Suicide and Altitude

BLOG FOR MENTAL HEALTH 2014

I came across this article about neuroscientist Perry Renshaw’s research into what he calls the “Utah Paradox.”

Neuroscientist Perry Renshaw

Despite ranking as America’s happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it’s the No. 1 state for antidepressant use.

I was intrigued, since I’ve known for years that a higher, drier clime has the power to make me feel remarkably happier, when I arrive from the sea level humidity where I live.

So I was intrigued, then argumentative, then baffled, then amazed as Brain Mic editor Theresa Fisher dove into the neuro-chemistry and the geo-demography (two of my favorite subjects!!) to identify the experience that I have: I lifelong depressive who feels uplift and well being from altitude.

The working theory is that high altitude hypoxia reduces seratonin but stimulates dopamine. Since I know from a major medication adjustment about 5 years ago that SSRIs alone don’t manage my depression, that helps explain my joy at altitude. Of course more sunlight and spectacular vistas certainly don’t hurt!

Where we live has so much to do with who we are, and how we feel. If you have climate or geography related experiences with your mental health, please tell us about them.

A Sea of Red

I didn’t expect to blog about Veteran’s Day

or Armistice Day, or the 100th anniversary of the War to End All Wars, but the devastatingly beautiful installation “Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red” at  the Tower of London unexpectedly moved me to tears.

Artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper created the commemoration, composed of 888,246 individually made red ceramic poppies, each representing a single fatality from the British & colonial forces in World War 1.

One cool and blustery day in November of 2004, just after the re-election of George W Bush, I was in London. I wore a button that read “I did not vote for him.”  Being a lefty all my life, I had quite recently campaigned for Kerry, and had vigorously protested our going to war with Iraq.

As I approached St. Paul’s cathedral an older man in antique uniform approached me with a paper poppy. I gladly exchanged it for a 2£ coin, and when I thanked him he exclaimed: “Oh, you’re a Yank!! We love you Americans. Thank you for all that you did. We love you!” and there were tears in his eyes, and my own.

Power speaks the truth

This installation vividly illustrates the grief and horror of war, and greatly honors the bravery, sacrifice and commitment of veterans and the families who lost them. The visual power of that monumental wash of red, surrounding the Bloody Tower itself, feels like a truth-telling. One we have all needed for some time.

Embracing the Dark Side

I was en route to the bank when had to pull over and send a tweet to the Kojo Namdi Show when I heard what today’s guest, Todd Kashdan, had to say.

At first I thought it was a strange show topic – a guy against positive thinking! But then I realized where he was going with it.  Kashdan is the Director of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University, was there to discuss his new book, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment.

The book takes on the pop culture trend of positivity and challenges the way it reinforces our habit of denying the truth of our painful experiences.

The key is in the title– be your whole self, not just your good self, and it brought to mind my remarkable journey through pop culture fandom that has done so much to help heal my creative blocks. (unfortunately it has not healed my tendency to tweet before spellchecking.)

I was socialized in the 50’s as a nicey-nice girl, a role where there was no room for loud or angry. The more life piled experiences on me, which of course included pain and anger, there was no outlet for that energy. If these experiences are always negative expressions, they have no way to exist without creating more shame and disappointment.

If we hide away more and more of our true experience of life, we inevitably become less and less authentic. Less real, even to ourselves. There are many versions of this in our mainstream culture – ‘John Wayne’ who can do everything on his own and never sheds a tear, that ‘Nicey-nice’ woman who never loses her temper, ‘Pollyanna’ who is always looking on the bright side.

I’m still very much a work in progress. It took until my 50s for me to truly embrace the inner Dark, to begin the dance with my Shadow and accept it as an integral and essential part of me.  I have become more prickly, less polite in recent years, it’s true. And the world has not ended. I have stood on my priorities, not someone else’s. I appreciate myself so much more as a result.

Do my friends? Hmmm, you’ll have to ask them. I might be a little more difficult to live with!

I’m Guest Blogging

I’m honored to have been invited to be a guest blogger at Maryland author Cheryl Holloway’s blog. She interviews writers and discusses issues pertinent to independent writers. Here’s the link:

Guest Author Patrise Henkel Discusses

“How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo”

click on the title above and go give it a read, and see what else Cheryl has to say!

Day of the Dead

We’re approaching that holiday best known in mainstream America for cosplay and sugar binges. For a deeper look into this sacred time of year, consider this:

Honoring Our Dead, Holding their Stories

MarieCartierforKCETa-thumb-300x448-72405Next Saturday, November 1,  is the holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This is a Mexican holiday that has currency now throughout the world—but especially in California. After all, in 2014 Latinos will surpass whites in California demographics. It is prevalent at this time in Southern California to see sugar skulls decorated—to even have children make decorated sugar skulls and honor the dead. The holiday provides a focal point for a centered observance and prayer dedicated to those who have died in the past year. It is connected to the other holidays at this time, particularly Halloween where as we Wiccans often say “the walls between the worlds are thin.”
Another tradition celebrated at this time is creating an altar for loved ones—or several altars or ofrendas. The altars can hold sugar skulls, photos and artifacts of the deceased, and marigolds. Marigolds are a symbol of death and are referred to as “the flower of death.” Marigold petals might mark a path from a home to a grave in a village so that the dead can find their way back for this holiday. Marigolds make arches and decorations in and around the altars/ofrendas for the scent of the marigold is purported to draw the dead back for the Day of the Dead reunion. The holiday has its roots in indigenous Mexican holidays and continues back possibly 4,000 years to Aztec rituals honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of the Underworld.Celebration at Hollywood Cemetery. Marie with sculpture at gravesite So, this holiday has its roots in feminism, goddess worship and a sharing of oral history/herstory—as well as the decorative arts, It is a perfect union of feminism and religion representing the often under-represented—those who will not, in most cases, have “official” altars built to them. It is an asking for guidance from the spirits. But, more than that it is an asking directly for guidance from our now personal guides—those who have passed before that we now hope will return and help us in the next year of our life.  …read more at feminism and religion
Author Marie Cartier lost both of her parents in the past year, so she is feeling deeply the oncoming holiday, this time for us to Dance with the Dead.  Certainly a time to celebrate ancestors, it is also a time to look at all those who have come before us, who have made our lives possible today.
Cartier honors women who came before in her recent book, Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall was published last year, with the following dedication:

To all of the gay women who came before me, cleared the path for me, and walked the path with me…butch, femme, kiki, androgynous, lesbian and transgender who dared to walk into a gay women’s bar and acknowledge themselves and their community and made a community for me to walk into.
To my mother– Joanne Marie (Curtin) Cartier– a woman who came of age in the 1950s.

How do we hold the stories and honor our dead?

Tell me about your beloved dead, those who walked before you, blazed a trail, gave you comfort and strength. Whom will you honor, and how, on Dia de los Muertos?

Big Questions, Simple (Not Easy) Answer

My Sunday ritual with the New York Times is edifying, and often gives me insight into weighty and troubling issues of our times. Good thing: if it were only the grim and terrible news, I couldn’t bear to read it. So this Sunday, these two seemingly unrelated articles entwined in a way that helped me see my own strong views more clearly:

1. Is there a ‘Bad’ Religion?

An ongoing debate launched by provocateur Bill Maher, whose guest Sam Harris, a widely published neuroscientist and atheist, challenged Liberals to uphold their principals of free speech and religion and equality for women and gays. He claims that by defending Islam as just another faith in the multi-cultural rainbow, Liberals are tolerating a hateful religion.

“We have to be able to criticize bad ideas,” said Harris “and Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.”

Reza Aslan defends multicultural tolerance

Reza Aslan wrote a beautiful rebuttal to this view, upholding the notion that extremism comes in many flavors, and many readers chimed in with their points of view.

2. One Woman’s Simple Plea

leymah gbowee
Click for Leymah’s TED talks

Three Short Films About Peace begins with a 15 video interview with 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. (I have yet to enjoy the other two films). Gbowee’s story is so riveting, so personal and so global in its relevance I was stunned. She has walked in the path of Ghandi and Dr. King before her and spoken a woman’s simple truth to power.

 “I wish for a better life. I wish for food for my children. I wish that sexual abuse and exploitation in schools would stop. This is the dream of the African girl.”

Isn’t It Obvious?

It is incomprehensible to me that a leader could ever lose sight of their responsibility to protect people from violence and mayhem. The overwhelming reaction I felt watching Leymah’s story was “Duh!”

Why isn’t it obvious that we need to feed and shelter our people and protect them from violence? Why does the ancient territorial violence override nurturing and creativity?

One simple answer is that women’s voices are not strong enough in public life.

The biggest critique I can level against Muslim culture and religion is the deletion of women’s voices from public life. Not that they are the only ones to blame for this. Orthodox Judaism and large swaths of Christianity limit women’s full participation.

In the ‘civilized’ West, we are still new to the idea of women as fully functioning members of society, being only one hundred years out from jailing and force-feeding Alice Paul for speaking up outside the White House. But we do have women in the public sphere, prime ministers, presidential candidates, and increasingly heads of business.

Half Blind

When all you hear are the views and desires of one half of your citizens, you are missing dimension of humanity necessary to survive. Compare it to monocular vision, or hearing from one ear: the amount of perspective and data missing is exponential.

We need the voices of our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, aunts, daughters and girls to be valued and heard in our culture. And that is my measure for a ‘Good’ religion. Or company, culture, neighborhood, committee, discussion group, governing body and more.

I don’t agree with Sam Harris – it does no good to brand an entire culture as ‘bad,’ but I do know that it’s Leymah who has the answer to creating the world that I want to live in.

Who Lives Among the Flowers?

Photo-blogging the summer of 2014

Last weekend I took photos of the magnolia seed pods and sent them to a friend, who exclaimed: “what an awesome praying mantis!”

I hadn’t even noticed the creature when I clicked the shutter. So, I thought, how many photos do I have with accidental critters in them? A few. But if I expand the concept, I have a great many images of life among the flowers.

Most, but not all, of these images have animals among the blossoms. Human animals included. In a few, like the first, the wildlife is invisible. It’s been a colorful year!

IMG_2485

Fairy house on Capitol Hill

LilyLaikaAzaleaPoodles Lily & Laika in Congressional Cemetery

IMG_3597Compulsive Gardener Glee

IMG_2757 Jose visits from the Left Coast

IMG_2773 Lynn and her lovely daughters, plus Hunter

IMG_2948Laurels blooming on NoName Road

IMG_2708Freya

IMG_3602Pollinators at work

IMG_3274Blogger in Bliss

IMG_3387 Silver-bordered Fritellary on Echinacia

IMG_3348  Boats & Day Lilies

IMG_3217 Zebra Swallowtail on Buttonbush

IMG_3207Carol sunning

IMG_3447Lotus in the Mattawoman, flood tide. Who swims below?

IMG_3416Forest spinner

IMG_3614Southern Magnolia pods and mantis