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(I understand that Mother’s Day is filled with accolades and outpourings of love for moms, but not everyone had the gift of a loving mother. This saddens me, and if this is you, I truly hope there was someone in your life that encouraged, uplifted and loved you. The title ‘mom’ doesn’t have to be written in blood to be meaningful.)
I was born when my parents were older and my three other siblings were either grown or almost grown. My experiences, and memories, were slightly different from theirs based on these time frames. I am confident when I say we all shared extreme respect and love for our mother; Alma Suis. 
She has been gone for 12 years now, and I am still discovering the tremendous impact she had on my life.
I Took Her For Granted
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mom tremendously. I did not intentionally set out to take her for granted, but looking back; I can see where at times I did.
I took for granted when I walked over every morning that she would be at the kitchen sink. I think for most of her life she stood in front of a sink. Her and my dad had a restaurant back in the late 40s; way before I came along. Then, she went to school to become a hairdresser and stood at a basin washing people’s hair until she became too sick to do so.

And, of course, her kitchen sink. Where she made my dad breakfast EVERY morning until he passed, countless lunches and dinners and it wasn’t until the day she couldn’t stand at that sink any longer that I began to realize how sick she really was. 
I took for granted when my kids got off the school bus, she would be there. I was extremely fortunate to have lived next door to my parents when my children were growing up. The memories (and the help) are more than I can recount. Family is not always perfect, but I have been very blessed when it came to mine. 

My mom was 45 when she had me. (I know, makes me shudder now too.) So she was in her sixties and seventies when my two came along. She seemed so strong and invincible, even at that age, that I didn’t fully appreciate how exhausted she must have been at times. At 54, I help with my 2-year-old grandson and some days it’s all I can do to keep up. She had twenty years on me when she was doing the same thing. She loved those girls, and they loved her, but I know there must have been days when she didn’t feel like doing it. But she did. She always did. That's what moms do. 

And I will be forever grateful and humbled by her sacrifice.
The Holidays Would Not Be The Same
In an obvious sense, I understood the holidays would be different without her, but I don’t think I completely understood what that meant. Since I was a single mom, Santa Claus didn’t want me to have all the fun by myself on Christmas morning, so he delivered the toys next door to my parent’s house. (They had the chimney anyway.) So when my kids got up, we would run to grandma’s house to all be together. Those are really some of my very best memories.
Thanksgiving was unique because, when I was very little, we did the traditional turkey thing, but as she got older and the family was spread out more, spaghetti was always on the menu that day. I have no idea why she picked that particular meal, but I now associate marinara sauce over cranberry sauce with the pilgrims.
New Years Day was her birthday. So that day is always flooded with memories.
Oddly enough, April Fools Day is the day that stands out the most for me in terms of my mom’s enjoyment. And that isn’t even a holiday. My mom took her Christian beliefs very seriously and felt very strongly about lying. In fact, she didn’t even use the word lie because she felt it was a harsh word. She would use the word ‘fib’. But on April Fool’s Day, she had creative license to ‘fib’, and she would do so with great glee. She derived much pleasure in ‘tricking’ me into various sorts of dilemmas, and it was my immense pleasure to always be fooled.

If you are not already doing so, create traditions with your mom. They will comfort you for years to come. 
How She Cooked Banana Pudding
Or pretty much anything she cooked. I didn’t pay attention. I will say, by the time I came along, my mom’s patience for training had probably dwindled a bit. I remember her whizzing around the kitchen when I was a kid and BAM, food was on the table. 

As an adult, I tried to pin her down on recipes, but there weren’t any. She cooked by memory, by feel, by taste. As such, I’ll never again have a biscuit as good as hers or home-made-from-scratch banana pudding. My children suffer the most from my lack of the traditional passed down southern delicacies. I had forty years to enjoy her magic in the kitchen; they had so many less.  
Unconditional Love
I believe my relationship with my mom went full circle. I was not an easy teenager to deal with. I was sent to go live with my sister in St Louis during my senior year of high school. When I returned, I soon ran away from home with a cowboy from Oklahoma (true story) and brought back a baby.
I tested her patience and love, but she never failed me. Ever. She led by example and taught me grace, forgiveness, humility, compassion, and complete unconditional love. I hope I redeemed myself in her eyes, as that became my life’s goal as I finally began to grow up.  
As she faded from this world, both in mind and in body, I did my best to return the favor. I didn’t do it alone, but it was important to follow the journey with her to the end. That trip next door looked different as the cancer stole my precious momma, but I am eternally thankful I was able to make that trip every day until she moved on to find my dad in heaven.


So if you are still able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mom this year, here is my advice. 

Don’t take her for granted. 

Cherish the holidays (and every day). 

Get her recipes. 

And enjoy the gift of her unconditional love.
Oh, and one more thing. Give her a hug. And then another one for me. You never know when it will be your last.

I want to wish all the moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day! Your sacrifice, love and strength are truly remarkable and today is the day we want to honor you!

Always.....

Hope WIth Abandon

Hope Out

www.hopeboulevard.com 



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It goes without saying that trust is the foundation of a relationship. Like a foundation, it is built up over time, brick by brick, until it is a stable platform from which everything else rests on.

There are specific ways to build trust, and there are also behaviors that erode it. Let’s take a look at both.

Building Trust
Do What You Say
If you make a commitment; follow through. Be on time. Run that errand. Do the chore. Return that call/text. If you prove to be a man/woman of your word, then you begin to build trust. Your partner needs to know they can depend on you to do what you say you will do.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable
This can sometimes be very difficult, especially if we have been badly hurt before. The problem is, as long as that wall is there, the trust just sits waiting on the outside. We have to be raw and available in order to allow the expectation of good to grow.

Value Your Partner
They can do and say all the right things, but if you don’t appreciate them, their hard work seems pointless. Someone will not continue to pour into a relationship where they feel taken for granted. They need to believe their contribution is important to you and the relationship.

Practice Honesty
In addition to doing what you say, you need to always be honest. I’m not talking about the 'do I look fat in this dress’ kind of honesty. I mean the open communication style that allows both parties to freely discuss feelings and situations without fear of being mocked or ridiculed.

With complete honesty, you do run the risk of discovering that the two of you are not compatible. That would indeed be sad, but it is better to determine that now than years down the road after one or both of you have not lived your true self.

Keep A Check on Opposite-Sex Friendships
I was asked the other day if guys and girls can maintain a platonic friendship only. Of course, they can, but it is not always easy. Sexual tension is an underlying biological component we all have. Spending time and sharing ourselves with someone can open the intimacy gate.

Both people should regularly check their feelings to make sure it is still a friend-only status. If one starts to cross the line, steps need to be taken to safeguard your relationship. Never do or say anything with your friend that makes your partner uncomfortable.

If your friendship and your relationship are constantly at odds, there is a problem with one of them. Figure that out and fix the issue.

Destroying Trust
Most of these points are the opposite reaction to the ones above. It is like putting your love in reverse.

Creating Doubt
Distrust begins with simple doubt. It doesn’t have to be over something huge. Just a nagging thought that something isn’t right. Maybe your partner didn’t show up when they said they would or forgot a special occasion. If they don’t pay attention to things that are important to you or listen when you are talking, these all create the first seeds of doubt.

A Sense of Anxiety
A step above doubt is anxiety. When someone consistently behaves in a way that is hurtful, the fear begins to set in. We begin to question why? Why would they do that; say that; forget that? What else (or who else) is going on that is more important than me and the relationship?

The biggest clue to someone bailing on a relationship is changing regular behavior. We all settle into routines and for the most part, our lives have a certain dependable pattern. When one side of a relationship breaks that routine and starts new patterns, this is definitely a troubling sign that increases anxiety. It may not end in betrayal, but it does begin to erode the level of trust.

The Broken Cord
Not all breaches of trust are about infidelity; although those are the worse. It can be a betrayal with finances, a family matter or even a selfish decision that impacted the relationship without any discussion. Whatever the reason, once the trust is severed, it is extremely difficult to weave it again.

As humans, we tend to seek the most immediate and easiest form of delight. In order to maintain a healthy and sustaining relationship, we have to consciously put the feelings and needs of the other person ahead of our own.

When Distrust Goes Terribly Wrong
There are times when fractured trust can be restored. It takes time, more time than the original foundation, and complete transparency. The one who severed the bond must accept responsibility and reopen the lines of communication and honesty.

However, oftentimes the injured party says they are willing to rebuild, but in reality, they are not. Their insecurity and fears overtake them and their mission in life becomes to prove their partner is still doing wrong. Their behaviors border on stalking and every movement is monitored.
While this may be viewed as understandable, it is very unhealthy and destructive. It does nothing to truly restore the relationship and only fosters resentment.

If you are truly unable to forgive and work together to move forward with the relationship, then it should be ended. It will be painful, but not as bad as continuing to live in distrust and scrutiny all the time.

The Decision
We all make hundreds of little decisions every day; from hitting the snooze button (again), what to eat, how to handle a co-worker, when (or if) to hit the gym, and a host of mundane life choices.

The decision to honor our partner, be honest, kind, helpful, open and faithful is one that will put us on the long path of a happy, sustaining relationship.

It’s as simple as the golden rule. So follow it!
And always...
Hope With Abandon
Hope Out
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Week 6 – Family to Family Series - NAMI

There are almost as many different types of medications for mental illness as there are diagnoses and the side effects can be wide-ranging. Many people with brain disorders struggle with starting and maintaining a solid medication regiment.

The more information we have as a family, the better we can support our loved one in finding the right medicines and encourage them to stay consistent with the plan.

Why Acceptance To Meds Is So DifficultIf we get a sinus infection, hurt in an accident, or even a more serious medical condition we do not hesitate to take the prescribed drugs to help us feel better and heal. So why is it so difficult for those with a mental illness do the same with their symptoms?
Admitting the NeedMost of us know when we are physically sick. There is a large portion of those who are mentally ill that refuse to accept there is anything wrong. They try to convince themselves it is a phase (or maybe someone in their life told them that). The symptoms on the worse end of the disorder spectrum cause the person to believe it is everyone else around them that has a problem, and they themselves are perfectly normal.

Not being able to accept the fact there is a biological and/or chemical imbalance that needs medical attention is a huge obstacle.
Afraid of Long-Term UseWith the exception of terminal conditions, most of the medicines we take are to treat a condition and then we stop. We become better, our health restored and we move on with life. This is not the case with medications for a brain disorder. Your family member will most likely need to be on a monitored regiment for the rest of their life. The feeling of being tied to a bottle (or bottles) to be able to function daily forever is just too much for some people to wrap their minds around.
The Side EffectsIf you think reading the side effects on a bottle of cough syrup or antibiotic is bad, try reading the side effects for psychiatric medicine! It is very depressing and unnerving. And the worst part is, depending on the specific chemical makeup of your family member, their side effects may be different than anyone else’s. The regiment for one person with Bipolar I might work great for them and totally incapacitate another.

The trial and error of this medicine, then that medicine then increasing the dosage then decreasing the dosage; it all seems pointless and frustrating especially for someone already struggling emotionally. To top it all off, it can take weeks to determine if the medicines will actually work. Sometimes the symptoms get worse before they get better! This can totally throw your loved one into a tailspin and make them want to just forget medication altogether.
The Highs and the LowsThe proper drug regiment for depression will alleviate the feelings of hopelessness and improve overall function in a positive way.

The result is somewhat different when treating mania. That person is already excited, hyper, buoyant. They feel elated, inspired and able to conquer the world.

They may also hear voices, be unreasonable and have a false sense of reality. But when they are in the ‘zone’ they feel invincible. The medicines used to curb all of that mania also curbs their joys, inspirations, and excitement.

This is why artists and very creative individuals with mental illness may refuse medication. They say it dries up their creative juices and ideas and reduces them to dull, lifeless, boring people. It flattens their personality and many really hate that.
How to HelpEducationThe best way for both you and your loved one to understand the different medications and their side effects is to do research. Talk to their doctor. Look up credible information online.

Be cautious when dealing with doctors unfamiliar with this type of medication. A psychiatrist is always your best resource.

Also, be very careful with the ‘opinions’ of others. Remember each individual will react differently and just because Aunt Susie did really great (or really bad) of a particular medicine does not mean your loved one will have the same outcome.
DocumentationStart a medication log. Your family member may be unable or unmotivated to do this, so it is in everyone’s best interest if you can take on this task. Write down the medication, dosage, when it should be taken, etc. Keep track of all side effects, the good and the bad, as the days progress.

If the good outweighs the bad, it might be a keeper. If the side effects are too severe or no discernable improvement is noted, it may be time to try something else or increase the dose.

Keeping detailed and accurate notes on a daily basis will tremendously help the doctor on each visit. It is easy to forget or speak in general terms when sitting in a doctor’s office, but having a daily journal will provide invaluable information as the next steps are planned.
EncouragementIf you have been following this series, you will see a common thread of encouraging our family members as they struggle with their mental illness. This is not always easy because many of their symptoms cause them to lash out at us and be challenging, but as often and as much as you can, continue to encourage them in the right direction.

Provide positive feedback when they agree to take their medication and help them formulate a plan for remembering by setting reminders. If they take more than one or at different times of the day, prepare a pill organizer so they know exactly what to take on what day/time.

Reassure your loved one that if they have any questions or concerns that you will do your best to find answers and that you are committed to seeing them through the ups and downs while deciding the best course of action.
RelapseUnfortunately, relapse is common. A person starts to feel better and decides they don’t need the medicine after all. The side effects are too difficult to handle, so they refuse to take it. Whatever the reason, once they voluntarily quit their medication a relapse is most likely in their future.

This can be heartbreaking for us to see, especially if we thought it was helping. As adults, we cannot force the medicine in them, and often we have to watch them deteriorate again right in front of us.
My SideThis has always been a challenge for me and my daughter. One of her phobias is taking medicine. Any type of medicine. She has a profound fear of medication and even hesitates to take it for physical conditions. She will even refuse a medication that has helped her in the past if it looks different or is packaged in a new way.

Having her commit to taking medication to help her mental illness has been quite a struggle. She would start, then stop. Have a relapse, start again then stop. She is so afraid of side effects, the first time she felt anything ‘odd’, she would refuse to ever take that one particular kind again.

Fortunately, she has now been following a prescribed regiment for several months. We started from scratch and are moving very slowly with any changes or increases. There are times when I am frustrated at the pace, but I am thankful she has agreed to continue. That’s all any of us can hope for.
The Bottom LineMedicines are around to help us feel better, recover from illness and in some cases provide life-sustaining support. Great advances have been made in the area of help for mental disorders. It can completely alter your family member’s outlook and prospect for a more productive life.

Research, patience and a hands-on approach with your loved one will go a long way in convincing them of the benefits. Don’t lose hope and don’t lose sight of the goal to enable them to be at peace and calm their inner turmoil.

And as always.....
Hope With Abandon
Hope Out
 
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NAMI Family to Family Series – Week 5

Having someone in the home with a mental illness can often cause conflict and chaos. Outbursts, not following the house rules, and refusing to communicate are all examples of how disruptive it can be to everyone involved.

Your loved one who is suffering and unable to live independently relies on you for many things. Because of that, there are some simple rules they should be able and willing to follow to make the home as comfortable as possible.

When problems do come up, it is a good idea to brainstorm solutions with the family before presenting them to your loved one. In the middle of a crisis, it isn’t fair or productive to include them in the discussion. They will most likely not be receptive and will pick up real quickly on anyone in the family who is wavering.

Let’s walk through the steps to restore some peace and harmony to the home.
Step 1 – Define the Problem1 - Pick the most pressing issue

You can only solve one problem at a time. I’m sure there are several issues you would like immediately solved but Rome wasn’t built in a day so they say. So, pick the most pressing issue to tackle first.

Let’s use, for example, your loved one getting so upset they punch a hole in your wall.

Sometimes you have to break the problem down into smaller pieces to get to the real issue.

A trigger causes a meltdown. The meltdown results in a confrontation. The confrontation ends up in something being broken (the hole in the wall), someone being hurt, or worse, the police being involved.

Obviously, no one wants the police called or any damage to property or humans. You could argue all day that your loved one should not become ‘that’ upset but rarely does that do any good. If you back it up to the beginning, it was the trigger that started the landslide. That’s a good place to begin. 

2 - Be specific

When we are frustrated, we start talking in absolutes. Things are always bad. H/she is never happy. H/she is uncontrollable. I’ve tried everything. All of these statements are emotionally based and most are not 100% accurate. In order to work on solving a problem, you need to be specific about what that is.

In the example above, the root cause can be traced back to the trigger. Let’s say for this instance that the trigger is not taking their medication on a consistent basis. That is a specific problem.

3 - Is this the problem or a ‘feeling’ about a problem

This can get tricky. We focus sometimes on how a problem or situation makes us ‘feel’ because there are some legitimate bad feelings floating around for everyone. However, problem-solving is not about feeling better (though that is a wonderful by-product). Problem-solving is to help our loved ones cope better in life, succeed and live in harmony with the rest of the home. Some people would focus on the feeling that the hole in the wall gives them instead of focusing on the resolution. 

4 - Getting the Family on the Same Page

With a family dynamic involved, it is crucial that everyone be on the same page. As an adult, your loved one, even with a mental illness, can sense tension and division among the ranks. Even if everyone doesn’t agree 100%, for the sake of solving a specific problem, the family has to present a united front.
Step #2 – Problem Solving with POW1 - Look at Past experience

You need to look at what has worked in the past. Using the same problem above - was their behavior better when they consistently took their medicine? Is there a pattern that can be followed when they do or don’t take their medicine? This can help provide the evidence when talking to them about taking it.

2 - Find Options

As a family, you need to brainstorm ideas. Set a reminder on a phone. Have someone hand deliver the medicine. Put it in a pill organizer so there is no confusion. There are many things you could try. You should prepare a list to present. Be sure in this list to specify who will do what and when. There should be no misunderstandings.

4 - Prepare for the What If’s

No matter how much time and thought you put into your plan of action, there are no guarantees it is going to work. You are dealing with another human being after all. You can’t force them to take medicine or anything else really. You need to discuss a backup plan.

(If it is impossible to reach a consensus or agreement from everyone in the family, then you may need to pick another problem. You have to be open to the opinions and ideas of others. As the process goes forward, everyone should have a chance to work on a problem that truly bothers them. Compromise will work well if everyone participates fairly with the same goal in mind.)
Step #3 – Setting Limits1 - Limit Your Expectation

No one likes to go into a situation expecting to fail. We all want the best for our loved one and the rest of the family as well, but we have all learned the hard way that we can’t control another person, even when control is what they need and even crave the most.

The number one goal here is to maintain control over your home. That should be the one safe and comfortable place where everyone comes together. You cannot control what anyone does outside of the home, but you have the right to set basic rules from within. Keep in mind though, those small victories are still victories and this is a process.

2 – Make Consequences

Almost everything in life we do has a consequence; either good or bad. The same goes for your loved one. Having a mental illness does not exempt your loved one from consequences out in the world, and it should not exempt them from those in the home. You do, however, need to be realistic about them. Do not state the consequences that you are not willing or unable to enforce.

3 - Setting Limits for Your Loved One

The first thing you need to learn when presenting an issue and expectations or limits is to keep a controlled attitude. If they can get you to lose your cool, they have already won the first round. 

Nagging isn’t going to cut it either and the same goes for criticism. Just present facts in a firm but realistic tone and demeanor.
Pick a time when everyone involved in the discussion is calm. You don’t need a huge family meeting unless you believe that is required. You don’t want your loved one to feel ganged up on. You should pick one head of the family to talk with the loved one and discuss the problem.

Clearly communicate your expectations and any subsequent consequences. Understand that your loved one will test those limits (and thereby test your resolve). Don’t get into a battle or try to justify the rules. If everyone presents a united front and is willing to follow through, your loved one will be more likely to eventually comply.

The flipside to that is if they decide the rules or aftermath is too much to accept, it will persuade them to work on becoming independent.
The Bottom LineI understand it is easy for me to list out all the steps and then leave you to try and figure out all the details. It is often extremely difficult for all these variables to line up. Getting everyone on the same page is hard because everyone has a unique hot button.

Expecting your loved one to hear, understand and comply is usually the hardest task to accomplish. They are so caught up in their own inner turmoil that your rules are the last thing they are worried about.

I understand how challenging this is because I am literally going through the same thing right now. In fact, that is why I started the NAMI course to begin with. I wanted help in being able to set limits and discuss expectations without commencing WWIII.

 I can tell you that these steps have helped, but I can also admit there is no foolproof method. I don’t tell you that to discourage you, but actually the opposite. When you have done your best and things still fall apart, it’s ok. Or it will be ok. Or YOU are ok.

Don’t give up on a peaceful home and never give up on your loved one. Both things can co-exist, just not always easily. Hold your line and then maybe even hold your breath.

The time and energy you invest will pay off!

And as always...
Hope With Abandon
Hope Out
www.hopeboulevard.com
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As a society, we put labels on everything. Some are necessary.  

I need to know the expiration date on the cheese that has been in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator for two months (I mean weeks).   

Some are frivolous. Yes, I know taking a bath with my space heater is not a good idea. 

But sometimes I think we have gone overboard with the labels. Especially the ones attached to humans. Rarely are they correct and more importantly, even if they do fit SOME of the time, all of us have so many layers that go into making us who we are.  

Here are a few of MY non-labels! 

Label me an introvert BUT I’m not anti-social

Well, maybe I am a little, but only if I’m annoyed or very tired. I love talking to people. I especially love hearing their stories; the good ones and the sad ones. I am honored when someone trusts me enough to share their journey with me. I may not be the life of the party, but I’ve made peace with that.  

Label me single BUT I’m not alone 

Seriously, I live with two other adults and a toddler. I’m NEVER alone! Being single is not a word I’m ashamed of. It does not have a negative impact on me. Sure, there are times when I wish I had a sidekick to walk through life with, but now is not the right time. I don’t necessarily buy into the quotes I see daily that say “just wait, he’s coming”. For all I know he came while I was changing a diaper or writing a blog. Either way, if he was that easy to miss, he wasn’t the right one anyway. I’m good. For now, I’m single and I'm good.  

Label me a Christian BUT I’m not judgmental 

I could write an entire blog about this topic, but I won’t today. Let me just say the basic core of Christianity is love, grace and forgiveness. No, we can’t just do anything we want and skip right into heaven, but for those who may not have figured it out yet, no one down here gets to decide what goes on up there. (No matter who much you may want to or have an opinion.) 

Label me middle age BUT it’s just a number 

Just like I’m not worried about being single, I’m not too worried about getting older. I mean, the gray hair and wrinkles are a bit tasking, but what other alternative is there to watch your grandkids grow up? I am thankful for the knowledge and experiences that I had in my life. They have enriched me and I believe made me stronger. The number of candles on the cake doesn’t bother me. Just for the love of all things good, please get the buttercream icing!  

My size is a label, but I’m not sharing that one. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have put this after the buttercream icing cake comment. I’m never sure which is worse, the M, L, XL or the 8, 10, 12, 14. Which looks more incriminating, two letters or two numbers? And why are Junior clothes in odd sizes? Is that so they don’t get mixed up with adult clothes? Just curious.... Either way, I try not to stress about the labels in my clothes. Yes, I wish they were in the single digits/letters, and ultimately, I have some control over that, but learning to be happy with where I am TODAY is a goal and an accomplishment.  

Label me old fashioned BUT to me, it just means I have manners and standards.  

That might sound a little vain and I’m not saying everyone who has manners is old fashioned. But there is something to be said for solid values. I’m progressive enough when I need to be and I am always open to new ideas and improvements, but there are still good basic manners that never go out of style and I am on that bandwagon every single time.  

I hope this has shown you that labels are fine, but they are not to be engraved or permanent.  

Never let anyone define who you are or what you can do. Be the conductor of your own beautiful orchestra and let YOUR music ring out! 

And if you do find the need.....  

Label Yourself AMAZING! 

As always... 

Hope With Abandon 

Hope Out! 

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I'm really writing this for me, but I thought I would bring you along for the ride. 

Whether you are on a first date, a business meeting, a social setting or just a ridiculously long line, knowing the art of small talk is a life-saver. 

I am notoriously bad at it; seriously. I have been known to walk the long way around the parking lot to avoid having to having to walk in with someone and feel obligated to share chit-chat. I know, it's so sad. 

However, instead of continuing to wallow in my defeat, I decided to find better ways to handle this and I am going to share them with you. 

Sometimes it's not just knowing what to say, but how to say it. Everyone has a different communication style, and when small talk is challenging it helps to have some tips in your conversation arsenal. 

Pretend You Are Interested

I know the 'fake it 'til you make it' advice sounds lame, but it just might work. People are drawn to enthusiasm. Keep a go-to question or two in your small talk starter pack. Something light and breezy like a current event, news item, upcoming holiday, weekend plans, etc.

If all else fails, pick something in the room or surroundings to talk about. It is the one thing you both have in common. 

Most people like to talk about themselves, so ask open-ended or opinion questions. Instead of just asking what they do for a living, ask how it's done or why they like it.  Try to stay away from controversial topics. 

Be Interested

The best way to sound interested in a conversation is to BE interested. Pick a topic that already interests you and you will be more engaged in the conversation.
 
Believe in the Best in People

I know for me it is easy to assume someone is going to judge me for my answers or make negative conclusions about me. That's not fair. There are jerks in the world, but most people you meet are just as wary and awkward as you are. You don't have to sound brilliant; just be kind. Everyone wants to put out a good impression. 

And don't stress if you don't remember their name (unless you are on a date; that's a bad sign). That's why they make people wear name tags at events and business gatherings; we are all bad at remembering names. Just ask; it's ok. 

Be Honest/Not Argumentative

If you don't want to talk about a particular subject or answer a specific question, just politely say you would rather talk about something else. Then steer the conversation in that direction. 

If you are asked for your opinion about something you truly dislike, just say, 'That's really not my thing." Or if they express a dislike for something you love, you can come back with, "It takes all kinds." You can disagree without being disagreeable. 

Compliments/Criticisms

We all love to hear something nice about ourselves. Find something about your small talk companion to compliment on. It will brighten their day and they will generally start to talk about whatever you mentioned. 

If someone gives YOU a compliment, simply say thank you. I know for some of you that is difficult. Don't try to convince them they are mistaken. Don't feign pious modesty. Just accept and appreciate the nice gesture. 

Now if they slide in a criticism, refer back to above about not being disagreeable. For the purpose of small talk, if someone casually mentions something that doesn't sit well with you, just let it roll. Offer the non-committal, "You could be right." You can finish the sentence however you want as long as it is under your breath.  

The Getaway

Despite all your best efforts, there will still be times when you just want to escape. Either they are overbearing, getting in your personal space, or you are just emotionally winded. Whatever the reason, just simply excuse yourself with an "I Need" phrase. 

"I need to use the restroom." "I need to get some food/refill my drink." "I need to make a call." "I need to answer this text." (Just look at your phone. They will never know you don't have a text. Your phone is on silent anyway, right?) Your 'need' can fit the location/situation, but very few people are going to question the sincerity of your statement. 

I do suggest if you claim to need to go and/or do something you at least attempt to make good on that statement. I mean, after all, it's the polite thing to do. 

Practice Makes Perfect

My hands started shaking even as I wrote this. I know the best way to get better at something is to continue to do it. I would improve my small talk skills if I put myself in the position of having to do it. 

Can I just say; ugh. 

Seriously though, unless you retire to a deserted island or a cabin in a rock underground, you will need to interact with people. Being an introvert, I understand it can be difficult. It doesn't come easy for some of us. But it is always worthwhile. 

For the times when I truly attempt to make a connection with someone, I almost always enjoy the conversation. I learn something about me or the other person. 
I fancy myself to be a storyteller of sorts, and everyone has a story. Learn how to step out of your comfort zone just long enough to get someone started on telling 
theirs. 

You might just be surprised at how pleasant small talk can actually be. At least that is what I am telling myself...

And as always..

Hope With Abandon

www.hopeboulevard.com 
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I'm really writing this for me, but I thought I would bring you along for the ride. 
Whether you are on a first date, a business meeting, a social setting or just a ridiculously long line, knowing the art of small talk is a life-saver. 
I am notoriously bad at it; seriously. I have been known to walk the long way around the parking lot to avoid having to having to walk in with someone and feel obligated to share chit-chat. I know, it's so sad. 
However, instead of continuing to wallow in my defeat, I decided to find better ways to handle this and I am going to share them with you. 
Sometimes it's not just knowing what to say, but how to say it. Everyone has a different communication style, and when small talk is challenging it helps to have some tips in your conversation arsenal. 
Pretend You Are Interested
I know the 'fake it 'til you make it' advice sounds lame, but it just might work. People are drawn to enthusiasm. Keep a go-to question or two in your small talk starter pack. Something light and breezy like a current event, news item, upcoming holiday, weekend plans.
If all else fails, pick something in the room or surroundings to talk about. It is the one thing you both have in common. 
Most people like to talk about themselves, so ask open-ended or opinion questions. Instead of just asking what they do for a living, ask how it's done or why they like it.  Try to stay away from controversial topics. 
Be Interested
The best way to sound interested in a conversation is to BE interested. Pick a topic that already interests you and you will be more engaged in the conversation. 
Believe in the Best in People
I know for me it is easy to assume someone is going to judge me for my answers or make negative conclusions about me. That's not fair. There are jerks in the world, but most people you meet are just as wary and awkward as you are. You don't have to sound brilliant; just be kind. Everyone wants to put out a good impression. 
And don't stress if you don't remember their name (unless you are on a date; that's a bad sign). That's why they make people wear name tags at events and business gatherings; we are all bad at remembering names. Just ask; it's ok. 
Be Honest/Not Argumentative
If you don't want to talk about a particular subject or answer a specific question, just politely say you would rather talk about something else. Then steer the conversation in that direction. 
If you are asked for your opinion about something you truly dislike, just say, 'That's really not my thing." Or if they express a dislike for something you love, you can come back with, "It takes all kinds." You can disagree without being disagreeable. 
Compliments/Criticisms
We all love to hear something nice about ourselves. Find something about your small talk companion to compliment on. It will brighten their day and they will generally start to talk about whatever you mentioned. 
If someone gives YOU a compliment, simply say thank you. I know for some of you that is difficult. Don't try to convince them they are mistaken. Don't feign pious modesty. Just accept and appreciate the nice gesture. 
Now if they slide in a criticism, refer back to above about not being disagreeable. For the purpose of small talk, if someone casually mentions something that doesn't sit well with you, just let it roll. Offer the non-committal, "You could be right." You can finish the sentence however you want as long as it is under your breath.  
The Getaway
Despite all your best efforts, there will still be times when you just want to escape. Either they are overbearing, getting in your personal space, or you are just emotionally winded. Whatever the reason, just simply excuse yourself with an "I Need" phrase. 
"I need to use the restroom." "I need to get some food/refill my drink." "I need to make a call." "I need to answer this text." (Just look at your phone. They will never know you don't have a text. Your phone is on silent anyway, right?) Your 'need' can fit the location/situation, but very few people are going to question the sincerity of your statement. 
I do suggest if you claim to need to go and/or do something you at least attempt to make good on that statement. I mean, after all, it's the polite thing to do. 
Practice Makes Perfect
My hands started shaking even as I wrote this. I know the best way to get better at something is to continue to do it. I would improve my small talk skills if I put myself in the position of having to do it. 
Can I just say; ugh. 
Seriously though, unless you retire to a deserted island or a cabin in a rock underground, you will need to interact with people. Being an introvert, I understand it can be difficult. It doesn't come easy for some of us. But it is always worthwhile. 
For the times when I truly attempt to make a connection with someone, I almost always enjoy the conversation. I learn something about me or the other person. 
I fancy myself to be a storyteller of sorts, and everyone has a story. Learn how to step out of your comfort zone just long enough to get someone started on telling theirs. 
You might just be surprised at how pleasant small talk can actually be. 
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There is a ton of information available for online dating. From how to post a winning profile to when and where of the first meet and greet. The darker underside of this is the new trend of online cheating. 

Why Do People Cheat

People cheat for different reasons. Some out of spite. Some out of boredom. Others cheat because they never really wanted to be in a relationship/marriage, and believe they were talked/bribed/coerced in some manner to go through with it and now have regrets. 
Regardless of the reason, it is a destructive action that most relationships never fully recover from. 

Nowadays there is a new game in town. Digital cheating is at an all-time high. Infidelity has always been a part of the relationship world, but social media and having the world literally in the palm of your hand (cell phone) makes it so much easier today than it did just 10 or even 5 years ago. 

Where Do People Cheat 

You can meet someone who turns your head just about anywhere you go. The gym, social outings, bars, even the grocery store. The workplace has traditionally been where a lot of side action originated. If someone is looking to cheat, finding an accomplice is not difficult.  

What Is Digital Cheating  

Most people define cheating as having a physical (sexual) relationship with someone other than your partner. There is even the term ‘emotional’ cheating when there has been no actual sexual contact, but the two parties share thoughts, dreams and connect on a deep, intimate level.  

Digital cheating is a side step from these because most of the time it is anonymous; meaning one or both parties never reveal their real names/locations. What they do, however, is share fantasies, engage in sexually explicit dialog and exchange nude photos/videos. All of these interactions are done online. 


Since the individuals never actually meet, there are no late nights at work, evenings out with friends or mysterious trips to the store. Everything is done in the comfort of their own home.


How It Is Done

There are apps designed specifically to help digital cheaters. Anonymous chat rooms where real information is not required and even discouraged. Two people can talk, share intimate details, photos and even videos and everything is erased when they sign out of the app.  

Some apps create fake ‘covers’ so it appears on the phone screen looking like a clock for example. Once inside though, an entire world of sexually explicit encounters await. 

There is one app called Vault, where any information you add cannot be accessed without a special password. You can even browse the internet from the Vault with nothing traceable through your normal browsing history. A person can literally be in the same room with their partner and be texting (or sexting) with another person and even sending suggestive photos previously saved. The thrill of pulling that off can be quite intoxicating and the behavior will continue and even escalate. 


The justification used for this type of ‘cheating’ is usually excused away as innocent fun, just playing around, blowing off steam, etc. Since the two parties will most likely never meet, they rationalize their decision as no harm no foul. There is no physical betrayal and often not even an emotional connection. It is usually all sexual in nature.  

The Aftermath 

It is difficult to prove this kind of cheating because you will never catch your partner actually with someone, and seldom do you catch them in the act. The only real evidence is hidden on their phones/computers and unless you have access and time to hunt, you will have a hard time finding it. 

If you do find out about this behavior, only you can decide what action to take. If you are just dating and find this early on, your best bet is to walk away. This is indicative of the kind of person they are and most likely they will continue. 

If the relationship is several years strong and then someone strays, it might be worth it to look at the circumstances. Was it a onetime thing? Were there issues that led up to this type of encounter? These are not excuses, but depending on the strength of the relationship pre-cheat, it might be worth the work involved to restore. 

If there were multiple episodes or little remorse, it is still most likely the best course to walk away. There are just as many reasons why people stay with cheaters as there is why they cheat, but at the end of the day, a mutually sustaining and healthy love partnership requires both parties to be dedicated and loyal. 

A consistent breach of that trust will irrevocably sever the ties. 

My hope is that none of you ever experience the pain of any type of betrayal. But it is always good to be aware of the dangers and temptations to guard your relationship and your heart. 

And as always...

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out

www.hopeboulevard.com 

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Adults Living With Mental Illness – Family to Family Series – Part 1

Mental illness can be loosely described as any biological brain disorder that interrupts the normal chemistry of the brain and its functions. There is a host of diagnoses such as bipolar, major depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, panic attacks, dementia and schizophrenia to name a few. There are several genetic factors in play and certain life stressors can also be triggers. It is an equal opportunity disease with 1 in 17 living with some variation of this disorder, including notable historical figures such as Abe Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Beethoven, Isaac Newton, and more recent well-known names like Buzz Aldrin, Terry Bradshaw, Mike Wallace and Jane Pauley. There has actually been some research conducted on the link between creativity, intelligence and mental illness.

At this point in time, mental disease is not preventable; but thankfully, it is manageable.

In addition, it is worth noting that mental illness is not caused by bad parenting or weak character. These two facts are particularly relevant to me because I have an adult daughter who has suffered from mental illness much of her life. It is her personal struggle, and the impact it has on our relationship, that led me to seek knowledge and information.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) was founded in 1979 and is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country. Their mission is to improve the quality of life and protect the rights of those suffering from this disease and their families. They also provide a platform to share experiences along with a desire to foster independence when at all possible. They teach empathy along with understanding and are very clear there are no magic formulas. I recently started a program through NAMI designed to help family members understand and assist adults living with mental health issues. It is my goal, as I go through the program, to share the principles I discover and my insight through a series of articles.

The first class covered the predictable emotional responses from family members once they discover a loved one has been diagnosed with a mental disorder. It is important to note here that not all family members experience the same responses, and not all at the same time. Everyone has to go through their own process and it is unfair to judge or predict how we think others should react. We are only accountable for our own behavior.

The most obvious first reaction is shock, followed closely by confusion. This crisis happens to other people, not us! It is easy to slip into denial; which is our mind’s way of protecting us while we sort through the process. My daughter was a teenager when her symptoms first surfaced. Of course, I blamed normal teenage angst. She was also a Type 1 diabetic and her insulin levels often accompanied her mood levels. I used every rationale at my disposal to explain away the roller coaster of sad to mad that roared through our house almost daily.

The next step comes as a revolving door of anger, guilt and resentment. We want to blame the victim. I know it sounds bad, but we have to deal with the truth. We want them to try harder; get a grip. It’s not that bad. Life is unfair to everyone. Learn to handle it. Right? That is what we want/expect them to do. Then we feel guilty. I felt guilty. Was it my fault? What had I done wrong? I had obviously failed my daughter in some way for her to be so upset all the time.

With guilt, comes compensation. If it truly is my fault, then I must somehow make up for it. I can change her if I try hard enough. The unfortunate reality is that sheer grit will not cure the mental illness, nor will it magically transform family members into mind healers. Covered under this process is the isolation that many loved ones experience. As a reaction to either the overwhelming emotional toll or the uncertainty of how to talk about the situation, some individuals cut themselves off from friends, other family and healthy outlets in their life and in some ways also fall victim to depression.

This ushers in the moments of mourning. We grieve the loss of the life we envisioned for them. We are saddened when our relationship turns volatile, hostile or is even lost for a while. We are fearful and uncertain for what their future holds and our place in it. A unique component of mental illness is the cycles or episodes involved. My daughter would go through a dark place and emerge on the other side. Things would seem good and I would breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude. The worse was behind us. Then it wasn’t. The spiral would begin again. This creates a term the program refers to as ‘chronic sorrow’; where the grief doesn’t ever completely go away.

What comes after all these other responses is finally acceptance; the calm understanding that this disease is a part of your loved one's life.  With hard work and management, it doesn’t have to sideline their dreams and future, but it is an ever-present reality.

It is important to recognize that all these stages are normal. They are not good or bad; they just are. We all have to embrace and work through them at our own pace. It’s also worth noting that a relapse could start the responses over again from square one. It doesn’t seem fair, but if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, mental disease is never fair.

The last thing covered in the first lesson is the ‘double-edge sword’ that is mental illness. This disease not only takes away behaviors that you were familiar with, and even depended on, but it also adds distressing and confusing behaviors that now need to be addressed. This combination cuts both ways into the relationship you once shared with your loved one and greatly influences the one you will have going forward.

What you may miss – Their ability to focus, handle minor problems, express joy or intimacy. Their thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, enjoyment of life, concern about their appearance.

What you may now notice - They become tense, irritable; have extreme sadness, forgetfulness, hostility. They may exhibit inappropriate behavior, act out sexually, become irrational or indifferent and withdrawn from those who love them.

Any combination of these actions can be highly distressing for both the individual and their loved ones. It can be confusing to know which attitude to tackle first. It is important to understand that your loved one is confused as well. They don’t have the answer to the ‘why’ questions any more than we do and yet they are the ones left to sort out the waves of disorientation and turmoil rushing over them. Most of them have no clue what to do to help themselves and at first, will resent those trying to ride in to save the day. My daughter often resented the ‘answers’ that I had for her problems.

To be honest, I was grasping at straws, but at least I felt like I was doing something. I resented her inertia and refusal to try anything. We often found ourselves at a stand-off. I have learned, through trial and error mostly, how much to say and what advice I should keep to myself. I am pleased that she has recently agreed to a formal regiment of medication.

That brings me to another comment from the first class that really struck home with me.

‘Medication calms the thoughts; therapy changes the thoughts’.

Mental illness care is not like taking an antibiotic to kill a virus. There are many facets (and people) involved in the management of the disease. There is no shame or stigma in reaching out to the professionals for their guidance, wisdom and help. I have also discovered there is no shame in the knowledge that I do not know what I do not know.

It is a bit humbling to realize that I have handled certain aspects of my daughter’s mental illness incorrectly. I say that understanding I did (and still do) the best with what I know. I am certainly thankful for NAMI and this class. In just the first week I learned invaluable information and more importantly it instilled in me the hope that the more I invest in knowledge and loving practice, the better I can help my daughter and the quality of our relationship.

I encourage you to stay with me for this journey as we search together for the answers to help our adult family members living with mental illness.
And remember to always..
Hope With Abandon
Hope Out
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Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, our 16th President and highly regarded as one of history’s most influential figures. He was also described by those who knew him as being extremely depressed much of his life.

Isaac Newton as a mathematician, astronomer, author and physicist was key in the scientific community and revolution. His mood swings are historically documented.
Beethoven, the great composer and pianist of the world’s best classical music suffered great bouts of depression and even considered taking his own life.

More modern day examples: Buzz Aldrin, Jane Pauley, Terry Bradshaw, Mike Wallace, Tipper Gore. These are all notable people with accomplishments, awards, the spotlight and they still share the same experience of depression, anxiety or some other form of mental health issue.
So, what’s the deal? Is there a credible link between intelligence, creativity and crippling brain disorders? The scientific community is mixed on their opinions. There was one study by neuropsychologists at the National Institutes of Health involving MRI scans on individuals with high IQs and anxiety issues. The conclusion was they all had a similar brain quirk. There were lower amounts of a certain element in the white matter in a specific part of the brain. Their analysis was that as humans evolved, intelligence and anxiety may have advanced at the same rate.

This was a relatively small study and widespread belief is there is little neurological connection, but there are some definite reactionary components as discovered in a study done by Mensa; the society of individuals with an IQ of 132 or over. (The average score is 85-115.) A study for multiple mental health disorders was performed on Mensa members and the outcome was that a quarter of them were diagnosed with a mood disorder. This percentage is quite higher than the national average of 10% and would indicate a distinction between a high IQ and depression/anxiety.
One of the reasons the Mensa researchers cited was a concept called OE (over-excitabilities). Basically an OE is an intense reaction to anything perceived as a threat; which could be physical or emotional. This deep emotional response in intelligent people causes them to overanalyze and often obsess about even daily situations. They worry about minute details and replay decisions and situations over and over in their head, worrying and debating the what-if’s and should they have done something differently. They struggle with letting things just go and moving on. They constantly look for the next best thing or breakthrough. This can obviously cause high levels of stress and anxiety. They also tend to worry about the future and how their lives will unfold.

There is an upside, though. These OEs also cause heightened awareness and fuels creativity and artistic abilities, which is borne out by the list at the top of the page. This also explains why even though they experience episodes of anxiety and depression, many are still highly functional and achieve success in both personal and professional endeavors.
Coincidentally, the research does not prove the opposite of this theory – that people without anxiety are collectively less intelligent. However, there may be a small sliver of truth in the saying: “Ignorance Is Bliss”.

Regardless of where you fall on the IQ scale, mental health issues will most likely affect most of us at some point whether within ourselves or a friend/family member. It is important to understand the dynamics and details about the disease and to educate yourself. There is no shame in asking for help if you feel overwhelmed or lost. And if someone you love is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, reach out to them. Let them know you are available for them, support them and never judge them. It is not our place to guilt them into just trying harder or by saying ‘just get over it’.
Mental illness is a real, biological disorder. It is through research, empathy and understanding that we take away the stigma. As intelligent beings we owe it to ourselves to be aware and accepting.

And to always…
Hope With Abandon
Hope Out
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