Hope for Veterans Day: Bringing Back Normality and What We Can Do

Happy Veterans Day Weekend, everyone!
It seems an oxymoron to call it “happy,” but it is indeed a celebration, though of a somber sort, recognizing all those who have fought for us. Some have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, and all have given a sacrifice of some sort, visible or otherwise.
That’s why I was drawn to this article in The New Yorker, exploring the way so many soldiers are affected by P.T.S.D., and what we can do about it. When I sought to say something meaningful about this day (Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, etc. in other countries), I looked first to other stories. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but when I seek to find meaning in events, in experiences, I look for the stories–to read, or to tell myself.

This article, published in 2008 but more relevant with each passing day, explores the conundrum of what happens when soldiers come back from war–but really, it’s relatable to anyone who has ever been through anything traumatic (so, everyone). I related to it on several fronts–having experienced trauma, myself, with my traumatic brain injury and thankfully being required to see a psychologist as part of my treatment plan. Not to put my experience on the same plane of heroism as a soldier’s, but I think it is a natural human tendency to dismiss your own feelings when you’re in a situation of huge stress/trauma–your instinct is just to get through it, overcome it, and “level up” into a greater version of yourself, having completed a huge act of fortitude, physically and emotionally.

Except–how can you “level up” emotionally when you had to focus on the physical getting-through of the event, not acknowledging (or even noticing) the huge emotional minefield around you? It doesn’t matter how “tough” anyone thinks s/he is (a common mentality, the article interviewee noted, in the armed forces)–a traumatic event needs to be unpacked. According to the article from nine years ago–meaning the number can only have risen–“According to a recent study by the Rand Corporation, nearly twenty per cent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. Almost half won’t seek treatment.”

The key in treatment, says the article, is dissociating environmental or situational stimuli with the traumatic event of the past. I love that medical science is disarming the blanket stigma against video games and tapping into their potential use outside of just entertainment. While I was lucky to experience some high-tech and even virtual reality devices as part of my therapy treatment at Marianjoy during my TBI recovery, what they have now is even more impressive.
So, speaking of “leveling up,” when I read that virtual reality video games are now starting to be used to treat P.T.S.D. with a high degree of success, I was thrilled. It seems like an “of course” idea, but it took a lot of work for them to get a military training platform, turned video game, turned treatment option, into clinics. Just like any dangerous physical venture, it’s important to have a trained guide (here, therapist/psychologist) lead you through the experience and be able to pull you out if it gets too hazardous.

While the whole story was touching and engaging, the line that made me cry was the last one–a soldier who had found immense relief from this virtual reality treatment:

“Most of the intrusive thoughts have gone away,” he said. “You never really get rid of P.T.S.D., but you learn to live with it. I had pictures of my team leader [who was like a brother, killed in front of me] that I couldn’t look at for three years. They’re up on my wall now.”

Wow.

It gives me hope for our veterans, whom I respect and feel we owe so much. If you have wondered, like me, what we can do to help our disabled and otherwise injured veterans, besides buying the cute little poppies from volunteers selling Tootsie Rolls, this CNN article gives a fantastic list of simple, but impactful, ways to help. I also encourage you to think of your own talents and how you can share them. “Talent” is, perhaps, a generous word to apply to my musical skills, but my singalong string band, the Pennies from Heaven, likes to lead carols at our local VA hospital every Christmas, bringing a sense of home, familiarity, normality, and warm memories to those who can’t be “Home for Christmas” (a heartbreakingly common song request from the veterans we play for). The biggest thing we notice from anywhere we play (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) is that people appreciate the company–bringing the outside world in is a helpful way to help anyone acclimate to daily life. So if your talent is just being a good listener or a good storyteller–I promise you your gift of time and company will be appreciated, even if you can’t see it at first glance–it may mean the world to a veteran or other patient.

I’ll leave you with one more suggestion–to read this moving poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, who was inspired to write it after presiding over the funeral of a fellow soldier and friend who had fallen in battle in 1915. It’s something I do every Veterans Day, to connect with this day of remembrance, which was established at the end of the very war that inspired this poem (hence the November 11th observation every year):

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Happy Father’s Day


(My first Easter, adorned in custom-made gown and bonnet, with my dad <3)

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there–biological, adoptive, mentor, and otherwise. 🙂 Thank you for the huge difference you make in your children’s lives.

As I grow older, I realize I rely on my dad just as much now as I ever have. Maybe the reasons have changed–I’ve now learned how to tie my own shoes, for instance–but he is still the steadfast pillar in my life I turn to when I fall and cry. It’s not skinned knees anymore (well, sometimes it is)–it’s more like a bruised heart. He is the man who has always been there for me, even as my romantic relationships come and go. Through his loving relationship with my mom, he has shown my sister and me how a healthy relationship should be. Through his support and encouragement of our dreams, my sister and I have realized we don’t need a man to accomplish anything we want–though we are lucky to have our dad, blowing air into our sails.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, but especially mine. ❤

If you’d like to read my letter to my dad about his crucial role in my recovery from my TBI, please visit my previous Father’s Day post: Happy Father’s Day.

Ghosts on the Nog

Though Christmas decorations have been out since before Halloween, perhaps you’re having trouble getting into the season. To help you out, The Paris Review has posted its Top Five list of Christmas ghost stories so that you, too, can get into the “spirit” (of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, whichever you choose). If you’re more a fan of Krampus than Santa, this is the list for you!

One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842

The great English tradition of Christmas ghost stories. One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842. I’ve long thought of Christmastime as a season of mostly pleasant intrusions: thirty or so days of remembering to tend, checklist style, to the latest pressing bit of Yuletide business that comes racing back to you. The… Read More »

Source: Ghosts on the Nog

Happy Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Most Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope all of you around the world are having a great day, regardless if you celebrate our American holiday or not.

It’s been a difficult year, but I’m blessed to have so much to give thanks for, anyway. I decided to take a quick break from helping with meal prep (a minor assistant role to my Master Chef mother!) to jot down a list of what I’m most grateful for.

Apple pie from scratch! I try to save most of my stomach space for this and the pumpkin pie. 😉

  1. My family.

    They’ve been there for me since day one. I’m so lucky we get along so well. With them, every day is amazing fun like a party, but every second nurtures and fills my soul. They’ve helped me become the woman I am. They’ve believed in me so strongly I’ve had no choice but to believe in myself, and they’ve built that confidence and drive in me since infancy. I love you, guys. ❤

  2. My friends.

    Like my family, they have helped me to become who I am today. I can’t believe I’ve had the same best friends for 20 years. How lucky am I? We’ve gone from children to adults together, sharing every important moment together and supporting each other when we needed extra strength. I love them more with each day. We have just as much fun now planning weddings and navigating transitions as we did building snowmen and playing Barbies as kids.

  3. Oreo & Chad

    Even though now, they are both our angel babies, I am grateful for their huge impact on my life (and the world at large, of course). Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

  4. My Faith & God

    This grows stronger for me each year, as I witness miracles and kindness, even in the midst of tragedy. He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

  5. My Writing & Speaking

    Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. I always feel like I have more to do; it’s a never-ending quest to listen and speak, through voice or written words. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey.

  6. Books

    Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

  7. My Job & Coworkers

    I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become very dear friends.

  8. Nature

    I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us. I’ve been lucky to have several adventures in forests, mountains, and oceans, over the last year, and I’ve truly learned that every leaf, rock, and sky is uniquely awe-inspiring.
    On a less poetic note–or perhaps, since it’s Greek mythology, it is poetic still–I was even a Dryad for Halloween this year, wrapping my limbs in vines and hair in flowers. I feel my full integration into nature is progressing well.

  9. Love

    Life is funny, and relationships don’t always work out how you plan them. Despite the pain of when they end, I’m still grateful to have had the experiences. They’ve taught me what I need and want out of life, and they’ve helped to shape me in important ways. As a writer and reader who adores love stories, I’ve learned to adore true love, even if I don’t know where it will lead. 🙂

  10. My Health

    Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day (so many days), I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto. I’m looking forward to having it long enough soon to donate. I am blessed and very grateful.

 

Thanks for reading my list of gratitude, readers. What are YOU most grateful for? Have a wonderful holiday season; talk to you soon. I think I smell some pies that are ready for my sampling. ❤

 

 

Happy National Dog Day: Uggie–My Story

Happy National Dog day to all the canine-lovers out there! Though I am not a dog owner, myself, I have been blessed to meet and love many dogs during my life.

One dog in particular who left a paw print on my heart was Uggie, the celebrity dog from The Artist, among other movies. I have yet to see him on film, but I was fortunate to meet him in person with my sister at my favorite bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop, a few years ago. He was on a book tour with his trainer, and Jennifer and I both bought Uggie’s memoir, which he kindly “pawtographed” for us.

I loved hearing about his unlikely rise to stardom after von Muller, his trainer, rescued him from the pound. Von Muller immediately recognized Uggie had something special–that his spark could lead to amazing things. I’m still partway through the book, and I need to pick it back up again–it’s absolutely adorable, just like Uggie.

Sadly, at 13 years old, Uggie passed away earlier this month. I’m sure few other dogs lived as glamorous a life as he–and more importantly, he was loved so much by so many. I’m grateful I was able to meet him a couple of years ago.

 
Thanks for sharing your talents, zest for life, and love with us, Uggie. 

Have you read or seen Uggie’s work? Are there special dogs in your life? I’d love to hear your stories, dear readers. ❤️🐶

Happy National Best Friends Day

I was so busy today, so just a quick post before bed–but today was National Best Friends Day, and I didn’t want the day to go by unacknowledged (you know how I am about holidays–and loved ones, at that!).

 I’m blessed my very first best friend is still my best friend. 👯💕 That hasn’t changed since this picture was taken, even if our height difference has. 😉
I’m also blessed by this amazing group of people. I’ve counted most of them as best friends for 20 years; some more recent, but no less enduring.   (Taken just a few weeks ago)

I’m beyond grateful for my besties; they’re a huge part of whom I’ve become. I love you all!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all mother figures out there–biological and adoptive moms; teachers/counselors; fur-baby-moms (me!); and anyone who’s ever loved someone in a nurturing way.

I’d like to wish a special Mother’s Day to my own mom. I’m blessed to have such a strong, loving, kind role model in my life, let alone to call her my mother. She’s always taught my sister and me that we should reach for our dreams and determine our own lives, never letting someone or something else hold us back. More than anyone else, she’s taught me how to treat others with kindness, even if it’s difficult. (Please read this poem for one of my defining memories with my mother from childhood.) Over the years, my mom has never stopped being my mother, but now I’m lucky to call her my friend, too.

Here are a couple of pictures from about a month ago, when my mom and I went to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show together. Gardening is something we’ve dabbled with (her, much more than me!) together since I was little. We had so much fun learning about pollination and edible gardens, but what was most fun was the time we spent together. 🙂 ❤

I am also blessed to be a mom to this precious baby:

Cuddle time with Oreo ❤

and this one in Heaven:

Smooches with Chad ❤

Our Mother’s Day this year was pretty laid-back. My mom is an AMAZING cook, but today, she got a break from the kitchen, as the rest of us pitched in for meals. 🙂 We enjoyed spending time together; giving cards and gifts; and watching some Game of Thrones. Jennifer and I have a pedicure booked for our mom next week, when salons will be a bit less crazy, hopefully. 😉

Also, something I’ve been aware of this year especially is that this can be a hard holiday for some people. A radio station posted this on Facebook, and I think it expresses sympathy and comfort perfectly:

And finally, to end this on an upbeat note…Buzzfeed posted this excellent list of “19 Badass Literary Mothers Who Need to be Celebrated.” Well, the title pretty much sums it up–and I must say, I agree with as much of the list as I’m familiar with–and like yesterday’s list, it’s added more to my ever-growing “To Be Read” list. 🙂 Molly Weasley of Harry Potter and Catelyn Stark of Game of Thrones top the list–check it out!