Thursday, July 10, 2014

Old Friends

Connectedness to other is a key factor of resilience.

I recently returned from a trip to Florida.  I usually make the pilgrimage in late February or early March.  It’s certainly a good time to leave Maine for a week or two.  The main purpose, however, is to visit two high school friends who I have kept contact with through all these many years.  One I met when I was only three or four and we attended the first day of school together.  The other I met in junior high.
Over the years, our lives have taken different courses.  One is still married to the woman he fell in love with in college.  The other has been divorced a couple of times and is definitely single.  We chose different professions.  One has worked primarily in the area of real estate renovation and management.  The other chose to be a teacher.  We all three left a small southern town that we grew up in, although my two friends have chosen to stay in the South.  Both are considerably more conservative than I am, which means we often don’t agree on politics.
Many would see us as having more differences than similarities now.  But I think the three of us don’t see it that way.  We have our differences and our arguments, but we do it respectfully and usually agree to disagree.  Given the present state of our federal government and congress, the ability of the three of us to do this gives me some hope for the future.
We’re getting older.  We’re all well into our sixties.  We often joke about who will bury who, even though we don’t talk that often now and only see each other one or two times a year.  I believe, that when one of us  dies, we will lose an important connection in our lives, a connection in the present and to the past.   My old friends make me realize how important these connections are.  We have supported each other through hard times when we were adolescents and as adults. 
We accept each other with all of our faults.  We trust that the other will be there in whatever way they can.  Close friendships are important throughout our lives.  Maintaining them needs to be a priority.  All three of us have certainly been more resilient in our lives than we would have been without the other two.

The Winter that Never Ends

Fighting the ongoing winter blues.

This seems to be one of those. It goes on and on and on. Mainers usually don’t complain about the weather, but this year is an exception. I was glad to hear their complaints because I thought it might just be me. But, no, everyone is complaining about the winter, and that’s okay. At one point I heard on the evening news that 49 of the 50 states had snow on the ground somewhere in each state.  Florida was the exception.
So I thought it would be worth doing another post on a winter that seems endless. (If you recall, I did one in late fall.) So first of all, remember the winter is not endless: This too will pass. Spring will come. And even though the cold of winter encourages us to hibernate and isolate, don’t. Keep connected with your friends. Use the phone and use social media if you cannot venture out on the ice and snow. 
Stay active. If you can’t walk or run because of the ice, find a gym or a mall and do some laps. 
Keep a sense of humor. There are all sorts of jokes about this winter I can’t remember right now. 
Help other people. Shovel your neighbor’s walk or help him or her dig out their car. Both of you will feel good about that. 
And keep your flexibility. Bad weather demands it. We may not be on time for every appointment or you may have to cancel things that you’ve been planning for a long time. 
Be patient. Remember, this is temporary, not permanent, and it doesn’t have to affect every aspect of your life. Accept that this is something you cannot control, but complaining about it is okay. Mother Nature is breaking records across the country this year. Record snowfalls, lowest temperatures, etc., etc. There’s no one to blame, so please don’t blame the weatherman.

The Adoption Story

Adopting in a foreign land.

It was early January of 1990. My wife and I were on a flight bound for Lima, Peru, to adopt our daughter. She was about three months old. We had only seen pictures from the adoption agency. It was three in the morning as the plane descended into Lima. We could see that half of the city was blacked out. As we got closer to the ground, we could see fires throughout the city. Lima, a city close to the size of New York, then and now has only a volunteer fire department. The volunteer crews were no match for the “Shining Path,” a Communist insurgency group that had opened an all-out offensive in Lima a few days before our arrival. We were flying into a war zone.
The airport was chaos. The friends of friends of friends in the States thankfully met us, and they managed to get us to our small Peruvian hotel. We had been told to stay away from American hotels or businesses, like the Hilton and the Marriott, since they were being targeted by the Shining Path.
After a few hours of sleep, our interpreter from the adoption agency picked us up and drove us to meet our daughter, who was being cared for by foster parents. I still remember when they placed her in our arms. It was a feeling, despite all the craziness going on around us, that everything would be okay. And as any new father would say, she was the cutest little thing I’d ever seen.
We had started this process only a few months before. We had been told that at least one of us would have stay in Peru through the entire adoption process which could take up to 4 months. My wife had decided that she would be the one. 
I would stay for a few weeks, then go back to the States to work in my practice for a few weeks and then return. The process thankfully only took about 2 months. My wife and daughter finally arrived in the U.S. in March. Those two months in Peru were, to say the least, challenging. We learned a great deal about ourselves through those challenges. 
We did not return to Peru for 24 years. Although we had offered a number of times, our daughter had not been ready. On our second trip back, we would visit old friends we had made the first time and managed to maintain contact with over the years. Our daughter would meet her biological mother and a number of other family members. The main goal of the second trip was to help her learn more about her heritage and continue the process most adopted children go through, of figuring out where she came from and who she is.
This is one of four blogs that will tell the story of our first and our second visit to Peru.

The Resilliency of individuals with intellectual disabilities

Understanding an individuals’ personal strengths and motivation is necessary.

Guest Blogger: Carly Rodgers, M.S.
An intellectual disability, the most common developmental disability, is a term used in reference to an individual who has certain limitations in mental functioning and skills such as taking care of him or herself, social skills, and communication.  Previously referred to as mental retardation, individuals with an intellectual disability progress at a slower pace than others in regards to learning how to talk, walk, and take care of their personal needs such as eating and dressing themselves.
Genetic conditions, problems during pregnancy, problems at birth, and health problems are among the common causes of intellectual disabilities.  While there is no “cure” for intellectual disabilities, these individuals can learn to do many things, it just may take more time and effort.  In keeping with this, it is important to determine and acknowledge an individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as what serves as their motivation.  Understanding an individuals’ personal strengths, weaknesses, and their motivators helps to create a more complete picture of that individual, thus allowing for a better understanding of the level of care/support that may be needed. 
Presently, most of the available resources and research focuses around the resilience of parents/family and/or caregivers of individuals with intellectual disabilities, with very little actually focusing on the individual.  Resilience is an individual’s ability to adapt and bounce back in the face of adversity and may be viewed as an individuals’ defense against stress.  As humans, we all grow and continue to learn throughout our lives.  An individuals’ resilience can also change and evolve over time.  The resiliency of individuals with intellectual disabilities may be tested more frequently, more intensely, and for longer durations of time when compared to individuals who are not living with an intellectual disability. 
Resiliency is an important factor in the lives of individuals with an intellectual disability.  Without the means to cope well with their limitations in mental functioning and skills and employ resilience, these individuals are likely to suffer psychologically, socially, physically, emotionally, etc.. Ways of enhancing an individual’s resilience pathway include: identifying and improving upon internal strengths such as problem-solving skills; positive relationships with parents/caregivers, peers, and/or other caring adults; building upon determination, motivation, and hope; and environmental factors such as effective schools, community, and other services provided.  Resiliency skills can be learned and improved upon, thus there is always hope for those with an intellectual disability.
Carly Rodgers received her master's in Clinical Psychology in 2009 and is currently completing her pre-doctoral training in Portland, Maine.  She endorses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles and teaches resiliency skills with Dr. Breazeale.

Alone in a Strange Land

Issues facing immigrants in America

For many immigrants that’s the way America feels.  New arrivals to our country have often come without family, many of them forced out of their homeland.  This is especially true of many of the immigrants from Central African countries, such as Burundi, Rwanda and the Congo.  They are seeking asylum.  And they bring with them the traumas that they experienced in their homeland.
They often must learn a new language, English. They may be taking classes and getting some tutoring, but it doesn’t come easy.  English is a very difficult language to master.
They often do not have a work permit.  They can apply for one, but it often takes months, if not longer, to obtain one.  In many cases, the immigrant may be a professional.  But unfortunately he or she may be unable to obtain the certification or licensure that would allow them to work in the U.S.  These people are often forced to take jobs as nurses’ aides or fast-food workers.
And what of the families that they left behind?  They often do not know when they will see them again.  They often fear for the welfare of their families, since they and their family and friends may have been persecuted in their homeland.
Friendships in this country may be difficult to develop.  Trust, for many immigrants, is a difficult issue.  Because of the events of the past, they may be more cautious about making friends and trusting others again.
And trust in the authorities is difficult.  The police, in particular.  They may have been used by the government to persecute the immigrant and members of their ethnic community.     
And what about fitting in to a new culture?   Different ways of thinking and behaving?
Being in a new land that promises freedom and opportunity can be exciting, but it can also be quite frightening and confusing.  Immigrants to this new world will need to be able to apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience.  They need to learn the new language, and they need to be able to connect with others.  In order to be able to do any of this, they must deal with the fear and the anger that can  paralyze them and force them into isolation.
Over the next few months, I’ll be talking more about these issues and a way in which new members of our society can practice and reinforce the skills and the attitudes of resilience that they already possess and that they have already demonstrated through surviving adversity in their homeland and in America.


A world without disappointment

John Lennon’s song, Imagine, still gets a lot of play on the radio.  Many of us enjoy mouthing the words as Lennon sings them.  But few of us can really imagine a world like the one he describes.  Past hurts and disappointments block our access to this dream.
But what if justice and mercy were the focus of our New Year, not just something that we think about when we are in a church, synagogue or temple when we are making a charitable donation.  Can our society ever get past our preoccupation with greed and violence to make these a focus?  Can we?
Take a minute and imagine what your world would be like if these were the values that drove our society.  That drove us.  Imagine.
Many of us have a very difficult time seeing this vision.  Many would say it’s not realistic.  But why not?  Why couldn’t it be?  Our world certainly has the resources to feed and care for everyone and to give every member of our society a meaningful role.  But to create such a world, we must first be able to imagine such a world.  Indeed, we must be realistic.  The steps to create such a world are not easy ones.  But we need this vision to give us direction.  If these are really values that we believe, we should act on them.  They should animate our behavior in the New Year.  Imagine what our world would be like if they did.  Imagine!

Hope is a Choice

The new year is a time to plan, dream and act.

The old year ends and a new one begins.  The first few months of a  New Year can certainly be busy ones, as you put closure on the year that has just passed while taking steps into the New Year. But the dark and the cold of a New England winter do not encourage this. If anything, just the opposite.  It is a time of year when many of us feel like hibernating until the spring, of staying in, of waiting. Winter will pass into spring.  The snow will melt. The dark will give way to longer days.  And for those of us in the land of ice and snow—and I think this includes a good part of the South this year—the long days of summer will eventually return. We know this. But in the long, cold nights of winter it is easy to forget.
As we enter the New Year, it is a time to be hopeful. Not just that the spring will come early, but hopeful about our world, the world that we will be creating in this New Year.
So stay active. Don’t let the cold and the dark slow you down. Plan, dream and act. You will need both realism and idealism in the New Year. Realism, as Henry Kissinger once said, to take the first steps toward your goals, and idealism to know what your goals are.  In the New Year let your values animate your behavior.  Hope is a choice.