Create Change With Simple Gestures!

We live in a time of social expression, but very little personal interaction.  We reach out through texts and social media platforms, but it almost becomes alien to reach out a hand to someone who needs us.  As we experience an explosion of technology that transforms from moment to moment, we work so hard to keep up.  Unfortunately, in the process, we lose a bit of our humanity as well.

As we tune out the world around us to embrace the one in our phones and tablets, it becomes easier to look past the homeless person on the side of the road.  We find it easier to judge people online, and that judgement can become bullying.  We see tears as cute emojis, and we begin to lose the compassion that made us human.

People struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, and so many other mental illnesses, but do we see them as a person, or a label?  When will we finally realize that we need to come together to remove the stigma around mental illness, and open our hearts to the person who is diagnosed.  In fact, we are more willing to rally behind individuals with cancer than those with mental illness.  Why can’t we just support those who need us, whether they are physically or mentally ill?

It is time to put down the phone, even if it is just for a moment, each day.  Take that time to make a difference.  You can inspire someone who is struggling, listen to someone, smile at others and make eye contact, volunteer, donate time or money, let someone know you care, or any gesture, large or small.  Just one small act of kindness can create a ripple effect.  If you have time to send a text, you have time to make an impact.

 

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How to Maintain a Positive Attitude Even on an Off Day!

As a leader, you are required to present a positive attitude regularly, even when you are not feeling it.  To lead and inspire others, they need to feel good about who you are.  You have to have charisma, and be someone worth following.  However, you are human, and you are going to have days that are less than perfect.  You are going to have personal problems that bleed into your workday and make you wish you were not held to such a high standard.  But, if you are in this leadership role, you will have to find a way to present a positive attitude that will carry you through the day.

How can you maintain this positive attitude on a regular basis?  The best way is to take measures first thing in the morning that will influence your perspective for the rest of the day.  There are many ways you can do this, and you will have to find what works best for you.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.  Begin your day already prepared.  By making a list of things to do the night before, you have a productive start and a guide to your day.

2.  Decide to be positive when you wake up.  Force yourself to shift all of your negative thoughts to positive ones, and it will help influence the rest of the day.

3.  If you start your day with a shower, imagine any negative energy being washed away, and take on positive energy.

4.  As you get ready in the morning, think about 5 strengths you have and it will help you feel confident in who you are and what capabilities you have.

5.  Surround yourself with positive people if you can, and when you have to be around negative people, try to have a positive impact on them.

6.   While you may not be able to control the world around you, realize that you control your actions and reactions.

These are just some examples, but if you know that a cup of tea, a smoothie, or a protein shake will boost your energy and shift your attitude, make sure this is part of your morning routine.  If a morning jog or walk helps you to clear your mind before tackling the day, get up early enough to fit this into your schedule.  The bottom line is that while you are bound to have a bad day, you can take control, prevent the negativity, or at the least, reduce it.

Why “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg Can Help You!

I have heard fellow business students speak about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” over the past semester and knew I had to read it.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the business world is evolving and women are taking more risks, or if it is because I attend an all women’s day college, but the popularity of this book is making its mark.  I have lofty goals and know the glass ceiling still exists in many ways for women.  As soon as my semester was over, I dove into this book.  The main concept that is discussed in this book is the fact that women tend to steer clear of the table, when they should be willing to sit down, even if they are the only woman, and “lean in.”  It is necessary for women to become more involved in the business, the dialog, the negotiations, and to not fear discussing important topics.

Sandberg even goes as far as discussing the need for women to speak about their family choices such as having a baby, and to not turn down opportunities because they think their pregnancy or children will affect it.  Instead, they should determine the choice they make based on their desires.  I have seen how women limit themselves, and I am a shining example of this as I have always put others ahead of myself, until recently.  I think Sandberg makes an important point because women tend to remain silent when they should be speaking up!  It is crucial for women to know where they are going and what they want.

As more equality is found in the workplace, more fathers will need to step up, and I have seen this happening as well.  My husband is incredibly supportive, and while I can nitpick and say he is not taking on enough housework, he takes on a great deal of the work with the kids.  I assume that as I work more outside of the home, he will step up even more and take on housework.  Sandberg shows the unfortunate seclusion men face when they become the primary caregivers for their children, and this dynamic also needs to change if women are to rely on them more.  The important thing is for the dialog to continue so changes can be made.  Women need to “lean in” because their opinions and challenges matter.  Without an equal say, there cannot be an equal society.

Sandberg brings up important topics, some of which are already widely discussed, but her overall message is important to the development of women in the workforce.  There are many things I will take away from this book, but more importantly, when I find myself backing away from a situation because I am one of the only women, or I am nervous, I will “lean in.”

The Power of Determination

It seems only fitting that I blog about this truly important word.  Determination.  I am at the end of the fall semester, and I have papers, projects, tests, and plenty of other assignments to complete.  Like all college students, I am having to pull from the massive force of determination I have to complete my assignments, and to do them well.  I have the added work load of having my wonderful family to care for, and my job as well.  In fact, as the holidays approach, my home has erupted into mayhem and my son has become quite a handful as he has decided to give up on his grades in high school.  Yes, this means I am faced with many challenges, all at the same time.  This is when determination becomes central to my ability to overcome.

I know everyone has their own unique roadblocks that seem to erupt at once, so this is a topic that can apply to everyone.  I have found the more I am weighed down by these obstacles, the harder I push back.  It is because my desire to achieve great things and to help others is stronger than the weight of chaos.  Unfortunately, this is not necessarily going to inspire the same initiative in everyone.  I have tried to inspire my son to push back as well, but his mind works differently, and the more I try to control him or even help him, the more he pulls away.  I have backed off to see if this makes a difference.  For those with a mentally ill child, you know the difficulties that can arise, and that they do not always respond how you may expect them to.  So how can we help them to become determined?  The honest answer is that I do not know.  This is something I am still working on.  In the meantime, I can control myself, and I will carry as much as I can, and I will succeed because I will not accept less from myself.

Determination is not only useful in education, it is needed when adopting a healthy lifestyle, it is used in your career, when budgeting and saving money, and in so many other ways.  People who excel in sports must have this trait.  Those who become leaders, politicians, authors, and so many other fields need to be determined.  So how can you find this within yourself when you are overwhelmed?  You have to have a reason to work for the ultimate goal.  What is it you hope to achieve and why is it worth it?  If it is important to you, you will find the determination you need to succeed.  The semester is almost over for me, and I know only one more semester is between me and my graduation.  This is what pushes me to excel.  Think about the goals in your life and if you are working as hard as you can to reach your goal, if not, you may not be as passionate about it as you thought.  Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your goals and plans because you should be passionate about what you are working towards.  You should be working towards fulfillment and happiness.

Advocacy Blog Series: Caregivers for the Elderly

This topic is going to become more prevalent as the years pass because while the elderly population is significant now, it is going to become much larger with the baby boomers reaching retirement age.  The care of the elderly has been split from nursing homes, to families.  Ideally, elderly patients would like to remain as independent as they can for as long as they can, but inevitably, the body breaks down, memories begin to falter, and independent living becomes impossible.  This is where decisions need to be made, and it is a truly complex process.  Some patients need more help than the families can or will provide and nursing homes are the only option.  If the family cannot pay, there are government run homes, but the quality of care may be a concern.  If the family can pay, there are plenty of options depending on the level of care.  However, more often, families are choosing to care for their family member.  It is often a child caring for their parent, and it can be a challenge.  This is where advocacy comes in.  Caregivers are the advocate for their “patient,” and with the way health care is set up, it can be incredibly difficult.

One of the problems with health care right now is that it is not built for the patient as a whole.  Most elderly patients have many problems, and they need to see many different doctors.  This needs to be monitored closely by the caregiver because with multiple doctors, there can be something missed, or too many medications prescribed.  It may seem odd for so many doctors to miss something, but if they are looking at one specific organ or system in the body, and not treating the person as a whole, they may treat a symptom of a larger problem.  Often, medications can interact with each other, and if one doctor does not have all of the information from another doctor, they may prescribe medication that could be problematic.  How can a caretaker manage this and provide the care their loved one needs?

Organization is the key.  A book should be kept with copies of doctors names, medications, diagnoses, and other pertinent health information.  As much as technology can help, there should be a paper copy that can be brought to each appointment and shown to each provider.  My mom is a caregiver for her father and sister-in-law.  She keeps records of everything, maintains them, and brings them to each appointment.  The reality is, her memory is shaky at times, and she is under a great deal of stress as a caregiver.  It is a difficult job, why make it more difficult by trying to remember everything.  Keeping thorough notes eliminates the additional stress she would have without the notes.  This also makes it easier if my father needs to take over at an appointment because my mom is ill, or if I need to go to the house to take over so they can get a break.

Caring for the elderly also requires nerves of steel because dealing with the continual problem of insurance can be tiresome and even a battle at times.  Ensuring the patient has everything they need may also require a battle or negotiation with the insurance and providers.  The patient may be violent or angry which is common in Alzheimer patients.  They may get depressed, upset, lose control of their bowels in public, and many other potential problems.  This means the caregiver must be ready to handle any complication, despite the feelings that may stem from them.  It is not an easy job, and the caregiver has to be prepared.  They may have a  patient who does not want to follow medical orders.  They must be their advocate and either enforce care, or enforce freedom.  Advocacy is not always what one pictures.  Sometimes, you have to make a decision you do not like because it is the wish of the patient that matters.  Sometimes you have to assert control if you feel their decisions endanger them.

Caregivers of the elderly are more than advocates, they are friends and companions.  They are the ones comforting the elderly as they lose their memories, suffer pain, and go through loss.  They stand up for them when it comes to their health care and insurance, and perhaps in other situations as well.  The healthcare system in place has not made this job easier, and it is up to the caregiver to navigate a broken system and try to see when miscommunications lie between the various doctors and hospitals treating their patient.  Caregiving can be thankless.  As my mother says, “Sometimes the payment is a smile and laugh that you get at the end of the day.”

Advocacy Blog Series: Parents as Advocates

I think it is crucial to discuss the aspect of advocacy that blends into the role of parenting.  When a child is born, the parent is automatically the advocate unless the child is a ward of the state or another family member.  There is an instant responsibility that goes deeper than basic care and devotion.  Every time that child has a problem, is ill, needs supportive services in school, requires a legal guardian for sports, or anything else, the parent falls into the role and becomes the child’s advocate.  Some parents take to this quite easily, and if they are lucky, they will make it through the 18 years of guardianship without a hiccup.  However, it is likely that something will happen.  The child will probably be hospitalized at some point, they may require counseling for depression or more severe mental illnesses, they may be a victim of bullying or abuse, and they may have a physical illness.  It is almost guaranteed that a parent will face at least one serious issue where they must advocate for their child.

What does this mean?  It means you must be willing to be informed, to question, to learn, research, have sleepless nights, make tough decisions, and do whatever else may be necessary to help your child get the help they need.  The system, whether educational, medical, state, or judicial, should be there to support you and your child as well, but things can go wrong.  Even the people working in the system may make misinformed decisions, stereotypical assumptions, or mistakes.  This is why it is so important for parents to put the extra effort in.  here are a few examples:

When my son struggled with mental health issues that threatened the safety of my family, we had to research his conditions, understand the medications, seek residential care, and fight the doctor who attempted to place him in a group home where he would have ended up in the state system.  It was not easy.  In fact, most of my days were spent researching, making phone calls, or sending emails.  The one truly important lesson I took away from this situation was the need to document everything.  When the doctor was acting unethically, I began to copy very detailed emails about his plans and our concerns to people in the government, at the top of the insurance company, and advocacy agencies.  This had a major impact, all info was documented, and he was fired.  We were able to get my son into a facility that was able to help him.

When my daughter was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, we were shocked at first.  Thankfully, I had an incredible woman at the hospital who was an advocate for me as I tried to get my daughter on SSI.  It was a nightmare, and I had suffered abuse over the phone from my local SSI representative.  I was not strong enough at this point to fight, but this woman helped me, she fought for me, and was a perfect example of why advocacy is important.  After I grew stronger, and did some research, my life became about doing everything I could to care for my daughter.  My husband and I were proactive, we kept medication logs, medical records, notes, and anything we could to help track her care between surgeries.  This was another example of the need for documentation, but also the realization that outside help from an advocate can be incredibly helpful.

Finally, in the educational arena, we have had to work very closely with my son’s schools to accommodate his disabilities.  He has had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) since he was in kindergarten, and it was very useful.  For a parent, it can be confusing at first, but there are a few things you can do to help.  First, read the school’s handbook, next, research IEPs, and look at specific state regulations.  Pay attention to your child and how he/she learns, responds, calms, or reacts at home.  Take notes on a regular basis about things that help and things that do not.  This is information you can supply in IEP meetings.  The more knowledgeable you are about the school system and what accommodations can be made, the better you can be at advocating for your child.  You also need to be open to recommendations.  If something doesn’t feel right, say no, but listen to reasoning first, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

These are only a few examples, but they truly express the ones that stand out to me as learning experiences.  Every parent will need to step into this role in some way, and some more than others.  Do not fault yourself for mistakes, or feel guilty when you miss something.  There are handbooks everywhere, but none that can truly guide you in your specific situation.  As an advocate, it often feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but if you reach out for others, you may be surprised at who is there, and who has been through similar experiences.  Please feel free to share your experiences.

Advocacy Blog Series: Narrative Medicine

So what is Narrative Medicine, and how can it help in advocacy?  Continuing from yesterday’s post, I want to explore the communication gap between medical professionals and patients or caregivers.  Unfortunately, there are many cases where a patient or caregiver is afraid to speak up or not sure how to speak with a medical professional.  They may feel ignored or mistreated in some way.  This is not always the professionals fault.  In fact, the burden is often carried equally due to miscommunication, lack of knowledge, or because of other issues.

In my experience as a parent with two sick children.  I have had to be a strong advocate for them.  There were many instances where I was ignored because the professional did not feel I knew or understood my child’s condition.  In fact, my daughter’s heart condition required extremely low oxygen saturation between her first and second surgery.  If her oxygen was turned up, it could flood her lungs and cause serious problems.  One nurse came into her hospital room and attempted to turn up her oxygen when she saw how low her sats were, and I had to assert myself and my knowledge.  She did not want to listen and I demanded she go read my daughter’s chart while I turned the oxygen back down.  Needless to say, she did apologize and a note was put on the oxygen control to warn anyone else.

I had some other problems with incorrect medication dosage, but for the most part, the professionals I worked with were incredible.  In fact, at Denver Children’s Hospital where 3/4 of my daughter’s hospitalizations were, we had doctors who listened and stood by us.  My daughter’s cardiologist always remembered her and us, and that personal touch made me feel like he saw her for the little girl she was, not just a patient.  This is not always the case.  Many people have different experiences.  Professionals are pushed harder to get patients in and out as quickly as possible.  Technologies are introduced that make fields a drop down box and tale the personal storytelling out of patient care.  This is where patients begin to feel alienated in a sterile environment and professionals feel analytical instead of connected.  This is why narrative medicine can help.

Columbia University is the pioneer of the narrative Medicine program, and I highly recommend a visit to their site.  The work they do is incredible and it was headed by Rita Charon.  You can watch her YouTube video below.

In my own Narrative Medicine class with Gillian Pidcock, I learned a great deal about the process and how beneficial it can be for various people.  As a person who wishes to be an advocate and a writer who helps parents and caregivers with sick family members, I see how this process can benefit me.  In health advocacy, often stories of trauma are held onto.  We keep these stories in when they need to be born into the world.  If we can help our patients find a way to express what ails them through writing their narrative, we can lessen the heavy load they bear.  If we can help medical professionals let go of the clinical side of their job and connect to stories where they were challenged by a situation or where they felt the humanity in what they do, we can help professionals connect to their patients a little more.  We can also help people let go of the stress these stories contain.  Narrative Medicine can benefit patients, caregivers, family members, professionals, and anyone else who works in this field and more.

As an advocate, think about the ways narrative can spread.  If the medical field can benefit, so can social work, law enforcement, psychology, and so much more.  As humans, we want to open up, share our stories.  It is natural and beneficial to do so.  Please share any comments you may have on this important subject.