As I sit to write this blog entry, I reflect on a simple question I was asked today
regarding the Boston Marathon explosions.
"Why are there so many acts of violence on innocent people
lately?" When I was in graduate
school, we were taught never to ask the "Why?" question because the
default answer was always "I don't know". The default answer to the question posed to
me could be that simple, "I don't know why there is a rise in violence." But, that answer is too simple and does not
pay the respects of reflection the question warrants.
As I await my deployment orders for Boston, I reflect to several weeks ago when I was
alerted to a shooting in the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington,
father of a man who kidnapped his three young daughters in 2007 opened fire
with a handgun at the New Castle County courthouse killing his former
daughter-in-law and her friend and wounding two police officers. This
came only a week after a Wilmington Police Officer was shot in the face while
performing a traffic stop. These
stories fall under the shadow of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings,
the looming nuclear attack from North Korea, and the outcry for gun control.
I often worry my blogs may not be politically
correct or accurate to both sides of a debate. I attempt to give my opinion in a logically
thought out manner by researching the subject matter and compiling a list of
pros and cons. This topic has touched
too close to home for me to remain completely unbiased. My reflections on the topic of violence
have to be from my viewpoint because of what I do and who I am. As a trauma therapist, I am often called
upon to help victims and families of violence to cope with the situation and
begin the healing process. I work
closely with Law Enforcement, Fire Service, and Emergency Medical Personnel to
provide comfort and aid to those affected by life's tragedies. And, when the needs arise, I help Law
Enforcement, Fire Service, and Emergency Medical Personnel find peace and
healing as life's tragedies inevitably affect them as well. I am ever vigilant of what affects me
emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually during these crisis
calls. I immediately reflect back to my
recent deployment to the Sandy Hook
Elementary School shootings. I posted a
picture I took of a memorial in Sandy Hook, CT. In the caption, I wrote, " I have been trained to counsel people during tragic
times but the overwhelming sorrow is indescribable. I have told people
throughout my time here it is normal and healthy to cry. As my heart hurts, I
find myself crying with the ones I have provided comfort. I hurt for them, not
as a professional but as a father, a son, and a human. God bless these tiny
souls so they may find peace". I
cannot be completely unbiased to the subject of violence. I can give facts, which are easily
researched, but I have to give my opinion as well.
Currently,the United States has
substantially more mass shootings but the same percentage of psychiatrically
suffering patients than any other nation. We have more
firearms in our country than in any other comparably developed nation. An
individual in the United States is about a hundred times more likely to die due
to the discharge of a firearm than in any other Western nation. Our government's response to these undisputed
facts is the need for gun control or a ban on assault weapons. Opponents of this action post feverishly
about the second amendment and how no one will take their guns away from
them. Meanwhile, two homemade bombs are
detonated at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon killing two and injuring
dozen more. The issue of violence in
our society has little to do with whether Joe Politician and Joe American can
agree on what is designated as an assault weapon. In an instant lately, our rights as US
citizens have been taken away not by our Government or legal gun owners, but by
individuals who are not playing by society's rules.
When violence strikes without warning it
can leave lasting scars not only physically, but emotionally as well. Whether it is a terrorist attack or some
domestic threat, watching innocent people being directly affected by violent
actions pulls at everyone’s heartstrings. Fear can be a debilitating emotion, and how
you cope with that fear is as important as the safety measures you take. After a frightening
situation, overwhelming danger or a sudden loss of security, you may experience
what is commonly called “post-traumatic stress.” Even a perceived or imagined
threat of violence or danger can be as
emotionally disturbing as a real one. When we experience an event as life
threatening, it shatters our basic assumptions about ourselves and the world we
live in. We
all handle traumatic events differently. It is not unusual to feel hyper-alert or jumpy,
to have difficulty going to sleep, or to feel any number of physical or
emotional symptoms. I believe the surge
in the rate of violence has left us all questioning ourselves and our
common thread in many terrorist attacks is how people respond after the
incident. According to the American
Psychological Association many people who have witnessed these events “may go
into a state of acute stress reaction.” In this
state of acute stress reaction, we are not able to make proper decisions or
judgments. We are not able to fully
control our thoughts and our emotions.
With this said, it would stand to reason the US Society has be bombarded
with debilitating violence over the past several years leaving us afraid,
angry, emotional, and fatigued.
While people never tend to forget tragic or horrendous
events, easing the feelings that are associated with these traumas can be mitigated
by taking specific actions in your life. The following tips have been compiled
from the Kansas State Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois,
American Psychological Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Provide direct help in dealing with the disaster - Help an elderly
or homeless person who is affected by the disaster. Volunteer by helping your
fire department or police department during their times of need. Many
communities have Community Emergency Responder Teams for neighborhoods. This is
a good way to help in times of need. If you are removed from the situation give
blood or money to charitable organizations that are helping with the relief
Talk and listen - Sharing feelings with others,
especially family, friends and neighbors, helps people deal with and overcome
anxiety and feelings of helplessness. On the same token, listening can help
others cope with these same feelings. One of the best ways to help is to lend
Identify your feelings - Understanding
your feelings can help you realize that you are feeling the effects of stress
and sympathy. Knowing yourself can help you cope with the abnormal situation
you might find yourself in.
Show by words and actions that you care - Act. Don’t be
afraid of doing the wrong thing, or offending someone, just try to help in any
way you can. A word of support or a helping hand goes a long way to encourage
other people who are also trying to cope in a difficult situation.
Realize that you are not alone - When it comes to
terrorism, realize there are numerous law enforcement and government agencies
that are trying to prevent and solve the problem of international terrorism.
Knowing that you are not alone in this situation is an important step in
dealing with your fears.
Get back to your daily routine as soon as possible - You might not be
able to do all of the things you once did, but trying to get back to some sense
of normalcy is important in the healing process. Make sure you also maintain
good sleeping and eating habits.
Realize that not everyone heals at the same pace - Don’t be
judgmental if you have found your way out of the emotional pitfalls of a
disaster, but your spouse, son or neighbor is still feeling the pain.
Remember you have overcome obstacles in the past - Try to remember
what you did in other difficult situations and see if those skills can be used
in the current crisis.
Limit watching the news - Watching the
same event time after time will not help you in the healing process. Collecting
important information is important, but watching just for the sake of shock is
Avoid major life decisions - When people are
under stress or bereavement they cannot make logical decisions. Immediately
after a traumatic event is not the time to change careers, move or change your
relationships. Give it time, and then make the decision.
Keep helping - The disruptions caused by a
traumatic event may continue for a long while. Recovery may take even longer.
Friends, family members and neighbors will need regular acts of kindness and
understanding to maintain their morale and put their lives back together.
My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Boston community at this time. I was deeply deeply saddened to hear about the tragic events that took place this afternoon. My heart goes out to all those impacted.
The City of Boston has always had a special place in my heart. There is just something about Boston that inspires, revitalizes, and reinvigorates me. From Harvard Yard to Fenway Park to the Northend to the Harbor, Boston does it for me. I am positive the City will be resilient and will get through this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with the injured, the families of the deceased, and the men and women of Boston's emergency services.
I know the "Sheepdogs" of the Boston's emergency services will tend to their flock. “If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath--a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.” ~ Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Life surely has its ups and downs. Whether you lose a friend, a promotion, a significant other, or you just fail at achieving a goal, the anguish of disappointment can be devastating. Whether the disappointment is in us or in someone else, the overall feelings of disappointment are akin to the grieving process. Personally, I believe we can work better at grieving the disappointment with others versus the disappointment with ourselves. For me, being disappointed in myself leaves me feeling out of sorts, lost, and, dare I say, vulnerable. It's often a reminder of how fragile life and the human experience is as it pertains to the loss of confidence. Disappointment can kick you squarely in the teeth leaving you dazed and confused. It is never a good feeling, but, with the right direction, you can recover from the feeling. The feeling of disappointed is also a part of life. Do we need disappointment? Well, maybe. I think we all need a modest level of disappointment to achieve a greater sense of self discovery. I believe a feeling of disappointment in ourselves can lead us eventually to a path of greatness.
Paulo Coehlo once wrote, “When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.”
We all make decisions in our lives which may turn out exactly the way we planned or go up in flames. Those decisions often lead to feelings of success or feelings of disappointment. As Coehlo suggests, the ability to recover from a mistake may turn out, in the end, to be exactly what we need. Have you ever been presented with a challenge knowing all the results would not be desirable? Have you ever had to make a decision which you knew had the potential to create disappointment in others and in yourself? Sure you have. We all have had those moments. We have all had those moments of shear dread of making an impactful decision which could lead to disastrous results or tremendous disappointment. But, as Joel Olsteen said, “You must make a decision that you are going to move on. It won't happen automatically. You will have to rise up and say, ‘I don’t care how hard this is, I don’t care how disappointed I am, I’m not going to let this get the best of me. I’m moving on with my life.”
Recovering from disappointment is not an easy or desired task. It takes internal power to rise up and move ahead. The power has to come from deep inside. Deep inside the place you reserve for the most daunting of tasks. It is within that place you live and thrive. You must face the truth of being embarrassed and ashamed of yourself and know these feelings will hopefully pass. Develop a sense of humility and be honest with yourself and others. Even if the ultimate honesty is painful, put it out there and be exposed. Be vulnerable. Be human. The worst thing that happens is you make the wrong decision and you lose what you had. The best thing that happens is you make the right decision and gain something valuable. Either way, it is much better to face the possible disappointment head on. Once the decision is made and everything has been exposed, the results of the decision will happen and you deal with the consequences whether they are good or bad. Life is measured by both the disappointments and the successes. Take the risk of losing something to gain something. Take the risk of disappointment to feel joy, happiness, and freedom. Being burdened by disappointment only allows you to wallow within sorrow. Be free to express yourself and move on. If a person is disappointed in you, apologize and move on. You will make mistakes in life. Sometimes huge mistakes, but acknowledge the mistake. Apologize for the disappointment and move on. We are not perfect beings. We can't be perfect.
Remember, life is a journey. During this journey, we will stumble and fall at times. We will not only make mistakes, but we will create disappointment. Take a moment and acknowledge the journey. It may be helpful to listen to the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If I am to meet with a disappointment, the sooner I know it, the more of life I shall have to wear it off.”
Do you remember your first true love? That person who made your heart and mind flutter for a moment when they looked at or touched you? The feelings of love rush in like the tide and we get swept away with feelings of excitement, joy, and passion. Your thoughts turn to the person every waking moment. You dream about that person. You live to hear the sound of their voice. At times, you resist these feelings in the hopes to gain some control over yourself almost wanting those feelings to just go away even for just a minute. You can't help but falling in love and wanting those feelings to last. You tell everyone your feelings because you are not afraid of these feelings. You expose your inner dialogue because you need to proclaim to the world this feeling of bliss.
Do you remember the moment when this feeling ended? Do you remember when those feelings were changed into something you did not recognize? That moment when the person stopped loving or caring for you in the way which you grew accustomed. You feel as if the world is collapsing around you. It is like being stuck in a box and the walls are caving in. Sleepless nights, anxious moments, low feelings all become a reality. You tell yourself you will be ok, but you really do not believe it. You smile politely when your friends say you will find someone new. It hurts. It really hurts. The feelings may linger for days, weeks, months, or years. Time stands still when your heart is broken. Time has no meaning. Songs, places, people are painful remindersof the love you once had.
Louise Eldrich once said, “Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
Heartbreak is a part of our human condition. If we have never experienced a heartbreak, dare I say, we have not truly lived and put ourselves out there in the world. Love, at best, is a risky proposition. We run the risk of not having our love reciprocated leaving us vulnerable and emotionally naked. If our love is reciprocated, our risk pays off 1000 fold. Recently, I spoke with a couple who have been married for 70 years. They both are 90 years old and were high school sweethearts who married shortly after graduation. I asked them if they ever experienced heartbreak prior to them meeting. He looked at me with a smile, "I never had to have my heart broken because it didn't beat until I met my bride." For them, the risk was investing in each other's love and rolling the dice of life. Although a wonderful couple, I firmly believe they are not the norm in society. I believe the majority of us have gone or are going through heartbreak at some point of our lives.
How do we mend a broken heart? Mending a broken heart is going to be different for everyone. It is not an easy process especially as an adult. There are no quick fixes and clearly no magic solutions. Do not fool yourself into believing you will stop loving the other person. However the relationship ended, there was love there at some point. Those feelings just do not go away. They are stored in the lovely computer known as the brain. Those feelings are activated any time you hear "our song", eat at "our restaurant", or hear from "our friends". Do yourself a huge favor and never tell yourself you will stop loving the person. Just acknowledge it and begin the healing process. Trust me, it is much easier.
So how do we get through this pain of a broken heart? The healing process is just that, a process. Similar to the physical death of a person,we grieve the emotional death of a relationship. The grieving process does not have time limits. I wish I could give you exact times when the hurt will dissipate, but I would be lying if I did. The following stages are a mere outline of how the grieving process works.
Stage One: Shockand Denial - You are devastated and life is turned upside down. You may say, "This is not happening to me", "Why me?", or "This is all a dream". It is the mind's way of buffering you from the pain of the loss.
Stage Two: Bargaining - As you emerge from the initial shock, you begin to think of ways to correct the loss. "If only" statements are used. "If only had I called more often" "If only I had said I love you more". You question yourself in the attempt to make sense of the loss.
Stage Three: Anger - Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger,even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure tothe nothingness of loss. At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a friend who says the wrong thing, a commercial about relationships or even a family member. Suddenly you have a structure – your anger toward them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.
Stage Four: Derpession - After Anger,our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It is important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a loss of love. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone? Why go on at all? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you are in is actually depressing. Heartbreak is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a heartbreak would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that your heart has been broken is understandably depressing. If grief is a process of healing,then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.
Stage Five: Acceptance - Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “allright” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’tever feel OK or all right about a broken heart. This stage is about accepting the reality the relationship has ended and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must try to live now in a world where our love relationship has ended. In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before the broken heart. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we must readjust. We must learn to reorganize roles,re-assign them to others or take them on ourselves. Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that in doing so, we are betraying our lost love. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful loverelationships, new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.
Ok, I have accepted the heart break, now what? The practically of moving on from the ending of a relationship varies from person to person. Friends will tell you to get out there and date. Co-workers may try to fix you up with someone. You may dive head first into work and isolate for awhile. You may start dating right away. The re-entry phase is different for everyone. I can offer a few things to try to help with there-entry:
1. Stop the insanity - Put away the pictures, stop going on the other person's Facebook or Twitter, stop listening to the songs you listened to together. Constant reminders impede the re-entry phase.
2. Get in rhythm - Experiencing new or inspirational music may change mood. Listen to songs that get the blood flowing.
3. Hit the gym -Try some physical activity to sweat out your troubles. Physical exercise may allow some frustrationto be released.
4. Smiling is my favorite - As it has been said, "Laughter is the best medicine". Watch a funny movie, go see a comedy show, laugh with friends, or read a funny novel. Put yourself in a position to laugh.
5. Surround yourself with positives - Try to reconnect with positive friends and people. Put yourself in a position where the people around you are a positive influence and have your best interests at heart.
6. A whole new world - Try something new or different. Involve yourself in new activities or experiences. Now is the time to reinvent and re-enter.
Heartbreak is never easy. It is a difficult process to go through, but with persistence and patience, you will get through it. Do not be afraid to risk loving someone again. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable again.
Feeling blue, sad, or even depressed even though the holidays are upon us? You may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Symptoms of winter SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Some patients begin to slump as early as August, while others remain well until January. Regardless of the time of onset, most patients don’t feel fully back to normal until early May. Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but they can be severe.” SAD is often found in women in their twenties and thirties, but statistics report children, men, and teens may suffer from the symptoms as well.
At first, symptoms are mild, but gradually increase in intensity. The symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to, depression include oversleeping,daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain, features of depression, especially decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal.
I have had several patients over the years report increasing episodes of SAD and SAD like symptoms. Most studies report the disorder stems primarily from the shortening of days and daylight during the winter months causing a lowered production of serotonin in the brain. Other studies report the symptoms stem from the colder temperatures and lack of color of vegetation in the Northern hemispheres. In either event, SAD is a very real and often painful disorder. SAD is often misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.
There are many different treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder, including bright light therapy, medication, ionized-air administration ,cognitive-behavioral therapy and carefully timed supplementation of the hormone melatonin. Also, a minor dose of an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) such as Lexapro, Paxil, or Zoloft may prove to be beneficial.
If you are feeling the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, do not hesitate to contact your primary care physician for viable treatment options.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
In my practice, I have seen the hurt, pain and sorrow of many people. I have watched, sometimes in shear horror, man’s inhumanities to man, but I have been intrigued, and somewhat mystified, about the power of forgiveness. Humanistic Psychologists contend forgiveness is achieved when compassion replaces the desire for revenge. Compassion replaces the desire for revenge? Really? What does that mean? On the face value of it, something must happen inside of us to change, but what makes the change? People who have a higher sense of self esteem and self value seem to fair well with forgiveness. Religious or spiritual people seem to forgive more readily than nonreligious people. People who have higher emotional stability forgive quite quickly, but Dr. King speaks of something deeper, something a little more profound than just having a self esteem. He speaks of the power of love. The power to develop and maintain the capacity to forgive someone based on our knowledge of ourselves and the power to love.
So, what is forgiveness? To the best of my ability, I have not found one truly universal definition. Christians, Buddhists, Islamic, Muslims, Catholics, and Hindus all have different definitions of the concept of forgiveness. It wasn’tuntil the 1980’s did the Psychology community embrace the concept of forgiveness, but even us theory driven mental health practitioners cannot decide on one true definition.
So what? Who cares? Well, we have all been hurt by someone. We have all been made to feel small by another person. We have all had feelings of being unloved, mistreated, disrespected, embarrassed, admonished, or just “unused” as if we are put on a shelf by people and not had any type of attention. So, does this desire of revenge breed from these times of being hurt and in pain? Sure they do. We think, “I will get them back” or “I will hurt them as much as they hurt me”. I have a hard time with those thoughts. For me, those thoughts just don’t stick. Those thoughts just don’t stay long at all. I’m not really sure why, it just happens that way. If we look at the benefits of forgiveness, we can just say that it is healthier to forgive quickly rather than hold a grudge. By being able to forgive, we can lower blood pressure; we can lower heart rate; we can lessen depression and anxiety. On a spiritual side, we can become closer to our higher power; we can find peace. On the humanity side, we can develop stronger bonds with people; we can develop intact, healthy relationships; we can feel good about being around and with others.
Let’s get real for a minute here. Freud believed in a process known as“murderous impulses”- Our repressed desires to cause harm to others - A reaction which is purely from the Id and is fairly animalistic. When I was a kid, I loved to watch the nature shows. Still do. I would watch The Great White Sharks, The Lions, and all of the animals in their natural glory. Not once, not one single time, do I remember an antelope turning to the lion and saying, “Oh Mr. Lion I completely forgive you for eating my family and friends. I have now found inner peace for forgiving you.” Yup, never happened that way. Basically,that rage, the revenge, the absolute evil energy we have at times has to be driven by some unconscious, internal process, right? Well, my friends, so is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a truly human act and feeling defined within the human context. For example, I was driving one day on the 95 through the Chester corridor in Pennsylvania. I will admit to having a bit of a heavy foot. Ok, I like to speed– a lot! Typically, I follow the blue signs instead of the white signs. I95 is a comfortable speed. 476 nearly destroyed the vehicle. Anyway, as I was driving, a gentleman in a rather small vehicle decided to cross three lanes of traffic (mind you, no one else was on the road besides our two vehicles at that particular time of the day) and get in front of me and my suburban. No worries, you say. Well, I was travelling at about 85 MPH and he was doing 2 MPH. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid plowing into him. Before I had a chance to react, he decided he wanted to get my attention, and I guess my approval of his IQ point status, by raising one finger in defiance to my evasive maneuvering. Basically, the man gave me the bird because I didn’t understand his internal thoughts of wanting to die that day. My reaction was fairly simple and straightforward. I blew him kisses and smiled. I almost immediately forgave his stupidity and dangerous way of driving. I started to laugh and continued to drive to my meeting in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to me, the gentleman took great offense to my well wishing kisses and smile. He followed me to the parking lot of my meeting and jumped out of his vehicle in an attempt to justify his lousy driving habits. As he emerged from his vehicle, I took a good look at him. He was about 5 feet 6 inches tall and approximately 165 pounds. He had a slight build and was around 40 to 45 years of age. At the time of the occurrence, yours truly weighed in at 6 feet 2 inches and 240 pounds. I had an athletic build and 33 years of age and, if things weren’t complicated enough, a very proud Italian to boot. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!! The gentleman, bounding from his vehicle, came as close to me as he needed to and questioned,“What the hell is your problem?” The phrase that starts every bar fights in the world. “Not a thing” I replied. “You blew a kiss at me after you almost ran me over! What the hell was that?!?!?” he queried. “I love you!” was my reply. The shear look of panic, horror and wonder was priceless. “What did you say?” “I love you and I forgive you. May I have a hug?” The little man jumped in his vehicle and sped away. I thought the parking attendant was going to pass out because of his uncontrolled laughter. Only humans have the capacity to forgive that quickly. Only humans have the willingness to let the hurt and the pain go. Only humans have the absolute choice to either stay angry or understand we can make the situation different through forgiveness.
What is the definition of forgiveness? I don’t have the foggiest clue, but I clearly have an understanding of the concept. Forgiveness is an empathetic approach in allowing humans to be human. People will hurt us. People will treat us horribly. People will not care. Trust will be broken. We will be rejected, betrayed, embarrassed, and insulted at times throughout our lives. It’s not a great way to look at life, but these things are truly human. Because of these things, we, as humans, become resentful, hate driven, angry, vengeful, and develop grudges for the sake of having them. The energy we expend on those emotions alone could power all of California for years. Those feelings give us the negative energy which we hold on to until we can act on them. Typically,these feelings are displaced and projected onto non offenders. Basically, we take this stuff out on the ones we love the most because we believe they will always be with us no matter what we do or say. To forgive these humans acts takes an enormous amount of energy from us. We have to stop the anger and hate and replace it with empathy, and dare I say it, love. You do not need to excuse the action; rather, you excuse the person. You make the conscious effort to view them as human. You protect yourself by letting go of the pain and the hurt. You protect yourself by being weary of the actions, but you forgive the person and move on.
Holding those negative feelings in will only cause further pain for however long you want to have them after the event. It is your choice and your choice alone to forgive someone. It is your choice to be consumed with hate, anger,and resentment or replace it with empathy, strength, and understanding. It is your choice to love, respect, and forgive yourself along with forgiving the other person. Do we have the rite to hold onto these feelings of anger, hate,and resentment? Of course we do! But, it is also our rite to allow ourselves to live and enjoy life.
True forgiveness starts with taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. We can only truly forgive others by first understanding we are human as much as they are human. I guess this is what Dr. King is saying. Love yourself, so you can love others. Forgive yourself for being imperfect, so we can forgive other’s imperfections. If we replace hate with compassion, we will ultimately be better people in this lifetime and for many lifetimes to come.
A disaster, whether community wide or involving only a single family, may leave children especially frightened, insecure, or upset about what happened. They may display a variety of emotional responses after a disaster, and it is important to recognize that these responses are normal.
How a parent reacts will make a great difference in the child's understanding and recovery after the disaster. Parents should make every effort to keep the children informed about what is happening and to explain it in terms that they can understand.
The following list includes some of the reactions you may see in your child:
- Crying/Depression Inability to concentrate
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Not wanting to attend school
- Clinging/fear of being left alone
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Regression to previous behaviors
- Excessive fear of darkness
- Fighting Increase in physical complaints
Some things that will help your child recover are:
- Hug and touch your child often.
- Reassure the child frequently that you are safe and together.
- Talk with your child about his/her feelings about the disaster. Share your feelings too. Give information the child can understand.
- Talk about what happened.
- Spend extra time with your child at bedtime.
- Allow children to grieve about their lost treasures; a toy, a blanket, a lost home.
- Talk with your child about what you will do if another disaster strikes.
- Let your child help in preparing and planning for future disasters.
- Try to spend extra time together in family activities to begin replacing fears with pleasant memories.
- If your child is having problems at school, talk to the teacher so that you can work together to help your child.
Usually a child's emotional response to a disaster does not last long. Be aware that some problems may not appear immediately or may recur months after the disaster. Talking openly with your children will help them to recover more quickly from the loss. If you feel your child may need additional help to recover from the disaster, contact your Employee Assistance Program, or your Mental Health Association.
“Regrets. I had a few, but too few to mention”.
Those simple words so eloquently sang by Frank Sinatra in his classic hit “My Way” have, for some unknown reason, echoed in mybrain for as long as I can remember. I often speak to patients about regret as the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” or the“I wish” followed by the “I will” phrases. Call it what you will, regret plays a very integral part in how we perceive ourselves as people. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I should have bought that suit”, “I wish I was 17 again because I wouldn’t make those stupid mistakes”, “If I only invested my money wisely instead of buying stock in Enron”? Of course you have. We all do. It’s as natural as thinking about what you would like for dinner. What regret does to us emotionally is a whole different state of affairs and the reason for this blog.
A very good friend of mine once brought up the subject of guilt during a luncheon discussion. During the conversation, he stated, “Guilt and regret are two entirely different beasts”. I was intrigued as to where the conversation may go and to what point he may be trying to make. My friend originally hails from Manhattan and still has a very slight, but pronounced accent. He is also Jewish where I am Italian Catholic. Our conversations typically cover the “Do Not Discuss” topics, but we tend to always have the absolute best conversations. “Denny, my friend”. Before I continue I have to add a little something about this name he calls me. My father was always called Denny and I was always called Dennis. Don’t know why, but it had evolved that way. When my son was born, family and friends started calling him Little Denny and my Father Big Denny. I remained Dennis. There have only been two people in the world who have steadily and without fail called me Denny. One is my favorite great uncle and the other is my friend. I always know my friend is ready to say something profound when he starts his sentence with “Denny, myf riend”. I apologize for the slight digression from the point of the conversation. “Denny, my friend” he says with a slight twinkle in his eye and smirk on his face, “Us Jewish people have the corner on guilt”. “How so?” I immediately shot back with a raised eyebrow. “We are born into guilt!” He leaned back into his chair at lunch almost taunting me for a speedy retort. “Come on now” I started. “Us Italian Catholics have the corner on guilt!” “How so?” he replied. Please allow me to digress one more time. Apparently, I get a devilish grin when I am about to win a conversation. Friends and family have both stated I get this look of victory. I don’t see it but apparently it’s there. “Us Italian Catholics are conceived in guilt”. His jaw dropped and then we both let out a loud belly laugh. After a good ten minutes of laughter he stopped and said, “Yes, but neither of our people have the corner on regret. No people do!”
The very definition of regret is to feel sorry and sad about something previously done or said that now appears wrong, mistaken, or hurtful to others. So regret had to be a matter of perception before it makes its way in to the dark recesses of our brains and hearts? Wouldn’t that stand to reason? I don’t know about all of that just quite yet. If something is never pointed out to us as being wrong, we never perceive it as wrong. Let me explain by saying a little something about my daughter. My daughter is a beautiful red head who lives up to the fiery personality traits of all red heads. She tries to win debates and arguments by merely rolling her baby blues at you and stealing your heart. With this said, she is also a free spirit to the core. As a good father, I almost never say no to this child. So, when it came time to the question of, “Daddy, may I have a hamster?” I couldn’t say no to her. Besides, I set up an aquarium for her and she has kept the fish alive so I figured why not. A hamster would make a great starter pet for my baby girl. Well, Hammy, yes the hamster was named Hammy, didn’t have a good run of things. He, I’m only assuming he was a he, was on a mission of self destruction. He would eat his way out the cage, jump out of the daughter’s hand, bite into electrical cords, if there was crack for hamsters, Hammy probably would have smoked it. So, Hammy died. The daughter left the cage open one night and the crack addict hamster got out and bit into an electrical cord. I was heat broken for her. This was her first hamster and it died. I also realized she was partially to blame for Hammy’s demise because she left the cage open. I sat my daughter down to tell her the news. I mustered all the strength I could and said, “Baby, I have some very bad news. It seems as if the cage was left open last night and Hammy got out. I found him this morning and he was not breathing. It looked as if he died from biting into an electrical cord. I wish there was something I could have done to help him, but it was just too late. I’m so very sorry. I know this must hurt something terrible, I’m hoping some big Daddy hugs might help you to feel better.” I thought I did well. I think I even teared up a tad. The daughter looked at my with those big blue eyes and said, “It’s ok, Hammy was a brat. Can we get a new one? I want to name it Nibbles.” She showed not one once of regret for leaving the cage open. To her, she had nothing to feel sorry about. To her,Hammy was a brat and good riddance to him. Obviously, I do not intend for her to grow up with no sense of humility and compassion, but regret is very personal and individualistic.
I am certain we can make people feel bad for the things they have done, but regret does not apply to everyone. Forexample, before he was put to death, a Psychiatrist asked Ted Bundy if he regretted killing any of the women he brutally murdered. Bundy said the only thing I regret is getting caught. The only thing he regretted was getting caught?!? Wow! We all know murdering someone is wrong, correct? We all know murdering hundreds of people is wrong, correct? Well, for Mr. Bundy, those laws of morality just didn't apply. This is where our regret becomes our regret. We have to respect each other when it comes to what another person regrets in their life. If they don’t view something as regret, I would presume we can’t make them regret it. If they do regret something, I think it is our responsibility to help them through it.
With the impending Frankenstorm (Hurricane Sandy) heading for the East Coast during Halloween, I wanted to provide simple advice on Hurricanes and how to stay safe during one.
Hurricanes are enormous cyclonic storm systems covering thousands of square miles which usually develop in the tropical or subtropical latitudes during the summer and fall. To be a hurricane, the system must be producing winds of at least 74 miles per hour. Less intense storms are called tropical depressions or tropical storms. Hurricanes, like tropical storms, are individually named to aid in identifying them. Each hurricane is, essentially, an organized system made up of hundreds of individual thunderstorms. The core of the hurricane is called the eye, an area of relatively benign weather several miles across surrounded by turmoil. All of the severe weather conditions produced by individual thunderstorms (heavy rain, hail, lightning, tornadoes, downbursts, etc.) are greatly magnified within the hurricane. Working together, such storms can also generate tremendous tidal surges, which can decimate coastal areas. Historically, individual hurricanes have caused the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage as they ran their course over populated areas.
Remember: Hurricanes are among the most destructive phenomena of nature. Their appearance is not to be taken lightly.
FEMA Safety Guidelines for Hurricanes
Before a Hurricane
- Make plans to secure your property. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
- Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
- Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed.
- Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts to prevent misdirected flooding.
- Determine how and where to secure your boat.
- Consider building a safe room.
- Keep articles in your basement elevated to avoid damage from even minor flooding.
- Keep a well-stocked Family Disaster Kit in case you lose power. Think about what you might need if you are isolated for a number of days.
If a hurricane is likely in your area, you should: During a Hurricane
- Stay informed by monitoring the store via radio, TV, and internet.
- Secure your home, close storm shutters, and secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors. Objects such as lawn furniture, trash barrels, hanging plants, toys, and even awnings can be broken and picked up by strong winds and potentially become a projectile.
- Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
- Turn off propane tanks. Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
- Keep your vehicles fully fueled.
- Have a certain amount of cash available. If power is lost, ATMs may not be working.
- Moor your boat if time permits.
- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.
You should evacuate under the following conditions:
- If you are directed by local authorities to do so. Be sure to follow their instructions.
- If you live in a mobile home or temporary structure—such shelters are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no matter how well fastened to the ground.
- If you live in a high-rise building—hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
- If you live on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an inland waterway.
- If you feel that you are in danger.
If you are unable to evacuate, go to your safe room. If you do not have one, follow these guidelines:
- Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
- Close all interior doors—secure and brace external doors.
· Keep curtains and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm - winds will pick up again.
- Take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level.
- Lie on the floor under a table or another sturdy object.
During a hurricane, and possibly for days or even weeks afterward, electricity and other utilities might not be available. Debris and/or water might block the roads, preventing vehicles from getting in our out of your neighborhood. Help might not reach you for days after the hurricane, so you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient during that period.
Here are some of the most critical supplies to have on hand, well before a hurricane threatens:
- At least a 3-day and preferably a 7-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day)
- Non-perishable food
- Formula, diapers, and other baby supplies
- Manual can opener
- First aid kit
- Prescription and non-prescription medicines
- Cell phones and battery-powered cell phone chargers
- Battery-powered radios and flashlights
- Plenty of batteries
- Extra cash
- Blankets, sleeping bags, books, and games (especially if evacuating)