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.

 

 

 

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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.

The “Gift” of Health Literacy & Happy Holidays!

This holiday season take a moment to think of the most important gift for yourself, your family, your community. The gift of health literacy … to better health! Why? We know that those with more health literacy (HL) have better personal health habits, overall healthcare costs are reduced by way of less emergency room use; healthier people don’t use expensive services as much as those with more serious diseases or who are more prone to accidents largely due to lack of self-awareness and self-care. High HL people are likely to be more involved in their community as volunteers, join activities related to  healthier habits, advocate for themselves and others on health issues. Some countries do better than others when HL was measured nationally in eight EU countries, check out the HLS-EU video. In truth, we have a lot to learn from each other. How? Here are some general HL thoughts for the holidays:

  • Recycle more to reduce waste and landfill overuse. Good news for Greece — Greeks are recycling at over 50% daily!
  • Reduce vandalism and encourage waste clean-up — be responsible! You can throw away your own trash when in a public space (not for the street-cleaners, your mom, or waitstaff person), clean-up beaches, be mindful of the excessive vandalistic and narcissistic graffiti like “tagging.” Only tasteful and culturally mindful graffiti art makes for positive change like the “Owl of Athens.”  Vandalistic graffiti particularly on historical buildings and monuments doesn’t beautify, neither does trash dumped on sidewalks, coffee cups left everywhere by careless passers by or visitors. This all creates problems for countries who are already tight for funding, and tourists don’t particularly like to visit “ugly cities” and if you don’t believe it, check out the post on Athens vandalistic graffiti
  • Follow the speed limit & be the designated driver to prevent road accidents leading to injuries or even death (WHO documents how reducing speed can decrease injury). Companies like Coca-Cola have taken this on as a corporate reminder calling these drivers who will not drink and take you home safely as “the heroes of the Christmas party” suggesting free soft-drinks as rewards to the designated driver.
  • Share stories and good health habits with children and teens while learning from the community elders (see elder life stories impact on next generation health professionals as another benefit of this inter-generation communication)
  • Write and advocate for companies to take on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as these efforts are even more important in times of crisis.
  • Reduce those holiday blues (see Mayo Clinic’s tips) as the holidays can be a “mixed bag” for many of us, as social and family gatherings that can trigger our over-eating, drinking and generally the not-so-good for us behaviors. Some people even savor spending time alone on Christmas (possible cultural differences?)
  • Hug and spend time with others and pets/animals today… social support and the comfort of touch does wonders for your heart and health
  • Building better health for you and others can be easy and fun!

Five health-building tips for you to start today:

1) Build mindfulness skills to help you “read” your body better as part of your self-awareness learning among other things to better manage your emotions-thoughts, eating, breathing, stress levels, and generally more aware of “others” around us. There are many sites and research related to mindfulness, including these eight mindfulness exercises one can easily do on a daily basis. Who doesn’t want to better monitor their “bad” eating habits, slow down, keep chronic stress at bay, and relate better to others?

2) Consider partaking in health “days” or themed months! For example September 29th is World Heart Day to increase awareness of heart disease and stroke, November was Diabetes Awareness month, December 1st was HIV/AIDS Awareness World AIDS day, Anti-Bullying awareness days or weeks are celebrated throughout the year in many western countries as European nations work to establish the Europe-wide Campaign for Anti-Bullying upcoming on March 6th (the European Anti-Bullying Network)  (the International Day of Non-Violence is celebrated in October), or World Oral Health Day (March 20th) since many people don’t visit the dentist due to financial difficulties.  Look around and see what you can do to showcase and educate!

3) Be a model for young children and teens!  There are so many agencies and non-profits to work with throughout the year… not just the holidays.

  • Giving in-kind donations such as non-perishable food, clothes, toys in good condition for children, school supplies, not just around the more traditional holidays of Christmas but cultural holidays like  Easter 🐣 where people can donate baskets of goodies and candles (in Eastern Orthodox traditions these beautiful “lambades” λαμπάδες are offered by godparents to their godchildren).
  • Being part of a child’s “wish” through organizations like Make-a-Wish foundation, as even helping with the seemingly tedious administrative stuff is critical since low-staffed organizations may not have time or resources to do all of this!
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Hellenic American College students (Athens) taking part in volunteerism activities 2016

Organized groups like Boys and Girl Scouts model helping and leading behaviors from a young age and this activity can lead to well-adjusted teens and adults (the Greek Boy Scouts are one of the oldest existing scout groups) — one article lists the top 10 health benefits of joining the Boy or Girl Scouts. Personally, love those girl scout cookies!  Schools and institutions where children, teens, young and older people organize to donate goods, or partake in food-pantries and soup kitchens through organizations like Caritas, teach language skills to poor and refugees, in turn offer important life lessons of empathy as well as develop organizational skills. Many schools, NGOs and for-profit organizations turn entire communities on to better habits like “walking for health” or “cleaning up the environment” throughout the year (e.g. clean up waste in April & May, check out Greece – Let’s Do It — close to 3 million in several countries were mobilized!).

4) More active time, consider this:

  • walk around to “window shop”
  • park further away when you’re at the mall
  • go to farmers markets (λαϊκή) for your holiday fruit & veggies
  • donate time in community soup kitchens
  • gather food items and pharmaceuticals for social clinics
  • make goodies to sell for holiday bazaars, the homeless, etc.
  • spend less time on-line and finally catch up with those friends in person; spending less time on-line and more for other important life tasks (think about decreasing gaming and excessive need for social media like Facebook)
  • pick up better skills like public speaking and leadership, join Toastmasters! Learning through practice and sharing can be beneficial and fun. The very skills you need for gaining self-esteem, being more confident when speaking and leading, can improve and even help you change your career!doxie_xmastree2016

5) Review your own “health chart” — annual health check-ups that need to be made?  December is a good time to reflect on the past year and what we may want to add to those New Years resolutions!

Enjoy the holiday cheer, focus on positive change and be more mindful of your health and community wellness for the new year!