Covid-19 and Your Mental Health

corona

We, here, at A Mile a Minute want to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy from the pandemic we are now in. The key is to isolate from others and if you do go out practice social distancing remaining 6 feet away. Isolation can lead to loneliness. Here’s a few ideas to break up the day.

Meditate. There are many free meditation apps to assist you. Look up Susan Piver. She has a great online class in meditation.

Finances. If finances are your worry, or you lost your job because of this, call your Dept. of Labor. File for unemployment and see what resources they offer.

Limit Social Media and News. Now, would be a good time to do a digital detox and limit media you consume. Check in with your friends but don’t stay on social too long per day.

Entertainment. Binge on Netflix or streaming services. Journal. Start a blog. Do creative writing activities. Read. Cook. Make a video.

Exercise. There are a lot of Youtube exercise videos out there. Take a walk or jog, just remember to stay 6 feet away from people.

And, if you need to talk through stress and anxiety, click on BetterHelp.com or talkspace.com.
They have licensed professional counselors available when you need it most.
For more information on Covid-19, go to CDC.gov.

Activist Melody Moezzi’s The Rumi Prescription a timely tour de force

I interviewed Melody Moezzi a few years ago after I finished her first and second books War on Error and Haldol and Hyacinths. Melody, who is Iranian-American, is an activist, lawyer, writer. She also happens to be diagnosed bipolar 1. As I read her newest book The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life, I couldn’t help but feel this book is timely both personally and collectively.

Melody explores Rumi guided by her father. She was trying to overcome writers block. The book is broken down into different diagnoses: wanting, isolation, haste, depression, distraction, anxiety, anger, fear, disappointment and pride. Through the use of narrative storytelling and Rumi’s poetry weaved throughout each chapter, Melody guides us on a tour de force journey into our collective ailments. The book is a roadmap to getting through dark times with spiritual grace. It is something readers will treasure and refer to again and again in these times we find ourselves in now.

She writes about her bipolar recovery, race, class and gender, the current political administration, teaching writing on a locked psych unit, getting her first teaching job, her families’ trip to Istambul. Melody likes her books to become obsolete after awhile—proving that society has learned the lessons they teach. It will take years for this timely book to do that. Hopefully, we can all learn a lot from Rumi’s wisdom.

Like Dani Shapiro’s Devotion and Kay Redfield Jamison’s span of volumes, Melody’s journey with Rumi goes beyond diagnosis to show us how to be human and to really live.

***
I emailed Melody a few questions about The Rumi Prescription. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.

This book is a sort of journey into who you are beyond your diagnosis of bipolar. You use Rumi’s poetry as a way to understand your life, as an answer. Tell me what is this answer you sought through exploring Rumi with your father?

MM: More than a specific answer, I sought a cure for all the more mundane forms of insanity that we don’t recognize as clinical mental illness. Each chapter is broken down into a different diagnosis and series of poetic prescriptions. While it’s a narrative memoir, it’s also an ode to self-care that includes new original translations of Rumi’s poetry presented as prescriptions for some of the most annoying forms of everyday madness. These include fear, distraction, anger, isolation, and more. The world often labels those of us living with mental health conditions “crazy,” but I’ve encountered a lot more insanity (and in some ways, a lot more intractable insanity) within the so-called “sane” world than outside of it. This book is my effort to address that kind of insanity for myself, for my readers, and for the crazy world we all happen to be living in right now.

My favorite poem of Rumi is the Guest House. I am sure it is most beautiful and poignant in the native tongue. What is your favorite lines/poem from RumiI? and Why?

MM: A few of my favorites: You went out in search of gold far and wide, but all along, you were gold on the inside. Also: You already own all the sustenance you seek. If only you’d wake up and take a peek. Also: Why seek pilgrimage at some distant shore when the Beloved is right next door. These poems serve as reminders that divinity rests within each of us and that we don’t need to hop a flight or catch a train to find it. We simply need to connect with the Beloved within ourselves and those around us.

Each one of your books is different yet carries some underlying themes to how Muslims are treated in society, in the mental health system. War on Error is a group of profiles of young Muslims written to change minds. Haldol and Hyacinths is a memoir of your experience with bipolar disorder. How has your writing grown from book to book?

MM: I’m an activist. I write to change hearts and minds, because I believe in the power of personal narratives to do that in ways that statistics and dry reporting just can’t. I wrote Haldol and Hyacinths to fight the stigma and discrimination around mental health conditions; I wrote War on Error to fight Islamophobia, and I wrote The Rumi Prescription to fight both. I also wrote The Rumi Prescription as a kind of call to recognize self-care as a revolutionary act. As an activist, I’ve experienced burnout, and I know I’m not alone. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective in our battles against injustice, and part of that is recognizing that love is a much stronger weapon in our arsenal against injustice than anger.

You teach at University. What advice would you give people about writing creative nonfiction?

MM: Quit wasting time seeking advice from other writers and just do the work.

If you could describe your new book in three words, what would they be?

MM: Love. Hope. Surrender.

Dear Young Rocker, a binge worthy break from the Coronavirus

 

Chelsea Ursin, of Boston, saw her younger self as wild but fragile. She’s the creator of the Dear Young Rocker podcast a memoir about her adolescent rage and angst and how she channeled these feelings through music—rock music. Her fave band as a teen Smashing Pumpkins. Ursin, when asked, said three words to describe her podcast would be “fierce,” “deep,” and “loving.” The podcast was first written as a memoir for her graduate creative writing thesis at Emerson College. But when it came time to find a publisher for it, she discovered she needed a platform. So being a musician who played in the her own band Banana, she decided to produce a podcast of her story.

Dear Young Rocker is the story of how Ursin self-healed her traumatic teen years through music. “Boys are given outlets for their anger, “ said Ursin. “Girls who present aggression are seen as abnormal.” Ursin, now 31, grew up in the early part of the 21st century.

Ursin picked up bass at 12-years-old and had few friends in junior high and high school so she gave music her all.

Ursin admits to being ADHD and has social anxiety, which is apparant throughout her memoir podcast.

This is the best podcast loaded with high doses of adolescent angst, anger, questioning how one should act as one’s gender, and self-insight. Ursin’s writing is relatable to not just teens and young adults but those of other generations seeking to understand their own teendoms. Not just a memoir, Ursin also interviews other adult rockers and asks them to write a short letter to their younger selves.
She hopes that along with the podcast, the book version will be published—now that her podcast is her platform.

She’s had a lot of response from fathers who understood their daughters better

To manage her own mental health, by exercising to a morning Youtube video, sees a therapist every other week, practices mindfulness meditation training among other things that keep her anxiety in control.

Hear her podcast on iHeartRadio or Apple podcasts. BTW She wrote the theme music too.

Social Media Entrepreneur and Advocate Hannah Blum Publishes New Book

IMG_2085

UPDATE: I interviewed Hannah Blum for this blog in 2018. I’m delighted to say her new book The Truth about Broken: the Unfixed Version of Self-Love is for sale on Amazon. A combination of memoir and the quotes and poetry that went viral on her Instagram account, Blum’s writing is raw and beautiful. She does not flinch when describing the pain and the beauty of life, of her experience with bipolar disorder 2. Her short essays are insightful and wise portraying a young woman who is light years ahead of her generation yet at the same time so in touch with them. Blum is a social media expert and is always engaging on new platforms to help spread the word about mental health and “slay stigma” as she calls it.

On the dark days she screamed.
On her bright days, she laughed.
There was no in between,
but every day she felt

This line is an example of her writing style. Blum is a Creative Director in Los Angeles, California. You can purchase her new book at http://halfway2hannah.com.

Being There: What Friendship and Connection Can Teach Us about Life

Being present and in the moment when family and friends need you means a lot to people. I learned this from my grandfather who showed up with cards and chocolates on Valentine’s Day during my childhood. He visited me when I was alone and on my own cross-country in Chicago. He was the only one in the room when my mother miscarried twins before I was born. He attended my cousins sports games and ballet recitals. Showing up is that extra thing you do to let people know someone cares.

Maybe, that’s why I married my husband. He embodies this sacred quality of being there for others. In this world, we are too often self-interested in our own pursuits, in screens, in enacting out the ideas in our heads. Conversations become quick as we half-listen and respond usually with an ulterior motive.

My husband owns a landscaping service. He shows up doing odd tasks and lawns for clients he has known for years. He’s built up friendships with them and is always quick to respond when they call. He helps friends out of crises. He’s shown up for me at my best and worst, as I do for him.

He’s never thinking only for himself. He just shows up and lives in the present tense. He’s never studied Buddhist meditation or taken mindfulness classes, yet he embodies this rhythm of life. He’s already here.

Learning to show up for others has helped me learn to show up to the page. Writing is a solitary activity, but it is the world of others which we write about. Only when we show up in our life and do for others can we truly understand the rhythms of life. Only when we show up can we absorb what the stories of others can teach us. We don’t write in a vacuum, if we do it probably isn’t very good. We write to show stories and we find them by being there as life unfolds.

Steve Hartman, a CBS Evening News reporter, does a segment every Friday night called On the Road where he searches for the simple, heart-warming stories that show American life and its struggles and triumphs over odds sometimes so great it brings tears to my eyes. He’s covered 10-year-old activists, veterans, the disabled, people whose voices you might not ordinarily hear. He just shows up with his camera crew and let’s people tell their stories. Some people say this isn’t real news; I beg to differ.

Sometimes in yoga practice, the instructor has us get into a complicated twist and turn of the body. I’ve always had trouble disciplining my mind to stay focused and present. I have to repeat the mantra to myself Stay in the Moment, Stay in Today. I slice backward and forward through the scenes in my mind and it leaves me depleted and off kilter emotionally and physically.

After college, I met a figure skater named Nicole. Nicole had down syndrome and had won gold in the Special Olympics. We went to a silly movie and after it was over I asked her something that was on my mind. “How did you achieve your goals?” I asked. She answered with three words. “Focus, Focus, Focus,” she said. It’s hard to focus when this world tells you exactly the opposite. It broadcasts from television, radio, the internet, the cell phone, the voices in our heads messages of distraction. Whether it be writing or listening deeply or doing yoga, I simply remember that word “Focus.”

It’s a simple word that brings me back to the present that forces me to be there in all I do. I can get lost excavating the craters of my past. But if I stay to long there, I’ll miss out on what is here in front of me, the delicious present.

There’s an old adage professed by writing instructors “Show Don’t Tell.” If when we write we tell the story, what we tell is from the past perspective. To write in the present, we must show the scene. Every writing instructor I’ve had has taught me to think in scene as if I were a movie director, to describe it using the six senses of see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and know. Perhaps, it is this last one, to know, that helps us get inside the moment to what we really feel.

Knowing who we are is not about existing in the moment; it’s about mindfully being in it. It’s learning from the past, whether idyllic or painful, coming to terms with the grief and the happiness embodying our beings.

When I was a child, I used to smile all the time. The other kids called me smiley. While we can’t smile all the time, the lesson here is about showing up in all we do with a smile. It’s one of attitude, staying positive, dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy.”

Sometimes during the day, I sit with feelings of emptiness and anxiety. In the quiet moment, I can feel the being of all things in the universe. It makes me uneasy, and a bit queasy. I have learned to let these feelings move past me like an ocean’s waves. Once the wave of insecurity passes I move myself into the present with three deep breaths.

My husband has the most amazing, indescribable laugh. He works with the earth and he never takes life too seriously. He has a joke for everyone about everything. It’s not about joining the rat race but about helping people in the moments when they need help.

Show up. Listen. Lean in.

Why There Shouldn’t be a Stigma on Going to Therapy

I’m one to believe that everyone should get six months of therapy in their life. Here are six reasons no one should ever feel ashamed of seeing a therapist.

It’s just Talk. There’s nothing wrong with an impartial ear to listen to you work through an issue. Everything you say is kept confidential. It’s not like a friend who might gossip.

There are many types of therapy and therapists. Google types of therapy and a whole list comes up. You can even go to online sites such as betterhelp.com offering therapy online, which is cheaper if you have no insurance. Otherwise, check with your insurance provider for a list of therapists in your network.

Do your Homework. Many therapists will give you homework to do in a journal to bring back to the next session.

The World Needs a lot of Healing. If everyone went to therapy, we’d have less conflict and more understanding among each other.

It’s a place just for you. You don’t have to be diagnosed with something to go. You don’t get diagnosed with something when you do go. It’s not just for people with mental illness. It’s for everyone.

It’s Green Juice for your Mind. You exercise for your body. Drink green juice. Well, therapy is that secret sauce that will heal you and allow you to move past situations.

Caroline Mazel-Carlton, fellow voice hearer and aspiring rabbi, talks about creating sacred spaces for mental health and beyond

IMG_1945

At one time, Caroline Mazel-Carlton found herself in a psychiatric group home with no job, no degrees, a psychiatric and criminal history. Volunteering a her local Jewish Community Center (JCC), she was searching for something to give her life meaning and allow her to bring her large, intense personality to play. She found roller derby.

“It made me feel amazing,” she said. Her roller derby name was given to her by a woman with a roller derby alias ScarietTubman 40 + 1 for 40 acres and a mule.

“I loved her name how it combines different aspects of her identity,” she said. “I told her that I was Jewish and a lot of elderly people at the JCC where I volunteered worried about me getting injured in this sport.” This woman came up with “Mazel Tov Cocktail #18.” This became her name and her new identity, what was to come just a part of something she was becoming.

“I was looking for a place where I could bring big emotions and be intense and have that be valued instead of being called borderline,” she said.

“They would announce me when I came out onto the track She’s faster than a spinning dreidel. She’ll smear you across the track like cream cheese on a bagel. It’s the kosher menace Mazel Tov Cocktail #18,” she said.

“Mothers of daughters would come up to me after games and thank me for being a role model, for showing my daughter Jewish women are strong and proud,” she said.

When Caroline was 5, she began hearing voices. When she was 8, her parents took her to her first psychiatrist. This began her start on psychiatric medications, and thus a lengthly journey in the psychiatric system in and out of psychiatric hospitals and group homes. She was diagnosed with everything from, as she phrased it, “Aspergers to Zyprexa, bipolar to borderline.”

Today, she is 36, and studying to be a rabbi, lives in Western Massachussets with her husband, and works as Director of Training for the Western Massachussets Recovery Learning Community (WMRLC) or as they recently changed their name to the Wildflower Alliance an organization that supports the healing and empowerment of people who have been impacted by psychiatric diagnosis, trauma, extreme states, homelessness, addiction and other life-interrupting challenges. She still experiences ups and downs in life but is able to navigate them with the help of peer support, spiritual community and tools like neuro-feedback, meditation and Voice Dialogue. I first heard Caroline on Madness Radio, a podcast based in Western Massachussets, which is syndicated and available online. We met at the Karuna Conference in Rocky HIll where I had the chance to sit down with her and ask her a few questions as well as attend her workshop on hearing voices and dialoging with them and a panel she was on about healing from trauma in the patriarchy.

“This is my story, a story of seeking a journey to understand my pain and my place in the world,” she said. “Its taken a lot of twists and turns. I look at myself now from a bigger lens than I was given by psychiatry, even a bigger lens than just mental health.”

“My goal now is to create more open and accepting communities, create spaces where we can all have dignity, purpose and be honored,” she said. And, she does this by leading Alternatives to Suicide groups and Hearing Voices Network groups for the WMRLC as well as leading in her synagogue in Western Massachussets.

Mazel-Carlton sees herself from a different lens than she was viewed upon by the psychiatric system.

“Identity is such an evolving thing. Right now, I’m exploring my cultural identity, what it means to be a Jewish woman in open dialogue with her ancesters, to be part of that history, that conversation. I allow things to be fluid.”

“I’m interested in how we create sacred space,” she said. “ For me, I see Alternatives to Suicides groups and Hearing Voices groups as sacred places where we bring our whole selves.”

She said the Hebrew word “Shalom” actually translates to wholeness. “It’s about creating places where we can be authentic and honor the cycles of life.” It’s about how we honor all our experiences, even ones viewed through a pathological lens.

Mazel-Carlton talked about the nature of labels. We start off with a name and a gender. Then we get labeled throughout life in various ways. “Those labels can be very limiting. The process of psychiatric diagnosis is quite subjective. We know this from studies consistently showing that one person who visits three different psychiatrists will likely receive three different diagnoses. Yet my entire life trajectory was predicted based on a diagnosis given at one moment in time. There is still a lot of discrimination experienced by people who are labeled as “mentally ill” in society.”

“Another thing people don’t acknowledge are issues of race and class, and how they play into who gets a psychiatric label, what that label is, and how they are treated as a result. I facilitated Hearing Voices groups at a long-term state psychiatric hospital. Often people I met there heard less extreme voices, not as loud or violent as mine, but they had a more extreme diagnosis. Consistently, the difference was they were of a different race and/or socio-economic class than me.”

The research supports this that if someone is poor or a person of color they are more likely to get a more extreme diagnosis. “We do ourselves a disservice to turn a blind eye as if psychiatry is this super objective, scientific thing.”

Yet, she admits some people find psychiatric diagnosis valuable. “When I talk to them about why, they usually indicate that receiving a diagnosis was the first time anyone acknowledged their pain was valid and real.”
The problem lies when psychiatric diagnosis places the blame for valid pain solely on the person’s internal biology. It becomes not I’m suffering because I was raped but I’m suffering because I have borderline personality disorder. Or not that I’m suffering because I was neglected as a child but I’m suffering because I have this disease called schizophrenia. It’s not that the world is an over-whelming place, but that I am genetically defective for struggling in a society that de-values rest and compassion.

“The process of healing and moving past psychiatric labels is a process of expansion,” said Mazel-Carlton. “It is becoming aware of our context in the world, our place in history, our interdependence on one another, and our need for community.”

Moving beyond psychiatric labels and pain is about building relationships. “For me, these relationships happened outside the medical system,” she said.

On one of the psych wards she was on, it was around Chanukah time and someone asked her to light the menorah. There were no Jewish staff. So the people huddled around an electric menorah while a woman who had been committed for suicidal thoughts led them in the prayers. “So many of us there had tried to kill ourselves. In that moment, we felt this sense of connection to something wider in that ritual. Community was developing even though we were locked on a psych ward together.”

Mazel-Carlton also talked about her work with Alternatives of Suicide groups. “There is a lot wrong with how we talk to people who are suicidal. People who are suicidal are people who are in a very important place in their life. They know their current way of living is not working and they are looking for a solution. They are people in a transitional space and should be given the utmost dignity.”

The biggest mistake the system makes is the risk assessment tools are overly concerened with predicting someone’s sucide and never ask the person why they want to die.

“A lot of people in the groups I lead, spent weeks on a psych ward and no one took the time to ask why they wanted to die,” she said.

“Ultimately, suicide in itself is not the problem. Suicide is the solution and its a solution to a whole host of problems war, rape culture, financial insecurity, abuse, transphobia, colonization,” she said.

“People want to leave this world for a reason. We need to talk about their why and honor it,” she said. “We need to allow people to stay in their communities as much as possible because community is where we heal.”

Mazel-Carlton will bring the sum of her experiences to her work as a rabbi, including roller derby. “It’s important to me to be out about my psychiatric history as a rabbi. I’ve searched and searched and there are no other rabbis open about their lived experience in the psychiatric system.

Inspired by rabbis in the Jewish Renewal movement, she grounds herself in “roots and traditions but also constantly making things new, relevant, and accessbile to people.”

She plans to create Jewish spaces accesible to voice hearers and people who have little Jewish knowledge and focussing on building accepting Jewish communities.

I asked her about the Hebrew month of Elul which falls around September. “I do a lot of work in the month of Elul, looking within me, with my voices, with my inner world. I look for points of healing or things I might want to rebirth or change. One of the things I like about the Jewish calendar is it gives us the opportunity to feel. It offers us all these cycles, times to go within and times to go without, times to be joyful and times to weep. It honors the whole gamut of human experience as sacred.
To contact Caroline email her at caroline@westernmassrlc.org or visit http://westernmassrlc.org. The Hearing Voices – USA link is: www.hearingvoicesusa.org. For people who want to learn more about Alternatives to Suicide this is a good article: https://www.communitypsychology.com/new-approach-to-suicide/. Madness Radio can be found at http://www.madnessradio.net. To find out more about the Karuna Conference click http://www.karunact.org.

Inclusive Cafe Gives Jobs and Hope to People of All Abilities, Makes people see everyone is human

IMG_2831

Harold Johnson, 22, does not let anything stop him. He’s studying online to obtain his travel certification to become a travel agent. He’s CEO of his own company the Thoughtful Travelers. And, he does all this while struggling with quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and anxiety.

Susan Johnson and Steve Tarca are Harold’s parents. They said it all started while Harold was still in high school. He was having some behavioral issues so they took him to a therapist. After working with Harold for awhile, the therapist determined that Harold wanted others to see him as a smart and thoughtful person and he loved to travel. His parents helped him start the Thoughtful Travelers, an inclusive travel agency for people with disabilities. Harold has been to Italy, which is documented on his web site in a video.

Johnson and Tarca thought about how few employment opportunities are out there for people with disabilities. Working with two other mothers of special needs children Noelle Alix and Kim Morrison, they teamed up to create the Be Thoughtful Movement—an organization designed to create jobs for people with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities.  Morrison owns the New England Pasta Company which created space in its storefront for Beanz Café, their brainchild.

Beanz Café, a coffeeshop located on Avon’s Route 44, calls itself an inclusive café and employs people of all abilities. Written on the wall, when you first walk in, is a quote from Harold. “You will leave better than when you came in.” It’s not just about the coffee or the sandwiches. It’s about inclusion and teamwork. Eighty percent of people with disabilities are under or unemployed.

All the equipment including the cash register and coffee machine are adaptive technology, and the counters are lower to allow for wheelchairs. They have nine special needs employees and eight non-disabled employees. They pay minimum wage, which in Connecticut is $10.10 an hour.

Training is done on hard and soft skills. “The most important thing is the staff doing the training being aware of the person and what they need,” said Johnson.

“It’s being a part of a team, a family,” said Morrison.

First things first, they teach their employees that the customer is always right and smiling is key. “Smiling is part of the uniform,” said Alix. The shirts the employees wear read everyone belongs and be thoughtful.

The first time I went to Beanz I had their delicious spiced hot chocolate served by a pleasant woman with Down Syndrome.

Sometimes when things get stressful on the job, the managers will teach employees to take a step back.

“I took a girl into my office who was getting flustered and together we screamed quietly, then she went back to work,” said Alix.

Alix said, “the beauty of this community is people see the best in people when they interact with this community.” Customers don’t complain anymore if their food comes out late or an order is done wrong.

As Harold said, You’re a better person than when you came in and that’s the magic.

To start an inclusive café like Beanz, please check out their web site at http://bethoughtfulmovement.org. To read Harold’s travel blog or to find out how you too, can travel like him, check out http://thethoughtfultravelers.com.