Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Am Not Disabled

I struck up a conversation with a woman in line at Starbucks yesterday. It seemed natural since we were both wearing CAM walkers (a hard plastic brace) on our left feet. She is still using crutches and we commiserated over our injuries; mine received going ice skating, hers received overseas. As we chatted I mentioned that I was former military and then she wanted to know if I had applied for VA benefits. I told her I had not and she then asked me to sit down with her. I wasn’t particularly interested in the conversation but it felt like she had something she needed to say so I took a couple minutes. She explained to me that I needed to apply for VA benefits and that the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) could help me look through my medical records and make a claim for VA disability. She suggested looking at the VA’s online resources for their tables of compensable conditions, and she suggested claiming everything that could apply. It would be easy, she said to get to 30% which is considered the disabled threshold by most states. I just needed to make sure I had at least 3 doctor visits addressing each condition. She coached me a little on the VA medical exam; to be sure not to say “I’m doing great” and instead to talk about how different conditions were impacting my life. She pointed out that if I complained to a dentist I could claim TMJ, which she thinks everyone has, and that it would be worth 20%. She talked at length about the financial benefits I could get, including educational benefits from vocational rehabilitation.

I listened to her, nodded and smiled, and when she was done I thanked her for her time and walked away. She seemed to enjoy the interaction and feel good about helping me, and that is what I was trying to accomplish. I did know much of what she told me. I have worked in military health for a long time and I’ve seen plenty of people come in to get health conditions documented as they get close to retirement. They are preparing for the VA exam and medical record review and they want everything possible down on their record before they leave active duty service.

I won’t be applying to the VA for any benefits. Yes, I could possibly be leaving money on the table, although I truly don’t believe I am. Because here’s the thing. I’m not disabled. I see myself as a very able person. I can do my job and earn a living. I can care for my family and enjoy my life. I don’t have any service acquired chronic medical problems. Even a severe ankle fracture (acquired outside military service, during a leisure activity gone bad) hasn’t slowed me down much. So I don’t think that’s my money to take. I haven’t earned it, don’t need it, and don’t deserve it. I don’t have a problem with people who are disabled applying for benefits. After chatting with my new acquaintance for a few minutes I know she will need and deserve her VA disability. Her injuries were severe and she is still having a lot of problems. But I don’t think it’s right for someone who is able and capable to game the system, which is what I’d be doing if I applied. I’d rather leave the money for someone who genuinely needs it.

I think what bothers me most is the attitude she displayed. She clearly thought it was right and acceptable for me to ask for as much as I could get, regardless of real need. That’s not the point of a disability system, but I think this attitude is fairly prevalent in our culture, in and out of military settings. Look out for number one first, take as much as you can get, and who cares about what’s right or about anyone else seems to be the unspoken motto of many people’s lives. Not that most people would admit to it. Instead they would spend a great deal of time defending and justifying their actions and playing up their symptoms. All of the noise and rationalization makes me suspect that people do realize their attitude isn’t right. Again, I’m not talking about people who have genuine injuries. You have a traumatic brain injury, a case of post traumatic stress disorder, a physical injury from the war? You entered the military a healthy young person and now you can’t work because of injuries or illnesses acquired in the service of your country? Yes, you deserve compensation and I want you to have it. That’s part of why I won’t take it for headaches and mild low back pain that are nothing but inconveniences. Maybe it’s just pride talking, but I’m not disabled.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Snow on Passover

I woke up yesterday to a world gone suddenly monochrome as snow fell on the day before Passover Eve, on the first day of Spring Break for the local children.Whites and blacks and shades of grey defined the world in the early morning light. There was a surreal, dislocated confusion to seeing budding trees with puffballs of fluffy snow instead of blossoms. I brushed snow from my car and prepared for my commute, wishing the snow was enough to keep me home. Beauty in winter is a thing of stark contrast and delicate form, of stillness and hush rather than color and motion. I admired the filigree of the brush on the side of the road, which most days blurs into invisibility, as I drove up the highway.

Most of the time, if you asked me, I would tell you I hate snow. I hate feeling either cold and wet or weighed down with bulky, unattractive waterproof clothing. I hate scraping snow off my car and shoveling it off my sidewalks and driveway. I hate driving to work over slippery streets and walking over icy sidewalks. I hate having to get up 30 minutes early to account for the time all of this takes so I can still arrive on time. But like most things in life, it’s more complicated than that. I do love the beauty of swirling snowflakes, the intricate forms landing on my windshield for a brief moment before melting away in the heat of the defroster. I do love the intricate  shapes of trees, so much more visible than they ever are without the delineation of snow. I do love the coziness of sitting inside with an afghan and a mug of hot chocolate watching the snow fall outside. I do love the sense of peace and hush that temporarily quiets our noise.

I remember being a child and loving playing in the snow, making snow angels and tiny snowmen with the scant snow that fell in my southern hometown. I remember snow days and the joy of an unexpected gift of a day spreading out before you with no responsibilities. Even as a young child I can remember loving the smooth pristine whiteness of early morning snow, before any footsteps broke the expanse. I didn’t begin to hate snow until college, when I became an adult, when my world no longer stopped for a snowfall. When snow just meant additional stress and hassle to accomplish the work I was already planning to do. When snow represented an extra burden in an already overcrowded life. Perhaps I don’t really hate snow. Perhaps I just miss the freedom of childhood to revel in snow and take a break from everyday life.


Monday, March 18, 2013

I Can Walk!

I don't know exactly how to describe how good it feels to walk again. On Friday my orthopedic surgeon said my ankle is healing well and that I could start weight bearing as tolerated as long as I wear  my protective brace. Weight bearing as tolerated means I can put weight on my left foot and ankle as long as it doesn't hurt. My surgeon suggested starting with two crutches for support, and when that felt easy use one crutch in my right hand. She said eventually I would suddenly find myself half way across the room without crutches and then I would realize I don't need them anymore. I'm not sure I really believed her at the time.

On Friday I had to use crutches and it was pretty hard and painful. I felt clumsy and the bottom of my foot felt tingly. Not numb, just pins and needles sensation when I stepped down. I was able to go to the park with my family and sit on a bench in the sunshine while they played. I hadn't been to the park since January, since it is not a wheelchair or scooter accessible area. On Saturday I had to use crutches but I was getting the hang of it and it was easier. I was able to do laps around the house. On Sunday it was much easier. The pins and needles feeling was pretty much gone. We went out to lunch with a friend and I was able to walk around National Harbor in Maryland with my family for a little while in the afternoon. I was even able to do stairs! Walking up stairs is tiring but pretty easy. To go up stairs using crutches you step up with your good foot then bring the crutches and bad foot up to meet it. Walking down stairs is less tiring but a little scarier. I learned that to go down stairs on crutches you actually step down with the bad foot and crutches first then bring your good foot down. One step at a time, no alternating feet.

Today I was able to drive myself to work for the first time in seven weeks. I did miss the company of my husband and daughter in the morning but it was also nice to listen to music and get back to my audiobook. I was pretty slow getting around the hospital on crutches but not in pain. I've learned that doors can be quite challenging on crutches, particularly the large heavy kind that close automatically. Oddly, most of the doors in the hospital don't have a button to open them automatically, at least not on my floor. It seems to be best to give the door a strong push and then try to scoot through quickly before it closes on you. That seems pretty minor though compared to what I've been dealing with. The crutches are actually less tiring than the scooter now that I can actually put weight down on my foot.

And then it happened! I found myself halfway across a room without my crutches! I can really walk! I have to go very slowly and take small steps, but I can walk. I've been walking around at home all evening without the crutches. I can pick things up and hang up coats and get napkins for the dinner table. I know it sounds stupid, but try not being able to do these things for 7 weeks and having to constantly ask people to get you things. I was able to pick my daughter up this evening. I'm not going to overdo it. I will still bring the crutches to work for a few days at least. I am slow with them but even slower without them. It is also more tiring without them and I have a lot of walking to do on my job. But this is so exciting.

I can only imagine that this is something like what it feels for a toddler when she first learns to walk. All of a sudden you can get places AND use your hands at the same time. All of a sudden you can reach things. It's just this incredible, joyful feeling. I can walk!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rape Is Not Inevitable - Support Zerlina Maxwell

I signed a petition today supporting a woman named Zerlina Maxwell. I encourage you to look her up on Facebook and support her too. Ms. Maxwell was a guest on a Fox News show and made the statement “I think we should be telling men not to rape women.” Her point in the context of the overall conversation is that we shouldn’t be fighting over whether or not women should or shouldn’t have access to concealed weapons in order to prevent rape. We should be addressing the problem of rape at its roots – the idea that some men have that they have a right to a woman’s body. We should be fighting the belief in our society that women are not people but objects to be used to satisfy whatever desire (meaning control, rage, violence in addition to lust, since rape is not usually about sex but instead about power) a man happens to have. Her comments have provoked intense negative reactions, including threats of death and rape made on her Facebook page. I have to admit I am really confused by the extreme negative reactions her statement has garnered. Why is stating “let’s teach people how to behave!” a terrible thing to say? Why doesn’t she have the right to an opinion? Many journalists have pointed out that as a victim of rape she absolutely has a right to comment – but don’t all of us have both a right and a responsibility to speak up on this important cultural problem?

The belief that women are objects is not inevitable. The belief that urges have to be satisfied instantly is not the normal outcome of human development. It’s the product of how (some) men are taught. To say that rape is a natural act is insane. Yes, all human beings have self centered, aggressive feelings, but we learn how to control them. In making that argument that men can’t be taught not to rape you are starting a line of logic whose natural conclusion is that stealing, murder, and physical aggression are natural and not preventable. In doing so you are throwing out thousands of years of civilization, every moral code in existence, and every parenting manual I’ve ever read. Because you know what? We teach people not to kill, steal, hit, or bite all the time.

It’s called parenting a toddler. There’s a reason why as parents we work really hard to teach our toddler not to hit, not to bite, not to grab, be kind to animals. That’s why we stress sharing and saying please and waiting your turn. We don’t have to work on “don’t murder” because thankfully murder is not within a toddler’s physical capacity. But we have to work on all the impulses and behaviors that could someday work up to murder without the patient teaching and building of emotional and social control. We are teaching these small human beings what it means to be civilized so that they can successfully function as members of our social group. We are teaching them to control their impulses and behave in pro-social ways.

That line of argument, besides being ignorant of human history and psychology, is also incredibly demeaning towards men. If I as a woman said “oh, I can’t help robbing jewelry stores and clothing stores, I’m just irresistibly attracted to all that shiny stuff!” society (and a judge) would rightfully laugh me all the way into a jail cell. I am expected to be able to control my acquisitive desires and not steal. Why on earth would we not expect men to have the same ability to control their desires? Men, is that what you want said about you? Really? Women, is that what you want to say about your fathers, brothers, sons and husbands? Really?

As a woman and a mother of a precious little girl I don’t want to live in a world where my daughter and I have to carry guns to keep ourselves safe. As a Christian, I don’t think that violence is ever the cure or the prevention for violence. As a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a colleague I have more respect for the men in my life than to believe they have no ability to control their impulses. I think that teaching men not to rape is not only desirable but possible. I think that teaching ourselves, as a society, to see other people as people and to control our impulses is absolutely something we can do. And I believe that it will benefit not only women but men as well. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Didn't Buy A Phone

I didn’t buy a new phone this week. I’ve been thinking about getting a new phone for a while. Mine still works, but it is starting to have the occasional odd glitch; the sound went funny and tinny once which was fixed by a restart, the touch screen doesn’t always respond, and sometimes the home button doesn’t work which also requires a restart. Nothing terrible but somewhat annoying and also becoming more frequent.

My husband and I have talked about it. He has been considering a new phone too; his current one works but his text messaging has been glitching and his battery life is terrible. I’m not under contract anymore but I know I’m going to stick with the same carrier anyway. They have good coverage and good customer service and I’ve been with them for over 10 years, so I don’t mind signing a new contract. We wanted to make some changes to our coverage anyway to save a couple dollars. Last week we even went to the store and looked around and played with the phones. We did change our plan but we left without new phones.

Looking at the phones, I realized the phone I want would still be $200 even with a contract. In addition to the phone cost it has a different charging port style, so I would have to replace my current chargers for car, travel, work and home or at the very least buy an adapter or two and hope I could mange not to lose them. The cost for the accessories would have been between 60 and 150 dollars, depending on what I chose to do, bring the total cost to at least $260 before tax. That’s quite a lot of money to spend on something that I really don’t need at this point in time. I thought about it, and looked at the phone, and then walked away without it.

I find myself making that choice more often lately. Some of it is the concern about the upcoming furloughs; I don’t want to spend unnecessarily right now. I’d rather keep my money in my bank account in case I need it later. Some of it is feeling that I don’t want to waste the things I already have that work. What do you do with a phone that’s over two years old? Clear the data from it (if you can figure out how) and donate it or recycle it, I suppose, but it still seems wasteful. Some of it is feeling that I don’t want to be owned by my things. I don't like having so much stuff to house and care for. I don’t like the constant subtle pressure to buy more, buy new, have all the best and latest. I want to be content with what I already have. I don’t want to feel the need to work harder, longer, more so that I can keep up with the barrage of new things to buy. I’d rather have my time free to actually live my life.

My sister took a pledge to buy nothing new for a year. She did make an allowance for food and toiletries and for purchasing replacement items if something breaks. She also made an exemption for digital media but she didn’t want to bring any new things into her life. I haven’t talked to her about it for a while, but at least at first it was working well for her. It kept her money in the bank, her small condo decluttered and her life much freer. I've read blogs too that talked about not buying anything new for a year, and instead borrowing things or buying them secondhand. The goal is not just to save money but also to save resources; it's an extension of the reduce-reuse-recycle principle. 

I am not sure I'm ready to commit to a year. When I think about it I start thinking about upcoming events when I know I am going to want to buy something. But I think I may try a week, following my sister's rules and not purchasing any new items, and see how it feels. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rhythms of Life

I’m enjoying this first day of daylight savings time by sitting on a bench in the sunshine on the playground behind our apartment building at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. My foot is propped up on my scooter and a faint breeze is ruffling my hair. I am squinting a little in the bright light despite my sunglasses and I realize it is time once again to pull out my sunhat. My husband is chasing our two and a half year old around as she attempts to play hide and seek with the bigger girls and is distracted by her own explorations. The daffodils are up. This is the first week I have noticed them and they are like little gifts of earthbound sunshine after the snow and rain earlier this week.

I like the rhythm of changing between daylight savings time and standard time twice a year. I know people complain about the lack of sleep in the spring but I love the extra sunshine at the end of the day. It feels like a call to get back outside after a winter spent in semi-hibernation, to return to activity. I love the announcement it makes to my senses – spring is here! In the fall I love the tucked-in feeling I get from the shift back to standard time. It’s time to rest and sleep, to stay inside and warm. 

It will be time to plant our garden soon. We use upside down hanging containers to maximize space, since we only have a small north facing patio to work with. This year we are trying to engineer a way to cantilever the plants out from the edge of the patio about half a foot so we can get some extra sunshine. Our hope is that this will translate into an improved harvest. Last year we planted tomatoes but we only harvested 11. Still, we started late (in June) so hopefully an early start and the improved light will improve the harvest. This year’s garden will be strawberries and tomatoes, courtesy of my mother’s Christmas gift to us. We’ll add a few shade tolerant flowers in a planter box on the right hand corner of the patio, which receives at least a little sunshine.

I love the rhythms of life each year. The things that change season to season but that come around each year, marking time’s passage through the things I do, eat and wear. Spring is daylight savings time, planting, cherry blossoms in Washington D.C., and the sheep and wool festival in May. Summer is T-shirts and Capri's, splashing in a swimming pool, harvesting the garden, and cookouts with family and friends on decks where we sit all afternoon and lazily chat the time away. Autumn is the zip and energy of a new chill in the air, putting on a long sleeve shirts, walking through the woods enjoying the reds and yellows of the leaves crunching the fallen ones underfoot, and making pumpkin pie. Winter is standard time, decorating and shopping for holidays, enjoying the New Year’s Parade, and hot chocolate with cookies sitting on a couch wrapped up in an afghan watching a movie. These are the rhythms that are precious to me, that I share with the people I love and hope to pass on to my daughter. I think it will happen. “It’s spring!” she announced today as we made our way to the playground this afternoon. “It’s not winter!” Yes, I told her, you're right. The calendar may not say so yet, but to me today is the first day of spring this year.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Perfect Parent???

There is a billboard I can see on my way home from work that says “You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Be A Perfect Parent.” The billboard is by AdoptUS Kids and I believe the intent of the advertising campaign is to encourage people to consider becoming foster and adoptive parents. I don’t have any quarrel with that, but I keep struggling with the phrase “perfect parent.”

I’m struggling because I really don’t know what it means to be a perfect parent. I’m not even sure that being a perfect parent is a good goal, because it seems designed to trap a parent into insanity. Take today for example. Today was a snow day. Unfortunately, I was essentially trapped in the house with my broken ankle (trying to get around in the snow with crutches or a scooter seemed like an unwise choice, likely to result in falls and further injuries) and the regular Wednesday activity my husband and daughter do was closed. My husband tried to take our two year old out to play in the snow, but she lasted about 10 minutes and came back in announcing “I don’t like snow.” I don’t blame her a bit. The morning went okay with lots of reading books, coloring and playing with toys. However this afternoon my husband and I were each working on a project after my daughter’s nap, and she wanted someone’s attention.

So here’s the parenting dilemma: Would it have been more perfect to pay attention to her? After all, when we give her positive attention we increase her sense of self-esteem and confidence, right? We strengthen our bonds and form good memories, correct? We help her learn by interacting with her and encouraging her exploration, isn’t that the theory? Or would it have been more perfect to encourage her to play on her own, telling her mommy and daddy were busy? We shouldn’t spoil her by too much attention, right? We should teach her the importance of respecting limits and accommodating other people’s wishes at times, correct? We should encourage her independence and creativity by letting her play on her own at times, isn’t that the theory?

You see? How can you be a perfect parent when one situation generates two opposing options that both have some solid reasoning behind them? When you have a very small baby, the answer is simpler. You know that you need to respond when a small baby cries because a small baby has no ability to do anything herself, not even calm herself down. Not that this is always simple to actually do, since babies almost always need something and parents become exhausted. It’s just that the course of action is usually a little clearer. Toddler parenting, while easier in some respects, is more of a push/pull tug of war between setting limits, encouraging your child to do things herself, and doing things for her. So far, no matter how hold my daughter is, I think I mostly just do the best I can in the moment and hope that in the long run it’s good enough.

Today we opted to encourage our daughter to play alone (in the same room – we all spend most of our time in our living/playroom area) which seemed to work out relatively well. She would play for a bit and then bounce between us periodically trying to get us to play. We tried to be patient, friendly and gentle in our redirections. She seemed unscathed emotionally and I know we were both relieved to get our respective projects finished, putting us in a more cheerful frame of mind for dinner and bedtime routines. Tomorrow we may decide to do something different. Which is why I am really dubious of the idea of being a “perfect parent.” It’s too much pressure, too much confusion. I think I will continue to aim for "good enough."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ongoing Mindfulness - Chapter 1 in "The Mindful Therapist" by Dr. Daniel Siegel

I’ve continued to work on my mindfulness project. The 1st chapter in “The Mindful Therapist” is about presence. The writer of this book, Dr. Siegel, loves acronyms and so he outlined his book in the introduction based on an acronym for the qualities of mindful therapy – the acronym is PART.: Presence, Attunement, Resonance and then twelve different words starting with Tr (trust, truth, tripod, triception, tracking, traits, trauma, transition, training, transformation, tranquility, and transpiration). Some of these words also have acronyms associated with them. I feel like I’m in medical school again to some extent, but it is interesting.

Presence is defined as being open to possibilities, as opposed to premature focus on one of many possible alternatives. The image used in the book for this is of being on an open plane of possible thoughts. If I then give you a category, say “furniture” you might move into a plateau of probable thoughts. If I then give you a specific such as “blue chair” you might move into a peak of an actual thought of a blue chair.  Part of what is interesting is that these peaks and plateaus are considered two sided (imagine them going up like a mountain and down like a valley) and represent the two simultaneously occurring aspects of a thought; the neural firing that occurs in the brain and the mental experience of the thought. What makes this interesting is that neuroscience tells us the relationship between these aspects is bi-directional. The neural firing of the brain can give rise to the mental experience, but mental experience can also alter and give rise to neural firing. Essentially, mental experience can physically affect our brains, even to the extent of making physical changes in the tissue of the brain.

The concept of presence is moving freely up and down this cycle, being open to new information and not remaining “stuck” in a particular plateau such that we are unable to perceive contradictory information. No one does this perfectly, of course, but we can improve our skills. Part of improving our skill at maintaining this openness is through learning to pay attention to our internal state, to identify what it feels like mentally and physically when we are closing down. The other part of it is regularly practicing a mindful attention exercise, such as mindful breathing, which strengthens our ability to remain open or to re-open when we start to close down by helping us stay out of the fight-flight-freeze responses we experience when stressed or threatened. Fight-flight-freeze states inhibit our ability to be open to possibility and impair our presence. Mindfulness exercises help us react to potential threat with more calm and curiosity and less fear, keeping us present. In therapy, remaining present with another person means continuing to remain open to what they are communicating. It seems fairly obvious to me that presence is a pre-requisite to good psychotherapy.

I tried out the suggested mindfulness exercise of mindful breathing. I have done this exercise before and I have to admit it’s hard for me. I get distracted and usually give up before five minutes is done. I do realize that getting distracted is part of the process and releasing both my distraction and my reaction to it is actually part of the exercise. I just have trouble actually carrying it out. However, even the 1-2 minutes I can do leaves me feeling calmer, so I think I will keep practicing and see if I can lengthen the time I am able to remain in the exercise.

I realize that since today is March 6th and I am still on the first chapter of the first book, I may not be able to complete everything I wanted to read during this mindfulness month. I think that’s probably okay too; if I take the time to absorb the material and work with it I will get what I wanted out of the month. And fortunately for me, no one will take my books away at the end of the month, so I can extend the project if I am enjoying it. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I Do Believe In Fairies

At times I’m afraid I’m a bad influence on my daughter in some ways. I keep wanting to buy her books, toys and movies about fairies. Even as I work to empower her, to let her know she is strong and capable and that she can be her own superhero, I find myself constantly tempted by all things pink, magic, winged and girly. I try to resist and temper it. I have a feminist code to live up to, after all! When I tell stories about princesses I make sure that it is the princess who tames the dragon, no prince required. I like the Disney Tinkerbell movies because the fairy Tinkerbell as a character is curious, confident, and very capable as a problem solver in addition to being kind and beautiful. I try to be very conscientious about letting my daughter know I value her as a whole person, in all her aspects. Fortunately she’s a fairly sturdy child who knows what she likes and has faith in her own capabilities, even at the age of two and a half. She’s much more likely to roar and tell me she’s a dinosaur and demand eggs (because she has an idea that dinosaurs eat eggs) than she is to be a fairy princess.

The idea of fairies has always been fascinating to me. I think I’ve been a fantasy lover for as long as I’ve been able to read. As a child I loved the movies The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth, both done by Jim Henson and Frank Oz with Brian Froud as the artistic director. I loved fairy tales and read my mother’s copies of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Anderson’s Fairy Tales over and over. I remember in second grade there was a series of books on world myths, full of magic, that I checked out of the library repeatedly. Some of the oldest books on my bookshelves, the ones saved from childhood, are stories about magic. I love a great many things about fantasy, including the morality of fantasy stories, but I know that what I love most is the idea of magic and fairies.

One of my favorite gifts from my husband is the book “Good Faeries, Bad Faeries” by Brian Froud, edited by Terri Windling. In his introduction to the book Mr. Froud talks about fairies as present day beings, pulses of energy, emotion and light in the world around us. He features faeries such as The Computer Glitch, The Bad Hair Day Faery as well as a Faery of Focused Attention. All of the gorgeous faerie paintings are accompanied by text describing the faeries and their roles and actions. Part of the fun of the book is that the Good Faeries are printed on one half, the Bad faeries printed in reverse on the other half, so wherever you start you turn the book upside down (or right side up, depending on your perspective) halfway through. I like this idea of fairies invisibly surrounding us, helping or hindering as they bump up against our lives. 

I don’t think I will give up introducing fairies to my daughter, although I will also respect her own joys and will give her dinosaurs too. And I will do my best to share with her not just girly, pretty fairies but also fairies that are strong and true. I want her to see her world as full of hidden beauty and wild possibility. I want her to see herself as someone with incredible potential and creativity, and that’s what fairies represent for me. The hunger for magic and beauty has been a gift for me throughout my life, and I hope I can pass it along to my child.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March = Mindfulness Month

I’m declaring March my Mindfulness Month. Mindfulness means several things; being alert and aware, being open minded and not rejecting possibilities too soon, and being aware of events without judgment in the present moment. Most of what I know about mindfulness, which isn’t much, comes through my reading and studies in psychology. Most of that seems to have been borrowed from contemplative Buddhism. Mindfulness is an appealing idea that is gaining ground in psychotherapy these days; there are mindfulness based therapies for depression and anxiety and research demonstrates their beneficial effects. 

So what does it mean to have a mindfulness month? Well, mostly for me it means I am going to do some reading and maybe some practicing of the exercises I read about. I will also do some writing about the books I am reading and the thoughts they inspire. There are several books on or related to mindfulness that I have owned for some time without reading, and I am going to attempt to rectify that. 

I am going to start with “The Mindful Therapist” by Daniel Siegel. Dr. Siegel is a pediatrician and psychiatrist who has written extensively about the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy, which is a concept I find both fascinating and useful. He has written several books but this one is intended as a guide for people practicing psychotherapy. The introduction to the book outlined a framework for both cultivating mindfulness in oneself and then using that capacity to help others develop mindfulness in their healing journeys.

The next book I would like to read is “Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book offers several sections of mindfulness practices including daily practices, eating practices, practices with children, extended practices, and intriguingly, relationship and community practices. I am not sure if I will be able to actually do all of these practices but I would at least like to read about them and perhaps try a few.

If I am able to finish the first two books I will read “The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems” by Ronald D. Siegel. This book was marketed as a psychotherapy guide and I am hoping it will help me use mindfulness more both in my life and as I work with patients. The jacket material on the book emphasizes its accessibility and practicality.

The fourth book on my list is "Parenting from the Inside Out" which is by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell. This is a book that I started around the time my daughter was born but have never managed to finish. I think at this point I should just start over and reread the beginning. It is a book about mindful parenting, based on the premise that mindfulness in a parent improves the parent-child attachment relationship, which is a major predictor of good mental health later in life. The book also describes the neuroscience related to parenting and self evaluation information presented in the book, which I think is interesting.

Finally, if I finish all of the prior books, I want to read "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung. This is another book I have started but not finished. It talks about approaching food and eating in a more aware, present way than I usually manage. 

Why am I doing this? Largely, I think, for myself. Mindfulness seems to be a powerful tool to help me become less attached to myself, to insisting that things have to be a certain way whether they are that way or not. Mindfulness lines up well with Christian values as I understand them and offers a way of seeking a life that is less self-centered and more open. I think being mindful is a way to be a better parent, so I am also doing this for my daughter. I haven't read a book that says this but I suspect that mindfulness would also help me be a better spouse, daughter, sister and friend to all the other important people in my life. I also hope it might help me be a better doctor for my patients. I don’t think mindfulness is easy. I don’t think a month will teach me everything I need to know about mindfulness and bring me to a place where I am consistently living that practice. My hope, however, is that a focused month of reading will lead me to being to practice consistently, so that I can continue reading and practicing these valuable skills.