Blog /July 2011
As anyone who has ever met me knows, I love food! But there is more to my love of food than simply loving to eat. For me, food and the experiences that come with it are a source of wellness. We get our energy and nutrition from food to create wellness for our physical being. And, we sit down at the dinner table with friends and family to promote wellness for our emotional sides. Taking the time to be with loved ones reduces my stress and anxiety levels because of the personal connections that are fostered. And, I often end up laughing hysterically, which not only brightens my mood but has been found to reduce stress and tension in the body.
Within my small circle of friends, we have created our own weekly wellness tool of gathering together and sharing a meal. Every Tuesday night, my husband and I join his brother, his brother’s girlfriend, and another couple for dinner. We rotate whose turn it is to cook and host. Regardless whose house we are at, we share a fantastic meal and a lot of laughter. This tradition started not long after my husband and I moved here three years ago with our one friend. Slowly, we have added loved ones to the ever-growing table. We’ve found it a wonderful way to stay connected throughout the chaos of the week and take a break from our hectic lives to eat, drink, and be merry. To me, sharing in this experience with my best friends every week helps to keep me well and comforted in my busy life.
One of my favorite comfort dishes to share is my Grandma’s recipe for Hungarian Chicken Paprikas (Paprikas csirke) and Nokedli. She used to make it for us every Christmas, which was one of the many ways she showed her love to us. I am a vegetarian, so I typically swap the chicken for one pound of mushrooms, but it still warms my soul just the same every time I eat it.
Here’s the recipe for your enjoyment and comfort:
1 onion, chopped
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
1-2 Tbs. paprika
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 Tbs. flour
1. Brown the onion in a large, deep skillet with a bit of olive oil.
2. Add the chicken and cook until browned as well. Then, add water to cover the chicken, the paprika, and the tomato sauce. Simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, approximately 30 minutes.
3. Mix together the sour cream and flour, and then slowly add the mixture to the chicken. Serve over nokedli.
1 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1. Mix together the eggs, salt, and flour. Slowly add water to the mixture until you can stir the mixture and it is slightly wet. It will be very sticky, but you should be able to portion it with a spoon.
2. Drop small spoonfuls of the dough into salted boiling water. Cook until the nokedli rise to the surface. You may have to do this process in batches if you are making a double batch, depending on the size of you pot.
PEERS Media Intern Kelly Tong is a sophomore at UCLA majoring in psychology and communications.
When I first met, let's call her Penny, we instantly clicked, melding personalities, talking late into the night, and bursting into fits of giggles for absolutely no reason. We soon became best friends at college my freshman year and I came to know more about her and realized she had more baggage than I supposed at first glance; she had overly critical parents and ex-boyfriends who had crushed her heart through their faults and faults of her own, letting loose a flurry of pain and intense guilt she couldn't let go of. At first, I figured she just had a sensitive soul and one hell of a conscience, but I soon came to realize that there was something she kept secret from others and herself, something not a lot of people knew or understood (not even her close friends or family).
Turns out that the giggly, bubbly person that I came to know and love was not what she appeared to be. I didn't love her any less as I slowly began to peel back the "happy" layers that she had built around herself for years. I discovered that underneath her cheerful demeanor was someone who was depressed and got very little enjoyment out of basic things like a day in the sun or a really good piece of chocolate cake. The thing that surprised me the most was that her outward character did seem to find happiness in these small pleasures and more, that she could so readily pretend, but she just couldn't translate that happiness deeper so that she could truly feel that emotion that I so easily take for granted.
My concern for her grew as she began to reveal more of her depressed thoughts that were buried so far and so deep that I didn't think I could ever pull her out. Her depression began to take a toll on me and on my friendship with her, tearing down the threads that had originally bound us together. Once I figured out that our relationship had been built on a façade of carefree joy that only I could grasp hold of, I accepted the fact that it would have to be reconstructed based on truths and truths alone and that nothing could be held back. But it seemed that with every step we took forward in our newly restored friendship, we took two steps back.
One night, after a particularly bad night of tears and arguments, I suggested that she go see someone professional who might be able to help her more than I or any of our friends could. Her bouts of break downs were steadily getting worse (either that or we noticed them more) and were harder on all of us. I, personally, felt overwhelmed by it all; I could listen to her for hours on end, could give advice with an equal amount of vigor, and could be there for her through the worst of times, but despite everything I did to try to help her, she didn't appear to be getting any better. I felt helpless and completely out of my league for the first time in my life.
Thankfully, she took my advice and went to our school therapist. Their third session, her therapist told her she was depressed, something I had been afraid of for months, and she had probably denied for years; this news came like a punch to the gut, waking her out of a dreamlike state she hadn't recognized she had sunken into. The realization that she had a problem that was serious and could no longer be ignored immersed her even more, but I helped her come to terms with her depression so she could deal with it and fight back. Since then, she has figured out that she needs to work harder at getting better and is now more aware of her own mind and how she is truly feeling. She tells me "I'm better," and I long to believe her. I'm always afraid that when she tells me she's happy, she's either lying to me or she's in denial herself. I worry that because she has deceived her friends and family for so long about her true state of mind that it comes naturally to her. Being bubbly comes easier to this true veteran of hidden feelings than explaining and accepting her emotions. Despite my concerns, I have hope that this will get better, that she will become stronger and get past this depression that has ruled her life for far too long.
Recovering from our wounds is a painstaking process. Throughout our lives we will be injured numerous times physically as well as mentally. Some wounds are inflicted by others, while some are inflicted upon ourselves. The process with in which we deal with these injuries can amount to the difference between success and complete and utter failure. I have been battered and bruised by life in the short 23 years I’ve been on this earth. At the age of 5 my father, helpless to his drug addiction, abandoned me at a park in San Francisco. My mother struggled just to make ends meet, so as a child I missed out on many things that other children got to enjoy. From the fifth grade on, I was deemed a "lost cause" and completely neglected by the public school system leaving me with the task of educating myself. Between the ages of 10-14 my mother and I were verbally and mentally abused and mistreated by my step father. By the age of 16 I had witnessed a gang related attempted murder and was forced to testify in the following trial against my will. This incident lead to an existence of fear of retaliation accompanied by severe anxiety and many sleepless nights. Who's going to protect me now that the defendant is scheduled to get out of prison in six months?
In 2008, the economy crashed and I was left with no job and on the verge of being homeless. It was in these desperate times that I allowed my situation to lead me into selling narcotics to pay the bills. This act of desperation landed me in jail which in turn further hindered my ability to find gainful employment due to a tainted criminal record. Because I was now a felon, I went 3 years without being able to find employment. In 2009 I completely gave up on my situation and attempted to take my own life. By the grace of GOD I am still alive. When I woke up in the hospital a day later, I decided that something needed to change.
In order to begin the rehabilitation process and get my life on track, I needed to treat the wounds that I had accumulated over the years. Growing up as a young man in and out of jail, I had learned to suffocate my feelings and keep my problems bottled up inside. This was the root cause of my breakdown. I had so much unresolved pain and suffering within. Since I wasn't mentally healthy, I was not capable of equipping myself with the tools necessary to lead my situation in a positive direction. There are three different types of people in this world. There are the ones who accept the situation that they're given, the ones who change the situation that they are in, and the ones who let their situation change them. At the time I identified with the latter of the three, I allowed my situations to change me. Someone whose wellness is in jeopardy will make rash, uneducated decisions in a vain attempt to control their circumstances. The only problem with this is that hasty actions can lead to unseen consequences that may guide you into a worse situation then when you began.
Wellness and recovery are key to leading a meaningful and fulfilling life. Once I embarked on my journey to recovery, everything else in my life seemed to fall into place. It is now two years after my failed attempt on my life I am proud to say that I am currently running a small business as well as working full-time for PEERS. I am happier than I’ve ever been and filled with confidence that my future will be one of success and prosperity. Deal with the wounds in your life and wellness is sure to follow.
Now in its 17th year, the Cultural Competency Mental Health Summit XVII took place on June 27-28, 2011 and was hosted by Santa Clara County and held at the Doubletree in San Jose. This year’s theme was "Promoting Equity in Health Services: The Power of Community Based Solutions." I was fortunate enough to attend, as it brought together people from various backgrounds and united health professionals, mental health consumers, family members, community leaders, educators and many others to focus on and consider implementing both traditional and non-traditional community practices, as well as holistic approaches to rectify disparity in the mental health arena.
The focuses of the conference was to promote change, incorporate community involvement, go over the significance of spirituality in healing, and have solution focused ideas, as well as strive to heal underserved and non-served communities that represent the Diaspora of humanity. The workshops were designed to support and promote dialogue and to develop strategies for addressing stigma and discrimination amongst LGBTQ individuals, those from different ethnic/cultural backgrounds, and diverse spiritual beliefs/way of life. Each session spoke to the health disparities that exist, as well as, a way in which all communities can become stronger and healthier. The exchange of information at the conference allowed the attendees to have an open and honest forum about the misunderstanding and lack of representation that people in the mental health system have of being ignored and invisible.
The appointed keynote speakers promoted becoming more responsive to others' ethnic/cultural background as opposed to merely being "competent." Moreover, the designated keynote speakers also reiterated the importance of embracing each person’s own personal understanding of spirituality as a mystical experience with deep emotions that provides hope, connectedness, and meaning to each person differently. In fact, on the last day of the summit, Dr. Gloria Morrow emphasized this point by stating, "If you want me to embrace you, you have to embrace me. If I respect you, you should respect me." Dr Morrow also asserted that in order for us all to get connected, we must reach out to others and get within ourselves.
As quoted by Teilhard de Chardin, I too believe that, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." With that said, I personally look forward to the continued dialogue that such conferences as the Cultural Competency Mental Health Summit XVII created in order for an awakening and awareness to take place in society.
I’m like the Ghost Whisper for the living. Strangers and loved ones feel they can tell me anything. A conversation with a stranger in line at the store starts off as regular chit-chat. By the time I reach the register, I know their whole life story. Sometimes I don’t mind. Other times can be overwhelming. A few years ago, a friend and I went to Sears. I was helping her pick out a refrigerator. A salesman and his trainee were helping us. The trainee and I were having a normal conversation. Then he started talking about his abusive father, finding his friend dead in his apartment years ago, his own fears of commitment to his girlfriend, personal bouts with the bottle and a whole lot more. Anyone who has ever bought a major appliance knows it takes a long time. And boy that trainee had a lot to say while my friend was deciding between the Kenmore and Whirlpool. The trainee said he felt comfortable telling me many personal things because I come off as non-judgmental. Call it a gift and a curse.
Now that I work for PEERS people seem to be extra comfortable in sharing personal things. When I explain what PEERS is all about to strangers, I tend to hear, “Oooh really? “ Then they begin telling me about their problems. Often these people are not consumers. When the conversation gets too deep I kindly remind them I am not a therapist. My work and expertise is limited to the media department. I’ll give you tips on blogging and media. When you want to know what to do about your marriage, pump the brakes. I also get, “That’s nice of you to help crazy people. “ Of course I correct them on using the word “crazy.” Oddly enough, those same people then go into discussions about mental health challenges in their own families. After listening I remind them to get a professional opinion because I’m not a therapist. But some still go on with sharing their issues.
Sure the impromptu therapy sessions with strangers can get annoying sometimes. But the upside to telling people where I work is that it gives them hope. I recently ran into someone I had not seen in five years. She told me her nephew was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I told her he could still live a normal life with proper care. I gave examples of people I met at PEERS who are thriving in life despite their mental health conditions. The woman knew her nephew would be okay, but informing her of the work and people at PEERS gave her more assurance. Moments like this are another reminder of why what we do at PEERS is so important. Sometimes people tell me about loved ones living with a mental health condition because they don’t feel stigmatized around me. I have encouraged people to do their research and look into recovery services. What I’ve learned from the many people who open up to me is they just want to be heard. People aren’t drawn to me because of me. They’re drawn to my ears. I listen. Even if I’m not in the mood I still listen. Wouldn’t it be nice if more of us did just that—listen.
"Listen to the raisin," instructs my mindfulness coach. Inwardly I groan and scoff. "Metaphorically, or literally?" I reply with confusion and more than a little sarcasm.
I have been (justly) accused of being a science-geek, research-nerd, or skeptic. I own those labels. I pride myself on having sound critical thinking skills, preferring to base my beliefs on things that can be measured and evaluated. Secularist? Humanist? Yes. Raisin-listener? Not so much.
So, what's a nice rational girl like me doing in a place like this?
The raisin-listening experience was my introduction to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Many spiritual and mystical traditions have some type of mindful practice: prayer, sitting meditation, labyrinth walking, chanting, etc. MBSR is a secular approach which takes those practices, separates the technique from the religious elements attached to them, and teaches those techniques as a tool for stress-reduction and greater wellness.
Initially dismissed by some skeptics, MBSR has gained increased recognition and legitimacy in the realms of psychology and medicine in recent years. Multiple controlled studies have suggested that MBSR, and other mindfulness techniques, can help reduce the recurrence of depressive episodes, reduce anxiety, and provide significant help with pain-management. No longer relegated solely to the camp of "alternative" or "fringe" practices, it is being increasingly recognized, studied and utilized by both medical and educational institutions.
I remind myself of the research data, the journal articles, and university support for the practice as I sit — skeptically — listening to my raisin. I breathe out and apologize to the instructor for my sarcasm and take another crack at the activity, opening my mind to what I might learn.
Over the course of my training, the instructor guides me through a breath meditation, body-scan meditation, walking meditation, yoga, and uses Zen koans, poetry and some techniques borrowed from cognitive therapy to shift my thinking.
Initially, I struggle. My mind races restlessly from thought to thought. Then, midway through the body-scan meditation something shifts. I notice I am not thinking. I am relaxed and at peace yet totally alert and extremely aware of myself and my surroundings. Then, just as quickly as it came, it is gone — sort of like when you glimpse something out of the corner of your eye but when you look at it directly at it, you lose it. I am hooked. I want more of that feeling.
I finish my first day utterly exhausted. How can not thinking take so much energy? I am humbled by the experience and intrigued. I am more conscious of how much of my life I spend on auto-pilot, rushing from task to task, thinking about what needs to be done and what comes next, missing what is now.
I spend the evening with my 6-year-old son with a new sense of enjoyment and appreciation. He is so effortlessly present in the moment. When is it that we lose that ability? How do we learn to devalue what we have in favor of some future possibility that may never come to pass?
It would make a much more interesting blog to say that I decided to join an Ashram following my experience, but that simply isn't true. I'm still a skeptic, a science-geek, and a research nerd. On the other hand, I have started a fledgling mindfulness practice of my own and I do have a new respect for the power of meditation and mindfulness. And to be honest, I don’t think I'll ever be able to look at a raisin the same way again.
Poetry- What is it? Poetry is a lot of things to a lot of people. In fact, the very nature of poetry is nearly impossible to define. Poetry is very old. It is ancient. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinventions over time. The most primitive of people have used it, and the most civilized have cultivated it. In all ages and in all countries, poetry has been written, read or listened to by all kinds people. Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through words, sound, and rhythmic language.
For me, while at Herrick Hospital during one of my many visits to the psychiatric ward, a pen was in my hand and it led to me expressing what was bottled up inside. Like an artist painting on a canvas, the words filled the paper and began to flow like water down a river. The pen in my hand revealed words as deep as the ocean. The words I wrote were as moving as the earth.
For many years, I was trapped; violence filled me with anger and rage. I wrestled with painful memories that I did not understand. I felt trapped, disconnected, detached, and ready to throw my entire life away and kill myself. For so long, I just wanted die. Life had no meaning to me. Or the meaning that I had of life was that I was worthless and no good. Then before I knew it, I could not put the paint brush down off the canvas. My silence was broken. I found my voice; I shed my tears, and rejoiced in my triumphs. The true essence of me was born. I was no longer invisible. People could see me and did not ignore me or disregard what I said. Poetry evoked the intense emotions I buried inside. A purging of my deep-rooted feelings surfaced. I discovered that I didn't have to hold on to the stories of my past. The words that came out on paper encouraged me to want and be more. My ideas and perspectives were revealed. The words I wrote dazzled people's minds. The poems I word left people in awe. A broadened understanding of me was relayed. I was no longer a victim of abuse.
No more words of insult to cut me like a sword or bury my self worth. No more slaps. No more punches. No more kicks. No more invading my scared dome. Finally, I was not alone. No longer a victim for my words set me free. Now a victorious Caribbean Queen is whom all eyes see. For me, poetry is art, whether a painting or sculpture. Poetry is beauty, far beyond what any eye can see. Poetry is music, smooth and rhythmic with many melodies. Poetry is the beginning and the end. Poetry is my truth. Why not see what poetry can be for you? I welcome you to the world of poetry.
When 4th of July weekend rolls around my mind is focused on potato salad at the upcoming barbecue and catching a firework show. As I sit here in my bedroom, looking at the small U.S. flag that sits next to my TV year-round, I am reminded of the significance of this holiday -- American freedom. Then I turn to the left and there’s a bumper sticker on my wall I’ve held on to since college. It says, “No one is free when others are oppressed." Not being able to freely be yourself and accept yourself because of what society thinks is oppressive. There are many people living with mental challenges and won’t get treatment because of the stigmas associated with their conditions in our society. That is why I admire people who live by their own rules and accept who they are.
My new (s)hero is Dr. Marsha Linehan, a therapist and psychiatric researcher at the University of Washington. PEERS acknowledged The New York Times profile on her in our Media Watch Action Alerts. Dr. Linehan developed a respected therapy treatment for people with borderline personality disorder. According to the article, people with this condition have high self-destructive behavior like cutting, burning and suicide. Dr. Linehan also lives with this condition and recently opened up to family and friends who didn’t know. “ Well, I have to do it. I owe it to them. I cannot die a coward,” she told the Times. The article explains how Dr. Linehan had been living with borderline personality disorder most of her life. She spent time in psychiatric hospitals during her teens and 20s. Through treatment and her own research, she has learned how to take control when those urges to harm herself resurrect. That tells you how deep stigma is in our society. Even someone working in the mental health field carries internal stigma. How brave of her to come forward and be an example of LIVING with a mental health condition. I imagine just coming out to her community was like releasing a sack of bricks you’ve been carrying around for years.
When we look at history throughout the world, we know that the fight for freedom takes courage. Dr. Linehan gave herself the freedom to openly accept herself. Even if she had taken her secret to the grave, I wouldn’t call her a coward. I consider her a survivor after all she’s been through. I hope her story liberates others.