A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Getting "High" - Just Say Yes... and Thank You

Last week a mental health nurse told me that I need to learn to accept help from others. She said, "Think of it this way. When somebody gives you something they get a 'high'. If you are not letting people GIVE to you, then you are depriving them of that 'high'!"

It was one of those "ah-ha! moments" for me because I was in the process of writing a blog post about this very subject - about someone else having difficultly accepting help from others. It reminded me that "we teach what we need to learn!"

I found out this summer that someone I have known my entire life was diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing chemo. While she is dealing with the side effects of her treatment, her sister is helping by driving her kids to and from their sports and activities. And her circle of friends have created a schedule and signed up to provide meals to the family. But all of this makes this lovely lady very uncomfortable.

In a text I told her that people like to feel that there is something they can DO when a friend or family member is going through something like this. I told her, "You deserve their care and compassion!"

Her response was, "Thanks. I like being on the other side of this type of relationship. I am good at giving support, not so comfortable receiving it!"

Hmm sound familiar? It brought to mind one of my first charms... it was almost three years ago... so here's the story... for Throwback Thursday.

The "open circle" charm between the heart beats spacer and the birthstone dangle

When I began the journey of recovery from my eating disorder, simply trying to remain symptom-free, one day at a time, I gave myself a $2.00 knock-off charm every day in the first week, and then once a week for the first month. I have since replaced those with authentic Pandora charms.

At the time, I was volunteering as a parent-leader for a program in my children's school called F.A.ST. (Families And Schools Together). In this program families came together once a week for eight weeks, joined by the principal and volunteer teachers. The evening started with a communal meal, with families taking turns providing the main course for the group, and children serving their parents. After dinner the children went to the gym or a classroom for various kinds of activities with the teachers, while the parents participated in a parent support group. The children then rejoined their parents for "special play," a concentrated time of one-on-one child-directed play. And the evening ended with a gift basket for the family who would make the meal the following week. 

It was a wonderful program, and it was so special to see an increase in the children's comfort level in the school, and an improvement in the bond between parent and child. Not only did the program build connections between families but also led to more parent involvement in both the school and the community.

During the last week of the program, which happened to be my first week of recovery, I was preparing a gift basket to thank the volunteer who was the master chef in the kitchen every week. In the process of thinking about things she might like in a gift basket, my mood improved. It felt wonderful to be doing something for someone else, to recognize their contribution. And I was so pleased that she was touched by the gift. Realizing that giving to others helped me feel better, I rewarded myself with a "circle" charm, to represent the circle of giving and receiving, which, for that day, kept me from bingeing, purging or restricting. I have since learned that in the treatment for depression one of the recommendations is to do something for someone else, because the act of giving can actually change your brain chemistry.

My teal Lucerne Recovery bracelet with the teal triple smooth leather bracelet

I first wrote about this after I was involved in a fund-raising event. Three lovely ladies, Mary Madigan, Brenda Parks, and RoseAnne Munson, who are Pandora fans - well, fanatics really - found out that another woman who had a serious illness was about to be evicted from her home, and they decided to try to raise some money for her and her family. And since all these ladies had met each other on the Pandora buy-sell pages on Facebook, their fund-raising was done by selling Pandora charms in a group on Facebook. They called the group "Pandora's Angels," and asked women to look in their jewellery boxes for any charms that they would be willing to donate. Those were put up for sale and all the income would go directly to this lady in need.

Here is what Mary Madigan, wrote on the Angels page on May 31, 2012:

It is hard to believe that it has only been a week. A week since we found out that [our friend] was in dire need of immediate financial assistance for her and her family. A week since Pandora’s Angels has gone from an idea to a fully implemented campaign. It is a true testament to the power of women. Of what we can achieve when we pull together.

The support of each and every one of the Pandora’s Angels has been and still is phenomenal. You have embraced the idea of woman helping woman so much that together we have raised $3,561.73... exceeding our goal of $3,500.00.

Here is what I wrote:

We all feel so amazing after participating in this fundraising effort, even just observing this, and part of the reason for this is chemical!  Serotonin is the "feel good" chemical in our brains, the reason some of us take antidepressants, or suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or crave sugar or carbs - it's all about trying to raise our serotonin. Recent research has shown that a person who GIVES to another experiences a rise in serotonin, as does the person RECEIVING - even the person that just WITNESSES the giving and receiving! I wear the "open circle" charm on my recovery bracelet to remind me of the power of giving AND receiving. Thanks to all the Angels, we have all had a chemical high for the last three days!
We are social animals and for our race to survive we needed to interact with one another, to rely on each other. To make sure that happens, our brains are designed such that we are rewarded for our social behaviour by getting that "high." Numerous studies have shown that giving, receiving, and even witnessing acts of kindness increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain.

The usual saying is "'Tis better to give than to receive." But counter to what people might think, it is easy to be generous and GIVE to others. But, as with my friend in treatment for cancer, it is often difficult to open our hearts to RECEIVE the love and generosity of others. The open circle charm reminds me to "open your heart to the circle of giving AND receiving." Because nobody can get the "high" of GIVING without there being someone on the RECEIVING end. So I will also try to remember this lesson and when someone asks if there is anything they can do, I will say, "Yes... and Thank you!" God forbid I deny people a "high"!

The beach at the Holmes cottage in New Brunswick with lots of "skipping stones"

This charm was originally called "Indian pattern" or "open circle pattern," but Pandora recently changed the name to "skipping stones" (presumably to be more politically correct). I "just happened" to take a photo this summer on the beach at the cottage where my family would visit my grandmother every summer. It had the best smooth flat rocks, very effective for skipping stones, but I'm not sure my daughter had quite the right technique. Still good memories though.

For our Canadian Thanksgiving I had a post about developing an attitude of gratitude. If you would like to read more about the science behind the power of giving and receiving, including its affect on mood and health, please check out the publications below.

Monday, 27 October 2014

I would say "Yes" all over again!

I still have a few more stories that I want to share for Marriage Mondays...

My husband turned 50 this summer and got a very unique gift from his siblings. They made this album for him with lots of pictures of him over the years. But they also spent some time reminiscing (and laughing) about the things their older brother used to do - they called them "Mike-isms." They were things like do a running dive off the wharf, sing and dance to Rock Lobster, eat a Fun Dip, read an Archie comic in the outhouse, tap the steering wheel while listening to Talking Heads, and go for a swim in a wetsuit.
He did manage to get the wetsuit on...
In the end they had a list of 50 things for him to do in celebration of this occasion. They clearly know Mike very well because he is "The List Man." He loves lists! He always wants to read all the books on Entertainment Weekly's list of best books of the year. He has lists of his comic book collection, favourite golf courses, movies to watch, books he's read, etc. They challenged him to complete this list of 50 tasks while we were on our three-week summer vacation in our home province.

One of the things he was supposed to do was "re-enact your engagement." So we let our twelve-year-old twins stay up a little past their bedtimes and took them out on the wharf to show them the super-moon and let them hear the story of our engagement, 22 years later.

We had just arrived at my in-laws' cottage where we visited every summer. We had been up half the night doing laundry and packing before our flight. Mike had been acting really weird all day, but I just passed it off as stress from the travel. Even though it was late he asked me to come down on the wharf. I said I was tired - I think I was flossing my teeth. But he persisted, and I accompanied him down to the wharf.

It was a clear night and I commented on how wonderful it was because you could see so many stars. Then Mike said, "It's the perfect night to ask you to marry me." I got so excited I was jumping up and down saying, "This is so perfect! It's our favourite place in the whole wide world! What a beautiful night to get engaged!" I rambled on excitedly until Mike said, "So will you?" I hadn't realized I'd neglected to answer his question! So I said, "Of course I will!" [Our twins thought that was hilarious!]

We laid down on the wharf for a while soaking up the memory before going back up to the cottage. When we got inside I showed Mike's mother Dede the engagement ring. Mike's father was asleep on the couch, or "just resting his eyes," as he would usually claim, so Dede said, "Dick, wake up! Mike and Sheila got engaged!" Dick lifted his head and mumbled something, but the next morning he was very surprised to hear the news of our engagement.

The ring cluster charm and my engagement ring
Gift from the Sea bracelet
I have two shooting star spacers on my "Gift from the Sea" bracelet to represent my love for the summer sky. We live in the city and we can't see many stars at night, so it's extra special to be at the cottage, over the water, at the end of the wharf, and see the stars. The spacers were also meant to represent our engagement under the night sky, but now I have the ring cluster charm to represent this "unforgettable moment" of re-enacting our engagement, witnessed by our kids. Although that blue "night sky" charm would look very nice on the double blue leather bracelet I'm getting for my birthday...
Mike and I twenty-two years after he proposed to me on this wharf (well an older version of this wharf)
I didn't realize how tall our twelve-year-old twins were getting!

Monday, 13 October 2014

This Thanksgiving develop an attitude of gratitude

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and a perfect time to start thinking about developing an "attitude of gratitude," not just on these special occasions, but as a practice, throughout the year.

One of the most powerful tools in battling my depression has been the simple act of being grateful. Many years ago (almost 20 actually - eek!) a very special friend gave me a book called "Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy."

Amazon's Product Description for Simple Abundance: "With the grace of Ann Morrow Lindberg's Gift from the Sea and the wisdom of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled, Simple Abundance is a book of 366 evocative essays - one for every day of your year - written for women who wish to live by their own lights. In the past a woman's spirituality has been separated from her lifestyle. Simple Abundance shows you how your daily life can be an expression of your authentic self."

The author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, had been on Oprah and shared the idea of doing a Gratitude Journal. After that episode the talk show queen became a big proponent of using a Gratitude Journal. Breathnach described the process as "consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life."
My Gratitude Journal
It's a pretty easy thing to do. You find a lovely notebook that is to be used just for gratitude and nothing else. And then you list five things you are grateful for; I write "Today I am Grateful for:" at the top of the page.
When things are not going so well, I have to search for things to be grateful for, like running water, or a bed to sleep in. Other times I may be thankful for someone who simply held the door for me, or hearing the sounds of Canada geese and looking up to see them flying in v-formation. Yesterday I was grateful for: 1. a message from a friend, 2. my kids doing Saturday morning chores without complaints or whining, 3. a sunny Autumn day, 4. leaf-peeking with my family, and 5. capturing this photo of the Fall colours.

Fall colours at the MacKenzie King Estate
When I first received the Simple Abundance book I did my Gratitude Journal every day for a year, and it had a HUGE impact on my mood. I found that doing this changed how I saw things throughout my day. It's like you start looking for things to be grateful for as you go about your everyday life. 

When you are depressed you tend to focus on the negative things and discount the positive; psychologists call these cognitive errors - or distorted thinking - "magnifying the negative" and "minimizing the positive." A Gratitude Journal can be a way to switch that around - noticing instead the positives in your life.

This is not a new concept, but now there is actual scientific evidence that stopping to appreciate something in your everyday life actually changes the wiring in your brain to make you happier. Rick Hanson, author of "Hardwired Happiness: the New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence" says we simply need to "make a concerted effort to notice those little, everyday pleasant encounters." The cool thing is that you only need to linger for about twelve seconds to make these feelings long-lasting.

Do you think that when Pandora first created the concept of their bracelets they knew that stopping (and buying a charm) to celebrate those "unforgettable moments" actually makes us happier? Please tell your husbands that there is scientific evidence that Pandora makes you happier!
YouTube video of TEDx Talk: Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson

In an article in the Huffington Post, Hanson elaborates on the power of experiencing "moments" with a childlike awe, "The more that things seem fresh and new, the more that you're looking at them with beginner's mind or child's mind, that's going to increase brain structure," essentially becoming part of our lasting emotional memory.

When my children were little I took a workshop called "MindMasters." It is a research-based program that includes a series of simple and concrete techniques to help children manage stress and frustration; techniques that we can teach our own children. Mindmasters focuses on teaching five important positive living skills: relaxation (how, why and when to relax), stress control, how to find good things in everyday experiences, positive thinking, and positive imagery. These tools for life-skills were originally developed by Canadian psychologist Terry Orlick to help children living with cancer treatment, and then expanded to be used with all children. Orlick is now a well-known high performance psychologist using these same techniques with astronauts as well as Olympic athletes. (If you teach these skills to kids, they think this last part is pretty cool!)

One of the activities in MindMasters (or Mini MindMasters for children under six) is called "Treasure Hunting for Happy Highlights." The idea is that at the end of the day your child travels back through their day on a "treasure hunt," looking for "highlights" in their day i.e. things that made them happy. You can write these things on a piece of paper and put it in a special box or jar. Even better, find an unpainted wooden treasure box at the dollar store or a craft store, and have your child decorate it. For older children, of course, they can write them in a special journal. Developing these skills can be very powerful.

A few years ago I was the Lifestyle Coach for a program at our local Y, in conjunction with the Obesity Research Unit at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). I worked with both the overweight/obese children and their parents. The youngest child in the group was six. She lived with her grandmother because her parents had lost custody through the Children's Aid Society. She was crying when she explained this to me and told me how much happier she was because she had been doing her Happy Highlights every night. She reminded me that you are never too old - or too young - to start developing an "attitude of gratitude."

This little treasure box charm reminds me to go on a treasure hunt every day for happy highlights, and to teach my children, especially my son (my "Number One Son"), these important skills. What do you have to be thankful for?