Be the change…the message of love and unity

The “morning after” Valentine’s Day I came across short video cartoon part of a series meant to help people understand about relationships a series by Fabiosa Better World. This featured a woman who felt disgruntled in her 10 year marriage, and no longer smiled at her husband, didn’t make his favorite food, was basically indifferent  and thus he was ready to divorce or I’m sure look elsewhere. He called his elder father who basically gave him basic advice — have you kept your end of the “bargain” have you kept your promises? He thought about it. He changed his behavior. This included having a “date night”, buying her a gift, helping with the house chores. Surprisingly to him, everything he used to have came back and his marriage made it successfully…simple things make the difference, BE the change in love  (by the way the 8-10 year mark is important because you either “make” it or “break” it as a couple, according to statistics).

I also participated in a training by organization Fractality on “appreciative inquiry”, who had invited an elder wise guest speaker a “yogi” in my mind, to work with mindfulness in our group on finding the goodness and inner peace in very difficult situations whether they be individuals or communities. We randomly got cards and my two are featured here reminds me of the important health literacy work in our community. BE the change in your community. Use your networks, get training to build skills, work with goodness and peace of mind.

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Birds of a feather, Flu season and personal responsibility

Everyone loves flamingos right? Birds migrate to warmer climates throughout the year despite global warming and colder climates with snow in unlikely places (last post). We all should know that birds are one of the major ways disease is transmitted across continents and via mosquitoes to animals and humans! .

Have you ever stopped to think how your own actions could prevent further spread of what are known as “communicable diseases” such as flu? This season is prime for H1N1 (known as swine flu) or others like bird flu, and the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization constantly share updates on disease spread and prevention.

Good friend Jenny, did her part too! She’s not only talented as a Dramaturg and Stage Director, she recently proved to be very health literate too! Being health literate is having the ability to act appropriately medically (getting tested, vaccinated, taking appropriate meds once sick, resting and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration), and taking personal responsibility to prevent disease spread.

Her Facebook post (permission to share with you) says it all. It was the first time we had “virtual drinks” and it was a great time despite illness!  Thanks Jenny for doing your part! Maybe it’s true that birds of a feather truly hang together…

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We need some ‘snow literacy’

Perhaps it is due to ‘chance’ or is it related to climate changes, but many parts of the world are having some unusual weather.  Take snow in greater Athens.  Unexpected yet so perfect ‘powder snow’ as the image below from Kifissia (Northern suburb of Athens).  In most places it was about 1 foot of snow (0.30 cm.) but in other places over 4 feet (1.22 meters). From the perspective of our individual and community knowledge and what I’ve been seeing in the local news here in Greece, our ‘snow literacy’ is lacking. Then again, some other crazy stories from snow-familiar places like New England (U.S.) who put out calls for snow emergencies are similar — this includes the guy who went jogging during a snow emergency and was accidentally plowed over because the snow plower worker did not see him (understandable due to low light or snow flurries)… or people driving fast in dangerous snow conditions.

There are many types of snow that one can find from places like the ‘National Snow and Ice Data Center’ (Types of Snow, NSIDC). We all can remember at least once making those wonderful snow angels so why ruin that pleasantry with a tragedy film of small-town America which received low reviews this past decade (Snow Angels from the New York Times Review).

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Snow melts, hence ice, hence slippage and likely injury.  You need to sweep and shovel the snow, throw sand or salt on it as it melts, and at night when it is colder tread carefully (including appropriate shoes, and car tires) or not at all.  Avoid slipping, sliding, to prevent injury. Of course on the other hand, some physical therapists, orthopedics and sports doctors will have some extra work!

Question #1 — why go running in your school courtyard if your principal told you not to go out?  This happened to a school today in Northern Greece and the young man (anonymous) at about age 15 (the highest age of ‘sensation-seeking behaviors’ as described by developmentalists) fell and broke his leg.  His parents are now going to sue.

Question #2 — can parents afford to not go to work because their kids’ schools are declared closed?  This is because the municipality does not have appropriate snow plowing machines, no basic shoveling done, and worse no salt to throw on the ice.

Question #3 — unrealistic expectations from some people expecting the government to actually plow their front door or worse, beating up the slow plower person because they did ‘not do a good job’ with the street? This is another unrealistic expectation.

Question #4 — why can’t people be responsible to take care of ploughing their front sidewalk as they do in other parts of the world, else be fined?  This could include cleaning up waste or unwanted tagging graffiti (some of it is done because the thieves want to ‘mark’ their target territory). Since we also want to respect cities I must emphasize the recent ‘fines’ placed on a 15-year-old Greek girl who thought it would be ‘cute’ to write her name and ‘was here’ on a historical bridge in Florence, Italy. She got caught, fined, and could have faced imprisonment.  My final question — why are we not following suit in common sense policies and procedures?

Yes indeed, snow literacy should be one of the fundamentals of survival and overall health literacy.

Seeing red signs? color, nature, and signs

One of my students was interested in seeing what adjectives we associate with colors and how our mood is potentially are affected by color in the short or long-term. Her project truly reflects both nature (certain colors calm while others excite us neurologically) and nurture (what we see, hear in our culture reflects our perceptions).

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Red Moon — photo by Bill Coast (c) 2018

There is an entire ‘color psychology’ out there and many articles written like this one : Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel? (VeryWellMind, September 2018). A while ago I had posted about the “Dark Moon….” and last summer there was a “Red Moon” citing starting late July through more recent weeks in August.

As leaves and seasons change to Fall-Winter our vegetables and fruits become deeper oranges and reds like vitamin C- rich pomegranates, cranberries, or Beta-carotene pumpkin pickings from the fields.  We eventually have these part of our Thanksgiving tables (if you are American) or your pumpkin soup like this great pumpkin-ginger recipe by my favorite ‘food revolutionist‘ and British chef, Jamie Oliver. Jamie’s TedEx talk about obesity in America and dietary changes around the world is still current today in our attempt to curb over-eating and eating food that is neither good for us or our communities. We love comfort foods to pep up our moods but let’s consider what we put inside our body today.

The month of November starts with health issues including Alzheimer’s Awareness, Diabetes Awareness, Tobacco Awareness and COPD month, and we end up thinking about all our extra calories after eating our turkey dinner. Perhaps our need for extra food is part of our packing up for our natural winter ‘hibernation’ as some may also suffer from seasonal affective disorders? There is a SAD test you can take today to determine if you indeed suffer from this disorder, consider environmental changes like diet and ‘light treatment’… again on the issue of colors — yellow, blue, red… ergonomics research on firetrucks has proved that lime yellow is a safer color than red, yet we seem to be stuck on the former as our preferred color of firetrucks around the world. Old habits die hard, including our own health literacy habits. Red is an ‘excitable’ color it makes sense that fire alarms are still red, and the red ‘do not smoke sign’ is just as common. I personally think Starbucks has the best line on its “thank you for not smoking” sign reminding people about maintaining the coffee’s smell and taste —  simply brilliant!

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Post Rafina fires … “I saved my family and property” one family’s story

October 10th is annual World Mental Health day (WHO-MentalHlth) and all that Falls upon us may include recent or past traumatic events, including the Rafina “Mati” fire of July 2018 (see past post ‘Ashes to Ashes‘). As psychosocial and public health professionals we refer to post-symptoms including anxiety and depression, loss of sleep etc. which may be indicative of a post-traumatic stress disorder after a shocking or life-threatening event. Last September I interviewed and photographed one woman and her property in Rafina, 10 minutes away from “Mati” where approximately 100 people lost their lives in July 2018.

Fire moves fast, mostly passing on the ground or heat melting  leaves from trees and plants, or parts of homes.  We heard so many stories of ‘survival’ of people jumping into the sea and swimming for hours to be rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard, or running down stone pathways away from the fire. Just a few hours…. that was the time it took for utter devastation. This post focuses on survival. How one woman’s story of saving her home and property with her family.   Eleftheria (her name means ‘freedom’ in Greek) is in her 70’s and she made it through using prevention smarts, quick courageous actions during the event, and likely one who has high health literacy.

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This close….I saved my family and property.

Traveling to their home I did not know what to expect.  Realizing the last time I visited the area was the beginning of July, coming ‘this close’ to the now tragically famed “Mati” fire where many people died, many lost their property.  What I encountered left me open-mouthed.  This family’s home was completely surrounded by ashes — several homes and surrounding land were burned to the ground. A few streets down there were blackened charcoal regions, houses with burned windows in a corner part near one of the small ports nearby — there an elderly couple died of smoke inhalation.  They did not know each other — but it came this close — it could have been them….

To my amazement, as we walked around their four-acre land only a few trees were burned, though clearly evidence of heat-fire having passed as if on the surface of the earth’s skin… Now only happy animals play or search for food in this family’s fields.  This includes 40 chickens (only one was lost in the fire because it got scared and wandered off), two dogs — a shepherd and a hound, almost all bee hives were untethered.  I sat down with Eleftheria to hear her family’s story, what they did and how…. in hindsight they took risks but they managed to stay out of harm’s way near cemented parts of the home (like their basement) — we now understand for the area there was no clear evacuation plan of the region by the local municipality or media. As a matter of fact most families watching the news that day thought that the fires were only happening in the Peloponnese in Kineta, and from Pendeli (in Attica) fires moved quick as if in a large downward ski slope all the way trough Rafina, to the Mati area.

“It took two hours”, “I thought it was the end of my parents” said her daughter, “I thought it was the end…” said her husband who is now over 95 years old.  But Eleftheria kept moving fast, protecting the animals, using water, throwing dirt or using large branches and wool type blankets to put out fires.  As she says, the primary reason they survived was due to prevention.  Some neighbors who do not maintain their field or surrounding areas to their home had much damage done. In thinking of around the-year prevention, she shared these tips and actions:

  1. clear bushes and surrounding trash, tall grasses, cut down trees year-round, especially during the fire season (summer, dry months)
  2. some plants/trees like cactus fruit, fig trees, aloe vera prevent fire from spreading due to their deep roots which keep moisture in — maintain and plant more of them!
  3. bee hives should have a solid type foundation away from tall grasses if possible
  4. glass windows closed — wooden or plastic panels pulled away so that fire does not pass, and any melting doesn’t prevent doors from opening (for quick escapes)
  5. water storage areas (wells, containers) replenishing and cleaning fire equipment and extinguishers once a year as maintenance
  6. evacuation route pre-planned if possible (knowing the area, clear road/route signs)

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Eleftheria gives me a jar of honey taking a pose for a photograph. I am happy that she, her family, and all the animals she cares for and loves, made it through this tragedy safe and sound….. may we continue sharing lessons for locals as well as our governments to look at “lessons learned” towards improving communication and better planning efforts.

We deserve better.

Ashes to ashes…tragedy befalls us

Tragedy befalls us or does it? in Greek «τραγωδία» is a word referring to a very sad situation that doesn’t have a very happy conclusion as it leads to suffering and most often death. When we say “befalls” it refers to things that happen by fate or chance. In the ancient world there were perfect explanations for everything, and usually involved ‘gods’ or other deities and mere mortals often trying somehow to make things “right” as they raise for us ethical or real life dilemmas.

Taking a recent trip with a group of colleagues and friends to the ancient theater of Epidaurus, we experienced one of the most famous of Sophocles’ plays “Electra” which the wise poet wrote towards the end of his career playing up the post-trauma of the Trojan war in the house of Mycenaean King Agamemnon (more here: classical literature ‘Elektra’). Though many directors change the structure of the plays to make them more to modern standards, this version was truly respectful of the storyline. More importantly we FELT the pain and inner struggle of the characters…I can still hear the drums beating as fast as my heart in the evening darkness as the actors in unison walked slowly with floating robes like solemn soldiers on a mission.

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Concluding the play Elektra, Epidaurus Summer 2018 Festival

This ancient theater in the valley of the Peloponnese is an acoustical marvel, and many world famous actors have passed through including Kevin Spacey as King Richard III (by William Shakespeare) honoring the ancient tradition with exceptional performance — glimpses can be had on this ‘World Stage’ clip.

I still recall Elektra’s brother Orestes’ blood-stained arms, the circles of ashes made in Elektra’s frenzy. Ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, this indeed is all we are made of. How ironic that the very next day we would be witnessing real-time tragedies of fire and ashes with almost 100 people dead in the ‘eye’ (mati) of Rafina, a seaside community outside of Athens (coincidentally the most losses in a fire since WWII), multitudes of animals, properties and nature burned within a matter of hours…. in the days following rainstorms and flooded streets in many parts of Greece as well as a “state of emergency” in California fires on the other side of the planet this year with several firefighters already dead and almost 100,000 acres of land burned to the ground.  Apparently since last year a sobering 60 servicemen have lost their lives on duty from such things like falling trees, bulldozers, etc. (more in the Mercury News article)

Unfortunately, tragedy befell Greece, and this is due to several factors in my humble opinion —

  • communication  breakdowns — in many countries in a state of emergency the military and the government have the right to take over a situation that is out of hand and work directly with media and municipalities.
  • organization and planning — ditto for this, but we know in the summer with high winds fires are constantly being set off, what are we doing to monitor beyond forest volunteers?  what about having a ‘drone watch’? See aerial surveillance for legislatures.
  • the “oh brother” syndrome («ωχ αδελφέ μου») — really now, you ARE global citizens so act like one!
  • environmental preparedness and social marketing — cutting down overgrowth, keeping water hydrants functioning, a system of communication (sirens, media buzz sound, megaphones), volunteers patrolling forests. One favorite character that was ‘built in’ U.S. culture was Smokey the bear to ‘prevent wildfires’ including some practical how-to steps…
  • health literacy about fires — taking care with outdoor fires (beach, camp, etc.), understanding that plastic and other waste (that people often leave near bushes on the sides of the roads) can be ‘fuel’ for any set fire.  If near a fire and no access to water hoses or water (many people were saved because they went to sea) keeping wet or wool blankets, crawling on the ground to avoid smoke inhalation, having adequate fire drills (and alternate with earthquake drills in schools once a year at least!), the need to have smoke detectors as well as functioning fire hydrants, firemen equipped with supplies (addressing shortages in Greece), using volunteers effectively, understanding how important time is when there are high winds…..moving quickly is of the utmost importance.

This tragedy could have happened to any government (or political party) but the situation was all too familiar to the fires back in 2007… it was purposeful arson in many parts that also ended in tragedy. However we know that prior to 2007 the persons responsible for the fire brigade planning in the country seemed to have more clear plans to make clear paths for the fires not to ‘jump’, cutting down overgrown trees, etc.  There are so many unpaved roads, no street signs, no functioning fire hydrants (or none at all) and the list goes on and on. Notably when systems don’t work (systems), we need to test and change them to be more effective as public safety and the public’s health should override any individual ‘rights’ this is why public health law exists!

What’s left now for many are feelings of emptiness and anger for many (typical of grief and post-traumatic symptoms that can range from loss of sleep to anxiety or the need to self-medicate). Grief or “bereavement” Counseling is needed and it is important to continue support groups and understand that even those watching the news may have anxiety or worse panic attack type reactions (children are in particular vulnerable to anxiety so it’s important to discuss with them ways to feel safe and express their sad or angry feelings). Play and music therapy are useful as are regular counseling and parenting techniques. A local bookstore has a book for kids emphasizing the circle of life and loss for children to understand (Εκδόσεις Παπαδόπουλος «Η Έλλη και ο Κύκλος της Ζωής» — Papadopoulos book publishers “Ellie and the Circle of Life”) but there are no books in Greek specific to dealing with traumatic events. A spiritual approach and books like Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul help people who have experienced loss and difficult life ordeals. There are several theories about the stages of bereavement and people can feel denial that it happened (avoidance), anger, or try to accept it and move on. Particular emphasis on expressing sadness and anger is needed here.  It’s also not easy for servicemen (people) to endure everything from evacuating to picking up the corpses. There are many groups, therapists who use cognitive behavioral, meditation, and virtual reality techniques proven to be effective with these workers.

We are angry at the government and inefficiency. Mr. Tosca, the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently resigned, but nothing will change unless we re-evaluate and organize better — house in order, country in order, and see my past post on Kondo method. We can help Greece, a country in its worse crisis since WWII, by donating to worthwhile groups and initiatives like Act4Greece or The Hellenic Initiative, and Red Cross initiatives for those affected. In addition some self-care on a daily and weekly level like guided meditation helps. If we do this at least 3 times a week (much like exercise habits) and I particularly liked this one to bring more inner peace:

We cannot change that which we cannot control but YES we can learn to be more effective for the betterment of our communities.

 

 

 

Calling a Spade…

The joy of color, practicality and simplicity. This was what U.S. fashion designer Kate Spade inspired. A woman who made it in New York, originally from the Midwest, married for 35 years and mother to a daughter just 13 years old.  Truth is expressed in the phrase “calling a spade a spade” dating back to the times of Plutarch (ancient Greece)… nothing can be further from this in our days. The reality of midlife, excessive stress, the potential for, or reality of suicide. Does it have to be? Do so many people, including their close circle and our society need to suffer? Certainly not. A scary statistic is that in almost every state in the U.S. suicide has gone up since the year 1999 by 25% according to CDC (CNN report).  I believe that Dr. Stephen Ilardi got it right in his TedEx presentation, when he said that this is the modern epidemic of our civilization. Why? He says it is a combination of our physical self (eating habits, sleep habits, improper exercise) and our mental state.

I would further add that we have high expectations for ourselves, constantly comparing our outer ‘shells’ or situations with others (in real-time or on-line time like through Facebook), we don’t do enough self-care, we don’t have the skills needed to manage our life — keeping our life in order, cooking healthier (so many on-line sites to access) or taking supplements (my favorites are from Nutrilite), accessing social support or therapeutic support, less on-line time and more time with family, friends, nature, self-development groups; more on stress management, and financial literacy are important components of health literacy). This is particularly the case of those in the developmental stages of adolescence and midlife.

I recall years ago the movie The Hours which specifically showcased how it feels for one to be so trapped in their depression…hence another phrase ‘whose afraid of Virginia Wolfe.’  These people need to be given support networks, but it is not our job to ‘rescue’ them. But it is our job to teach younger children how to manage their emotions, how to eat better, get rid of negative thoughts, and cultivate love of learning, nature, and spirituality.  This is part of the original concept of Eudaimonia, as Aristotle described centuries B.C. “doing and living well”…. later adapted more formally into spiritual teachings, and some could even say a part of the more formal volunteerism movement. Indeed we need to cultivate this virtue of eudaimonia for a successful life as the author of the site “ARETE” indicates.

The goal in midlife as psychologist Erikson indicated is “generativity versus stagnation” — to ‘make our mark’ by creating and giving back to others and more importantly to younger generations, nicely described in the site link VeryWellmind. Teaching and working with clients in this stage of their life, we see how important it is for mid-lifers to understand and practice the above daily tasks. Else, we simply get stuck in the “swamp” of our negativity and depression. That simple, calling a spade a spade.

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Kate Spade’s designs inspired happiness

Kate was one of my favorites, whether it was eating out of her Lenox inspired cups and dishes, wearing her sunglasses or finding a place to ‘tidy up’ my make-up. Her husband Andy provided a recent statement (see Cosmopolitan article) indicating she struggled with anxiety and depression for years. Most of us know someone who is unable to get out of this ‘funk’ whether family, friend, or foe. We need to become more health literate about personality disorders, clinical versus situational depression, the reality of anxiety.  We also need to understand that some types of therapy for these disorders work better than others (cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy), while we need to move beyond the mind in addressing our spirit/soul with active work using breathing exercises, activity like yoga or taking walks in nature (sea, ocean, forest, whatever works), and believing that a higher power or energy is there to tap into if we need to. Some people just don’t bother to ask, others ask and expect too much…we cannot avoid natural disasters like recent volcanic eruptions in Guatemala but even there could they have heeded the warnings? Our body gives us warnings when we are anxious, suffer from panic attacks, are depressed, can we and do we get help in time?

The Kate Spade employees posted a dedication to her and her family on the company’s website. Sting’s song “The Shape of My Heart” is dedicated from our blog to you Kate, you inspired so many of us with your joy if you simply could see it and have gotten help in time.  Our best to your family and all families who have lost loved ones around the world.