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Friday, November 24, 2017

Monthly Dose of S.H.A.M.E.: It's not that bad

It's not that bad.

How many times have you said that to yourself?

I said some version of that to myself for over 10 years before I finally saw a counselor.

Here's the thing folks, you can probably always find someone (or hear about someone from someone else) who has it worse off than you.

And it is real scary to actually deal with our demons.

But if we scoot away from mental health over to physical health, our lack of rationality in this area might be a little clearer.

You have a paper cut on your knuckle- it's not that bad. But every time you bend your knuckle, it re-opens and takes much longer to get better.

You have a gash from tripping and banging your shin into a sharp piece of metal - it's not that bad.  But if you don't clean it and take care of it, it could get nasty.

You break your arm - it's not that bad.  But if you don't see a doctor and get a cast, it could heal crookedly and cause you pain down the road.

You might look at people who have cancer, who hit their head and have post-concussion syndrome and headaches, who get frequent migraines, who have intestinal issues, who are in a terrible car accident and have to have a leg amputated,  who are paralyzed, who have a neurologic disease, the list goes on.

And you say to yourself: "It's not that bad.  I can handle this.  I should be grateful that xyz didn't happen to me."

And it's all well and good, but it misses the point.  It is.  (Whatever "it" is - be it anxiety, depression, difficulty getting over a breakup, dealing with lack of purpose in your life, not being able to pursue the career you want because you didn't get accepted into the program, etc.)

And, as a person who treats physical problems, I will tell you it is much easier to help someone who comes in when "it's not that bad" compared to the person who comes in and says "It wasn't that bad when I first started feeling the pain 1, 2, 5, 10 years ago."

At the very least, even if you don't seek professional help, try to change the verbiage in how you address yourself and your current problem or situation.  Move away from "It's not that bad" and toward validating your emotions and experience. "This is really hard for me.  I don't understand why I feel so ______, but I do. "

Many times, when we add the "It's not that bad", even if just to ourselves, it is coming from a place where we feel that if we were honest about how we feel, someone might tell us that it's not valid to feel the way we feel.  That someone might tell us that "it's not that bad."  And we don't want to experience that shame.

So let's not shame ourselves.

Let's speak to ourselves in ways that validate and affirm that we are humans.  That we have difficult emotions.  That it is normal to find ourselves at times overwhelmed, anxious and/or depressed by situations and experiences in life.  And it is normal to need help and support and tools to deal with these emotions.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Feeling and Smell

As a physical therapist, I've long been intrigued by the senses.  Learning about the complexities of the neuromuscular system and its effect on our experience of the world is fascinating.

Most of us learned at some point in elementary school that there are five basic senses:


That pretty much covers everything.

In physical therapy we explore the complexities of feeling - not touch but feeling.  Do you feel sharp or dull pain? Is it cold or hot? Do you feel pressure? Can you tell what you're feeling in your pocket without looking at it? If I put your arm in a position while you have your eyes closed, can you put your other arm in the same position?  Can you pinpoint where you're feeling that sensation?

Taste and smell have been linked in conversations I've had - when you have a cold, your food doesn't taste quite as good.  If something has a really strong taste, you can make consuming it slightly more palatable by pinching your nose or avoiding inhaling while you chew.  Many older people lose their appetites and one reason is that eating is no longer a pleasurable experience because they have lost much of their ability to actually taste the food.

In English, we probably overuse the verb "feel".  We use it to describe emotions as well as what we actually feel with our "touch" sensors. "I feel like you are angry." "I feel like I told you this already." Do I really have a feeling, or have we slightly shifted the meaning of the word to indicate something more like thinking but less conscious, more automatic?

As I began learning Slovak, I encountered the word "cítiť"  the infinitive verb meaning "to smell, feel, taste, savor".  Those are a lot of senses crammed into one word!

When used to indicate smell it describes when you smell something - e.g. "I smell smoke."  When you want to say that something smells good - e.g. "The roses smell amazing" - you use the verb "voňať".  When you want to say that something smells terrible - e.g. "That dumpster stinks" - you use the verb "smrdieť". (Which, coincidentally, sounds like it smells bad!)

The curious thing about this verb "cítiť" in Slovak is that if you add the reflexive "sa", it means "I feel" in the sense of an emotion or experience.  "Cítim sa dobre." I feel good.

It's interesting to me that in English we merge the sense of touch with our emotional feelings, where as in Slovak they merge their sense of smell with their emotional feelings.

Not that it's a surprise, but I like the linguistic evidence that our senses and emotions are more complicated than a simple list that kindergarteners learn or even the complex nerve endings and receptors that neuroscientists and physiologists and anatomists study.

We are complex and our experiences of the world are intricate and unique.

Maybe linguistics have a role in the translation of Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."  Using the construct of all our physical senses combining to create both an emotional experience and an intellectual knowledge of God's goodness.

*Purely for the linguistically interested:
The phrase "cítim sa pod psa"  literally means "I feel under the dog", but in idiomatic form means "I feel under the weather" or "I feel as sick as a dog".

for more photos from underneath dogs, visit

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Toilet Tuesdays: Multi-cultural Inclusion

Local elections all over Slovakia were held last Saturday.  Right before my husband headed out to vote, he read that foreigners with long-term stay visas could also vote. So. Of course I wanted to take advantage of this great privilege.

As in the US, voting is conducted in local public schools.  During my first visit to a public school in Slovakia, I read posters about Slovak writers, the types of shoes you should wear to school and how to take better care of your soul and spirit.  I also voted.

As we left the building, I happened to notice this sign on the bathroom. I'm always on the lookout for bathrooms that might lend themselves to a story. ;)

I stepped closer and realized that written below the primary languages of the region (Slovak, English, German) were more than 20 other languages!

I thought this was an appropriate placard for a country that allows foreigners to vote in local elections, but I also was surprised.  Slovakia has managed to evade the EU quotas of accepting refugees and doesn't really boast a wide range of cultures making their homes within the country.

Perhaps this sign is a "sign" of a desire within the education system to expose students to other languages and cultures.  Even in Europe, where you are surrounded by different languages and cultures, it can be hard to get out of your comfort zone and seek out friendships and associations with people who are different from you.

This toilet reminded me, that even in a country that doesn't have a lot of opportunities to interact with a wide-variety of different cultures, it's our attitude of being willing to engage and interact that's important.