It is now winter, and some people may be feeling S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Of course, some of us, like Prince Harry who has just published his new memoir Spare, may be feeling rather elated. But for the rest of us mortals, well…it’s a different story. Just in case you are feeling S.A.D., then here’s what you need to know: what it is, what the symptoms are, and how to treat it. Of course, this will involve a visit to your G.P. (Just for interest, 1% of the population, including yours truly, experiences a type of ‘Summer SAD’, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)
Seasonal Depression is a type of depression linked to the change of seasons and exposure to sunlight (or lack thereof). S.A.D. makes up 10% of all reported cases of depression. 15% of Canadians will report at least a mild case of S.A.D. in their lifetime. (This illness is also said to be genetic in nature. 13-17% of people who develop S.A.D. also have an immediate family member with S.A.D.)
Symptoms of S.A.D. include:
Significant fluctuation in weight (loss or gain)
Irritability and mood swings
Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or oversleeping
Low energy or agitation
Feelings of hopelessness and despair
Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Withdrawal from friends and family
Suicidal thoughts (If this is you, go to your nearest Emergency department or call the Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433 (Vancouver, British Columbia area)
Treatments for S.A.D. include:
Outdoor activities and exercise
Diet (ensuring you get enough Vitamin D)
Psychotherapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
**Shoppers Drug Mart carries a range of light devices. Last I checked, lightboxes are still available for use free of charge by community members at the Kelty Centre, which is in the Hope Centre in North Vancouver (right beside Lion’s Gate Hospital).
Spring is in the air anyway, these days, with the mild weather we’ve been experiencing lately. Next week: a poem by CAB (from way back in 1990! Pre-cell phone days. Should be interesting reading.)
Since January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month (https://alzheimer.ca/bc), I thought I’d write about my experience with visiting my father, who has dementia, in the hospital.
You would expect my father to want to come home, above all, so visits can be strained if your loved one seems desperate to escape.
My approach was always to come up with something tasty to eat and drink (after all, hospital food leaves much to be desired), and some activity: telling a story, looking at photos, reminiscing about old times, and so on.
And sometimes my father won’t eat, or won’t eat more than a bite or two, which can be disconcerting. However, Claudia J. Strauss, author of ‘Talking to Alzheimer’s’, (recommended to me by the leader of an Alzheimer’s BC workshop I attended), is very helpful here. Her sage advice is not to insist on anything unless it is a matter of physical safety.
She writes: p.48: ‘Many things are not a matter of life and death to the body. But they can feel like a matter of life and death to the soul. There are very few things that they can control, and very few areas in which they feel any measure of independence. Where decision-making can be left to them, make sure they can keep it. Instead of seeing their resistance to something you want them to do as a personal affront to you, or as a foolish whim on their part, look at it as an opportunity for them to make decisions, to feel autonomous, to feel they are respected.’
My father ate two spoonfuls of coconut rice pudding, and then no more.
It’s hard seeing my father confined to a bed and not eating much, but mostly I think his wishes are to be left in peace so he can sleep. Respecting his choices around eating is a way of honouring him as an autonomous adult. I would only wish the same consideration if I were in his place.
Indeed, isn’t it true that it’s much easier to be compassionate towards another when you yourself, either currently or at a different time, are faced with a similar predicament.
Imagine for a moment losing your spouse, your home, your car, your independence, your freedom, your whole identity as a functioning adult? It’s tantamount to turning your whole life upside-down.
So, when I visit my father, whether in hospital or (later), long-term care, my plan is to extend him my full sense of compassion, from one human being to another, both beings valuing personal freedom and autonomy above all else.
By the way, you can borrow Ms. Strauss’s book from the North Vancouver District Public Library or purchase it online. The paperback version is reasonably priced and (bonus!) it is only about 150 pages long. One soak in the bathtub and you’ve read it, or else on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I also noticed that another book in the same vein was offered on the Amazon website, entitled: ‘Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s’ by Joanne Koenig Coste and Robert Butler (on Kindle.)
And while you’re at it, check out the recent Vancouver Sun article (Thursday, January 5, 2023) entitled: ‘Play a Love Letter’ by Stuart Derdeyn about the recent play dealing with the issue of Alzheimer’s by Aaron Craven, on now at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island. Dinner out, a play, and some kindly company: sounds like a good plan to me. Next week’s post: ‘Beating the Winter Blues.’ See you then!
Recently my peer worker loaned me the book ‘The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times’, by Pema Chodrön (Shambala, 2002). I liked the book so much, I bought a copy for my brother as a holiday gift.
It is true that now COVID-19 is a fact of life, along with global warming, environmental devastation, and economic problems. All these issues are nothing more than what they are. I feel we have now entered a different dimension, a new paradigm. The ‘zeitgeist’ has changed, seemingly, overnight.
This book then is a balm to our troubled spirits. Here are some notes from my reading, I hope you find them helpful:
The 3 Addictions:
The Lord of form (ex. Shopping mania)
The Lord of speech (ex. Hypocrisy)
The Lord of mind (ex. Attachment)
The 3 Principal Characteristics of Human Existence:
Egolessness (can’t be sure of anything)
We suffer because:
Life is uncertain
We seek a solid self
We seek happiness in the wrong places (eg. alcohol) This is called ‘samsara.’ Those with addictions are uncomfortable with suffering.
3.What is ‘maitri’?
A simple, direct relationship with who we are.
Maitri practice – Simplified Version:
Repeat the following:
‘May I enjoy happiness.’
‘May you enjoy happiness.’
‘May all beings everywhere be happy.’
When you feel anxious, send out love to all the other people in the world who also feel anxious, and wish them well.
5. Compassion Practice:
Repeat the following:
‘May I be free of suffering and the roots of suffering.’
‘May you be free of suffering and the roots of suffering.’
‘May all beings be free of suffering and the roots of suffering.’
Here I offer up to you, dear reader, a poem I wrote during the 2020 holiday season, and then following that is a tried and true recipe for Nova Scotia Oatcakes. I can personally vouch for their deliciousness and so can my father and neighbour.
And so, without further ado, here is my poem—I hope you like it, may it shine forth on your holiday, whatever your circumstances this year, as it has shone a light on mine.
I made these oatcakes for my dad a few weeks ago and he loved them. I also gave some to my neighbour, who said they were delicious. I’m sure you will think so too. They aren’t very healthy I’m afraid because of all the shortening but isn’t that the way with delicious treats during the holidays? Perhaps just this once it is okay. You do need to be precise about the ratio of shortening to oats and flour, and I recommend only adding the water bit by bit, rather than all at once. Also, the baking time will vary depending on the thickness of the oatcakes. I found I didn’t need to add all the sugar, for those who prefer their snacks more savoury than sweet.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine in a bowl:
3 cups quick-cooking oats
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup brown sugar (or white sugar will do)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
To this break up 2 cups shortening into cubes and add to flour mixture.
Combine with your hands.
Add, bit by bit 1/3 cup water (less 2 Tablespoons)
Roll out dough on floured surface or simply press onto a greased cookie sheet until ½ inch in thickness. Cut into 2X2 squares and bake 12-15 minutes. You may need to adjust the baking time to up to 17 minutes. When baked, allow to cool and transfer to air-tight container for storage. Makes about two dozen, I froze some of mine.
Incidentally, my father is not well I’m sorry to say, and this being the holiday season it is all the more difficult for my family. However, it is the season of light and therefore one must stay hopeful.
All the best to you, readers, for a happy and safe holiday. I look forward to more posts in the new year. In the meantime, stay well, and warm and I hope it will be a peaceful time of year for all of us, indeed, the world over. If there ever was a time when we should put aside our differences, it is now.
I am reminded of how during the First World War, soldiers on the front line declared a truce on Christmas Day, and played a game of football together, and passed around photos of all their dear ones at home. Let such a beautiful scene be an inspiration to us all.
I offer the following excerpts from recent newspaper articles I have read on being older and issues pertaining to the health of older adults (such as sleep). I’m calling it the ‘McMedia Milkshake’ just for fun, because when I was in my twenties, I designed bottles filled with tiny pieces from coloured magazines and I called these my ‘McMedia Milkshakes.’ I hope you like this post. If you’d like to see more McMedia Milkshakes just leave a comment and I will do my best to continue this feature.
I highly recommend reading this article. It is both essential and evocative.
There are two stories in the article that I would like to draw your attention to; in particular: the story of a South Korean woman who collects recyclables for a living, and the story of an elderly woman who had a very difficult and painful life journey and who now seeks to live out the rest of her days in her own home, rather than Assisted Living.
So first, the story of Yeong-Im Jung (Seoul, South Korea) who is called:
‘pyeji sugeo noin’ or ‘a senior who collects cardboard and other recyclable goods in exchange for small sums of cash.’ An estimated 2 million such people exist in South Korea today.
Nearly half of South Koreans over the age of 65 are living in poverty.
Ms. Jung’s 85-year-old husband has dementia, and much of Ms. Jung’s income is derived from this work (approximately 20-35 CAD per day) and goes towards his care. Despite South Korea being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, a country ‘historically revered for caring for their elderly; 69% of seniors over the age of 65 work in some form of temporary or informal employment’.
Senior’s Desire to Age at Home
Ms. Longmore has Macular Degeneration and is hearing impaired. She has experienced a lot of tragedy in her life. Ms. Longmore cherishes independence and believes her ‘mother’s independent spirit and father’s practicality (he taught her to change a fuse box and use a screwdriver), influence her adult life. She won the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award.
But Ms. Longmore’s case is not unique. A 2020 poll commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association found that 85% of Canadians will do ‘everything they can’ to avoid going into long-term care, and a 2021 Angus Reid survey shows that 44% of Canadians ‘dread’ the thought of living in or placing a loved one into long-term care. In its 2021 budget, the federal government allocated $90 million to launch the ‘Age Well at Home’ initiative, which provides support for vulnerable seniors to age at home, by matching them with volunteers who help with daily living tasks.
Ms. Longmore’s son Darrell moved in to help his mother, finding a way to work remotely and live at home.
Marc Timpano: Started the Insomnia Project podcast. His tip is to watch something low stakes on TV prior to going to bed such as ‘The Great British Baking Show’.
Talia Shapero, Sleep Therapist, suggests that you create a buffer zone between your waking activities and stressors of the day, and your nighttime. For half an hour to one hour, create a ‘consistent and relaxing routine that is preparing your mind and body for rest, and helping you calm down your nervous system.’
I hope you have found these Media Excerpts interesting and informative.
Consider the amount of time the average person spends at work in his or her lifetime. Consider 19th century England and the 6-day work week during the Industrial Revolution. But as humans, we need play too. Including caregivers. Which is why I offer you this post on how to carve out more ‘me’ time.
Here are 5 quality activities to do with your ‘me’ time:
Write in your journal (It can help ‘order your thoughts, gain perspective and live a life of gratitude’)
Read a book.
Listen to music (‘slow, quiet, classical music or the sounds of nature to slow your heart rate’)
Go for a walk/run.
Drink coffee/tea (‘Psychologists at City University London discovered that the ritual of tea-making reduced stress’)
These words of wisdom come from marketing strategist and dreamer Prime Sarmiento (2022, Tiny Buddha)
Her recommendation: Give yourself a ‘free’ day in which to do whatever you enjoy doing—set aside one day as your ‘day off’.
Note: I find it impossible, as caregiver, to have an entirely free day. But I can have one day in which I find time to do the things I enjoy in greater depth, and with a greater sense of ease.
Review your daily schedule and sort it between essential and non-essential activities. Replace non-essential activities with ‘one small thing that will move you an inch closer to your dream’
Put blank space in your daily organizer. It’s not a crime to have free time! (me) Leave time for what the Italians call: ‘il dulce far niente’ (the sweetness of doing nothing).
Reduce your screen time—un-plug once a week. If this isn’t possible, reduce your online time by 1-2 hours a week.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. ‘Some tasks are better left to someone else.’
(And I would add: try to get up half an hour earlier in order to free up some play time.)
Excerpt from 2022 journal:
‘At 3:30 pm I thought to text my sister and then I said no, take the time to paint. So, I gave myself the gift of time for an hour to do whatever: study my Ukrainian, journal, paint. And now I feel calmer. I think when I don’t have free time for my own interests, I get concerned. I think I am being deprived of my free time, which is something I value personally and something I think we should value as a society.’
In fact, as previously mentioned, we work harder and longer in North America than almost anywhere else. And ‘all work and no play’ as they say, ‘makes Jack a dull boy.’ Play is both a natural as well as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, not only for children, but also for adults. Whatever constitutes ‘play’ for us, whether baking or gardening or model airplanes, we should nourish as well as cherish. Cherish and feel gratitude for our free time, indeed, all our freedoms as a culture, as a nation.
In closing, I would like to include my poem ‘A Salute to the Grandmothers’ recently published by the magazine ‘Generations Today’ of the American Society on Aging.
‘The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living’ by Russ Harris (Trumpeter Books, 2007)
Overall book message:
Trying to find happiness can make you miserable.
The antidote to that is ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
The 6 Core Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:
(Which taken together will give you psychological flexibility (your ability to adapt and take effective action)
Diffusion: Relate to your thoughts in a new way so they have less impact
Acceptance: (or Expansion) Make room for your thoughts and feelings
Connect to Present Moment: What is happening right here, right now.
The Observing Self: Largely ignored by Western psychology-transform your relationship with difficult thoughts and feelings.
Values: Clarify and connect with your values-provides direction and motivation.
Committed Action: Effective action, guided by values.
Founder of ACT: Steven Hayes (U.S.A.) Psychologist
Author: Russ Harris, physician, therapist, based in Australia – he writes very well.
The book is available at:
Amazon.ca Paperback: $8.78 Kindle: $19.99
North Vancouver District Public Library (print version)
North Vancouver City Library (ebook through Libby)
Additional Notes on Diffusion Techniques :
Here are some techniques to try if you are having difficult thoughts/feelings:
Thank your mind. Say “Thanks, Mind.!” Then carry on with whatever you were doing.
Say to yourself: “I’m having the thought that…” or “I notice I’m having the thought that…” Takes all the drama out of your thought/feeling.
Set your thought to music, like the tune to ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Jingle Bells’ Again, takes seriousness out of thought.
Name the story: example: “Ah, yes. The “I can’t cope” story…” then go on doing whatever you were doing. Or, “Ah, yes. The “world is going to hell” story”… -whatever themes your thoughts tend to take. Those two resonate with me; maybe you too?
I hope you have enjoyed these brief notes on such a tremendously helpful book. I have not forgotten my other post of finding more ‘Me’ time. I’ll be posting that next week. In the meantime, have fun with ACT. See if it works for you. It does for me but everyone is different, of course. I tried CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and found it helpful, but I find ACT is even better, in a way, because as Russ Harris writes, you don’t have to argue with your thought, or try to convince yourself you are happy when you are not. Not to say that CBT isn’t effective, (because it is), but ACT is just another tool in your psychological toolbox. Best of luck to you.
‘Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.’
Recently, I watched the ‘Sages of Aging’ show on PBS. Hosted by Ken Dychtwald, AgeWave CEO, the show featured 12 of the most innovative and impassioned “sages” in the field of aging. The show focused on such areas as: longevity, health, medicine, law, equity, social services and government policy. The experts answered questions from the host on topics pertaining to aging.
If you are a PBS member, you can watch the show at:
It’s true that our population demographics are rapidly changing. The life expectancy for males in the U.S. is 79 years, up a significant amount since previous decades, and is expected to continue to rise in the coming years.
The conversation opened on the topic of longevity, an apt topic. One expert shared that aging is not ‘about older persons’, and that aging is a lifelong process. Another expert thought that the role for older adults is now the transmission of wisdom. And that as older adults, we have an obligation to do something with our time, and that society is wrong to ‘write off’ such a precious resource that represents our elders.
There was a concern among the speakers of the need to re-imagine retirement. What might that mean? Well, for instance, seeking fulfillment: taking care of your family, your neighbours, contributing by example. Apparently, in the U.S., only 24% of retirees volunteer. Retired persons are 80% more likely to volunteer their time if they did so during their work lives. Here’s the thing: retirement is meant to be a ramp—not a cliff. Seek an age relevant goal in order to feel you’ve left a legacy (more on legacy-building in subsequent posts.)
The contributors held a brief discussion on women and aging. One expert explained that we have only made progress in aging on the backs of women, who are more likely to be society’s caregivers than men. But she added that assuming women are going to be caregivers is socially constructed, and that in time, we can create a new reality.
What do you think: does aging represent an ascent or a descent? The contributors were mixed in their opinions: some shared that as the body ages conditions such as arthritis or aches and pains in general made life more challenging, whereas others felt that as elders, they had gained wisdom, were better listeners, and enjoyed greater creativity.
Almost all the experts agreed that the presence of ageism was a problem that needed to be addressed. They felt that as a society, we tend to de-value older adults, and see older people as ‘invisible’ or even ‘disposable’. They felt that we do not have much expectation of our elders, lamenting the cliché of the ‘senior moment’ phenomenon. Others complained that our elders became ‘prisoners of the health system’, and that ‘age apartheid’ happens far too often these days. One expert pointed out how important it is to ensure you have a close circle of family and friends (something I covered recently in my post on Carol Marak’s recent book on solo aging.)
Finally, there was a consensus among the participants that the term ‘senior’ is no longer appropriate, and that our more mature members of society should rather be referred to as ‘older adults’ or ‘elders’. Personally, I would agree.
In conclusion, I would say that the show was both interesting and informative, and that we need more shows like this in the media. Moreover, we need to continue the conversation on the crucial role of older adults in our ever-changing world.
In closing, I would like to share the following quote: ‘Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.’ (Stanislaw Jerzy Lec). Wouldn’t you agree?
My next post will either be on how to find more ‘me’ time or the art of the lazy lunch. The December Grapevine article will feature a special ‘Holiday Survival Guide 2022’ (with a particular focus on those of us who have lost loved ones recently.)
Welcome to this blog post of book excerpts from the excellent new book ‘Outsmart Your Pain: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion to Help You Leave Chronic Pain Behind’ by Christiane Wolf (The Experiment, NY, 2021)
(Note: This book is available on loan from North Vancouver District Public Library, Capilano Branch)
You can visit the author’s website at:
Dr. Christiane Wolf is a mindfulness and insight meditation teacher, based in L.A., but originally from Berlin, Germany, where she worked as a Gynecologist. She was introduced to Insight L.A. on a trip there, (having been fascinated with Buddhist teachings as a teenager), and she moved there to live with her family and subsequently trained in Insight Meditation and received her certification.
The following are excerpts from her book:
‘Mindfulness invites us to reach toward this box and open it—with curiosity and even friendliness—to see what’s truly in there, moment by moment. What we call pain is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon, made up of 3 main components: the physical, or sensory, the emotional or affective, and the cognitive or analytical. Or put another way, it breaks down the sensations we feel, the emotions the pain brings up, and how we think about the pain (the story around it.) In the moment, though, we don’t experience pain as a puzzle made up of different pieces but rather as one solid image, which understandably often feels like way too hard to handle.
Mindfulness can help break this big, overwhelming experience down into more manageable chunks.’ (p.36)
When thinking about pain, it helps to bear in mind the following formula that Ms. Wolf introduces:
Suffering = pain X resistance
‘One of the hardest parts of living with chronic pain is the loneliness that comes from the repeated sense that other people don’t understand what we’re going through.
Acknowledging to ourselves—with caring and by witnessing—how hard this is and how alone we feel starts to calm the anxious and constricted nervous system. We begin to give ourselves what we wish from others: kindness, compassion, and presence.’ (pp. 48-49)
Ms. Wolf also offers another ‘formula’, she calls the ‘A Train’:
Ms. Wolf explains the basic rule of neuroplasticity: Whatever we pay attention to will be experienced more often. (Or, as another neuroscientist put it: ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.)
Ms. Wolf seems to embody genuine compassion towards pain sufferers (be it physical or emotional). She writes:
‘Suffering from chronic pain often feels lonely. You might not know anybody else with the same condition, and most people you are close to won’t understand what you’re going through. But, in fact, countless people all over the world share what you feel. They know.’ (p. 79)
I recommend that you read the following sections from the book:
The section on grief (pp.103-109)
The section on addiction (p.111-118)
The pain chapter entitled: ‘Loving Someone With Chronic Pain’ (pp.153-162)
Consider the following, in Ms. Wolf’s words: ‘It is time that we open to the (often uncomfortable and painful) truth that we cannot make another person happy or pain free, no matter how much we want that.’
Of particular interest to caregivers:
I suggest you try one of her meditations, the one: ‘Equanimity: every person is on their own life journey’, in which she recommends you repeat the following phrases:
“Everyone is on their own life journey”
“I am not the cause of your struggle and suffering”
“It isn’t in my power to end your suffering, although I would like to if I could”
“Moments like this are hard to endure and yet I will continue to try to help where and when I can.” (pp.160-161)
Note the following on pain and isolation:
‘There are other factors that cause people who suffer from chronic pain to be more prone to isolation: feeling like nobody understands what you’re going through, needing to spend more time with doctors and other health care providers; requiring lots of time for physical therapy simply to be able to get through the day; being tired because of the pain and the work it takes to “manage” it, which results in not having the time or energy to meet with friends or go out much at all.’ (p.166)
Yay! Someone who understands!
See the guided meditation recordings:
On choice: ‘We don’t have a choice about the loss or pain that happened to us, but we can choose how we want to learn, over time, to relate to it.’ (p.185)
She mentions the story of Vidyamala Burch, meditation teacher, who broke her back twice in her twenties. She puts it this way:
“Mindfulness training has changed my life beyond all recognition and I know these simple techniques can be literally lifesaving.” (pp. 185-186)
Of meditation, Ms. Wolf writes:
‘Many people come to meditation because they want to learn how to relax. So what they do they do when they find themselves meditating and can’t relax? They are frustrated—and they try harder!
As it turns out, the result of trying hard to relax—whether through meditation or otherwise—is not relaxation. The goal of mindfulness is not to relax—the goal is to be present with whatever is arising, moment by moment. It’s OK to not be relaxed.’ (pp. 211-212)
One final quote:
‘My thoughts don’t define who I am.’ (pp. 211-212)
Resources from ‘Outsmart Your Pain’:
Burch, Vidyamala and Danny Penman ‘You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being (NY, Flatiron Books, 2015)
Tara Brach: ‘Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World With the Practice of RAIN. (NY, Viking, 2019)
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back again next month with more posts: on finding more ‘me’ time, saving money, and notes from the recent PBS show ‘Sages of Aging.’