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 http://howmanyofme.com, 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.**

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Happy National Book Month!

So some of you may remember my lofty goal, about a year and a half ago, to write at least one blog post a week inspired by these prompts called Five-Minute Fridays. I did a few, but I just found that the prompts weren't really what I was looking for and weren't inspiring me in the way I'd hoped. But I've found another similar blog series called Writer's Workshop, and having looked at the last few weeks of prompts I'm already excited about it. I make no promises to post weekly, but I'll try! There are 5 prompts a week and you can choose to write just one or as many as you like. So the prompt I've chosen this week is, "October is National Book Month, tell us about the best book you’ve read so far this year."

I don't think I need to explain to anyone why this prompt grabbed me, though I will add that I'm thrilled to feel like I can actually answer it with quite a few books to choose from! Every year I keep a list of all the books I've read, and this is the first year that I can remember since high school that I've read so many books in a year purely for leisure. Obviously doing an English degree meant reading TONS of novels for every class, and I loved it, but reading on a time scale and trying to finish all of that reading before each class, even when the literature is enjoyable, is simply not the same as picking up a book as and when you want to and reading it at your own desired pace. And of course while doing my Master's, by the time I'd finished all my academic reading I rarely had the energy to read anything else! So it's wonderful to finally feel I have the time and energy to read for pleasure, and to continue tackling my ever-growing list of "Books to Read". That list used to be an ongoing Word document on my computer, but it was getting so disorganized that I had to come up with a new solution, so it's now in an Excel document, alphabetized by author, with additional columns for "Date read" and "Must buy" (only for books I read and love so much I know I must own them). The list currently stands at 85 books and, if my reading rate were to stay the same as it has been this year so far, it would take me about six years to read all the books on my list!

Now, it may sound like I have all this "leisure reading" down to too much of a science. You may be thinking, "How can you call it reading for leisure at all?" Let me just clarify that although I have this running list, I have no plans to read all the books in any specific order and also have no qualms about picking up a book at the library/bookstore/off of Josh's bookshelf just because it sounds good! I consult the list occasionally if I'm going to a bookstore and I also hope to get myself signed up at the local library, but it's more of a place for me to remember all the titles of books that have ever appealed to me. In my current stack of books-to-read, I don't think a single one is or was ever actually on that list, but instead all were picked up along the way.

I must say I had a hard time deciding amongst the books I read which was the best, so I'll let you know why I chose the one I did. Quite a few of the books on my list of "read books" this year were ones I'd been looking forward to reading for quite a while, or by some especially favorite authors of mine (Shirley by Charlotte Bronte and Sarah Kay's book of poetry). Such factors obviously added a bias to my level of enjoyment. So I decided to look at just those books that I'd read with no expectations, and from those I picked which was the most enjoyable. And the winner is...

Josh loves Stephen Fry, but until I met Josh I don't think I knew anything about him other than having heard the name once or twice. I've grown to love him through watching QI with Josh, but this book really was an on-a-whim read. You see, when we moved, I underestimated how many books to leave out for myself to read before we unpacked the entire bookshelf. Yes, I know--definitely a first-world problem. So I finished The Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold (which I do NOT recommend), and was at a loss, with all my books packed in boxes that were not able to be unpacked yet. I really wanted something to read, especially because we didn't have any TV or internet set up yet, so when unpacking a bag of Josh's stuff I spotted this. I opened it up just planning to have a quick look and see what it was like, and ended up abandoning my unpacking to start it. It's a memoir of the first 20 years of Fry's life, and I was captivated by his voice. The way he weaves humor into a lot of serious self-reflection is brilliant, and the honesty with which he recalls his childhood experiences is refreshing. I have to say, his TV personality, while lovely, doesn't do his writing style justice! If you're looking for a book with a lot of plot, then this probably isn't for you, but I personally love memoirs, and I devoured this! I've now added Stephen Fry's novel The Liar to my list, which I know Josh has in a drawer somewhere; I think he also has one or two more books following on later into his life and I plan to look those up as well!

P.S. If you want to check out the Writer's Workshop prompt series, just click the button :)

Mama’s Losin’ It