Cloudy Christmas…Grief During the Holidays

It is most likely, that most of us have experienced the horrible pain of losing a loved one.  The finality of death is hard enough to cope with.  When it happens around a holiday, or the holidays roll around, it seems to add insult to injury.  Little things seem to constantly come up to serve as reminders of our loss.  In addition, everyone seems to be filled with cheer, when all we want to do is cry.  These things make it extra difficult to deal with a current tragedy, or even the past loss of a loved one, during the holidays. I hope this article will provide some useful, and practical, suggestions to help make it through this time of year.

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What are we supposed to do now…

If this is the first holiday after the loss of a loved one, it is hard to know what to do and how to act.  If we don’t celebrate, we may feel like we are letting down our loved ones who are still physically with us.  If we do celebrate, we may feel that we are dishonoring, or “forgetting” about, our loved one who is no longer physically here.  The best thing we can do for ourselves, and those around us, is find a balance between the two extremes.  However, it is imperative that you find a balance that works for you.  There is no right, or wrong, way to grieve.  Another thing to remember is that the anticipation of the holiday, is usually worse than the actual day.  Try to get through one day, or moment, at a time if you need too.  Try to hold onto the truth that your loved one wants you to be able to move on and find happiness again.  Moving on does not mean forgetting.  Everyone does this at their own pace, so don’t be hard on yourself.

Create Traditions to Celebrate Your Loved One

Christmas, and other holidays, can be extremely painful when experiencing loss.  However, it may surprise you to know that the holiday season also provides you with many occasions in which you can heal.  Keeping a connection to your loved one is not unhealthy, and is normal.  You don’t need to try to forget the pain of their loss, during the holidays, in order to celebrate.  Instead, you can incorporate special traditions to celebrate, and remember, the precious memories that you shared with your loved one.  This will also help your friends and family support you in a meaningful way.  Many times people don’t know how to act, or what to say, when they are around a person who is grieving.  Helping you celebrate your loved one, with a special tradition to honor them, is a way they can offer comfort, and be a source of strength for you.

Specific examples of traditions that can be created to honor your loved one could include some of the following:

  • Set aside a special time, with family and friends, to reminisce about your loved one.  Bring out photo albums, videos, special treasures from their hobbies, or anything else that reminds you of your loved one’s time with you.  Spend time with your friends sharing stories, laughing, crying, honoring, and talking about the wonderful person whom you miss.  Some people may choose to do this with a large group of friends and family, others may feel more comfortable with only one or two close people, or you can even do this alone if you prefer.  You decide what makes the tradition most meaningful for you.

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  • Did your loved one have a special cause they were passionate about? Maybe they did volunteer work, or contributed financially to a specific charity, or other important organizations. The holidays provide so many opportunities to volunteer and help others.  If your loved one donated money or time to a specific cause, maybe you could right a special letter about your loved one, and send it to the organization with a donation in their honor.  Did your loved one enjoy working with children, animals, the elderly, the homeless, or any other special group?  Maybe you could collect toys for needy children, pet food for a local animal shelter, volunteer, or collect donations for a food bank. Anything special activity that you could do, that your loved one may have been involved in if they were still here, is a way to honor their memory.  You can think of this as a way to carry on their legacy.
  • Sometimes the loss is too fresh, and the grief is too much, to get involved in a big project, and that is okay.  For example, volunteering or attending any events, after a recent loss, is probably way to much for most people to handle.  You can still honor your loved one in simple ways.  Place a special ornament on the tree in your loved one’s honor.  Light a candle for them during the holiday dinner, with a moment of silence, to think about your loved one and to remember they are still here in your hearts.  Make a special decoration that reminds you of something they enjoyed, or a special wreath to place at their grave site.  Modify these suggestions to find something special that works for you.
  • Keep your loved one with you symbolically.  Carry with you a picture, a small trinket such as a watch, wedding ring, special gift, or maybe a letter they wrote or a card they gave you. Any special reminder of your loved one will work for this suggestion.  Use this as a way to symbolize they are still with you in spirit and in your heart.  This may help you feel close to them and allow you to participate in small ways, without feeling as though you are leaving them out of the holiday activities.

Remember the Importance of Finding Balance

I mentioned already the importance of finding balance during the holidays.  You may feel torn between wanting to isolate yourself and grieve, while still wanting to be there for your loved ones who are still with you.  This is especially true if you have younger children.  So you will need to find a balance, between grieving for those who are no longer here, and staying involved with the living.  Again, a balance that works for you.  It is normal to feel confusion, guilt, distracted, forgetful, tired, annoyed, bitter, resentful, heartsick, despondent, and just completely “out of sorts”.  Everyone grieves in their own way, and it is normal to have a wide range of changing feelings.  Give yourself a break and understand this is part of grief, and you deserve time to sort through your feelings.  You are the only one who can decide how much time you can handle “celebrating” with your family, and the amount of time you need to spend alone.  With that being said, I am going to offer some suggestions on how you can still celebrate during the holidays, without being expected to completely halt your grieving process.  In other words, you don’t need to put on a “fake smile” and suffer through.  There is hope to find small moments of happiness during the holidays.

Seek Out Healing Moments

If you spend the entire season focusing on your lost loved one this can increase your feelings of sadness.  Spending time with your precious loved one’s who are still alive can help.  It is healthy and absolutely normal to not spend every minute focused on your loss.  If you find yourself feeling moments of happiness, this is okay.  It is just fine to be distracted, this does not mean you are dishonoring, or forgetting about your lost loved one.  Plan specific times when you will do something enjoyable, if possible include your loved ones.  Even something as simple as helping the family decorate a tree, bake some cookies, or wrap some presents. Only do as much as you feel up to doing, but there is no harm in trying to be involved in some small way.  You can always remove yourself if things become to much.

Another suggestion…giving time to help a person in need could be helpful.  Helping others can make you feel useful, and occupy your mind for a bit of time, giving you a “break” from your grieving process.  I am not talking about charities or big volunteering commitments.  There are people around us everyday who would greatly appreciate small acts of kindness.  We may have to spend some time thinking about this one, and be creative, but there are always opportunities to help.  Even if it’s just for an hour or two.  For example, is there a home bound person, or nursing home resident, you could deliver a small gift too?  Or maybe a tired new mother, who would love to have someone to just sit and rock the baby, while she gets some house work done.  A neighbor who could use help walking a dog?  No matter how small, it will make you feel useful.  Plus, children and animals can be very therapeutic. They are so innocent and accepting, they are easy to be around when we are feeling sad.  (Note: If your loss involves a pet or young child, than you may not be ready to spend time with other people’s children or pets.)

If your a person of faith, you might plan to attend a holiday service at your church.  Use this time to reflect on your loved one and draw comfort from your church family.  If you used to attend this type of service with your lost loved one, plan to take a good friend with you, and be prepared to leave early if you need too.  It’s okay, you call the shots.  You are the only one who knows what is helpful to you.

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You may not believe any of these things will be helpful to you.  But you also may be pleasantly surprised that you do feel, at the very least, fleeting moments of happiness.  However, you will have to decide what you feel you can, and cannot do.  Do what feels right to you.  It is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season, especially after the death of a loved one.

Changing Toxic Traditions

This may be the perfect opportunity to change traditions that didn’t work for you.  Maybe you never particularly enjoyed the location of the holiday dinner.  Although your still invited, if the event was not enjoyable to you, decline the invitation and create a new tradition that is better suited to your liking.  The same goes for other traditions.  For example, maybe you don’t drink and the yearly New Year’s Eve party was filled with those who like to “whoop it up”.  Now is your chance to break off from unhealthy or unhappy traditions, move away from toxic people, and so forth.

Dealing with Outbreaks of Anguish

There is no doubt that you will feel moments of overwhelming sadness, no matter what you do.  The loss of a loved one is a difficult challenge.  Your going to feel sad, it’s normal to cry, get angry, want to be alone, not want to be alone, your emotions may feel like a roller coaster.  When you feel these intense moments of sadness, let yourself feel, but it might be helpful to try to redirect your thoughts to a happy memory of your loved one.  You may still cry, or maybe you’ll break out into laughter over a funny moment you shared.  The trick is to try and feel the emotions in a positive light, with your loved one in your heart, using the happy memories that you both shared.  These memories can’t be taken from you.  Sometimes it is helpful to remember how you would feel if the situation were reversed.  If you saw your loved one hurting, you would undoubtedly try to cheer them up.  You might bring up something funny that happened, or tell them your favorite joke.  Let your loved one’s memories, allow your loved one, to do that for you.  They would if they could be here, right? Try letting the memories you shared unite you and your loved one in spirit, when those moments of intense sadness hit you.

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If you have recently lost a loved one, I understand there is no way to completely remove the sense of agony, and reluctance, to celebrate the holidays.  I hope nothing I have said in this article sounded as if I was trying to minimize your suffering.  I know the pain can feel unbearable.  However, I do pray the suggestions in this article might help you find some reassurance and hope, so that you can experience some joy during the holidays.

If you have helpful traditions, or suggestions that help you cope, please share in the comments below.  They may be helpful to others who are also grieving. If you would like to share your favorite memories about your loved one, or even something your struggling with, I would like to hear about it, and offer support.  We need to care for each other during these difficult times. I wish you the best as you celebrate with your loved ones who are still with you, and those who are tucked safely forever in your heart.

 

Lighter Blue (is simply adorable!)

I came across a series of cartoons today that, while cute, spread an important message about depression.  The cartoons, in a lighthearted way, are saying that if you have major depressive disorder (MDD), you may have to explain your symptoms to your loved ones.  In other words, you can’t expect them to just understand how you feel, if you don’t explain.  Additionally, the cartoons are designed in a way that they can also be helpful to those without depression. The cartoons depict what it’s like for someone who is living with “it” (depression) daily.  Below are a few of the cartoons….no further explanation is needed.  Hope they are helpful.

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(Cartoon credit must be given to the amazing “Lighter Blue”) !

 

Promote & Grow Your Blog!

A wonderful informative blog with an abundance of helpful articles. This blog also offers a space to promote your own blog, which I think was a very thoughtful addition from the author.

MakeItUltra™

Hi Everyone,

I want to create a directory for our subscribers to connect with each other. If you would like to share your blog, please leave a description about what readers might find if they visit your site. Hopefully this will create some positive synergy for our blogging community. Don’t forget to reblog this post so we can get more people involved!


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“We specialize in a solution focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues and narcissistic abuse.”
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Office in Sherman Oaks, CA
Direct:
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DISCLAIMER
The materials and content contained in this website are for general information only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users of this website should not rely on the information provided for their own health needs. All specific questions should be presented to your own…

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How to Spot Psychological Manipulators

This is an excellent article. I am sure we have all dealt with manipulative people. If you have been in an intimate relationship with a person like this, I am sure you know how painful it can be. It’s so important to know this information and set boundaries. It is especially important to identify these traits early in new relationships, to save yourself from getting sucked into, what can end up being, a very damaging and painful experience. In addition, if you are a parent of a teenager who may begin dating soon, this information is vital to pass on to them as well.

MakeItUltra™

By Dr. Perry, PhD


“You learn a lot about people when they don’t get what they want.” ~Anonymous

Like the waves that forcefully crash on the shore and later gracefully retreat, there is an ebb and flow to life. The seasons change and the flowers bloom, only to later wilt. We all give and take in our daily lives. Our interactions with one another are overall based on a healthy exchange of emotions, ideas and positive social interactions. There are some individuals, that like crashing waves have a disruptive influence in our lives. They seem only interested in profiting from the relationship and will give little or nothing in exchange. They use psychological manipulation to disguise their true intent.

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that uses deception, underhanded tactics and abuse in order to achieve the interests of the manipulator. The manipulator may use these tactics for…

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Medication with tracking inserted in the pill…is this a good or bad idea?

I came across a news posting this morning with the title “FDA approves ‘trackable’ pill”.

I was initially intrigued. However, I was thinking of an entirely different segment of the population, that this type of pill might be useful for. For example, during my work as a medical professional, I often encounter elderly patients who can’t recall if they have taken their medications for the day.  They often have to spend time placing their pills in little containers, with the days of the week on them, to keep track.  These little containers are often not the best solution.  First, more than one of the same pill, can inadvertently, be placed in the same days container, leading to too much of the medication being taken.  Secondly, it’s never a really good idea to take the pills out of the original bottles.  It can be difficult for a patient to remember exactly which medications are which, when removed from the prescription bottle.  Furthermore, there may be special instructions on the prescription bottle, that need to be remembered, for each different medication.  For example, instructions such as, “don’t take with milk”, “take with food”, “don’t take within 2 hours of an antacid”, “avoid grapefruit juice”, and the list goes on.  To summarize, this class of patients may like the idea of technology that would track this information for them.  According to the article, the technology would allow the patient to look at an application on their smart phone, to check if that particular pill had been ingested.  The article also indicates that the information, from the phone application, can optionally be forwarded to their health care provider.

However, this is NOT the class of patients the technology is targeting.  The article indicates that these “trackable” pills are Abilify tablets, often used to treat patients with schizophrenia, or patients with manic episodes associated with bipolar disease.  Treating patients who have schizophrenia, with a pill that is “trackable” does not seem like the best idea.  Patients with schizophrenia, are a group of patients who, by virtue of their particular disease, are sometimes given to believe that they are being secretly monitored.  An individual with schizophrenia often feels paranoia, with a particular belief that others are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, and wish to cause them harm. A very common false belief, among individuals with schizophrenia, is that they have been secretly implanted with a chip, or other device, that is “watching” or “controlling” them.  Giving this group of patients a pill that actually does monitor them, does not seem like the best idea, in my humble opinion.

The tablets have an sensor, about the size of a grain of sand, embedded inside the tablet that is activated when it comes into contact with stomach fluid.  The patient then must wear a patch, which will record information from the sensor, and send it to an application on a smart phone.  The article indicates that, “Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients” (Mitchell Mathis, Food and Drug Administration).  I understand that medication compliance is often an issue with patients who have mental illness, for a number of reasons.  However, getting the patient to comply with wearing a patch, to track medication compliance, doesn’t seem like the perfect solution.  The patient may be just as “non-compliant” with the idea of wearing the patch to begin with.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how far this new technology goes.  The entire article can be read here:  Read full BBC News Story ~~ CLICK HERE or by visiting the link posted below.  I would love to hear other’s thoughts and opinions, on this new technology, in the comments section below.  I am very interested in hearing other viewpoints on this topic.

Original Article can be read at http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41980836

 

 

 

“Being Happy is a Generous Act”: An Interview on Mental Health

In this article, a man talks about his sister, who has struggled with mental health issues. He than follows by interviewing his sister, and including the questions and answers in his post. He asks his sister some tough questions about life, and how she deals with having a mental illness. This women was absolutely inspiring! The answers she gave were filled with an exuberance for life, a positive outlook, encouragement for others, and confidence. Additionally, the women offers practical suggestions that can actually realistically be applied in one’s life. The whole article was accentuated by what seemed to be genuine compassion and empathy for others. I was very touched by this woman’s strength and determination.

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“Part of growing is going through painful transitions and messing up a bit.”

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Dasha Radovanovic is my older sister and best friend. Hearing of her battle with mental health over many years is difficult and saddening, but above all it inspires in me immense pride and respect. Largely independently, she has reached a place of mental and physical stability, which she constantly works towards in every life aspect.

This interview is conducted as the first in a series of articles aiming to enlighten stories as well as strategies related to mental health.

 

When did you first understand that you were depressed and anxious?

I knew something was wrong years ago, but I didn’t have any labels to put on it like ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’. I was about fourteen or fifteen and for various reasons I’d been self harming and binge eating for a while. I started drinking and smoking…

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Cruel comments that cut me to the core…

Last night, I witnessed some very cruel words uttered to another human being.  It undoubtedly, was one of the most heartbreaking commentaries I have personally heard, in a long time.  It definitely woke me up, and opened my eyes, in more ways than one.  And, powerfully tugged at my heart strings, to say the least.

To start with, I will say that I do understand there are people in this world who do not agree with, and maybe even detest, homosexuality. I am not oblivious to this fact.  However, despite some of the uprisings and protests in the media lately, it seemed to me that homosexuality was, to a certain extent, more commonplace and accepted than it used to be. I have seen some vicious comments spoken in the media, and the hellish fire that gets stirred up at some of the different protests.  In spite of all this, it apparently didn’t sink in with me, the level of hate that still exists among some ordinary people.  I don’t watch mainstream news much, so maybe I missed something!! Or maybe, because the things I’ve seen were on in the media, it just didn’t have as much of a personalized effect on me.  I guess that sometimes, when you have a front row seat to something ugly, it seems to illicit a greater emotional response.

Regardless, what I saw and heard last night did personally affect me.  It made me very aware of the fact that some people are still very hateful towards gay people.  Furthermore, these same people, most likely also, are abhorrent towards every other category of people that they don’t like, disagree with, or view as different.  Whether it is race, religion, culture, values, political party, lifestyle, or simply different viewpoints, some people are still, very frighteningly, inhumane when it comes to someone who is different than they are.

Developments, over the past few years, such as gay marriage being made legal and moderately shifting viewpoints towards the gay community, gave me the false impression that our country had come a long way towards acceptance of homosexual individuals. Maybe we have become enlightened to some degree, but I learned last night that we still have a long way to go.  There are still some people lurking about, who are so filled with hate, they are willing to hurt a young man’s feelings simply because he is gay, and not think twice about it.

Secondly, I also learned that, at least a few people, are completely ignorant in regard to certain facts about HIV and disease transmission.  One would think that after twenty years of public health messages, educating people about how HIV is transmitted, that everyone would have learned the facts by now.  Wrong again!  Some people, apparently, still believe that HIV can be transmitted by sharing a toilet seat.  We obviously need to get some more public service messages into circulation, to educate all people on how HIV is transmitted.  For example, you cannot get HIV from sitting on a toilet seat. Unless you find a rare circumstance, in which the toilet is covered in HIV infected blood and your backside has open lacerations on it!  You also can’t catch HIV from hugging someone, or shaking their hand. I don’t mean too sound condescending, I am almost positive that the majority of people, who might be reading this, already know these things. The point I am trying to make is that there are still some people who actually don’t have this common knowledge.  After last night, I now know this to be a fact.

Let me jump off my soapbox now, and tell you about what happened last night, that ruffled my feathers.  My teenage son has a very good friend who is openly gay.  My son and I, and this gay friend, were all at the home of one of my relative’s.  I will refer to my son’s friend as Andrew, because I don’t want to share real names here, and I also don’t want to keep referring to him as “the gay friend”.  At one point in the evening, Andrew needed to use the restroom.  There are two bathrooms in the house, but apparently the toilet in the main bathroom was not working.  So my son asked this relative of ours, if “they” could use the bathroom in her master bedroom.  She responded to my son, and indirectly to Andrew, with these hateful words, she said “you can use it, but he can’t” (while she was looking directly at Andrew).  The dejected look on that young man’s face, when he heard that response, hurt me to the very core of my soul.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, she proceeded to add insult to injury by following up with, “I’m sorry but it’s my personal toilet and I don’t want his bodily fluids all over it.  I am sure you can understand that I just don’t want to catch something.” The young man simply needed to use a restroom (and side note, he doesn’t have HIV either).  I immediately took Andrew out of the room and apologized profusely.  I went in the main bathroom and “fixed” the toilet, which simply just needed to be plunged, so the boy could relieve himself.  Then, after uttering some stern words of education, to my relative, we left. However, I don’t think those hateful and ignorant words will ever leave that young man’s mind. They certainly won’t leave my mind or heart.

“Andrew” has enough ugliness to deal with in this world.  He is not only gay, but has also confided in me that he, feels more like a woman than a man inside, and sometimes dresses as a female.  Kids and teenagers can be cruel, especially when someone is “different”, and where we live in the bible belt “backwoods”, neither one of those two things are readily accepted.  So I am sure those spiteful words he heard last night were not the first he has heard, and won’t be the last.  He has a long fight ahead of him, to be able to keep his head held high, and hold on to his self-esteem.  It was very hard to witness, what was probably just one more hurtful remark, in a lifetime of insults.

Since my blog is basically dedicated to mental health, I will share what I have learned from a mental health viewpoint on this topic.  First and foremost, self-esteem is essential to being mentally healthy.  Low self-esteem is linked to anxiety, depression, isolation, eating disorders, opposition to social “norms”, substance use disorders, self-neglect, inability to take on challenges which often leads to lower socioeconomic status, higher suicide rates, and the list goes on.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I certainly don’t want to be responsible for helping to send a person down such a dismal life path.  One comment may not destroy a person’s self worth, but hurtful words most certainly do chip away at a person’s self-esteem.

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We are all guilty of saying things out of anger, or even fear, that were mean spirited or insensitive.  Nobody can be perfect all the time.  However, if we value our own self worth, we feel a sense of guilt after saying something hurtful, and if possible, we take the first opportunity to apologize and make amends.  People who truly have high self-esteem, desire to lift others up, not tear them down.  I am not implying that we have to agree with everyone either.  People with self worth, and confidence in their own personal values, have the ability to “agree to disagree”, when necessary.  I personally hold religious beliefs that would not enable me to choose to live a homosexual lifestyle.  And that’s okay, I have a right to my own personal beliefs.  But I don’t feel I have the right to impose my beliefs on others, or to be mean if someone believes differently than me.  And, I certainly have no authority to judge another person.  I can hold my personal beliefs, “agree to disagree”, and still love another person who has belief’s different from my own.  And I love “Andrew” dearly, he is one of the most kindhearted people I know, and I am truly glad he is in my life.

When you ask a class of kindergarten children, “What makes a good friend?”  You often hear things like: “being nice”, “sharing”, “having fun together”, “helping me when I am sad”, and so on.  When you ask an adult to name good qualities about a person, you often hear similar characteristics, such as: “kind”, “caring”, “empathetic”, “nonjudgmental”, “easygoing”, “honest”, “reliable”, “compassionate”, “loyal”, “helpful”, “unselfish”, among many others.  We improve our own self worth by embodying good qualities in our own personalities.  In other words, when we act in a hateful or egocentric manner, we actually damage our own self-esteem, in addition to the self confidence of others.  It seems as though being tolerant, accepting, respectful, and thoughtful of others, is a win-win for both sides.

Differences, such as race, culture, lifestyle, personal convictions, knowledge, and opinions, can be viewed as unique characteristics among individuals.  Diversity among people can make the world an interesting place, rather than reasons to hate each other.  Variations among ideas, cultures, viewpoints, and so forth, give us things to talk about, and even debate. You can even stand up for your beliefs without knocking someone else down.  There are tactful ways to get your point across.  You will most likely never convince someone to join your way of thinking, by being belligerent, and hateful towards them.  And you don’t have too convince anyone, you can still keep your cherished values and opinions, even if others don’t share them.

We all have the freedom to think for ourselves and speak our opinions.  Every so often, there are even instances in which we feel it is important to defend our beliefs.  But there is never a situation where we need to make someone feel less than, or spew hateful insults, in the process of defending our ideals.  None of us are superior.  I know sometimes our standards are dear to our heart, and we hold on to them strongly.  But that’s just it, they are our own personal beliefs.  Everyone has the the liberty to decide what they will believe in, that is why they are so often called “personal beliefs”.

So please, even if you don’t like someone, there is no need to be hateful. Words uttered, with a mean spirit, can hurt worse than being hit with a bat.  The hateful words I heard last night were not even directed at me, but they may as well have been, because the memory of the look on that boy’s face is still making my heart ache.  That image, will forever, be a stern reminder in my memory to think before I speak.

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As always, I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this topic, if you wish to share in the comments section below.  Pretty please, with sugar on top, let’s just all remember to be nice when discussing these sensitive topics.  Sometimes, I get upset or frustrated with someone, maybe it’s a waiter that brings me ice cold food, a slow cashier when I am in a hurry, or a hard to deal with coworker.  I take a deep breath and always try to remember that this person, that I am frustrated with, is someone else’s son, daughter, mother, grandmother, father, etc…  I wouldn’t want someone to say something hurtful to my child, my parents, my grandparents, or anyone that I love.  So I try to choose my words wisely and treat others, not only as I would like to be treated, but also like I would want my dearest loved ones to be treated. I hope some day my relative will try to do the same, or at the very least learn to bite her tongue.

“You never know what someone else is going through.  Be nice, it’s that simple.” –unknown  

When the past won’t let go…

 

“The mind replays what the heart can’t delete.”  –Unknown

Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to go through a terrible trauma, and than relive the memories everyday, over and over again, sometimes for years?  Imagine that the painful memories feel inescapable, they are in your thoughts during the day, and your dreams at night. Envision the need to sit with your back to the wall, because you always feel the need to be on alert for danger. Try to grasp feeling anxiety, that is so powerful, sometimes you can’t even focus on simple tasks.  Can you even conceptualize how physically, and mentally, exhausted you might become?  It’s very difficult, for those who haven’t experienced these feelings, to even truly comprehend that kind of existence.  The perspective I am trying to convey, is the experience of an individual living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In our current culture, of unceasing random violence and unforeseen tragedies, this disorder can affect anyone.

For a long time, many of our heroic military veterans have struggled with PTSD.  Military personnel are exposed to prolonged, horrible, life-threatening experiences, when in combat environments.  The tragedies our veterans face are beyond a civilians capacity to fathom.  It is not surprising, due to the painful events that a soldier witnesses, the number of soldiers who experience PTSD has always been relatively high.  However, would it surprise you to know, that the number of “civilians” experiencing PTSD is increasing as well? What was once considered to be something that affected only our brave veterans, is now becoming more prevalent among “ordinary people”.

 

In our current society, with the expanding numbers of random mass shootings, terrorism, and other acts of violence, the number of noncombat associated cases of PTSD is increasing. Even people, who were not physically involved in the actual event, can develop symptoms of PTSD. Our advanced technology brings catastrophic scenes of tragedy, and destruction, into our own living rooms, and onto our smart phones.  Individuals far removed from the tragedies can be intensely affected by the harrowing images viewed in the media.  This is called communal trauma: when people who were not physically at the disaster scenes, identify with the victims, and their personal ideas of being safe, and sheltered, are shattered.  The world becomes an unpredictable perilous place, where everyone is vulnerable to tragedy, that can strike without warning.  People who have been exposed to trauma in daily life, may not realize what they are experiencing, because many don’t understand that anyone, not just veterans, can experience post-traumatic stress disorder.  Anyone who experiences a real, or perceived, threat to one’s safety, or witnesses a similar threat to someone else’s safety, can develop PTSD. 

Examples of traumatic events that may precipitate the disorder often include:

  • Crimes and random acts of violence and or death (example: mass shootings)
  • Witnessing crimes and dangerous situations
  • Disasters
  • Accidents
  • Domestic violence & abuse
  • Suicide or other violent death of a loved one
  • Childhood traumas (sexual, physical, emotional abuse or neglect)
  • Rape and sexual assaults
  • Physical assault/violence (to self or loved one)
  • Natural disasters
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Serious motor vehicle accidents
  • Witnessing violence or death
  • Diagnosis of a life threatening illness
  • Traumatic death of family member or someone close
  • Kidnapping
  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Any other serious risks, or perceived risks, of severe injury or loss of life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not an uncommon disorder. Estimates indicate that approximately 9% of the population will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime (Breslau, Davis, Andreski, et al., 1991).  That is 7 to 8 people out of every 100.  The probability of developing PTSD depends in part on the nature of the trauma, the number of traumatic events a person has been exposed to, the characteristics of the victim, as well as the strength of a persons coping skills, and their available support systems (NIMH, 2016).

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If you, or someone you know, has experienced trauma, it’s a good idea to know the signs and symptoms of PTSD.  It is a terrible disorder to live with, and there are treatment options that can greatly improve a persons quality of life.  Almost everyone has some stress related reactions (acute stress) after living through a traumatic event.  However, if the symptoms last longer than a few months, cause ongoing concern and distress, or affect one’s ability to function in life (problems at work, relationships difficulties, inability to concentrate on daily tasks, isolation, etc…), than it might be beneficial to seek help (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

Some possible “warning signs” that may indicate post-traumatic stress:
* agitation          * tension                 * hypervigilance
* feeling afraid  * feeling jumpy     * easily startled
* tension             * amnesia              * loss of interest in normal activities
* crying a lot      * isolation              * feeling responsible for outcome
* fatigue              * feeling numb     * overreacting to minor conflicts
* impatience      * lashing out         * use of substances to avoid feelings
* risk taking       * depression         * feelings of “survivor’s guilt”
* anxiety             * insomnia            * neglecting health or hygiene
* flashbacks       * nightmares         * avoiding certain people or places
NOTE: This is by no means a complete list. These are examples of some of
the most commonly reported, and troubling, symptoms associated with PTSD. 


People with PTSD often feel stressed or afraid, even when they are in no apparent danger.


There are four main features associated with PTSD:

  1. A persistent re-experiencing of the event:  This can come in many forms and can even occur subconsciously (as is often the case with childhood traumas). Some examples of re-experiencing can include:  intrusive memories of the trauma; dreams or nightmares about the event; and flashbacks.  Flashbacks are defined as a dissociative experience (a type of disconnect from reality). The event is basically “relived”, a person may act out (sometimes aggressively), as if the event is actually reoccurring.  
  2. Avoidance of anything that may trigger memories or feelings associated with the trauma:  Certain stimuli, or triggers, may often cause unpleasant emotions and feelings of intense anxiety.  Some examples of triggers may include: seeing similar events on the news, or even in dramatic entertainment shows;  avoidance of and/or difficulty talking about the event; amnesia (loss of memory); and avoidance of people, places or things that are reminders of the trauma.
  3. Feeling numb:  This can appear as if the person has no emotions, or what is often referred to as a blunted affect.  Examples include: feeling detached from others; feeling empty inside; isolation; loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed; difficulty concentrating; and feelings of depersonalization or derealization.  Depersonalization is defined as a perception in which a person does not feel like they are real, the person’s body may feel as though it is not part of the environment, or that their thoughts and feelings are not real.  Derealization is defined as a feeling that one’s surroundings are not real.
  4. Hyper-arousal:  This is an exaggerated state of increased alertness, especially to possible danger.  Examples of symptoms can include: irritability, exhaustion; paranoia; catastrophizing; insomnia or frequent waking; problems focusing on simple tasks; exaggerated startle response (may jump when touched); and hypervigilance.  Hypervigilance is defined as a feeling of being constantly tense and on guard for potential danger.

hypervigilance

What causes some people to navigate through trauma, with few residual effects, while others develop post-traumatic stress disorder?

As we said above, PTSD is a psychological disorder that can develop, in certain individuals, after a precipitating traumatic, fearful, or life threatening event.  It is completely natural to experience the emotion of fear during a scary occurrence, or potentially life threatening situation.  When we are exposed to danger, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode, in which we either fight for our lives, or flee from the danger.  This is a natural system ingrained in our psyche to protect us. It triggers our bodies to release certain chemicals, that propel us into a state of heightened awareness and increases our body’s energy levels, to prepare us to handle the threat. This system enables us to, most efficiently, deal with the danger. Sometimes with severe traumatic events, it is hard for the brain to extinguish the “fight or flight” response, after the danger has passed (NIMH, 2016).

We have all probably felt these feelings after a harrowing experience, our heart is racing, we have increased energy, and it takes a few minutes, after the danger has passed, for us to readjust and regain our composure. People go through a range of different emotions, we all deal with the aftermath of a crisis in an individualized manner.  Some people will develop “Acute Stress Disorder”, which has similar symptoms to PTSD, and may require professional help, but generally resolves on it’s own in a few weeks.  However, some individuals do not recover naturally, and can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which does not resolve in weeks, but rather can persist for months, years, or even decades (Op den Velde, Hovens, Aarts, et al., 1996).  Furthermore, PTSD may not manifest immediately, sometimes the symptoms will begin to appear, inexplicably, later in life.

Research indicates that individuals, who go on to develop PTSD, have complications in the areas of the brain responsible for suppressing fearful memories.  There is a particular area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, that is involved with the ability to suppress fear.  Some individuals, when exposed to extreme stress and fear, may develop problems in this area of the brain.  Changes in the brain, that have been triggered by stress, and the physical and psychological effects that follow, can be a related to changes in this prefrontal area of the brain.  In addition, there may be changes associated with the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that deals with emotions (Milad, Rauch, Pitman, & Quirk, 2006).  The amygdala also plays a part in interpreting fearful stimuli.  The amygdala is linked to many mental disorders that involve anxiety.  Because the disorder is believed to be linked to actual injury in the brain, PTSD is now starting to be viewed as both a psychological and a physical disorder.  More research is needed in this area to focus on possible improved treatments (Fonzo, 2017).

How to seek help:

A doctor who has experience helping people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can diagnose PTSD.  If you are not sure where to start, you could start by asking your family doctor to recommend a mental health care provider.  It’s important to find a mental health provider with experience treating PTSD.  The most common treatments for PTSD include a combination of talk therapy and medications.  However, there are many other treatment options that can be tried.  Some people will need to explore different options, to find a treatment regimen, that works for them.  People are individuals with different needs, so what works for one, may not work for another.  You will also need to find a mental health provider that you feel comfortable with.  It is important that you feel a sense of trust, and security, with you doctor.  It is okay to change providers, if you don’t feel at ease with a particular health care professional.  A good doctor will understand the importance of feeling comfortable with your treatment, and won’t take the change personally.  Additionally, other mental health issues such as anxiety, panic disorder, depression, domestic violence, and substance use disorders, may need to be addressed (NIMH, 2016).

If you are having trouble locating a mental health provider you can check the resources on our Helplines & Crisis Hotlines page. You can also check the National Institute of Mental Health’s Help for Mental Illness Website .  If you are in an immediate crisis, dial 911, or go to the nearest emergency room, an ER doctor can also provide temporary help and direct you to resources for further treatment (NIMH, 2016).

Caring for yourself is important, you are worth it!  Taking the first step towards seeking help, and change, is often scary and hard.  Try to focus on the thought that you can get better, and take baby steps towards your goal. Just put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, looking to far into the future can be daunting.  It may take some time, and hard work, but you won’t have to live in fear anymore, and that will be worth the effort.

Comments and discussion are welcomed.  I would like to hear your opinions, thoughts, and experiences in the comment section below.  Sharing stories of strength and hope brings us together, and we can help each other.  Support is essential to mental health!

 

 

thank you to all veterans

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2000).  Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed., Text Revision).  Washington, DC: Author.

Breslau, N., Davis, G., Andreski, P., & Peterson, E. (1991). Traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder in an urban population of young adults.  Archives of General Psychology, 48, 218-228.

Fonzo, G. (2017). Selective effects of psychotherapy on frontopolar cortical function in PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16091073

Milad, M., Rauch, S., Pitman, R., & Quirk, G. (2006). Fear extinction in rats: implications for human brain imaging and anxiety disorders. Biological Psychology: Jul;73(1): p.61-71. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2006.01.008

National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH]. (2016). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Op den Velde, W, Hovens, J., Aarts, P., FreyWouters, E., Falger, P., Van Duijn, H., & De Groen, J. (1996).  Prevalence and course of posttraumatic stress disorder in Dutch veterans of the civilian resistance during World War II:  An overview. Psychological Reports, 78, 519-529.

Just How Far Does Human Sex Trafficking Reach?

Reblogged from Source: Just How Far Does Human Sex Trafficking Reach?

When you hear the words “human Trafficking” what comes to mind? Do you understand how terrible it is yet think “that’s not really impacting me personally”?

Maybe it is and you don’t know it, because we are not talking about it enough.

What I am about to tell you is very personal and dear to my heart, many tears have been shed and countless months of detective work to come to the story I am about to tell you.

A year ago Michigan was #2 in the nation for human trafficking based on phone calls received by the human trafficking hotline. Today it’s still in the top 10 however falling lower to states like California and Nevada due to the volume of vacationers that visit those states.

It all started about 5 years ago with a 15 year old boy named Bruce on Instagram. Bruce was a young attractive Hispanic boy, seemingly normal in every way. Little did he know he was the 1st step in an elaborate human trafficking ring. Like many of our children today they really do not understand how the social media outlets spread the entire world and with that come serious threats if not monitored.

Bruce was a “friend” to quite a few of the girls in my daughter’s circle of friends and they would chat daily. Bruce also had many friends that were being introduced to the circle and they all began to chat through Instagram and Kik. Shortly after their introduction I began to see a change in my daughter, she was becoming secretive and sneaky and being that I fully understand how far the internet reaches and quickly things can get out of control on the internet I checked up on my daughter on a regular basis. I would say bi-weekly I would grab her tablet after she went to sleep and begin to dig into her messages, her pictures and to see if things looked appropriate.

I noticed an unusual time gap in some messages and images, and truly didn’t think anything of it until about 2 weeks later. I had a funny feeling one night and grabbed her tablet to do what I thought would be just another normal check… What I found to this day haunts my mind and makes my heart sink.

It began with a picture, a questionably inappropriate for a girl her age and the sexy pose set my red flag on fire. So my digging turned into a manhunt checking EVERYTHING in all her accounts.

You see Bruce was a real boy, totally naïve to the “friends” he had in his circle. As I finished my digging into her accounts all I was left with were tears in my eyes and a burning fire in my heart to destroy every boy on her Instagram account and it was just the beginning.

I began to use the power of Google to do some searching and looking up secondary accounts of some of the friends in this circle (not something children are willing to do) once I saw that 4 of the “friends” in the circle were clearly adult men, my heartbreak turned to anger and rage. After about 2 days of almost endless scouring the internet for info on these MEN I came to the conclusion that I needed to take action with the Police. We were quickly met by the detective of the Cyber Task Force of Portage Police department and all our technology was requested.  After 7 months they called us in to report the most terrifying words I have ever heard, “Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, can you and your family please come to the Police station as soon as possible” NOT something you ever want to hear.

After we arrived we entered into a small conference room in the back of the Portage Police station and began to listen as he explained how my digging may have saved my daughter from abduction.

Bruce was like I said a normal 15 year old boy, what I didn’t know was the friends that were men acting as “friends” have set Bruce out as a scout… He was the first safe face that our children see; he unknowingly was luring young girls into his circle as prey for the men to pick and choose from. The circle of Bruce’s friend list reached the globe and his over 2k followers were nothing more than a smorgasbord of young unaware children these men were chatting with. OUR CHILDREN..

This is not someone else’s problem, this is right here, right now and real as the tears I shed for the innocence that was stolen from my daughter. My beautiful girl was prey for these monsters, she was quickly approaching a meetup (in her words) and I fear that I may have never seen my daughter again.

I hope this triggers fear in the hearts of every one of you. Dig in your children’s accounts, ask them question, and tell them not to have “friends” that they don’t actually know. I had no idea just how close it came to never seeing my daughter again, it’s worth the little upset hurt feelings of your child to keep them safe. If you do not know or understand what to look for or how ASK someone that does that you trust with the life of your child.

This picture of my daughters may have been the last picture I had with both of them together. This was taken around the time Haylee met Bruce..

girls-wallet

National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1 (888) 373-7888

Additional Helplines & Crisis Hotlines

Source: Just How Far Does Human Sex Trafficking Reach?

Viktor Frankl on the Meaning of Suffering

I read this book years ago, and remember it gave me a new perspective. It’s worth reading. In fact, I am going to read it again.

repsychl

“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” “Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering—to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to…

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