Wellness Activities {General} (5-6)

       I am forever indebted to the poets of the world. Poetry is often like word magic for my symptoms. It opens my eyes to a bigger world, filled with possibilities and hope. It has the uncanny ability to force me to take a step back and look at things in a new light. My ideas, dreams and inspiration, my humanity, are often rekindled after I read a great poem.

      I collect poems the same way I collect quotes of wisdom.1 I want them close by because they are a source of strength that I don't want to search for in my times of need. I randomly picked a few I keep on hand and put them below. Of course, people's taste in poetry varies as wildly as people's taste in music. I don't presume to know what poems might help rekindle anyone's hopes and dreams. I'm simply pointing out another tool I use to help alleviate symptoms. I hope they help.

       The following link will direct you to the Poetry Foundation. It is an unbelievable, free resource. You can search for poems, read poems, print poems, save a list of your favorites for easy access, listen to recordings of people reading many of the poems and even watch videos of people reciting poetry (both of which come in handy if you're unable to read due to symptoms). It is truly an amazing site. (http://www.poetryfoundation.org)


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
for when dreams go
Life is a barren field 
Frozen with snow.

~Langston Hughes

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching, 
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

~Emily Dickinson


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master;
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
 And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

~Rudyard Kipling

O Me! O Life!

O Me! O Life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew'd,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring--What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here--that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

~Walt Whitman

       Next week I'll be spending extra time with my amazing family. My wife and daughters will be off school for Spring Break. I intend to spend my free time having fun with them. That means I will only be posting to social media and will not be putting anything new on the site next week. Relaxing while spending time with them is one of my favorite forms of self-care. I'll see you on the flip side. We all send you love until then.
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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a fantastic resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:

       While the truth can set me free, half-truths and delusions imprison me. I want to make real and lasting changes in my life. I want to be the best version of me that I can be. That requires sticking to the facts and being honest with myself. I’ve found that honesty and straight talk do wonders for my mental and physical health. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

       Honesty is the foundation on which my mental and physical health are built. Optimism is what allows me to build on that foundation. Obviously, my optimism comes through in my writing because I am often asked about what positive affirmations I use. The answer is that, technically, I don’t use positive affirmations. I use honest affirmations in an optimistic way. I realize such a small difference in phrasing sounds like a ridiculous semantic argument. It is not.  There is a world of difference between being honest and optimistic and deluding myself into false beliefs with positive affirmations that aren’t true.

       Before everyone gets out their torches and pitchforks, let me explain and state that there can be a simple, effective alternative. Years ago, while in a therapy session with a psychologist, I mentioned that I was using positive affirmations every morning. Of course, I expected to be patted on the back and told I was doing a great thing. That isn’t what happened. She looked concerned and asked if I believed the affirmations I was saying. After I had thought about it a minute, I had to admit that I didn’t. I quickly added, “But I will, though.” She laughed. She explained that while my heart was in the right place, I might be doing more harm than good. I’m paraphrasing after all these years, but basically, she said, “If you don’t believe what you are saying you run the risk of two negative outcomes. The first is that you feel bad about yourself because you’re lying to yourself and it doesn’t ring true. A second possibility is that you begin to believe what you’re telling yourself even though it’s not true, and that prevents you from actually making the needed changes. Why would you make changes if you believed you didn’t need to?” 

       I have to admit, I had to think about what she said for a few days. And of course, being the science geek that I am, I had to do some research. I couldn’t find any verifiable evidence to support the claim that positive affirmations work. I realized that just because many self-help gurus and motivational speakers recommend positive affirmations doesn’t mean they are scientifically sound or that they are beneficial. What I did find was psychologists and researchers warning about the possible dangers of using positive affirmations.

       I found the study1 done by Dr. Joanne Wood and her team that was published in the Journal of Psychological Science. In it, they show how positive affirmations don’t work for many people. They report: “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.” They cautioned that people should be wary of, “outlandish, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as ‘I accept myself completely,’ [that] are often encouraged by self-help books. Our results suggest that such self-statements may harm the very people they are designed for…” What they found was that individuals who are down or have low self-esteem often experience more negative emotions after repeating positive affirmations. They felt worse afterward.

       After I had thought about it, I had to admit that these psychologists’ and researchers’ findings applied to me. The effects were subtle, but I realized positive affirmations were making me feel worse about myself. Reading statements over and over again that I knew to be false made me feel like a fake or like I had done something wrong because the statements weren’t true in my life. That was troubling because according to whatever self-help guru I was listening to that week the statements should have been true, or would have been soon if I believed strongly enough. 

       Once I got honest with myself, I also realized that affirmations that weren’t moving me to action were helping to justify inaction. For instance, the mantra I was told to repeat most often was, “Everyday in every way, I’m getting better and better.” I know that isn’t true. I know that some days I make mistakes that cause me to take a step backward, and that’s okay! How does it benefit me to lie about it? How does that improve my situation? It didn’t, although I believed it did. Believing something is helping me, when it’s not, is a sure fire way for me to stay stuck in a bad situation. If what I did today didn’t work, and I didn’t get any better, but I keep telling myself I did, where’s the motivation to make the needed changes tomorrow? It’s not there. 

       Unfortunately, I never got my letter from Hogwarts. I am a muggle (Harry Potter fans unite). That means there is no Secret. There are no magical words that I can repeat over and over as if I were reciting some incantation that will change my life. I don't get a magical genie. I must go about making positive changes the old fashioned way. I must take small positive steps each day while being honest with myself. I get to improve my life by putting one foot in front of the other. Honestly, I prefer it that way. It makes me appreciate things more.

       Thankfully, my psychologist suggested a way to help me take those small positive steps that works extraordinarily well for me. She said that I should tell the truth in an optimistic way. That meant I had to cut out the nonsense. I had to start telling it like it really was, in an optimistic way. I’ve found that I like making statements that are true and based on the facts. There’s no use in sugar coating it or glamorizing it. If I don’t like the truth as I state it, then I can go about changing it. I can make course corrections. If I lie to myself, however, I will be stuck forever.

       For example, I’ve messed up and made tragic mistakes in the past. That’s the truth. The truth also is that today can be a brand new day and the starting of a new life. I can pick a whole new destination. Instead of denying or shrinking from the truth, I can decide that being responsible for my actions is liberating. That brings me to one of my favorite honest affirmations: I am the author of my story. While I don’t control all the plot twists, I do control how I respond to them, and at any point in time, I can decide that this is not how my story is going to end. 

       You see, I can use the truth to help correct past mistakes and to make small positive changes each day. I don’t need magical words, delusional thoughts or false statements to do that. I certainly don’t need them when it turns out that, more often than not, they actually make me feel worse.

       I’ve found that the truth is enough, that it’s revealing and inspiring if I allow it to be. Being truly honest with myself was difficult at first because it meant I could no longer coddle myself with cute sayings. Instead, I had to start telling it like it was.  For instance, instead of saying, “Everyday in every way, I’m getting better and better,” I now say, “I’m working on creating healthy habits every day that are making me better and better.” That rings true for me because it is true for me. How refreshing. If that weren’t true, I could go about making it true, and thus, improve my situation. If I were to keep telling myself I was getting better every day in every way and believed that doing so would somehow solve my problems, I would get nowhere.

       While healthy individuals with high self-esteem may experience a benefit from using positive affirmations, the science shows that, in many cases, my psychologist was right. Many people do not benefit from them and are actually harmed by them. It’s time for the truth, for the facts. And if I don’t like my truth or the facts as they stand, then I can go about changing them with honest affirmations. So no, I don't get better every day in every way, but I will do my best every day to make my life, and others, better in as many ways as I can. Ahhhhhh. The truth IS liberating!

When I think of positive affirmations now, I often think of this clip and laugh.

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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a fantastic resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to: