Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Peace on Earth

How's my mental health today?

Today is a "do as little as possible" day - a day of recovering from 3 days of too much food, too much sugar, and more than enough beverages. A day of peace.

Peace.

The song of the host of angels appearing to the shepherds still rings in my head.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host 
appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
  “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
Luke 2: 13-14

So where is this peace?

The news this Christmas was once again full of violence: the bombing of Christians in Nigeria; local stabbings and shootings; fatal unrest and oppression in Syria - the list goes on and on.

As I was reflecting on this, a postcard that I received from my maternal grandfather (in a stack of old pictures) came to mind. It was a postcard that my great grandfather had sent to his family from the eastern front in WWI. The postcard greeting conveyed wishes for a good new year to his family. (My great grandfather was a soldier in the German army.)

I was struck by the image on the front of the postcard.


The stars form the words Ceasefire 1917: Victory and Peace. The information on the back of the postcard tells me the card is the 6th of a series called The Fieldgrey Santa Claus. Fieldgrey refers to the colour of the german military uniform.

Victory and Peace?

Where is this peace? Where do we find peace?

I find peace in my faith that Christ came to earth, lived among mankind, died and rose again; all that I may find peace in God and the hope of eternal life.

I believe peace can only be found in God - humans have clearly proven themselves incapable of establishing any kind of lasting peace for all.

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father 
and Christ Jesus our Lord. 
1 Timothy 1:2





Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Days of Christmas

How's my mental health today?

I need some rest soon. It's good thing today is the last day of scheduled family celebrations.

I grew up with German spoken at home and in church. This day that we know as boxing day was referred to as der Zweiter Weihnachts Tag - the second day of Christmas by my parents. Although the question of what this second day was about crossed my mind, I never asked the question. When the carol, 12 days of Christmas entered our family Christmas song repertoire, I never gave it a thought - I just assumed it was some kind of silly children's song.

This year I decided to check out the story behind this popular carol. I started searching for this information on the Internet (avoiding Wikipedia, of course). I came across all sorts of information, none of it properly documented. 

I did learn that the twelve days were the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany  (January 6), but even this information had some question marks attached, depending on calendar, traditions, when the count started, etc.

Some stories said the song originated in France, possibly in the 18th century or earlier. Others said it was a tool used to teach the catechism. Another tale suggests that it came out of the persecution of Catholics in England, during the time when it was illegal to be Catholic. Catholics used this song as part of the oral teaching of their faith (getting caught with 'catholic' teaching in writing was deadly dangerous).

Since there is no concise record of the song's origin, we'll never know what the true story is, but I thought the explanations of the symbolism were interesting so I copied and pasted information from 

Maybe you'll find it interesting too.

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 1, Christmas Day, December 25
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 2, December 26
Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 3, December 27
Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues:  1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 4, December 28
Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 5, December 29
Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch:  1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 6, December 30
Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 7, December 31
Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 8, January 1
Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 9, January 2
Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness,
6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 10, January 3
Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 11, January 4
Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James.  (Luke 6:14-16).  The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Day 12, January 5
Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.


For a fun version of this carol go to: 

Have a safe and blessed 2nd day of Christmas.
 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

For Unto Us A Child is Born

It's Christmas Day!


We celebrate the Birth of Christ.

Music is a large part of this celebration. Even the angels sang to announce and celebrate his birth.


Some of my favourite Christmas music is from Handel's Messiah. I particularly enjoy the upbeat version presented in the album Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. These renditions of Handel's most famous work are full of an energy that I'm positive Handel would approve of.

Here are two numbers from that album: For Unto Us a Child is Born, and Glory to God in the Highest.


video


Have a wonderful Christmas!

For unto us a Child is born, 
Unto us a Son is given; 
And the government will be upon His shoulder. 
And His name will be called 
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, 
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
Isaiah 9:6


Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest,  And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
 Luke 2: 8-14


Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas the Night before Christmas

How's my mental health today?

Does it matter?

Christmas is almost here. Memories of musical celebrations come to mind.

J.S. Bach's Weihnachts (Christmas) Oratorio; The Christmas oriented parts of G.F. Handel's Messiah; these were some of the larger works that I was involved in as a musician. The rush; the euphoria; the spiritual highs; these are memories that don't fade away.

I have been part of performances of Handel's Messiah more times than I can remember. I sang Tenor many times, Bass for a couple performances and played 1st and 2nd violin as well as viola in a variety of performances of this work. To this day the music of Messiah rings in my head when I come across Scripture verses used in the libretto of Messiah.

As a family we did a lot of singing all year round, but the singing at Christmas is what stands out in my memory. Carols sung in both english and german; the candles on the angel chimes burning.

One year was different - I went carolling in a Winnipeg neighbourhood with a group of my fellow students. We wandered from house to house, singing a few carols at each one. The air was crisp but not too cold, everything was white and big snowflakes were softly drifting down from the clouds. It couldn't have been scripted better.

I wonder, will there be any special memories of this year's celebration?

How much music will there be?

video

Friday, December 23, 2011

Great is the Mystery

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: 
God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, 
seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, 
believed on in the world, received up into glory.
1. Timothy 3:16


Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah 40: 1-5



video





Thursday, December 22, 2011

Voices of the Oppressed - 4

How's my mental health today?

Is my continuing focus on the Voices of the Oppressed a sign of an obsession? I don't believe so. I'm still sifting through the ideas and thoughts stimulated in last weekend's dinner, movie and discussion event.

Our featured movie, The Help, packs a lot of issues, questions, and emotions. There is so much more to explore.

In our discussion, the racist, abusive attitudes and behaviours of the white women depicted in the movie came up. Their lives of leisure, bridge clubs, charity drives and benefit banquets, were made possible by their use of oppressed black women to raise their children and fulfill all other domestic chores related to running a family and household. So many of their attitudes and actions centered on silencing the voices of the oppressed. One person in our group suggested that their bullying, racist, abusive, demeaning behaviour was directly connected to their lack of purpose.
 
“The most depraved type of human being ... 
(is) the man without a purpose.”
― Ayn Rand

I'm not certain the lack of purpose was the underlying cause of the absence of compassion and inhumanity depicted in the film, but I know it can create a dangerous void within a person. At the very least it results in unfulfilled potential and a waste of God-given talents and gifts.

In The Help, it was the young white woman who had a clear vision of her goals for the future, her purpose, that provided the vehicle the oppressed used to make their voices heard.

God gives us each a purpose. It is up to us to discern what that may be and fulfill it.

Do I know what my God given purpose is? How can I be sure? If I know my purpose, am I working hard enough to fulfill it? Am I committed to seeking my purpose and fulfilling it?

I - and every other person in the world - must say: "I have my own special, peculiar destiny which no on else ever has had or ever will have. There exists for me a particular goal, a fulfillment which must be all my own - nobody else's."
-Thomas Merton

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Voices of the Oppressed - 3

How's my mental health today?

That is a question that I've had to consider frequently over the past 21+ years.

But my attention was not only on myself. Over those years I became increasingly aware of the plight of most people with psychiatric disabilities; not just today, but also historically.

Consider this statement:

In no other field, except perhaps leprosy, has there been as much confusion, misdirection and discrimination against the patient, as in mental illness… Down through the ages, they have been estranged by society and cast out to wander in the wilderness. Mental illness, even today, is all too often considered a crime to be punished, a sin to be expiated, a possessing demon to be exorcised, a disgrace to be
hushed up, a personality weakness to be deplored or a welfare problem to be handled as cheaply as possible.


This statement is quoted from Out of the Shadows at Last, Final Mental Health Study Report of the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, May 2006 (link)

In October 2004 The Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology was authorized by the Canadian Senate to investigate issues surrounding mental illness and mental health in Canada. The Committee spent more than a year traveling coast to coast gathering information, and listening to stories of people with psychiatric disorders, their family members and other stakeholders. In May 2006 they published their findings and recommendations.


The quote above, part of the foreword in the Senate Committee report, was taken from the 1963 Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Study Report, More for the Mind. It was included in the Committee report because the Senators involved in the investigation discovered that almost nothing had changed in the 40 years since the CMHA had done their study.

The Senators were impacted by the stories they heard and included some of them in their report. There are so many stories that I could spend weeks, perhaps months relating some of those stories; the Voices of more of the Oppressed. I won't do that but if you're interested in the stories, click on the link above.

The stories, the voices of the oppressed, were given a chance to be heard. The hope was that this study by the Senate Committee would lead to changes, changes for the better. People were crying out for their dignity, for the opportunity to be equitable participants in our country, our society, our community.

A friend, Roy Muise, that I met through our involvement in the National Network for Mental Health and the Canadian Alliance for Alternative Mental Health Resources, expressed this desire so very eloquently. His statement below, became part of the opening words of the Senate Committee Report.

To the people of Canada, I say welcome us into society as full partners.  We are not to be feared or pitied.  Remember, we are your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, your friends, co-workers and children.  Join hands with us and travel together with us on our road to recovery.  --- Roy Muise - 9 May 2005 - Halifax. Nova Scotia

The report resulted in the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada which has initiated a few pilot programs in its attempt to develop a national action plan on mental health.

The question remains; has anything changed? Voices were raised; risks were taken; will lasting positive change result from these efforts? How much longer will people with a mental health problem be subjected to stigmatization, inadequate services, second class citizenship, and social exclusion?

When will the voices of the oppressed ever be the catalyst for real, lasting change?

The history of an oppressed people 
is hidden in the lies and the agreed myth of its conquerors.
- Meridel Le Sueur

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Voices of the Oppressed - 2

How's my mental health today?

I'm trying to organize my jumbled, racing thoughts.

The questions arising from our movie night still resound. 

Whose are the oppressed voices of today?

The issue of bullying came up in our post-movie discussion. Bullying is in the media spotlight. The voices of the bullied are gaining prominence. The voices of the families of victims who took their own lives to escape their humiliation, pain, and despair are adding to the noise. School boards, principals, and teachers seem to be trying to find a solution. But is the outcry making a difference?

Bullying has spread to cyberspace. Schoolyard bullying is no longer limited to school hours - victims are now under continuous attack through social media networks, texting, and other means of electronic communication.

Are the voices of the oppressed - the victims of bullying being heard? Are they making a real, lasting difference? Apparently not because bullying continues.

Our discussion also touched on the unintentional acts of bullying; bullying perpetrated by people who are totally unaware of the impact their actions may be having on others. If the victims spoke up sooner and louder, would the offending behaviours cease?

What about bullying in families, the workplace, social circles? Is awareness of these issues increasing? Are the voices of victims being heard? Is anyone even listening for them?

Heidi and I both experienced bullying as kids. They are not pleasant memories.

What bothers me more is an experience I had during my training for working in mental health. I was doing a practicum in a crisis treatment facility and the supervising staff put me in a position where my physical presence (I'm a large guy) intimidated patients into complying more readily to staff direction. I didn't like being used as a bully.

When colleagues in another mental health facility expressed their feelings of increased safety when working with me because of my physical presence, I clearly stated my refusal to being used to intimidate the vulnerable people we were there to help.

Have I been a bully? Probably, but not intentionally. Over the years I have made a lot of effort to make people comfortable and safe despite my physical presence. I haven't always been successful.

Are the voices of the victims of bullying making a difference? I haven't noticed any reports that suggest bullying is decreasing.

What about other oppressed people? Where are their voices? What are they telling us?


Among those who dislike oppression 
are many who like to oppress.
- Napoleon Bonaparte


Monday, December 19, 2011

Voices of the Oppressed -1

How's my mental health today?

I'm doing quite well, although I do have a lot of things rattling around in my head.

This  past weekend Heidi and I were part of a great dinner, movie and discussion evening with a group of friends. The event grew out of an idea that was raised in a men's Bible Study that I'm part of.

We (study group called Band of Brothers) meet at a local Tim Horton's at 6 a.m. every Wednesday. A few of us have been meeting for almost 4 years. Last May, 3 of us discussed taking our wives out one evening as a group. Heidi and I, along with 2 other couples went to the Titanic exhibit. Afterwards we went to one couple's home and talked about what we had seen and experienced. The same 3 couples went to the Italian Pavilion during Folklorama, an annual mid-summer multi-cultural event here in Winnipeg. We concluded that evening with another discussion over gelati. Earlier this fall we three couples had another group date at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit and concluded the evening with our usual stimulating discussion.

Last month our group date got larger. this time 4 1/2 couples went out. (One guy's wife was out of town). We went to see the movie, The Way, and then went to a close-by lounge for our discussion over 'coffee'.

As men we have all been receiving positive responses from our wives regarding these 'date nights' - especially because we men take the initiative to plan and coordinate these events. Another benefit is that a wonderful bond of friendship is developing through these group 'dates'.

This past Saturday we treated our wives (and ourselves) to a potluck dinner, movie and discussion. The group had grown again. This time we had six couples out and two couples weren't able to attend. It is a wonderful growing community.

The movie we watched was The Help. Set in a the state of Mississippi during the early years of the civil rights movement in the USA, it is a gripping story of a group of oppressed women making their voices heard. It is a story of contradictions, love and discrimination, oppression and human dignity, bigotry, racism, intimidation, and dysfunctional family relationships. It is a story of courage, faith, compassion and hope.

It's a story that will make you squirm, laugh, get angry, and rejoice in the victory of  risk-taking and the power of voices raised in a common purpose.

It is a story that raises questions for us today.

If you haven't seen The Help, go see it! Read the book.

If the book were about the culture and society we live in today, which oppressed voices would we hear?

We bounced that question around the group after the movie.

I will spend the next few blogs examining that question.

Whose oppressed voices do we hear today? Whose unheard oppressed voices require amplification?

Are we listening for the Voices of the Oppressed?


Stories can be used frivolously or to manipulate the emotions of people. On the other hand, stories can be used to powerfully drive home an important spiritual truth. They can be used to help give the listener a deeper insight into that truth by enabling that listener to grab hold of a self-discovered insight into God's truth through his or her processing of the story. At the same time, those outside the truth-seeking audience are left in the dark about the message, taking away much of their power for criticism. 
- Philip Ware



Friday, December 16, 2011

Expose the Lie

How's my mental health today?

It's been quiet day with a couple of interesting conversations. The first was with my massage therapist while she was digging her fingers deep into the very sore muscles of my shoulder. The second was with the plumber who came to fix our heating.

The plumber had heard that I had been caretaker of our building many years ago, and he was curious to know when that had been. As we talked we learned that he knew my parents and his father's past intersected with my family in some odd ways. It was a reminder that if we take the time to converse with people it doesn't take long to find a point on which we connect. Since he's in our building frequently I'm curious to see where future conversations with this man might go.

My massage therapist and I talked about her experiences in various churches. In particular we talked about some of the questionable teaching she had experienced. That reminded me of times where I heard things spoken from the pulpit that were very strange and off the mark (from my knowledge and understanding). Where do these questionable doctrines and interpretations come from?

While surfing the internet I came across a quote that took me aback. The unattributed quote stated, "Jesus called ----- he wants his religion back. The roots of all of the great religions/traditions - core message -- love yourself, love others, love God."

What? Where did this come from?  Is there a cosmic 'telephone game' happening that's distorting and changing messages?

Matthew 22: 37-40 says this: Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

The Matthew message is quite different than the earlier quote. Rather than God first, then others and finally self, the unknown author puts self before others and God last. Also - Jesus wants his religion back? When did Jesus talk about religion?

I've frequently come across some disturbingly destructive beliefs that resulted in a vulnerable person being harmed. In one case, a young woman, diagnosed with schizophrenia was advised that if she had faith, she wouldn't need medications. All she had to do was renounce the devil and the voices would stop. The young woman trusted these 'mentors', stopped taking her meds and it didn't take long before she became so psychotic that she had to be hospitalized involuntarily.

There are many stories of harm perpetrated by people messing in areas they know nothing about.. How can one combat that?  How can we protect the vulnerable?

It begins by discerning the truth, then exposing the lie.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, 
because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 
1 John 4:1 


  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: 
to look after orphans and widows in their distress 
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. 
James 1:27

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Duke

How's my mental health today?

There are days where it feels a little silly or trite to begin each blog post with that question. This past Sunday my daughter told me she likes the way I begin with this opening question. She said it was like I had my own 'tag'. Given that feedback - I shall continue in this fashion.

I've been trying to slow down; to focus more. I've also been trying to break my cynicism about Christmas. I went back to listening to the Christmas music that I have - omitting everything secular. My reading has also become more strategic. Add in some quiet meditation and with God's help my spirit will be lightened.

For many years music, both playing and listening, was a very spiritual experience for me. Even today, when I read scripture my mind often jumps back to major classical choral works, contemporary choruses, and traditional hymns built on the text I'm reading. The music swirls in my head.

I have an old LP of Duke Ellington's Third Sacred Concert performed in West Minster Abbey on United Nations Day, October 24, 1973. The Concert is titled, The Majesty of God. My favourite number on this album is entitled Everyone Prays in His Own Language. It is mostly an instrumental piece that includes a vocal jazz treatment of the Lord's Prayer. Although everyone else that I've played it for thinks it is weird, I like it! Every time I listen to it, I feel drawn in and lifted up. The sound quality of the recording is poor, but the message is stirring.


This live recording was made exactly 6 months before Duke Ellington's death. I wonder if he sensed his days were coming to a close when he wrote this music.Was it his prayer? Was this concert an act of prayer and worship for Duke Ellington? Did the audience perceive it that way?

Everyone Prays in his own language.

video


Bach gave us God's Word. 
Mozart gave us God's laughter. 
Beethoven gave us God's fire. 
God gave us Music that we might pray without words. 
- quote from outside an old opera house

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reality

How's my mental health today?

I'm having trouble focusing. I was looking through my published blogs and the drafts I've begun. I realized I've started a lot of threads that I've left dangling without finishing the thought or issue. I've got 9 draft posts consisting primarily of a few brief thoughts and statements. (I do this so I don't lose some of these 'brilliant' ideas - ideas some of which later prove to be not so 'brilliant.)

Now what?

My head feels like it's about to explode!


Do I go back and pick up some up these threads and work them to their conclusions? Or do I ignore them and forge ahead, exploring new ideas, examining other issues and concerns?

How much of this madness is part of my psychiatric disorder and how much of it is just the normal chaos of my insufficiently disciplined life and mind?

A friend recently directed me to the book Echoing Silence; Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing. We were having coffee and catching up on each others lives after almost a year of no contact between the two of us. When I mentioned my writing and some of the challenges I'm encountering, my friend suggested I read this book, not just for content but also the author's writing style.

I've cracked the cover of the book and found that I will have to slow down and focus to absorb and process the contents therein. Slowing down, focusing, and concentrating are essential for me to be able to manage my reality.

Balance and moderation. Why is that so difficult for me to achieve?

You can avoid reality, but you cannot 
avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.
― Ayn Rand

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grinch

How`s my mental health today?

I think I've overdosed on tawdry Holiday and Christmas specials.

"Happy Holidays!"
"Merry Christmas!"
"Seasons Greetings."
"Christmas Concert."
"Winter Concert."
"Christmas Tree."
"Holiday Tree"
"Christmas Lights."
"Holiday Lights."
"Meaning of Christmas."
"Spirit of Christmas."
"Reason for the Season."
"Christmas Special."
"Holiday Special."
"Scrooge."
"Grinch."
"Santa Claus."

A little over a week ago Heidi and I tuned into what had been billed as a 2 hour Christmas Musical Special. While the music was enjoyable and very well performed, the closest any of it came to something 'Christmassy' was an ode to Dr Seuss's Grinch.

Several days later we watched a sappy, predictable movie about the disappearance of the 'Spirit of Christmas'. Several days before that we had watched the movie Elf, in which Santa's sleigh would no longer fly because people no longer believed in Santa - just like Tinkerbell was dying in Peter Pan because of an absence of belief. Everything turns out wonderful with the renewal of belief. Last night I saw the beginning of a dreadful musical version of Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Similar fare can be seen on TV almost every evening.

It's all a bit much, and I'm rather tired of it all.  Maybe I'm a bit jaded, cynical, but I don't think I'm the only one.

I've heard people argue about the appropriateness of labeling everything "Holiday Something" or the lack of political correctness in every reference to Christ and the Christian faith.  I came across the following cartoon on someone's Facebook page.
The range of comments (arguments) about the cartoon and its message bordered on the ridiculous and disturbing. Some commentators were downright rude and abusive. One person stated that Santa originated in the church (Saint Nicholas). Others insisted that religion had no place in this celebration of politically correct commercialism.

I shake my head when I hear people who only go to church for weddings and funerals, and have no other connection to religion and faith, argue that Christ must remain in Christmas. Why is that important to them?

I believe that Christmas is about God coming to earth as the infant Jesus to redeem me and everyone one on earth. How should I celebrate this occasion? Can I do it in a way that illustrates a far more significant message than "Happy Birthday Jesus?"

I'm having a tough time overcoming the depressing secular domination and pollution of Christmas to rejoice in the message the angels brought to the shepherds so long ago.


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared 
with the angel, praising God and saying, 
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
- Luke 2: 8-14



Monday, December 12, 2011

S.A.D.

How's my mental health today?

Surprisingly well considering the time of year. Like many other people, the shortened days of winter, especially December and January, have been challenging times for me. The lack of sunshine, the dark, gloomy, overcast skies eat away at my energy levels and mood. I actually enjoy the very cold winter days of -20 C and colder because they usually come with crisp, bright sunshine. The sunshine feels even brighter when it reflects off of the snow.

This year has been different, so far at least. I wonder if it's because of the new medication I am taking now that I'm being treated for a different disorder. If that is the case, if my psychiatric diagnosis is now the right one, it only took 21 1/2 years to get here. I know psychiatry involves a lot of assessment and reassessment, and best guess approaches to treatment options, but 21 years? Even my current psychiatrist asked, "How did we miss this for so long?"

I could get angry, resentful, blaming the mental health system for failing to provide the help I needed for so long, but what's the point in that? It won't bring the years back. It's an expenditure of energy and emotion that accomplishes nothing. More importantly, there was a lot of good stuff that happened in the past 21 1/2 years. I had the privilege of working in a job that allowed me to give hope and new understanding to people across our province and country. I met many interesting and wonderful people whose paths I might not have crossed had things been different. I may not have met and married Heidi, and quite possibly not be sitting here, writing this blog, had I received the 'right' treatment so long ago.  I may not have walked into the great church community that I'm now a part of; or made the many wonderful friends I have. I would certainly be a different person because the experiences, challenges, disappointments, and rewards of the past 21+ years have shaped me into who I am today.

I'm not angry; I'm thankful!

Thankful for the outcome of the journey thus far. Thankful for the many people that I've met; the many places I've been; the knowledge I've gained; the growth and maturity I've experienced (at least I like to think I've matured a bit); and the blessings of God's guidance and protection that has brought me here. I'm thankful for my family; my faith; my life.

I might still go through some dark days in the next couple of months and coming years, but that's ok. I know things will get better, light will return - in fact, the days will start getting longer again in only 2 weeks. I know that God will get me through; that Heidi, my family, my doc, and friends will be there; and the medical help I need is within easy reach.

Even if I still don't have the correct diagnosis and long term treatment approach, I'll be OK.

I have lots to be thankful for.


Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 
always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, 
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5: 19-20



Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Blues

How's my mental health today?

I'm doing OK but I know others aren't.

Christmas was a busy time when I worked in mental health crisis and respite services. People struggle for various reasons mostly brought on by stress - finances, busyness, overindulgence, and other avoidable things. Some stressors aren't as easily avoided - loneliness, illness, poverty, grief, depression, social ostracism, and physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain.

There are not always easy answers or solutions. A search on the Internet does provide some suggestions and I've quoted one column here. (Source: http://www.spunout.ie/health/Healthy-mind/Christmas-survival)


Christmas survival 

It's not all turkey and presents...

Christmas is a time for family and celebration for many of us. However, for others the winter blues and problems such as family arguments, feelings of isolation, homesickness or loneliness can dominate the holiday season.

If you or someone you know, is having a tough time whilst everyone else is celebrating, then follow these tips to help you get through Christmas and the New Year:

  • If you are not with the people you care about this Christmas, make sure to phone them or chat online with them at some point in the day.
  • Do something different if you are alone at Christmas: get active outdoors, take part in a Christmas charity activity, visit somewhere you’ve always wanted to see, or rent your favourite film and spend the day relaxing. Think about what makes you feel happy and whatever it is, aim to spend at least part of the day doing that.
  • If you are grieving the death of a loved one, talk to others about how you are feeling, share memories and don’t try to hide your grief.
  • If you are dealing with family separation, plan the holidays carefully. Talk to your parents about what works best - maybe you can spend part of the day with each parent or swap each year.
  • You might know someone who is feeling down or lonely at this time of year. If so, don’t ignore them or pretend that everything is ok and normal. It’s important to ask, “Are you alright?” “Are you depressed?” or “Do you want to talk about what’s getting you down?” Remind your friend that you’re there for them and you want to help.
  • Take the time to visit elderly neighbours and family - remember that they might be alone during the holidays and a chat over a cup of tea with you can make all the difference to their Christmas experience.
  • Volunteer with one of the many charities who need helpers during the Christmas period.
  • Make allowances for others during Christmas. Parents might have to work more than usual, family members might feel stressed or upset and arguments can happen when everyone is together more than usual. Don’t let it get to you, and take time out to be by yourself whenever you need to.
  • If you are feeling down, lonely or if things at home are difficult, then talk to a support organization in your community. 

Similar suggestions can be found at the two following links:

Canadian Mental Health Association Offers Ten Tips for Holiday Peace of Mind

Twelve Mental Health Tips


Who do I know that's hurting and what can I do for them?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your food with the hungry 
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them, 
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
 
 - Isaiah 58:6-8 (NIV)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Agent of Change

How's my mental health today?

Ok - but I'm more focused on the value of story this morning.

A week ago Heidi and I went to see the movie Help. I won't retell the story here but the film reminded me of the potential for story to be a catalyst for change - sometimes profound change.

Much of my work in the mental health field was connected to stories. The purpose of my job was to provide a new vision of the potential of people with mental illness to rebuild their lives and participate fully and equitably in community. This new vision was grounded in the stories of people who recovered; stories of what helped and what hindered, what healed and what harmed.

First person accounts of psychiatric abuse challenged the entrenched treatment paradigm. These stories sparked a very vocal anti-psychiatry movement. The leaders of this movement called themselves psychiatric survivors. All of a sudden people with psychiatric issues declared they would no longer accept treatment and services that robbed them of their dignity, their voice, their physical health, and their freedom for self-determination. The storytellers demonstrated the ability of psych patients to determine their own future, to define the potential and limits of their own lives.

 "Storytelling can change a room.
It can change lives. It can change the world."
Gwenda LedBetter

The anti-psychiatry movement preached the potential of people to help themselves and others. Peer support, peer counseling, and the mental health support system became a by-product of this movement. Recovery and empowerment became the buzzwords of the mental health industry. Persons living with a mental disorder heard these stories of recovery,and they began to see hope for themselves. With the renewal of hope came the realization that each individual needed to become active in their own healing. As mental health professionals heard about people recovering from serious mental illness, and saw examples of this reality in the people they were working with, they too experienced a renewed hope of positive outcomes.

Stories lived and observed initiated a desire among many mental health professionals to learn how to become facilitators of recovery. They provided hope to families and patients; they sparked new services and  treatment strategies. The new approach to service delivery, although it still faces substantial resistance, has produced more stories of recovery. The result - a cycle of hope and potential.

Stories continue to abound.

The Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology published the report, Out of the Shadows at Last in May 2006, which contains many stories of people's experiences of mental health illness and services. It became the foundation stone of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, a federal body charged with developing a national mental health plan. A major goal of the Commission is to eliminate the stigma of mental illness in our country and promote greater knowledge and understanding of these issues.

Will permanent positive change happen?

That's another story.



"Storytelling is the thread which is woven deep
in our lives, our conscious, our humanity. 

It has the power to bring understanding
amongst the peoples of the world. 
Tell and listen." - Antonio Rocha








Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Combobulated ?

How's my mental health today?

I'm not sure, but I know I have very little energy at the moment. I think I'm going to take it very easy today - put my feet up, grab a book and some zzzz's - after I write this post.

Watching the 6 o'clock news the other day I was startled when I heard the weather announcer say, "Not the funnest place to be." The reference is immaterial; I was struck by the made up word. Do broadcasters not learn proper English? Colour commentators on live sports broadcasts are probably the biggest offenders when it comes to making up new words and brutalizing basic grammar.

I suppose that is how language changes and evolves over time.

Out of curiosity, I surfed the Internet for a while, searching out comments on the use of the English language. I found an amusing column at:

http://www.bouldertherapist.com/html/humor/WordPlays/theenglishlanguage.htm

I hope you find it as amusing as I did.


Commentary On The English Language
 
Let's face it -- English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.
 
We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese?
 
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb thru annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?
 
Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Send shipments by car and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?
 
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?
 
Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would ACTUALLY hurt a fly?
 
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on.
 
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.


Words are the leaves of the tree of language, 
of which, if some fall away, 
a new succession takes their place.
- John French





Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Roots

How's my mental health today?

I'm not sure. I'm still dwelling on the issue of story telling and writing.

A Bible verse keeps popping into my head.


Never forget what you have seen the Lord do for you. Do not let these things escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Deuteronomy 4:9 (NLT)

I've tossed an idea back and forth several years - namely that of writing a bit of a family history for my kids, nieces, and nephews. In the fall of 2008 I put together a family tree poster that included nine generations of documented information. The poster is huge - larger than I have wall-space for. It only took two years for the information on the poster to become outdated.

My intention has been to write the family history as well as an updated family tree in a format that could be easily maintained and revised. I haven't followed through to this point because the task has felt daunting and overwhelming.

What information do I include? How detailed should I get? Do I collect stories from my siblings and their kids to include some of their perceptions of what has occurred or do I only present my perception and understanding of the story? There are few family members left of my mother's generation, and all but my mother are in Germany. How do I effectively gather their memories? Some of the stories I have have been passed down to me orally. Do I include them as fact or as unsubstantiated memories of ancestors?

Among the documents I have is a diary written by a great aunt written during the early months of the USSR occupation of their village at the end of WWII. Do I include the details or just describe her experiences? I also have a lengthy letter my grandmother wrote to me describing the trip she and my grandfather took in 1966 when they came to visit us here in Canada for several months. She had a wonderful way with words, but they're all  written in German. Including these documents would involve a lot of translating. Should I translate and include the stack of family tree documentation I have? That's a lot of work I'm not sure is worth doing.


In 1984 I spent two months in Germany during which time I began a travel journal which eventually just consisted of bulleted notes. In those notes I wrote down my impressions and memories of all the relatives I had spent time with during that trip. Do I include that? One of my nieces is enamored with history. Should I invite her to work on this project with me? She's very busy with her studies; is it fair of me to ask her to take on more work, or would I just be taking advantage of her enthusiasm for things historical - especially family history?

And what about the intended audience? What kind of information would my kids, etc want to have? Would they value a family history document or would it just get tossed into the bottom of a box? Would they read it? Would they update it with their stories and pass it along to the next generation? Should I consider these questions before beginning the task?

Who benefits if I write this story? Does it matter?

Are these questions my way of procrastinating?

I've been looking for a meaningful writing project. Is this it? If it is, why does it scare me?

If I'm going to do this I better begin while my mother is still alive!

Now what?


"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness." 
-- Alex Haley, Roots









Monday, December 5, 2011

Traditions

How's my mental health today?

Meh!

I find myself in a contemplative and reflective mood today.

We're in the middle of the Advent season - a time that stirs up many memories. Memories of family traditions; some lost, dwindling; many cherished, others not so much. Traditions dripping with meaning and value. Traditions that have been rendered meaningless. Traditions brimming with emotions, both happy and sad. And regrettably, the holes left by the erosion and absence of traditions.

The first Sunday of Advent marked the day our mother began singing Christmas carols with us (when we were kids). We began with German songs and as we learned English ones they were added to the family repertoire. When supper was done the dishes were cleared off the table and stacked on the kitchen counter, an Angel Chimes was placed on the table, up to 4 candles were lit depending on which week of Advent we were in, the lights were turned off, and we began to sing. In my adolescent years I began to chafe at this family tradition, mostly because our mother took great pride in teaching us every verse that had ever been written for each song and we had to go through them all before the singing was done.

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, each involved a family tradition routine. Music was a significant part of our Christmas tradition as well as maintaining a focus on the Christmas story as found in Luke 2.

Years later many of those traditions have fallen to the wayside. We`ve all grown up, moved on with our own lives, and had our own families. For many years we tried to pass some of the traditions on to our own kids. We made a point of getting together as a 3 generational family at the beginning of Advent to continue the carol singing - although the singing was much shorter than when my siblings and I were kids.

Things have changed. I went through a divorce and remarriage. My kids lived in another province with their mother for five years. Getting them together with their aunts, uncles and cousins Christmas time became a biannual event. Traditions began eroding. I remarried and became part of a blended family. We were never able to establish our own family Christmas tradition because our kids each now had two sets of parents and four sets of grandparents. Traditions took a back seat to the challenge of scheduling a time when we could all get together.

Our kids have grown up. They all have their own homes. They have their own busy lives, their own unique interests. We no longer seem to have the richness of  common deeply ingrained family traditions to celebrate and share together that I grew up with.

Sometimes it feels like a personal failure on my part.

Heidi and  I have been fortunate to have had a smorgasbord of wonderful Christmas experiences with our kids and families, especially with two young people that became part of our family when they lived with us.

Nevertheless, I regret my inability to develop those special traditions for my kids.

I mourn the loss of the traditions I held dear.


What an enormous magnifier is tradition! 
How a thing grows in the human memory and in the 
human imagination, when love, worship, and all that lies 
in the human heart, is there to encourage it.   
- Thomas Carlyle






Friday, December 2, 2011

Dragons

 How's my mental health today?

 My gut is in turmoil. Not sure if that's from too much coffee, or wrestling with the task of writing. Probably a little of both.

A few weeks ago a friend loaned me a book to work through entitled The Artist's Way; A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. I've only glanced at a few pages in the book so far. Will I find answers and direction by working through this book? I've got so many books on the go already, do I set them aside for the time being? If I do that, will I have to start from the beginning again when I return to them?  How did I manage to stay  abreast of so many subjects and books when I was in school? I look at the number of books that university students continuously juggle and wonder how they do that without getting lost. Then I glance at the rapidly growing piles of books beside my chair at in our livingroom and in our spare room. The books are apparently reproducing faster than rabbits.

Finding the time to read and write as much as I would like to is becoming a bit of a dragon. I need to take care that I don't become consumed.

At the moment I am in what Heidi calls my office again. It's actually the Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe. The walls in front of me have floor to ceiling shelves filled with books. So many stories! So many story tellers!

Where did the writers get their inspiration and ideas from?

Some writers are incredibly prolific and imaginative. Among these, Stephen King intrigues me. The man spews out one story after another. They are spellbinding; often bizarre; occasionally twisted; full of surprises; brilliant! What I've found interesting is how King includes subtle little connections to previous stories in many of his books. I wonder, does he mesmerize his own children with story telling or have they become so used to his tales that they roll their eyes and dismiss them as just more of the usual crazy byproducts of his imagination?

Right now I'm more interested in reading than in writing. My sister brought me a new Stephen King book a couple of days ago. I need to finish a few of the books I've already started reading so that I can begin King's spin on the JFK assassination. Good thing the weekend is almost here; I can take more time to read - beginning now!

I'll be back Monday.


“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they 
tell us that dragons exist, but because 
they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
- G. K. Chesterton



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Value of Story

How's my mental health today?

Things are going well - the new medication seems to be making a difference. I don't feel a need to dwell on  that question today.

Instead, I'm focused on the idea of story. I began this blog as an exercise to develop my writing skills and organize my thoughts about what to write.

I'm still trying to figure out how and why I would go beyond writing this blog. What would I write about? Do I tell my personal story? I'm actually very tired of telling my mental illness/mental health story. I've lost count of the number of times that I've shared my story, and I've told it in many different ways to address a variety of purposes.

Is there more to tell? Am I called to continue to tell the story? Do I have other stories to tell? Is there a reason to tell these stories that goes beyond feeding a narcissistic obsession?

I am having difficulty remaining on a linear thought trail. I'm bouncing in many directions today. While I question the value of retelling my story, other thoughts and memories pop up. 
  • Telling my story was cathartic.
  • Telling the story was part of my healing and growing.
  • The ever changing story illuminated my progress and new perspectives based on my increased enlightenment and understanding.
  • People told me that my story helped them understand what their friend or family member was going through and what they needed.
  • Others told me that they realized they were not alone in their experience.
  • Some people were encouraged to come out of the closet and share their own stories.
  • I heard people say that my story gave them hope for themselves and/or someone close to them.
  • A few found ideas for new strategies for their own healing.
  • Discouraged and jaded care-providers found themselves re-energized; their passion for helping reignited by a story of hope.
  • A young man with schizophrenia told me that my story was the inspiration for his own healing and successful entry into working in the mental health field.
I feel humbled, and occasionally overwhelmed to the point of tears by people's positive responses.

I seem to have just outlined the argument for continuing to tell my story.

Am I up to the task?


Our stories matter...Your stories matter… For you never know 
how much of a difference they make and to whom. 
~ Caroline Joy Adams



Earlier this month (November 7) I posted about telling my story as part of our pastor's God in the Movies message on A Beautiful Mind. If you're interested the link below will take you to a Quicktime video of that message.

http://www.soulsanctuary.ca/god-in-the-movies-a-beautiful-mind