Friday, August 28, 2015

TGIF 8-28-15

It’s Friday once again, so it must be time for some updates on how things are going here at Frequently Interrupted. We are working through a few changes, slowly but surely, so I’m going to take just a few minutes to hit some highlights.

First of all, you may have noticed that we are dialing back on the Friday spotlight. I still plan to do spotlights from time to time, just not every week as we were doing. That had never been the plan, it just sort of happened for a while. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to put in the research that sometimes requires on a weekly basis right now, and I’d rather scale it back than let the work suffer. I still have an eye out for spotlights that I want to do, and have a couple in mind lined up for a later date. If you know of any that you think would be good to check out, drop me a line and let me know.

I received my Weekly Page Update from Facebook the other day, and every number on it was green. If you don’t have any pages of your own that you manage, that means every number they measure (page views, likes, engagements, etc.) improved from the previous week. One or two of them were very significant improvements. Thank you! That is all on your guys, and I definitely appreciate it. Invite your friends and let’s keep that ball rolling.

To keep that ball rolling, if you have ideas or suggestions, please let me know. I’ve already mentioned re-working the Friday schedule, and Wednesday is under review as well. Wednesday hasn’t really been anything solid yet, so it’s kind of been under review since we started. I guess that hasn’t really changed. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday are working out well, and Friday probably will if we keep it on the more relaxed updates schedule. I’m considering a humor section for Wednesday, Humpday Humor, but it’s entirely up in the air. You may have noticed that I’m not a comedian, so I’m not certain how that would work. Let me know if you have any idea.

Once again, thank you for your support, and I hope that you will continue to help me help this community grow. See you Monday.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Socializing To Good Health

I grew up in a Navy town, where new people were always coming and going on a regular basis. We weren’t Navy and we stayed put, spending all of my school years in the same town, but I do have a strong understanding of what “military brats” go through. As the awkward kid who didn’t have many friends, I often found my friends in the pool of new people who didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any preconceived notions. I didn’t move around every two or three years, but my friends did, so I understand the part about having to meet new people all the time, at least.

As a result, I never had a very large group of friends. This got better as I got older and better learned how to work around my own awkwardness (a work in progress to this day, but greatly improved), but it’s unlikely that I will ever have a large group of friends. That is just not who I am. These days, I do have a far larger number of people with whom I am on friendly terms - I like to believe that I am pretty easy to get along with, and I do try to be, at least in social situations - but if I were calling people to hang out … Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I would probably start going through the numbers in my phone, realize how long it had been since I last called any of them and decide that it would be too awkward to do so now, get frustrated and ask Heather to call people instead, and then go back to what I was reading.

Yes, I know I have issues. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

I don’t do well with large groups, or even with small groups on a continuous basis, but I’m still as human as the next guy, and humans require socializing. Some of us need more socializing, and some of us need more frequent breaks from socializing, to recharge to batteries (I’m in that latter category, in case it wasn’t obvious), but we do all need to socialize. Long term isolation is known to cause serious psychological and emotional damage, and it often tends to be a self-defeating cycle. If you spend too much time by yourself, it can become more and more difficult to remember how to successfully socialize and, after a while, the more you need to socialize, the less you are able to socialize. It’s a skill, and like any other skill, it needs to be used to keep in practice.

That does not mean that it has to be used constantly, and different people will have different needs. As I already mentioned, some of us need time off occasionally in order to keep the socialization skills working. You should know your own symptoms better than I could possibly list (and if you don’t, you may want to consider taking that as a homework assignment), and you probably notice when you are starting to feel deprived of socialization, but do you pay attention? We have become very good at ignoring warning signs and disregarding our bodies’ cries for attention. It should come as no surprise that we’re just as bad about not paying attention to our mental and emotional needs. We are even worse about those, considering that we have always known at least some basics of the physical needs. As a group, we’ve only truly acknowledged that mental and emotional needs even exist for about a century or so. There were people trying before that, but they weren’t playing to a sympathetic audience. Even today, it is still far too easy to find social groups - not just individuals, but entire mini-cultures - who are quick to dismiss anything health-related that isn’t physical or tangible. Worse, it is often the people who could benefit the most from an acknowledgment of mental and emotional needs who refuse to acknowledge anything of the sort. If they can’t hold it in their hands - or, more often, punch it with their hands - they won’t even talk about it.

This should not be confused with metaphysics arguments. I’m not talking about the age-old debate over whether or not something spiritual exists, and it’s various religious-flavored offshoots. Spirituality is intensely personal, and no one can answer that question for you except for you. This is not about that kind of tangible versus tangible experience.

This is, instead, about strictly physical experiences that can be expressed through both tangible and intangible forms. The air we breathe is intangible to our five senses (It’s supposed to be, anyway. When it’s not, that usually means that something has gone wrong.) but it is still very physical and physically necessary. That is the kind of tangible versus intangible that I am talking about here.

The more we study and the more we learn, the more we discover that our emotional well being has physical ramifications. Most people understand that if you are physically sound then you are more likely to be happy, and if you are physically unsound you are more likely to be unhappy - that is often just basic cause and effect - but it turns out that the reverse can be equally true. Your emotional state can directly affect your physical health. Feeling blue can make you physically ill, and sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

Part of being emotionally healthy is determined by how we socialize. Do we get enough interaction? Not enough? Too much? Are we interacting with the right people? Do we spend time with people who build us up or who tear us down? (On a related note, are we being people who build others up or who tear others down?) Remember when your mom used to fuss at you for hanging out with the wrong people? She may have been right, even if not always for the reasons she thought. Good moms have a well-developed sense of protecting their children, and reminding you to be careful about who you let influence your life certainly falls under that protection.

Healthy socializing is not about the number of friends you have, or even the numbers of hours you spend with those friends. As with so many things involved in building a better you, this is definitely a case where quality far surpasses quantity. There is nothing necessarily wrong with quantity - If you can spend more time with friends, and doing so makes you happy, do it! - but quantity doesn’t need to be the goal. Spend time that you enjoy spending. Spend time that you need to spend. Spend time in a way that makes you a better person. That’s what it’s all about. There is a strict No Refunds, No Exchange policy on spent time, so spend it well. Be all there, and get the most out of every moment.

If you want to build a better you, it’s best to make use of all of the tools available to you. Take a few minutes to review your own socializing needs and realities. Ask yourself the questions posed earlier, and be honest about the answers. If it helps, do this in your personal journal, and then come back in a few months and see how your answers have changed. If you’re going in the direction that you want to go then your answers should show that. If not, it’s time to take stock and see what changes might be necessary. Having good friends is a great place to start. Being a good friend is even better.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Learning To Fall

My dad was a volunteer firefighter in our hometown for most of the time I spent growing up, and I have many wonderful memories of his time with the department. It was something he took great pride in and really enjoyed doing. That fire department was like an extended family to us for many years, and there were plenty of social activities, over and above the dedicated hard work they all provided, to demonstrate and reinforce that connection. We had conventions, picnics, training operations (that sometimes included activities for the whole family), community events, and even a youth oriented “Jr. Fire Department” (an activity and education group that my brother and I, along with many of our friends, helped to establish). It was through Dad’s involvement with the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department that I learned a great deal about community involvement and helping people just for the sake of helping. That is one part of my childhood that I will always look back on fondly.

There were some bumps though. I don’t know about you, but my childhood always had some bumps. I’m pretty sure that’s normal. It helps us to learn, and to remember what we have learned. It’s kind of like writing your lesson twenty times, only with cuts and bruises instead of paper and pencils.

Our fire station back home was a two-story building, as they usually are in my experience, with most of it being one large open area for the trucks and equipment. There was a lounge and an office downstairs, and a couple more offices and a meeting room upstairs. I’m going from memory here, so I may have missed a couple points, but that was the basic layout. It was a volunteer department, so the space was smaller than you might usually see on TV or in the movies, though still larger than many volunteer department buildings I’ve seen over the years. As I recall, the building shared space with the City Hall and with the police station, so that might account for the larger accommodations.

During my time with the Jr. Fire Department, we usually held our meetings downstairs in the equipment bay or in the lounge, but sometimes they coincided with the regular department meetings. In those latter cases, we would do our part in association with the regular meeting upstairs and then those of us with parents in the department would hang out in the lounge while the adults did their thing. We usually flew down the stairs, seeing how many we could skip at a time, as children so often do, and racing to see who could get down the fastest. I won this little impromptu contest one evening by skipping almost all of the steps. It wasn’t on purpose. I tripped somewhere near the top, somehow managed to miss everything and everyone along the way, and landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Miraculously, I was completely unharmed - I don’t remember more than a bruise, to be honest - but it took a good while for my mind to believe that fact. I was pretty sure, on my flight down, that I was going to die, and my brain took its sweet time catching up with the reality that everything was fine.

On another occasion, this time at a state convention, a group of us were playing outside while the adults did whatever paralyzingly boring things the adults did inside. You know how it is at that age (and if you don’t, you should request a time machine so that you can go back and try childhood again - you seem to have missed a few important pieces). We kids were not terribly familiar with what the adults did at these conventions, but they gave us new people to play with, new lands to explore, and new trees to climb. How could the adult activities compete with that?

I was climbing one of those trees when I discovered, quite to my surprise, that I was stuck. Like a cat, I had gone up but then couldn’t get down. At a fire department convention! Could it get any more perfect? My dad rescued me. He could have laughed at me. He could have told me to get down the same way I got up. He could have done any number of things that would have been perfectly normal to do under the circumstances. Instead, he drove his truck up under the tree and then helped me to climb down onto the roof, so that I could have a straight, clean shot to the ground without the risk of falling.

I should clarify at this point that I am absolutely terrified of falling. It’s not a fear of heights; in fact, I love heights. Mountain trails, airplanes, highrise buildings, and various things of that sort all offer some of my favorite views, as long as I feel safe. I won’t go near the edge without a safety rail, but put up a simple pvc pipe at waist height and my brain will register everything as perfectly fine. If I trip off of a two-inch curb, though, I turn into an epileptic scarecrow, with limbs flailing wildly trying to keep my balance. My phobia is so severe that watching a fall in a movie will cause my breath to hitch. At the same time, I’ve never met a roller coaster that I wouldn’t try at least once, and I’ve only been defeated by one (so that I couldn’t talk myself into doing it again) once in my entire life. I love roller coasters! I don’t understand it either, but I never have claimed to make sense.

I don’t think life is about making sense. Certainly it isn’t about making sense all of the time, at least. I mean, sure, we have to make sense at least occasionally or it just gets too complicated to manage, but too much sense can be its own disaster. How dull would life be if you always knew what to expect under any circumstances? How would you ever learn anything? No, I believe that if life is not throwing surprises at you, at least on a semi-regular basis, you are probably not learning anything, and you are almost certainly not growing. There is no way around it. Sometimes you have to fall.

Clearly, I have a well-developed understanding of how frightening that can be. Even if we look at it in a purely rational manner - which I freely admit that I do not always do - falling can be dangerous. You could get hurt. Depending on the fall, you could get way worse than hurt. Still, you just have to do it sometimes. Otherwise, what’s the point? You may as well be a rock sitting in a field somewhere, doing nothing, learning nothing, and not, in any real sense, living.

If you take any form of self defense class or fight training - and I’ve had various forms of both over the years - one of the things they always go into early on is learning how to fall. You have to learn how to do it in a way that won’t cause permanent injury, or worse, and the same is true for metaphorical falling as well. You have to learn how your mind works, where your fragile points are, and where your strong points are, so that you can leverage this knowledge to your best results. If you get to know yourself well, you can reduce that fear of falling and maybe even, just sometimes, you might forget to fall entirely. When the circumstances are just right, sometimes, instead of falling, you might fly.

I’ve gotten better with my own fear. I used to be nearly paralyzed by a set of stairs, if I was going down. Now I take the stairs on a regular basis for the exercise. I’ve taken those training classes I mentioned and, of course, I’ve had plenty of practice. We tend to fall often, no matter what we have in mind otherwise. It’s a work in progress, but life always is. I keep falling, but I always get back up. I’m still just learning how to fall correctly. Plus, as my dad taught me, if you surround yourself with the right people, there is often someone there to catch you, help you down, or help you back up, as the case may be. Things are so much less scary with the right help.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

TGIF 8-21-15

No spotlight today. I'm enjoying an extended weekend as part of our anniversary, but I did want to take a moment to send out a Thank you to my friend Debbie, who provided the wonderful new profile image currently being used on the Facebook page (full size version above). I've been hoping for something like this, and I definitely appreciate it. I don't know when yet, but you'll hopefully be seeing it in an entirely different form of ink in the not too distant future. We'll see. Fingers crossed.

On a side note, a Patreon account has been set up for any who might be interested in supporting Frequently Interrupted. I'm trying to explore options to stay at least mostly ad free, while still defraying costs and getting the most out of my efforts here. Any numbers I've set up on that site are purely for the "I wonder what will happen" aspect, and are not really goals or expectations in any true sense. Everything helps, but nothing will ever be required. If you can and want to support us, I thank you. If not, that is completely acceptable too. Just know that the option is there.

Have a great weekend, and I look forward to seeing you back here Monday. Be good to each other.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Today, August 20, 2015, is a special day in the Frequently Interrupted household. Today is the day that Heather and I celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary. Ten years! There was a time when I wasn’t very good at spending ten weeks in the same place or around the same person. On one level, I’m as surprised as anyone, but then, not really. I have insider information on this one and knew it was going to last.

In some ways, Heather and I couldn’t be more opposite. I’m from a small town no one’s ever heard of in south Texas, and she is from San Diego, California. I grew up surrounded by hordes of cousins (and they were all just “cousins” - we hardly ever used numbers or “once removed” or anything like that), and she is still trying to adjust to the family mob mentality. She likes dance while I trip over my own feet. Don’t even get me started on movies! We have lots of little things that are all kinds of different.

Those differences, though, just add flavor to the mix. In every way that matters, we couldn’t be more alike without being the same person. Values, desires, core beliefs. In areas like this, we line up so well, it’s almost spooky sometimes. If we won the lottery (fairly impossible since neither of us ever plays the lottery, but you get the idea), I don’t think it would take us more than about thirty minutes to come to a complete agreement on how to use the money. Very few ideas that either of us pitched would even be a surprise to the other. Yes, I know perfectly well how fortunate I am, and I try to remember to appreciate it every day.

That may be just about the most hamfisted segue I have ever written, but it does take us directly to what I want to talk about today. As someone who has made more than his fair share of mistakes in relationships before finally getting a clue, I thought that we might take a look at a few of the things I have noticed.

First of all, never lose track of what is important. You are going to disagree occasionally. You may even not like each other very much sometimes. Even during the worst of times, though, you have to remember to keep the big picture in mind. Is that argument over the dishes more important than the time and love you’ve invested? If so, you may be in the wrong place to begin with. If no, maybe it’s time to walk back the outrage to something more appropriate to the issue. Your life, your love, and your time are precious, valuable commodities. Don’t waste them or throw the away.

Communicate often, communicate well, and communicate honestly. You don’t live in a comic book, and no one can read your mind. If something is bothering you, say so. Don’t just assume that the other person knows, and then get angry when that assumption turns out to be wrong. By the same token, listen when your partner is telling you something. The standard options package for your head comes pre-equipped with two ears and only one mouth. Use them accordingly.

The fine art of compromise cannot be overstated, but if you’re making compromises constantly then you may be doing something wrong. You will not get things the way you want them every time, but you should not be not getting the things you want every time either. It’s a balancing act. Hopefully a matched pair will agree on things often, especially things that really matter, but, when disagreements do happen, the results should not look like a scoreboard, and you certainly should not see a clear pattern in which receives what score. If you’re actually thinking of this scoreboard analogy in your relationship, you’re probably already losing. Don’t do that.

Little surprises from time to time can make for big smiles and happy couples. They don’t have to cost a penny either. Small notes left where they will be found, preparing an unexpected but popular meal, or taking the time to learn something that would be appreciated by the other person are all excellent examples of surprises you can do for little to no cost, or just using what you already have to hand. Of course, nothing says you can’t go out and buy a nice gift or schedule an amazing night on the town either. It all depends entirely on what works for the two of you. What matters is that you make it clear that you are thinking of each other, even without having some special reason for doing so.

The single most important element of any relationship is trust. If you don’t trust each other than you are definitely in the wrong place, and there is no probably about that one. No matter what some people might believe, there is nothing 50/50 about a marriage. The only way a marriage is going to be at its best is if both parties are committed 100%, and if both parties no without a doubt that this commitment is embraced by the other person. If you have that then trust is the default. It can’t be any other way. Jealousy is not cute, it’s not endearing, and it’s not helpful. It’s poison, and it signifies that the jealous party has some pressing issues that need to be resolved, beyond anything else that might be involved. Trust your partner or you don’t really have a partner. It’s that simple.

I could easily fill more pages with the things that I have noticed, but you would stop reading long before I ran out of observations. I think that if you have these under control then you probably have a pretty good handle on things anyway. If you don’t have these under control, you already have your work cut out for you. Instead of dwelling on all of that, or going on and on, I’m going to go practice what I preach and enjoy an anniversary with my wife.

She doesn’t know I’m writing this one yet - it wasn’t on the proposed schedule - but she reads all of these before you do, so she’ll know soon. She knows by the time you are reading this. It will be a little early, but you can file this one under that “little surprises” heading I mentioned earlier. I’m not actually very creative, in the usual sense thought of for these kinds of things, and I can certainly be more than a little hidebound, but I do try to break from my own conformity at least occasionally. This is my early anniversary present, my little corner of oddball creativity painting a portrait in my own meager way. It will be a little early because I am, of course, writing and preparing this days ahead of time. On the 20th, I don’t intend to do any more work than just pushing the Publish button. Aside from that, I’ll be spending time with my wife. When it’s your turn, I hope that you’ll do the same. Enjoy your love. That’s the whole point.

Happy Anniversary Heather. Here’s to an amazing ten years! I love you, and am looking forward to the many, many more years ahead of us.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Water Beats Rock

When I first began to work on the emotional issues affecting my life, my most common tactic was stoicism: the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. To be fair, it probably wasn’t even true stoicism early on, as the mastery of not displaying feelings requires a considerable amount of effort, and I highly doubt there was ever any real absence of complaint. Postponement of complaint seems more likely. Middle-aged Me is not exactly devoid of complaint. Young Adult Me could be downright obnoxious about it at times.

That is part of growing up, of course. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are, and there are usually plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. Complaints should probably be expected. I like to believe that people who are more inclined to really think about things are also the ones more likely to voice a complaint, but it is far more likely that this is just wishful thinking on my part. There is probably no correlation, and some of us are just more likely to complain, thought or no thought. Live and learn.

So I bumped my way into stoicism, and did eventually become fairly competent about it. As mentioned, I never did really master the art of not complaining, but I did develop a real knack for not complaining at the time, and became quite the expert at not displaying what I felt. That was both good and bad, but it was often what I needed at the time. I cannot recommend this as a long term solution to anything, but it can be a good stepping stone as you learn more and develop your tools. It worked well for me in that regard, and I will still pull it out on occasion, if I need a moment to get my bearings or collect my thoughts. It’s a great stop gap, as long as you remember that it is a stop gap, and not a true solution.

The reasons that stoicism cannot work as a true solution are inherent in the definition - “without a display of feelings and without complaint.”

It is a necessity of the human condition that sometimes you have to complain. While there can be nuance on top of nuance to the complete definition, boiled down to its most basic level, to complain is simply to voice disapproval. Unless you have the ability to fix every single thing that you believe is wrong all on your own, you are going to have to voice disapproval sometimes. You don’t have that ability. There are not many blanket statements that I will make of that sort concerning the abilities of other people, but I feel pretty comfortable with this one. You are going to need help fixing things sometimes, which means that you will need to complain sometimes. That’s one of the side effects of living.

The failure to display feelings, or to display them in a productive manner, is an issue that those of us with emotional instability issues already know all too well. Suppression, which is the usual path of stoicism, is not going to help that problem. What we need for long term benefit is to learn how to feel our feelings without being overcome by them. Locking them away in a box in the back of your mind will not make troublesome feelings go away. The more you stuff into that box, the more the pressure builds up, and, eventually, that pressure has to go somewhere. If the pressure builds for too long, you will inevitably get an explosion, and then things will only get worse.

So stoicism won’t work over the long haul, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be an excellent interim measure. If you are a person who deals with overwhelming emotional issues, it takes time to learn effective resolution techniques, and the universe will not stop and wait for you. Like it or not, sometimes you just don’t have the time for the best answer, and learning to not react may be a better option than continuing to react in a manner that is harmful to yourself or those around you. We walk before we run. We speak before we sing. We jump before we fly. Sometimes we have to stop before we can move on.

Just be careful that you don’t mistake a rest stop for a destination. It can be easy to fall into the trap of “This works, so I will stay here,” only to realize too late that it has stopped working. Stoicism requires a certain amount of wall building, and, if you’re not careful, you can easily build your walls too well. In an effort to keep people from hurting you, you might reach a point where you prevent people from loving you, and then you have lost more than you gained. Like most mammals, H. Sapien is a social creature, and solitary confinement, even when it is self imposed, does not lead to a healthy outcome.

The long term goal is to learn how to experience the moment without being overwhelmed by the moment. You want to let the moment happen, respond to the moment as you need to respond, and then let the moment go. To do this, you must be fully present in the moment, not hiding from it, but fully aware. See the moment for what it is, not what you’re afraid it might be and not what you hope it will be. See it for what it is. This may require you to step back into stoicism for a moment, to pause before you respond, and this is fine. You’re not retreating, and you won’t be staying here. You’re just using the tools you have learned in order to make better use of your more advanced tools. It’s your life. Take your time and do what you need to do to get it right.

Once you have seen the truth of the moment, you will be better equipped to answer that truth. You will have a better understanding of what, if any, reaction is necessary. Can you change it, change for it, or learn from it? Should you do any of these? (Hint: The answer to the third question should always be a resounding Yes! You can learn something from everyone and everything, though sometimes the lessons are less obvious than others.) Does it need a reaction at all? As you learn how to be truly honest and aware of the moment, you’ll find that the answer to that one is No far more often than you had realized before. Sometimes the best answer is silence, and some of the best moments in life only need to be lived. Breathe in the experience, make the memories and lessons learned part of who you are going forward, breathe out the experience, and go on to the next one.

The stoic is a stone, apparently solid and durable, unperturbed by the rest of the world, but eroded down by time and troubles, or destroyed utterly by a single moment of overwhelming stress. Better to be the river that flows around the stone or under the stone or even through the stone, as need and circumstance dictate. Water adjusts to the needs of the moment, while always maintaining its essential self. Water is one of the softest things on the planet but, given time, it wears down many of the hardest. It embraces and absorbs what is thrown at it, adjusts, and moves on. Water can be stopped, of course, but doing so is not trivial, and still water often finds a way.

The river yields, changes course, will even dry up in the worst case, but nothing is perfect, and water is, in the main, inexorable.

Much like the comparison of the flexible bamboo versus the rigid oak, water can adjust and flow as needed, while bouncing back and recovering better than a rock ever can. Both have their uses, and both are necessary for a good life, but one lives while the other endures. Endure while you must, while you are learning, but strive to live. Be like the water that always changes, but always remains the same.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

TGIF - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was established on January 1, 2005 through a partnership of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Mental Health Association of New York City. Through this network, people who are feeling suicidal can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and speak to a certified crisis counselor at any time, day or night, seven days a week. While this is a national program, it is facilitated through certified crisis centers around the country, and the Lifeline attempts to use local (or as close to local as possible) help whenever this can be accomplished.

In 2007, this service was expanded to include a Veterans Crisis service (veterans who call the Lifeline and identify themselves as veterans in crisis will be automatically routed to specially trained veterans counselors) and to incorporate the 1-800-SUICIDE number previously established by the Kristin Brooks Hope Center. With the combined efforts of all of these people, someone in crisis can get much needed help quickly, and with minimal hassle.

More recently, the Lifeline has moved into the digital age, including a Facebook service and the ability for people connected through that service to use online chats for crisis intervention. The Lifeline also offers a TTY service for the hearing impaired (1-800-799-4TTY or 1-800-799-4899) and a Spanish line (1-888-628-9454), as well as Tele-Interpreter services to support more than 150 additional languages.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please talk to someone. The Lifeline is available 24/7 and they will do everything they can to help. If you don't call them, call someone. Talk to someone. There is hope, and you are not alone. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

First Do No Harm

Primum non nocere is the Latin phrase that translates as “First, do no harm.” Though the exact origin of the phrase is uncertain (it is often thought of as part of the Hippocratic Oath, but this precise phrasing is not actually used there), it is often associated with the philosophies of medicine and bioethics. It is, whoever first said it, a reminder to be ever vigilant of the potential consequences of attempted intervention. We may not always be able to do good, exactly, but we can usually at least strive to avoid doing harm.

I would like to point out that, while the phrase tends to be associated with medicine and bioethics, it is a perfectly fitting motto for every person in every walk of life. Just imagine how different the world would look if we all made this our touchstone. Before we speak, will these words cause harm? Before we act, will these actions cause harm? I would never expect humanity to adhere to this motto with perfect accuracy, but just taking the time to stop and ask the question could make such a difference.

I believe that most people tend toward the good. We may not be very good at being good, but we want to be. Most of us do try. Very few people get out of bed in the morning planning what kind of harm they can cause today. Those people do exist, but they are the exceptions, the outliers. Most people, if given a black and white choice between GOOD or BAD, would choose GOOD every time.

The problem, of course, is that it so often is not a black and white choice. That is not to say that black and white choices do not exist, because they do - genocide is pretty clearly BAD, while the unconditional love of puppies and small children is pretty clearly GOOD - but they are not as common as some people might like. We live in a grey world with black and white accents, which is perfectly fine as far as I’m concerned. Life would be dull if everything were easy. This just means that we have to put a little more thought into things a little more often.

Come to think of it, that could be a problem. We may tend toward the good, but we do miss the mark rather often, and I believe that one of the leading causes for this is our tendency to not think things through. Most people spend most of their time running on autopilot. If something doesn’t set off obvious alarm bells, we drive full speed ahead with no thought for the consequences, until those consequences are in full effect. Then we look around dumbfounded, wondering how this came to happen.

It happened because we caused it to happen. That is how these things work. Human consequences usually have human causes, and one of the most common causes of negative consequences can be summed up with the phrase, “I didn’t think about that.” We too often don’t think about that, whatever “that” might be under the circumstances. We mean well, but we often forget to pay attention to whether or not we are doing well.

On the other side of the coin are those who never stop thinking. They could tell you, in theory, the potential consequences of every action you might consider, but they are a little short on practical knowledge, because they never actually do anything. They spend all of their time worrying, but still allow countless harms to happen because they were afraid to take any action that might address them.

As with most things in life, neither extreme does anyone much good. We need to think about what we are doing - preferably before we do it, but at least while we are doing it, to course correct as needed - but if we aren’t acting at all then all of that thought is going to waste. Thought without action is guidance without an engine. Action without thought is an engine with no guidance. It takes both to get anything done.

So how do we put both into proper practice. Start with the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. (On a side note, you might be surprised how often that is the right answer. Try it and see.) If your name is not Plato or Aristotle, you probably have more pressing things to do than working out a complex philosophical treatise for every action you might take. At the same time, though, we should be mindful of everything that we do. Autopilot is not a good way to live. So keep it simple. You may not be able to work out every angle for every action, and it may not even be advisable to try, but you can always ask, “Am I causing harm?” The answer to that question, if you are honest with yourself, is usually a pretty solid indicator for whether you are leaning toward GOOD or BAD.

Keep in mind that every rule has its exception. We shoot for “First, do no harm” knowing that we are going to miss the mark sometimes, but also knowing that, with such a lofty goal, even missing is still likely to leave us in a good, or at least a better, place. We don’t strive toward perfection because perfection is the goal. Perfection is the guide. An experienced hiker would be awfully surprised to ever end up standing on the North Star, but we use that North Star to point us in the direction we want to go. The same is true with perfection. It is our North Star, guiding us toward being the best that we can be.

Sometimes harm may be unavoidable, in which case it may be necessary to take the evaluation a step further. Like a surgeon who must cut to save, a small harm in one place may be necessary to correct or address a larger harm in another place. As with that surgeon, such a decision requires careful attention to and honest appraisal of the present circumstances. What causes the least harm? What restricts the harm in the most beneficial way? What ultimately leads to the best outcome with the least fallout?

These are all important questions that we should all be asking from time to time. You may not face such complex decisions often, but it is still a good idea to keep in practice. Remember, though, that you don’t want to overthink it any more than you want to underthink it. Keep thought and action in balance for the best results.

Life is not simple, but the day to day of it is often so much simpler than we allow it to be. If you want to be good then do good. If you want to do good then first, do no harm. If you want to do no harm then be mindful of the consequences of your actions, both before you act, and while you are acting. Think before you act, and act while you are thinking. If you can keep that formula in mind then you will hit the mark more often than not and, even when you miss, you will probably have better results than you would have had otherwise.

Nobody is perfect, and nobody needs to be perfect. Be the best that you can be, and be honest with yourself about what that means, and you will be what you need to be. First, do no harm, and the rest will usually fall into place with a little effort.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Happy Humpday 8-12-15

What I try to say with so many words, the insightful creator over at the web comic Robot Hugs conveys so succinctly with just a few pictures. Give Robot Hugs a visit for much more thoughtful commentary.

Shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Copyright belongs to robot-hugs.com. You can also find Robot Hugs on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Matter Of Perspective

One day when I was about fourteen, I sat in the woods behind my house with nothing but a pocketknife and my fears of the world for company. In hindsight, my fears were not really any bigger or more substantial than those woods (I grew up in south Texas and would not see real woods until I left home for the army after high school), but they both seemed all-encompassing at the time. Funny how perspective works, isn’t it? I grew up thinking of the overgrown creek bed and the vacant lot behind my house as “the woods,” and then I went and spent time in and around Mark Twain National Forest. I remember looking up and up and up, and thinking, “So that’s what a forest looks like.” Perspective can make such an incredible difference.

During the time when my perspective was so still based on so much less experience, there was me, a knife, and some much smaller trees. I spent some time just staring at that knife, thinking about it, thinking about what it could do, and thinking about what that could mean. I placed it against my wrist and I drew blood. To this day, I couldn’t honestly tell you whether or not I had anything further in mind. It seems unlikely, looking back, that I had anything at all concrete in mind. I did consider ending everything. I know I got that far, but it was more like I was watching to see what would happen, rather than actively deciding one way or the other.

Obviously nothing further did happen. I threw away the knife, cleaned up the blood and hid the cut as well as I could (not a difficult task for someone who received cuts from playing outdoors rather often), and I never mentioned it again. Until now. I’m certain I didn’t make any brave decision to go on. I just didn’t make any decision to stop going on. Who I was that day was not very good at making decisions, but who I am today is grateful for the results, regardless.

People tend to believe that the truly suicidal want to end their lives, but this is not true. (I use the phrase “truly suicidal” because many people also believe that the suicidal are usually just looking for attention. This is also not true, but I want to be clear here that I am speaking of people for whom this isn’t even a question.) Generally speaking, suicidal people do not want to stop living any more than anyone else. Given a choice between living or dying, most people who are suicidal for emotional reasons would choose living every time, if they could only figure out how. That’s the problem. They don’t want to stop living. They want to stop living in pain, but have lost sight of how to do that.

Perspective.

People who commit suicide don’t want to stop living. They want to stop hurting. The distinction means everything, and understanding the distinction is the first step toward helping someone down from that ledge. If you approach such a situation believing that someone wants to die, you have very few options. How do you convince someone who prefers red over blue to instead choose blue over red? Most of the time you don’t, and the same principle applies. Changing someone’s preference is difficult under ideal circumstances, and there is nothing ideal about working through a suicidal situation. Helping someone to achieve their preference, though, is something that people do every day. That is an attainable goal, and choosing attainable goals is one of the secret weapons in working through a suicidal fixation. The trick then becomes not a matter of changing someone’s mind but, instead, a matter of changing someone’s perspective.

Even better, changing perspective doesn’t require a complete and total change. If you look slightly to the left or right, instead of straight ahead, you have changed your perspective. Whether or not that is enough change to make the difference you need depends on the situation, but you would be amazed how often small changes can lead to large results. I don’t believe that I experienced any major shift in perspective that day in the woods - that would be many years in the future yet - but I did experience enough of a shift to make the difference I needed at the time. I gained the breathing room which ultimately led us here.

If you or someone you know is struggling, see what you can do about adjusting the view. Sometimes changing your perspective can change the world, but, at the very least, you can usually put some distance between you and a decision you might not be in the right place emotionally to be making. Small steps can be perfect steps if they are moving in the right direction. For someone staring down that final decision, moving at all is often moving in the right direction.

It is not even necessary to end the pain to achieve this change in perspective. That would be fantastic, but it is not always realistic. There are many sources of pain that cannot be simply turned off like a switch. Most pain isn’t that easy, to be honest, and some of it can’t be simply turned off even with considerably more effort. No, don’t promise or expect an end to pain - Never promise a person in emotional distress anything you can’t absolutely guarantee you can deliver! - but instead find a way to achieve a new perspective about the pain. That way will be different for every situation, so it is difficult to offer any solid advice, but do understand that the way is almost always there. Identify solutions instead of problems. Address the finite duration of the source of the pain. Take comfort in a shared burden, knowing that other people have succeeded, and so knowing that success is possible. Sometimes just making the effort to look is enough. Movement. Activity. Small steps can be perfect steps.

According to the CDC, there are more than 40,000 deaths attributed to suicide in this country every year. That number is staggering. To put it into some perspective, the CDC gives the number of deaths attributed to suicide in 2011 as 41,149. For that same year, the number of deaths attributed to homicide was 16,121. Let the vast gulf between those two numbers sink in for a moment, while you consider how much public attention goes toward the American epidemic of homicide. As horrible as murder is, more than twice as many people die every year from suicide than from homicide.

The causes of suicide are diverse and complex, and there is no easy solution. There are, however, some relatively easy things that you can do to help.

If you are feeling suicidal, tell someone. Get help. That is the simplest step, and the one most often overlooked. If, for any reason at all, you don’t believe that there is someone you can talk to about this, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and someone will be there to talk with you. No pressure. No strings. Just talk. If you know that you struggle with suicidal issues and don’t believe that you have someone to call, put that number in your wallet or purse. Keep it with you. Someone is always available.

Take steps that will point you in the right direction. Be ready to talk. Set goals that you can achieve and at least temporarily avoid goals with a high chance of failure. The idea here is to reinforce success with the aim of changing perspective. The suicidal tend to believe that everything is hopeless, and nothing overcomes hopelessness better than success. Contrariwise, nothing reinforces hopelessness quite like continuing to fail, which is why attainable goals are so important to this strategy.

Don’t make things worse. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Avoid people who are not helpful. Avoid activities that are likely to fail. Avoid things that can be used for suicide. Avoid things that reinforce the negative.

Do make things better. Get exercise and plenty of sun. Be with people who will help you. Do things you can succeed at or that make you feel better in a healthy way. Do things that reinforce the positive.

If you know someone, or think you might know someone who is struggling with suicide, be kind. That is the single most helpful thing that you can ever do in such a situation. Don’t try to solve their problems. You can’t. Don’t try to change their mind. You can’t. Don’t try to take away their pain. You can’t. Just be kind.

Be present. Be attentive. Be aware. People who are suicidal often feel alone, even in a crowd. Knowing that you are there and that you care can mean more than any words you might say.

Listen way more than you speak. If the person you are trying to help isn’t saying anything, listen to that too. Silence can speak volumes if you pay attention.

Paying attention is critical to this situation. The suicidal person usually believes that no one is paying attention to him or her while, at the same time, the suicidal person is usually not paying attention to the things that could help.

Perspective.

So much of life is a matter of perspective. A person who is suicidal has often lost perspective on life, while the person who wants to help often lacks the perspective to do so effectively. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to change the way we view the world. That may seem terribly difficult, but it’s not. Not really. Turn your head to the left or right to see what is going past. Kneel down to smell a flower or play with a child. Look up and feel the sun on your face. Simple acts can change the world. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

TGIF - Mental Health America

Before we get into the spotlight this week, I want to give a couple small updates.

First, our community is growing nicely, and that is thanks to your help. We haven’t quite reached 100 followers yet on the Facebook page, but we’re getting there. We are growing slowly, which is exactly what I had in mind. I will never resort to spam or other cheating methods of growing either the blog or our Facebook community, but I do appreciate all of your efforts in helping to spread the word. Let’s keep it going and keep it growing. Thank you.

Second, for those following along at home, our foster care situation is moving along nicely. We had our orientation and sign-up this week to begin the formal classes to become licensed foster parents, and are excited about taking these next steps. The timing has been pretty amazing, and it feels great to be doing something so positive right now. We have received encouragement and well wishes from many of you, and are deeply appreciative of your thoughts.

Our spotlight this week circles back around to some of our original startup. Mental Health America “is the nation’s leading community-based non-profit dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives.” Established in 1909 by former psychiatric patient Clifford W. Beers, Mental Health America has spent more than a century now advocating for improved mental health treatment and removal of the stigmas so often associated with mental health issues. The organization focuses on advocacy and education, working with agencies, organizations, and legislative bodies across the country to bring about positive change in the field of mental health.

With a focus on what they call the B4Stage4 model, the goal of Mental Health America is to be proactive, to treat mental illnesses before it reaches the latter and more critical stages. Instead of the stigma and superstition that has been attached to mental health issues for so much of our history, the idea here is to bring the treatment of these issues more inline with how we address any other medical issue: preventative where we can, and early treatment preferred over postponing.

There is a wealth of educational and advocacy opportunities at the Mental Health America website so, if you would like to know more and want to help in any way, please take a look. Be aware and be involved. That is how we make things better for everyone.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

No Reason At All

One of the worst things about dealing with severe depression is how often it just makes no sense. It is bad enough when stress or anxiety trigger a reaction. These reactions might be more severe than most people can understand, but you can at least see what started them. There are days, though, when you might have nothing more pressing going on than sitting on the couch reading a book when, out of the blue, everything turns black. The weight of the world comes crashing down around your ears with no warning and no apparent reason. These are days that can be extra challenging because what doesn’t have a regular trigger often doesn’t have a regular solution. Worse, you can’t explain what you don’t understand, and that’s a whole different level of frustration.

I call these the Black Moods. Unfortunately, there have been times when I have had to call them Black Days. I don’t think they’re as common these days as they once were, and I couldn’t tell you why that might be, but they do still happen. I have no real reason to believe that they will ever stop happening.

Well that sounded bleak.

It’s not bleak, though. Not really. It happens. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes it rains when you wanted to go to the park. I can’t think of any better way to explain it than that. We all like to believe that we are in absolute control of our own minds, but we’re really not. We are certainly the driving force, but it’s not absolute. When was the last time you decided to laugh, or cry, or to perform some other spontaneous emotional outburst? That’s a trick question. There’s a hint in the word “spontaneous”. We decide the path and we walk the path, but sometimes it rains.

Still, the fact of the matter is that many people who suffer from depression have these episodes that they cannot explain. They have all of the fun and games of the usual depressive episodes, with an enormous side order of anxiety and fear added in for flavor. They feel like an invader has taken over your mind, and you’re just watching from somewhere in the background. You might be right in the middle of some ordinary, mundane task - fixing dinner, counting change, or just getting dressed for the day - and suddenly freeze, fighting back tears and waves of nausea. It’s all useless, hopeless, and entirely meaningless, so why keep doing it? Why keep doing anything? Why bother? Why not stop pretending and just let it all end?

Yes, it can get that severe that quickly and that out of nowhere. If you have never experienced something like that, you are very fortunate. If you have experienced it, I’m sorry, and I understand. You are not alone. No matter how it might feel at the time, you are not alone.

Let me say that again, so that it sinks in: You are not alone.

That is one of the main reasons I am writing this blog. It’s cathartic for me, because it lets me talk through some things that have needed the talking, but, believe it or not, that is almost secondary. At best it only ties for the main reason. I have spent twenty to thirty years now, depending on how you count and where you start, learning to work through my own issues, and I have had some really amazing successes. I have always wanted to share those successes, but I have struggled with how to do that. Part of the problem was that, by the time I got to a point where I could share, I had forgotten at least some of what I wanted to share. The things I had learned had become habit and I no longer thought about them, so I had forgotten how to describe them. I do that. If I drive the same route long enough, I’ll forget how to tell you the directions. It becomes something I do, rather than something I know. That’s great, in practice. It’s almost exactly the goal, to be honest. Getting to the point where you no longer have to work at the things that help you because they now come so naturally to you is a very positive result, but it can make passing on that knowledge a little challenging.

Now, though, I am having to go back to the beginning. I am not starting over, by any means, but I am reviewing where I started, and, in doing so, I’m finding some of the words again. Sometimes it’s like trying to describe the taste of yellow, but that’s what writers do. We find ways to get you to see things that aren’t in front of you or don’t exist in any conventional sense.

I’m sure no guru of any kind. I don’t have any great secret insights or anything of that sort, but I know what it’s like to hurt, both with and without visible cause, and I know what it’s like to survive when you don’t actually believe that’s going to happen. If sharing my stories can be of any help to anyone who is going through what I have gone through - or anything similar to what I have gone through, or anything that can be understood by what I went through - then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, and that helps me too. I believe in a better world, and I believe that it is within our power to make a better world. This is me helping to build that better world.

I said that I didn’t know why I have less Black Moods now, but maybe I do know. I’m not alone either, you see. There are many people helping to build that better world, and I think maybe we’re having an impact. We don’t always see it, just like we don’t always see what’s causing the Black Moods, but it’s there, and I think it - the better world, the good bits - is growing. One person at a time can spread faster than you think, and that’s a pretty good reason to keep going.

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