Category Archives: Family

Christmas Memories

By Brian Patterson

Kids in footie pajamas; frozen windshields and slippery roads; anxiety about how visitors would judge our house and gifts. These are some of my memories of Christmases past when we lived in the Midwest and had a different perspective on life.

canstockphoto1360199Last night, my wife and I hosted the family of our grown children (no footie pajamas) and my in-laws. The house was decorated nicely- with our eclectic style- and there was very little hint of the anxiety which used to pervade these events. We had chosen to go out to eat our evening meal and then go to our house for gifts, desserts and coffee. We have found it mentally healthy to change some traditions so we can enjoy the holidays and people more and worry less about being judged.

 

I used to feel that I should hand out Olympic-style score cards to everyone as they entered so we could average the scores and see how well we had done. For days, my wife would be frantically preparing and resenting me (or so it felt) for not being involved enough! During the event she was so concerned that everyone else was happy she could not allow herself that same privilege. Afterwards, she would vow to never ‘celebrate’ Christmas again.

The difference between those Christmases past and the more recent ones has been a growing understanding of how our brains work to meet our own needs and how to meet those basic psychological needs in different ways. We know now that we are not built like anyone else and we can meet our own needs in our own ways without duplicating the efforts of others. This has made us less judgmental and coercive and has improved all of our relationships.

Our mental health and happiness is our own responsibility. Knowing this has helped us to eliminate misplaced dependencies and unrealistic expectations. Others are not here to serve and satisfy us but to accompany us on this beautiful journey of life.

This website, www.mentalhealthandhappiness.com, has more insights into how others can discover the same peace at Christmas.

Lonely Holidays

By Dr. Ken Larsen

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray  1751.  

For me this verse struck me with sadness from the very first time I heard it.  As life has unfolded I see evidence of the many unseen flowers trapped in the loneliness of our culture.

We all know those who are lonely, most of us have been there ourselves.  When I’m in that place I find mental health and happiness more elusive.

kid_catI think the holiday season afflicts many of us as we look to the fabricated images of people enjoying the holiday season and then realizing that our own lives don’t often match those fabrications.

I recently had some major surgery and was feeling lonely and a bit sad because of the forced inactivity of recovery.   Then the phone rang.  It was a call from a friend who is a media personality in her part of the world.  What touched me and actually sent a jolt of joy through me is that she took the time to call and tell me she was thinking of me.  This simple act of friendship and kindness changed the color of my day from blue to rosy red.

helpinghands2A call, a note, a smile,  a friendly touch are all very welcome to us when we are feeling unseen and out of touch.  Let’s reach out and brighten the day of someone we know or someone we don’t know to give them the boost they may need to reconnect with their mental health and happiness.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Contributed by Denise Daub

Thanksgiving and the Art of Happiness

By Leeann Rooney November 15th, 2014

They say that happiness is a choice. That in order to ‘practice’ happiness, everyone should try to recognize the blessings that surround them, be it family, friends, good weather or simply a great cappuccino.

With that in mind, surely there is no better time to be conscious of your own happiness, than Thanksgiving!

Read more…https://www.pennyowl.com/thanksgiving-art-happiness/

Relationship Tips

Contributed by Denise Daub

by Ellen G. Goldman

When I was a little girl, summer was a time filled with lazy days, family, friends and neighbors. My siblings and I spent our time at the local swim club surrounded by our friends; swimming, playing tennis, ping pong, and just hanging out. When we were old enough to work, we got jobs at the pool club. Camp counselor, lifeguard, kitchen help; it didn’t matter as long as we could all be at “the club.” We didn’t need to think about making time for our friends and family. We were together all the time.

Now that I’m an adult, with adult responsibilities, summer days often feel like any other day of the year. Working, taking care of the house and family and always rushing to get things done leaves little free time to spend with others. I know I’m not alone. My friends and clients complain that there are just not enough hours in the day, and they are too busy to take the time to enjoy just “hanging out.” What I miss the most from those lazy summer days are the relationships I had with my summer friends.

Read more… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-g-goldman/8-tips-to-improve-important-relationships-in-your-life_b_7841656.html?ncid=newsltushpmg00000003

Emotionally Bankrupt

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Have you ever had the experience of being completely and utterly emotionally depleted?  It would be pretty amazing and unusual if this weren’t true for you as it is true for almost all people.

Three years following my father’s diagnosis of terminal lung cancer he died. His passing was not a surprise nor a shock and still it was devastating for his immediate family including me. I was privileged in that I was able to spend two of the last three weeks of his life with him and my mother.

My mother and father had celebrated more than 50 years of marriage only weeks before my father’s death. My mother was devastated following Dad’s passing. As she predicted, Mom  lived another ten years after my father died. However, she was never the same, never really happy again.

Once Dad died the family all assembled in North Carolina for the memorial service with the fellowship to begin our mourning and healing. Then it was decided that Mom would visit each daughter’s home for awhile before she would return to her own home to begin her life without Dad.

Six weeks after Dad died my mother had a heart attack. I had just returned home after accompanying her back to her home to help her begin this post-Dad part of her life.

canstockphoto0527001I was lying on the couch in my living room when I received the call about my mother’s health. I was told she had a minor heart attack and was stable. My mother told me that her heart was broken.

My sisters and I needed to decide what we were going to do. At this point I couldn’t even get off of the couch. How could I possibly get on a plane and return to my mother’s side?

This was my first experience of being emotionally bankrupt. Sadly, it has not been my last.

There was a “letter” circulating on Facebook recently where an old man explained grief, mourning and loss to a younger person. He described these kinds of life moments as being ship wrecked. Being overwhelmed by all of the sadness, devastation, grief and varying aspects of loss comes upon us as waves. And when the ship is first wrecked all we can do is hang on and stay afloat. Sometimes we hang onto another person, or a thought, a prayer, our faith or a possession.

Eventually these overwhelming feelings are not present 100% of the time. Eventually we have some moments of relief. How soon? There is no way of predicting. And for each person with each loss and each wrecked ship the timing and waves vary.

Eventually the waves become less and less frequent. Eventually we are not devastated by the wave. Eventually our memories become sweet and a source of comfort.

While we are waiting for the waves to lesson, and calm without taking us under, we must be kind, gentle, loving and supportive of ourselves. We must care for ourselves in ways that might normally feel like indulgences:

Take an afternoon sitting on a park bench, under a tree, or on the beach, and do nothing.

Take a hot bath daily, as a ritual.

Be quiet, still, and if needed alone. Let nature be your companion as nature is one of the strongest healers available to us all.

Stop working, at least for an afternoon or morning.

Stop doing for, caring and helping others, at least for an afternoon or morning.

If you have a pet, hug, love and pet him/her. Let your pet soothe and comfort you as you pet and love him/her. If you don’t have a pet, ask to borrow one.

Ask a friend to help you focus on fun, funny and wonderful memories.

Ask a friend to distract you and tell you stories that are completely unrelated to your  present experience.

Spend time holding, hugging, playing and cuddling a baby.

A word of caution about any and all of the above ideas. If you discover that this emotional soothing and regenerating is not working, is in fact contributing to you feeling worse STOP. You can return and try out any or all of these ideas in the future. For now, be gentle, quite and still with yourself.  Concentrate on breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out with no other expectation or goal.

Honoring your need for rejuvenation during the emotionally bankrupt and tsunami  times of our lives is important and essential for our Mental Health & Happiness.

Relationships: Function of Time and Meaning

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Many years ago a wonderful mentor of mine explained that significant and satisfying relationships were a function of time and meaning. We have all experienced an encounter so full of meaning that you think you and this person will be soul mates for ever only to discover that you hardly remember his name the following week. We’ve also probably had a relationship with an elderly relative who has known us all of our lives. Unfortunately after we finally graduate and become an adult each subsequent meeting with this person becomes more awkward. Yes, your relationship is full of time. But eventually there is only insignificant and trivial meaning between you. Satisfying, meaningful and important relationships are built on a significant amount of two essential ingredients: time and meaning.

With the advent and explosion of social media do you feel more connected, more satisfied in your ability to meet your basic need for love & belonging?

I’m happy to be able to keep in fairly regular contact with my adult niece who lives far away and who I almost never get to see. I’m able to keep an eye on her as I read her latest posts about her cats, social life and political actions. I’m also able to send her interesting posts about the things that she’s passionate about in life. Occasionally she returns the favor by sending me posts and articles that she believes I might care about too.

But the reality is that this precarious connection is not very satisfying. Yes, we are sharing some meaning. And this helps during those few real time meetings that we have. When we get to spend time in the same place we can avoid the strained conversation where we each ask the other whats new. We kind of have that covered by reading each other’s Facebook posts regularly.

Yes, my niece and I have known each other for all of her 34 years of living. And with the help of Facebook we have a better idea about what is meaningful to the other.  My relationship with Sarah is stronger than my relationship with my nephew Lewis. I’ve known Lewis longer because he’s older. But we do not have a Facebook connection. This means we are not sharing any of the meaning in our lives regularly. Now all we have is our shared history. And most of that history was from his childhood.

Oh my goodness! I’ve become that dreaded relative. You know the one I mean. The one who marvels at how grown up he has become and then I regale him with too much information about some subject no one cares anything about!

Our social media my be giving us the false illusion that our lives are filled with friends when in fact many lives are simply littered with people. A screen connection can never replace an actual face-to-face meaningful connection during a shared experience.

But connecting with far away family can be enhanced through the regular and meaningful connection on social media. Facebook will never replace a family reunion. But Facebook is much better then silence and absence that my grand parents experienced.

I never would have dreamed that Facebook would help me with my Mental Health & Happiness!

 

Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again

Dr. Ken Larsen

Peter, Paul and Mary did the “Wedding Song” back in the 1970s.  It nearly became a wedding cliché in many of the weddings I attended.  The one phrase stuck out for me in a powerful and wonderful way.  “Woman takes her life from man and gives it back again.”  This had a deeply mystical meaning for me that speaks to the flow of life and love among us.  I believe that the phrase need not be gender specific.  We all have the opportunity and the joy of giving life to one another, and receiving life in return.

Our mental health and happiness depend on our need for love and belonging.  When we talk about “love” in this way, I believe we are talking about our connections with one another that allow for the flow of that life giving energy we call “love” to flow freely among us.  We know what this feels like when it is working.  From the near ecstasy of the first blush of young love to the comfortable connections we enjoy with those close to us through the years.  This state of being connected in life giving ways is the cornerstone of mental health and happiness.  Sometimes we don’t know just how much these connections mean to us until they are lost.

couple

What would happen if each of us would recognize that we have the gift of life to give to others?  A cheery smile to a stranger, a word of appreciation to someone who serves us in a restaurant or drug store, these are ways to give life to others.  Flowers, a lingering hug, tender touches are ways that we give and receive life and love from those in the intimate circles of our life.

We’ve heard for millennia that we ought to love one another, but putting this into practice seems to be elusive.  We are faced with the many ways that we are separate and different from one another.  This sense of separation makes it easier to remain distant and disconnected.  Carried further, our history shows that when we focus on our separation and differences, we can blame “them” for our problems.  This leads to enmity, hatred, and sadly, to violence and warfare.

What if we were to begin to look at our connections?  What if we were to make an effort to recognize one another as persons in the greater whole of humanity?  What if we worked consciously to find ways to share life and leave behind our long history of separation, hatred and death?  What if we recognized the truth in John Donne’s oft quoted words:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne  1572-1617.

What if each of us in some small way started to live our lives as though we believed in our connections as human beings? What if each of us would make a choice to give life in some small way each day to those we meet?  I believe that the impact on our world would be more than some small thing.  It could mean a step in progress toward a whole new and  better world.

Try it, you may like it.

 

Boundaries

By Paulette Murray, Post Grad Degree DCU, Ireland, OL Degree, Ucc Ireland

Boundaries are the way I know where I stop and you begin.
We need boundaries in every relationship.
To live in a relationship without boundaries is like trying
to drive down the freeway with your eyes closed in a snowstorm.
                                                            Marie Fortune

Years ago as an anxious parent of my young children I was afraid to have boundaries between myself and the people I loved most in the world. My fears were all about what ifs.

What if having boundaries meant that I didn’t protect my children? Did having boundaries mean that I wasn’t a good Mum? What if my children got hurt? What if  I neglected to know everything necessary to keep these precious children safe?

Until I learned how to meet my needs in an empowering way I felt as though I was driving down the freeway with my eyes closed in some very cold snowstorms.

Now, in the present as my fourth child is leaving the nest heading to University for the first time I’m glad I finally gained the courage and knowledge to create healthy boundaries between me and my children.

canstockphoto14163467How did I do it? It took a lot of self control and a lot of mindful breathing to control my anxieties.

I let them lead. I supported each as independent choices were made.

I listened to disappointments when one child didn’t get what he wanted, or when another was unhappy when someone behaved differently from how she believed he should have.

I let them learn. I allowed them to grow and become the truly mature young adults that they have chosen to become.

I learned to trust in me and them. As a result they in turn have learned to trust themselves.

Now our eyes are wide open.  Now we are driving down the freeway  of life gazing at the beautiful landscape that is our family and our family’s journey.

Self Reliance: Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right?

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

There once was a boy whose loving and proud mother proclaimed of him, “Jonny can do anything!” Sadly he grew into a man who felt he must do everything, on his own and well.

There once was a girl whose loving and over-protective father proclaimed of her, “Jill could use some help and assistance with this task and that chore. She might get hurt.” Sadly she grew into a needy, whining woman with no confidence, relying on the good will of others to step in and help poor, helpless her.

father-son

There once was a boy and a girl who courageously attempted tasks and projects just beyond their abilities. With a mother and father providing freedom for independent exploration they were  also at the ready to step in and help when assistance was asked for. This pair grew into a man and woman with confidence and goodself-evaluation skills. They each were self-reliant. And they each were aware of their own limitations. They each knew when to ask for help. Generously, they were also more than ready to offer help and assistance to those who needed it.

Good Mental Health & Happiness comes from being self-reliant no matter what others have said about you. Good Mental Health & Happiness comes from knowing when to ask for help and when to offer help to others.

Finding the right balance in your self-reliance contributes to your Mental Health & Happiness. Where do you stand with your self-reliance? Too little? Too much? or Just right?

Grief, Sadness & Sorrow

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

At this present moment a very dear friend of mine is experiencing the decline and impending death of both of her parents. For her in this moment it seems that these inevitable events are getting closer. Her immediate family, that includes her husband and daughters, are an incredible sources of love, strength and support. But sadly, as is true for too many people, there are other family members who are blaming, shaming and pointing accusatory fingers of guilt as a means of dealing with their own fear and pain.

Although not geographically close, a couple of us who are heart and soul sisters, not blood relatives, are able to be immediately present, comforting and supportive through texting. Who would have guessed that technical advances would lead to this extraordinary gift of presence.

We heart and soul sisters are able to offer the needed compassion not just because we love Annie, but because of our own personal experiences with the death of our own parents. For us the pain of losing our parents is still present, just not so immediate.

What place does grief and sorrow play in Mental Health & Happiness? Can you consider yourself Mentally Healthy & Happy even when feeling sad?

For me being Mentally Healthy & Happy means experiencing a full range of emotions: sadness AND joy, contentment AND dissatisfaction, fear AND faith, peace AND discontent, anger AND pleasure. Being Mentally Healthy & Happy means experiencing the negative emotions, and not staying stuck in them.

canstockphoto6156088

If developing and maintaining important, caring and connecting relationships with at least one person is a major contributor to our Mental Health & Happiness, then we are bound to experience profound feelings of loss when these relationships end or change. I still miss both my mother and father every day. At the same time I know that “death ends a life, not a relationship” as Mitch Albom writes in his book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I continue to maintain a strong relationship with my parents many years after their deaths.

For me, Mental Health & Happiness means I have strategies to deal with my intense negative feelings. I do not fear these negative emotions pretending I don’t experience them. Nor do I need to stay stuck or lost.

Some of these strategies we are sharing with Annie right now are:

Planting both feet solidly on the ground
Taking 4 deep breaths, with eyes closed, arms open wide, expanding heart and gut space with deep inhalation and  blowing out fears, frustrations or just air as you exhale
As you open your eyes repeat your meaningful affirmation All is well, I am well, You are well and so it is that All is well. (Or whatever mantra you create that is meaningful and helpful for you.)

Remember that being Mentally Healthy & Happy does not mean that you are always cheerful, happy and full of sunshine. Being Mentally Health & Happy means that you know, create or learn effective strategies so that when the hard, challenging and stormy life experiences are part of your days, weeks or present moments, you take the time to learn and grow. This too shall pass is true. But imagine seizing even these moments to celebrate the full experience of your life?