Thank you

Thanks to everyone who read my post on mental illness and for all the kind responses I got.
Honestly, after I put my post on facebook, insecurity hit big time. Why am I doing this? As if anyone wants to read this. With those 2 people I know I’m not exactly going to change the world. Ahhh, good old insecurity, always there when you don’t need it.

The nice feedback and the kind words that I received in response to my post were heartwarming and made me realize it was a good decision.
Also, it reminded me of the fact that there are a lot of people in one way or another being affected by depression (I’ll stick with depression, since that’s my field of expertise). It’s just that most people don’t talk about it.
And, not unimportant, it made me realize I need to be more open about it with the people around me. If they don’t know I’m having a rough time, they can’t help me. Well, dah…

It’s just time I actually start doing it. It doesn’t help that I’m not much of a talker and there’s also the problem (well, one of them anyway 🙂 ) that I’d like to pretend everything’s ok, and I’m pretty darn good at it, if I say so myself. The: “if you don’t say it aloud, it’s not there” strategy. Not very helpful, in case you were wondering.
And I don’t want people to think I’m whining by saying I’m not well so often (I have quite some days I’m not doing too great). And also, my good, is good considering how it usually is, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m “normal” good .
But I have to put this aside, for myself, so people around me know what’s going on. But also for my daughter, because I want her to learn it’s not just ok speak about your feelings, but also necessary.

So, for everyone who cares; right now, I’m not doing too great. Winter is usually a hard time for me and I was actually hoping I’d do better now that the days are getting longer en sunnier. Unfortunately I’m not there yet. My challenge is to remind myself that my mind is playing tricks on me and that I have to be very careful what to believe and not. Also, I like to have contact, but feeling like this makes it hard for me to get in touch and even harder to actually go out and see people. Just know it’s not because I don’t care or don’t want, but just because I’m in a rough place at the moment.

Thank you to everyone who cares, for your kind words and being my friend. It really does mean a lot!

Sandra

Mental illness #break the stigma

Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.
Michelle Obama

Mental health, one of the most important things in our lives, whether young or old. It determines how we interact with people around us, how we handle stress and problems, how we make choices and act.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) almost 18 percent of US adults suffered from a mental illness in 2015. And unfortunately it’s not just adults. One in five children (age 13-18) suffer at some point in their life from a debilitating mental disorder.
Considering those numbers and the impact of mental illness, it’s rather surprising how little attention we give it. And by keeping silent, we maintain the stigma surrounding mental illness. Getting rid of the stigma and recognizing that it’s a real illness will encourage more people to seek the help they need and do justice to their suffering.

I’ve experienced this stigma first hand. Ever since I was a teenager I have been struggling on and off with episodes of depression. First of all, it took years before I found out I suffered from depression. It’s not something they talk about in schools (though, considering the amount of children that suffer I think they should!). In fact, no one ever talks about it.
Things didn’t get much better when I knew I suffered from depression. Like before, people kept telling me to think positively, socialize and exercise more. It became painfully clear that people saw it as something I could have prevented or at least could cure by doing things differently. In their eyes I was just feeling blue, no big deal. However, depression is something totally different than having the blues. Depression is an illness with serious impact on the person who suffers from it as well as the people around him/her.

Besides the fact that depression is often not considered to be a “real” illness, there’s also the notion that you’re crazy. Once someone said to me that if one sees a psychiatrist “you’re really crazy”. I politely explained that a psychiatrist is nothing more than a doctor who’s specialized in mental illness and that most people that see a psychiatrist are absolutely not crazy. But it definitely shows a big part of the problem. Mental illness is often associated with being crazy. Dangerous maybe even. And yes, there are cases in which that is true. But, more often than not, crazy has nothing to do with it. They are just normal people with an illness of the brain.

It’s time that we start seeing mental illness for what it is. An illness.
We have to get rid of the notion that mental illness is self inflicted, not a “real” disease, and that people with a mental illness are weak of even crazy. How would you feel if your leg was broken and someone told you to “just think positively and exercise more”? You’d probably feel insulted, right? I know some people will think this is a ridiculous analogy, but this in fact is exactly what’s happening.
I’m not sure why it’s so hard for people to accept mental illness is real. I guess part of it is because if you’ve never experienced it, it is hard, if not impossible to imagine what its like and therefore is not relatable. Maybe because the behavior of someone with a mental illness can differ from “the norm”.

It can definitely be challenging to be around someone with a mental illness. Take depressed people, they’re not exactly fun to be around with (believe me, I know). Just try to keep in mind that’s pretty hard to be good company when your world is nothing more than a big black hole. And if you think it can’t be as bad as someone tells you; multiply their story by ten and you will have a glimpse at what they’re going through. The darkness and despair of a depression just can’t be described in words.
I know most people mean well, but please do NOT give someone with a mental illness “advice” about what will “cure” them. Believe me, they have tried. If you really care about someone, read about their illness and the best you can do, is simply to genuinely listen without any judgement (unfortunately that proves to very difficult for a lot of people).

The problem with the stigma of mental illness is that it makes it hard for people to admit that they suffer from it and prevents them to seek help. After all, no one likes to be seen as a hypochonder, weak or crazy. So, on top of their illness, they also have to deal with this enormous stigma, making them feel unheard and ashamed of themselves.

I’m no longer ashamed of saying I suffer from depression, but I definitely have been. That doesn’t mean I like to talk about it, especially to people I don’t know. Not because I’m ashamed. I know I didn’t bring this on myself. It’s because it takes too much energy to try to explain (more likely try to convince) that it’s really an illness and not me being lazy and feeling blue.
Though, I have to admit I still have moments that I feel guilty about being depressed. After all, I have a good life. I have a wonderful husband, a lovely daughter, live in a nice house, have friends, yet, I’m not happy. Having all this, I’m “supposed” to be happy. I feel guilty for not having a clean house and having all the laundry done, even though I’m a stay at home mom and have plenty of time. I feel guilty for not doing more with my family. I’m very grateful to have a wonderful, understanding husband, who reminds that’s not because I’m lazy or don’t care, but because I’m ill.

Please help break the stigma of mental illness by being open about it and acknowledging it’s just another illness and nothing to be ashamed about.

Worried about your quiet child?

Did you ever worry about your child being quiet? Wondering if (s)he is social enough, has enough friends, is well liked etc.? If you did, you’re not alone.
Many parents worry about their child not living up to the expectations of our extroverted society. Especially when parents are extroverts themselves, they may be wondering what’s wrong and think (s)he is shy or maybe even depressed. Well, there’s a good chance nothing is wrong. Your child may just be introverted.

Even I, an introvert myself, stepped into the same pitfall. I was worried about my daughter being shy. Wondering if she had enough friends, was well liked and enjoying herself. Because I was very shy as a child, I really wanted to prevent her from going through that same ordeal.
Even though all of her teachers the past couple of years told us she was doing great, was social and played with a lot of different kids, I kept worrying about it. Until I recently read “Quiet, the powers of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain and realized that she was just being her beautiful introverted self and I was projecting my own fears onto her.

Although from the outside introversion and shyness may appear to be the same, there is a substantial difference. Shyness is based on fear, being afraid of what others will think. An extrovert can be shy and show the same behavior as an introvert that isn’t. They’re both quiet, but for a different reason.
Introversion means that a person is more focused toward the inside. Introverted people don’t (necessarily) dislike people. But, where extroverted people gain energy from their interaction with others, introverts get drained.
For example, no matter how much my daughter likes to go to school, when she gets home, she needs quiet time. She will curl up in a corner of the couch and read. If I ask too many questions, she will get cranky. She likes school, but it also takes a lot of her energy and she needs time alone to refuel.

Introverted kids are often daydreamers and thinkers. They like to observe and think about things.
Whereas extroverted children dive into a party or playground to go play right away, introverted kids will first observe. They like to take things in before they join and usually have a preference for other quieter kids. And it’s not that they don’t talk, they just like to get to know someone first.

If you’re an extrovert and not sure how to handle your introverted child, then maybe this will help.

Accept that they are quiet. As long as they have a few good friends and they are happy, its ok. Not everybody needs loads of friends. If you’re not sure, ask your child’s teacher (at school and/or sports) how they are doing. Just make sure they are not afraid to speak their mind. It’s ok to be quiet, but they do have to be able to stand up for themselves.

Respect their need for privacy and downtime. Quiet time is essential for them to recharge, if they don’t, they’ll get overloaded and breakdown. Schedule downtime between activities.

As I said before, they are thinkers. They need to process events and like to think things through and rehearse their response, so give them some time. They don’t talk very easily. If you want to know what’s going on inside of them, try going on a walk or do something else that is relaxed enough to talk, but doesn’t put your focus on your child.

 

The Fairy Garden

The first week of my course ‘writing for children’ we had to write about a life event. That came pretty easily. This week’s assignment was to write something, mixing two genres. I couldn’t think of anything really. So, I made it a little bit easier on myself 🙂 . I asked Lisa what kind of story she would like me to write. That wasn’t too difficult for her. She wanted a story about a girl called Lizzy that got a box from her father and would meet fairies and other fantasy creatures. Great, that gave me two genres to work with, realistic and fantasy. I wrote it for children between 7 and 10 years old. If any of my Dutch friends thinks they know a child that may like the story, I’d love to translate it for them and hear their feedback.

 

The Fairy garden is a story, partly realistic, partly fantasy. The audience is children 7-10.

The Fairy Garden

Lizzy couldn’t sleep. She just heard something and was convinced there was someone. Or something. Like a dragon or a witch. She clamped her arms around her pillow. Her hand touched something. Suddenly she remembered the small wooden box her dad had once given her. He had told her it was a magical box and that she could use it whenever she needed a friend. All she had to do was open it and whisper: I’m Lizzy. She had put the box underneath her pillow and had forgotten about it until now. She grabbed the box. It fitted perfectly in the palm of her hand.

She opened it. Nothing happened. It was just an empty box and didn’t look like anything magical would happen, but she whispered “I’m Lizzy” anyway.

Within a blink of an eye she was no longer in her bed but in a big field surrounded by beautiful flowers that smelled wonderfully. Oh… and fairies! Lots of fairies! She pinched herself. Ouch, that hurt. She watched a fairy in pink as she danced through the air. So beautiful! But then… she gasped. A unicorn! Playing with the cutest little dragon ever!

“Do you like it here, Lizzy?”
Startled Lizzy looked to her side. There was the pink fairy she had seen earlier.
“Uh… yes,” she said timidly.
“My name is Rosa” said the fairy. “Let me show you around.”
“What is this place? Where am I?”
“This the Fairy Garden”.
“And how do you know my name?”
“How could we invite you if we didn’t know your name?”
“You invited me?”
“Yes, didn’t your dad give the box to you and tell you how to use it?”
“Yes, but…”

Rosa didn’t let her finish. “We invite children that, for whatever reason, need us. Your father used to come here when he was young.”
Her father used to come here? Why?

As if Rosa had read her mind, she said: “your dad came here when he was your age. He was very shy and didn’t like it. Just like you. We helped him overcome that and now we will help you.”
Lizzy couldn’t believe it. Her dad!? Shy!? She smiled, that meant the fairies could help her too. This place made her happy and knowing the fairies would be there for her whenever she needed them made her feel at ease.

She yawned. All of the sudden she felt very tired. Rosa smiled: “I know it’s a lot to take in. Why don’t you go back home, get some sleep and come back later? You can come back anytime you want to.”

“So… how do I get back home?”
“See that little cottage over there?”
Lizzy nodded.
“Just go in there and you’ll go right back to where you came from.”

She gave Rosa a big hug and entered the cottage. As sudden as she had entered the Fairy Garden she was back in her bed. Knowing she could always return to her friends, she fell into a deep and happy sleep.

 

 

You don’t have to understand someone to be respectful

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.
Friedrich Nietzsche

The other day I was at a party. After I finished talking to a friend, I started listening in on another conversation. Since I just dropped in on the conversation, I didn’t know exactly what it was about, but it seemed being sociable was the theme. One of the women said that she couldn’t stand those engineers that would sneak along the wall (as if they are trying to hide) and not say anything. Apparently that didn’t feel comfortable to her and she told how she once walked up to one of them, stood right in front of him and said hi.

Honestly, I was shocked. That is something kids do in high school, not adults at work. Or so I thought.
That person may very well have been a shy introvert and was likely horrified when she was right in his face. I don’t know why she did it. If it was just to make her feel better or to somehow let that person know he should greet. But whatever her reason, there’s a good chance her action made this person draw even further back in his shell. If it was that important, annoying or whatever to her, she could have just politely asked him about it and/or tell him how it made her feel instead of being intrusive and disrespectful.

Since I didn’t feel like saying I’m introverted myself (they may have noticed, I don’t know, but I definitely wasn’t going to share 🙂 ), I started by telling them about a book I’m reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain. About how western society (and the US in particular) is focused on extroversion. How people are expected to show, and are appreciated for sociable, talkative and outgoing behavior. Those are good qualities and introverted people have other good qualities. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all respect and appreciate each other’s differences?

Hopefully it made them think about it. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, I never know what to say. I have to think about things first and then I prefer the write it down (apparently not uncommon amongst introverted people 🙂 ).

What I would really like for all of us, is to try and understand we are not all the same and that we all have our own qualities. Of course I understand that when someone is completely your opposite, it may be challenging to understand why someone is behaving the way they do. And even then, we can still be respectful of that person.

And this is not about introversion, but about autism, depression or whatever character trait or illness people may have that makes them not compliable with society’s standards. Different doesn’t mean less, it just means different. And it may be hard on people, so let’s not make it any more difficult for them. Let’s see the beauty and the qualities in others and appreciate and respect them for that.

 

Welcome to my life

Ok, this is kind of scary, so please be nice 🙂 .
I’ve discovered I like to write, hence this blog. But… I want more. And so, I’ve decided to do an online course writing for children. I’ve never written anything for kids, so it’s scary. All kinds of limiting beliefs that come to haunt me 🙂 . Every week there is an assignment and I want to share my very first one. The assignment was to write something about a life event. So, welcome to my life.

Comments on what’s good or not so good are greatly appreciated. If you have older children (I’m guessing between 10 and 16???) it would be awesome if you could get them to read it and tell what they think of it.
My apologies that the story is not divided into paragraphs, for some reason I could not make that work 🙁 .

 

Welcome to eighth grade
Oh…no, no, no!!! The only seats left are in the back of the class room! I can’t sit in the back of the room! How did I get here so late!? How could I be so careless!? I know I have to be early the first class of the year to get my perfect seat in the middle of the room. Not in the back with the talkies and the troublemakers and not too close to the teacher either.
Ok, ok, ok… don’t panic! I can’t panic here. Not in front of all these people. Take a deep breath.
Ok, so I have to sit in the back of the room, at least get a chair close to the door, that way I can get the hell out of here as soon as the bell rings. Over there, second last row, next to the girl with the too blond hair and too much make up.
Now what? Do I need to ask her if I can sit next to her or…?
“All right everyone, take a seat and get your things ready”.
Saved by the teacher. Now run and sit!
Oh man… too much perfume as well.
“Welcome to eighth grade, I’m mister Klein and I will be teaching you all about economics this year”.
Of all classes I came too late to his class! Mister Klein is really nice but he just doesn’t know how to handle a class. His classes are famous for being chaotic. Everyone knows you can do practically anything without consequences. And it’s the one class that I really, really need to pay attention to.
That disgusting perfume is making me nauseous. Why do some people wear that much perfume? And if it were a nice perfume, but it’s some kind of heavy synthetic flower-ish smell.
Ok, I really need to pay attention or I will be behind from the very first lesson on.
“Don’t you just loooooove my new perfume?”
Great, Miss Too Much of Everything is discussing her new perfume with her friends in the seats right behind us. They’re not even trying to whisper.
Mister Klein is desperately trying to make himself heard. A lost cause. How long before he will go home with a burn out this year? I feel sorry for him. Why doesn’t he apply for another job? Everyone can see he is unhappy.
Just five minutes since class started. Only 45 more minutes…. And nine more months…. But hey, who’s counting?

Welcome to eighth grade.

Why all schools should teach mindfulness and meditation

If every 8 year old child in the world is taught meditation, we can eliminate violence from the world within one generation.
The Dalai Lama

When I did my first NLP training (I was thirty something), I remember thinking: “I wish this was taught in schools, it would’ve helped me so much”.
Of course it is important to learn to read and write and do math. And it would be really great if schools would also teach us skills for life. How to deal with our emotions and challenges that we will encounter. How awesome would it be if this were part of every school’s curriculum? If every child would have the same chance of learning these skills.

The other day I came across an article about the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore. This school did something really awesome. About two years ago, they stopped punishing kids that misbehaved. Instead, they send these kids to a “mindful moment room”. This room is set up as a meditation room with mats, comfy pillows and decorations. When kids are being send to this room, they are encouraged to participate in breathing exercises and mindful meditation. They also have the possibility to talk about how they ended up in that room.
The school also has a after school program that teaches the students mindfulness practices and yoga.

And guess what? The results are amazing. The school hasn’t had a single suspension since they started the program. Another school nearby that also uses this program, says that they have less suspensions and an increased attendance.

Even though there isn’t a whole lot of research on this topic, evidence so far suggests that there’s definitely a benefit to having kids practice mindfulness and meditation. Their ability to pay attention increases as well as class room participation and they have more self-control and respect for others.

Imagine if every school would add mindfulness practice and meditation to their curriculum. What would happen if every child would be given the chance to learn this? The possibilities would be endless.

I think our school is doing pretty good with incorporating the “love and logic” program and I think mindfulness and meditation would be a wonderful addition. I really want to bring this to the attention of our principle.
For as long as we don’t have a program like this at school, I’ve decided to read about teaching mindfulness and meditation to children. I have found some great resources (if you’re interested, I will put a few links at the end of this post).

Yesterday I found a site that offers free meditations for kids and I decided to do one with Lisa. When she went to bed, I asked her if she wanted to try a breathing exercise with me. She did (anything to postpone your bedtime 🙂 ). I chose the shortest to first see how it would go. She liked doing it. When I asked her what she liked about it, she said that it made her calm. I asked her if she wanted to do exercises like this more often and she said yes. So, we’re definitely going to try more exercises 🙂 .

Sites that I found during my search are:
Annaka Harris
Mindfulness for kids
8 ways to teach mindfulness to kids
Mindfulness for kids

 

 

King Solomon’s ring

There are several different versions of the parable of King Salomon’s ring, but this the one I like the most. This is the version as told by David Franko from Turkey, written down by Heda Jason.

One day King Solomon decided to teach humility to Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, one of his ministers. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot holiday which gives you six months to find it.” “If it exists anywhere on earth, Your Majesty, ” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has the magic powers, ” answered the king. “If a happy man wears it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man wears it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he took a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes a happy man forget his joy and a sad man forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah. He watched the old merchant take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it.
When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.

“Well, my friend, ” said the King Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, Your Majesty!”
As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “gam zeh ya’avor”—-this too shall pass. At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.”

When things are getting rough, it can be hard to see the light on the other end of the tunnel and I find it very comforting to remember that “this too shall pass”. It doesn’t make things easier or go by sooner, but it does give hope. I think hope is one of the most important things we humans need. If there’s no hope, then, what is there to live for?

When you’re happy you wish that it will last forever. You don’t want to think of the fact that this will pass. At least that was the first thing I thought. But I actually came to appreciate it for my happy moments as well.

Because, aren’t we often taking happy moments for granted? How often do we not take the time to really enjoy because we’re preoccupied with all those other, often trivial, things? How often are we missing out on the beautiful moments life offers us because we got used to it? Until the moment it’s no longer there and you realize you should have enjoyed it more.

By remembering “this too shall pass”, I remember that I need to take time to live in the moment. That I need to suck in all of the love, happiness and joy I possibly can. Even if it’s closing my eyes and enjoy the sun for just a second. It’s important, because these moments too shall pass and we may need the memories of these happy moments to get us through more challenging times.

Emodiversity. Emowhat!?

This research project builds on the idea that our evolutionarily older brain systems are not solely a source of immorality and selfishness, but when tuned by our goals, can contribute to moral and just behavior. Thus, human flourishing does not come from the suppression of aspects of the self, but rather through the integration of all relevant processes together into a unified response.
How happy brains respond to negative things, by Summer Allen and Jeremy Adam Smith

Today I finished the first week of my course “The science of happiness” (the great thing about these courses is that you can do them at your own pace). There were a few things I already knew and there were some interesting things I didn’t know.

One thing I had never heard of was emodiversity. Emowhat!?!? Apparently I missed something. Emodiversity is the variety and abundance of emotions a person has. Study shows that people with a high emodiversity are less likely to be depressed than people that are high in just positive emotions. Also, high emodiversity is linked to better health. So, it may be better for our overall happiness to feel negative emotions like anger at appropriate times than to try to deny them and feel happy all the time.

I think that all emotions are parts of us that have a reason for speaking up, whether we like to hear it or not. I actually believe that all of these parts have a good intention for us as well. Some of these parts just don’t know how to express themselves in a healthy way.
Like I said in Egowise, I feel it’s important to listen seriously to what all your parts have to say in a neutral way. Then, see what they say is real and/or helpful or not. Not scientific at all, but my own experience is that when I don’t listen they only tend to scream louder. And maybe it doesn’t work for everybody and maybe it’s worth a try.

Curious about your emodiversity? Don’t worry, of course they developed a test you can do. And of course I took it 🙂 . Much to my surprise it said I have an emodiversity of 99%!? I know I sometimes feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t equal emodiversity 🙂 .

 

Too much Sex and the City?

The other day I started reading “Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life” by Anne Lamott. I haven’t finished it yet and I’m not entirely sure I will. I think I have a different sense of humor and I’m not too fond of her “on life” moments.
There is one thing she wrote that I do like though. She says most writers start with a crummy first draft and go from there. According to her it’s normal to write and write and end up using only a part, maybe as little as one sentence, of it and start (again) from there. True or not, I like to believe it, because that’s exactly what I do. I start writing down everything that comes to mind in the way in comes to mind, which usually ends up as an pretty unreadable first draft. Then, I read it again and start adding and removing (sometimes all of it).

I don’t know, maybe I’ve been watching too much Sex and the City? If you’ve never seen it: the lead character, Carrie Bradshaw, writes a weekly column (yes, you guessed right, called Sex and the City) for a newspaper. In most, if not all, episodes she starts with something, then has a writer’s block only to write down a perfect article in one breath (ok, maybe change a word or two, but that’s it) at the end of every episode. Yes… I know! It’s television! But still, I kind of imagined writers to have a reasonable sense of where they’re going, write it down and then start tweaking and tuning.

Anyway, I realized the road you take really isn’t important, as long as you go and end up in a place you like. If I’m ever to become a writer (pfff, that’s scary to say, it feels so presumptuous) there’s only one thing to do. Ok, two actually: write hard and stop ruminating.
If people like it, they will read it and maybe tell others about it and if not… Well, then not. And there will always be people that may not be interested or think you’re no good. But let’s keep it real, that’s life. No matter what you do or say, there will always be somebody who doesn’t agree, thinks you’re no good or whatever. As with everything in life it boils down to: love and respect yourself and others and make choices that reflect that en it you will have peace of mind. Life is really quite simple, it’s just the execution that may be challenging 🙂 .