dog…with a message

Visited one of my favorite blogs, figments of a duchess, and was warmed by a particular post. Featured front and center is “woman’s best friend”…well, in this case it co-stars a man. Regardless of gender, the message is the same. Our furry companions will do anything for us…even going to great lengths if they’re allowed to be with us. I know Mocha would agree. Just not sure she’d have the courage of this canine. Especially since my husband and I don’t have the courage of this pet owner. Motorcycles? Not so much.

…enjoy… gratis my friend the duchess who first shared it…hugmamma.

reality vs. freedom and hope, dr. william petit

How does one wrap one’s brain around the horrific murder of a mom and two, untainted, beautiful, young daughters, one 17 and the other 11? Where do you begin to unravel the tightly wound “spool” that commingled the thread of 6 lives? How did they become entwined? Was it perchance, or was it fate? Where was God when this crime against humanity, against Him, occurred?

Apart from hearing of the Petit murders sensationally broadcast all over TV when they happened in 2007, I didn’t care to delve deeper into the crimes. Certain acts, like these, register too close to home to want to acknowledge them head on. It’s easier to turn away, so that your brain doesn’t absorb all the evil details, so that your imagination doesn’t prohibit you from living without fear.

 The Petit family may have lived a privileged life by virtue of Bill’s being a physician. Maybe that sealed their fate that day. But when one of the co-conspirators, Joshua Komisarjevsky, randomly selected Jennifer Petit and her daughter Michaela in a local supermarket as possible victims, he didn’t know that they were of above average means. Not until he and his partner, Steven Hayes, were well on their way to committing the heinous crime, did they establish how much money, $15,000, they could abscond. So the Petits were stand-ins for any number of American families. The configuration of victims and dollar amount might have differed, but the crime would have played out somewhere, according to the whims of the 2 men who decided to play God.

Dr. William Petit spoke with Oprah, allowing us insight into a victim’s agonizing recovery. Looking at him, only a “shell” remained. He has reconciled himself to living, deciding that suicide would remove any possibility that he could rejoin his loved ones in the after-life. Slumped on the formal sofa, eyes squinting from behind eye glasses, Bill’s voice barely resonated. Oprah seemed to infuse life into him with her gentle probing. Perhaps the interview was cathartic to the doctor’s healing process. It’s obvious he’s in need of a spiritual transfusion.

Having lost his family and his home, which the criminals burned to destroy the evidence, Petit has lost the essence of his identity. He was Jennifer’s husband, and father to Hayley and Michaela. Without them, it’s difficult to heed well-meaning advice from those who tell him to “live in the moment.” His past gone, and his dreams of the future destroyed, he feels disconnected from the present. Upon leaving the cemetery with his sister one day, he asked her “Who am I? Whose clothes are these?” No longer the same person, Bill is unconvinced that he will find happiness, or love once again. Because he suffers post traumatic stress, he gave up his medical practice, something he says Jennifer would want him to resume. He claims to have “good” days, and “bad” days. His sister is saddened on the days when her brother is unable to get out of bed, or when he shuts himself in a room, away from life.

“What is it called when you lose a child?” Petit asks Oprah. He explains that when a husband loses his wife, he’s called a widower; when a wife loses her husband, she’s a widow. The talk show hostess suggests that it’s unnatural for a child to die before its parent, so there is no word to describe his position after the loss. Petit agrees. When asked if he can forgive those who took the lives of his loved ones, Bill first lists crimes which could be forgiven, a car accident, a theft, verbal diatribes. But, he says, “it’s inappropriate to forgive the essence of evil.”

Talk of his daughters momentarily lights up Bill Petit’s eyes which twinkle, a smile creeping across his face. He had a special relationship with the eldest, Hayley, whom he nicknamed “KK Rosebud.” Her favorite saying had been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Smart and athletic, Hayley was bound for Dartmouth where she would continue to participate in sports as she had in high school. Had she known first love? According to her father, Hayley was in love with someone a year younger in school, for whom she would interrupt her studies to shoot hoops. Petit wished his daughter had experienced true love, before her life was snuffed out.

Michaela, the youngest, liked gardening, but loved cooking more. She cooked the family’s last meal together. Petit remembered it as being a very good meal.

Jennifer, Petit’s wife and partner in managing their lives, was a nurse and surrogate mom to the students in the boarding school where she worked. Amazingly, she also suffered with multiple-sclerosis, though she never complained about it, according to those who knew Jennifer. Daughter Hayley had started a foundation to support MS research in the hopes of saving her mom from the disease. After their deaths, Precious Petits continued the cause. Bill Petit sees the foundation’s purpose as three-fold. First, to fund educational programs, such as those in the sciences, especially to benefit young women; second, to fund MS research; and third, to help victims of violent crime.

Helping others has eased Petit’s heartache, as has knowing that the world is filled with many good people, like those who have contributed to the foundation. He knows too that Hayley and Michaela would want him to be happy. God isn’t to blame, instead they’re at a standoff, says Bill, a Christian. “He has nothing to do with what happens on earth.” Petit’s probably right.

Seems to me we’ve been given all we need to live our lives, including making our own decisions, correctly or incorrectly. There are cultures which see God manipulating their lives; that’s not our culture. Americans believe in freedom, for everyone. We also believe in hope, that we will live our lives without violence. But we know that reality is ultimately, an uncertainty. We can’t control what lies beyond our reach. So we enjoy our freedom, and hope, in silence, that our lives will be harmonious. That was Bill Petit’s expectation of his family’s life in suburban Connecticut.

But what reality subtracts from our lives, hope and freedom restores. Life is change, in small ways, as well as sizeable ones. These “detours” are the sum total of who we are, at the end of our lives. Bill Petit has just taken a detour on his journey through life, and he’s decided to go the distance. Somehow we all dig deep for the courage to go forward. What’s the alternative? Quitting? I think we’re too curious a species, not to want to know what might be just around the corner, or behind door #2, or awaiting us with the dawn of a new day. Who knows? The grandest of all gifts might still be waiting on the horizon.

Reality is, what is. Freedom and hope are what can be.

for Bill Petit as he discovers “what can be,” huge hugs…hugmamma.

 

“change your brain, change your life”

I have to credit Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain Change Your Life with my “detour” towards a more positive attitude. It’s the path I’ll continue to travel, as I journey “home.” With the information gleaned from the book, I’m pretty certain I’ve suffered a form of depression all of my life, and I’m sure my mom did as well. We battled our “demons”, mustering up all the courage we could gather from deep within, and relying upon the  support  of loved ones. At best, our attempts to help ourselves was haphazard. Sometimes our efforts succeeded, other times we probably “blew it.” We muddled through, with growing negativity as a constant companion. To survive, we felt compelled to sever relationships along the way, that might destroy our fragile psyches. Looking back, we were just trying to live our best lives, given the hand life had dealt us. Without a doubt, there must be many who have led similar lives.

All kinds of help is available these days, from psychiatrists to clinics to alternative health practices. There’s no quick fix for depression, nor one right way. However I am a proponent of Dr. Amen’s philosophy, for it has helped me understand the workings of my brain. And just as I take care of my body with the help of exercise, diet, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy, I am learning to look after my mental health, thanks to Dr. Amen’s message.

Your brain is the hardware of your soul. It is the hardware of your very essence as a human being. You cannot be who you really want to be unless your brain works right. How your brain works determines how happy you are, how effective you feel, and how well you interact with others. Your brain patterns help you (or hurt you) with your marriage, parenting skills, work, and religious beliefs, along with your experience of pleasure and pain.

If you are anxious, depressed, obsessive-compulsive, prone to anger, or easily distracted, you probably believe these problems are “all in your head.” In other words, you believe your problem is purely psychological. However, research that I and others have done shows that the problems are related to the physiology of the brain–and the good news is that we have proof that you can change that physiology. You can fix what’s wrong for many problems.

Depression is a physiological illness, just like diabetes or arthritis. Living in our high-tech, fractured society, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us suffer some form of depression, ranging from moderate to bipolar.

According to Dr. Amen’s book, my difficulty may lie within my brain’s Cingulate System. Glancing through the following checklist, I  have probably exhibited several of the symptoms, especially during the early years of my marriage. Maturity and motherhood helped me overcome some, but more recently, suggestions from Change Your Brain Change Your Life helped me to combat other symptoms, namely “excessive or senseless worrying,” “tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts,” and “tendency to predict negative outcomes.” But just as there’s no cure for arthritis, there is none for depression. Both have to be managed, which is fine with me. It’s a fact I’ve come to accept. Exercise and a reduction in sugar intake has helped lessen the arthritic pain in my lower back. And practicing Dr. Amen’s recommendations, has greatly minimized my depression.

CINGULAR SYSTEM CHECKLIST

Please read this list of behaviors and rate yourself (or the person you are evaluating) on each behavior listed. Use the following scale and place the appropriate number next to the item. Five or more symptoms marked 3 or 4 indicate a high likelihood of cingulate problems. 0=never/1=rarely/2=occasionally/3=frequently/4=very frequently

  1. Excessive or senseless worrying
  2. Being upset when things are out-of-place
  3. Tendency to be oppositional or argumentative
  4. Tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts
  5. Tendency toward compulsive behaviors
  6. Intense dislike of change
  7. Tendency to hold grudges
  8. Trouble shifting attention from subject to subject
  9. Trouble shifting behavior from task to task
  10. Difficulties seeing options in situations
  11. Tendency to hold on to own opinion and not listen to others
  12. Tendency to get locked into a course of action, whether or not it is good
  13. Being very upset unless things are done a certain way
  14. Perception by others that you worry too much
  15. Tendency to say no without first thinking about question
  16. Tendency to predict negative outcomes

GETTING UNSTUCK

The cingulate system of the brain allows us to shift our attention from thing to thing, idea to idea, issue to issue. When it is dysfunctional, we have a tendency to get locked into negative thoughts or behaviors; we have trouble seeing the options in situations. Healing this part of the mind involves training the mind to see options and new ideas. …Whenever you find your thoughts cycling (going over and over), distract yourself from them. …Sing a favorite song…Listen to music that makes you feel positive…Take a walk…Do a chore…Play with a pet…Do structured meditation…Focus on a word and do not allow any other thoughts to enter your mind (imagine a broom that sweeps out all other thoughts).

(Keeping busy has been my “default” response to low spirits. Ironing clothes is a “favorite”, a chore my mom taught me with pride, since that’s what she did at the orphanage where she worked. When I’m outdoors walking Mocha, nature’s beauty intoxicates my senses, forcing me to disengage from life’s frenzy. Indoors I get the same “high” watching a favorite Michael Jackson DVD, which gets my body pulsating to the beat. Sitting for a few minutes with one of my cat’s purring in my lap, makes me pause, enjoying the moment. And when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I thank God for all our blessings, and pray that all may live their best lives. This prayer alone has helped me fall asleep, because it stops the “ants”- automatic negative thoughts, dead in their tracks.)

Many people with cingulate problems have an automatic tendency to say no. Fight the tendency. Before answering questions or responding to requests in a negative way, take a breath and think first whether or not it is best to say no. Often it is helpful to take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and then take five seconds to exhale, just to get extra time before responding.

When you are stuck on a thought, it is often helpful to write it down. Writing it down helps to get it out of your head. Seeing a thought on paper makes it easier to deal with in a rational way. When repetitive thoughts cause sleeping problems, keep a pen and paper near your bed to write them down. After you write out a thought that has “gotten stuck,” generate a list of things you can do about it and things you can’t do about it. Use this simple exercise to unlock the thoughts that keep you up nights feeling tense.

(Blogging has been a God-send. It’s been cathartic in that I’ve been able to exorcise “demons” that have probably been roiling around inside my gut for too long, not only personal ones, but thoughts about the world in which I live.)  

When all of your efforts to get rid of repetitive thoughts are unsuccessful, it is often helpful to seek the counsel of others. Finding someone to discuss your worries, fears, or repetitive behaviors which can be very helpful. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.

(Coffee with friends has always been a great way to share problems and gain new insights, and perhaps discover helpful suggestions, and sometimes, even answers.)

Exercise can also be very helpful in calming worries and increasing cognitive flexibility. Exercise works by increasing brain levels of l-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid and has trouble competing against the larger amino acids to enter the brain. During exercise, more of the large amino acids are utilized to replenish muscle strength, which causes a decrease in the availability of these larger amino acids in the bloodstream. When this happens, l-tryptophan can compete more effectively to enter the brain and raise brain serotonin levels. In addition, exercise increases your energy levels and may distract you from the bad thoughts that tend to loop. I often recommend exercise for oppositional children as a way to improve their l-tryptophan levels and increase cooperation.

(Kristina’s exercise class has been a life-saver. During these last 5 or 6 years, it has been a healthy addition to my routine, not only for my physical well-being, but for my mental and emotional well-being as well. I can feel the difference in my mood and my energy level, when I’ve been remiss in my exercise routine. The same can be said for my visits to the chiropractor and massage therapist. They’re not luxuries; they’re necessities.) 

Low serotonin levels and increased cingulate activity are often associated with worrying, moodiness, emotional rigidity, and irritability. There are two ways that food can increase serotonin levels.

Foods high in carbohydrates, such as pastas, potatoes, bread, pastries, pretzels, and popcorn, increase l-tryptophan levels (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) in the blood, resulting in more l-tryptophan being available to enter the brain, where it is converted to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt in thirty minutes or less by eating these foods. Cerebral serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, peanut butter, eggs, green peas, potatoes, and milk. Many people unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in l-tryptophan.

For example, the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets that I recommend for low-dopamine states (related to prefrontal cortex underactivity) often make cingular problems worse. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid. When you eat a high-protein diet, the larger amino acids compete more successfully to get into the brain, causing lower levels of brain serotonin and more negative emotional reactiveness.

(Diet remains an ongoing challenge, but at least I’ve eliminated as much sugar as possible, and replaced simple carbs with complex ones, and continue to ramp up my intake of fruits and veggies. But I’m no angel; every now and then I “sin.”)

Dr. Amen also prescribes reciting the Serenity Prayer, as a way to combat repetitive negative thoughts. “The Serenity Prayer is repeated by millions of people around the world, especially those in twelve-step programs. It is a beautiful reminder that there are limits to what we can do in life and we need to respect that. Many people find it helpful to repeat this prayer every time they are bothered by repetitive negative thoughts. I recommend that you memorize at least the first (three) lines of the prayer (change it as needed to fit your own beliefs).”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you in the next.

-Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

 As we age physically and mentally, our quality of life can suffer. Money certainly helps sustain a certain lifestyle, but is it substantive if we’re unable to reap the spiritual rewards as well? I’m trying to remain as agile as possible, mentally, physically and emotionally so that I can continue to write, and enjoy life’s small pleasantries, until I no longer can. Changing my brain, has helped change my life, for the better.

our best lives, hugs for…hugmamma.

   

acknowledging trivia

We tend not to notice the “small stuff” we accumulate as part of our daily routine. Sometimes it’s good to pause and take note, for these things must be worthwhile if they’ve become part of our lives. So here’s what makes me “tick.” 

  • Biofreze was recommended to me by my chiropractor for use when I’m too lazy to pull out an ice pack for my aching muscles, which is always. Its label reads “Penetrating, long-lasting pain relief from: Arthritis, Sore Muscles & Joints, Back Pain.” From time to time, I have all of the above, often at the same time. I use it in spray form; my daughter uses a roll-on. This product is a lot easier to use than rubbing on BenGay or Tiger Balm. There’s no residual smell and I don’t need to wash it off my hands so I won’t inadvertently rub some in my eyes. I would imagine it’s obtainable on the internet.
  • Here’s an update on my “dry mouth.” I guess you could say I healed myself when I stopped using antihistamines. Doctors beware!  Here I come!…Interested in being my first patient?
  • Run, don’t walk to your local Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have one, then petition for one! Their merchandise is the closest thing to homemade that I’ve ever tasted. And my taste buds are really finicky, ask my husband, my daughter, my in-laws. My mantra is “If it doesn’t taste great, it’s not worth the calories!” It’s become my husband’s and daughter’s philosophy as well.
  • About my stack of Wall Street Journals, there must be at least 25 shoved into a cupboard waiting to be perused. Yes, I have difficulty tossing them out without so much as a “look-see.” Then there’s the stack of 6 or so in front of me on the computer desk. I looked at them, and saw some interesting articles, which I have yet to fully read. Now you know why I don’t subscribe to anything.
  • Probably won’t read this book for some time, but its title intrigued me “Hero of the Pacific – The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone” by James Brady. Has anyone ever heard of this man? My husband hasn’t, and he’s a walking encyclopedia about World War II. Well, I wanted to read this bio with “…revealing stories of Basilone’s youth in the Rockwellian any-town of Raritan, New Jersey, in the 1920s and 1930s; his first cross-country railroad trip with fellow soldiers in 1935; and his decisions to leave the Army and, later, join the Marines.” Basilone would go on to be a “…Marine gunnery sergeant known to his buddies as ‘Manila John’ ” who “first displayed the courage, tenacity, and devotion to duty that would define the remainder of his brief life and the manner of his death two years later on…Iwo Jima” Sounds like a story about men for men, but it’s also about a small town guy just doing his best with what life served up. Mightn’t this be any man, or woman’s, biography?
  • Had unexpected company for dinner this evening. A nephew and his girlfriend “Facebooked” me asking if we wanted to meet for dinner since they’d be in our “neck of the woods.” We invited them to dine with us. So I set aside blogging for a few hours, and my husband eased out of his recliner where he was watching “Patton” on TV. We drove to Trader Joe’s for a few groceries, came home and threw together a nice meal. It was a pleasant change to spend time with young folk. They’re in their 30’s, so they were old enough to “get” our humor, like my husband teasing that he’d trade me in for 2 – 30 year olds, a running joke since we were in our 40’s. They seemed to enjoy the side dish of sautéed, seasoned Portobello mushrooms, for  they ate them, without squishing up their faces in disdain. And they didn’t rush off when friends texted asking what time they’d meet up at a local tavern. I think they enjoyed our company too. Our house always rings with laughter, even when my husband and I are the only ones here.
  • Was just cuddling one of my Maine Coone-mixed breed cats, Juneau. He’s so desperate for attention that he tends to body slam anybody or anything nearby. Picking him up is like lifting a Costco size bag of potatoes. Watching him as he burrowed down into my chest, eyes closed as I stroked his head, these lines came to mind: “Three kittens, no mittens, no home, no mom. Three kittens found mittens, found home, found mom, found love.” How can I not love my pets, who give so much and expect so little in return.
  • As you can see, I’ve returned to blogging and my husband is snoring in front of the TV with the “movie looking at him.”  Our nephew informed us that that’s what his dad, my husband’s brother,  said happens when he falls asleep watching TV. I guess like brother…like brother.

will say a prayer for you at Mass…hugmamma.