friday fictioneers: light my way

Copyright - Erin Leary

Like a beacon in a world gone dark

your love shines bright

leading me back from the edge of despair.

Without you

where would I be?

Committed to an asylum?

Or worse…

buried six feet under.

Don’t ever leave my side, 

even if I push you away

a thousand times and more.

Keep telling me I deserve you,

that I’m worth your love.

The shadows recede

as the light of your love

fills the cracks of a heart that was broken.

Mine.

Cherish me always.

Warm me. 

Show me the way to daylight again.

Like a flower

I will bloom.cropped-img_2034.jpg

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nurturing thursdays: partnering for success

When my daughter broke off with her first beau, a brother-in-law with whom I’m very close told me …”She’ll be fine. They’ll both meet someone for whom they’re better suited.”Nashville 09-2010 00132

Those words have resonated with me ever since. 

Not only is the advice romance appropriate, I find it applicable to any relationship.

For some folks, like my husband, self confidence is a by-product of having been nurtured by great parents. Individuals whose love for one another was undeniable. And a love which blanketed their offspring, and all future generations…forever after.

On the other hand, the majority of people probably struggle with low self-esteem

I would suggest it better that these folks surround themselves with supporters, rather than detractors. Positive, not negative, personalities whose energy will help sustain and grow an otherwise wilting confidence.

However, just as my very wise and very beloved brother-in-law advised, everyone is suitable for someone. We just need to find the right one…

…be it a friend…or a lover…

………hugmamma.

"If you don't see your worth, you'll alwa...

 

our daily bread…words to inspire

Came across the following quote on Picture Perfect Memories for Life at http://coreenkuhnphotography.com/ which I was moved to repost here.

Deep in their roots all flowers keep their light… Theodore Roethke.IMG_4352

Seemed inspirational for those suffering depression. 

A reminder that though flowers may wither and die…on the surface. Their lives continue unfettered…underground.

When the warmth of sunny days return to envelop the earth…the flowers begin digging their way out from beneath the dirt that buries them.

So too are we allowed to crawl back into a fetal position to refresh and renew and…begin again. 

Depression need not be the end.

Let it be…

………a new beginning…

………hugmamma.

Personal Story out of Darkness

Another story inspiring hope and self-help. It may take some time, but we do have it within us to make changes for the better.

………hugmamma.

Godly Stewardship

image

I had symptoms of mild depression for more than a year at one stage. I was grieved, felt like my world was just hopeless, life was meaningless and my future seemed bleak. I was disappointed and extremely discouraged.

I also remembered being sick for a very long time perhaps 3 months or so and I could not go to work at all. At the time I was very alone- my parents were interstate and they had no idea what I was going through I kept it hidden. I did not know either that it was actually depression, heck I didn’t want to admit it.

I thought I would be able to make it better by just avoiding the world. So I Isolated myself. What did I do? I cleaned the house- it was always spotless. The rest of the time- pitied and felt sorry for my self.

Perhaps cleaning was…

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think…sunny!

We can’t be reminded enough about the power of positive thinking. Being bombarded by negativity everyday means we have to hunker down and…let the sunshine in!

Retrain your brain so you see the sunny side…by Joanne Hlavacek

  While studies indicate that genes have some 30% to 40% control over our mind-set, Elaine Fox, Oxford psychologist and author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain,  suggests it’s possible to retrain our brains through actions. Her advice for a sunnier outlook:

Count your blessings. If you record your day in a diary and review the entries later, it becomes easier to see just how much in your life is going right. “We know that by doing these kinds of techniques, the biases will gradually start to change,” Fox says.

 Make time for you. Distancing yourself from stress helps eliminate a negative mind-set. “Literally take 10 minutes in the day out to sit…turn off everything.” Fox advises. She also recommends spending time outdoors.

Push yourself. Fox found that pessimists often hang back and wait for things to happen instead of taking initiative. To combat this tendency, she recommends putting extra effort into something meaningful to you. That could be raising the bar at work, adding distance to your morning run or spending more time with your kids. “Pushing yourself and exceeding your comfort zone is very important,” Fox says.

(USA WEEKEND, 9/21-23/12)

so stretch out…and…get some sun!

………hugmamma.

why?…the big C

When you least expect it, life can turn on a dime.

I currently know 2 people who are battling cancer. One, a friend’s father who is losing his fight with recurring melanoma. The other, a dear brother-in-law who learned he has follicular lymphoma…an incurable cancer.

LYMPH NODES-SPLEEN: SPLENIC INVOLVEMENT BY FOL...

LYMPH NODES-SPLEEN: SPLENIC INVOLVEMENT BY FOLLICULAR LYMPHOMA This illustration depicts the classic appearance of spleen involved by follicular lymphoma, namely the presence of discrete, miliary, small, white “pearly” nodules throughout the whole parenchyma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m having difficulty wrapping my brain around both cases. In fact, I feel mentally claustrophobic unable to break away from the constant flow of negative thoughts.

How? A recurring question…with no answer.

There’s no definitive reason why someone is stricken with cancer.

Yes, one’s lifestyle can be scrutinized.

Do you smoke? Or do you live with smokers? You know…second-hand smoke.

Do you inhale red meat? Or feast on fast foods 24/7?

Have you harvested the minimum amount of fruits and veggies? Or are you anti-vegetarian to the point of gagging at the mere mention of…rabbit food?

Exercise? Not your cup of tea? Couch potato more your style?

Alcoholic? Drug Addict? Sex addict?

Do you believe…in God? Or do you thumb your nose every chance you get?

Are you sleep-deprived? Or stressed out all the time?

Are you selfish? Or selfless. Volunteering and getting high on altruism?

Smiley faces? Or frowney faces? What’s your reset button?

Is depression dragging you down?

And in our hysterical, political climate being a bluebird or a cardinal might infect the healthiest body with cancerous cells.

My brother-in-law is an admirable specimen. Everything in moderation…except when it comes to compassion…and hope.

He eats well, drinks in moderation, surfs and takes walks, is religious where it counts…in everyday life, has never smoked, and doesn’t hesitate to help others. I’ve no idea his political persuasion because he’s not one to grandstand.

He makes me laugh. Gigantic belly laughs. From the moment we embrace hello…the jokes fly. We are so in sync that we could be a comedic act. My daughter has often remarked how her uncle and I don’t even pause to think about our comebacks. And those who are with us can’t help but be swept along in our insane garble. Our mother-in-law was one of our biggest fans. God bless her soul…we were both huge fans of hers as well.

One look at my sister-in-law, his wife of many years..confirms their deep and abiding love.

So how does it happen? Cancer.

I’ve no idea. But I’m involving myself in my brother-in-law’s fight without being asked. I’m hanging out my shingle…“hugmamma, m.d.” I’ve already done some Googling on follicular lymphoma and texted my sister-in-law the information I found.

As I await instructions…I send my love and prayers and mountains of laughs…to a brother-in-law…

…who’s always been…like my brother…

………hugmamma.

the fickle finger of fate…then…and now

Salmon Days

Image by Jeff Youngstrom via Flickr

I remarked to my husband as we strolled through streets overflowing with out-of-towners, “Can you imagine if the shooter had chosen today to leave his mark in our midst?” With thousands drawn to celebrate the return of salmon at our annual “Salmon Days” festival, the police were out in force. A sign of the times.

Gathering from the news reports days after the incident, it seems the shooter had rented a car which he’d driven 500+ miles before running out of gas in our town. Abandoning it and taking only 2 guns from the cache later found in the car, he bypassed people going about their business, without killing anyone. 

Calls were made to 911 which confused the police. They weren’t able to discern if more than one suspect was roaming the area. It may be that he was seeking another means of escape, because the owner of a parked car called out when he saw the shooter attempt a break-in. Not long afterwards, he and the police got into a shootout and he was killed.

According to a friend of his, the shooter had visited our police station some time prior to last weekend. He was carrying an unregistered gun, for which he asked to be arrested. The police didn’t comply, claiming he’d not committed any violations. His friend felt the gunman was seeking help for himself. It is surmised that he intended to commit suicide, allowing himself to be killed during the shooting spree.

With more and more suicides cropping up in the media, I wonder at the hopelessness that seems prevalent nowadays. With money being the key to paradise, good old-fashioned values are being exorcised from society.

I am my brother’s keeper.
He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
We are all God‘s children.
Share and share alike.

There are those trying desperately to curtail the suffering of those in need of help. But is it too little…too late? The ever-widening crack threatens to swallow up those who are free-falling in the current environment of negativity. Amidst the politicians and their followers who are doggedly clinging to their righteous ways, and the wealthy power brokers who are continuing to pick through the rubble snatching up “baubles” for their portfolios…human beings are being offered up as sacrificial lambs. In the grand scheme of things, they are expendable, it seems. They’re just statistics, whose numbers are ever-growing.

So rather than wait to be sacrificed, some are impaling themselves…and committing suicide. And I can’t help but think……these are someone’s children. A mother gave birth…with great hopes for ner newborn.

…what happened…to us?…where are the values upon which america was born?…

……..hugmamma.   

“true you,” more than enough

Almost done reading True You: A Journey To Finding And Loving Yourself by Janet Jackson. Yes, she’s “the” Janet Jackson, sister of Michael Jackson. But I wouldn’t have read it for that reason alone. Interviews of her by Meredith Vieira, and then by Piers Morgan, piqued my interest. Prior to that, I really wasn’t motivated to know more about Janet. Other than her videos, songs and a couple of films, she wasn’t in the media, unless it was to do with her more famous sibling. The youngest Jackson, and second most celebrated, Janet favored living her personal life in the shadows. The reason, as revealed in her book, is that she has suffered low self-esteem her entire life.

True You is probably one of the best biographies I’ve read to date, although Janet doesn’t refer to it as such. She prefers to think of it as a spiritual and physical journey towards accepting and loving, one’s true self. The unique element about her story is its compassion throughout. There’s nothing narcissitic about the book, although the focus is obviously upon her. Janet bares her soul, but does so in relation to her commonality with all of us. We can all relate to her experiences. She’s one of us. And that’s where she seems most comfortable. She appreciates and is grateful for her position and wealth, but not at all like the other so-called “rich and famous.” While Michael remains my favorite performer, Janet is definitely my choice for BFF, that is if I had a choice.

One of the things I enjoy most is how Janet weaves anecdotes shared with her by others, whether personal acquaintances, or strangers who have written letters. Their stories are as poignant as hers, and she generously acknowledges this by featuring them throughout the pages of her book. I like that about Janet, her generosity and her humility too. Wish Michael could have been as balanced in his personal life. But his sister admits that it has taken all of her 40+ years to get where she’s at, and she’s still not done yet.

a lesson for all of us…True You …hugmamma.

the “power of words,” beware

Spent the night tossing and turning as negative thoughts about this, that, and the other, crept into my overactive brain. As I fought to regain control of my positive self by repeating good thoughts, I finally felt as though an invisible hand reached in yanking me from the fray. I’m sure you’ve had such moments, perhaps not as I’ve described. But I’m a writer so I tend to dramatize.

The “invisible hand” was the realization that Kitty Kelley, via Oprah: A Biography, had inadvertently infiltrated my spirit with negativity. It may be that all she says is true, as told by those she interviewed. Of course it’s their perception of events and occurrences to do with Oprah. Meanwhile, the woman herself did not speak on her behalf. So we must take the words written about her with the proverbial “grain of salt,” in this case a whole shaker full.

I don’t question others’ perceptions; I do question the author’s need to slant her “tell all” with overwhelming negativity. As a biographer, Kelley feels compelled to delve deep. But the truth she reveals can be edited to corroborate what will drive readership and therefore, sales. Just as Oprah may not be the altruist everyone perceives, Kelley may not be the diligent author she presents herself to be.

Other than financial gain, why would Kelley choose to decimate Oprah’s visage as the great humanitarian? In speaking of the failed attempt by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu to get Oprah nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Kelley writes:

I started the Nobel movement after Oprah appeared at the Dream Academy Dinner (May 24, 2005) to raise money for at-risk children whose parents are in prison,” said Washington, D.C., publicist Rocky Twyman. “When she stood up, praised God, opened her purse, and gave that Dream Academy a million dollars, I wanted to get her the Nobel Peace Prize…but the Nobel committee did not want to give it to a celebrity. So I formed a committee, and we talked to Dorothy Height (president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women), who was all for Oprah because Oprah had given Dr. Height two-point-five million in 2002 to pay off the mortgage on the NCNW headquarters….Dr. Height contacted Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu, and we set out to get publicity to collect a hundred thousand signatures for Oprah’s nomination to present to the Nobel committee….

“Unfortunately, we only got forty thousand signatures…because a lot of men, black and white, refused to sign…and a lot of religious people would not sign because they said Oprah was not married to Stedman and she gave a bad example to our young people by her lifestyle. I believe we all sin and come short of the glory of God, but these folks, mostly from black churches, and all conservative and law-abiding, felt very strongly that Oprah had put herself above the laws of God. I was stunned, but I’m afraid there are strong feelings against her in our (African-American) community….Of the forty thousand signatures we were able to get, most were white, not black. We got a lot of publicity and raised awareness for her getting the prize, but in the end I guess God did not want it to happen.”

Good read, but essential? Only in a gossipy tell-all book, trying to leach off the wealth and celebrity of another. I got sucked in, yes, but most biographies I’ve read have a thread of compassion running through them. When I turn the last page, I’m usually filled with sadness that once again fame and wealth has destroyed, rather than helped, someone’s life. By comparison, Oprah: A Biography, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. All the negativity consolidated in one place by the author’s self-serving manipulation of the facts, goes against my beliefs.

My gut instincts now tell me to be wary of silver-tongued writers. Readers with a stronger stomach and a less-sensitive constitution may be unaffected. I take what others say, to heart. Living and working in New York City left its mark, for I am cynical. But my island roots run deep, and my Aloha spirit makes me more empathetic, especially when Oprah’s childhood was not one of happiness and privilege. I may not condone all she does, but I take the good with the bad. She’s human like the rest of us, no matter what she and her fans might think, and say.

the power of words…be wary of their effect…hugmamma.  

helping the disenfranchised, “real change”

Today I was reminded of what I’d seen occur elsewhere in the country. A black man stood outside the front door of Trader Joe’s, approaching customers as they walked into the store. He seemed to gauge a person’s reaction first, before stepping forward. He was in the process of speaking with someone when I walked by, entering the market.

After making my purchases, I exited Trader Joe’s heading for my car where I unloaded the groceries. Returning to the front of the market with the empty cart, I decided to ask the man who’d been there when I entered, what it was he was selling. I had a hunch about his product, but wasn’t absolutely certain.

I waited while he moved wayward carts into position where they were housed. When I asked what he was selling, he confirmed what I’d thought. He was selling “Real Change,” probably more widely known as the “homeless” newspaper, at a dollar apiece. Fumbling though my wallet, I parted with my last $3, and told him I only wanted one paper.

On several visits to the city where my daughter resides, we’d see one or two individuals selling newspapers on the sidewalks outside of church, as we were driving away. Unsure as to who they were, we never slowed down to inquire. Not too long ago, a friend with whom she dances told my daughter that the people we’d seen, and others like them, were homeless men and women trying to earn money. They’d purchase each copy for $.35, and sell them for $1 each. A way to make a living, however meager.

In reading through the few pages that comprise the “Real Change,” I find it to be a “mixed bag” of articles pertaining to those who live on the fringes of society.

“Don’t overlook dangerous stereotypes of the mentally ill” written by Judy Lightfoot, a contributing writer, is about Washington’s SEIU Healthcare union’s use of inflammatory imagery on behalf of mental illness, to keep legislators from cutting funding . Suggesting that sufferers of the disease might resort to violent crimes if government aid is withdrawn, has other advocacy groups up in arms. Some 300 of them have raised concerns that such a stigma would prove unfavorable for their clients in the short, and long-term. After much back and forth, both sides agree they should work together on behalf of the mentally ill. Jonathan Rosenblum at SEIU Healthcare 1199NW concluded that ” ‘All of us who advocate for better mental health care have a tough job to do, connecting the dots with the general public without causing more fear of “the Other.” There’s always a fine line between hauling out the crisis and stigmatizing,’ ” but what advocacy ” ‘ does not need is a lot of “he-said-she-said” about stigmatizing. We need to work together.’ “

“Othello public market aims to create multicultural bazaar”  by another contributing writer, Tom Fucoloro, is more upbeat, demonstrating that living on the fringes is not all bad. It can offer variety, and add “color” to drab existences. A non-profit group is retrofitting a large “Citadel” building which formerly served as a bowling alley, a retail center, a church, and recently, as a venue for raves. The Othello Public Market will be a large, year-round, indoor, public market reflective of the area’s cultural diversity. Current census data indicates that Seattle’s 98118 zip code is the most ethnically diverse in the United States. Market founder Mateo Monda “hopes to fill the big blue building with stalls of produce, hot food, live chickens, a creamery, jewelry and cell phone sales…He has mainly been searching for people whose products are affordable and add to the range of cultures represented. Of course, American food and goods are still welcome…….. ”  Of his personal life Monda says ” ‘I’m living in a sit-com situation, basically,’ with his 81-year-old father, 2 Mexican daughters entering their teens, and his dog.”

From the “Director’s Corner” comes this

I’ve recently been advised that I need to be more positive. That all this doom and gloom about how bad things are just doesn’t do it for people. They want to know about solutions, not problems. They would like more stories about how, amid the wide-spread screwing of the poor, someone got off the street through effective case management and into affordable housing.

It happens. But if people want reassurance that our efforts are somehow adequate and that things are remotely OK, they don’t need me. There are plenty of others, from HUD on down, who are happy to give that perspective. According to them, chronic homelessness is down by 5 percent.

The 2010 National Conference of Mayors’s report on hunger and homelessness is a bit more believable. In the 27 cities surveyed, requests for food assistance rose last year by an average of 24 percent. Here in Seattle, we report that 18 percent of demand went unment, and that food banks are struggling to accommodate rising need without increased resources.

One politician promoted in the article as a role model for others is Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota, who calls for an increase in taxes for the wealthy “whose fortunes have only improved amidst widespread economic pain.” Dayton is quoted as saying, “ ‘To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase–including no forced property tax increase–I say, if you can do so without destroying our schools, hospitals and public safety, please send me your bill, so I can sign it immediately.’ “

The article concludes,

Our work, simply put, is to create the environment where leaders such as Dayton can survive and win. If the people, as Gregoire says, ‘have spoken’ and there will be no new taxes, it’s because she has not offered the right message. We need to help her with that.

“real change”…a newspaper with a message…hugmamma.

check out the “real change” website for more information, and while there, view their mission statement on youtube.

“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.