Thursday, January 15, 2015

To my teenage self

I'm back this week for Writer's Workshop, and here's the prompt I've chosen:

Find a photo of yourself taken 10 years ago and display it on your blog along with a current photo. How have you changed since the day that photo was taken?

This is one of the few photos of me from ten years ago that I could find on my computer, and unfortunately all my photo albums are in boxes in my parent's basement 3,000+ miles away! Luckily for you though, I still have many of the photos from my earliest days with digital cameras on my computer, and I got my first digital camera for Christmas in 2004! I didn't take very many photos of myself of course, so what you're about to see is, I'm afraid, probably one of the most awkward photos of me you could have asked for. Brace yourselves...

Yep, that's 14-year old me, having been given a very unflattering makeover as you can see, with my hair frizzing beyond belief! So, how have I changed since then? Well, here's a fairly current photo of me, taken this past summer at the Bosherton Lily Ponds:

Now, it would be really easy to focus on the ways my life has changed in the last ten years, but I think that's all pretty obvious. So let's talk about a few of the ways I think I've changed and grown in my personality and attitudes.

I (mostly) love my curly hair.

That's right, I've said it--something anyone who knew me when I was fourteen would be shocked to hear. At that age, I always kept my hair long enough to pull it back in a ponytail, and never wore it down--my friends would actually steal my hair ties and scrunchies to try and keep me from pulling it back. But most days now, I love my hair, especially since I've cut it short! While I still may be irritated by the frizziness and fluffiness at times, I really love its unpredictability. Yes, I still sometimes think my life would be easier with a different head of hair, but I'm reminded how much I love it when I wear it straight for more than just a day--by day two, I'm bored with it!

I embrace my "secret talent"
In college, while playing a game where we had to suggest one another's "secret talents", some friends decided that mine was definitely "taking things too far"--and this is true! It's not that I don't have a verbal filter, but it seems to get toned down in social situations. I'm highly likely to put my foot in my mouth or tell a joke and only afterwards realize that the people I'm with may not share my sense of humor--like at my work Christmas dinner when I was waiting at the bar to be served and told my colleague, who I'd only met once before that night, that I just needed to "take my tits out" to get served sooner (my exact words). Only once I'd spoken did I realize I wasn't sure if he knew me well enough to realize it was a joke, and had to quickly clarify (luckily, he'd caught on). As a teenager, I was so conscious of my "awkwardness" and always afraid to say or do the wrong thing. I would spend hours replaying those moments I could have done differently, moments which, in reality, the other parties involved would probably barely remember (yet I can still remember them now). But now, I embrace the fact that "taking things too far", or letting go of my verbal censor, is a part of me--and laugh along with everyone else in these moments without any embarrassment.

I like cake.
I used to use this fact--well, the opposite of it, "I don't like cake"--any time I had to do one of those "two truths and a lie" icebreakers--and it was one of my truths. Those days are no more! I think my family is still probably adjusting to this one because I hated cake from my first birthday all the way up until my twenty-first. I don't know what changed my mind, really--I just remember trying a piece of cake at an event of some kind at college (because who turns down free food?) and actually liking it! I'm still a little picky about what kinds of cake I'll eat, but it's definitely a change! 

I think if my fourteen-year-old self met me today, she'd be jealous. Not of the cake eating thing, but of seeing someone who wears her crazy curly hair as confidently as she laughs at her own "foot-meet-mouth" moments. And if I could meet my younger self, I wouldn't tell her anything about the future and I wouldn't try to tell her anything life-changing. I would just tell her, "If you like who you see in me, hang in there--you'll get there."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

20 pieces of me

Drawing inspiration again this week from Kat's writing prompts. I've really been enjoying them so far as a way to get my writing engine going, even if it's just writing these silly little pieces. And I especially loved this prompt.

Five Things. List 5 things we don’t know about you, 5 things you’re knowledgeable about, 5 things you know nothing about, and 5 things you believe.

5 things you (probably*) don't know about me:

1. I have "double-jointed" elbows.
2.  The first concert I attended was a James Taylor concert with my parents at the age of 12, and I loved it! My most vivid memory is of lighters going up during one of the songs and my dad having to explain to me what was going on.
3.  The only speeding ticket I've ever gotten was on a college spring break road trip through Nebraska with some friends, and we were rocking out to Katy Perry's song "Peacock" when we got pulled over.
4. I spent my 21st birthday like any college student would--on a canoeing trip with my friend Allison, which included capsizing our canoe and being rescued by a pair of men with a cooler full of beers weighing down their own boat.
5. I once had a job that required me to wear a full-body Tyvek suit and a full face mask, as pictured below. It's not as exciting as it sounds though; it involved cleaning and cataloging lots of old, moldy microfilm reels in a flooded basement and killing lots of cockroaches.

*Disclaimer: This was a tough one because I know it's mostly my close friends and family who read this blog and therefore people who know quite a bit about me! So sorry if none of this is news to you!

5 things I am knowledgable about:

1. Sewing and quilting
2. Dementia, specifically behavioral and social therapies and person-centred care.
3. Competitive springboard diving
4. Christopher Columbus and the early Spanish colonization (NOT "discovery") of America
5. UK Immigration laws and policies

5 things I know nothing about:

1. Buying a car--yep I'll admit this, I know very little about what to look for when purchasing a vehicle, which is why I appreciated Josh's enthusiasm and knowledge when it came to buying my  first car!
2. Rugby--something very stereotypically Welsh. Josh played for years but doesn't watch it so I've had no reason to or interest in watching/learning about it!
3. Computer programming and coding
4. The stock market
5. Knitting--if you gave me a pair of needles and some yarn I'd be at a loss as to where to start. It's something I've considered learning but I already have too many hobbies and too little time & money to sustain them!

5 things I believe:

1. I believe that self-care is incredibly important! It's easy to overlook your own needs when things are busy and to prioritize other people's, but I believe you can only be your best self when you're taking time to take care of yourself.
2. I believe in connecting with people. I love meeting people and talking to people, and not just in the sense of making friends--I also love those little one-time interactions you can have with people in airports, coffeeshops, on the train, etc. I love finding a connection and sharing it with someone you didn't know five minutes ago.
3. I believe the only people who can truly judge a relationship are the people in it--and I try to live by this belief and be non-judgemental, but I am far from perfect.
4. I believe in laughter as a positive coping mechanisms.
5. I believe that we all have more in common than we realize, but it's often easier to see the differences.

As soon as I started writing this list all I could think of was the Savage Garden song "Affirmation", which I loved when I was twelve. I'd kind of forgotten about it until I heard it on the radio last week on my way to work--and again this morning, two Tuesdays in a row on the same station! So for anyone who wants to give it a listen and have a flashback to the early 2000s, here it is!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Name Game

This week the prompt I've chosen for Writer's Workshop is, The meaning of your name...does it suit you?

Considering my love for everything lingual, I doubt it would surprise anyone to know I've put a lot of thought into my name throughout my life. My name means a lot to me and I consider it a big part of who I am--it's something I've carried with me for my entire life.  When I was a kid I loved the fact that my initials (MAR) could spell out the name of a planet with just one letter added. There aren't many famous Monica's that I know of, and I remember as a child when I did meet anyone who shared my name, it was always someone middle-aged. I liked that though--it made me feel a bit more unique to not be one in a crowd of people sharing my name in my school, or neighborhood. But of course as a nineties child, I couldn't avoid being teased about Monica Lewinski. When that situation went down (pun possibly intended), my classmates and I were not quite old enough to understand the details, but old enough to understand that it was a scandal. And I knew just enough so that when in fourth grade a boy said to me, "I'm Bill Clinton and you're Monica Lewinski," I slapped him.

I think some "name meanings" are a bit like horoscopes--so generic that you can find a way to apply them to anyone. The name Monica is believed to be derived from the Latin word moneo, which means 'advisor'. If I wanted I could probably try and argue that I 'fit' this name description, but I don't honestly think I do. I don't see myself as someone people come to for advice and to be honest I certainly wouldn't come to myself for advice--I'm too indecisive, and too compassionate as well, which makes it difficult for me to try and advise people because all I really want to say is "Do what feels right for you." So I suppose I see myself as more of a listener than an advisor--and that's okay.

According to, there are 14 people in the United States who share my first-name/last-name combination. This makes it even more impressive that I "know" one of these individuals! I put "know" in quotation marks because we never actually met, but we exchanged numerous emails during the four years I studied at the University of Iowa. You see, there's another one of me there, in Iowa City--same first name and last name, same spelling, and what's more, she worked for the University. This began causing us problems before I'd even made it on campus. In the summer before my freshman year, when I'd accepted my place and registered for classes, my university email was set up, and almost immediately I began receiving emails not intended for me. I'm not sure which one of us figured it out, but somehow we managed to get in touch with each other and figure out what was going on, and from then on we regularly found ourselves forwarding emails to each other that were intended for the other person. I think I did this more than she did, because unfortunately for her, my middle initial is A, while hers is K. This meant that anyone searching in the university's online email address database would see my address pop up as soon as they started typing, and logically assume it was hers--because it's not like we're John Smiths, so what was the likelihood of there being two of us? I believe she began telling people to be sure to look for the 'staff' Monica, not the 'student' one.

Things got a bit more complicated once I started working for the University of Iowa library, because I was then listed as staff as well! I remember my supervisor at the library looking as confused as I felt when he told me he'd had mail delivered for me to his office, until I realized it was campus mail meant for her. But by far the best mix-up happened early in my sophomore year. Because I was still living in the dorms and we had a landline phone, we were listed in the campus-wide directory. I came back from showering one morning around 9:30am and Allison told me that while I'd been gone a call had come for me from some department of the University of Iowa Hospital (which was where the other Monica worked). I was completely confused because I'd had nothing to do with the hospital and had no reason to be contacted by them. It only hit me as she continued to tell me how confused the caller had sounded when Allison had said, naturally, "I'm sorry, she's in the shower." Some poor schmuck had called what he thought was an office telephone number for the other Monica, only to be told she was unavailable because she was in the shower! No wonder he was confused. I believe I sent her an email to let her know what had happened, and I'm sure she got a good laugh out of it--I still do!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hi, my name is Monica, and I am a certified suicide first aid caregiver.

Hi, my name is Monica, and I am a certified suicide first aid caregiver.

Most people who know me personally probably know that mental health support and awareness and suicide prevention are causes that are really important to me because these are things have affected both me personally and quite a few people who are very important to me. I don't think anyone is "comfortable" talking about suicide, but it's not something I shy away from because I believe that the best way to break down the stigmas about asking for help and support is to start talking about these things. However I also knew that all of my knowledge and skills for handling a situation where someone is at risk of suicide come from experience, with no formal training on the matter, and I really felt I could use some more guidance on how to handle such situations if confronted with them as a professional. That's why when the opportunity arose for me to attend a two-day suicide prevention training course through work, I jumped at the chance. The course was called ASIST--Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. The goal of the ASIST course is to prepare people to support people who are in a crisis and having suicidal thoughts or at risk of suicide. What I love about the course, though, is that it was not just designed for professionals who would encounter such situations regularly. It's designed for anyone who feels like they could benefit from these skills in either their personal or professional lives. In fact, the focus is on getting people educated who may encounter these situations but who do not typically receive formalized training for it--groups like teachers, clergy, charity volunteers, housing officers, etc.

The best thing that I learned from this course was the three-word phrase "safety-for-now"--incredibly simple, yes, but it completely shifted my viewpoint of suicide intervention. As we discussed a lot on the course, when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, asking them about this and giving them the chance to verbalize those feelings can be a really important part of the process for that individual--to no longer be carrying that burden alone. But as the recipient of that person's story, as the listener, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. As the person tells you of the feelings and problems that may be contributing to them feeling that way, it is easy to start worrying about how you can fix everything for them--even when often times many of the contributing factors are not within your power to "fix"). But what ASIST focuses on is helping a person get through a suicidal crisis in the short-term by allowing them to feel and express their feelings, and guiding them towards finding a way to establish a plan to keep them safe in the short-term. There are no promises that this one intervention will make everything better. There is room to acknowledge and accept that person's pain and experiences, but the focus is on the present. While there is of course a part of the plan that does involve getting long-term support in place, the focus on "safety-for-now" allows you (the caregiver) to focus on being in that moment with the person in crisis, which is often what is really needed.

The main reason I'm sharing my experience of the course is because I really think that anyone could benefit from attending. No matter what field you work in, you never know what could happen in either your work or personal life--and I think that raising awareness and knowledge of how to support someone who is suicidal is the first step towards reducing the amount of suicides that occur around the world. An estimated 5% of the population will have thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives. If that seems like a small number to you, it's not--that's 1 in 20 people. The ASIST program was started in Canada in the 1980s and now runs in 23 countries around the world--including the UK (obviously) and the US, so if you're reading this and would be interested in attending, you can find more information on their website. Thanks for reading!

**The format for this post was inspired by this week's writing prompts.**