some of the profound feelings they are experiencing now will also be lessened.  So what’s the solution?

I heard of a course that emphasizes living one’s life as if we only had a year to live.  Truly having that thought would really put life in perspective on a daily basis.  Who would want to engage in road rage when we had a limited time to live?  Who would want to be angry at tech support in India when time was limited?

But who would want to spend quality time with their pets, friends, and family?  I think most everyone.

To quote a cliché, life is precious, even with all the difficulties and the unavoidable pain that we all have to go through, but if we slow down for the small gifts we are given on a daily basis life can be also beautiful.

I propose remembering with more frequency what matters and what doesn’t and if we can do that I’m going out on a limb and affirming that life will be more satisfying.

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Mental Health Problems And Mind-Body Wellness

January 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured

Mental health problems are similar to other health problems: some can be prevented, others will go away on their own with home treatment, and some need professional attention.
Mental Self-Care
Many mental health problems begin when physical stress (such as an illness or injury) or emotional stress (such as the loss of a loved one) triggers chemical changes in your brain. The goal of treatment for mental health problems—including self-care and professional treatment—is to reduce stress and restore the normal chemical processes in your brain.

Seeking professional help

In general, it is a good idea to seek professional help for a mental health problem when:

  • A symptom does not get better on its own.
  • A symptom becomes severe or disruptive.
  • A symptom becomes a continuous or permanent pattern of behavior and does not respond to self-care.
  • Symptoms become numerous, affect all areas of your life, and do not respond to self-care or help from family or friends.
  • You are thinking about hurting yourself or someone else.

There is a wide range of professional and community resources to choose from for mental health problems.

Mind-Body Wellness

The mind-body connection

Medical science is making remarkable discoveries about the relationship between your state of mind and your mental and physical health. Researchers have found that one function of the brain is to produce substances that can improve your health. Your brain can create endorphins, which are natural painkillers; gamma globulin for fortifying your immune system; and interferon for combating infections, viruses, and even cancer. Your brain can combine these and other substances into a vast number of tailor-made prescriptions for whatever ails you.

The substances that your brain produces depend in part on your thoughts, feelings, and expectations. If your attitude about an illness (or life in general) is negative and you don’t have expectations that your condition will get better, your brain may not produce enough of the substances your body needs to heal. On the other hand, if your attitude and expectations are more positive, your brain is likely to produce sufficient amounts of the substances that will boost your body’s healing power.

Your physical health also has an impact on your brain’s ability to produce substances that affect your mental well-being. An illness or injury that causes long-term physical stress can lead to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances may lead to depression and other mental health problems.

Positive Thinking
People with positive attitudes generally enjoy life more, but are they any healthier? The answer is often “yes.” Optimism is a resource for healing. Optimists are more likely to overcome pain and adversity in their efforts to improve their medical treatment outcomes. For example, optimistic coronary bypass patients generally recover more quickly and have fewer complications after surgery than do patients who are less hopeful.1, 2

Your body responds to your thoughts, emotions, and actions. In addition to staying fit, eating right, and managing stress, you can use the following three strategies to help maintain your health:

1. Create positive expectations for health and healing.

Mental and emotional expectations can influence medical outcomes. The effectiveness of any medical treatment depends in part on how useful you expect it to be. The “placebo effect” proves this. A placebo is a drug or treatment that provides no medical benefit except for the patient’s belief that it will help. Many patients who receive placebos report satisfactory relief from their medical problem, even though they received no actual medicine.

Changing your expectations from negative to positive may enhance your physical health. Here’s how to make the change:

  • Stop all negative self-talk. Make positive statements that promote your recovery.
  • Don’t feel guilty. There is no value in feeling guilty about health problems. While there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk for health problems and improve your chances of recovery, some illnesses may develop and persist no matter what you do. Some things just are. Do the best you can.

2. Open yourself to humor, friendship, and love.

Positive emotions boost your health. Fortunately, almost anything that makes you feel good about yourself helps you stay healthy.

  • Laugh. A little humor makes life richer and healthier. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain, and speeds healing. Keep an emergency laughter kit that contains funny videotapes, jokes, cartoons, and photographs. Put it with your first-aid supplies and keep it well stocked.
  • Seek out friends. Friendships are vital to good health. Close social ties help you recover more quickly from illness and reduce your risk of developing diseases ranging from arthritis to depression.
  • Volunteer. People who volunteer live longer and enjoy life more than those who do not volunteer. By helping others, we help ourselves.
  • Plant a plant and pet a pet. Plants and pets can be highly therapeutic. When you stroke an animal, your blood pressure goes down and your heart rate slows. Animals and plants help us feel needed.
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The Second Decade

December 31, 2009 by  
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We are beginning the second decade of the 21st century. Those that want to, may argue with me, but we’ve had 10 years that started with 20 and 2010 is the 11th.

I was running through an issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine a couple of weeks ago with short, beautiful written obits about the well-known people we lost during 2009. One of them was Ted Kennedy.

Probably, because of my age, I have been fascinated by the Kennedy family for most of my life, as have many others. When Ted’s memoir was published in 2009, I was quick to buy and read it.

This isn’t a book review and it isn’t a rehash of the tabloid stories that punctuated too much of his life. And, although the primary cause of his legislative life, to secure adequate health care to all Americans, seems to have enough traction to become a reality, this isn’t about his extraordinary effectiveness as a legislator.

What this is about, is the content of the memoir that was devoted to his relationship with his family. I believe that even were he to have been completely revealing about every facet of his personal life, he could not have informed me more about the truth of his life and the lessons it teaches, than the information about his relationship with his family.

Ted had eight siblings and as is well-known, a bushel of nieces, nephews, and children. He also had a father who lived into his 90’s and a mother who lived past 100.

The family base in Hyannis port, Mass was the location of most of the personal family film the public is familiar with. It was there that the family gathered and in time of disaster, as well as joy. For decades, the family came home to Joe and Rose, Ted’s mother and father, whenever there was something to share. It was there they learned to lean upon each other and to share and enjoy each others successes as well as to mourn their common or individual losses.

Ted’s memoirs bring us back time and time again to the family gatherings where decisions were made, where character and morals and ethics were shaped, where no one was ever alone.

I don’t have eight siblings or parents that lived to triple figures. Most of us don’t. Some of us aren’t even lucky enough to have families that share our life histories. But all of us could very well have a chance to spend some time building relationships with people we can rely on for support, if we are willing to reply in kind. Families come in all sizes and shapes and don’t have to be connected by blood.

I’m going to spend the second decade of this century, if I am lucky enough to survive it, building up this extended family. I’m going to make myself open to people I admire and let them know I am here to serve if they need me. I am going to learn to trust some friends so I can unburden myself of some of the things I have kept locked up inside my head and my heart.

I think I’m going to start by making some phone calls.

I just had a mental picture of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “Some Enchanted Evening” from their wonderful show South Pacific, now enjoying a very successful revival in New York. There is the phrase in the song which goes “you will see a stranger, across a crowded room.” How often, in the past few years I have seen an old friend across a crowded room and have waved. I think of how often one of us has stuck a pinkie near the mouth and the thumb near the ear in the now familiar “call me” sign, and how many times one of us has nodded yes and never called.

It’s in this spirit that I wish you all a Happy New Year, by letting you know that if the phone rings, it might just be me.

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Friendship

September 29, 2009 by  
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One of my oldest and closest friends has just spent a week with me.  A film I co-wrote and produced had its premiere on September 24th and my friend flew from Miami, where he now lives, to be with me.

As many of you know, my husband passed away last year and my family lives in Brazil and Italy.  So my friend wanted to make sure someone close to my heart, would be accompanying me to the event.  Of course he also wanted to experience a film premiere but more than anything he wanted to be there for me.

We have known each other since I was sixteen and he eighteen.  We have stayed in touch when I went to live in NY and him in Brussels.  And when I got married and he moved to Paris, when I moved to Los Angeles and him back to Brazil, and when he moved to Miami and I became a widow.

In the week he spent with me I made space for him in my life.  We went to the theatre, to a film studio, to dinner, to Santa Barbara and we talked and laughed.  He carried my purse at the film premiere and he took photos of me.  He brought the heavy water bottle left outside my house by the water company and he came with me while I looked into a possible new car.

When the morning of his leaving came, I was sad and I told him so.  He replied that he understood.  That I have now grown accustomed to taking care of everything on my own but having him around made me start to relax in knowing that there was someone else to share things with.  Then we told one another that no matter what happened in our lives we would continue to be there for each other. We then hugged and kissed.

Friendship goes through many phases in a lifetime but friends chose to be in your life and they are there when you need to share a laugh or a tear.

In this world of massive communication where we are bombarded on a daily basis with information and requests for decisions, it is easy to let go of friends.  What a mistake that would be!  Good friends are for life.  They are a record of who we are and where we’ve been.  And there is nothing lovelier than sharing a laugh with a friend reminiscing over things that have happened long ago.

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

The wild-rose briar is sweet in the spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He may still leave thy garland green.

By Emily Bronte 30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848 was an English novelist and poet, best remembered for her only novel Wuthering Heights, a classic of English literature.

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Will Everything Be Okay?

August 24, 2009 by  
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I have a lot of anger inside of me.  I have some ideas of how and why I’ve ended up with all this anger but that’s for another post.  Notice I’m not saying I’m an angry person but saying I have a lot of anger inside.  The difference is that my anger is not present in my life every day.  It’s like a caged animal just waiting to bounce out and when that happens it’s bloody.  I have been working on managing my anger for a long time and it is much better.  Maybe instead of being a jaguar it is now a snake.  The symbolism might not make sense to you but just believe it has gotten better.

My husband got scared of my anger a few times.  Last Saturday a very close friend of my his asked me to babysit for his one month old baby.  Not a big deal except that I had not really heard from this particular friend from October 08 through August 15th 09, when he came over for the first anniversary of my husband’s passing. 

I said “yes” as I always think if we can help a friend why not?  But then the anger started to come up.  Why would I be giving my Saturday to a man who didn’t bother to ask how I was for almost a year?  A man who said he considered my husband a brother.  But as I had said yes I followed through.  It turns out it was a beautiful time.  I don’t really know why this friend didn’t contact me for all this time but I have a hunch I will find out sooner rather than later.  I also know, while not very friendly of him not to have been there for me, he must have had things happen in his personal and business life and that he loved my husband and cares about me.  The point is he was really nice and spending a couple of hours with the baby was magical.

After feeding, changing the diapers the baby finally fell asleep laying on my chest.  She wanted my warmth to feel safe and connected and I welcomed it as it also made me feel connected.

Sunday night, my dog curled up with me.  That’s very unusual for him as his ritual is: licking me good night and then going to sleep at the bottom of the bed.  But last night he curled up with me.  I could feel his body heat and I’m sure he could feel mine and it was soothing.

When my husband was alive I used to ask him every night if everything was going to be okay.  I actually asked him that all the way to his last day when he was too frail to make everything okay even if he wanted to but he answered “yes” that everything was going to be okay.  When I was seeing a therapist she asked me why I would ask a question that I knew the only true answer would be “I don’t know.”  I couldn’t really answer her then but now that I think about it my answer would be that what I really wanted Chris and I to know was that we were together no matter what.  Of course neither he nor I could guarantee the outcome of anything but we could let each other know that we were there for each other and that made everything okay.

Chris left me with his immense love for me and his love lives within me and it warms me up. With loosing him I have also lost a lot of my anger.  I know it’s a strange thing to say as most people that have not gone through I huge loss would image adding more anger not loosing some.  But the truth is when life presents itself in its rawest form, there is no space for anger and as corny as it may sounds I have to say there is only space for love.

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Two Men In A Hospital Room

July 31, 2009 by  
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Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. 

One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. 

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. 

The men talked for hours on end.  They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation..

Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene. 

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man could not hear the band – he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed. 

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. 

She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. 

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. 

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.  He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed. 

It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.  She said, ‘Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.’ 

Epilogue: 

There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations.  So if you haven’t tried it, go out today and help someone.

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