The World in Chaos

Open any newspaper or magazine and be prepared to feel suicidal! Obviously only negative newsfeed sells! Death, destruction, new untreatable viruses, new research on which foods cause cancer, the mess being created by so many politicians all over the world – the list goes on and on. What does one do to try to remain positive when surrounded by all this negative hype?

Emigrate? Where to and who can afford to emigrate anyway? The super rich are probably not in the slightest bit affected by negative news stories. With enough money and time on one’s hands it is easy enough to jet off to a paradise island where one can be pampered and waited on hand and foot and to heck with the rest of the world! No need to relocate if you are in a position to flit all over the world as the whim takes you. However, that is not the situation for the average human being.

Most of us have to try to find ways to constantly look on the bright side of life. Getting rid of televisions, radios and cancelling newspaper deliveries may seem like a good idea for some, but that really is taking the ostrich approach. After all, an intelligent human being does need to keep relatively in tune with what is going on in the world especially when one is dealing with people on a daily basis in one’s line of business.  I know a very well qualified woman who practices alternative treatments  who has absolutely no idea of what is happening in the world outside her practice due to no television, no radio and no newspapers either.  Searching for Utopia is really a pipe dream!

“Learn from yesterday, Live for today, Hope for tomorrow.
The important thing is to not stop questioning” – Albert Einstein

Handling the negative articles is the trick.  Maybe one should limit the amount of news that one watches or reads and search for at least one feel good article to balance things out. The trouble is that often the graphics are so vivid relating to an horrendous world event, that it is virtually impossible to blot out the mental images which remain. Exercise has been proven to improve one’s mood positively due to the influx of endorphins which the brain produces during vigorous routines.  Then it makes good sense to try to fit in a regular exercise regime as often as is possible during one’s normally weekly schedule.

Owning a pet can be therapeutic – depending on the particular animal’s behaviour pattern. Making the time to just stroke the cat, or walk the dog or, if one is a fish fancier, to watch them glide by in the fish tank can calm one down and minimise or even dismiss negative thoughts. I don’t know how true it is, but I did hear that psychiatrists often have a fish tank in their rooms as an antidote to stress? Is it to de-stress themselves or their troubled patients?

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I know that when I was studying psychology, I did find that several of my lecturers who had their own private practices seemed to be more in need of therapy than some of their patients possibly did. One in particular couldn’t stop fidgeting with a string of some or other totem which to some extent reminded one of worry beads. He was possibly a chain smoker, but whilst giving his lecture was under great duress, having to forego his favourite brand. Thus the fidgeting, whilst disturbing his students, may have been his means of controlling his urge to light up.

Then there was another lecturer who had assisted in setting the final paper and he gave us what he called very important tips on what were the most important areas to study on when preparing for our final exam in abnormal psychology. We were told what to highlight and what could be ignored. Come exam time and none of the areas he had told us to concentrate on were even mentioned in the paper!  Surely he must have had psychotic tendencies or was he just a mean devil!

Unless you are in a position to hibernate and ignore everything that is going on around you, then finding your own personal form of coping with the world at large really is a lifetime occupation. The majority of us manage to get on with life despite the curved balls we receive on a regular basis. The well-known saying of “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone” probably goes a long way to helping us to think twice about jumping off that bridge and floating into oblivion. So, let’s turn off the media, grab the dog’s lead and, with a smile on our face, go for a well deserved run in the park!

Just before I post this article, it is extremely saddening to read of the extent of the damage caused to the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and one can only hope that, with all the donations which have already flooded in for repair purposes, it will one day be restored to its original magnificence.

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Homophobia

Just a while ago I heard on a news report that in Tanzania (as in many other parts of Africa), it is a criminal offence to be openly gay. This on a continent where those who have fat cat bank balances (often through foul means rather than fair)  tend to be ardent fans of designer clothes, accessories and top of the range motor vehicles. Perhaps those who advocate homophobia and wish to punish same sex couples should take the time to think about those items which they love to flout. It is a fact that many artists and designers are gay. It would appear that there is a strong correlation between right brain activity and, therefore, creativity, and homosexuality. Therefore, if you are obsessed with heterosexuality and are negatively disposed towards gays, lesbians, and transgender people, you should avoid purchasing anything which comes from the creative genius of someone who may fit into one of the aforementioned categories. Something to ponder perhaps.

What is it about being gay that offends homophobes? Is it perhaps that psychologically they are projecting their own unexpressed personal tendency to homosexuality onto those who are living a gay life? How on earth, in the age in which we are living, can people be prevented from being honest about who they are and who they wish to have as their partner? This is not about molestation, paedophilia or any of the other totally unacceptable behaviours which are just too prevalent in the world, but rather about freedom to be who you were meant to be.

 

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All foetuses begin life as female – hence the fact that both males and females have nipples. The gender of the foetus is only determined around six to eight weeks after conception. If the amount of male hormones called androgens which are needed to ensure that the developing foetus becomes a boy are out of sync, then the result could be a male child with a brain which is more feminine than masculine- a little boy who would become more and more gay in his behaviour as he reached puberty.  Another scenario is possibly a boy being born with a fully functioning female brain but having male genitalia. This child could become transgender –growing up always feeling that he is trapped in the wrong body. These are the people who often try to have the necessary, albeit radical, surgery in order to function more fully as their preferred gender. This subject is one which has been discussed and documented by many experts in the field of not only psychology, but physiology and no doubt gay rights organizations as well, so let me not gravitate too much away from the initial reason for this post.

Once people understand that homosexuality and same sex preference in choosing a partner possibly occurred in the womb, and is not a matter of choice, then surely there should be a total turn around in attitude towards homosexuality and transgenderism regardless of the country in which people happen to live? One can argue for hours about nature or nurture being the cause of someone being gay, but the fact of the matter is that many gay individuals were possibly the result of the incorrect amount of hormones at the time when the sex was being determined in the womb.

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An absolute travesty is that in Tanzania, and many other countries in Africa, as well as other parts of the globe including China, being gay is considered a crime. It seems crazy that, in ancient Greece, it was considered the norm for wealthy Greek men to have sex with good looking young men.  No-one was jailed for homosexual acts in those days! Religious beliefs have been instrumental in creating many evils in the world, as well as barbaric events, but it is unthinkable that people are being encouraged to report anyone suspected of being gay (in Tanzania) with the result that those being reported face being incarcerated. If one considers that being gay and living one’s life without interfering negatively with the well-being of other people then it just doesn’t make any sense to treat gay people as criminals. It is a fact that in many of the areas in Africa, where being gay is a crime, these same countries still advocate female circumcision. Potentially permanently damaging female bodies in the name of tradition surely constitutes a crime against humanity whereas being gay and choosing a partner of the same sex cannot in any thinking person’s mind be deemed to be a crime. Something just does not gel.

The more one ponders the many ridiculous laws as well as outdated, and more specifically, inhumane practices in many quarters of our complicated and diverse planet, the less one can understand the human race! As I mentioned above, there are little girls still being forced to undergo female genital mutilation in many non-Western countries. In years to come many of these girls become incontinent after giving birth due to the damage done when they were circumcised.  As these circumcisions are not being performed under hygienic hospital conditions, children can bleed to death during the process. There are lobbyists trying to have this barbaric practice outlawed, but it is no mean feat to change tradition especially when the mothers of these girls are in favour of the practice.

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As the saying goes: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change! Many countries on the African continent have no desire to change and that is why it is so unsettling to realise that one takes freedom of choice very much for granted. Thus the reason to be concerned when one considers those children born into oppressive, backward thinking societies who are very unlikely to ever be in a position to live their lives free of all the prohibitions which their forebears have accepted unquestioningly for centuries. So much to think about and to celebrate if you are someone who is free to make choices as long as those choices do not harm another individual.

“It is not for me to judge another person’s life. I must judge,
I must choose, I must spurn purely for myself alone
.” – Herman Hesse 

The Human Touch

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” – Plato

Babies who area left unattended and unloved at birth do not thrive and that has been a fact which has been verified over and over again through research and long term studies. The modern way of thinking is that, even prior to birth, the unborn child can benefit by the mother talking to the baby, playing soothing music to it and generally trying to keep a calm and positive frame of mind during her pregnancy. This is proving to be a big challenge in a world where many mothers are leaving the reproduction process until their career is well established.

It would appear that in many instances, the higher the achiever, the more stress their career usually generates. We land up with a catch 22 situation with a highly motivated mother to be who is bombarded with masses of available data informing her of how to handle her pregnancy in order to have as healthy a new-born as possible. Sometimes one has to wonder whether the saying “while ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise” doesn’t actually have some merit. The more information which is available, the more the poor future mothers have to worry about.  It’s don’t do this, don’t eat that, avoid the following but, make sure you take the time to enjoy your 9 months gestation period!Print

The reality is that many new mothers have to work almost up to their due date, so the luxury of taking things easy is often only enjoyed by a privileged few. However, once the baby arrives it is the love and nurturing that is of utmost importance for the future well-being of the baby. This is not always easy to achieve when you find yourself with a niggley, colicky baby who doesn’t feed well, and cries a lot. Then the feelings of guilt may kick in whereby a new mother starts worrying that it is due to her having pushed herself so hard at work to meet all her deadlines before commencing her maternity leave.  This is when the support of a friend or a family member is so important as it is easy to become depressed and riddled with anxiety. The lack of sleep after having a baby is absolutely horrendous and has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Being zombie like for weeks on end doesn’t make bonding with your baby any easier either. This is the time for a special kind of human touch.

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A partner who is understanding of the new mother’s need for emotional support can make all the difference.  Modern fathers in many cases are way more hands on when it comes to helping with a newborn than men were in years gone by. However, a female friend, sister or mother can be invaluable in helping in the early weeks after the baby’s arrival. Once a woman feels that she is coping with her new role it becomes far easier to give the baby the loving attention which it so badly needs to thrive.

The upside of the above is that, in most instances, a new mother has had the best part of 9 months to prepare for the baby’s birth. How much more difficult is it when, often quite out of the blue, a phone call comes in saying that you are now at the top of the adoption list and your longed for child has arrived, and can be fetched very soon! There have been none of those irritating trips to the toilet during the night for the past few months, to prepare you for broken sleep. It’s now a case of sink or swim and your nights are no longer your own.

When all is said and done, the human touch prevails in most cases and millions of children benefit from being nurtured and cared for despite the concerns and worries of their over-worked, over ambitious but extremely loving mothers.

“The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure
love, are dogs and infants.” – Johnny Depp

Friendship Part 1

WHAT IS A FRIEND?

Remember the old saying, “Make new friends but keep the old, some are silver but others are gold”? Somehow that is even more relevant in today’s fast paced and internet driven world. We are able to google or search on facebook and find people we knew years ago, re-connect with them and have them on our social media sites as friends – but are they true friends? What is a friend? One dictionary definition of the word “friend” is: “one joined to another in intimacy and affection.” If we are to take this definition and apply it to the many “friends” we have on facebook, twitter or instagram, what actually is the reality? Great to be able to tell all and sundry that you have so many hundreds or even thousands of social media friends, but to whom do you turn when you really need a friend?

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During our school years we made friends, but did we keep in touch with many of them after moving on, either to university or college, or out into the big wide world of the working environment? In many cases it may have been the occasional one or two people with whom we managed to stay in touch over time. A friendship has to be a two way interaction otherwise it dies a death and this happens more often than not.  Some people thrive on keeping relationships going, but without reciprocation it is often a futile exercise.

A friend of mine from many years ago who had terminal cancer once said to me that if you can count your true friends on one hand you are luckier than most people. I tend to believe that this is true. A real friend is someone with whom, despite the passing of the years, you are able to immediately carry on chatting to as though you last spoke to them yesterday. If you have even one person like this in your life it is a gift to be savoured and valued. I have such a friend and she is one of very few of my current acquaintances who knew my late father. The day he was killed at work when a malfunctioning transformer blew up and electrocuted him plus several other people working with him, it just happened to be this friend’s birthday.  Needless to say, phoning her to chat on her special day every year always tends to include a rather sad side too.  She has recently relocated to Perth, and there is the different time zone to consider when getting in touch with her, but I know that whenever we speak the years will just fade away and we will carry on our conversation as though no time at all has passed since our last chat.

I also have a very good Indian friend whom I met during time spent living in Italy many years ago. When meeting up with her and her husband after a long period of keeping in touch by mail and the occasional phone call (this information really does date the length of our friendship!) it was as though no time at all had elapsed since our last meeting. Once again it must be said that such friendships are rare and extremely valuable and deserve to be nurtured. Are you also fortunate enough to have this kind of friend? A busy life is fine, but it really is critical to squeeze in a quick phone call or a voice WhatsApp to keep those relationships going. There can be nothing more soul destroying than constantly procrastinating about making that call only to find that it is now too late, as the friend is no longer around.

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Moving On

Moving On

Sitting by the window, she allowed her mind to wander. She found her thoughts filled with nostalgic memories, and the dreary look of the early winter garden did nothing to cheer her mood. She loved the crisp winter days, but this bleak, still, grey weather made her miserable.  She remembered the day over 23 years ago, when she had brought him home from the hospital – a beautiful, big, blonde baby boy. How the years have flown, she mused. No longer so blonde and the baby fat all gone, he had become a good looking young man with light brown hair. A fledgling who had left the nest to try spreading his wings. She was the last person to think of clipping those wings. She had encouraged the move, knowing the importance to their relationship of letting go. Possessive mother was not part of her makeup.

She loved him dearly, but the past few months had been fraught with frustrations on her side. She had begun to feel used, and somewhat abused by his apparent selfishness. Passing his open door and viewing the mess within had made her fight to control her anger. She knew this was all a part of the cycle – outgrowing the family home and no longer having any regard for family rules. Shouting didn’t help matters. It just caused her to feel exhausted and nothing was gained. Finally, he mentioned his hopes of getting a flat of his own to rent.  All of a sudden there seemed to be a bright light at the end of the tunnel! Could it be possible that, before those men in white coats came to take her away, her sanity would be saved?

He had been an easy child with a good sense of humour. The teenage years had often proved to be challenging, as any confrontation seemed to end with the slamming of doors and the threat of running away. She blamed this behaviour on his father’s genes! She took the credit for his love of socialising and his sharp wit. Funny how easy it is to pass the buck for one’s children’s shortcomings! She was proud of his accomplishments. He had worked hard for the past five years and was beginning to find his feet. Soon he would be able to consider making a down payment of a home of his own.  No doubt marriage would be the next big step. The cycle would start all over again with the birth of his first child, just as it had the day he was born.

She had to force herself not to feel depressed. After all, this was the beginning of his true independence, so why was she feeling sorry for herself? For the first time in years, she had a room to pursue her arts and crafts and how she had yearned for that moment! It must be the weather that was making her feel down. Exercise would do the trick. She dragged herself from her thoughts and started changing into a tracksuit. Running the dogs always managed to cheer her up.

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Adoption

In many ways, my mother has carried certain emotional scars with her throughout her life which are most certainly linked to her adoption at the age of 3 after her own mother died of toxaemia several days after giving birth to her second child, a baby boy. Due to financial difficulties my mother’s father asked his brother and his wife, who had no children of their own, to adopt my mother. The new baby was in turn adopted by his late wife’s family who never forgave themselves for not having adopted both children, but this was during the depression years in England and money was extremely scarce. For a little girl of 3 years old who was expecting her mummy to return from hospital with a new baby to suddenly never see her mother again, and having to go to live with an uncle and aunt, would more than likely necessitate the intervention of a child psychologist in today’s world.

Both her real and her adopted fathers died when my mother was 9 and 13 years old respectively. Her younger brother was more like a cousin than a sibling, and although they saw one another fairly regularly, they never lived together. In many ways over the years I have come to realise that my mother still carries the sadness and loss of not having her own mother around while she was growing up. She was made to feel that she had been given away like an unwanted possession, probably the words of an unthinking relative at the time.  The difference between this situation and other adoptions was that there was always contact with her extended family whilst she was growing up so she wasn’t left wondering who she was.

Having read many case studies, watched a lot of documentaries regarding adoption and knowing people who are adopted or who have adopted children, there appear to be some factors which are a common denominator in cases of adoption. Feelings of being unworthy and unwanted, as well as needing to know who one’s birth mother was seem to be the golden thread linking many adoption stories. It is a basic human need to know where we come from, and who we are and, if a child has been adopted and only finds out by chance that the people they know as their parents are in fact their adopted parents, the results can be devastating.

With changing attitudes nowadays, at least in Western societies, it is common to let a child know, as soon as they are old enough to understand, that they were “chosen” and therefore “special” and it was because the birth mother was not able to care for the baby herself that she had to make the extremely difficult decision to give the baby up for adoption.  Where a mother died in childbirth, and a father was unable to care for the baby, the emotions felt by the adoptee may be more feelings of sadness and loss and less of abandonment.  Sometimes it seems that this need to begin the search for the real parents raises its head, either during late adolescence or once the adoptees themselves become parents. It would appear that the desire to search for one’s birth mother is far more common than a need to know who one’s father is. Obviously this is a generalisation, but does seem very often to be the case.

The laws in many countries have been relaxed regarding adoption, and nowadays it seems to be quite common for adopted children to gain access to the names of their birth mother through the adoption agency in order to try to contact her. Many times the birth mother has had some contact with the adoptive parents, and has even received photos of the child she had to give up.  Years ago this was totally taboo and, in the case of single mothers, babies were literally wrenched out of their arms at around 6 weeks of age and handed over to the new parents. The heartbreak felt by the girl/woman having to give up her baby to strangers would seem to be a pain which often never heals. The memory of that day would be likely to stay with her for the rest of her life.

The adopted parents must go through really tough times when their child decides to investigate and find their blood relatives. It takes a very strong relationship to be able to face the fact that you may be losing your child to strangers who just happen to be linked by DNA. Counselling seems to be the way to go when an adopted child decides to contact a biological parent, as often there is a degree of disappointment, anger and distress once the meeting takes place.  Depending on the circumstances surrounding the adoption it may result in the biological mother refusing to meet her child. This could be due to the pregnancy having been the result of rape, or just the disgrace of an illegitimate birth and possibly never having revealed the fact to her current husband and other children.

I find adoption to be a very emotional and intense issue which cannot be taken lightly. For parents adopting a child of another culture, or ethnic group the issues are even more complicated.  There needs to be a lot of support all round and honesty and family discussions would appear to be a critical factor. Care and love are the basis of a happy childhood but we humans remain creatures who have a need to know who we are, where we came from and what characteristics and potential health issues we may have inherited from our parents.   When a baby or child is adopted by family or friends of the biological mother, there is likely to be adequate information available regarding her which could be a source of comfort as the child grows up and becomes curious about the family background.

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How Full is YOUR Glass?

Do you ever get the impression that somehow your moods are being determined for you and that there’s not much you can do to change how you feel?  I am constantly in touch with people of all cultures, creeds and financial situations and everyone seems to have one thing in common – an on-going battle to see the glass half full, when life is throwing curved balls their way. Somehow these challenging moments often coincide with the end of the calendar year and the Christmas season. This is a time when families are often separated and loneliness itself can be debilitating. How can one cope when you are feeling sad and abandoned and spending the holidays alone?

Glass 285x201 458985955Depending on where in the world you find yourself, it shouldn’t be too difficult to identify others whose circumstances are far worse, or at least comparable, to your own. Just reaching out to give them some encouragement often helps to alleviate your own feelings of sadness or despair. If you are able to cheer up another person  and maybe even get them laughing, it’s amazing how much it impacts on your own mood. I am not talking about major depression here, that is a different situation entirely, and medical intervention is critical to prevent potential self-harm, especially at Christmastime.

Missing someone who has recently died and handling the grief process makes it virtually impossible to see the glass half full. Something which I found helped me tremendously after losing a best friend through cancer, was to sit down and write her a long, chatty letter, telling her all my latest news. Having spoken  to her son and his family, I was able to tell her about her young grandson whom she had never met. It was very emotional to write this letter, but once I had finished it, re-read it and then disposed of it, it felt just the same as when we used to have our regular conversations before her illness. A cathartic way of channelling sadness which may be of help to others.

A totally different way to try to lift the cloud of negativity is, and I know this is a cliché, to do some form of exercise which will produce the endorphins in the brain which in turn will assist in a more positive frame of mind. All of you personal trainers out there will most likely be endorsing this advice.  It can be so tough to actually force oneself to get up and at it and do that dreaded exercise. However, it is amazing how much better you often feel after a good workout, whether it is running on a treadmill, going for a long walk, riding a bicycle, bashing a punchbag with great gusto or having a swim. The results are much the same, although the amount of stiffness the next day depends on the activity chosen!

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The moral of the two frogs

The story of the two frogs who fell into a tub of cream is another example of seeing the glass either half full or half empty and acting accordingly.

The first frog looked at his situation and, knowing he couldn’t swim in the cream, just gave up and sank to the bottom of the tub and died. His brother on the other hand realised that if he kept on kicking his little legs he could stay afloat in the tub of cream. He kicked and kicked and carried on kicking. Suddenly the cream began to turn into butter, and guess what? The little frog was able to hop out of the tub of cream and life carried on for him.

So, the moral of the story is that things are not always as bleak as they may first appear. Sometimes one has to try to look outside the box to find the answer to life’s problems. When all seems to be lost just carry on kicking your way to the top.

When the glass still seems half full, the following poem might help to keep you focused on the fact that everything changes, and when you are really down, the only way is up!

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DON’T QUIT

When things go wrong,
As they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging
Seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and
The debts are high,

And you want to smile
But you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest, if you must…but don’t you quit.

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt.

And you never can tell
How close you are,

It may be near when it seems afar.

So stick to the fight
When you’re hardest hit…

It’s when things go wrong
That you MUST NOT QUIT!

Anon.