Tag Archives: mental health

Relief Art

Feeling anxious or upset?  A number of things exist to help you out – reading, walking, meditation, exercise.  But have you ever thought of visiting a museum to ease that apprehension?  Turns out that patronizing a museum might be one avenue of relief for anguished souls.  A University of Pennsylvania study entitled “Art Museums as Institutions for Human Flourishing” published in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicates as much.

The relatively new field of “positive psychology” studies “the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”  It draws on research from a variety of academic disciplines while examining how the arts and humanities affect the human condition.

“We believe our collaborative and interdisciplinary work is all the more vital at a time when so many individuals and communities lack the levels of well-being they need to thrive,” said James O. Pawelski of UPenn.

Pawelski and colleague Katherine Cotter had already planned to study the effects of museums on people’s mental health when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  Since so many museums were forced to shut down, the duo compiled and reviewed over 100 research articles and government and foundation reports.

They discovered that visiting a museum reduced stress levels, frequent visits decreased anxiety, and viewing figurative art lowered blood pressure. They also found that museum visits lowered the intensity of chronic pain, increased a person’s life span, and lessened the likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia.  And those living with dementia saw mental and physical benefits as well: Spending time in a museum induced more dynamic stress responses, higher cognitive function, and improvements in the symptoms of depression.

Going to a museum also left elementary schoolers feeling “restored” and even made medical residents feel less emotionally exhausted.

To most artists, this shouldn’t be surprising.  Writers, painters, musicians and the like have always had the ability to unite people when politicians couldn’t.  And now, our desires to make people’s lives better has been vindicated once again.

Image: Dallas Museum of Art

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Neuro-Excited

As The Chief continues his technical writing pursuits, I periodically encounter some odd elements.

In the email below, for example, the recruiter either wasn’t familiar with the English language or they tried to be inspirational.  But yeah!  There are few things more exciting than looking for a job!  I mean what reasonable person doesn’t enjoy the rigor of composing a perfect correspondence to a potential employer – especially if they’re desperate to find a job.

Then there’s this beauty below.  While applying for another tech writing job last December, I had to complete a section which asked a question I’d never seen before.

‘Do you identify as neurodivergent.’

Neurodivergent?!  I actually had to look that up – and was offended they’d made such an inquiry.

For years companies have been taking people’s fingerprints and making copies of their driver’s licenses.  I never had a problem with that and always acquiesced.  It was just part of the hiring process.

I’ve also undergone drug screenings, which entail urinating into a plastic cup.  I still find that more intrusive than anything and – after my last such screening a few years ago – vowed never to do it again.  In that incident I inadvertently starting washing my hands after stepping out of the room, which I didn’t know was forbidden.  I’d already handed the cup to the gloved associate who had been standing immediately outside.  When she practically hollered at me for reaching towards the sink, one of her colleagues (they were both female) passed by and made some chicken-shit comment about men not being able to follow instructions.  They began laughing to which I promptly responded, “Excuse you!”  That seemed to upset them, but I will not be disrespected.  Imagine if male associates had said something similar to a woman.

Now some employers are asking for proof of COVID vaccinations.  And exactly what type of shot I received!  And from where!  That’s when I stop being conciliatory.  I simply told one recruiter ‘NO’.  I would not tell them exactly what type of anti-COVID vaccine I received, much less provide a copy of the card displaying my personal data.  If it’s a remote position, who really cares if I’m vaccinated?!  I received both shots, each of which made me ill.

Understand I’m not some right-wing extremist or a Canadian truck driver.  I think the COVID hysteria has reached a crescendo.

But neurodivergent?!  That’s a new one, which I find as intrusive as the cup thing.

Several years ago a human resources associate with the energy company where I worked asked if I’d had personality disputes with coworkers.

“Come on now,” I replied.  “You’ve been around long enough to know, when you gather different people from different backgrounds in one location to work together, inevitably there’ll be some conflict.”

My elaborate answer seemed to surprise her.  I surmise she was accustomed to hearing something like, ‘Oh never!’  Or, ‘Of course not.  I get along with everybody.  I’m a people person.’

But she had to concede I was right.  A company never knows what they’re going to get when they hire someone new.

Neurodivergent?!

This moment came a few months after I’d had a heated text discussion with a long-time acquaintance who lives in California.  He was involved with two younger men – a couple he’d met on a dating site.  He described one of them as somewhat anti-social, adding that the guy’s mental aptitude fell along the autism spectrum.  He went further, though, declaring that people who aren’t good in dealing with other people are borderline autistic.

It stunned me.  I’ve never been good in dealing with other people.  My parents could never understand why I had such a tough time making friends.  But no one had ever deemed me autistic.  To me autism is just one step above mental retardation.  My California acquaintance tried to assure me he wasn’t insinuating I’m mentally retarded, but I remain unconvinced.  He doesn’t really know me.  We’ve never even met.  So I found his cyber-assessment of me as autistic insulting.

I answered no to the “neurodivergent” inquiry, but I wished there had been another option: ‘Who gives a shit!’

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Health In

This COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from the average person – no matter where in the world they live.  Here in the U.S. we’re trapped in a nightmarish scenario with a disoriented leader heralding recent gains in the stock market, while millions remain unemployed.  I’m sure those struggling to pay utilities are thrilled to know Fortune 1000 companies are enjoying record stock prices.

One of the most severe – and underrated – effects is the impact the scourge has had on people’s psyches.  Emotional, mental and physical health always become subconscious victims of any national crisis.  People are just trying to survive.

Personally, I’m in a vortex of angst and frustration.  My freelance writing enterprise – as meager as it was – has pretty much collapsed.  I’m fortunate I have some money saved from previous work, but I know that won’t last forever.  Or even much longer.  After my mother’s death this past June, though, I began to feel sick.  Friends and relatives thought I was in a state of grief, which I was for the most part.  But I thought I’d contracted that dreaded novel coronavirus.  I had many of the symptoms.  I had hoped my seasonal allergies had started to hit me early.  Then again, perhaps it was the stress of dealing with my mother’s health.  One friend suggested I was suffering from a lack of iron and Vitamin D.  Still, I finally reconciled, it may be all of the above.  Fighting so many battles at once takes a toll on the body.  And mind.

Because of the pandemic, health clubs were among those businesses shuttered across the nation in an effort to contain the spread.  I last visited my gym in mid-May; shortly before the rehabilitation center where my mother had been staying shoved her out because her Medicare benefits had been exhausted.  (That’s another story!)

But even after my gym reopened in June, I still haven’t visited.  Again it was that awful sickness.  I didn’t know what was wrong.  I’ve taken to doing basic calisthenics and walking along an exercise trail behind my home in recent weeks in the middle of the day.  I used to go running, but I don’t have the strength right now.  Key words: right now.  Once you take off a long time without doing any kind of exercise besides laundry and loading and unloading the dishwasher, it’s a tad bit difficult to get back to normal.  But even that little bit still makes me feel good.

Seven years ago I wrote about my tendency to visit my local gym on Saturday nights, when hardly anyone was present.  I commented that only lonely fools like me did such a thing.  At the turn of the century, working out on a Saturday night was unmanageable.  But the gym I had at the time was open 24 hours.  It was a perfect time to jog on a treadmill and lift weights, I realized, with such a sparse crowd.  No one was there to be “seen”.  That quiet time – with various types of music blaring from the myriad speakers lingering overhead – allowed me to think of every aspect of my life.

I left that gym in 2017 to join another local gym that closed unexpectedly a year later.  After a lengthy hiatus, I joined my current gym last year.  This is an old-school gym with no fancy juice bars or chic workout gear.  Loud rock and rap music bounces around the concrete walls.  It boasts an outside area with non-traditional workout gear, like tractor tires and tree stumps.  Men can go shirtless.  People there sweat – they don’t perspire!  It’s not for suburban soccer moms or GQ cover models.  (No offense to soccer moms!)  I feel more than comfortable in such an environment.

I know it’s tough to take one’s mental and physical health into consideration if you’re unemployed or underemployed.  But I also know you don’t have to belong to any kind of health club to care for your own health.  Mental health experts are concerned about the severity this pandemic is having on people’s well-being.  Quarantines are literally driving people crazy.  And to drink too much alcohol and/or consume illegal drugs.  Or contemplate hurting themselves.  A bad economy helps none of that.  I can identify with all of that.  I really do feel that kind of pain.

Just walking the other day, carrying a water bottle and letting the sun emblazon my bare torso, helped me mentally.  It didn’t make everything magically disappear once I returned home.  I knew it wouldn’t.  But maintaining one’s health – as best as possible, even in the worst of times – is vital.  It can’t be overemphasized.

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No Synching

Dearest Followers:

Allow The Chief to pull his Stradivarius from behind the toilet paper and bathroom cleaning supplies and attempt whole-heartedly to extract a bit of sympathy from you.  This past Monday, October 21, I awoke feeling disoriented.  I can’t explain it exactly, but I simply felt…weird.  Yes, I realize you folks have come to expect that from me, especially since I’m a writer, and a troubled mindset is one of the drawbacks of the creative spirit.

I’ve encountered this sensation before – only once previously, though.  But, on this past Monday, it felt more intense and painful.  I kept feeling that anything and everything I did – no matter how small or mundane – wasn’t right.  I couldn’t open a door in the right way.  I couldn’t even pick up a piece of trash the right way.  I mean, EVERYTHING I did wasn’t right.

I keep thinking it might be related to my allergies.  The summer to fall transition is almost always the worst for me.  But, every few years, I have a period like now, where it hits harder than freight train striking a vehicle stuck on the tracks.  Simple over-the-counter and / or home-based remedies won’t help.  I have to visit my family doctor and get some high-caliber, prescribed medicine.  This year, he gave me three.  Feeling tired and lethargic comes with the territory.  I’ve always said my worst allergies follow the hurricane season in the Atlantic / Caribbean basin.  And, this time around, the storm was a Category 5.

I’m pretty much over all that mess now.  But…that overwhelming disoriented feeling.  Is that related to my allergies and / or the prescribed medicines?  I know some high-octane medicines have a myriad of potential side effects.  In fact, reading the list of side effects – diarrhea, fatigue, nausea – makes me wonder if they’re worth the trouble.  Let’s see, what do I prefer?  A runny nose or a runny ass?  Too many choices!  Like trying to find a book to read while eating cereal.

Then again, are my years of frequent alcohol consumption finally coming back to haunt me, like the fact I never attended a high school dance?  I consider myself a recovering alcoholic, but I still haven’t given it up permanently.  Smoking, yes, but I can’t resist a good screwdriver or wine cooler!  I just watch myself.

Perhaps, this is what life is like headed towards age 60 – meaning the seventh decade of my existence.  As a youth, I recall my parents – mainly my mother – opining that life begins at 40.  At that time, people, indeed, seemed to have reached the apex of happiness with family, career, etc.  Now, I hear that 50 is the new 40.  Medical advances have made it more likely people will live into their 80s and 90s.  Thus, 50 really is becoming middle age for many Americans.

I just don’t know.  But I feel friends and family are likely to scoff at me, if I mention aloud that I’m feeling incredibly disoriented.  ‘So, what’s new?’ they might say.  ‘Tell me something I DON’T know!’  Okay, okay!  You don’t have to rub it in, like sandpaper mistaken for…well, toilet paper.

I’m only putting this out there – to this audience, my faithful followers – because I’m not really ashamed of it.  It’s just frustrating and annoying.  Okay, it pisses me off!  It interferes with my daily activities.  I can’t even work on my creative writing.  That disoriented sensation blocks my artistic mind from producing anything.  So, I just go to sleep.

As with the last time this happened, I realized I just needed to stop trying so hard to understand it and merely take a shower and plunge into my bed with its 10-year-old mattress.  I’m curious to know, however, what you folks think.  Has this happened to you and, if so, how did you deal with it?  Remember, if you don’t take this seriously, we’ll hear about more drama from the British royal family!

Image: Gary Larson, “The Far Side”

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