Saturday, December 29, 2012

Feel Good Friday: Panda Slide

                     Yeah, yeah, I know I'm a day late.  What with Christmas and all, I kinda forgot about it until yesterday morning, and then I wasn't able to find something I wanted to share before I left for work.  That said, have some playing pandas.
                      From the Chengdu Panda Base website:  The Chengdu Panda Base was founded in 1987, with six giant pandas rescued from the wild.  Today (2008) our captive population has increased to 83 individuals from that founding population of only six.  Genetic diversity in the population is sustained by the exchange of preserved genetic material with other facilities.  We are very proud that we have not taken any giant pandas from the wild for 20 years.  This demonstrates our unique and uncompromising commitment to the conservation of the wild (in situ) population and the healthy growth of the captive (ex situ) population.

Lots of Love,

Monday, December 24, 2012

Celebrating Christmas

                  As Christmas has drawn steadily nearer, I have found myself, somewhat to my own surprise, honestly excited for the coming holiday.  My surprise stems from the fact that I have not identified as Christian for a couple years now, and with no traveling to do or small children to plan for, I fully expected that Christmas would pass more or less like any of the more minor holidays, save for the inescapable music.  Yet the closer the day in question, the more I have found myself anticipating it.  Never mind that I knew I would be working through the holiday, or that I would be unable to do much in the way of gift-giving - somehow the approach of Christmas filled me with a child-like joy I have not experienced since leaving home.
                  Earlier this month, I saw Rise of the Guardians in theaters.  While not a Christmas movie, it does have Santa Claus in a major supporting role.  In one of my favorite scenes, Santa explains that at his core, his purpose is to bring wonder into the world: Seeing the world with new eyes; giving a fresh look to the possibilities and magic contained in everything around us.  This, I think, is what I have been feeling since Thanksgiving: a renewed sense of wonder.  I still do not understand why, but frankly, I don't think it really matters.
                  Merry Christmas everyone.  Have a wonderful holiday, in every sense of the word.
Lots of Love,

P.S.  If you haven't yet, I really encourage you to see Rise of the Guardians before it leaves theaters.  Here, have a trailer:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feel Good Friday: Life Vest Inside

                 Today I'm trying what I hope will be a new weekly tradition: Feel Good Fridays.  Every Friday, I will find an inspiring story, poem, or video, and share it with you.  The only criteria?  When you are done reading the blog or watching the video, you should feel warm-fuzzy happiness.  If I'm lucky, you may even be inspired by them.  So without further ado, here is your first Feel Good Friday, a beautiful video by the non-profit organization Life Vest Inside.
                  From the Life Vest Inside website:  Charity work and community service are invaluable tools for bettering our world, but kindness is more than good deeds or volunteerism alone.  Kindness is empathy, compassion, and human connection; it's a smile, a touch, or a comforting word.  Even the smallest gesture can brighten a dark day or ease a heavy burden.  LVI works to cultivate the awareness that individuals can effect real and positive change in the people around them, simply by 'living kindness:' by embodying empathy and compassion in our day-to-day lives.  LVI seeks to spread kindness and goodwill through the sharing of Acts of Kindness Cards, connecting our users to various inspirational media through film and the Internet.  And further through the implementation of our Social Emotional Learning Program.

                  What do you think?  Shall I keep doing Feel Good Fridays?  Do you have a story or video you'd like me to share next week?  Leave a comment or send me an e-mail!  I look forward to hearing from you.

Lots of Love,

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Power of a Memory

                    After sharing my memory of one of the harshest parts of my depression, I have been thinking about the power of sharing personal experiences.  Mental illness is one of the least understood problems in first world countries (possibly in the world), and it is made all the more difficult because the average person who does not have a mental illness may have no context to understand what a sufferer is going through.  Add to that the huge variety of mental and emotional illnesses, and the dozens of symptoms which may or may not present in any given case of even a single illness, and it becomes nigh on impossible.
                    Especially in the United States, where terms like "psycho" and "retarded" are tossed around as casual insults as well as to describe people with mental illnesses, there is an enormous stigma and shame that tends to be associated with any one who admits to needing mental help.  I don't mean to imply that there hasn't been great progress toward closing that sympathy gap, because there has, especially in the last decade.  But most people, if they have any non-personal exposure to mental illness at all, know merely a list of signs or symptoms.  The transition from knowing that list, to being able to imagine experiencing it, for many people, is simply a jump too big to make, despite their best efforts.
                    This is why I have been considering a long term project to write a book that would allow those who suffer from mental illnesses to share their experiences in their own words.  I know that right now I am not really qualified to attempt to compile such a book.  I would have to be much closer to my counselor's license, if not actually holding it, and I would have to be very careful about disclosures and conflicts of interest.
                    But I think that a book of first person descriptions like the one I shared might make it a little easier for others to understand.  And it wouldn't just be personal accounts:  In this vague idea I have for a structure, I would introduce and follow each memory with information about the illness and how to find appropriate resources if the reader or someone the reader knows might have the same illness.
                    What do you think?  Is this a horrible idea?  Is there already a similar book on the market of which I am simply unaware?  Am I being vain and egocentric to think that I could pull this off?  Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail at the address at the top of the screen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Compassion for All

                    As I'm sure you are all aware, tragedy struck Newtown, Connecticut last Friday.  Everywhere you can see expressions of grief as the nation mourns the loss of twenty of the most innocent members of our society and six of their caretakers.  Yet as horrible as this tragedy was, I cannot agree with all those who have labeled the shooter a monster.
                    Adam Lanza was only twenty years old - the same age I was when I had my own crisis with my depression.  The pictures I have seen of him show a young man with wide eyes below an almost comically large forehead and full, slightly parted lips above a narrow chin, giving him a perpetually surprised expression.  Some of the news reports suggest he might have had a mild form of autism, a disease which is poorly understood, at best.  His family have expressed shock and regret for his actions.
                    This was a boy who reached a breaking point and did a monstrous thing, but I don't think that makes him a monster.  For twenty years he was a "shy, awkward boy" who was loved by his family.  A family that must now cope not only with the loss of their young relative, but also his mother, whom he shot to death before going on his rampage in the school.  And unlike the families in Newtown, they must do it not with the support, but with the condemnation of the nation bearing down on them.
                    Very few people are truly monsters.  So despite his monstrous actions, please, think twice before you label someone's cousin, nephew, or child a monster.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

                  Any of you who have read the previous post on this blog know that I am currently going back to school to study psychology.  My ultimate goal is to gain a counselor's license, though I'm not completely sure right now what type of counseling I want to do.  Lately though, I've been ruminating on a particular memory, which I will be sharing below, and thinking that I may want to work with high school or college students.
                  Some of you reading this blog know that I have struggled with depression.  The narrative below is drawn from the darkest, deepest part of my depression.  I want to assure my readers that this memory is over two years old, and my mental health has drastically improved since then.  I have a better support system now, and more importantly, I am much better at letting myself use the support when I need it.  Nevertheless, my experience with depression was a life-changing one, and in many ways is the root of my desire to seek a counceling license.  The account below is as true to my memory as I can make it, and as a result it includes graphic descriptions of not only what I experienced, but what I contemplated while in a very dark place.
                   Consider yourself warned.


                  I sat down on the edge of the futon, letting it sink beneath my weight as my backpack slipped off my shoulder to land on the floor with a heavy thud.  I gripped the side of the mattress, but I didn't feel it.  There was no sensation from the thick fabric under my hands.  I could feel nothing but the dull ache deep in the center of my chest, which I had long since learned to ignore.
                  I stared blankly around the empty room.  I had deliberately stayed in the dining hall until I knew my roommate would be in class, but now I wasn't sure why.  The silence was oppressive.  I couldn't hear any of our neighbors, though I had seen at least one other girl returning to her room at the same time as me.  I couldn't hear myself breathing, or even my heartbeat.
                  Everything around me appeared dull, washed out, and faded, like a photograph left too long in the sun.  It was as if nothing was quite real.  Or I wasn't.  Almost, I could believe I was a ghost.
                  Something on my roommate's desk caught my attention - a flash of silver.  Without thinking, I stood and took two steps forward to pick up the object.  It was a straight edged razor, the kind used in utility knives.  The metal felt cold, almost icy to my touch-starved flesh; the metallic reflection seemed blinding against my sepia-toned fingers.  Unbidden, a question rose in my mind: If I cut myself, would I even feel it?
                  I don't know how long I stared at the blade in my hand, envisioning exactly how it would happen.  In my mind's eye, I could all but feel the sharp steel slicing into the soft underside of my forearm, leaving a thin, clean line of pain.  I could see the tiny, crimson drops that would well up in the track, each one a perfect, beautiful sphere: a proof that I still lived.
                  That thought brought me up short.  Slowly I turned the razor over and over in my hands.  The cool metal had warmed by now, but the edge whispered across my skin like a silken band.
                  What if I cut too deeply?  That was how people committed suicide.  I knew, suddenly, that I didn't want to die, not then.  Until that moment, I hadn't even realized that I was unsure.
                  Half-formed scenes flashed through my head, of misjudging and bleeding out alone in my dorm, or waking up with bandaged wrists in a hospital.  Of judging correctly, only to be accused of attempting suicide by friends (or worse, family) who discovered the marks.  Of being forced to try to explain why I did it - reasons that seemed simultaneously to be both obvious and impossible to me.  And interwoven over and through all these images was a bone-deep, gut-wrenching shame and terrible nameless fear.

. . .

                 I wish that I could say I thought of how my self harm would devastate my family, or of all the things I still had left to experience and learn.  But it was neither the people who loved me nor the things I loved that made me put down the razor that day.  In truth, my depression had driven me too deeply into myself, disconnected me too much from the world for those arguments to have even occurred to me.  The only thing that kept me from self harm or worse was a blind, selfish, primal desire for survival.
                 According to recent data, about two million cases of self injury are reported annually in the United States alone.  Millions more go unreported due to the secrecy which participants in self harm tend to maintain around their injurious activities.  It is estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men engage in some form of self injury, up to and including suicide attempts.
                 In a way, I was fortunate that my depression had no focus, no conscious reason for my misery, or else I might not be writing this today. If my will to live had been even slightly diluted by such a reason, I might well have made the ultimate gamble, and lost.  I had the means and the opportunity to become one more datum of that horrifying statistic.
                  This is why I want to be a counselor.  If I can help even one lost, lonely young person out of the sort of dim, lifeless place I found myself in, I would consider all the time and money spent on my education to be well repaid.  If I can show just one young man or young woman that they don't have to face that terrible choice alone, support just one person through the sort of crisis I survived unsupported, I will be well satisfied with my investment.
                  No one should have to live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.