Stop Coping Start Living

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Dream Deferred

A Dream Deferred
-- Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over -
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

When I first read the poem "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes, it made me so sad. It seems to articulate what happens to dreams when they die. Being forced to accept that your dreams will never become a reality does not bring peace. Those broken dreams don't just slip away into the night. Instead they shrivel or fester, or drag your body down in pain, or cause explosions inside of you that destroy your heart and soul.However one word of the poem leaves reason for hope. The word "deferred." Deferred doesn't mean lost, gone, or never. Instead, it merely means postponed or delayed, put off to begin or be resumed at a future time.

Don't let your dreams die. Don't give up that they will never become a reality. Instead, hold on to the belief that they are merely deferred, still in reach for you to collect at a future time.

Another interpretation of the poem for me is also in the last line, "Or does it explode?" Perhaps when one too many dreams are taken from you, left to shrivel up in the sun or fester like a sore, the pain, rage, and desperation inside of you is so great, that it will drive you to take action and not let any more dreams be taken from you.

This poem always makes me think of the football team, the Indianapolis Colts, particularly quarterback Peyton Manning and Head Coach Tony Dungy. Over and over their dream of going to the Super Bowl was taken from them. "Great quarterback. Can't win the big games" was the word on Manning. Tony Dungy, fighting a culture where few African American coaches are even given a chance. Year after year, a broken dream.

If ever a broken dream exploded, it was in AFC Championship game, the Colts down 21-3 against the New England Patriots, one of the NFL's most formidable teams. What followed was truly an explosion of the fight for survival, a passionate and intensity led by Peyton Manning and his team, "You aren't going to take one more dream from us." The Colts showed a tireless resiliency and resolve, coming back to defeat the Patriots, claiming the AFC title in one of the greatest championship games in history, and going on to win the Super Bowl.

When you are ready to surrender to the utter devastation of lost dreams, remember Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy and the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, not the most talented team in the League, but the one who fought the hardest and wanted it the most.

It's first & 10, what's your next play?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

You gotta get back up

Mountains by Lonestar

There are times in life when you gotta crawl,
Lose your grip, trip an' fall
When you can't lean on no-one else:
That's when you find yourself
I've been around an' I've noticed that,
Walkin's easier when the road is flat
Them danged ol' hills'll get you every time
Yeah, the good Lord gave us mountains,
So we could learn how to climb

Bobby, Bobby Dunn came back from the war,
Lost his leg but they couldn't take his will
Hell bent to run in that local marathon,
He trained through the endless pain an' pills
It hurt so bad that sometimes,
He just had to cry,
He didn't stop until he crossed,
That finish line

There are times in life when you gotta crawl,
Lose your grip, trip an' fall
When you can't lean on no-one else:
That's when you find yourself
I've been around an' I've noticed that,
Walkin's easier when the road is flat
Them danged ol' hills'll get you every time
Yeah, the good Lord gave us mountains,
So we could learn how to climb

This world ain't fair,
It can knock you on your butt
You can just lie there,
Or you can get back up
You gotta get back up

There are times in life when you gotta crawl,
Lose your grip, trip an' fall
When you can't lean on no-one else:
That's when you find yourself
I've been around an' I've noticed that,
Walkin's easier when the road is flat
Them danged ol' hills'll get you every time
Yeah, the good Lord gave us mountains,

The good Lord gave us mountains
So we could learn how to climb
Yeah, oh

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Coping with the Holidays

From Wing of Madness

Let's face it - even in an un-depressed state, the holidays are stressful and often disappointing. We run ourselves ragged buying gifts, cooking, decorating and entertaining. Tempers flare as we're thrown together with relatives whom we see infrequently, and don't necessarily enjoy spending time with. Expectations are high that this season will be magical and perfect as we try to recapture the wonderment we felt as children waiting for Santa.

Being Depressed During the Holidays - I'm in Hell, Right?

So that's my view of how holidays can be when you're not depressed. When you are depressed, it's like Dante created your own private circle of hell. The idea of doing all this holiday stuff while you're depressed is beyond overwhelming. Shop for Christmas or Chanukah presents? You're having trouble getting out to shop for food! Decorate the house? You don't even know if you'll get laundry done so you'll have clean underwear tomorrow. Send out Christmas cards to 50 of your closest relatives and friends? What would you say in them - "Doing awful. My new pastime is staring at the ceiling. I hate myself. My clothes are falling off me because I don't eat anymore. I can't wait till the holidays are over. Don't bother to call. By the way, Happy Holidays!"

It's miserable to be depressed during the holidays. One reason is that you know that you really should be enjoying all the wonderful things that come along with them. As down as I sound on the season, I really do enjoy a lot of Christmas-sy things - decorating the tree and the house, giving and receiving presents, watching Rudolph and the Grinch and even sending out Christmas cards. But when I'm depressed, the fact that I can't enjoy these things makes me twice as miserable, and I berate myself for not partaking fully in the joys of the season.

The second thing that makes it so hard to be depressed during the holidays is that doing the holidays right requires planning and organization. If you're depressed, you're so far from having those capabilities that it's pathetic. You can't even plan past the next five minutes, let alone a whole holiday season. And organization? Please! You probably are about to have your electricity cut off because you haven't been able to organize yourself enough to pay your bills.

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas? I Don't Think So

Another horrendous aspect of being depressed during the holidays is spending time with people. Parties, dinners, get-togethers, etc. You're having so much trouble smiling that you're sure you have an absolutely ghastly expression pinned to your face. You feel like bursting into tears when someone asks you to join in singing a Christmas carol. Worst of all, you're overly sensitive in general - to noise, to anything sad, like the other reindeer teasing Rudolph, to really garish decorations that make you really depressed for some unknown reason. So you have to try to act normal while all this turmoil and pain is going on inside you, instead of being able to cry and scream or stare at the ceiling like you can do when you're alone.

I've saved the worst for last - the thing that makes the holidays least bearable in a depressed state. It's that everyone you know (and even strangers and TV commercials) is telling you how much you should be enjoying this time of year. Even if they're at the end of their rope trying to get everything done, they will be telling you what a downer you're being. You know you should be happy and having fun. No one has to tell you. But they do anyway, and you just want to slug them and burst out crying at the same time. Yes, they "mean well." But they're not making things any easier for you.

Ways to Get Through It

Well, that's the bad news. Here's the good news: it doesn't have to be that way. I have some suggestions for the depressive's holiday, drawn from my experience and what I did wrong during my miserable depressed holiday seasons. By the way, these are also good for the non-depressive who's totally stressed out and at the end of his/her rope.

The number one most important rule is: Give yourself permission. Permission to drastically cut back on holiday preparations, permission to feel emotions other than unqualified joy and happiness and permission to gently but firmly tell other people off. Remember that you are ill.

Depression is an illness that is affecting your body, mind and personality. You are as fragile as any invalid. Keep this rule in mind during the season, and you should make it through okay. Remember - you are not a loser for scaling back. Other people would probably love to do it too, but there's major peer pressure to "enjoy" holidays to their fullest.

That's the rule; here are the suggestions:

* Instead of making yourself go through the ordeal of sending out paper Christmas cards, send electronic ones instead. Blue Mountain Arts and Amazon have a good selection of free holiday e-cards.

* When it comes to giving gifts, think gift certificates. They're the perfect present. Most mail-order catalogues offer them now, and if you're like me, you receive enough catalogues to cover everyone on your list. This also keeps you out of the stores at a time when you're very vulnerable to excess buying. Yes, everyone will know what you spent - who cares? If you have the energy and the inclination, do an extra-special job of wrapping. If you don't, don't worry about it. Also, consider shopping online, which also keeps you out of the mall. Maybe I'm the only one, but malls at Christmas freak me out when I'm depressed, and I'm ultra-sensitive to the noise and crowds.

* Do not, under any circumstances, have Christmas or Chanukah at your house. No way. If it's your turn, switch with someone else and tell them you'll make it up to them. They'll just have to understand. If you're going to someone else's place and you're expected to bring food, buy it, don't make it. If they want home-made, too bad. Let them make it, then. Just say, "I'm sorry - I'm just not up to it." End of story.

* You'll need excuses. To people who know you're suffering from depression, tell them that you're just not up to doing all the Christmas stuff, or going all the Christmas places, or expressing all the Christmas cheer. To people who don't, perhaps co-workers, tell them, "I'm just so busy, I can't fit it in." Or, "It's just so hard to get into the holiday spirit sometimes, what with all the work that comes with it." If someone calls you a Grinch say, "Well, what would Christmas be without at least one?" and spit in their eggnog when they're not looking.

* If you must send out cards, just sign them instead of racking your brain trying to come up with something cheerful.

* If the usual Christmas music is really grating on your nerves, try different music, like classical or choral renditions of carols.

* Scale back on your decorating. Don't wrap the house and bushes in lights. Put the wreath on the door, and you've taken care of the decorating for the outside of the house. Decorating a Christmas tree is a monumental task, especially if you get a live tree. Consider scrapping it for this year, or just having a mini tree.

* Don't beat yourself up over feeling empty instead of full of the joy of the season. You're feeling empty because that's a part of the illness. It's not your fault, and you're not a bad person or a loser because of it. Even people who are not depressed are often having trouble getting in touch with the real meaning of the season.

* Try to stay away from the alcohol that's flowing freely this time of year. Very simply, alcohol is a depressant. It's the last thing you need. It may relieve the pain for a little while, but you'll probably end up feeling sad and maudlin.

* If you can afford to, arrange to take a vacation during Christmas. Go somewhere tropical or where Christmas isn't celebrated, and just avoid the whole thing. You can use the excuse of getting ready for your vacation as a way to avoid social commitments.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Someone may have stolen your dream when it was young and fresh and you were innocent. Anger is natural. Grief is appropriate. Healing is mandatory. Restoration is possible." -- Jane Rubietta

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hold on Hope

Hold On Hope Lyrics
Guided by Voices

Every street is dark
And folding out mysteriously
Where lies the chance we take to be
Always working
Reaching out for a hand that we can't see
Everybody's got a hold on hope
It's the last thing that's holding me

That nothing grows on
But time still goes on
And through each life of misery
Everybody's got a hold on hope
It's the last thing that's holding me

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Quote of the Day

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do." -- Helen Keller

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Friends for Life: An Emerging Biology of Emotional Healing

Friends for Life: An Emerging Biology of Emotional Healing

New York Times
Published: October 10, 2006

A dear friend has been battling cancer for a decade or more. Through a grinding mix of chemotherapy, radiation and all the other necessary indignities of oncology, he has lived on, despite dire prognoses to the contrary.

My friend was the sort of college professor students remember fondly: not just inspiring in class but taking a genuine interest in them — in their studies, their progress through life, their fears and hopes. A wide circle of former students count themselves among his lifelong friends; he and his wife have always welcomed a steady stream of visitors to their home.

Though no one could ever prove it, I suspect that one of many ingredients in his longevity has been this flow of people who love him.

Research on the link between relationships and physical health has established that people with rich personal networks — who are married, have close family and friends, are active in social and religious groups — recover more quickly from disease and live longer. But now the emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of how people’s brains entrain as they interact, adds a missing piece to that data.

The most significant finding was the discovery of “mirror neurons,” a widely dispersed class of brain cells that operate like neural WiFi. Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, movement and even intentions of the person we are with, and replicate this sensed state in our own brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active in the other person.

Mirror neurons offer a neural mechanism that explains emotional contagion, the tendency of one person to catch the feelings of another, particularly if strongly expressed. This brain-to-brain link may also account for feelings of rapport, which research finds depend in part on extremely rapid synchronization of people’s posture, vocal pacing and movements as they interact. In short, these brain cells seem to allow the interpersonal orchestration of shifts in physiology.

Such coordination of emotions, cardiovascular reactions or brain states between two people has been studied in mothers with their infants, marital partners arguing and even among people in meetings. Reviewing decades of such data, Lisa M. Diamond and Lisa G. Aspinwall, psychologists at the University of Utah, offer the infelicitous term “a mutually regulating psychobiological unit” to describe the merging of two discrete physiologies into a connected circuit. To the degree that this occurs, Dr. Diamond and Dr. Aspinwall argue, emotional closeness allows the biology of one person to influence that of the other.

John T. Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, makes a parallel proposal: the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity. This radically expands the scope of biology and neuroscience from focusing on a single body or brain to looking at the interplay between two at a time. In short, my hostility bumps up your blood pressure, your nurturing love lowers mine. Potentially, we are each other’s biological enemies or allies.

Even remotely suggesting health benefits from these interconnections will, no doubt, raise hackles in medical circles. No one can claim solid data showing a medically significant effect from the intermingling of physiologies.

At the same time, there is now no doubt that this same connectivity can offer a biologically grounded emotional solace. Physical suffering aside, a healing presence can relieve emotional suffering. A case in point is a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of women awaiting an electric shock. When the women endured their apprehension alone, activity in neural regions that incite stress hormones and anxiety was heightened. As James A. Coan reported last year in an article in Psychophysiology, when a stranger held the subject’s hand as she waited, she found little relief. When her husband held her hand, she not only felt calm, but her brain circuitry quieted, revealing the biology of emotional rescue.

But as all too many people with severe chronic diseases know, loved ones can disappear, leaving them to bear their difficulties in lonely isolation. Social rejection activates the very zones of the brain that generate, among other things, the sting of physical pain. Matthew D. Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberg of U.C.L.A. (writing in a chapter in “Social Neuroscience: People Thinking About People,” M.I.T. Press, 2005) have proposed that the brain’s pain centers may have taken on a hypersensitivity to social banishment because exclusion was a death sentence in human prehistory. They note that in many languages the words that describe a “broken heart” from rejection borrow the lexicon of physical hurt.

So when the people who care about a patient fail to show up, it may be a double blow: the pain of rejection and the deprivation of the benefits of loving contact. Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie-Mellon University who studies the effects of personal connections on health, emphasizes that a hospital patient’s family and friends help just by visiting, whether or not they quite know what to say.

My friend has reached that point where doctors see nothing else to try. On my last visit, he and his wife told me that he was starting hospice care.

One challenge, he told me, will be channeling the river of people who want to visit into the narrow range of hours in a week when he still has the energy to engage them.

As he said this, I felt myself tearing up, and responded: “You know, at least it’s better to have this problem. So many people go through this all alone.”

He was silent for a moment, thoughtful. Then he answered softly, “You’re right.”

Daniel Goleman is the author of “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.”