friendship, mental health

I Heard the Whisper

I don’t have any friends.

Silence.

I don’t have any friends said the social teen girl. Pause. Reflect. Think.

The beautiful girl is right. She has acquaintances. She has teammates. She has adults that are supportive. She has siblings. Unfortunately she is missing the friends piece of the equation. True friends.

The bestie or group of pals that come over to hang out. The girls that go to the movies. The inner circle of sorts. What could have happened to this social butterfly.

One word sums it up: corona.

Corona has taken away spontaneous trips to the mall. Quarantine has limited gatherings at other homes. Fear has lurked in every home limiting activities. The list goes on and on.

In this community two teens have died by suicide in the last 10 days. I can’t ignore that. I can’t understand a day in the life of these teens. Their desire to end their lives is the solution to their perceived problems at that time. We have to listen to these cries even if they are masked.

So many no you can’t. So much time alone. So many milestones and memories being missed in isolation. So much time is solitude in their room. Many sleep it off. Many struggle for daily motivation.

Who does the cheerleader role fall on when parents work? What if the teen is an only child? Is the school talking about this subject with this vulnerable age?  Are they offering parents solutions? Why no they are talking about tests scores and must complete your assignments or even pick your schedule for next year.

Do administrators even consider what a day in the life of a teen is like in isolation? They lost their friends. They lost their home away from home that is school. They lost competition in the classroom. The lost giggles in the hallway. They even lost their imagery. Always covered in a mask. Gasping for air. The image of themselves in a super cute outfit on the first day of school. Shopping for a prom dress. So many important things for a girl in her formative years.

Instead they get to go to the drive thru with their parents. Maybe a Netflix movie in the same place they eat, sleep, socialize, go to school, etc. (their house). Maybe weekends of extra homework because they lack the motivation to do it on day 1 when it was due. The list of blah goes on and on.

I see this cycle repeated. I try to engage my teen to give her fulfillment in the tiny box that is currently around her. It’s by no means perfect but it’s what I can offer today.

I often wonder if she drove and had a car if it would be different. Would being mobile allow her to wave at friends from the curb but allow her time to smile away from the homestead. I don’t have these answers. I may never have them.

For today I will enjoy the time I have. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone. Memories last forever. Today I will make memories with her.

Parents don’t forget to look around you. Right in front of you. Listen. Spot the abnormalities and take action. Any action that lets them notice you see them. You hear them. You want to be with them. They need you. They don’t always feel like they have anyone left. Corona has taken much from many.

Don’t let environmental conditions take away another bright future.

This post was sparked by the song Pink just released with her daughter Willow, Cover Me in Sunshine. Pink noted they sang the song because it makes them happy and they wanted to share it to make others happy. They did it together. Today I will cover those around me in sunshine for no other reason than to make them happy.

Enjoy today. No matter how shitty things may be tomorrow. Every day is a new day to get covered in sunshine.

perspective

Pandemic Dilemmas

(A note: sometimes posts for our blog sit on the backburner. There’s all kinds of reasons for this. The post below was written in April 2020.  It has lived in the drafts folder ever since.  Current news and trends brought it back to mind these past couple of weeks, and it seems as relevant as it was then, if not more so. The resources I worry about most now are our health care workers, but as you can read, those worries were already bubbling up last April.)

It was the classic problem.

Hans has a sick child.  Hans is poor and can’t afford the medicine his child needs to live.  Is Hans morally wrong for stealing the medicine his child needs to survive?

In the eyes of the law, sure he would be wrong.  Stealing is a crime. He doesn’t have the right to take what belongs to someone else.  But is he blameworthy?  If he does it, should he go to jail for it?  If he doesn’t steal it, isn’t there a different kind of penalty?

I was a philosophy major in college, specializing in ethics, or figuring out right / wrong / morality. I shouldn’t say figuring it out, since we rarely if ever got to the bottom of anything.  But we spent a lot of time thinking about Hans and these sticky situations, where different people have different rights and those rights cross or conflict.  Moral dilemmas.  So many of the ones that interested me most involved relationships, deciding who is more important, and trying to figure out a good reason why.

I’ve had my moments of anxiety during the course of the coronavirus so far.  But it’s the dilemmas that trouble me most. I get deeply, truly sad when I think about health care workers being forced to make decisions about who has access to life saving medical equipment if supplies are running out.

Here’s an example: Two 50-year old men come in to the ER at roughly the same time, in roughly the same condition, same medical history. About the only meaningful difference is that one of them has three kids, one of them has none. Should that be the deciding factor if only one of them can have a ventilator?

Of course, it only gets more complicated.  What if the one with the kids is overweight and pre-diabetic while the other is in good overall health.  Or one is married, the other is a widower (and what if the one with the kids is the widower, or the one without kids…does that matter?)  One is an affluent business owner with many employees who depend on him, the other is on public assistance.  One is insured, the other is not.  One is African American, the other is White. Add in factors of gender, age, medical history, addiction, other ailments that might be seen as patient life choices (like smoking) and others that are genetic.  You can see how the picture gets very complicated very quickly.  What matters?  What doesn’t?  Who decides?

In our medical ethics classes, we would talk about assisted suicide and the problems with a doctor “playing God,” deciding who lives and who dies…or in the coronavirus case, who even has the chance.

I know a taste of this, from when I was the one who made the decision to take my father off of breathing support to effectively end his life.  Even though he had prepared me to do it and I felt confident it was the right thing, it still stays with me. I will just say that all of this is simpler when it is clear cut.  Still, it is not simple and never easy.

I know there are people who question if this whole pandemic is real.  If all the staying at home and disruption of our daily lives is necessary.  As a member of a family who is supported by a restaurant, I face the same economic uncertainty that has so many people anxious, restless, angry, and scared. I can’t minimize that suffering, but I hope that the help in our communities and from our leaders will sustain us for a little while until we can get the virus more or less medically managed.

What wakes me up at night, though, is thinking of the doctors.  The nurses.  The medical heroes whose hearts and minds will be scarred from watching people die that they truly wanted to help.  That they could have and would have made a valiant effort to save in nearly any other circumstance.  The people they eventually had to walk away from because there wasn’t enough equipment to go around. The trauma to their hearts and minds is immeasurable, not to mention all the people who might not have a chance to survive if we run out of ICU resources.

I believe these moments say much about our values as a culture, as a society. Can we just sit tight for a little bit? Can we help our neighbors and loved ones survive this strange and challenging moment in history?  In my mind, if we can prevent the damage to those who care for us and give everyone a chance to get access to care, as they say flattening the curve can, we should.  If you doubt that this is a real thing, please find a health care worker and listen to them.  Please.

There are a million other issues with this situation.  Reasons to be angry, stressed, depressed.  Some day I may write about my worries over my students now trying to learn at home.  Or the heroism of medical workers who continue to show up and do their jobs when they are inadequately protected.  Or the many other front line workers, often forgotten and in high risk but low-paying jobs.

Surely, some day soon I may be writing about an actual Hans, who lost his hours at his job and needs medicine for his kids. Those stories are out there and more are coming.  The economic, social, mental, and physical impacts will be spinning out for years and years. Once this initial crisis has passed, we will turn our full attention to the suffering of many other groups who need help, who need heart, who need solutions. We will be writing about this for a long time. This is an endurance test. Both our patience muscles and our helping muscles must grow, strengthen, and sustain throughout this marathon.

But for now, in this initial fury, I worry for the doctors and nurses and patients.  It takes me back to those college classrooms, before I had kids of my own, when Hans’s predicament was nothing more than an interesting little thought experiment to ponder. Now I have kids.  And a lot more to lose.  I don’t wish true dilemmas on anyone.  While there is a choice, there is no win.

mental health, Uncategorized

Gift of Words

I’ve mentioned the challenges of working in an elementary school during this time of COVID. Telling the kids to spread out. Masks all the time. So. Much. Sanitizer. Constant changes. One of the reasons I wanted to work in an elementary school is honestly because it seemed playful and fun. That hasn’t always proven true, and this fall has been even less fun than usual.

In typical years, the time between Thanksgiving and Winter break at an elementary school is equal parts festive and frantic. We have 15 days to cram in two month’s worth of learning and celebrating. The schools I’ve been in go all out with decorations, which means trees, menorahs, stockings, and so on. It’s also the wrapup of the first half of the year, so we pile tons of tests in there just to add to the excitement (and panic).

This year was different. Widespread testing is postponed or canceled for the most part in elementary schools where I live. And when I got back from Thanksgiving break there were no trees going up, no stockings… maybe just a handful of stars and tinsel in the hallways. The lights and energy of the holidays are usually palpable when you walk through the front door. This year no one would have known it was December.

My job has changed so I am not telling stories to kids anymore right now, so no Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Christmas tales. Last year I made a tree out of ancient textbooks. I also have a little sliver tree with international ornaments. The kids love these touches. This year I didn’t find time with all my other shifting responsibilities.

Every year has also brought a dress up countdown for teachers, 12 Days of Christmas style. We all wear red one day, silver the next, silly socks on Tuesday, crazy hats Thursday. I wore my tacky Christmas sweater on the right day and I was the only one who did! Most of us are so tired and beat up we are just lucky to be dressed and physically present. December, such a special, silly time of celebration and connection, was just more show-up-and-get-it-done days.

The twelve days also bring treats at times. Hot cocoa after school. Cookies in the mailroom. Pancakes from the local breakfast place. I generally skip all that since too much sugar makes me sleepy. But one morning, when I returned from my morning outdoor duty all dressed up in my tacky garb, a piece of paper caught my eye. It was a paper, to me, thanking me for my gift of flexibility. A quote from Picasso about finding your purpose and sharing it. A short explanation of how I have adapted to every role and challenge this year. An appreciation.

It was a simple thing. A word. An acknowledgement. A recognition that in this crazy time, I have played my role as best I can. And what I do matters. Then I noticed that every teacher’s door in the school had a similar paper.

I made excuses the rest of the day to walk around the building, dropping off items or doing other errands. But what I really wanted to do was see other colleague’s notes – what gifts did our administration identify in them? Kindheartedness. Generosity. Passion. Good humor. Creativity. I nodded my head at each one. Maybe not what I would have said is most important about that person, but each one still rang true. Some of them made me laugh since they were gifts I often struggle with. Efficiency. Patience. Productivity. Focus. Again I nodded, but understood why those weren’t top of mind for me.

This has been a year of challenges. My job has changed at least weekly, sometimes daily. Stress levels have brought patience muscles to their breaking point for many, even me. While the cookies and chocolate are sweet, the gift that meant the most to me was just some words and the knowledge that what I am doing is seen.

Who around you needs to be seen? Who can you lift up with a word or two? Who brings a gift to your life just by being in it? I hope you’ll take a minute to let them know this week. Words are precious gifts.

health

Keeping Afloat

Today’s world is a bit crazy at times. 7-8 months into Corona and something new comes up each day it seems.

Focusing on your physical and mental health is extremely important during this time. Getting a flu shot may be one way to combat today’s issues. Seeking help for depression or anxiety could be another.

For me I use personal fitness and a healthy eating regimen to keep me balanced. It works for me but that may not be feasible for you. You must invest in yourself to see how to battle today’s craziness.

Just this week I have seen folks self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to get by. I had experience with, one falling into depression. I even had an acquaintance deal with the emotions of a positive test and quarantine restrictions. This is just this week.

Check on your social network. Those working from home are feeling the pains of limited social outlets. Check on the elderly they are struggling with their own limitations. Lack of group services and connections in this age group can be devastating. Check on your kids. Whether digital learners or in-person they both have stress among each scenario.

Some folks are hungry despite food programs expanding. Some are losing housing now that extensions are no more. And we can’t forget our athletes. Whether amateur or professional, they have all had opportunities stripped from them in one way or another. Be compassionate.

This is time to look out for others. Help where you can. Offer resources or referrals in your area to anyone who might need it.

Keeping your mind and body healthy is very important these days. Wishing you the best from afar. Kindness does really matter.

perspective

Where’s the Disconnect?

Everywhere, all around, it seems connections are breaking down.

Big & small.  Local & global.  Things we never think about, things we take for granted, suddenly aren’t working anymore.

The news is so puzzling it makes my head spin.

First, food.

Almost every night on the news, there’s a story about the lines at food pantries and other food giveaways that wrap around buildings and through parking lots.  People are spending hours in line to get basic necessities of all kinds. Families that were once secure are quickly, unexpectedly in need.  And families that were teetering on the edge are now hanging on for dear life.

I guess it’s not that surprising, in light of how many people have lost jobs.

What turns to shocking is when I read a story about how farmers are burying onions, cracking thousands of eggs, dumping milk out and more, all before they get to consumers. The loss of restaurant, hotel, and school outlets for food has turned demand on its head.  Or that the closure of meat processing plants due to COVID-19 infections means many animals will be killed and never make it to market.  Staggering. Unimaginable.  The resources, so desperately needed, will be destroyed.

Hungry people on one side, supplies of food on the other, being wasted.

Where’s the disconnect? Why is it so hard to fix this, if the supplies of food are there as well as the demand?   While scientists are busy developing and distributing tests, I hope logistics experts are working on this food issue. I feel frustrated and helpless in it.

Second, human connection.

A similar disconnect may be true in mental health.  The worries about loneliness, isolation, and more stream through my news and social media feeds. All of that is a concern.  Some people cry out and are hopefully heard and reassured.  But then it’s the people who are invisible, who aren’t speaking up, who may live alone or are in unhealthy situations who can be the most worrisome.  People who may be losing hope, losing connection. I think we are all eager to connect.  Demand is high, and I believe supply is, too.  Still, being physically separate is a challenge.

I can’t drive a semi to Iowa or Idaho and get all that good food and bring it to where it is needed.  I am grateful to Publix and Kroger and other organizations who are trying to reconnect supply and demand in whatever ways they can.  In my own life, I can talk to those who may be having food or financial struggles and offer to share what I have. If I suspect someone might be suffering, I should just ask. Seriously, just ask.

I can be even more direct with the mental health worries, though. I can reach out to people I know.  And especially try to think of people who may be having a hard time.  People I haven’t heard from in a while.  People who might be lonely or afraid. Disconnected. If I suspect someone might be suffering, I should just ask. Seriously, just ask.  Check in.

Keep looking for ways to connect people with the resources they need.  Be the connection.