Irony of the Misread Quote

Strolling by my colleague’s office door, I spotted her weekly quote: “A good marriage is the union of two ‘forgivers'”, which I misread as “foreigners.”  I chuckled to myself, thinking, “What an odd quote!” Working as a clinical social worker at the VA Clinic,  I have encountered some  unusual situations.  One particularly amusing encounter I had was with Jim,  a  defeated veteran, who struggled for two years to get his wife back, after she was deported to Mexico.  I remembered listening to Jim rave about his Mexican wife, who spoke no English.  He spoke no Spanish.   After working through  the  legal department to return his wife to USA,  he gleefully phoned one day, to tell me he had succeeded. Unexpectedly, one day, he brought her into my office to meet me.  Beaming up at her husky, balding husband, she silently held his hand. Neither spoke.  I was stunned, but pleased to see their nonverbal communication. So,  my misread quote is true:  ” A good marriage is the union of two foreigners.”

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Grief and PTSD

Some aspects of grief are similar to coping with any trauma issue. If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, from a past trauma, or any past event, writing could help.   In Glenn Schiraldi’s book,  “The Post- traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook”, he speaks of  “confiding concealed wounds” by writing trauma memories .  Another author, Pennebaker, cites the value of writing our memories:  

1) ”Language completes our conscious experience.”  

2) ”Because writing is more detailed than talking, it promotes more detailed thought.” 

A veteran, with whom I  was working on trauma issues, came in to group therapy one day, citing his mood as happy and  joyful, feelings  he had not felt in a long time.  When asked how it was that his depression has left him, he shared with group how he had written down a long-troubling trauma event.  He said he then planned a trip to the beach, and went to an island, that had a large mailbox, where those wanting to put past events behind them, could insert their written account in the mail box. He decided to put his written trauma in the mailbox, and afterwards, felt a sense of relief, and a “letting go, “of guilt and depression, connected with the traumatic event. Feeling enthused about the experience,  he encouraged others in group to do the same. 

This symbolic event for “putting away his trauma” worked for him. Of course, written trauma could be shared with a therapist, or someone else,  or used in other ways to help one put closure on the event.   Even though many feel a troubling past is best left alone, some must risk talking, or writing, about it, to gain insight into the event, and some attempt at resolution.  “Giving sorrow words,”   as Shakespeare, said,  helps us cope with grief.

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Anxiety, Chronically Nice, and Conflict in Relationships

Is it possible to have a purposeful, meaningful relationship when we have different values, personalities, and desires? Conflict inevitably arises, even in good relationships. How do you be true to yourself and stay in a harmonious relationship?

Dr. Phil, relationship guru and psychologist, says, “We all need to be flexible and to compromise, but you’ve got to be true to your core traits and characteristics,” what he calls your “authentic self.”

Having just read Rapson and English’s book,” Anxious to Please,”  I was intrigued by how they describe a chronically nice person, that is, one who has the enduring effects of an overanxious attachment. The chronically nice person,troubled by anxiety, needs 7 practices, designed to help decrease anxiety in the relationship. “Creative conflict” enables the chronically nice person to be able to take care of themselves within the relationship. It may become somewhat of a roller coaster emotionally, being able to meet one’s own needs and that of the partner. Basic tenants of working though conflict and lowering anxiety are truth, trust, and respect for one another. Frustrations need to be expressed, but in the context of respect and love for the partner.
I particularly liked one recommended practice, ” awareness,”  which the authors describe as “the practice of bringing sustained attention to thought, emotion, body, and behavior.” Awareness is a challenge in our society, due to distractions, which keep us from focusing on our needs and those of our partner.
In addition, if one is to develop an enduring, satisfying relationship, acceptance is key. There is no perfect marriage or relationship. We have to honor and expect conflict, and listen and respond with love. Be positive in response to one another. Some even pray before a conflict discussion.

As written in Jude verse 21-23, keep yourself in the love of God, and have mercy on others. Relationships can be challenging, but well worth the effort, for improving your life and the life of your loved one.

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Minimize Your Anxiety Vulnerability With Planning

Joe breathes a sigh of relief , describing how calm he feels, now that the stress of the holidays is over, and he prepares  for the New Year.  He says,  “I stayed away from alcohol, and avoided going to bars.  I spent time with my family and avoided confrontations with my x-wife, over the children.  I want 2012 to be a better year for me. I want to be able to keep my anxiety under control.”

What  factors can reduce your vulnerability to anxiety?  I think of the two B’s, “body “ and “brain,” and proper planning to take care of each.

Taking care of the body might mean going to the gym, starting a walking program, following a healthy diet, or taking a yoga class.  Taking care of the brain might mean learning a new skill, reading a book, or joining a special interest group.  By neglecting the body and brain, stress can build without you being consciously aware of it, until you become overwhelmed with anxiety.

Many factors increase your vulnerability to anxiety:  a poor diet, not getting enough sleep, spending time with anxiety-ridden people,  interpersonal conflict at work or home,  and multitasking.  As more and more demands are placed on you, it is important to be able to establish priorities for your life.

What factors have made you more vulnerable for stress? List them and begin to deal with them one by one.  Decide what factors you can eliminate and which you cannot.  When you eliminate factors, be careful not to eliminate being around people or situations that are difficult, if this stress is something you need to deal with.  For example, you don’t want to avoid family meals, if you are on a diet. You want to avoid a poor diet,  not family.

Plan ahead. Reduce your vulnerability to anxiety.  Know your stressors . Take care of your body and brain.  If you have a setback, identify the factor that increased your vulnerability and decide how to address the stress.

Write me, and let me know how  using these techniques works for you.

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Positive messages:Osteen and Peale Comparison

A while back, I read Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now”, published in 2004. Currently I’m reading Norman Vincent Peale’s “Stay Alive All Your Life” published in 1957. Peale had appeal to great audiences as Osteen does now; both preached similar concepts, but differ on the concept of prosperity.

Peale wrote 50 years earlier than Osteen and focused on spiritual prosperity.  A person has a fulfilling life through spiritual growth. He did not preach a correlation between spiritual growth and material prosperity. In contrast, Osteen implies developing spiritually leads to material prosperity; he says material and spiritual prosperity usually occur together.

Both Peale and Osteen give hope to those seeking inspiration and encouragement, offering practical ways of applying Biblical principles to everyday life.

Osteen, a Houston televangelist, attracts millions with his “name it–claim it” theology, reaching many who never enter a local church.
He preaches seven principles for a prosperous spirit-filled life:

  1. Enlarge your vision.
  2. Develop a healthy self-image,
  3. Discover the power of your thoughts and words.
  4. Let go of the past.
  5. Find strength through adversity.
  6. Live to give.
  7. Choose to be happy.

He says you will be greatly rewarded by following these principles. By mixing Biblical preaching with his own personal experiences, he is convincing and inspiring.

Peale, a popular world-renowned preacher in his day, also mixes Biblical scripture with his popular concept of positive thinking. His principles for positive thinking are similar to Joel Osteen’s principles:

  1. Use the magical power of belief.
  2. Learn from your mistakes.
  3. Put positive thinking into action.
  4. Use enthusiasm to work wonders.
  5. Attain self-confidence.
  6. Move beyond pain and suffering.
  7. Lift depression and live vitally.

Peale’s seven principles of positive thinking and Osteen’s seven principals both have biblical foundations but have different approaches and attractions to their followers.

Osteen leads readers to think God wants them to prosper materially; he uses examples such as an elegant mansion or maybe a large salary. He leads a person to think God is a granter of earthly, materialistic, wishes. Osteen does promote additional giving outside his church and overcoming adversity.

Peale gives examples of poor, often grief-stricken, people that followed his principles and achieved their life goals. By changing their beliefs, people develop a dependence on God. He emphasizes that successful life does not always lead to material success. Peale says, “The motivation for spiritual practice is not a desire to get ahead or make money.”(“Stay Alive All Your Life“). He says success comes with a positive attitude, combined with hard work, and a strong belief in God.

Both men have their followers and their critics. Both preachers have reached millions of hurting people, with messages of atonement and empowerment through God. It remains to be seen their impact on future generations.



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Strolling Through The Woods Connects Me With Nature

     As I lace up my tennis shoes to complete my daily stroll around the lake, I think of my New Years’ Resolution to continue to make this trek a daily, healthy habit. As I grab my hand weights, I quickly exit the door, and begin my power walk. My legs gain speed down a hill, as I focus on the scenery around me.

     I feel a quiet reverie walking the second lap around the lake. With the repetitive motion of my shoes crunching leaves underfoot, and the pull of the three-pound weights on my hands, arms, and shoulders, I notice the quiet calm of the lake. I realize this  stroll  isn’t a chore, but a pleasure. As I continue on my path, I hear the drone of planes flying overhead, the chirping of birds, and the distant hum of cars on the highway. I see the sun setting through the barren trees. I am slightly startled by a squirrel rustling through the wooded area beside my path. As I complete by third lap around the lake, I begin to prespire through my jog suit, in the unusual 60 degree weather. I see my neighbor pushing a wheelbarrow through her yard, as I pass, and hear her say, “It’s supposed to get colder tomorrow.” I acknowlege her comment, without stopping.

     Although I’ve taken this route more times than I can count, there is always something new or different to see.  A sameness about the scene makes me realize some things in life rarely change. Enjoying this simple stroll through the woods, I feel connected with nature. I feel  alone but connected with the universe. Grateful for the opportunity to find a quiet place to relax, I  exercise in a natural enviornment. For just for a short while, I feel like Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond. As I enter the house, and pull off my shoes, I am back to the reality of life.

     Ending today’s stroll, I decide my New Years’ resolution is not a chore but a  joy.

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My 2012 Resolutions

Today, picking up the newspaper, I read about the shaky economy, riots in Syria, and unrest in other parts of the world. At the bottom of the front page, I spotted an article about New Year’s Resolutions, and how to keep them. Don Worthington, in his New Year’s Resolutions article in The Herald, suggested four techniques:

1) Know not only what you want but why you want it.
2) Plan how you will accomplish it.
3) Prepare for obstacles.
4) Seek inspiration when you get derailed.
5) Track your progress.

He asked for New Year’s Resolutions from readers. I emailed him my resolutions.

I have four resolutions, the first two about my attitude and the second two about my habits:

1) Focus on what I have control over.
2) Accept others as they are.
3) Keep a healthy diet and daily exercise.
4) Keep a daily journal to hold myself accountable to the first three resolutions.

In spite of so much negativity, chaos, and gloomy forecasts, I believe resolutions give us hope. Even though we can’t change much of what we read about and experience, we can do our part to make ourselves responsible for our actions. We can believe the next year will be better than the last and make an effort to prove it. I will do my part to make 2012 a great year!

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What Does The Vietnam War Bring To Mind?

What does the Vietnam War bring to mind? As a student at an all-female college,  I remember  peace signs, mini-skirts, bra-less coeds, t-shirts, jeans, and watching the war on television.  With three college-age brothers exempt from service,  I wasn’t personally affected. The war was an ocean away, and it didn’t seem real.

Forty years later, I am facilitating a Vietnam veterans group at a VA Clinic. Laughter turns to seriousness when we talk about their Vietnam War remembrances.  Comments include firefights, monsoon, wet feet in wet boots for days or weeks; no showers, jungle warfare; spiders; ants; snakes; leeches; wading through rice paddies; seeing dead bodies; seeing dead body parts; body bags; seeing buddies blown up next to them;  rocket attacks; letters from home; Dear John letters.

What are the consequences of serving in combat in Vietnam? The veterans remember coming back more mature, but “different.”  The sights, smells, tastes, and feelings of Vietnam are with them every day.  They say they went to Vietnam as boys and came back as men, but at a cost. Wartime  to peace was a difficult adjustment for many of them, especially those who received a rude awakening, landing in San Francisco and other ports. Being called baby-killers and not being able to wear their uniforms upon landing in the States will never be forgotten.  Many got into fights with civilians upon landing in the States, over name-calling from civilians.  The memories have stuck with them through the years. As one veteran said,” I have never gotten on a plane since. It was a plane that dropped me off in the middle of a jungle. “

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My Starbucks Habit

     After my car rolls into the Starbucks parking lot, I quickly park, and stroll into the cold early morning air to the entrance. Entering the small white cottage, I am greeted with the fresh aroma of brewed coffee. I slide past a few young office workers sitting at small wooden tables, to the counter.

     April, the attractive young cashier, looks up and says, “Betty, I didn’t know you had legs.” I replied, “It was a long drive-in line, so I thought I’d order inside.” Without another comment, she placed my usual tall coffee and cup of hot water on the counter. I thank her, placing my $1.64 in her hand. I feel the warmth of the recycled paper cups, with the cardboard sleeves, in my hands. Quickly exiting the store, I walk back to my car, thinking about what I read in the newspaper recently, that a cup or two of coffee a day keeps women from getting depression. It’s nice to have an endorsement for coffee drinking for a change. Climbing into my RAV 4, I set the steaming beverages in my cup holders.

     As I speed down I-77 toward the Rock Hill VA Clinic, I pick up the cup of coffee for a taste. The hot coffee warms my throat, and the slightly burned taste of the coffee awakens me. Maybe that article in the paper was right; I am already feeling my mood lift.





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Best Strategies When Coping With Anxious or Depressed Moods

What are some of the best strategies when trying to cope with anxious or depress moods?

     Think about it, often when you are anxious or depressed, you feel bad about yourself, becoming worried or afraid. You may not even do the things you normally enjoy. Sleep and appetite may go up or down. Sometimes headaches or muscle tension can result. If anxiety or depression is not severe, you might try these strategies:

1) List activities you enjoy. Pick the best two of those activities to do for that day. One lady I know started knitting and making jewelry, to cope with her anxious mood about medical problems. She enjoyed these hobbies in her younger years, and found them helpful as a distraction from medical problems.

2) Identify a subject or an activity you would like to know more about. Explore information on the subject, or take a class or course to learn more about it. Local colleges and technical schools offer short courses on those subjects in your interest. Many older people take computer courses and find a new way of communicating with loved ones. I know grandparents who now put themselves on Facebook to learn more about what family members are doing. 

3) Reward yourself when you have completed a project or activity that is a challenge for you. Go see a movie, watch a TV program, or take a brisk walk for reward, probably best not to eat though. Even getting rid of clutter or cleaning a room can be a challenge when you are anxious or depressed. Set a goal of working on it for an hour, or take on the challenge of a room at a time. Sometimes inviting others over can motivate you to complete projects. I know one lady who invested in hiring someone to help her get rid of clutter, and the result was a sense of accomplishment in reorganizing her house.

4) If you don’t want to do an activity alone, invite someone to participate with you. You may be more likely to exercise, if you have a friend to exercise with, or if you join a gym, to get encouragement from others. Walking with someone is a great way to exercise and develop a friendship at the same time.

5) Talking with a friend, family member, or counselor about your feelings is a great way of brainstorming ideas that may be helpful for you, in improving your mood. Just the act of verbalizing an idea can be uplifting. In support groups, members share with one another ideas that have helped them cope, and encourage one another in their distress.

6) Relaxation exercises can help to clear your mind, and help with anxiety. For some, it may be deep breathing, counting, or yoga. Some find fishing or playing games relaxing activities. Even a few stretches in the middle of the day, while you are working, can go a long way in reducing tension. Center yourself with some deep breathing, before facing a confrontation or difficult situation.

These are only a few ideas for coping with mood problems. You may find others more helpful. What strategies work for you?

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