Welcome to the middle path

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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Continuing the theme...

Thanks for the tip on this one, Marilyn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Moviegoer's Guide to Being Different

Recently I mentioned the movie "MicMac" in a post about being different and accepted.  That film featured characters with TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as well as a few more esoteric and generic variations of the human condition, such as being super short, strong, flexible, mathematical, or mechanical.

That got me thinking of a few other movies about weirdness.   No deep detail here:  google/bing titles for more.  But I've seen 'em and loved 'em, and maybe you will too. Mostly these are quirky comedies.  There's enough suffering in the real world.  And since everyone is different, each person's experience with a particular difference will also be (did you follow that?)  Still, these movies can be great teaching tools for increasing understanding and acceptance of mental illness and other sorts of personal diversity.

Harold and Maude (1971):  A morbidly depressed young man falls in love with a REALLY older woman.  A wonderful treatise on life, love and living in the moment with a great soundtrack by Cat Stevens.  This film has been a cult classic for decades.

What About Bob? (1991):  An uptight psychiatrist is driven crazy, then healed by an intrusive, needy patient.  With Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray.

Bennie and Joon (1993):  Johnny Depp plays a man with social limitations who falls in love with a young woman with a schizoaffective (mood/psychotic) illness.

Amelie'  (French, subtitled; 2001):  Audrey Tautou is luminous as a creative oddball full of innocence; she takes joy in the smallest of life's wonders.

Lars and The Real Girl (2007): Touching Canadian film about a very socially awkward man who falls in love with a life-size rubber doll.  Sounds lurid, but in fact is a tender tale about acceptance and the power of community.

The Fisher King (1991):  An angry, suicidal man (Jeff Bridges) meets a joyful transient with a psychotic disorder (Robin Williams, who later falls in love with a very socially awkward woman played brilliantly by Amanda Plummer).

It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010):  Various mental health issues are illustrated, including bipolar disorder, depression, and cutting.  A teen checks himself into a mental hospital for treatment of his depression.  Tiny revelations ensue.

A handful of others:
As Good as it Gets (1997):  OCD, extreme crankiness (Jack Nicholson).
Little Miss Sunshine (2006):  Depression, suicide attempt, color blindness, family-as-bowling-ally-in-your-head, general eccentricity
Forest Gump (1994):  (Tom Hanks) mental retardation/developmental disability.
Garden State (2004):  Depression, family and  identity issues.  Great soundtrack!
Rain Man (1988): A young man cares for his autistic brother (Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman).
Transamerica (2005):  Transsexualism, depression, teen with major family issues (abuse/neglect).
Matilda (1996):  A gifted "genetic sport doesn't fit in with her couch potato parents.

OK, there's the tip of that iceberg.  Feel free to send me your favorites.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Standing Alone in a Crowd: More on Different

(Headnote:  Watch the video at the end.  Trust me.)

As much as we are connected and similar, there are a million ways to be different.  In fact, no two humans are genetically the same.  Even "identical" twins will show subtle variations in their genes due to minor spontaneous mutations occurring during gestation.  That's in our specie's overall interest -- some of those variations will work better in a particular current environment.  Authors Barbara  Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and Michael Pollen ("The Botany of Desire") illustrate how well this works in the plant kingdom.  Corn and apples produce enough seeds within one generation that some will make their way regardless if the upcoming growing season is colder, warmer, wetter, drier, shorter or longer.

With weirdness (*I use this term very affectionately), the different may be genetic sports, a nicer word for "mutants".  They are the quiet one in a family of extroverts, the athlete in a family of couch potatoes, the artist in the family of engineers.  Or the weirdness may be contained in a gene that is passed in degrees of strength throughout some members of the family, as case of red hair.  Don't think that's weird?  It's the rarest hair color-- found in only 1-2% of the world's population.   And much of what we use to think of as personality variations are actually pretty well cemented in genetics, including tendencies toward depression, anxiety and resiliency.

Knowing and understanding that most people don't exactly freely choose to be/think/behave as they do can go a long way toward relaxing our attitudes towards them.  You can stretch this one as far as you like, depending on your belief system.  We don't get a choice about being tall or short, born here or in a third world country, to rich or poor or a single or unhappy parent.  The most useful advice might be to remember you don't get to choose the hand you're dealt, but you can choose how to play it.

Or like the guy in this video-- maybe someday you'll meet someone who not only gets you, but helps you figure out how to turn that difference into a strength.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hey, weirdo. Yeah, you.

weirdo photo of weirdo
 statue  from weirdo
friend's weirdo home
Don't feel like you exactly fit in?
 Join the club.
      For a country that celebrates individuality and independence, Americans sure have trouble dealing with differences.  This culture is market-driven. There's money to be had convincing you that you aren't quite right, but hey, we can fix that if you buy this car, wear this brand, live in this zip code.
      Marketing works by preying on common insecurities and the biological need to identify with a group (read: safety in numbers).  Even outliers look for their herd. Witness the popularity of "alternative" fashion chains in American malls.
      Still, people who are on the edges of bell curves of ability, appearance, gender, creativity and cognitive styles-- to name just a few of our lovely genetic variabilities-- find self-acceptance difficult.  The internet helps.  Never had an interest in sex, be it bi, straight, gay or otherwise?  Googling "asexuality support" brings up over a million resources. Wondering what to serve at your Chinese-Italian wedding in a French speaking province?  There's a link for that.
   Despite this glut of information, I meet dozens of people a year who feel like no one will understand their crazy intrusive thoughts,  the depths of their sadness, why it is so hard for them to organize their day or how it is they feel like a phony after 10 successful years in their field.  They feel weird, ashamed and alone.  Even if they have heard about other people with the same problem, they are sure theirs is somehow more shameful, more repulsive and that they are more personally responsible for it.
   Visible differences present other challenges.  While people in the previous examples may worry that everyone knows their difference, if you are biracial, albino, missing a limb, scarred you don't have a choice but to have that difference reflected back to you on a regular basis.  Biracial clients tell me that "What ARE you?" is the most tiresome question they hear. " Human," is the response many wind up giving in exasperation.
     Persons with physical challenges such as cerebral palsy tell me they get tired of being addressed as if they are retarded, and persons with cognitive challenges such as retardation tell me they get tired of being treated as if they are children.  Children tell me they get tired of being treated as if their thoughts and feelings aren't valid.  And on and on.
   Here's the deal.  We ALL have our stuff.  Some of it is private, some public.  Some of it, like learning differences, depression and OCD is usually invisible to others.  Other variables, including physical challenges such as vision impairment and paralysis, are all too obvious and can block out the individuality of their bearers.
     And yet under all the labels-- crippled, crazy, queer, whatever-- is a person.  A person who reflects, cries, dreams, fears, longs, creates and loves.  And if you can't relate to that, well...
    You're really different.