Supporting Kids And Teens Through The Covid-19 Limbo

Self-isolation does not have to be completely isolating. There are ways to support and encourage our kids and teens through the times of Covid-19.

To many people right now, the world seems like it is in crisis in the wake of the corona virus outbreak. Those of us old enough to remember SARS, swine flu and H1N1 tend to understand more of the reasons for that than our kids do, even if we still don’t understand why toilet paper is worth pulling a knife on someone, 

Yes, you read that right. It happened in a supermarket in Sydney, Australia, a couple of weeks ago.

To many of our kids and teens, though, it seems like some kind of madness has taken over. As concerts, sports, social events, classes and rehearsals have been brought to a screeching halt as they look on, some of them are starting to buy into the fear that they have seen expressed on TV, in social media, and among some members of the community. 

That hit home really personally on Sunday when our theatre company told the cast that we had decided to hit the pause button and defer our production of Little Shop of Horrors that was due to hit the stage in May. 

“This whole thing sucks!” one young cast member said. 
“I know!” another replied. “It’s taking all the joy out of life!” 
“I get it, though,” responded the first one. “We have to keep people safe. But it’s making a lot of people really miserable at the same time.”

She was 100% correct. I am feeling really miserable about it, too. That’s completely natural.

We will do the show — we just can’t say when. For now, rehearsals are suspended and we all find ourselves with a lot of extra time on our hands that we had been putting into working together for a common goal.

At a time when many of us are being isolated from the activities we love and the company of others who enjoy those same things, how do we stop the molehills of grief turning into mountains of misery? 

That’s a really big question, and I don’t profess to have all the answers. 

I do know that it’s important to find ways to encourage and motivate each other. It’s important to monitor and support each other’s emotional and mental health. 

So, here are just a few suggestions for possible ways to lift the spirits of the young people in your life during the disappointments and challenges caused byCovid-19:

  • Acknowledge their feelings. It’s quite natural to feel disappointed and a bit annoyed at the number of things being cancelled, postponed or banned. Instead of telling them to “suck it up” or “take it on the chin”, tell them you understand, and that you’re feeling similar things too. Empathy will always win more favour than platitudes. 
  • Involve them in the family decision making about social distancing, self-isolating and dealing with the practicalities that follow. Knowing that they have been listened to, and having some ownership of the decisions and plans that are made, will reduce feelings of resentment, anger and rebellion.
  • Praise and thank them for their maturity in accepting disappointments. A bit of intrinsic motivation goes a very, very long way with young people. 
  • Give them responsibility appropriate to their age and ability. It could be anything they feel is important and worthwhile: preparing a meal, keeping a particular area of the house clean and sanitised, disinfecting all the door handles in the house each day, or calling grandparents or other family members on the phone to support and encourage them. 
  • Limit the amount of “fear language” you allow in the house. This might  mean not watching the 6pm news on TV as a family, discussing what members of the family will allow on their social media feeds, and discussing things in a responsible way. Be honest about your feelings, but try to phrase your responses to the virus and consequent changes and limitations using positive and proactive language like “social responsibility” and “doing out part to protect the vulnerable” instead of using terms like “lockdown”, “corona virus jail” or “panic”. 
  • Encourage them to find constructive ways to use their spare time. ‘Netflix and chill’ is okay, but not all day, every day.
  • Self-isolation does not have to be completely isolating. Hanging out with friends in person may not be an option, but there are ways to socialise beyond the regular social media platforms where kids are likely to hear a lot of “doom and gloom” about the current situation. Try Skype calls or Google Meet, which enable people to spend time, chat, and still see each other, all from a distance.
  • Give them something to look forward to. Discuss and make plans for activities, holidays, or celebrations that will happen once the need for social distancing and self-isolation has passed. Anticipation of something good is a powerful antidote to feeling as though all the fun things have been taken away. 
  • Ask for their expert help. Whether it’s compiling a great playlist on Spotify, learning how to use Instagram or Snapchat, finding a great app or game for your phone or tablet, or ordering groceries or pizza online, older kids and teenagers are likely to have those skills down to a fine art. Even if you have a fair idea how to do those things, ask them anyway. 

While there is obviously no perfect solution, it’s important that we continue to try to find positive and healthy ways to deal with the limitations and restrictions that are being put in place.

If you have any other suggestions, please share them in a comment. 

Supporting Our Kids And Teens Through #CoronaVirus #lockdown disruption.
#support #PositivePosts #StayingHome #mentalwellbeing #MentalHealthAwareness #PositiveParenting

Down, But Not Out.

When people prove disappointing or worse, don’t let them drag you down to their level.

It’s fair to say that I’m glad to see the weekend. 

Earlier this week I found myself disappointed again by someone else’s basic inability to be a decent human being, and stunned by the willingness of others to simply accept it and look the other way. 

Sadly, it seems you can go the extra mile a couple of dozen times, give of yourself and your time to achieve a common goal, and support and encourage someone as much as you possibly can, but they’ll still cut you down and leave the knife in your back when it suits them.

I know, I know. I made the same old mistake – trusting that someone else would operate on the same principles of basic decency and human understanding that I do. I should know by now that the fact that I *should* be able to trust certain people is irrelevant. I’ve been hurt that way countless times before, and It seems I still haven’t learned. 

Still, I refuse to beat myself up for that. I’m feeling disrespected, under-appreciated, taken for granted and consequently emotionally bruised enough as it is. 

I don’t know the reasons for it, and I probably never will.  That knowledge wouldn’t change anything anyway. As much as it sucks, it is what it is. 

I know at some point – hopefully not too far in the future – the hurt and frustration I feel will diminish. Maybe I’ll even find there’s a blessing in disguise in the situation. It’s always a possibility. 

I feel as though I have shed enough tears, ranted sufficiently, and discussed the situation with my husband and best friend to the point where I can resign myself to the way things are, Being at peace with things isn’t out of the question, but I’m not there yet. I’m still hurt, and I’m still angry.

What I need to do is focus on healthy ways to deal with how I’m feeling. To that end,  I’ve immersed myself in things I love: rehearsals for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ with the most wonderful theatre company on the planet, reading great books, spending time with people I love, and cuddling with my fur babies. 

This is all just another reminder that we can’t always have what we want, or insist that things be the way we want them. We can’t stop people from being horrible human beings, and there are many things in life that are beyond our control. 

It’s important to remember, though, that there are plenty of things I can control. First and foremost on that list is the way in which I choose to respond to challenges, conflicts and adversity.

I refuse to seek revenge.  I refuse to hit back, or be manipulative, hurtful and cruel to that person in response. That would make me as low as them. 

At the same time, I refuse to let that person take advantage of me again.  I will not let that person have more control over my life or my feelings than they have already had. 

I refuse to allow this situation to keep me down, dampen my spirit or harden my heart. 

In addition to all the other emotions I’ve experienced this week, I’m determined that I am not going to allow that person, or this situation, to undo me. If they think they’ve won, they have seriously underestimated me. There is, after all, more than one way to win in any given situation.

I’m going to keep doing what I do. I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.  I’m going to shine, and succeed, and accomplish everything I set out to do.

Given that I have managed to do exactly that thus far while living with fibromyalgia and chronic back pain, a little opposition from a sulky so-and-so isn’t going to stop me.

And if they, or anyone else, want to criticise, I don’t care. If they happen to be jealous or intimidated by what I achieve, that’s just too bad. I’ll be over here, living my best life, wearing my sassy pants, and not worrying about what petty people think or how puerile they are. 

Superficial

I wrote the poem titled ‘Superficial’ two years ago.

I remember feeling both hurt and angry, but mostly just plain tired of being made to feel as though I continually failed to reach the arbitrary standards expected of me by certain people.

This weekend, I have realised it is still far too relevant. It’s still just as true as when I wrote it.

You know, that’s just rubbish. It was rubbish then, and it’s rubbish now.

In fact, the only thing that has changed is how much I care — or actually don’t — about whether publishing it will confront the people who inspired it, and how they might respond to being called out.

The thing is, they should be called out. Their comfortable, conformist jusdgment is not okay. They don’t get to decide who is “worthy”. Their ideas of what is “acceptable” or “normal” are as subjective and as anyone else’s.

I am who I am.

I matter, and so do my feelings.
I am enough.

And I deserve to be treated with respect, whether they like me or not..

I wrote this poem two years ago. It’s still far too relevant,

Too bright, too individual, too funky, 
Too wild, too unafraid, too chunky, 
Too short, too loud, too bold, too dyed—
When will you ever look inside? 
It’s so easy to label something as sin
Ignoring the gems concealed within—
Love, passion, talent, loyalty, art.
Yet you say God looks at each person’s heart
For faith, service, and integrity:
Why can’t you look that way at me?

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam

PS:
I saw you looking at my ears
And all my pretty piercings there;
Your distaste was almost palpable
And I still don’t eally care

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A Crisis of Confidence

If you think kids are the only ones who suffer ‘back to school’ anxiety, think again.

On the evening before school starts back for the year, I usually hit a patch of anxiety that keeps me awake into the wee hours of the morning. 

Today, my brain has hit fast-forward and has dumped me in that patch just about as soon as I woke up. 

I know it’s not logical. I know I am good at my job. I love my workplace, and a number of my colleagues are also my good friends. I love teaching. I’ve done my preparation.I know that I will go back tomorrow and everything will be okay. 

Today, however, my brain is playing a different tune. I am plagued with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I am fearful of nothing in particular and everything in general. I know I can do it but I feel as though I can’t. 

This is what happens when anxiety, introversion and impostor syndrome get together for a wild party: they don’t get messed up, I do. 

What many people don’t realise is that many of their own kids’ teachers go through the same thing every year and every term. Some experience it much more frequently, even daily. 

To look at them, especially at work in the classroom, you’d never know it. But it is real, and it is genuinely awful. 

I don’t know what the solution is. The only thing I know how to do is hang in there, try to take care of myself, and keep going like I always do. 

Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

There are many things I have learned to do again, albeit differently, since my spinal surgery 15 months ago. 

It seems, however, that stairs are still my nemesis. I can manage one or two steps if I go slowly and carefully but, as I discovered tonight, walking up a whole flight of stairs still causes me significant pain. 

We went out for dinner with friends, who had booked at a first floor restaurant that had no elevator. It did, however, have a beautiful circular staircase. 
Beautiful… and an enormous challenge.

I went very slowly, but by the fifth or sixth stair my lower back was screaming. Before I got to the top, I could feel the sciatic pain in my butt and staring to extend down my legs. I couldn’t stay there, so I had to either keep going or go back down. Slower still, and even more carefully, I made it to the top.

The first thing I did was hit my friends up for whatever analgesics they had. One had ibuprofen, the other had paracetamol. I took both, as my doctors have instructed me to do when I need to. I also chose not to sit until my meal was delivered, even though standing up in a large room of diners made me feel very self-conscious.  

It didn’t help that some people were quite obvious about the way they looked at me – and all I was doing was standing up. Once again, it reminded me of how much harder it must be for those whose differences or disabilities are more obviously noticeable.  

Dinner was delicious, but as soon as I had finished, I stood up again. We took the rear door out of the pub, as it opened onto the driveway. Even through it was quite a slope, it was still easier than the stairs. 

It’s disappointing that the establishment had not been more thoughtful about accessibility. An assumption that everyone who visits is able-bodied enough to use the stairs is ignorant at best. Perhaps if there were a “disabled access” sign pointing to the rear of the building, I might have been able to enjoy my meal and the great company without either kind of discomfort. I cannot imagine I am the only person who would benefit from that, 

And, if you’re ever out for dinner and there’s someone standing up for most of the evening, or doing anything else out of the ordinary, just know they have their reasons and be kind enough to pretend you haven’t noticed.

How To Not Make Someone Feel Worse Than They Already Do

Despite having worked hard, going more than one “extra mile” and achieving some good things, I have spent much of the past  few days feeling absolutely, irretrievably inferior. Totally sub-standard. An awful disappointment.

It’s not a new experience, by any stretch of the imagination. It happens far more often than most people will ever know or realise. Even so, it is never pleasant feeling as though most of the world thinks you’re rubbish. 

It’s not as though any of us is perfect. I certainly make no claim to be… which is a good thing because I am most definitely not.

And yet, when others discover a flaw or weakness, or find I have made a mistake, they very often speak or act as though they feel they have a right to be outraged and judge me for my imperfection. 

So here’s a news flash. 

I am not perfect. 
Neither are you. 
Everyone makes mistakes. 
Everyone misses a beat every now and then. 

But you know what is more hurtful than someone making a mistake? 
Treating them as though they are less than you. 

Because, you know, they’re not. 

If someone does something that bothers you, or offends you, and you feel the need to talk to them about it, for goodness’ sake, be kind. And if you can’t be kind, then wait until you can. 

And please, please, oh please, go to them and speak to them rather than anyone else. Going behind their back and kvetching about it is only ever going to cause more complications and trouble, so unless that is your actual intent, it is a response that should be avoided.

Similarly, there is nothing achieved by being judgemental. In fact, it is entirely counterproductive. 

Sure, they might comply with what you ask or insist of them. But they might do that if you simply asked them to do something to resolve the issue, too— especially if you ask nicely and say please.

The saying that “you get more out of people with honey than you do with a stick” became a proverb for a reason: it is generally true. It is certainly true of how I respond to people. 

If someone treats me with kindness, I will do everything in my power to not let them down. 
If they dump judgement on me, I am just going to keep on beating myself up over it, because if someone tells me I am not good enough, I will believe them. I will also probably never again fully believe that they have any respect for me at all. 

And if someone else, completely unknown to them and in different circumstances, tells me the same thing, I will believe both of them, twice as hard and twice as long. 

It’s not deliberate, and it doesn’t matter if that is not your intention: that’s how I am wired. 

The consequence is that it makes everything I need to do in a day more difficult. I doubt myself and second guess everything, even the things I know I am good at. 

To be honest, life is actually hard enough without that. It’s bad enough knowing that I made the mistake in the first place, or that someone resents me for not measuring up to their standards. Add chronic pain, anxiety and depression into the mix, and it very quickly becomes both exhausting and excruciating. 

It’s almost certain that that doesn’t just apply to me, either. Many people have internal battles or burdens of one kind or another that they keep hidden, but which add another level of complexity to whatever else they have to deal with in a day. 

So when someone screws up— and we should all understand that everyone will, from time to to time— be kind. Tell them gently, person to person, and let them fix it, or at least try to. 

Please. And thank you. 

Taking The Bad With The Good

I have spent this morning contemplating the ways in which life can be so good and so utterly awful at the same time. 

Life offers many wonderful experiences, opportunities and pleasures. Some of those are simple, some are constant, and others are once-in-a-lifetime events. Little things happen every day that can really blow your mind when you stop taking them for granted. 

One of my most constant joys is that I am blessed with wonderful friends. Sure, I’ve known the pain of broken friendships, and the shock of discovering someone who I thought was a friend was the exact opposite of that. But I am also enormously blessed and privileged, because I have some of the most amazingly loyal, loving, supportive, and caring friends on the planet.

At the same time, everyone in my circle of closest friends is struggling with something awful. There have been victories, there have been defeats. There are ongoing issues that don’t look as though there will be resolution or healing anytime soon. Those friends would all consider that I am in that same boat with my chronic pain and spinal health issues.

Everyone suffers something awful at some point in their life. The hard times are balanced and put into perspective by great days, wonderful experiences, and the love and encouragement of those near and dear to us.

Still, the news I received from one of my closest friends this morning was particularly devastating. She has taken this news the same way she has dealt with her entire battle against her illness: in true warrior style. Although her future is unsure, her faith and courage are not. I am so inspired by her attitude and her strength. 

I feel as though I am the complete opposite of that. I’m full of tears and anger and questions and fear. I cried more than she did during our phone call. There is no point in pretending though, because this is all part of the grief process and it’s not healthy for anyone to suppress any of that. 

I don’t know what the coming weeks or months hold, but I do know one thing: I don’t want her to die. I don’t want to be without her. And I know that is a sentiment shared by every member of the family and probably everyone who knows her. 

I am keenly aware of not putting the cart before the horse, and treating her as though she’s already on her death bed. Although painfully aware that is the likely outcome, I will keep hoping and praying reminding myself that it might not come to that because I do still believe in miracles. I want to make every opportunity, shared moment and experience count. We already have a lifetime of memories together, and because I treasure her and her friendship so much, I want to make more. They don’t have to be big or magical. They just have to be.

So, as far as is possible, I will embrace and make the most of the joys while never forgetting or praying against the bad. None of us knows the number of our days, but we can do everything in our power to make every one of them count. 

It’s not about denial. It’s all about focusing on the good while living with the bad. There are no rules against tears, or frustration, or hating on whatever hurts. The only thing I refuse to do is give in to it and let it steal what is good, too. 

PS: Please don’t feel sorry for me. I am truly blessed – just very human.

Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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RU OK? World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is RU OK Day, also known as World Suicide Prevention day.

This is an awareness very close to my heart.
I’m not going to expand on why, because I want the focus of this post to be positive and encouraging.

The message is important not just for today because it’s a special awareness day. This message is permanently, crucially important.

We need to take care of each other. Each of us is uniquely placed to offer support and encouragement to the people we know – friends, families, colleagues, students, whoever we cross paths with in our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be their only support, although sometimes we might be just that. 

If you think someone is down, if they look tired or unwell, or notice they’re not taking care of themselves as well as they usually do, ask them if they are okay.  Don’t just ask as a throwaway question. Be willing to have a quality conversation that includes questions like:

  • What’s going on?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there someone I can contact for you?

Taking the time to check in with someone deliberately and thoughtfully is a powerful communication of care and concern. 

It’s important  to realise that you or I might be the one positive thing that happens in someone’s day. We might be the only source of encouragement and light that they encounter. 

We also need to consider the power of our words. A curt dismissal or snide remark in response to a comment that might actually be a true confession of desperation, depression or anxiety can be incredibly destructive. We should never, ever be making a joke of that. Yes, sometimes it is attention-seeking or needless drama— but sometimes it’s not. 

A kind word or message of encouragement could be the difference between someone actually deciding that now is the time to end their life, or not. 

I know. It’s a huge responsibility. 

But imagine a world where each of us gives someone that kind of support, and someone else gives it to us when we need it. 

And if you’re thinking you’ll never need it, stop right now and be very, very thankful for the blessings in your life and the comfort of good, stable mental health. It’s not possible to emphasise enough just how lucky you are. 

If you’re one of those who is struggling, or feeling like you’re drowning, or tired of treading water… please, please, talk to someone. Seek help. Look for reasons —  any reason — to stay.  Please stay.

I wrote this poem after one of the darkest seasons of my life thus far. I hope that you will gain both perspective and insight from reading it. 

Before you read this poem, there is somethingI would likeyou to know.

This poem is absolutely, 100% true. It is personal, it is painfully honest, and it tells of my own experience, not anyone else’s. And you may find it quite confronting.

Despite its darkness, it is written to be positive, not negative.

It was not written to win sympathy or make anyone feel guilt: it was written so that people might understand what’s in my head, and what I’ve been feeling, and why I’ve made the choices I have.

To answer your concerns: I have chosen to stay here and to defy all impulses that tempt me otherwise. I don’t always feel okay, I’m not always okay, but I will be okay.

For anyone in a similar position: hold on. Stay here. You matter more than you know.

Promo X Still Here Plain.jpeg

STILL HERE.

For a moment-
One fleeting, isolated point in time-

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