Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Help A Friend In Crisis

March 31, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Several of my friends are undergoing personal crises right now. Some are seeing long-term relationships come to an end. One friend has bedbugs and needs to vacate her apartment ASAP (and toss out all her furniture). Another friend just discovered that his former partner has cancer. Here’s a story in the New York times by a guy I don’t even know (but could) who hit rock bottom when he was unemployed.

It’s hard to know how to counsel friends when they are in the midst of a severe crisis. But here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way:

1. Reach Out. Sometimes we’re afraid to reach out to friends in acute crises because we think that they’ll be embarrassed or ashamed. And sometimes we just don’t want to deal, either because their problems hit too close to the bone or because we’re so submerged in our own issues and can’t come up for air. But just as it’s important not to ignore physical pain in ourselves, it’s equally important not to ignore emotional pain in those close to us. If a friend is contemplating suicide, for example, it’s important for him to know that you don’t want to live in a world that he’s not part of. Many crises occur because people feel isolated and in despair. Let them know that you’re there and that they matter to you.

2. Listen, Don’t Give Advice. But as important as it is to reach out, it’s equally important to understand what your role is. It’s very tempting when confronted with someone else’s pain to try and fix it. That’s always my first instinct. But chances are whoever you are talking to is already getting lots of advice anyway (some from paid professionals). So the best thing you can do is to listen and let them know that you hear their pain. This is especially important in the wake of a break-up or divorce where there are often dual (and dueling) narratives as to what actually happened. (Note: this is also really good advice for raising children; most of the time you should listen to their problems and acknowledge their hurt  – no matter how absurd it may sound – rather than telling them what to do.)

3. Emphasize the Positive. This sounds obvious but it can be difficult if your friend is relentlessly negative about his or her situation. Try to find something – anything – that might give them hope. One of my friends was sending out increasingly bleak emails to a close circle of friends. While acknowledging his pain (see point #2), I also told him that his ability to describe his predicament with such clarity and conviction was itself a positive, because it meant that he understood himself incredibly well – and was finding a creative outlet to express this.

4. Send Them Something. One way to let a close friend know that you’re thinking about them is to send them something thoughtful. Right after my father died last March, one of my friends sent me a care package for Easter filled with frost-them-yourself cupcakes and some of those tiny yellow marshmallow chicks they sell in America at Easter time. She knew that my father used to send me weird stuff in the mail all the time and this was her way of saying “I’m thinking about you.” But it doesn’t have to be a present. I often send friends who are sad e-cards to brighten up their day. Or poems. Or song lyrics. Or articles I come across that speak to what they’re going through. It’s a non-invasive way of letting them know that they’re on your mind.

5. Recognize Your Limitations. But perhaps the most important thing you can do is to recognize that you aren’t God (or your all-powerful being of choice.) I recently came across this post by a friend on Facebook and it spoke volumes to me: I find it enormously heartbreaking to watch someone I love suffer under the weight of severe depression. I feel so useless. It’s really hard to accept that – at the end of the day – there’s only so much you can do. But you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief if you acknowledge that you aren’t in control. You can’t fix this person’s life. You can only show them love.

Image: peep by thelouche via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Are Computers Bad For Children?

March 30, 2010

Many parents have become hard-wired into thinking that computers are bad for children. But are they? New research suggests that it’s actually a mixed bag.

Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com looking at this age-old, vexing parenting question in light of new research that tries to systematically estimate the effect of home computers on child and adolescent outcomes.

Have a look



Image: Macbook by Swansea Photographer via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Interfaith Marriage: A Catholic Contemplates Passover

March 29, 2010

Passover begins tonight, followed quickly by Easter. As a former Catholic married to a Jew, I hate this time of year. It reminds me — once again — of just how unresolved my husband and I are about the status of religion within our family.

Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about how hard this time of year is for those of us in inter-faith marriages.

Have a look

Image: Passover by Ohad* via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

March 26, 2010

This Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. There’s another great essay over at the New York Times Modern Love column, this time by Stacy Morrison. It’s about a divorced couple who still spends a lot of time together.

2. And speaking of marriage, Book Snob (aka Katy Keim) tells us what her nightstand says about her marriage.

3. And speaking of book snobs, test out your knowledge of book review clichés with Michelle Kerns over on The Examiner. (Hat Tip: Salon’s Laura Miller.)

4. You’ll also want to check out the inside of some of David Foster Wallace’s books, on display at The University of Texas Harry Ransom Center. (Hat Tip: Kristin Bair O’Keeffe.) Wow!

5. I was intrigued by this article in the Boston Globe by Laurel Snyder about fairy tales and American childhood. (Hat Tip: @lizzieskurnick.)

6. Finally, my new favorite writers’ website: Beyond The Margins. Check it out!

Oh yes. And please do follow me on Twitter!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Confront Pain

March 24, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist last week. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your G.P./primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

1. It won’t go away on its own. Rather, it will just get worse. In the case of my teeth, it turns out that I wasn’t just clenching – as I’d long believed – but grinding. The dentist could actually show me where I’d worn down my front right canine tooth so that it was no longer pointy, but flattened out from grinding so much over time. That’s not good, especially since we all know that smiles are key to a happy marriage.

2. The fix is often quite simple. I think one reason that many of us put off going to the doctor to address an ongoing problem is that we fear that the fix will either not exist (why bother?) or be too complicated (requiring many more time-consuming doctor’s office visits.) And sometimes that’s true. But a lot of times, you just need a new medication (or mouth guard). That proved true for me in both cases. So it’s actually more efficient to go early to the doctor, rather than spending all that money on painkillers that don’t actually do the trick.

3. Pain feeds on itself. I have a pretty high threshold for pain. Which is why I tend to wait until a limb falls off before I go and see a doctor. (Even as I write this, I have a pain I’m ignoring in my upper left shoulder – a reminder that I ought to be stretching!) But even if it’s manageable, pain tends to feed on itself. It makes you tense. You become irritable. It’s distracting. You sleep less well. (The National Sleep Foundation reports that 2/3 of chronic pain sufferers experience sleep problems). So it’s better just to take the plunge and eliminate the pain effectively once and for all.

4. It can lead to other positive changes in your life. As you know, I’m a big believer in yoga for all sorts of reasons. But in addition to the fact that my life coach told me to do it, another reason that I do yoga is that physical therapist I saw for my Piriformis Syndrome told me that he thought it would help. I’d already done yoga when I saw him, but had stopped because of the pain in my, um…ass. He reminded me that yoga would actually help control that pain, not aggravate it. So I resumed yoga, and it turns out he was right.

5. You get ideas for blog posts. When I was in the neurologist’s office last week, we talked about what I do for a living. I actually joked with him that he should “Stay tuned for a post on visiting the Neurologist.” Et voilà!

Image: Headache by ehaver via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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‘Grown Up Telly’: Whither The BBC?

March 23, 2010

I’ve written before on this blog about my fondness for public radio, middle-aged though it may be.

And living as I have in the U.K. for three and a half years, I’ve grown particularly fond of BBC Radio and BBC Television – both of which I think of as gems of adulthood, not to be missed. (As a friend puts it, it’s where you go to watch “proper grown-up telly.” Amen.)

But, like everything, publicly funded broadcasting in the U.K. must adapt to both the forces of the market and to the digital age.

Today, I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about a recent, much-publicized Strategy Review of the BBC here in the UK and the philosophical debates it has opened up over the meaning and viability of public service broadcasting going forward.

Have a look…

Image: BBC Radio Leeds by TGIGreeny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Throwing Away The Outline (In Writing And Life)

March 22, 2010

There’s a lot to be said for having an outline when you write.

It gives a structure to your story. It reminds you where you are when you wander off to embellish some minor – but important – point and then realize that you’ve wandered so far you have no idea where you started. Above all, it’s just reassuring:  it suggests that you may actually get to the end of whatever it is you’re writing.

I usually work from a sort of loose outline when I write. Occasionally, I don’t. I just sit down with a bunch of points I want to make and improvise my way towards a conclusion. Usually – about half way through that sort of writing – I figure out what I really wanted to say. And once in a while, I create a really detailed, formal outline of exactly how I’m going to proceed with a given piece.

I used this last strategy – to my own detriment – last week on a feature I’m writing for PoliticsDaily.com about the BBC (watch this space.) It’s a topic that’s obsessed me for as long as I’ve lived in the UK, and I’ve been dying to write about it for years. But I needed to wait until there was a news hook to have an excuse to write the article.

But when I finally sat down to write, I had so much material buzzing around my head – research…interviews…newsclips…my own experiences – that I was a bit overwhelmed. So I started outlining. And outlining. And outlining some more.

I thought that this would help me write the piece more quickly. But the truth was – when I actually put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys), I was so immersed in the subject matter that the points I wanted to make just flowed on their own. So I ended up tossing my outline aside and just running with it. I let the piece “write itself” as it were, rather than trying so hard to control it.

And guess what? It came out much more quickly. And I realized after a few days that I probably could have finished the whole thing much sooner if I’d just given into the creative process rather than obsessively trying to outline my way through it.

This is true in life as well. You see, I’m a planner. (Some might – ahem – say I plan too much. Darling? Is that you?) I tend to approach things that make me stressed (read: just about everything) by scheduling:  carefully planning out my time,  putting dates in the calendar, making endless to-do lists. But we all know that life is best lived in the moment, not through an outline.

I’m trying to keep this in mind as I gear up for my upcoming move which will occupy a lot of psychological real estate in my head over the next six or seven weeks. As I near the move date, my instinct will be to immerse myself in the boxes and the movers and the change-of-address forms. And, sure, those things need to happen.

But what I should really focus on is how happy I am that we are moving to a bigger space, with really nice views, right next to a gigantic park, where my kids can play football (soccer) and run around. And I can take long walks and chill. And *that’s* what this move is about.

Watch this space.

Image: Outlining by dmscvan via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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