Veteran recounts difficulties re-acclimating to civilian life

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WELLESLEY – It was not uncommon for a wounded American solider to die in Michael Anthony’s arms during the Bridgewater native’s yearlong deployment in Iraq.

In fact, it happened frequently.

The hospital where Anthony worked as an operating room technician in Mosul was under frequent attack and had countless mass casualty situations, including one on his first day overseas.

“That was pretty much a daily occurrence,” said Anthony, who served in the Army Reserves for six years.

Excerpt from Jeff Malichowski’s article in MetroWest Daily News. Read more.

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Dr. Langen offers a free newsletter, Sliding Otter News,  on a regular basis with the theme of finding inner peace and living in harmony with others. Posts consist of selections from his writings, original posts and links to related posts by other authors. Signing up places you under no obligation and you may unsubscribe any time.
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Teens Being Teased: Karen’s Story

By Joseph Langen

Karen didn’t think much about herself one way or another when she was younger. In middle school she decided she was okay and gave it no more thought. Now she wonders what’s wrong with her. The problem started when a few girls in her class teased her. Then some boys started teasing her too. She became convinced that something must be wrong with her.

She couldn’t figure out why they were teasing her. Her body had more curves now than it did before, but she didn’t have a wart on her nose or smell weird. When she walked with her friends at school, nobody bothered her. When she was alone, a group of girls would look at her as if a dog threw up on her. If they said anything to her it was how awful her blouse looked, how old fashioned her shoes were, or that her hair looked like a rat’s nest.

After this started to happen she spent a good amount of time before school looking at herself in the mirror to see if anything was out of place. As far as she could see, she wore the same clothes as everybody else. She still had the same hairstyle as before they started teasing her. What else could it be?

She didn’t want her parents to worry about her so she said nothing about it to them. She tried to pretend everything was okay. Her mother looked at her with her head cocked to one side. She always did this when she knew there was something Karen was hiding.

Karen was embarrassed to tell her friends about what the girls did, and now the boys. They would probably think she was crazy. Her friends still joked with her, shared their secrets and listened to hers. Maybe she was being too sensitive and just needed to wait until the whole thing blew over.

She decided to ride it out but more and more girls and also boys kept up their mean comments. She had never been mean to anyone and couldn’t make any sense of it. One day during recess, she found herself alone in the lav sitting on the toilet with her head in her hands and her eyes welling up with tears.

Thinking back over her misery that night while trying to get to sleep, she realized she had to do something. She wanted to handle it herself but that wasn’t working out very well. Her best friend Jen was a good listener and might have some ideas for her. At least it would feel good to get it off her chest.

The next day after English class, she asked Jen if she could come over to her house after school. Jen agreed. Up in her room with the door closed, Karen just sat for a few minutes without saying anything. Jen realized it was up to her to start the conversation. “OK Karen, I know something’s going on. You’ve been quieter than usual, and I haven’t seen your toothpaste smile lately. What gives?”

“It’s hard to talk about, and don’t laugh. A few weeks ago a few girls started teasing me for no reason I could think of. They kept it up and got their friends and a few of the boys to start teasing me as well.

“I knew something was going on. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid you might think I was crazy or imagining it. I don’t know what to make of myself these days. Is there something wrong with me or something weird?”

“Don’t you think I would tell you if there was? Would I let you get picked on? I’m your best friend, remember?”

“I know you are but I didn’t know what to say. I can’t think of anything to do to make them stop. I don’t know what I can change about myself to make me seem more normal. Can you help?”

“I’d be glad to help. We just have to figure out what’s going on.”

“I’ve been trying. Could you start by telling me how I might look to them?”

“Without knowing you, here is what I would see. You are a very pretty girl. You don’t wear much makeup but you don’t need to. Your skin is very smooth and almost glows. When you wear you hair down, any boy would want to run his hands through it to see how silky it is. From what I can tell with your clothes on, you have average size breasts which seem to fit your body perfectly. The rest of your body is very well proportioned too. No flab that I can see, but also not too skinny.

“The clothes you are wearing right now show off your body to good advantage but don’t look cheap, attractive without looking like a floozy. Nothing you have on looks ridiculous. At first glance, I can’t see anything to tease you about if I wanted to.”

“So maybe it’s not about my body or clothes. Are you sure you’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

“You asked me to be honest. I am. That’s what I see.”

“Thanks. Okay, what else do people see about me?”

“That’s easy. You seem like a bright girl, intelligent and funny and sure of yourself. You are on the honor roll, play basketball and soccer and lead the debate club. You’re always kind and polite to everyone. You aren’t snooty and never come across as thinking you are better than anyone else. You’re generous and helpful when anyone needs you.”

“You make me sound like a saint!”

“You practically are. I can’t think of anything you could change to make yourself any better.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Did you ever think that the problem isn’t you? “I just told you how I see you. Don’t you think some of the girls at school might be jealous of you?”

“What? I never thought of that.”

“I think it’s a good possibility.”

“What should I do about it- try to look ugly or start screwing up my life?”

“Then they would really have something to tease you about. Let’s talk with our friends  and see what we can do together to get you off the hot seat. We will all work on it together.”

“Thanks, Jen. Now I know why you are my best friend.”

*****

So that’s what it might be like for one teen. Finding someone to help you isn’t the end of the story. But it helps to know you don’t have to face your problem on your own.

Excerpt from my book Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It. For a free sample, follow this link and choose See Inside.

 

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What follows Trump and Trumpism?

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Review­ of One Nation After Trump­ by E.J. Dionne, Norman  Ornstein, and Thomas Mann

I happened upon this book in The Bunch of Grapes, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard which I have never left without finding a writing treasure.  I picked up and put down the book several times. Did I really want to delve any further into the Trump quagmire? I finally let my sense of obligation to my country overcome the increasing trepidation I have felt since the last election day.

I feared it might just be another diatribe against Trump. I imagined everything the authors might say. Once I began the book, I discovered that they had a plan which made sense to me and offered hope for the future of our country.

They distinguished between the person of Donald Trump and his disregard for the traditions, values and customs of our country and the movement of Trumpism which has taken on a life of its own and created its own horrors.

Part one chronicles the descent of the disaffected into a world of resentment, cynicism and anger about the loss of standing, chiefly of white males who have declined from the relative prosperity they had achieved over many decades. This dissatisfaction has focused on non-­whites and immigrants as the reason for their decline. Their white plight has resulted in a combination of racism directed toward minorities who could further erode their economic well-being and protectionism from those who would come to their country and take what little they had left. In addition to explaining the nature of this movement, the authors also demonstrate how cultural, economic and political trends have fueled the rise of Trumpism over a period of decades.

The second part of the book outlines possibilities for moving forward as a society rather than disintegrating into irrelevance. They suggest ways that patriotism can be reborn, how a new civil society can be reborn and how conservative and progressive ways of thought can come together to restore our standing with ourselves and with other nations while bringing hope to disaffected white males as well as the groups against which they rail.

In my opinion, this book is a comprehensive, thoroughly researched manual for understanding the state to which we have descended and ways we can all work together to bring ourselves back to our roots and convictions.

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How do I start to understand random violence?

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To cure the violence, we must identify and heal the causes of hatred and violence.
If we don’t deal with the causes we will never be safe.

~Peter Yarrow~

The term random violence suggests that there is no explanation for such acts which have become all too commonplace recently. Acceptance that there is no explanation implies that that there is nothing we can do about it. The approach of placing more guns in the hands of civilians has been promoted as one possible solution although it sounds scary to me.

Commentators and others have scratched their heads trying to clarify the reasons for this violence. Among the possibilities are parenting styles, the effects of mental illness, the proliferation of guns, violent video games, media sensationalism and violent lyrics in music. We would like to find a reason for the violence which does not include our own culture and attack the problem as lying outside us.

What if the reasons lie within the culture of which we are a part? Then the search becomes uncomfortable. We would need to examine our own thoughts and emotions as people living in this culture.

In his article, The Autogenic Massacre, P. E. Mullen reminds us that guns and violent revolution formed one basis for founding the United States. He also revises a well known slogan to read “Guns don’t kill people, but people kill people with guns.” He notes that many popular movies glorify gun violence. Most people do not use guns to actually protect themselves. Most seldom have the intention of murdering others. Yet some people do have such motivations and some become mass murderers.

Mental illness is often seen as an explanation or in common words, “He must be crazy!” For the most part it is a “he.” Violent attacks are much more likely to be carried out by men than by women. The result of this kind of thinking is to identify and isolate these mentally ill individuals from mainstream society. Yet the mentally ill are far more commonly the victims of violence than they are perpetrators of violence.

Attempts to clarify which traits predict violence have been largely unsuccessful and tend to include people with moderate or little risk of becoming violent. The great majority of mass killers are white males, but no other characteristics are helpful in defining who is likely to become violent. They are not clearly psychotic, delusional, crazy or insane.

Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University, has listed the features most relevant to mass shooters. They include antisocial traits, depressed mood, recent loss and perception that others are to blame for their problems.

He sees these risk factors as common to violent adults as well as children. Yet these are not mental illnesses in themselves. They imply unwanted emotions and difficulty coping with challenges and life events which we all face from time to time.

Mullen suggests that mass murderers may not differ from the rest of us in how they think or feel. They may just differ in the degree to which they experience feelings such as rage and motivations like revenge.

Another factor might be an exaggerated sense of entitlement which fuels rage in certain people when their expectations are not met by society. Other people disposed toward violence often feel marginalized by society, also leading them to anger, rage and feelings of wanting revenge.

Trying to isolate such individuals and punishing them for their emotions only increases their sense of isolation and pent-up rage. As we saw when we discussed the criminal justice system, another approach would be to try reaching such individuals before they become hardened into seeing violence as their only alternative. Such an approach would not be easy, and it also goes against the vigilante or cowboy thinking of many people these days. Yet it promises a much more productive way of going about making lasting changes.

 (Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample, follow this link and choose “Look Inside.”)

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How to balance, life, religion and spirituality.

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Life is your adventure. Religion and spirituality can help you make sense of your life and navigate its challenges. When was the last time you stopped to consider what your life is all about? Why are you here on Earth? Children hear that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. That is not quite true. Some paths require resources, money, skills or connections which might not be readily available to you. Your choices are not unlimited.
Yet you still have many options available to you. Your family, friends, life circumstances and talents guided you toward certain paths. Those paths, suggested by people who care about you, might have been easier to follow than forging your own path, although theirs might not take you quite where you want or expect to go. More challenging paths await you down the road. These will require more effort from you when they are less familiar. Yet they might be more satisfying in the long run as you learn to manage them.
If fame, fortune and power are your main goals in life, you probably see little need for religion or spirituality. You will pursue your goals at all costs regardless of the effect on your life and the lives of those you encounter on your way through life. But you could end up living in a spiritual vacuum. You might want to at least think of reconsidering your priorities. Religion and spirituality are important to people who want their lives to be about something more than what they can grab for themselves. They form a context for living a life directed toward a higher calling.
When I was a child, a “vocation” was considered a call from God to pursue a higher purpose. At that time it meant being called to be a priest or a nun. Later it came to mean living any life in the context of a greater meaning.
How to find meaning outside the limited context of your little world is not always obvious. Where do you start? What are the steps? Spirituality is the process of finding, accepting and sharing the larger meaning of being alive as you journey through life. You can learn from others on a similar path to yours and share what you learn with your fellow travelers.
Religions are formalized systems intended to help you find the meaning for which you search on your spiritual journey. Obviously various religious systems cannot all be the one true path to spirituality and to God although many claim to be the only right way. Regardless of their claims, most religions start with the same premise, offering a way to live in unity between you and God.
How do you know if you are on the right path? Spirituality and religion both suggest reflection and meditation. If you never stop to see where you have been, where you are headed and the effect of your choices on you and those around you, you have no way to check your course or predict where you will end up.
Honest reflection will help you evaluate your life path to see whether it is taking you in the right direction. If you are hurting yourself or someone else as you proceed, you might have made a wrong turn and need a course correction.

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How do I get my body to be at peace?

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How do you get your body to be at peace and in harmony? Once you see the answers to this question, they might seem like common sense. Unfortunately we do not always use common sense in our approach to our bodies. Sometimes we take partial or baby steps. That’s a good start, but the more you understand about your body’s needs and the more you treat your body kindly, the more at peace you will find yourself.
What does a peaceful body look like? On the surface your brow is smooth and not wrinkled in distress. Your face is calm; your hands are relaxed and your fists are not clenched. You stand straight and are not stooped over under the weight of your daily stress.
Looking inside, your bloodstream is distributing nourishment and collecting waste and not chronically clogged with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As we saw before, these hormones serve a useful purpose in preparing you for approaching danger and shutting down regular functions of your body not specifically needed to fight stress.
This is fine when your body is under attack, and you need to defend yourself or get you out of harm’s way. Yet immediate threats pass fairly quickly, and your body hopefully returns to a more relaxed and peaceful state. When you are constantly beset by worrisome thoughts, emotions or both, your body stays in a state of high alert preventing you from feeling at peace and eventually exhausting you and keeping you from living a productive life. Your body, mind, emotions and spirit are all interconnected.
Your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all rise when you are in a state of stress or anxiety and become lower when your body is at peace. When you are peaceful, you have more energy to use in constructive activities rather that spending it all fighting stress.
Once you get stress out of your life, you will find that in addition to more energy you will a better appetite and better digestion. Rather than finding natural ways to achieve peace within your body, you might be tempted to seek the help of prescription drugs, alcohol or street drugs as a way to compensate for the unrest inside you. Chemical approaches can be helpful at times. Yet better long-term results can be found by considering changes in the way you live your life. What changes? That’s a long story which I will get to another time.

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How do I find peace in my life?

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Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

~Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~

When we think of peace, we tend to focus on what it is not. Peace is not being in conflict with others or within ourselves. It means not being at war. This is part of it. We have an idea about what we don’t want. Yet it is possible to not be at war or in conflict with anyone and still not be at peace. Sound strange? It’s not if you consider peace as more than the absence of conflict.

Here is the definition of peace proposed by the Christophe Barbey for the Institute for the Progress of Peace, “Peace is part of human dignity. It is living in, as well as the right and the duty to live in, to prepare, to maintain or to restore a creative state of permanent harmony amongst all.”

In this sense, peace is not a construct or an invention of people or governments. Peace is part of the recognition that human life is worthy of respect and that we all share in a sense of dignity just by being born human.

Of course, people have not always viewed their fellow humans with dignity. Throughout history, various groups of humans have been viewed as possessions or objects to be bought, sold and used with impunity as we might do with any other possession. In some countries, only certain people are allowed to vote. Others are not seen as full citizens.

By viewing everyone with the same human dignity shared by the rest of us, we necessarily change the way we look at each other. No one is beneath us, less a citizen, without rights or unworthy to be included in the discussion about how we conduct ourselves locally or globally.

We all have the same dignity and should respect this dignity in each other. When we define peace in this way, we learn to approach each other with generosity, empathy, common sense and non-violence.

Looking at peace this way is certainly not part of how some people and some nations approach each other in current times. It has been the exception rather than the rule throughout recorded history and perhaps before then. Yet it can be a goal for the future and would be to the benefit of all of us, presenting a healthy alternative to destroying or controlling each other for our own selfish purposes.

Most people who pray at all pray for peace on Earth. Maybe we think God will bring us this peace. We have had times of peace but frequently return to times when peace seems out of reach. Is that God’s fault? I don’t think so. God has left peace as something for us to earn. Sadly, we are often preoccupied with getting what we want for ourselves rather than working together toward what would benefit us all. Our journey toward peace starts with ourselves. Let’s get started on that journey.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose Look Inside.)

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Serenity; 7 practical ways to make your life more peaceful.

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August 21, 2017

You can’t calm the storm, Stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass. ~ Timber Hawkeye.

Serenity is maintaining a sense of inner peace and focusing your energy where you can make a difference. It’s about finding calmness within yourself and staying unruffled even in troubled waters. Energy flows where attention goes remember? And so it’s very important to practice serenity.

(Excerpt from Jessica Hugo’s article on JessicaHugoInspire. Read more)

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Rochester Stories by Peter Langen released

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Rochester Stories

Peter faced a new world and it was hard to get a clear picture of where he stood or where he was going with his life but he had to follow the treatment plan laid out for him. He had to find a life for himself after the hospitalization. He did not know how hard it would be or how long the road to recovery would be. It would indeed take a long time to find something resembling a normal life. Starting out, he would know nothing about what was ahead for him, so for a time he lived in a group home following others’ plans for him as best he could.

All he knew was that his past was gone. He felt a brief freedom after getting out of the hospital but found new rules at the group home when he discovered he had to live with thirteen other people that he did not know. It was hard for him to know what the bigger picture was, so he allowed himself to be guided by others. All that he knew was that he needed to make a new life for himself. He would gather with strangers every night for dinner and he took pills kept in the office by staff. He had been put on medication and at the group home his medications were kept under strict lock and key. What a strange adventure he had to face each day.

Everything was so different from what he had known in the past. His working life was behind him and what he did before did not seem to matter anymore. The truck he once owned was gone. His career as a professional construction worker was gone as well. He felt stranded without his job or truck. All he had worked for was gone. All that he had now was given to him at the group home. His family seemed lost to him somewhere along way. He was placed on the disabled list and that was something that changed him, forcing him to accept new realities.

Being in Rochester put him far away from his friends and his past so he would have to make new friends. People he had known and worked with were all gone and the old realities of the past were replaced with a whole new set of circumstances. He could never explain what had happened to those he knew in the past. How could friends and family ever understand his situation when he could not understand it or explain it to himself? There was no easy way to face his situation. How could he ever face the people back in Batavia after what had happened? What had he become and how could he establish a new identity for himself?

He had a new status as a disabled construction worker and he struggled with the very idea of it. He was cut off from his own past life. Perhaps some day things would be different but all he could do for the time being was continue with his group home, stay in Rochester, and try to make sense of his situation. He would not be recognized as an artist anymore. But then he had bigger problems at the time.

What made his situation difficult was that he did not have a physical disability that was readily noticeable. He had a mental disorder, not a physical condition and that was hard to explain. He was a nut case, as he would put it to sum things up in a way that was easy to say but not to accept. He believed he was a nut because he could no longer do the regular things that seemed easy before.

He struggled with his illness. He struggled to accept his bipolar disorder that had been explained to him briefly. He found it difficult asking for help from anyone. One thing that was new to him was the funding he was receiving. It took a while to get his funding in place but he had worked ten years and that entitled him to certain benefits because he could not work full time construction anymore. He also applied for and soon after found himself with health insurance for the first time.

(Excerpt from Rochester Stories by Peter Langen)

 

Rochester Stories by Peter Langen just released

  • What is it like to face life inside the mental health system?
  • How do you find sanity again?
  • How do you deal with isolation?
  • How do you handle separation from you family?

These and other questions are addressed in this journey through six years in the mental health system.

Peter Langen was first diagnosed with a learning disability in seventh grade. From there, he went to Norman Howard School in Rochester where his interest in writing started and where he discovered books on tape. He took an interest in books for the first time.
In 1997 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a form of mental illness, and went to Rochester, New York to live for what turned out to be six years before his return to his home town of Batavia. He continued writing after graduating from Batavia High School in 1988 and has been writing ever since.
His first book, Rochester Stories, is an account of his days in Rochester as an adult. He continues to take medication for his bipolar condition. In the same way he has been able to cope with his learning disability, he is coping with his mental illness.
He creates artwork and writes books as well as keeping a journal. To this day, Peter continues to write and work on his art. He currently lives in Batavia, New York where he settled in 2003, a small city in western New York near his family.

(Available at Amazon for sale or free sample)

 

 

 

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Filed under bipolar disorder, mental health, mental strength, motivation, Overcoming stress, perspective, Uncategorized