“A reminder of human resilience and the power of story”

When in 2003 an elderly driver plowed into a busy Santa Monica farmers’ market, 36-year-old Melissa Cronin’s life was shattered in an instant. In her riveting memoir, Cronin takes us through her journey of recovery as she slowly rebuilds her life anew. Writing with the expert eye of a medical professional, Cronin’s prose is at times tender, funny, lyrical, and always painstakingly honest. [Her Memoir] will astonish readers with a reminder of our human resilience and the power of story in our precarious lives.“
∼ Alexis Lathem 

Award-winning poet, journalist, and writing instructor.

Read More

How Yoga Helps Heal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

downward_dog

What is your New Year’s Resolution? Perhaps it’s to eat healthier, exercise more, quite smoking. Maybe you have decided to take up yoga. If you suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, yoga just might be the perfect resolution. Studies show that yoga, specifically the breathing-based aspect, improves PTSD recovery. Hyper-arousal, nightmares, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, irritability, are all common features of PTSD. Yoga, which dates back to 3,000 B.C and practiced among warriors before heading into battle, means “to unite.” In other words, it helps us become more self-aware, allowing us to feel a sense of control over our own bodies. Yoga brings the mind and body back to a state of calm. http://www.traumacenter.org/research/yoga_study.php  http://uwire.com/2014/09/17/uw-study-finds-yoga-can-improve-ptsd-recovery/

Each morning (or most mornings), I sit cross-legged on my living room rug, take several deep breaths, then launch into ten minutes of yoga: downward dog, warrior I and II, Half Moon Pose, Plank, Forward Bend, Child’s Pose (not necessarily in that order). Downward Dog is my favorite – letting my head hang, my calves and hamstrings stretching, releasing a nighttime’s worth of bad dreams.

I know I could benefit from longer sessions, so I think that’s what I’ll strive for in 2015 – to breathe deeper, unite my body and mind, and, as Certified Yoga instructor Robin Carnes says, “draw [my] attention inward, away from outside stressors.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/military-yoga-treatment_b_2443317.html

What about you? How about joining me in a few downward dogs?

Here’s a link to get you started: https://yoga.com/poses

Read More

What Does Home Mean to You?

pillow_-to_lay_head_on

A couple months ago, I trudged through the thick woods five miles from where I live, in search of homeless individuals. As part of a campaign to end homelessness in Vermont, I volunteered to find people willing to answer survey questions to identify those at high risk for dying on the streets. I had driven past the woods numerous times, numb to the homeless community surviving in the dark drizzle, lost in my small world – what should I make for dinner tonight? Salmon or Lasagna? Should I buy that new couch on sale? I really should go to the gym today. But as I stepped closer to a campsite with a one-person tent and a sagging blue tarp for a roof, my fortune on the other side of the murk seemed far away and inconsequential.

I thought about the last question on the survey: What does home mean to you? Before entering the woods, I had not spent much time, if any, examining that question. But, now, with the sagging tarp and the empty tent as real as the bone-aching cold, I could not avoid it. Home: warmth, privacy, a front door that locks. A comfortable bed.

I did not find anyone in the encampment, so I did not have the opportunity to ask the question. I headed downtown to continue my search. A mid-twenty something guy, wearing a stained sweatshirt and rubbing his hands together to stay worm, was sitting on a bench. I walked up to him and asked if he was homeless and would he be willing to answer some questions that were designed to help him. “Sure,” he said and invited me to sit next to him.

I asked him questions about his health, his interactions with the police, if he had been beaten up or threatened by others, if he received any subsidies. Then, “What does home mean to you?”

“A pillow to lay my head on.”

We gave each other a nod, as if we understood one another.

But his answer still resides in my consciousness, so much so that I am working on an essay about my experience. As I write this, though, I wonder if home is a place in which we are inextricably linked, a place that represents our unique identities. Your scent planted in your pillow. Your dreams contained in your pillow.

If you have not had the opportunity to speak to someone who is homeless about what it’s like for them to survive on the streets, or ask them what home means to them, I urge you to watch the film Without a Home. “Growing up in Los Angeles, a city with a homeless population that exceeds 90,000,” filmmaker, Rachel Fleisher, fulfills her desire to understand the homeless community in Los Angeles by spending four years connecting with the lives of six homeless individuals. http://www.withoutahomefilm.com/about-the-film

I assure you, the film will change your perception of homeless individuals.

So, I leave you with two questions to consider on this Christmas holiday: what does home mean to you? How does your home speak to your identity?

Read More

Football and Suicide

post_concussive_syndrome

Twenty-two-year-old Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge had a history of concussions. Though we don’t know the inciting event that resulted in his suicide, research suggests that athletes who sustain concussions are more likely to develop depression, disorientation, and suicide. How so? You might ask. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain, originally called “punch-drunk” syndrome in boxers, is seen in any athlete who sustains repeated head trauma, especially football players. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Karageorge was a victim of this mysterious disease, which can only be diagnosed on autopsy. “I am sorry if I am an embarrassment but these concussions have my head all f***ed up,” Karageorge said three days before he shot himself (www.washingtonpost.com/football-player-kosta-karageorge).  According to his sister, Karageorge experienced confusion and mood swings, symptoms, which, in addition to aggression and gait disturbances, are not uncommon in those with CTE (www.marquettewire.org/karageorges-death-shows-concussion).

Though football players of any age may suffer from CTE, younger athletes are particularly vulnerable. Because their brains are not fully developed, they are at risk for second impact syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that occurs when a player sustains a concussion then returns to the game and suffers a subsequent concussion before the first one has had time to heal (www.usatoday.com/highschool football deaths). More sad news: the prevalence of depression among teenagers who sustain concussions is three times higher (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24355628).

If you haven’t been following the news about brain trauma in football players, you might, or might not, be surprised to learn that, out of one hundred twenty-eight deceased players, as many as one hundred one had CTE (www.pbs.org/concussion). What steps are being taken to prevent football players from these unnecessary and brutal deaths? Both the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association settled class-action lawsuits in 2013 challenging concussion protocols. But, finally, this past November, a former football player, who sustained concussions playing the game, filed the first class action lawsuit against the Illinois State High Athletics Association.

Another young football player has also come out about his history of concussions, and subsequent plunge into depression. Though heartbreaking, his story will leave you more than informed; it will make you pause and think twice before you enroll your child in high-school football (www.huffingtonpost.com/football-concussions).

Let’s take a moment of silence for the others who chose to end their lives because of football (www.ajc.com/football-suicide):

Owen Thomas: The first, and youngest, collegiate player diagnosed with CTE.

Terry Long: An offensive lineman for the Steelers. Shot himself on June 7, 2005. Age forty-five.

Andre Waters: Played for the Steelers and the Cardinals. Shot himself on Nov. 20, 2006, at age forty-four.

Shane Dronett: A defensive lineman in the NFL. On Jan. 21, 2009, shot himself. Age forty-eight.

Dave Duerson: Played for the Bears, Giants and Cardinals. On Feb. 17, 2011, he shot himself in the chest. Age fifty.

Ray Easterling: Played for the Falcons. On April 19, 2012. Shot himself in his Richmond, Va., home. Age sixty-two.

Junior Seau: A linebacker for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. On May 2, 2012, shot himself in the chest. Age forty-three.

Jovan Belcher: A linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. Shot and killed his girlfriend, then shot and killed himself. He was twenty-five.

Paul Oliver: Played for the University of Georgia, then the Chargers. Shot and killed himself on Sept. 24, 2013. Age twenty-nine.

If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a football fan, or a non-fan, check out Steve Almond’s Book, Against Football.  An entire chapter is devoted to football and traumatic brain injuries. The research is both startling, and disturbing.

 

Read More

Put Ice On It

Once a nurse, always a nurse. For those of you who are retired from nursing, or have left nursing because your back, or psyche, can no longer bear the weight of patients, does this phrase sound familiar? Maybe you’ve changed careers – maybe you’re now a lawyer, or a writer. But you’re still a nurse.

You’re a nurse when your mother calls and says, “My leg has a red spot on it and it’s been itching for three days, what do you think it is?” You wonder if she could possibly think that you have superhero vision and can see through the telephone wires into the red spot. You tell her to stop scratching it, to put some cream on it.

You’re a nurse when a good friend asks you if you would mind telling her alcoholic brother that drinking is bad for his liver and he is at risk for liver cancer. You want to tell her that he probably won’t listen to you any more than he’d listen to family, but you know she’s desperate. You want to tell her you don’t have experience with liver disease, that you’re background in nursing is with babies, and they don’t drink, as far as you know. She says she’ll get you her brother’s phone number, but the next time you get together with her, she forgets it. You’re relieved and careful not to ask how her brother is doing.

You’re a nurse when your sister-in-law asks you what to do about her bee sting. “It’s swollen,” she says. You tell her to put ice on it. And when your mother-in-law complains of a headache, you tell her to put ice on her head. “It decreases blood flow to the area, you say, “it should help the throbbing” You’re sister-in-law, who is in the room at the time, asks, “Is ice your answer to everything?” We laugh. But I think she’s on to something. Maybe ice is the answer. Maybe the next time my mother or father, or my husband or stepchildren ask what they should do for a stubbed toe, a twitching eyelid, or a paper cut, I’ll tell them to put ice on it.

Since “you’re the nurse in the family,” you’re assigned as your father’s health care proxy. He has Alzheimer’s and can no longer make decisions for himself. He requires caregivers to help him bathe, dress, and sometimes eat. His doctors call you for consent to admit him to the hospital when he suffers from pneumonia, or diverticulitis, or a blood clot. You are called upon to decide whether or not your father should have surgery to remove a lesion that might or might not be cancerous. You are asked to weigh the risks and benefits of every medical intervention your father faces. Sometimes you wish you never became a nurse.

But you are a nurse –no amount of ice can change that.

 

 

 

Read More