Tag Archives: respect

Embrace Anger

The first time that I had a long-term relationship with a counselor (how can I write that so it doesn’t sound romantic?), at one of our first meetings, he asked me to buy and read the book “The Dance of Intimacy” by Harriet Lerner, PhD. I asked why I had to pay for counseling AND a book. Couldn’t he provide the book for free, or lend it, or tell me what’s in it, if it was so important? He said that I didn’t have to buy the book, but it would save time, and give us some common vocabulary as we discussed issues.

I bought the book, read it, and the following week, I reported that I did so, and asked “What’s next?” He looked stunned, and asked if I had any questions about the material covered. I said, no, I’m a good reader, and that it was all familiar concepts. I was eager to move on with this counseling process. He asked me to buy another book: “The Dance of Anger” by the same author. I rolled my eyes, bought it, sat down to read it cover to cover, and went “WHOA!!!!!” after just the first few pages. This book was completely over my head. I spent years reading and rereading sentence fragments, trying to make sense of the material. I never realized how angry I was, and how poorly I handled my anger.

The core lesson that I learned from the book is that anger indicates that I’m not saying how I feel or what I want. I remember that lesson often now.

Twenty years later, I am participating in an Anger Management course. I am continuing to learn how to recognize my anger, and to plan strategies for dealing with it in constructive ways. Here are some highlights so far:

Feeling angry can distract me from what I want

Anger can make me blame others instead of taking responsibility for what I want

Recognizing that I’m feeling angry can bring an important issue to my attention

Feeling angry can move me to do something constructive

How do YOU turn anger into your friend?

 

Image credit:
Red Hulk by Marcel Trindade, used under Creative Commons License by-2.0.

Advertisements

Mental Health Athletes

I greatly appreciate writers who share ideas for attracting readers, for example, at Twitter: #amwriting #amreading; and at Google+: the Saturday Scenes and Writers Discussion Group communities.

Here are thoughts that I would like more authors to consider when sharing what they write about mental illness.

I often perceive an “us and them” way of thinking, for example when a writer claims, “it’s very easy to tick them off.” I suggest that we all have triggers that are easy to spark; people with a specific issue aren’t unique in that regard. The quote conjures visions of a herd of people with the issue, wound tight like springs, ready to attack. With this image in mind, I can see why some people try to keep a wide berth between “us” and “them.” Remember that all people are people. Attackers attack, resilient people bounce back, doormats are trampled, and so forth, regardless of specific issues.

Attack

Fiction can be better at building understanding than nonfiction. Novels can make challenges and solutions vivid for the readers. I’m thinking of Hamlet and Don Quixote, Sybil, and more recently Cut, and The Silver Linings Playbook.

Mental illness is like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes: all can be addressed with preventive measures and therapies, and all are invisible to most of us.

A person who is not dealing with a mental health issue, but is writing about a character who is, is like a male writing about a female, or a European writing about an Indian. It is like being a real person writing about someone who is not. A key is getting feedback from people who have similar characteristics.

The most enthusiastic readers might be those who recognize something in common with at least one of the main characters. Therefor, reaching out to people who have an illness that is similar to the fictitious condition should be effective. However, main characters have more to them than just one issue. Draw on those other similarities as well.

Consider that the only difference between someone who has a mental health issue, and someone who doesn’t, is that one is seeking treatment. Everyone deals with mental health; the people who are working on their mental health issues are like athletes who are working on their physical health issues.

Healthy-Athlete

We are all working on putting our best foot forward.

P.S. I found more guidelines for writing about mental illness, for people who are looking for more specific advice. What are your favorite resources? Which resources have you discovered recently?

 

Image credits:

Woverine vs. Hulk, by Marcel Trindade.

Fields Squats, Fields Prosthetic, and Fields Runs 200, by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs.

All images used under Creative Commons License by-2.0.

Police Brutality and Fear

Howard University students protesting police brutality in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri
A conversation is taking place at Dungeon Prompts regarding whether, and how, race colors our perceptions of police brutality.

My perception of police brutality is colored by my personal experiences, which are colored by my racial status.

The Context

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Brown — an unarmed black young man — was shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Witnesses say that Mike’s hands were in the air when he was shot.

My Personal Experiences

As a white woman, I was raised to present myself effectively in a non-threatening way, and people perceived me as respectable and trustworthy. They didn’t read my mind. I was fantasizing about using my advantage to become a professional criminal when I grew up. (My desire to continue to be trusted, and to feel free from the haunting paranoia that I stifled after each incident, deterred me from following such a plan when I was still a teenager.)

As I was deciding to be a criminal, someone very close and dear to me married a man who became a police officer. As he took on the responsibilities of being a rookie, he had to walk the beat in the most dangerous areas of New York City during the most dangerous times. Their relationship became explosive. One day, while he felt enraged during an argument, he took out his gun and pointed it at her. Eventually, she discovered that this was not acceptable behavior in our culture, and she filed for divorce.

Years later, I was in a similar situation in which I no longer felt safe with my husband. Eventually, I, too, discovered that this was not acceptable behavior in our culture, and escaped to safety, with the help of supportive friends.

Around the same time, someone very dear to me found police waiting for him at his home. They strategically persuaded him that he met the description of someone who had committed a violent crime. The long and aggressive interrogation ended with, “We know that you did this. We’re going to get you.”

Conclusion

In these three cases, each aggressive man — who was a highly valued member of his community — felt fear, and misdirected it toward someone whom he identified as a threat, like in Ferguson, Missouri. How can such behavior ever be considered acceptable?

I want to feel safe. Even though my race and socioeconomic status assure me that I am not a likely target, events of police brutality hinder my trust, and feed any paranoia that has a chance to dwell in me.

Sorry, Wrong Number?

cordless phone by televisionThe phone rang. My husband and I were in the middle of dinner and a movie, so we let the answering machine pick up, as usual. We expected that it was one of the dinner-time callers who repeatedly tried to connect with us even though we registered on the Do Not Call list.

“Hey Mom. I’m sorry I missed Mother’s Day and your birthday. I just wanted to let you know I got home safely.”

A huge smile swelled in me because I was delighted to hear from my son, and thrilled that he decided that talking with me was important enough to use a telephone. Sometimes he contacted me on Mother’s Days and my birthdays, but it was never a big deal when he didn’t. I hadn’t heard his voice since he visited five months earlier. His deep bass tones surprised me, like they did when he last visited. I was still used to his boyish tones. I dashed to pick up the phone before he finished leaving his message.

He sounded relaxed, smooth, and genuine. His words seemed to come from a deep place within him. I hoped that this indicated that he was feeling secure and calm. This might mean that the storm of adolescence was relaxing its grip on him as he transformed into a young adult. I felt relieved to not hear the familiar tension and uncertainty restraining the words coming through his throat. His voice may have betrayed the effects of drugs, but he spoke clearly enough for me to feel somewhat confident while I dismissed that worry.

He told me that he was organizing a Freedom Concert in St. Petersburg, Florida. I knew that he had liked driving to the southeastern states during college breaks, so I felt glad for him. I knew that he enjoyed organizing events, and wondered if this was like one of the beer binge bashes that he had coordinated before, or a more respectable festival that promoted one of the nonprofit groups that he supported. He said that he was afraid to tell me about it because he didn’t know if I agreed with that kind of cause. I wondered what the cause might be. Freedom. Concert. When have I ever been opposed to freedom or concerts?

He sounded so cautious, I urged him to send me something about it. He responded with surprise, and said that he would. I told him that it didn’t matter if I agreed with the cause; I cared about him, and wanted to know about what he was doing, whatever it might be. He sounded surprised again when he thanked me.

To drive my point home, I told him that I was really glad that he called, and that I loved him so much. Pause. He said that I didn’t know how much that meant to him. I nearly cried. Poor kid. What had he been going through that such words would make such a difference? He said, “I love you too, sweetie.” My son never called me “sweetie” before. Again, I considered that he was stoned out of his mind, or maybe someone was impersonating him while he laughed in the background.

I felt sad for my son. Poor me. I was so eager to have that kind of conversation with him, that I deliberately chose to take a chance on being wrong about whom I was talking with. I decided to enjoy it, rather than admit my skepticism. My heart wanted the caller to be my son. I wanted him to call me to chit-chat this openly, and find that I loved him more than he realized.

I wanted him to let me know when he had any doubts about being precious.

He asked me how my work was going, and quickly added that he wouldn’t want to be in my shoes. I laughed and wondered what he meant, but just continued to listen.

He told me that he missed me. I let a little skepticism slip in.

I asked about the earthquake that I felt earlier that day. The epicenter was near where he lived. He said that he was still working until 3 in the morning sometimes, so might not have felt it. I wondered what he might have been doing at 3 in the morning when he worked at a store that kept him very busy during regular business hours. More skepticism slipped in. I asked him to tell me about what his work was like.

Then I heard that moment of silence that indicated that his call waiting was signaling him, and he said, “Dad is calling me. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.” This didn’t surprise me at all: my son always responded quickly when his father wanted his attention, and his father always kept phone calls short.

When I let go of the phone, I immediately went to my computer to look up the Freedom Concert. I found that it was raising money for an African Socialist food bank. How sad that anyone would think that their mother would object, to such a degree that he would be afraid to tell her about his involvement in such a project.

My husband and I replayed the answering machine message several times, debating whether it was my son’s voice.

No call back. I wished I had caller ID so that I might have been able to resolve this mystery for certain.

A few days later, I texted my son to ask if he had heard of the Freedom Concert in Florida. He said no. I asked him if he had called me lately. He said no. I told him about the phone call, and he responded, “LOL”. I told him that I loved him, and he said, of course he knew it.

I am writing this for the young man who called me, and for his mother. Imagine how he felt when he heard someone whom he thought was his mother tell him that she loved him; how he felt when I responded to him with an unexpected amount of caring. I thank my lucky stars that I don’t remember ever struggling with expressing my love for my son, even when he didn’t seem to regret doing things that I didn’t like. More than ever, I am savoring that my son and I connect monthly. Texting is keeping us connected better than any other means is likely to.

Imagine if the other son called his mother, expecting her to respond the same way that I did. Imagine that he moved her to say, “I love you more than you ever imagined,” and, “I’d love to hear about the African Socialist food bank.”

Imagine if she rose to his expectations.