Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mental Illness Does NOT Cause Violence

In the wake of the horrific violence committed today in Roseburg, Oregon, in addition to sympathies for the victims and their loved ones, I'd like to add a few words to address the question, "Does mental illness lead to violence?

Violence Causes Mental Illness, Not Vice Versa
The facts are in the article posted here: No causal relationship (between mental illness and violence) has been found. There is a relationship, however, between anger, substance abuse, recent divorce, and violence. Should we fear and shut out everyone who gets angry, drinks alcohol, or just split with their ex? Yet stigma against the mentally ill persists....

And yet, the media continues to portray mentally ill people as violently dangerous, and also to portray violently dangerous acts as being caused by mental illness:

  • 32 Killed: "ranting about rich 'brats'"
  • 27 Killed: "suffered from extreme mental illness"
  • 18 Killed: "complained of physical and mental health issues before the attack"
The media disproportionately blame violent acts upon people who suffer from mental ills, instead of looking deeper into larger and less popular possible causes, namely societal ills such as disillusionment, disenfranchisement, anger, guns, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and the escalation of historical violence over time. But back to the hard facts:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Ring: How Not to Say the Wrong Thing (link)

How not to say the wrong thing

It works in all kinds of crises -- medical, legal, even existential. It's the 'Ring Theory' of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.

April 07, 2013|Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

(Illustration by Wes Bausmith…)
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie's husband, Pat. "I wasn't prepared for this," she told him. "I don't know if I can handle it."
This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan's colleague's remark was wrong.
Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."
If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.
Comfort IN, dump OUT.
There was nothing wrong with Katie's friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn't think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.
Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn't do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.
Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don't just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.
Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you're talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.
And don't worry. You'll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.
Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of "The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Be the Bamboo

I had a vision today down by the creek, at the culmination of my first week of mourning.

I saw reeds planted deep in the strong current, and remembered the saying, "bend like the reed." Yet I knew I did not want to be like those reeds, drowning and battered by the raging waters. 

I also saw small trees growing up through the concrete, amazing in their ability to survive. Yet I knew I did not want to be so gnarled and twisted, bent and struggling. 

Then, above the reeds and trees, I saw a stand of bamboo. Also growing out of concrete against all odds, I saw the bamboo vibrant, green, straight, and tall, all standing together as one. I saw that the bamboo would survive and THRIVE despite all odds -- hollow and open on the inside, communal and resilient on the outside. 

I knew then: Be the Bamboo. 

Song courtesy of Ananda Seva Eugene (Baba = The Beloved)

Monday, February 24, 2014

May My Sweet Boy Rest in Peace -- A Parent Surviving Suicide

As you may know, my son, Ben, recently committed suicide. On February 22, 2014, Ben parked his bicycle at the Glenwood Bridge, climbed a ten-foot fence, and jumped to his death. I am experiencing a shifting kaleidoscope of numerous thoughts, memories, and feelings. Essentially, I am strong; I will survive.

While this is horrifying, shocking, and saddening news, I am not surprised. I have been concerned about this possibility for several years. Ben had autism, and developed mental illness in late adolescence, which made his daily existence a struggle. One of my many feelings is relief that my son is finally at peace.

After Ben finished high school, he developed an eating disorder, severe depression, worsening anxiety, and increasingly frequent suicidal thoughts. Ben spent months in and out of the Johnson Unit, a local psychiatric facility. After struggling to keep Ben safe while his self-destructive behaviors, including cutting and bingeing, increased, I made the difficult decision to let him be cared for by a 24-hour supervised foster home, selected by Lane County Department of Disabled Services, where he would be closely monitored. Ben moved out of my home in December 2011.

The strength that is carrying me through the death of my beloved boy was developed over two decades of taking care of such a challenging child, mostly single-handed. The letting go that is now essential, began over two years ago. The worst-case scenario of suicide that just happened, was already worried over hundreds of times in my mind over many years. Somehow, my past struggles with Ben have eased my healing upon his fatal choice.

Ben was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and began taking psychiatric medications in November 2011. Before my son's 19th birthday, I had already begun letting go of all the hopes and dreams I'd had for my intelligent, caring, dynamic son's future. It all fell away as his inner turmoil intensified. There were many ups and downs during the two years leading up to his death. I continued to love and care for my child through a suicide attempt in the Summer of 2012. While I was deeply frightened for Ben, I was also letting him go, knowing I was already doing all I could. Yes, Ben received psychological counseling, medication management, eating disorder treatment, tons of staff support at his foster home, crisis intervention as needed, extended family support, and my enduring love. Ben's death is therefore terrible, but not surprising.

Ben was loved not only by myself, but also by his sister, Sequoia, his former step-dad, Rob, his grandparents, Max and Marcia, Glenn, Jim, Al, Aimee, his extended family, his support team, his friends, my friends, his former teachers and classmates, and, clearly, the entire community.

Ben will be remembered for his sweetness, his loving kindness, his intelligent mind, his sense of humor, his childlike innocence, and his generous heart. Ben loved riding his bicycle, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, video games, card games, skiing, hanging out with his friends, and wheeling and dealing on Ebay and Craigslist. Speaking as the one person who spent just about every single day with him over 19 years of his too-short life, I remember everything: his birth, his childhood, the feel of his hair, his smile. He was loved. Many others remember Ben with love as well. He will never be forgotten.

Thank you!!! to everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support. I have been reading your messages and comments from my healing cocoon at home. I love you all. Please understand that I cannot talk to you right now. I will emerge from my shell in due time. Meanwhile, many kind people have asked what they can do to help. Here are some ways:

1. Please respect my introverted need to withdraw, in order to process my grief and heal. I need privacy. I will emerge in time. Thank you.

2. If you see me, just hug me. Loving touch heals.

3. Please do not ask me "why" this happened. I have told you all I know.

4. There is a hole in the pit of my stomach. While it is not hunger, I do need to eat. I can barely feed myself on a good day. Anandam Al Perkins at Dharmalaya is coordinating meals at MealBaby Meals . Food is the gift of nourishment and appreciated.

5. Please hold back your expressions of sympathy. If you cry, I will cry harder. If you pity me, I will pity myself. If you lose it, I will really lose it! I am working VERY hard to hold it together and survive this. Of course I know that losing one's child is the worst thing that can happen, especially to suicide. I need fresh air and a smile, and time. Please affirm Life with me. Please remind me that life goes on, and that my son is now at peace. Please embrace me with your prayers and positive thoughts, and if we meet in person, with your embrace.

6. If you feel so called, please donate to the charity of your choice. Perhaps Direction Service or an autism advocacy group. Perhaps Center for Appropriate Transport, Ben's last employer.

7. I am sorry but I cannot bring myself to arrange a funeral at this time. Ben's body will be cremated. Perhaps there will be a memorial service in the future. I will let you know.

8. Finally, this is a marathon, not a sprint. I will need support over the coming months, since healing of this magnitude does not happen overnight. Your kindness is appreciated now; it will be even more appreciated in the coming weeks and months.

Blessings and Namaste for you all. Your beautiful kindness is deeply appreciated. Luna

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

25 Random Things about Me

1. I received the name Luna in a dream in 1991. I meditated in the evening, then asked to know my true name, then went to sleep for the night. I dreamed my name was Luna, and when I woke up, I knew that was my name. Interestingly, when I introduce myself by my birth name, Anita, no one can ever remember my name.

2. I lived in a rural, intentional community (East Wind) for a year in my early 20s, which totally changed my life. I learned about spirituality, nature, organic food, herbs, intentional childrearing, community living, and how to pee standing up!

3. I have always loved art -- drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery, everything. I wanted to go to art school when I was 17, but my parents said no, so I went to university instead. I regretted that decision, so I infuse my life with creativity, share my love of art with my art-loving daughter, and let my artistic temperament out to play.

4. I am from New York. New York culture is an important part of who I am. Born in Queens, raised near Peekskill. No accent, unless I'm inebriated, angry, or on the phone with my mother.

5. I love many people so much sometimes it hurts.

6. I have never learned how to whistle.

7. I love to ride my bicycle, but I have been too scared since I was "car-doored" and injured two years ago. A little PTSD goes a long way.

8. I love all animals, but have no pets.

9. I lived in Portland for a year, attended graduate school in counselor education, got straight A's, then dropped out because I felt I was short-changing my pre-school-aged son. So I returned to Eugene and my child-centered creativity.

10. Teaching yoga has been my favorite job, by far, especially prenatal yoga, and I can see myself sharing the joys and benefits of yoga with others far into the future.

11. I still crave chocolate whenever I'm upset, even though I know better than to expect sweets to feed my inner needs, and I try to avoid sugar and eat healthy. It's an addiction, and sometimes it is stronger than I am.

12. I still love everyone I have ever loved, even the ones I never want to speak to again.

13. I really, really, really hated high school.

14. I love being near water, just to see and hear it makes me happy -- creek, river, lake, waterfall, ocean, fountain, anything.

15. My children, yoga, and spirituality are by far the most important things in my life.

16. I love Eugene, Oregon completely and hope to live here for the rest of my life.

17. I have lived in 8 U.S. states and visited 44 states.

18. I love to travel. I hate to travel with my children (sorry, kids!), so I haven't travelled much since my son was born in 1993. I hope to remedy this as he begins college this Fall (yay!).

19. I have intense, life-long, chronic insomnia. I have tried every insomnia remedy, natural and not, and could easily write a book about how to sleep. However, some nights, my expertise is humbled...and wide-awake.

20. My nose was broken in a fist-fight in 1992 by a supposed friend with whom I was in conflict, who happened to be a former gang member (she knew how to fight, and I did not). On that day, I learned the destructive power of outward-directed anger. I wear that lesson on my face as a constant reminder that finding win-win solutions to conflict is the only answer. Now I'm a certified community mediator :)

21. I have been pursuing spiritual development, holistic health, and personal growth continuously for over 20 years.

22. I would much rather snack than cook. It amuses me that Cancerians are supposed to be fabulous cooks when I can hardly make toast.

23. I mostly listen to mantras, kirtans, and other yoga music, but I still rock out sometimes to old fav's from the 80s, and I love to dance to anything danceable.

24. I am learning to pace myself, and live more in the moment.

25. I am proud of how far I have come, and accepting of how far I still have to go.

Friday, June 5, 2009

South Hills Yoga Grand Re-Opening!

After a year-long sabbatical to resolve my health issues, Luna Anita Perkins is feeling great and ready to share the joys and benefits of Yoga with you again!

Maybe it was all that begging God for mercy. Maybe it was the handfuls of nutritional supplements, or eliminating dairy products from my diet, or the endless cups of licorice tea. Whatever it was, I feel better. I've been feeling well for a few months now -- well enough for long enough that I no longer fear an impending relapse. I am healthy again -- hurray!

As I've felt better in my body again, for the first time since my year-long sabbatical began, I have become restless in my mind. For an entire year, both my mind and body were incredibly busy just taking care of my own health, my home and family, researching potential remedies, and struggling to get well. Doing anything else besides self-care and child-care was not an option. But now, with my health revitalized and my body pain-free, my mind has begun searching for ways to focus my renewed energies.

I never wanted to quit teaching Yoga. Letting go of teaching was an extremely difficult process for me. As the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia increased, I was forced to drop classes one by one, until my usual 10-12 classes per week became 4 or 5. Still, I felt a commitment to my students' well-being and to the practice of teaching. Then, a major bicycle accident last June left me unable to use my right hand, and subsequent, sudden-onset vulvodynia left me unable to sit down without unbearable pain. I had to quit teaching. I must admit I became depressed.

Even after my pain and illness subsided last winter, I still felt unhappy. I love my home and family, but I need to work! I feel fortunate that my husband was able to support us, both financially and pragmatically, while I healed and rested. However, unemployment left me feeling lonely, bored, and unfulfilled, as I sat home knitting or reading while my family went off to school and work. I felt restless and disconnected, and I craved the social and creative outlet of my career.

Yoga teaching is my purpose in life, and my source of fulfillment. I just finished reading Edward Hollowell and John Ratey's excellent book, Delivered from Distraction, about living with ADD. One chapter quotes Hollowell's The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, which outlines five elements we all need to feel happy and fulfilled:

Connecting with other people and with something greater than oneself
Exploration and enjoyment evolve from feeling secure into a state of flow
Self-improvement through repeating an activity you enjoy playing at
Achieving a level of ability at the activity you've practiced, enhancing self-esteem
Sharing your mastery with others leads to recognition, which enhances feelings of connection.

I realized that teaching Yoga is so important for me because it provides all five elements of happiness and fulfillment. I began Yoga practice in 1992 out of a feeling of connection to the Divine that emerged from mystical experiences. I "played" with yoga for many years, practicing on my own, reading books and attending classes at times, but only doing what felt really GOOD in my body. After many years of practice, I began to feel a level of mastery. I attended Yoga Teacher Training in 2002 and began teaching. I kept connecting, playing, and practicing, and teaching stayed enjoyable, creative, and flowing. I completed Yoga Therapy Training, and began my Yoga Therapy practice in early 2006. I began getting positive feedback and glowing testimonials from students. I was actually helping people! I felt more connected than ever. And then my body started hurting….

What can I learn from having been ill?

To appreciate being well!

To have true empathy and compassion for anyone who is ill or in pain

To understand the depths of pain and suffering

To trust that I can be very ill and then be well again

To never give up on myself or on anyone else

To appreciate my husband's support

To let go and trust the process of Life

Yoga teaching also provides all five of my personal career needs -- the five elements I need to enjoy and sustain a job or career:

Every student and every class are wonderfully different. Plus, being self-employed, I get to use all of my various skills -- creating lesson plans, reading and researching, counseling, teaching, coaching, marketing, graphic design, web design, and communications -- so I stay busy!

Setting my own hours helps me balance work and family in a way that minimizes my stress. And of course Yoga itself relieves stress! When I teach, ideas, words, and poses flow through me, and all is ease.

I get bored easily. My mind craves stimulation. The variety and challenges of teaching all levels, and of specializing in teaching students who need individual attention, are endless. Every class is new and interesting, with something for me to offer and something for us both to learn.

I spent many years working in offices and retail stores, hiding my spirituality and my flamboyance in order to fit in. As a Yoga teacher, I get to be myself. I share freely of myself with my students, and I feel truly accepted and appreciated by them, just as I accept and appreciate every one of my beloved students.

This can be elusive, for sure. I believe the previously-stated five elements (connection, play, practice, mastery, and recognition) lead to fulfillment. For me, fulfillment comes from doing something meaningful that helps others and the world in a positive way. Teaching Yoga is filled with meaningful opportunities to promote healing and human development, as well as joy and peace. How fulfilling is that!!

I feel grateful to once again be able to sit in the seat of the teacher and share the blessings of Yoga with everyone who feels inspired to come to me. Starting now, South Hills Yoga is open for private classes and Yoga therapy sessions (the South Hills Yoga website is back online!).

I find private classes, especially one-on-one, to be the most rewarding -- this is the traditional root of Yoga teaching, and it really works. I can tune in, listen, and provide the personalized instruction that each student needs, without the competition, distance, or distractions of a group class. I enjoy helping students develop a home Yoga practice that works for them. And I keep the price reasonable -- only $40 for a full hour, and if that is a hardship, you are welcome to bring up to three friends or relatives and split the cost.

To my friends, family, and loyal students, I thank you so very much for all your loving support through the hard times. And to everyone, I look forward to seeing you at a South Hills Yoga class soon!

Luna Anita

Thursday, February 26, 2009

10 Things I Have Learned From Being Sick

Oh God, please, I don't want to be sick anymore. I want to be well and happy and live my life and attain peace and fulfillment. But if I have to be sick, (and it seems that I do, since I have been sick for so long, and I have already tried everything to become well and failed), then please, please, let it not be for nought. Let my experience of illness benefit myself and others. Let me learn, grow, teach, and touch others' lives in a positive way.

10 Things I Have Learned From Being Sick:

1. That the Body is not the Self.

2. That the body's insistent demands can be heeded or ignored, by conscious choice.

3. I have developed self-discipline, at long last. I can swallow terrible-tasting medications daily, if needed. I can abstain from things I love and crave, like sugar, dairy products, chocolate, gluten (pizza and bread!), and even sex, to help myself feel better.

4. That so-called "experts" are not necessarily trustworthy. I have been misdiagnosed, wrongly advised, and prescribed medications that made me much worse. Now, I trust my inner voice and my body's clear messages over and above the advice of any doctor or professional. I know myself best.

5. I have learned to be an excellent medical researcher and holistic health scholar, out of dire necessity. I have learned so much about yoga, natural healing, nutrition, nutritional supplements, food sensitivities, herbology, homeopathy, ayurveda, amino acid therapy, psychiatric treatments, pain medications, sleep remedies, and much more. Ask me anything!

6. I have learned to lean on others for support when needed. I much prefer to be independent, and am very strong-minded. But when the chips are down (and they often have been, in recent years), I have learned to ask for help, and to let others take care of me. I especially thank my husband and my parents for their help in learning this lesson.

7. I have learned to let go of perfectionism. I cannot do everything exactly the way I want to do it anymore. For awhile, I was overwhelmingly frustrated by the limitations of being ill. Many days I can barely get out of bed. Even doing one or two things half-assed is a major victory. My ego wants to excel, but my aching body and unstable mind really need to just get by. So I have learned to just get by, and to be okay with that. The girl with a National Merit Scholarship and straight A's at Yale has learned many humbling lessons from being too ill to work.

8. I have learned to have so much more compassion for others. I used to be jealous of other people who seemed to have easier lives than mine. I now know that we are all struggling, in our own individual ways, as the wheel of Samsara turns. Having an invisible disability makes me look a little closer at all the "normal," healthy-looking people I meet, since I'm sure I look normal and healthy to you, and I'm not.

The more I look and listen, the more I realize we all have problems, we all suffer, we all are learning from our challenges, we are all beautiful, and we are all in this together. No matter what, I try my best to be kind to everyone I encounter. No matter how I'm feeling, I can at least smile and acknowledge each person's humanity and divinity: "Namaste'."

9. I have learned to pace myself. Pushing myself makes my illnesses push back. I tend to be driven, but I know now that I am not in the driver's seat. This particular experience of being alive -- with fibromyalgia and manic-depressive illness -- forces me into the passenger seat.

I used to convince myself I was in control. Now, I flow with my moods. I yield to my pain cycles. I don't push my body around anymore. I heed my body's wisdom, trust my inner voice, and hand over the steering wheel to my Higher Power. Being ill has taught me to let go and allow my life to unfold, naturally.

10. I have learned to let go of the many "should"s and "have-to"s of life -- because I've had to. I used to be ambitious, with a strong, people-pleasing streak, and would do things just to impress others. Now, being ill has given me an excellent alibi for avoiding anything I don't really want to do anyway -- especially things that are not really good for me.

For example, I used to drink alcohol and smoke weed and sometimes wind up in the wrong man's bed. Now, thanks to being mentally ill and medicated, I cannot drink or toke at all, and am able to avoid all sorts of unhealthy dramas. I also no longer eat sugar, stay out late, overexercise, overwork, or overstress -- or else I pay an immediate and drastic price. Overindulgence or excess stress leads to mood swings (which often become suicidal thoughts) and pain flares (which often debilitate me completely).

So, ironically, being ill has forced me to be healthy. I take really good care of myself now. My diet and lifestyle are balanced and healthy -- no matter what that other people around me are doing, and no matter what other people expect me to do. Bye-bye "should"s -- Hello self-care.

So, I've learned a few things from the struggles I've been through in recent years. So, God, what do you think? Maybe I've learned my lessons? Maybe now can I be well again???

Feel free to comment or email me your own list, or any thoughts. Namaste'.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Heredity and Environment

Remember that whole hoopla about "heredity vs. environment"? There was so much debate, for decades, over what the cause of human behavior was -- heredity (i.e. genetics) or environment (i.e. upbringing)? Eventually, everyone agreed that it is both, always both -- an interaction between our heredity and our environment makes us who we are. I believe it is time for a similar consensus about the real cause of chronic illness -- it's not just lifestyle (environment) or just biochemistry (heredity) -- it's both, and more. Who we are and what we do are both important causative factors of illness.

Who we are -- our genes, our personality, our dosha (ayurvedic type), our innate strengths and weaknesses -- interacts with what we do -- where we live, how we eat, how we use our bodies and minds, how we interact with others and our environment. It is the result of this interaction between who we are and what we do that can lead to chronic illness.

A "strong" person -- a person with a strong constitution, a strong will to live, kapha-dosha, resilience, and hardiness -- can withstand a harsh lifestyle -- a stressful environment, say, or an unhealthy diet -- and not get sick. A "weak" person, on the other hand -- timid, sensitive, vata-dosha, prone to self-doubt or inner self-sabotage, perhaps from a long line of malnourished and overworked ancestors -- may succumb to serious illness simply from the stresses of daily life. However, as the stresses of modern life increase, more and stronger individuals will be affected by our common, unhealthy environment.

We cannot change our constitution, or change the past. We can only change our present and future -- reduce stress now and from this day forward, and reduce our probability of becoming or staying ill. But really, it is all a numbers game. Your probability of becoming ill decreases if you reduce stress and live a healthy lifestyle, and it increases if you are under stress or make unhealthy choices.

However, not everything is under our control. All of us are exposed to the toxins that modern Western society has created. Here in Oregon, for example, a recent study found that average Oregonians have all six classes of toxic chemicals in their bodies, including mercury, phthalates, PCBs, PFCs, organophospahte pesticides, and bisphenol A.

The most serious result of pollution is its harmful biological effects on human health and on the food chain of animals, birds, and marine life. Pollution can destroy vegetation that provides food and shelter. It can seriously disrupt the balance of nature, and, in extreme cases, can cause the death of humans --

Healthy lifestyle choices can help mediate and reduce the dangerous health effects of stress and pollution. Relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and walking can reduce the "stress response" (fight or flight), stimulate the "relaxation response" (parasympathetic dominance), and minimize the impacts of stress on the body.

Healthy dietary choices such as eating fresh, raw or lightly-cooked, organic fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and lots of filtered water can fortify and cleanse the body to ward off many health threats.

Nutritional supplements can also strengthen and shield the body against disease. For example, omega-3 oils protect the heart and connective tissue, and antioxidant vitamins such as A, C, E, selenium, coQ-10, and quercetin can destroy the pollution-created free-radicals that may lead to cancer and other illnesses. So a healthy lifestyle can help protect you, despite the toxicity of our modern world.

So, if you are ill, make new, healthier choices, and you will increase your odds of healing and reduce your odds of getting or staying ill. But remember, if you still don't get better, it is not necessarily your fault. It may not be your fault at all.

Perhaps you were never breastfed, you were raised on junk food, and like all of us you were and are exposed to thousands of toxic substances. Perhaps as an adult you have been single-parenting or experiencing major work and financial stresses. And maybe now you have a chronic illness that isn't getting better despite all of the supplements and herbs and medications and exercise and broccoli sprouts in the world. Please don't blame yourself. It's not your fault. Just do your best, and let go of the rest.

First, it may take months, years, or even decades of healthy living to heal the injuries of the past. Second, even if healthy-living doesn't "cure" you, it can and will improve your quality of life and prognosis immensely. Third, even if your current illness doesn't disappear or even visibly improve once you've changed your lifestyle, you may be preventing the emergence of other, more severe illnesses or a worsening of your current illness. You new life-changes may not make you better, but will most likely prevent you from getting worse.

Finally, living well is its own reward. By taking care of yourself, you are healing. You are learning to love yourself and live with integrity. You are setting a positive example for your family, your friends, and everyone you know. Your example of holistic living may prevent untold numbers of other people from getting ill. Healing is its own reward.

Be well, or die trying. That may sound morbid, but the joy is in the journey. We may never "get healthy" (as in, "get perfect"), but we can live healthy, and enjoy what life we have, with self-love and integrity. Rachel Naomi Remen says it best in her Kitchen Table Wisdom essay "Life is for the Well":

What she thought was that you had to be without symptoms to enjoy life, to go to the theater, to have children, to love. It was as if life was only lived by well people, could only be lived by well people....She has stopped pursuing the perfect health she once had, and does what she can to strengthen her body in simple, natural ways....Laughingly, she says that she has made a substitution in the cross-stitched sampler that hangs on the walls of her inner life. It used to say, "Life is only for the well." Now it says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mid-Life Mom is Growing Up

I look at how happily married I am, and I believe it's because I was single for so long first (finally married at 38), and I therefore got the full single experience out of my system. I look at how happily parenting my new-mom friends are, and I believe it's because they were childless for so long first, and they therefore got the full childless experience out of their systems.

However, I started parenting young -- solo-parenting a child with autism -- and I am still busy parenting, and I feel somehow cheated out of the life-phase of childlessness. I finished school and less than 18 months later I was expecting a baby. I never got my "ya-ya's" out; never got that "me" time all young adults crave.

Perhaps, developmentally, I am stuck at Erikson's "identity versus role confusion" stage. When it comes to my identity, I certainly feel confused! Well, of course, I am 40, and I have in many ways progressed in my spiritual and emotional evolution. I always put my kids' needs first. I don't drink or get high (anymore), I'm in bed by 10 (p.m.), I attend parent-teacher meetings and help with homework, etc. etc. I'm a mom. That part of my identity is clear.

But part of me never got to finish growing up. Part of me wants to experiment and explore and finish figuring out who I am. I know I'm a mother; I fully accept and cherish that role. But, what else am I? Who else am I? I never got a chance to answer those questions, because I was too busy changing diapers and arranging play dates.

My children are growing up and will someday move on. Meanwhile, any jobs I have held besides mother-in-chief have been the kind that let me put my kids first -- in other words, low-paying and part-time, with no hope for advancement. In other words, my resume is a tangled mess of underemployment and unemployment -- a bridge to nowhere. I hope it's not too late to finally blossom into my fully realized adult self.

I realize my timing's a bit lousy, this being the world's worst economic recession and all. Still, I need some time to learn about and develop my individual identity, so I can better contribute to the larger society.

That means completing my education -- graduate or professional school -- and experimenting with roles and occupations -- am I an artist? a counselor? a mediator? a yoga-communitarian? What are my true priorities? Assuming parenting tops the list, what else is most important to me?

With my kids born 10 years apart, I've been home playing Lego's far too much, for far too long. My mid-life crisis feels like a deep desire to step out and define myself in the world. I will keep one foot firmly grounded at home on "mother" earth, as I step boldly into the unknown to "find myself." Despite being a responsible, middle-aged, mother-of-three, I am eager, and ready, to finally grow up.

We all need to do what we need to do. Listen to your inner voice. Follow your excitement. We are not just doing or being; we are continually becoming. Allow your blossoming to unfold. Blessings to all....