Happy International Day of Persons With Disabilities

December 3 is International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Many people with mental disorders qualify as being disabled. Severe mental illness can make it impossible to hold a job, drive a car, attend to personal hygiene, maintain a household, go shopping, or do many of the necessary activities of daily living that most take for granted. And yet many do not believe that those with diagnosed mental disorders should receive any governmental assistance. It can be a lot easier to have empathy and understanding for someone whose disability is visible, such as someone in a wheelchair, missing a limb, or someone with Down’s syndrome. I have written a poem on the topic I’d like to share with you here.

Invisible Disability

It’s waging a war fought by just one,

Sustaining hits to which no one else is

subjected,

And coming away with shrapnel

unsearchable by physical means,

While others deny a war is taking place,

Yet finding yourself on its front lines,

Without armor, unprotected, lacking well-

wishes of love and healing,

Hiding in public,

Camouflaging in plain sight,

Yet still the main target,

Required to fight,

Even while returns continue to diminish,

A losing battle.

Ten Lesser-Known Holiday-Viewing Favorites of Mine

We all have our favorite Holiday-themed shows and movies to watch at this time of year. And while I enjoy all the classics — A Christmas Story, Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, etc., I also have some favorites many people might not have heard about. Allow me to share them here, in no particular order.

The Christmas List (1997) — This ABC made-for-television movie is better than many would suspect. It’s a cute movie that demonstrates the magic of Christmas and the fact that things will get better if you have a little faith.

A Season for Miracles (1999) — Another made-for-tv movie, this time by CBS. This film demonstrates the power of love needed to make it through life’s struggles and the importance of never giving up hope.

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Disney’s Christmas Fantasy on Ice (1992) — A special featuring characters from Disney movies and famous ice-skaters. This is sure to entertain and warm the heart, and it’s really easy to sing along.

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Snowbound (1994) — Based on a true story, this CBS made-for-tv movie demonstrates the importance of love, family, and never giving up, even when everything seems hopeless.

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Christmas Every Day (1996) — Here’s another made-for-tv movie that stands out from the crowd. I personally enjoy this movie a lot more than Groundhog’s Day.

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Twilight Zone’s Changing of the Guard (1962) — An episode of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone series that is sure to bring a tear to the eye and never be forgotten.

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Annabelle’s Wish (1997) — A direct-to-film movie with a beautiful soundtrack. Although marketed to kids, I love it just as much now that I’m an adult.

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A Garfield Christmas (1987) — This half-hour tv special is another of my Holiday-viewing favorites. I enjoyed it as a child and still try to watch it every year.

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Black Christmas (1974) — If you’re looking for something a little different this season, you might be looking for this film. It’s a Christmas-themed horror film. And it’s really good.

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From All of Us to All of You (1958) — This tv special made by Disney is great viewing for the whole family. It includes different sketches or skits with different characters. Now in my late 30’s, it’s also one of the first shows I remember ever watching on tv.

Do you have any lesser-known favorites you’d like to share with me?

How to Decorate for the Holidays as a Minimalist

It’s easy to see a minimalistic lifestyle as limiting instead of freeing. It can be difficult to figure out how to participate in the festivities of the Holidays without accumulating and owning a lot of things. So how can you celebrate and enjoy the magic of this Holiday season while sticking to your principles, avoiding unnecessary spending, and keeping your physical and mental spaces clear?

red pillar candle on white table cloth

Instead of buying items that are specifically made to be used as decoration, find decorative ways to use items you already have. For example, pretty candles can be used not only as decoration, but as light sources and to make your home smell pleasant. Placemats, tablecloths, bedding, and couch throws all can be used for both their original purpose as well as decoration. Photos, postcards, and greeting cards can also be displayed and used as decoration. White lights can both be used to decorate spaces during the Holiday season as well as other times of the year. Many people use them around their bed, photo collages, plants, and other areas around their homes to add a little extra charm year-round.

leafless tree on white wall

Another tip is to keep your home clean and uncluttered. That way, even if you have only one candle decorating a room, it will stand out and make the whole room look and feel festive. This can seem a lot more special and definitely more aesthetically-pleasing than a mantel full of knick-knacks. Natural materials like branches, burlap, pine cones, and twine give your home a comfy, not overly-done-up vibe.

shallow focus photo of red holiday tree ornament

You can also make your own decorations, which is more economical and eco-friendly than purchasing materials. It’s also a fun activity to do with family or friends. For example, I am planning on making a gingerbread house with my 3-year-old niece, as well as making ornaments for the tree.

hanging snowflakes paper decor

Choose decorations that can be used all season long, if not all year long, instead of for one specific holiday. For example, choose snowmen, which can be used all winter instead of Santa Claus, which doesn’t apply after December 25.

closed blue wooden door

Only have a certain amount of decorations. I know one person who has so many Christmas decorations, she is never able to use all of them and often forgets what she has. Keep a small collection of your favorites and focus on quality over quantity. Even a simple wreath hanging on the front door can transform the looks of a house.

Please let me know any tips you have for making your home reflect the beauty and cheer of the season while keeping your minimalistic principles in mind.

Eight Tips for Staving Off Sadness During the Holidays

While the Holidays are touted as an inherently happy, uplifting time of the year, for many people it is anything but. In fact, it can be a depressing time that many just try to “get through”. This time of the year can highlight the things that are wrong in your life, such as a lack of money or family or love. So what can you do to ease the pain?

Be grateful. I know this wisdom can often come off as trite and preachy, but it has worked for me. Whenever I am feeling disconsolate, that the world is against me, that nothing ever goes my way, I think about the positives in my life. I think about what I have that many other people lack. I think about the ways in which I’m fortunate, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve been given, and the ways in which my life is a lot easier and fuller than other people’s. I don’t do this to gloat but instead to foster a grateful attitude in myself and to avoid encouraging negative thinking patterns. And it almost always works. Don’t criticize yourself for not having what others have. Others might have more money, closer families, and better love lives. They most likely also had different upbringings, experiences, and opportunities in life. They also likely face struggles you don’t know about. Keep your focus on you.

Don’t overextend yourself. It’s not worth getting into debt or stressing yourself over money in order to spend more than you can afford just to fit in with everyone else. Avoid getting wrapped up (pun unintended) in the commercialism of the season.

Don’t concentrate on the past. Times might have been better back then. Holidays past might have been a lot cheerier. Thinking about those times might remind you of what you had and what you lost. We can’t go back, only forward, so concentrate on the changes you can make NOW to ensure happier future Holiday seasons.

Make your own traditions. Maybe your family didn’t have any or you don’t subscribe to them. Make your own and start a new generational tradition among your family or friends. Post about it on social media if you have an account. Start a trend. Inspire others.

Attend to self-care. Be extra gentle with yourself around this time of year. It can already be a dreary, cold time. Don’t beat yourself up for having a different life than others or for not being able to enjoy the season the way many others can.

Avoid over-indulging in sweets. While they make you happy in the moment, the inevitable crash can lead to depression. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself unless you have an issue with self-control around food, but make sure you’re not using sweets to fill the void in your life that this season can trigger.

Keep yourself busy. Attend to tasks you’ve been putting off like cleaning or donating unwanted items. Use this season to concentrate on productive pursuits instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity.

Be open to happiness and light. Don’t harden your heart or allow resentment to occur. Consider attending a Holiday party, inviting a friend over for dinner, or taking a drive to see the festive lights and decorations many people put out this time of year. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help an elderly neighbor. Embrace the good parts of the season even though you might find it sorrowful, as well.

I hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today is having a wonderful holiday. And I hope you’re taking care of yourselves in all of the most important ways, including attending to your mental health, and that you will continue to do so throughout this Holiday season. Stay safe and warm!

What the Jobs I’ve Held Have Taught Me About Myself

I’ve held several different jobs, in different fields. Some I have liked and felt were a good fit. Others I simply tolerated but did not feel comfortable doing or enjoy. I believe my experience is pretty typical of most workers. Here I’d like to consider the reasons behind why certain jobs were “right for me” and certain jobs weren’t. I think you can learn a lot about yourself based on the kinds of jobs you do well in and those you don’t, those that inspire you and those that drain you.

I have worked as a childcare professional, as both a private babysitter and in group settings (daycare and gym kids’ club). From this line of work, I have learned that I enjoy creativity in my job. For example, I got to make up games, do crafts, and make lots of cool things with Legos with the kids. However, the chaotic, unpredictable nature of children and working in child care do not jive with my spirit but instead cause me anxiety.

I have worked as a caregiver to the elderly via a senior care agency. I enjoyed the solo nature of this work —not having any coworkers—because I worked with private clients and generally in private homes. Even when I would go to a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital, I worked one-on-one with the client. I also really enjoyed hearing my elderly clients’ stories and life experiences from past eras, as I love history, and it intrigues me. However, similar to child care, it caused me great anxiety to have someone’s life in my hands or to have to respond quickly and competently to unexpected scenarios arising, such as dementia-related outbursts or medical emergencies. I am not great “on my feet” and feel much more secure when I have gotten the chance to prepare. Driving these clients (in my own car, no less) was also risky and stressful.

I have worked as a retail manager. I enjoyed, once again, the solo nature of this work. I worked in a tiny gift shop owned by an individual with two other managers in charge of the store. I worked second shift and was the only employee in the shop during my shift. Not even the owner was around unless he happened to drop by for a few minutes to take care of some business. I had great responsibilities including ordering stock, money- counting, ensuring shop security, etc. As a result, I took great pride in my job and enjoyed not being micromanaged by anybody. However, it was stressful not having anybody around to help when the shop was very busy or when I had to deal with irate customers.

I have worked as an at-home transcriptionist. The work was legal transcription of a court reporter’s audio files. It required incredible attention to detail and constant focus. I enjoyed using my grammar and spelling strengths in this position, the lack of coworkers and micromanagement, and the ability to take breaks when needed. I could stop early for the day and wake up to do work in the middle of the night if I wanted, as long as I got the work done by the deadline. However, the work was incredibly tedious and mentally-draining.

I have worked as a patient observer. This job was a non-medical position in a hospital emergency room that required me to do room searches and personal searches of patients deemed to be homicidal or suicidal, in order to protect everybody’s safety. It required me never to take my eyes off the patient and to ensure they didn’t have anything they could hurt themselves or others with, such as pens, scissors, or sheets (they might hang themselves). I was constantly pitted between what my supervisors wanted me to do and what the nurses on the floor wanted to be done, and this actually caused me to feel much greater anxiety and insecurity than working with violent patients.

Several years ago, I worked in a major corporate pharmacy chain for a day before quitting. I was hired as a retail associate and was required to do many tasks, including both stocking and cashiering. The training was minimal, most on the computer (so not very practical), and the job was absolutely chaotic. I’d be sitting on the floor stocking something on the bottom shelf when I’d be yelled at by someone to check the front counter because a customer (who I wasn’t able to see from my vantage point) was waiting to check out.

Several years ago, I worked for a major residential cleaning company for a week before realizing that kind of physical labor wasn’t going to be something I could stand on any kind of a consistent basis, and the pay scheme was such that you didn’t actually know how much you’d be paid.

I have worked as a live-in personal assistant. This was another job that allowed me great freedom over when I did my work and how I did my work. I worked for a woman who was the president of a company headquartered in NYC who needed me to cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, make/answer phone calls, and chauffeur herself and her teenage son. I had tons of free time during the day and could run errands of my own in-between. I would say in a 12-hour day I generally had about 2 hours’ worth of actual work to do. However, I felt a little trapped not being able to go back to my own home every night and feeling pressured to do things with the family members outside of my work hours.

My most recent job, up until Covid, was working a desk job in a call center. Although I had lots of coworkers, I rarely interacted with them because I was constantly on the phone doing work at my own cubicle. I have been working this job from home now since April. I enjoy interacting with members over the phone better than in-person, as it is less stressful for me. I enjoy that it is only inbound calls that I make and that it doesn’t include having to make any sales. However, it can be stressful dealing with computers and computer systems that don’t always work, as well as having to learn new systems and software from time to time.

I have learned from my work experiences that I don’t want to do emotional labor. It brings up too many feelings and memories of my own and I feel too great a responsibility for the person. I don’t want to be micromanaged but I do want to have the support there when I need it. I don’t like feeling as though my supervisors think I’m stupid, but I also don’t like feeling as though everything ultimately lies on my shoulders and I don’t have a sounding board. I like knowing what’s expected of me and having those expectations remain consistent. I don’t like being told contradictory information. I want to make sure I’m doing my job well. I like challenges but do not like being set up for failure. I appreciate jobs that are relatively routine but allow me to express my creative side and use my own discretion. I like doing my job but then also having a life separate from that job when the work day has ended. I don’t want work life bleeding into my “real” life. What have you learned about yourself based on the jobs you’ve held?

Can You Trust Your Memory?

Recently, I was discussing some events from a long time ago with a family member. I was surprised to find out that details I thought I very clearly remembered were incorrect. It got me thinking about the possibility of memory being untrustworthy. How is it possible to be so certain you remember something one way when it actually happened another? Or to be positive of certain people, places, or things, but have that information incorrect, as well?

It’s possible to confuse memories with secondhand information. For example, if a story is told enough times within a family, you might start to create mental images in much the same way you do when immersed in reading a book. Eventually, if asked, you will report that you remember an event or conversation of which you actually have no firsthand knowledge.

Your memory is largely filtered by your experiences, personality, and mindset. If you want something to have happened or to have played out in a certain way, it is possible to convince yourself it did. Also, two people can go through the exact same event together yet remember it very differently later on, because their respective minds are filtering the event through different mental paradigms. You might see an event as inherently positive, while somebody else involved could have a very different perspective on that memory. Additionally, if you have had similar experiences, it is possible to merge the memories of two separate occasions into one without realizing it. It’s also possible to use similar situations you’ve experienced to determine how you feel about a certain memory in a similar context. For example, if you generally had bad experiences at all your birthday parties growing up, your mind might not allow you to remember a positive birthday party experience you had because of your conditioned expectation that your birthday parties are not meant to go well, that something bad “always” happens. Personally, I engage in a lot of maladaptive daydreaming, which is a psychological term for creating a fake, yet very convincing reality in order to escape one’s traumas and disappointments. This kind of daydreaming can go on for hours at a time and seem very real. I have experienced confusion in the past when trying to remember if a certain conversation actually happened or if I had daydreamed it.

Your mind tends to fill in gaps in your memory over time. It can feel frustrating, unbalancing, even scary not to remember an event that happened to you in its entirety. It can feel urgent to remember. It can feel (and can actually be) dangerous to forget. It’s possible that after a while your mind will begin to fill in the missing pieces by itself as to give you an entire story, unbroken, from start to finish. I know there have been times I think to myself, “I used to know this. How could I have forgotten? I was even talking about this not so long ago. Did it go like this? That certainly makes sense in the story and I can see that happening, so I think it probably went like that.” Later on down the line, you won’t even remember that you had assumed that part had unfolded in a certain way. You will come to believe you had always retained the memory that way.

But why does any of this matter? How should the above be applied to living a peaceful, fulfilling life? So many people are holding themselves back because of what they deem to be bad memories of negative events that occurred to them in the past, sometimes in the far distant past. Events or conversations that took place and continue to haunt them until this day. Perhaps a recital they feel went terribly or an important talk with a friend they felt they didn’t handle well. However, as we have seen, many of our memories are simply our subconscious fears and insecurities pretending to be fact. Our memories may or may not have actually taken place. Speaking to other people who were there (if the memory is even real at all), it might be surprising to find out they have very different perspectives on what occurred. So do not allow the past to affect your future, because it might not really even be true reflections of your past. Do not elevate your perceptions and perspectives to the height of unarguable truth. Do not give something that might or might not even be real that kind of power over your happiness going forward. Realize that you are in control of your narrative and that you can choose to interpret life experiences as important or insignificant, fateful or impotent, ruinous or enlightening. All that ultimately exists and all that ultimately matters is the present.

Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Fear

I have come to realize, deep down, the only thing holding me back is fear. Not my past, not a lack of funds, or a luck of ability, or anything else. It is hard to admit I am scared. It’s much easier to claim guilt and anger, especially righteous anger, which is so useful for virtue-signaling. It’s much easier to claim sadness and disappointment, which are natural reactions to unpleasant circumstances or situations and which so often generate understanding and compassion from others. It’s easier to admit to frustration, which is typically a more surface and temporary emotion. It’s easier to admit to grief, which is usually a reaction to having lost something dear and which also usually results in pity and understanding from others. It is much harder to admit to fear. It feels like admitting to cowardice, impotence, and weakness. But freedom and power result when fear is acknowledged, confronted, and moved past.

So here goes:

I fear success.

I fear failure.

I fear my past.

I fear my future.

I fear what I don’t know.

I fear what I do know.

I fear what other people will think of me.

What do you fear?

How to Remain Present

Concentrating on the present, as opposed to regretting the past or worrying about the future, is important for mental health. But it can be incredibly difficult to remain in the present without allowing your thoughts to slip backwards or forwards. I have found some ways of remaining in the present that are very helpful for me.

First, I think about what I’m grateful for. This helps me realize that as negative as my past and as scary as my future might seem, I am not destined to only have bad in my life. I am lucky to have the present situation I’m in and I should not take it for granted or waste it.

Second, I move my body/get out into nature. It is harder not to be present when my five senses are stimulated. And getting out into nature grounds and calms me in a way nothing else can. I pay attention to my breath/body. How do they feel? Is there pain or tension anywhere? Is my breathing deep and even or shallow and quick? Massages and baths/showers are other sensory experiences that connects me more deeply with my physical body, leading my mind to stay in the present, as well.

Third, I spend time with uplifting people. This is extremely encouraging and enjoying the camaraderie makes falling into patterns of depressive/anxious thinking less tempting and therefore less likely to happen. I’ll admit that even before the pandemic my social life was greatly lacking. Improvement in this area of my life will have positive effects on my mental health.

Fourth, I make a list/stay busy. Concentrating on improving my present circumstances by checking items off either a literal or mental “to do” list is uplifting and makes it less likely I’ll feel the need to “disappear” into the past or future.

Fifth, I write down my current thoughts and feelings. I write what I am currently struggling with. I check in with myself at this present moment.

These are my favorite ways of staying present. You might have other ways that work for you. It is important to prioritize our mental well-being by staying present and not allowing ourselves to get stuck in the continuous and addictive loop of rehashing the past or mentally constructing our futures.

How Do I Find Books to Read?

As a book-lover, I am constantly on the hunt for books to read. But with all the books in print today, how do I find ones that appeal to me and are worthy of my time and attention?

First, I read books that some of my favorite authors have either recommended, cited in their own work, or said have inspired their own work. Chances are higher I will enjoy this unknown (to me) author’s work because of my favorite author’s vouching for them.

Second, I read other books from my favorite authors. Some authors stick with a certain genre, some don’t. But an author usually writes in the same style, giving some assurance I’ll enjoy other works of theirs.

Third, I Google topics I’m interested in learning more about or simply enjoy and I have Google recommend books to me. I then check their ratings and reviews on Goodreads to see what other readers have to say about them.

Fourth, I check my hometown library’s web site to see which books the employees are recommending. I figure they come across a lot of books and many are book aficionados and so if they’re recommending one as stand-out, it’s probably worth giving it a try.

Fifth, sometimes I will be reading a news article on a topic that interests me, and the writer will cite a book as a resource used in their research. I then see if my local library carries that book.

Sixth, I tend to avoid highly-prolific, famous authors, while seeking out Nobel-prize winning authors. In the first case, I feel all of their work ends up pretty similar to each other because they get complacent and also because their agents push them to get new work published. I also feel like once an author has a big enough name they become “too big to fail” and their works will continue to be published simply because of their household name even if the content isn’t high quality. I seldom read these authors unless the book description really captivates me. Nobel-prize winners, on the other hand, have earned their status, their works have important global themes with inspiring and new ways of thinking, and have gone a long way to changing the world for the better.

What are your favorite ways of picking new books to read? Perhaps you relate to many of the above or perhaps you are a member of a book club or use an app or scout out great books in other ways. Let me know!

Don’t Continue Down the Wrong Road

Many times I have been tempted to continue down the wrong path just because I had been on it so long and already committed to it so deeply that even the thought of leaving it was painful. Whenever I have given into this feeling, I have only ended up worse off than before. I did this with a masters program that I didn’t end up finishing. I now have massive amounts of federal student loans and will probably end up starting all over again in a new program. I did this with gym memberships. I had a year-long gym membership to one gym which I never used. I wrongly thought if I signed up and toured the gym, it would motivate me to actually use it. That wasn’t realistic, of course, and I ended up wasting a lot of money. Then a few years later, I made the exact same mistake and signed up at another gym. One year and hundreds of dollars later proved to be an exact repeat of the first time.

The lesson to be learned here is not to continue doing the same things you’ve always done if they don’t work for you — even if it means starting over or quitting something you’ve been working at a long time. Better to be a quitter at something that isn’t right for you so you can succeed at what is right for you. I’m not a gym person. I find them dirty and gross. I find them too loud, too bright, and intimidating. I don’t like working out in front of other people. These characteristics are not likely to change. Instead of continuing to try the gym route, I should find other ways of working on my physical fitness. And there are other ways — many of them.

Not everything is meant for you, and there is often more than one right way to achieve your desired outcome, whether it’s a career, weight loss, or any other goal you’ve set for yourself. Instead of making yourself miserable trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, be true to and gentle with yourself and find a strategy that works well for you. Don’t allow your ego to get in the way of admitting you were wrong and need to change something. And don’t allow other people’s opinions that you are “confused”, “don’t know what you want”, “flaky”, etc. to scare you away from starting something new. Fight the urge to give in to inertia. Realize that you’re worth the time and effort it will take to strike out in a new direction.