Category Archives: Everyday Dilemmas

It’s a jungle out there but you can bring peace, serenity & comfort to your life and your home

How does urban removal affect our families?

When I go “home” to the city of my birth, I go to the corner where I used to play ball and there is little recognizable. Not even a tree that I used to play under or a shrub that we hid  behind those summer nights we played hide and seek. That is probably true for many of you.

Photo by Legacy Cities Design
Photo by Legacy Cities Design

In nearly every major city I have visited in the last few years, the “old” neighborhoods are becoming “new”. The new South Side. The new “Bronzeville”. (What do they call it?”) The new Atlanta. The New Newark. Coming eventually: The New Detroit. The lovely new names they give to streets that resemble wore torn Iraq but hold our most cherished memories.  The close, warm connections with neighbors & family broken by alcohol, unemployment, crack and then boarded up following the “War on Drugs” that we seem to have lost.  Who knew?

I did. I just didn’t understand how it would occur. I remember as a child hearing that the land our home was on was owned by the university even though the home was owned by my parents.  That after the year 2000, the land would go back to the university. Well that was inconceivable to me because, after all, the world was supposed to end in 1984. But don’t you know, that seems to be exactly what’s taking place in major cities all over the country. Whenever I take the train passing Baltimore, I see row upon row of houses, boarded up. Factory buildings for blocks, empty, their metal fittings rusted and I wonder to myself, “How did they get all of those people to leave, all at the same time? How do you get whole neighborhoods to vanish?

Of course, it’s the blacks that leave and the whites who move in. The buildings are cheap but they have pretty surfaces: granite kitchen counters and stainless steel refrigerators. They are cheaply built but they have big price tags- too big for the folks from the old neighborhood, many of whom were retired & struggling to pay the rising property taxes. Gentrification seems to mean “Give the younger generation of whites the homes, the land that your memories were made on”. Probably to local government it means new taxes, new income for new businesses, new mortgages for old banks.

Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Social Psychiatrist. Picture:YouTube
Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Social Psychiatrist. Picture:YouTube

To us it means, the destruction of our social networks and our families. To therapists and other healers it means an epidemic of invisible losses, a cutting of the fabric that holds us all together.  Watching this phenomenon as well, is social psychiatrist, Mindy Fullilove, a New Jersey native with a keen eye for the effects of the macro environment on the micro-connections between people.  What she has come to understand is something we all need to know. Continued…..

Racism May Speed Up Aging in Black Men

University of Maryland researcher, Dr. David H. Chae, completed a study of the effects of racism on African American men. It is already known that African Americans have shorter life spans and increased chances of suffering stress-related illnesses.

Telomeres, DNA sequences that cap the ends of chromosomes, were examined in 92 African American men, ages 30 to 50 years old. The men were questioned about their experiences of being discriminated against. In addition, these men were tested on their own attitudes toward their race. This measure, along with their experiences of being discriminated against, was associated with shorter telomeres. The telomeres are the cells’ way of stimulating the growth of new cells to replace damaged cells in the human body. The shorter the telomeres, the fewer new cells the body makes and the less the body is able to fight off disease and disability.

Photo:Wikipedia
Photo:Wikipedia

The men with fewer experiences of racism had longer telomeres than those with greater experiences of racism. Those men who had positive attitudes toward other blacks (less racial bias), had longer telomeres as well.  Per Dr. Chae, “African American men who have more positive views of their racial group may be buffered from the negative impact of racial discrimination.”

Researchers reported that participants felt discriminated against most frequently by police and at their jobs. They also felt discriminated against by service providers in restaurants and stores. In addition, the study noted that African American men reported being routinely treated with less courtesy and respect and experiencing more “daily hassles” which contribute to their overall experience of racism.

The effect of having negative attitudes about their own race is both intriguing and troubling. One wonders, though, if self-hatred & group self-hatred could be sparked by a sense of helplessness & hopelessness. If one thinks that being black is a characteristic that causes negative treatment would that affect how the body responds to illness? Would a man blame himself if he were targeted for poor treatment? And would he assume that other brothers, particularly younger brothers, deserve their prison sentences, for example, for fairly minor offenses?

While telomere shortening provides biological evidence of the effect of racism and explains the increase in premature death due to dementia, diabetes, stroke and heart disease, Dr. Chae puts it in simple terms. “Racism”, he says, “literally makes people old.” Maybe it also unconcsiously makes them biased toward other blacks.

“Discrimination, Racial Bias, and Telomere Length in African-American Men”,  David H. Chae (University of Maryland, College Park); Amani M. Nuru-Jeter ( University of California, Berkeley); Nancy E. Adler, Jue Lin, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, and Elissa S. Epel ( University of California, San Francisco); and Gene H. Brody (Emory University), American Journal of Preventive Medicine, February, 2014. The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the University of California, and Emory University.

How to reduce “Baby-Mama” drama

Probably one of the most intense of dramas that frequent the therapy office is that of distraught, frustrated folks trying to co-parent. They rely on the court, the visitation schedule, the child support orders to communicate their interpersonal pain.

One can’t understand why the other left the relationship but they can understand how to make visitation difficult. One may have trouble being heard in person but they can make themselves heard through a subpoena. Often they don’t realize they are playing out dramas from their own childhoods – issues they can’t or don’t know to address. This is an instance when employing a therapist to mediate and facilitate more effective communication between estranged partners is a child-saving decision.

As early in the process as possible, begin using these steps to reduce the drama:

1.  Set a good intention in place around your interactions. Be determined to be courteous no matter what.  Remember, your kids are watching you. For example, say something like, “I really appreciate your patience in working on this” or “I want us to come up with a schedule that works for both of us”.
Or, how about a big intention like, “We are not going to let our relationship problems make our kids miserable or constantly worried. If nothing else, we’re going to keep them out of the drama”.

2. Stay calm. Give your co-parent an “out” when the situation gets tense. Try keeping a calm, low voice tone and say, “I can see this is so upsetting for you. Maybe we should think about it a little more and talk in a couple of days”.

3. Acknowledge your co-parent’s strengths and best efforts. “You’ve always been better at scheduling than I. I’m so glad that the baby can always depend on you….” or “You are such a good mother. Johnnie’s clothes are always so well organized. I really appreciate that!”

Now, you might be thinking, “Why should I make him or her look good when he or she has been such a jerk?” Because it makes you look even better. It also gives you some power over the situation, since if you’re kind or appreciative, your ex-partner might calm down and be nicer to you.

Try it! Consider it to be your own personal research into what will make your life easier.  Try different approaches and make note of what works better. Remember, there can’t be an argument if you won’t participate.

For a great resource to help you handle custody & support issues, check out attorney Alicia Crowe’s manual, Real Dads Stand Up

Can we help save the next Hadiya?

Today, Hadiya Pendleton, the 15 year old teen from Chicago’s south side who was shot in a neighborhood park while trying to avoid the rain, was laid to rest. Having performed at the Inauguration of President Obama, just a few days before her death, her picture has appeared in the news all over the world. Her smile, her academic accomplishments and her hearty goals stand in contrast to the assumptions Americans have about the face of victims of gang violence.

Whether it’s Chicago or New Orleans or Philly or L.A. or Memphis or the South Bronx or Newark, it doesn’t matter. Urban violence is staggering. Every death involves someone’s son or daughter and takes away someone’s chance for a good life. As mental health providers, we may not be especially trained to deal with gang violence but we do understand the escalation of depression and desperation that leads to suicide and homicide. We do know what behavioral signs to look for, signs that indicate that a person needs help. So, on the community level, along with teachers and the church we can have a powerful role in disseminating ideas that help change the rising suicide of our children. Gang violence is suicide. Gang participation grows in the absence of concerned and available parents, in the absence of school success, and in the absence of jobs. Gun violence cannot occur without guns, guns that are stored in the homes of parents every night.

In the last year or two, many parents have come into therapy parroting a belief that we find puzzling. After listing the many offenses of their child, they say “You can’t stop kids from getting into trouble. They have to have their fun.” This leaves me wondering what planet I was brought up on. Most of us were stopped from having dangerous “fun”. Most of us were stopped from “getting into trouble” before we could even get started. Why were our parents so successful? Because they did not have that belief. Because there was usually an adult at home or nearby who made sure we didn’t get into trouble. Because we were not exposed to all the trouble that could be gotten into. Our parents intended for us to do what we were told. Current parents lack time and support. More than anything they lack the conviction that they are in charge and that they are supposed to not only set the rules, but enforce them.

Of course, it isn’t just about discipline, supervision and participation in our children’s lives. It’s also about an acceptance that children have feelings, needs that they can’t express or defend and need to have some say so in the requirements that we place on them. If they don’t know where or what college is, why would they work blindly to get there? If we seem unhappy and overburdened in our jobs, why would they want one? Children need for school to be interesting and to have a purpose and a plan that fits their personalities and interests. We can help that happen by helping to expose kids to positive experiences and whenever we have a chance, pointing out to them their special strengths.

What do you think?

Detox your body & detox your brain

One of several books by Karyn Calabrese on how to stay disease and pain-free.
One of several books by Karyn Calabrese on how to stay disease and pain-free.

Now, after all that holiday eating, you can clean up your body internally. This makes your brain happy as well. A happy brain means happy moods, not to mention better health. Karyn Calabrese, a Chicago native and detox guru, breaks it down in her books on detoxing and healthy – really healthy – eating.

This sixty-six year old (yep, that’s a recent picture) says she hasn’t had a cold in 30 years by eating this way. Can’t sleep, grumpy, achy joints, skin problems, depression, anxiety & blood sugar problems? Make it your New Year’s resolution to order one of Karyn’s books, available through her website, http://www.karynraw.com or on Amazon.com. Kindle version available.

Not surprisingly, many have found that after changing their diets, eliminating processed food & the chemicals in them and providing their brains with improved vitamin & mineral sources – their depression, anxiety, mania, etc. goes away.  Cheaper than many of those drugs and none of the risks.

More on great anti-aging foods

Soak Your Nuts: Karyn’s Conscious Comfort Foods, Book Publishing Company, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1570672750.

Soak Your Nuts:Cleansing With Karyn: Detox Secrets for Inner Healing and Outer Beauty,  Healthy Living Publications, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-1570672644.