The Mental Health Blog is still under construction.  In the meantime, the blog articles are listed below.
 
Eyes on the Prize (Reflection on the Pandemic and Keeping the Long View)
Parenting and Young Adults Mental Health
Young Adult Mental Health During the Pandemic
Dealing with Uncertainty During COVID
Self Care During the Holidays
The Journey to Wellness Has Changed over the Past 40 Years
Difficult Conversations
Winter Blues Part 1
 
Winter Blues Part 2
An Inclusive Community
What Should I Say?
Talking Politics
Power Point on Depression
 

Keeping The Long View  11-23-20

The cycles and duration of this pandemic have produced increasingly familiar feelings lately. It reminds me of my husband’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery back in 2003-04. We didn’t choose it, it rocked our world, and it seemed endless. At first, the terrifying unknown as we waited for the diagnosis. Our oncology team reminded us to keep the long view, the path would not be a walk in the park, but they would help get us through this difficult diagnosis and treatment. We chose to trust the experts.

I won’t sugarcoat it. The next nine months were brutal. Chemo is cumulative, so every 3rd Monday, he’d face another blast of ABVD (short for Adriamycin-Bleomycin-Vinblastine-Dacarbazine), which each had side effects and impacted our lives in significant ways. From mouth sores, to food tasting of metal, hair loss, blurred vision and seeing colors differently, to low white/red blood cell counts, fatigue, and so much more. Just when he began to feel somewhat recovered from chemo, we were reminded that radiation was next. The 22 radiation treatments caused hypothyroidism and fatigue but didn’t mess with blood sugar management quite as much (he’s Type 1 diabetic). We were exhausted, a bit shell-shocked, and our lives were upended. Throughout, our team of experts reminded us to keep our eyes on the prize—beating cancer.

For me, caring for my husband, trying to maintain a freelance writing business, encouraging our then 6-year old to be a kid, and trying to be a half-decent stepparent felt like a big load. The help of family, friends and neighbors was incredible. Tangible things they did—take our daughter fun places, bring meals on chemo Mondays, shovel snow—are memorable. Other support felt like a great big embrace— advice (how to tell a 6-year-old vs. a 16-year old that Dad had cancer), check ins to see what we needed (Ruth Circle), to prayers that made me feel less alone, when sharing my fears with my husband felt wrong.

It took a long time to reclaim our lives after cancer. Each little thing you reclaim is a big victory. Whether it’s a return to work, to a more normal routine, or to a sense that the worst may be behind you, it feels like you’re finally able to live again. Cautiously optimistic, guardedly, and with a new sense of gratitude.

Steering our way through the Coronavirus pandemic feels similar in many ways, except this time, it’s everyone. Our region has been a hotspot at times, making ordinary tasks–like getting groceries—complicated, stressful, and more work than before. Yet there are so many Americans waiting in food lines, I am reminded that I have no business complaining.  So, I park my frustration.

Eight months into this pandemic, many things like getting groceries have been solved. Talk of an effective vaccine is encouraging. Still, we worry about isolated elderly parents, face decisions about day-to-day risks, and the uncertainty of “how long?” can be crippling.  We’re grateful we’ve made it this far without getting sick. We’ve all lost a lot. Our sense of normalcy, our sense of financial or mental stability, our freedom to just gather with friends and family. The loss of ability to celebrate life’s joys or mourn the now 245,000 lives lost–grandparents, musicians, artists, service workers, doctors, nurses, first responders, pastors, friends, family. Yes, the holidays will be different. It will be a tough winter.

And yet, we have to march ahead, keeping that long view in sight. One day we will return to a new normal, with the pandemic behind us. Yes, we will be changed. We will reclaim every bit of our world that we choose to reclaim, and maybe let go of things we no longer want or need.

Just maybe, we will retain a new appreciation for little things, for science, medical professionals, and the joy of being with one another for life’s events, big and small. Each thing we get back will be so much bigger and better than before. Our resilience, adaptability, and creativity will help us in the meantime. Cut yourself some slack. Share kindness with others in the least expected ways and places. Keep your eye on the prize. We will get through this, six feet apart, but very much together.
 
 
Parenting and Young Adult’s Mental Health November 2020
 

How do you know if your young adult family member is experiencing a sense of disconnectedness, and what can you do?

When your child was two years old and they were hurt they would scream, and you would hold them and make the hurt go away.  As your child passed from one challenge to the next, the hurts also changed.  Now when they are young adults, how do we know if they are troubled or just trying to shake off a problem?  Even as teens they might say something with an angry tone or stomp up to their room; again, we have a pretty good idea that there is trouble.  Now, your child is a young adult, the environment has become much more scary – getting a job is more difficult than it has been in 12 years (great recession), visiting with friends has to be done with great care, going to college now means sitting in a room and rarely going out as even meals are delivered.  Even staying with one’s family can find the young adult wondering if they might infect their parents, grandparents or others. How is a young adult supposed to try to fly on their own?  The problems that our environment now presents all of us are real and coping with them is hard.  For the young adult, they may need your help to learn new ways of coping.

But how do you know when and how you should intervene?

There are ways of determining if you should coach your young adult or should be trying to connect them to someone who can give them new tools to cope with a bad situation.  If you’re in doubt, set up an appointment with a mental health professional so you can plan how to have the conversation you need.  Sometimes even you acting as an encouraging coach will need a coach to help you to develop and consider your options.  Once you have figured out how to approach this latest challenge as a parent, then you will be ready to take the next step

First, step is to observe

–    is your young adult sleeping too much – like back when they were teens – or too little?

  • Are they moody like when they were when they were younger, quick to anger or quick to be hurt or take offence?
  • Are they drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs?
  • Are they eating too much or not enough?
  • Have they lost interest in things or people that they were interested in before?

Next talk with them, not at them – hint – don’t ask any question that can be answered with a one-word answer, because you will get – “I am fine.”  And, never use the word ‘help.’ As soon as the word is heard, the conversation is over.  Pick a time when you can sit for a long time and wait for a conversation to develop.

Second, listen

  • Find out what they are thinking about – what seems to be their biggest worry
  • Find out what their plans are – do they have a plan, or are they going to wait for the pandemic to go away? Do they have idea about what they could focus on now and what they can do?
  • Find out what they are doing – even things like taking long walks, exercising, reaching out to friends can improve coping skills.
  • Listen to how they react to your questions – most likely, they are going to be afraid that you are going to demand something of them. Their likely already panicking as they don’t have a clue how to cope and this alone will embarrass them.  Sometimes pointing out when you were challenged and had difficulties how you stumbled around trying to find right answers can make a difference to how they react. 

Then you need to decide what you can do to be helpful. If you are lucky, one of the outcomes is going to be having the question fired back at you, ‘what do you think I should do?”   This is when you need to be ready with ideas (which could be shared the next day).

  • Some of your ideas may be to introduce new approaches. You would be surprised how many people don’t know how to learn about what’s going on in a field. Suggesting how to arrange for informational interviews, for example can be a new idea.
  • Another idea is to get them talking to someone who can bring them more information and ideas about how to cope. For some these are mental health professionals, for others they are other adults in their world – often people they have had a relationship with in the past and who they trust can provide a helpful insight.
  • It can also help to circle back every three or four days. Continue to look for and create opportunities to check in on both big and small things. Saying things like, I too am thinking about (exercising, eating better, watching less TV), but am having trouble getting going is an acknowledgement of change being hard.  We all need support and encouragement.  Some young adults are comforted to know that the conversation will continue and that you are both talking as adults.
 

Going from being a teenager to a young adult has always been difficult.  Almost nobody gets it right, many are fired from jobs, have jobs disappear in an economic downturn and have friends who are in deeper trouble than they are or seem to be just dancing along.  As teenagers they saw the adults around them being successful with, in their eyes, apparently, no effort or failures.  This impression is debilitating. Young adults often need to be reminded that what they are going through is hard and progress is uneven (at best) and that they have resources both within themselves, within their families, their communities and their church that can provide them with more tools.

You can still make a difference – by listening, considering, and inviting change.

Rich Long
 
Young Adult Mental Health During the Pandemic October 2020

 

Recently, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found increases in distress among young adults during the Covid-19 pandemic. During late June of this year, almost 75% of young adults ages 18-24 reported at least one significant symptom of a mental health problem such as problem drinking, anxiety, depression, sleep problems or disordered eating. Serious suicidal ideation in the previous 30 days were reported by persons in this age group much more often than other adults – *about 25%*. 

How do we understand this? Robyn Brickell, a noted social worker in our area, described it this way:

“We are facing an epidemic of loneliness. People are feeling alone, abandoned or rejected, depressed, anxious, and scared. Trauma – the experience of feeling danger that’s overwhelming without a way to feel safe – is happening.”

While Isolation is necessary for our physical health during a pandemic, it is toxic to our mental health.

Young adults have lost the ability and opportunity to build structures that once gave them reassurance, meaning and purpose.  Many young adults do not have a community of peers and mentors who go to class with them, graduate with them, work with them, party with them, date them, etc. They are also living in, or preparing to enter, an economy that deprives them of experiences they need to have hope for career security. For those with pre-existing ADHD, anxious/depressive temperaments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, etc., distress is not limited to one stressor, it can pervade their lives. 

Don’t be deceived by those who would say, “but young adults live online.” Online work and interaction are tools that can help with connectivity. They are almost all more about sharing knowledge then developing deeper emotions.   The fact is that the unique benefits of these tools do not totally compensate for the rest of the losses. It has been said, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Desperately hammering out connectivity leaves the same messy, unsatisfying, life that it always has.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that she sustained her mental health as a busy young adult and throughout her life because, “Each part of my life gave me respite from the other.”

Young adults are often cut off from the parts of their lives that provide respite.

Trauma indeed.

If you are a young adult who needs help or you are worried about one, reach out to Judith, Ben, Stuart, Dan Campbell (www.trinityarlington.org/mental-health-wellness)

 

Self Care During the Holidays December 9, 2015

“I suffered through Thanksgiving and now Christmas.”

If you have had this thought, you are not alone. This might be your first holiday season without a loved one or it might be your first Christmas with an exhausting new family member, or just feeling like you are missing out on something. It’s normal to feel you are carrying a burden during the holidays.

Wait, isn’t Christmas supposed to be the celebration of the redemption brought by the birth of our Savior?

We can’t fulfill God’s gift to us when we forget that we, too, are a part of God’s creation to be cared for like every other gift from God. Here are some ways to have a healthier and more blessed holiday season.

Don’t just do something …

It is natural to have normal stress reactions – higher heart rate, tight muscles, headaches, and irritability.  The key is to strive to become conscious of your own stress level.

Take a moment to breathe and pay attention to your body.

Consciously reduce the tension in your muscles and slow down your engine.

Consider whether the pressure you feel to make this season perfect for yourself and your family is self imposed.

Before you commit, even in your own mind, to one more thing, take stock of everything you already feel obligated to do. Will your holiday really be ruined if you don’t attend every event or give your children something just because they ask for it? You can say no.

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings – including sadness. This is a time to think of loved ones, living and passed. Missing them is a part of maintaining their legacy.

Don’t just sit there…

Elvis wasn’t making it up when he sang about having a “Blue Christmas.” Some amp up their activity level, others retreat into isolation and depression.  Find likeminded others rather than sinking into the spiral of negative thoughts that says, “Everyone is having fun but me.”

Begin with your Trinity family. Attend services, activities found in the e-news (Link here) and the Sunday Bulletin.  Say hello to others and stand in the middle of the room, you will find that there are others looking for your greeting.

Plan to attend one activity that is, simply, fun. It doesn’t have to be holiday related and it doesn’t have to be anything you’ve done before. Invite a friend if you like, but don’t be afraid to go alone. It could be a concert, a sing along, a movie, or a dance lesson. Consider what you enjoy but haven’t done recently because you haven’t had anyone to do it with. Do it anyway!

Create a new tradition of helping. Pitch in at the Mount Olivet Community Assistance Program on December 19th by emailing mtolivetca@gmail.com, deliver sandwiches to the families of Barrett Elementary School during the winter break, or introduce yourself to another of the many programs that serve others in our community during the holidays.

Reach out for more ideas. If you are stuck with the Holiday Blues, schedule time to speak to a friend, Pastor Judith, or a counselor in the community.

I believe that God never intended for us to suffer, whether from frenetic stress or debilitating loneliness, while celebrating the wonder of God’s gifts to us. God certainly doesn’t intend for us to suffer alone. We are blessed with each other. No strings attached.  Find your Comfort and Joy!

By Dan Campbell, LCSW

Member of the Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team

 

The journey to wellness has changed over the past forty years –  September 2019

I clearly recall from 40 years ago, my father’s response when I told him, that I was in therapy. He said that he had ‘failed as a father.’   What makes it all the more interesting is that he was a social worker and family therapist and he had responded to the idea of therapy as being only for people who failed.  Years later when I mentioned that response to a mental health professional, their response was, “wow, that’s really old school.”

A lot has changed in the mental health world, but not necessarily what we think about when contemplating getting our own getting help or trying to get someone we care about to take the next step.

One of the big things that I have seen change in forty years is how medication is integrated into treatment.  Years ago, many of the medications were given in much stronger doses. Today, most medications are given in much smaller doses and only increased as necessary to reach a therapeutic level.  Additionally, some drugs are now given with other medications to medicate side-effects.  

Many think medications will dull them to the surrounding world.  While this is sometimes happens, it is usually addressed by changing either the dosage or the medication.   And, it doesn’t have to be forever. For some medications, the effective range is three, six, or nine months.  And, some of this depends on if you, or I, decide to participate in therapy and life-style changes. 

Even therapy has changed.

What was therapy forty years ago is not what therapy is today.  Sure, seventy years ago our society learned about the subconscious with therapy focusing on events that traumatize a child. Therapy is a collaborative process in which the recipient is seen as a consumer and there are a number of approaches to choose from. It can focus on how each individual reacts when they have a sense of depression, panic, or other such feelings which overwhelm them.  The purpose being to learn how to mediate those reactions.

Yet, today, the popular culture is riddled with references to mental health activities as being for those whose character is weak or who are in search of a self-indulgent, naval-gazing luxury. The reality is that mental health problems are determined by so many factors that they require more than simply being a bit tougher with oneself.  Yes, there are parts of our world that impact how we think, feel, and react.  The stress of loneliness, difficult relationships, and other adversity can result in feelings of depression and helplessness.  To become healthy we must learn new ways to react to and interact with our environment. Medication is sometimes needed to give one the capacity to do so.

Still, we know that getting help for oneself, or for someone we care about is very hard to do.  Therapy and medications in 2019 are different from when my father said, “I have failed.”   Make sure that old ideas and concepts of mental health haven’t become a barrier for you.   If you are wondering how to find out more, ask a friend who has taken steps they have needed on their journey, pray about it, or stop in and see Judith, her door is always open. 

You are your own best steward of yourself who can make a difference.  There are many around you who are experiencing similar feelings, worries and concerns.   Don’t take this journey alone.

 Rich Long

September 2019

Difficult conversations March 2019

It is a common experience, one that is uncomfortable, one we try to avoid.  We have something to say, it is important and it is usually unwanted.  So we think about it, try to find the opportune time, and sometimes rehearse it.  And, the result is a mess.  So we learn to avoid it some more.  There is another way.

Having difficult conversations are a universal experience and one that most of us end up wondering why we even tried.   We say what we need to say and the other person gets mad, gets quiet, or simply walks away. 

In the late fall, the Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team conducted five sessions aimed at helping members understand a bit more about ‘difficult conversations.’  We provided time to focus on five different groups and one or two difficult conversations in each session.

We provided attendees with a short introduction using some core ideas.  The primary idea was that there are actually three conversations going on at once: the ‘what happened ‘conversation, the ‘feeling’ conversation, and the ‘Identity’ conversation.  In each part there are distinct elements.

 For the ‘What,’ we need to explore each other’s stories, which also has different dimensions.  These include trying to understand perceptions, interpretations, and values.  The next part looks at assumptions made, and understanding that there is a difference between intent and impact.   This is followed by looking at solving the problem, not who to blame as well as trying to figure out what went wrong, and exploring who made which contributions to the problem (including your own). 

The feelings part of the conversation has several elements as well.  Feelings are normal and everyone feels anger, the urge to cry, a sense of failure, and a need for other people.  Sometimes, we must remember in the conversation, that feelings are really what matter and are driving the content.

A bit more nuanced, is the challenge to identity.  Key to this conversation is not seeing an “all or nothing” outcome.  This sometimes comes with the rush of questioning oneself and their own competency, goodness, and worthiness of being loved.  In fact, during any of these conversations each of us has to be aware that they too can be making mistakes, have complex intentions and have contributed to the problem.

The sessions were a simple introduction to a complex and ongoing challenge of living and growing together.   In a separate post, we talk about how we applied these principles to conversations with five different ages of people: young children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, adults, and senior adults.

We invite you to listen to podcasts from the Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team and look at the other related posts including Difficult Conversations Checklist, Difficult Conversations Resources, and Difficult Conversations Across the Lifespan. And don’t be afraid to ask a question of any member of the Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team.

Finally, consider several of the concepts we have presented when you approach someone you work with, live with, love.  Be aware that when you raise a topic that what you are saying and what is being heard are usually on several different levels.  Be open to sharing responsibility, asking for better ideas, and reflecting further on the entire exchange.   When we care, it is about finding a better way, rather than who is right or wrong.

By Dan Campbell, LCSW
Member of the Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team

Winter Blues – January 20, 2016

Now that the excitement of Christmas is over and lights are down, many people face the doldrums of winter. With less daylight hours, and the cold, it is very common to feel the “winter blues.” The medical field has labeled a serious version of this as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is described by the U.S. National Library of Medicineas “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.” Many people feel the same way at the same time every year.

The key thing is that these feelings will usually pass on their own – the trick is to manage them while we are feeling low energy and low motivation. While everyone is different, you might try:

*Moving around – exercise is always healthy, but sometimes it feels too hard to make the effort to go to the gym. Just moving around can help lift mood –walking around the house,  the block, or stretching arms and legs periodically. If you’ve been sitting on the couch for more than an hour- get up.

*Phone a friend –call someone you haven’t talked to in a long time. Winter is a perfect time to reconnect. Random phone calls can be uplifting for everyone.

*Resist the urge to load up on carbohydrates. It’s ok to treat yourself now and then, and deprivation diets don’t work, but try to maintain healthy eating habits when the urge is to stock up.

*Go to the library, a museum, for a walk in the mall; anything that gets you out of the house and around other people can elevate your mood and help fend off the effects of SAD.

*Be careful with social media – sites like Facebook can have a depressing effect when we start thinking that no one else has problems except me – who puts unhappy things on FB? and yet it’s easy to fall prey to thinking that everyone else’s life is better than mine.

 *Try something radical – join a class, a new group at church, have a few friends over for dinner or to watch a movie – anything that’s out of your ordinary routine.

*Light therapy has been effective for some people, and sitting in front of a light box for 30 mins a day can be helpful (getting outside on a sunny day can help too).

*Talking to Judith can make a difference; she will listen and help connect you with others in the community who can make a difference.

Of course, if the winter blues are interfering with your day to day life: like being unable to get out of bed, having an inability to focus or concentrate, having feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, or having thoughts of ending your life; please call someone to talk.  Crisislink is a 24-7 hotline with trained personnel who can talk to you about any crisis – you can call them at

PRSCrisisLink    Hotline: (800) 273-TALK [8255]   Textline: Text “CONNECT” to 85511

Cathy Benn, M.S., Resident in Counseling
Member, Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team

Winter Blues

Clair’s Story:

“I remember I was a senior in high school, it was the day after Christmas, the house was unusually quiet. The energy of the holidays seemed to evaporate into thin air. Sitting on that scratchy couch, I could see the dust particles floating up in the sunshine that was streaming through the window. I could hear the neighborhood kids out side in the cul-de-sac. Laughing and throwing snow balls. It sounded like the entire neighborhood came out to play. I wanted to be out there…really, I did. The truth was I felt like I had cement in my sneakers. I couldn’t move, I felt like my energy had evaporated just like Christmas and was continuing to drift away like the particles of dust in the rays of sunlight. There was a sense of impending doom and bleakness even though I had gotten everything I wanted for Christmas.

As I got older and had children of my own, the post-holiday blues got worse. “Why?” I kept asking myself. I have everything I want, everything I need and yet I feel unmotivated, and have difficulty concentrating. I decided it was time to seek the advice of a doctor. What could possibly be wrong with me? I’d tell myself it was the “post-holiday crash.” But it wasn’t. I discovered I was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).”

Many people have experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder, often calling it “winter blues” or “post-holiday crash.” According to Psychology Today, 10 million American suffer from this type of depression, and even more may experience mild symptoms. S.A.D. is a type of depression that begins around October and can last until spring. Symptoms range from feeling sad and hopeless to thoughts of suicide. Some people may experience hypersomnia (more tired than usual – increase need for sleep), low energy, weight gain (sweet or starchy cravings), irritability, social isolation, and emotional sensitivity.

As we move through the winter months, symptoms may become exaggerated or intensify, especially since the hoop-la of the holidays has passed. To learn more about Seasonal Affect Disorder and what you can do please join us on February 25th from 12:30- 2:30 for a presentation by our own Susan Macey. 

Managing SAD

·         Plan pleasurable activities with people: Dinner, movies, bowling, trivia night at a local hot spot. Pot-luck meal with friends.

·         Keep a regular sleep routine: Avoid sleeping longer or more. 

·         Get outside: Even on cloudy days, taking a 15-minute walk around the block boosts energy levels.

·         Take a trip: No matter what time of year, a trip to the beach is great. Break up the hum-drum of winter with a quick get-away.  

Stay tuned: Over the next 4 weeks we will posting additional information and ideas for managing symptoms of SAD.

Susan Macey
Mental Health Wellness Team

An Inclusive Community – March 2016

What does it mean in a world where we see and hear so many differences to know that God sees all of us in the same way?  Trinity, under the leadership of Sue Bodner, led a group of members to help us take one step towards understanding that the question itself helps each of us to become richer in spirit.  Read on as Sue walks us through the message of the service.

 This past fall, I was part of a small group at Trinity who gathered to plan a service for our first Inclusion Sunday. This idea came from the PCUSA initiative to create worship services that would allow adults, youth & children with differing abilities to worship together. The challenge of planning such a service was to focus on the familiar elements of worship in light of those who would not be able to fully participate in them.

We worked from a perspective that we are all different and bring different gifts to our worship. It was important to view each person as someone who brings us in to the presence of God. We kept our focus on valuing gifts, not limitations.

 If God loves us all equally and has a part for each of us to play in the world, how do we break through the ingrained concept that some are less able or dis-abled? What would worship look like if we truly put aside structures and traditions that call for only the most articulate, musically gifted, or credentialed people to lead us in worship? How might creating such a service be an encouragement that we could be more inclusive in our homes, work places, & neighborhoods?

 I think we can say that Inclusion Sunday was a success!  Now, the challenge is where do we go from here? How can we carry out a continuing focus on including everyone? How can we consistently work from a perspective of truly valuing each person as they are? Can we think about the myriad of physical and mental challenges we all face as paths to connect us?

 I like the Buddhist practice of metta meditation. As a person comes to mind, friend or foe, these phrases are repeated                                                                                  

May he be free of danger 

 

May she have physical happiness 

May he have mental happiness 

 

May she have ease of well being

There is no distinction between someone who is having a bad day and someone who is critically ill. These are our hopes and prayers for everyone.

 Discerning what it means to be an inclusive community is important work. When members of the community feel left out or otherwise “less-than”, we want to help.  Sometimes this means doing something different and discovering that when we increase our inclusivity, we discover that we find a deeper and richer sense of who we can become.

 When we remove the barriers of celebrating people just as they are, both within ourselves and our church structures, we will be in a place of greater well being for everyone.

 Sue Bodner
Member Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team

What should I say?

Several years ago, a friend had suffered a profound loss, I wanted to say something and said to my wife, “I don’t know what to say.”  She responded, “It doesn’t really matter.”

Every week at church our prayer list seems to grow and grow with the news of congregants, their families, their friends, co-workers needing our prayers.  The growth of the list is a reflection of how our congregation is growing closer; and it is also a challenge. 

 The challenge is to figure out how to include actions in the concept of prayer. Another person’s grief and fear are daunting when they are suffering. We often feel we are required to say something that will relieve their pain, whether they are living with the loss of a loved one, an illness, the loss of mobility, sight, hearing, or any of the other parts that make up our worlds.

 It may be helpful to think instead of news on the prayer list as opportunities to make connections. No one needs to become a poet to make a connection.  Simply bringing a meal relieves a burden and makes a connection. A prayer can be a welcome form of connection.   

 The most powerful way to connect is to simply listen.  Let the person cry, wonder aloud about the whys, or simply allow silence. Some ideas for how to connect can be found athttps://grievingstudents.org/.   This website has some good basic ideas about how to talk about loss, especially with a child.  One of the key ideas is not to offer platitudes that are designed to help someone to feel better.  Saying things like, “at least they’re not suffering” or “they are in a better place,” usually will not help.  What those sayings communicate is that their suffering of the loss is misplaced.  In fact, it is OK to grieve.  If, on the other hand a person who is grieving brings it up, then talking about it is fine. Also, don’t offer advice or examples, it simply says to the person that your emotions are more important than theirs. 

 About 12 years ago I was at Philmont Scout Ranch on the side of hill and the only other person around was a fellow who had just heard his beloved aunt had just passed.  He was also told his family wanted him to do the service; besides being a grieving person he was a priest.  We sat; he talked about his family, his aunt, his loss for about 90 minutes.  I have no idea what he did; when we parted, he walked in one direction, and I in another.  I had no special words to offer, and if I did they would have been lost on him, as he simply needed to talk.   Our prayer was in sitting together.

 Richard Long, Ed.D.
Member of Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team

Talking Politics  March 2017

There is an adage about talking about politics in public, don’t.  Now, we are and don’t seem to know how to do that.  We are split in our church and for some in their homes.  Just this weekend one of my fraternity brothers of 40 years decided not to come to a small gathering because he had been arguing with one of the other seven brothers and thought he would be attacked.

Perhaps, he is right.

Why do I need to convince him that I am right and make him defend some parts of the political equation that has nothing to do with him?  He in fact is a decent and honorable fellow who takes care of his family, community, and cares deeply for our nation. 

Perhaps, as the bard once wrote, instead of looking to the stars we should look to ourselves.  Perhaps this is when we say that we are all sinners, we should be aware that this means that I am a sinner and perhaps it is I who is wrong.

Do I mean I am wrong politically?  I am if my beliefs are so weak that I need the agreement of all my fraternity brothers and thus when challenged I react with fierce passion instead of rationality.  Or that I am ascribing to my fraternity brother something that makes me fearful.   What is this fear? Is it a sense of powerlessness?  Is it a guilt?  Is it not understanding?  Or is it that I don’t know what to do and therefore I simply react?

For big picture politics, I knew how and when to argue politics.  I use my pen, my knowledge and my experience.   Sometimes I have marched, sometimes I handed out leaflets, and always I vote.

Before this election, I had a local official who is a supporter of the policies I disagree with on my back deck sipping on a beer with mutual friends.  He said he wasn’t sure he would be welcome because of the sign on my front lawn.  I hadn’t thought about that.  He too has the same feelings I do.

Too often our conversations have been reduced to 140 characters or fewer with ad hominem attacks such as “bully” or “whiner.”

How do we maintain our righteousness and our relationships without losing our minds or our morals? Here are some ideas:

1)      Accept the current situation of even more heightened political tension for the foreseeable future. Take a deep breath and decide whether and when you are ready to engage. This starts with whether you will even take in the news or go on social media at all in this moment, on this day, for this weekend. It’s not hard to get caught up in the daily outrage or panic or annoyance. If we are going to engage, we have to do it well equipped. Sometimes it’s the time to just connect – with yourself, with a friend, with another person who may not agree with you. Even if you’re the most knowledgeable person at the dinner party, you don’t have to be the one to jump in when the conversation turns to politics. For that matter, you don’t have to show up to the dinner party if you know it’s going to turn into a debate.  Don’t get used to enmity, get away from it.It will be there when you get back, I promise.

2)      Choose one or two issues that you will devote your energy to. You can’t argue with every person on your Facebook page or write treatises on every issue. Sure, retweet and share on Facebook about your peripheral issues, but focus your real energy on the things you care about most.

3)      Don’t just talk, do something. Volunteer to work at the Mount Olivet Community Assistance Program or AFAC or for a politician or a political party. Make sure some of your work is OFF LINE where you have to interact with people face to face and you have to use your body, not just your mind.

4)      If you do choose to talk politics,

a.       Cut out the ad hominem attacks. Anyone who spends time listening to or reading political opinions knows the common insults for the other side. Sure many insults are witty or feel like shorthand for your strong feelings but are they really any better than other forms of profanity?

b.      Instead, begin with fearless curiosity. Rather than seeing every interaction as a chance to reinforce your fear-driven opinion, seek to understand the other person. Remember, it’s not about you. Ask questions like ”How did you come to think that way?” Most people have a personal story that explains their point of view. Seek to identify the basic interest for themselves or their loved ones underlying their opinion. Is it physical security? (Do they fear being attacked or assaulted?) Is it financial security? (Do they fear they will lose their job or their children will not be able to support themselves?) Is it psychological security? (Do they fear that they or their loved ones will come to believe that they are worth less than others?)The director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence likes to say you can’t care about another person until you have heard their story and once you have heard their story, you can’t help but care.

c.       Reflect radical acceptance. Communicate that, given their life experiences, their concerns are valid and deserve to be respected. Once someone feels affirmed and accepted, their fear recedes and a safe conversation can occur. Rather than “Suck it up, Buttercup,” try, “I can understand your concern for our country’s security” or “individuals’ freedom of choice” or “a better life for our grandchildren.”

d.      Affirm shared values. We all want to feel safe and free and empowered. We all want to protect and assist the vulnerable.

e.      And yes, it’s a cliché but agree to disagree and, as the Nassar family who runs the Tent of Nations organization, urges us, refuse to be enemies.

We need to be careful and aware that our nation’s motto is “out of many, one.”  To become one, I am going to have grow a bit more.  Perhaps, I am not alone.

By Dan Campbell, LCSW
Member of the Trinity Mental Health Wellness Team