What You Do Matters

By Christy Gualtieri

A little over a week ago, my children and I were involved in a car accident. We were traveling on the highway and a garbage truck crossed into our lane and hit us, causing us to hit the concrete divider on our left side. It dragged us for quite a way; and when the accident ended, my car stayed, immovable, in the left lane and the garbage truck had made its way to the right shoulder.

I had never been in that large an accident before. I had been rear-ended a couple of times, but those were only minor events; and this was a real, window-glass-shattered, doors dented, tires-blown-out emergency.

When it was over, I was aware of a breeze coming through the large hole where my passenger front window used to be. Shattered glass littered the seat next to me. Other vehicles outside were slowly passing by my car, the curious faces of the drivers trying to catch a glimpse of what had happened. I tried to catch their eyes and made a handsign of a phone – please, call; somebody, please call the police. I turned to look at my four year old, who was scared but otherwise okay, and as I tried to calm him down, reassuring him that we were fine, I realized that I could not hear my nearly two-year old daughter, who was strapped in behind me in a rear-facing car seat.

“Is she okay?” I asked my son, but he did not answer me – he was still recounting everything that had happened. I couldn’t open my door to get out to see her, so I tried calling out her name. No answer. I tried to put my hand on the passenger seat to turn around and see, but there was so much glass. I began to brush it off, and just then, a face appeared at the hole.

It belonged to a friendly-looking, curly-haired woman. “Are you all right?” She asked me. “I’m a nurse, I drove by – I didn’t see the accident happen, but I saw that you had your kids in the car and I had to stop. I called the police, they’re coming – help is coming.”

I tried to smile, but I was still disoriented. “My daughter, I can’t see her,” I told her. “She’s behind me in the seat, but I can’t get out to see her. Is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” the woman told me. “I see her right there, she’s giving me a little smile – hi sweetheart, you’re okay – She’s fine. I just had to stop to see if you were all right, I’m glad you are all right.  I got kids too, I know what it’s like. I’m so glad you’re okay.”

I thanked her again and she got in her car and drove off. I kept reassuring my children as I looked out of the back window. Traffic was starting to back up; I was sure we were the cause of a lot of grumbling from folks trying to get through one of Pittsburgh’s many tunnels. Cars continue to trickle past us, and I was worried that it was taking the police so long to arrive.

A few minutes later, I watched as another car drove around us and stopped in front of my car. A man walked out and over to my passenger window.

“Are you all right?” He asked me, looking into the car. He was a large man, with a tattoo on his arm.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied. “Someone else stopped too, said they called the police.”

“Good,” he said. “I saw you were here, and I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

He looked around again, nodded, and left. A few seconds later, we heard the sirens of the ambulance and fire truck that had been dispatched to help us, and it wasn’t too much later than that when my kids and I were able to safely exit the car and make our way home, a bit shaken up but amazingly otherwise no worse for wear.

There is a lot to consider when I think about that accident. There are the biggies, of course, the what-would-have-happened-if scenarios to ponder, but I mainly find myself thinking about those two commuters who went out of their way to stop and make sure we were okay. They didn’t have to stop; they just could have called from their own cars and continued on, but they took the time to stop on a busy highway to make sure a frightened woman and her two children, whom they had never met, were all right.

And that means so much to me. I am, of course, grateful for the EMTs and Firefighters that assisted us and did a wonderful job helping, but I was just so struck by the impact (no pun intended) that those other two people had on me. I will probably never see them again; I don’t know who they are or where they are from, but I know that their kindness meant a great deal, and I am so grateful to them.

I know that sometimes, maybe most times, you may feel as though the little things you do don’t matter much. But honestly, as the recipient of a little kindness that did a lot to calm my heart and my mind, those things do matter, quite a bit. I hope this encourages you to keep doing those little kindnesses; they may make someone’s really bad day much, much better.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

The Games We Play

By Christy Gualtieri

Chocolate, or vanilla?
The Beatles, or the Rolling Stones?
Nintendo, or Sega Genesis?

Growing up, we were a Sega Genesis family.  My brother and I took turns playing Sonic the Hedgehog until our fingers nearly fell off, sometimes forgoing our turns if it meant that the other one had gotten to a higher level.  We loved the high tech-ness of it, the new world that was so much more than what Atari games had to offer us.  16-bit graphics — unbelievable! As generations before us did, our friends and I gathered in basements and living rooms to socialize, but not to listen to records or watch TV or to merely gossip.  We’d gather around a screen and cheer each other on as we played different video games — to a kid growing up in the ‘90s, there was no better way to spend your time.

And now, with the advent of even greater technology, the bar has most definitely been raised.  The cavemen-like days of shimmying up a two-dimensional ladder in Donkey Kong or puttering slowly around a track in Excitebike are long over, with realistic RPGs and first-person shooting dominating the scene, not to mention the 3-D awesomeness of the newest generation of virtual reality games that really make you feel like you’re in whatever universe you want to be.

Of course, there are drawbacks to the gaming world.  There is a genuine concern about the relationship between kids’ attention spans and the influence of video games, and of course, serious conversations about the connections between video games and violence.  It’s easy to get caught up in the differing viewpoints.

But there are stereotypes, too.  Think about someone who’s really into “gaming,” and you might assume that they’re all pale, out-of-shape outcasts with a serious lack of Vitamin D and no social skills whatsoever.  But you may be surprised by the connectability that gamers share, the universality of competition around the globe.  The Internet has given gamers the ability to instantly connect with other players around the world; a person never has to play alone – never has to feel alone.

My brother-in-law has a serious video game collection.  Name the system, and he has it.  He knows the savviest ways to get the newest system as soon as it’s released, while the rest of the masses are put on waiting lists.  When we visit, we have a great time trying out the newest technology, and it’s just plain fun.

Just recently, we tried out the new Nintendo Switch.  Its particular innovations draw on the fact that most of the games that are played on it make the player rely on not looking at the screen at all, but at each other.  We had a great time, and I was drawn once again to what makes video games so entertaining: the competition, the skill, and the feeling of escapism that comes with entering new, beautiful worlds with the push of a button.

I’m excited for what the next generation of video gaming is going to come up with!

Thanks for reading,
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

Choosing Your Own Adventure

By Christy Gualtieri

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
Alan Bennett, The History Boys

I’ve always loved reading.  Ever since I was very little and I first learned to read, I could be found anywhere, reading anything that happened to be lying around and in arm’s reach. I loved the many popular book series of the day: Sweet Valley Twins (At the age of 11, I was too young to be allowed to read the Sweet Valley High series, although I had hidden the fact that I’d read many of them already from my mother), everything by Roald Dahl, and the Baby-Sitters Club.

One of my favorites, though, was the Choose Your Own Adventure series – a book that was unique in that you didn’t read it cover-to-cover; you chose what the character did as you went through, sometimes skipping whole chapters. I liked them because each book contained dozens of paths to get through the book, so it was like reading many different books in one. When I was done with one adventure, I’d just go back to chapter one and begin again with another path. I do admit that I would cheat here and there; if the book asked me to choose one path I’d hold the page I was on and look ahead; if I didn’t like it, I’d choose the other.

The Choose Your Own Adventure books are enjoying a bit of a comeback these days, and for good reason: everyone likes to feel in control of their own lives, even kids, and it’s fun to undergo an adventure with little risk involved (like I said, if you don’t like the adventure, you can just go back a chapter and pick a new one!). Sometimes it depresses me to know that when I’m going through a bit of a rough patch in my life, I can’t just “flip ahead” to the next chapter to see if I’ll make it through alright, to get that assurance that I’ll be able to get through different anxieties or worries that I feel or the difficult days that I have. On those days, I have to work a bit harder to remind myself that those days are part of the adventure too, even if it doesn’t seem like it; that spending hours sorting through my kids’ toys or running back to the grocery store twice in one day all plays a part in how my life is going to turn out, unglamorous as it can be.

But there are days when it’s all going well, and I don’t want to skip ahead! When I’m having a great weekend with my family or catching up with friends I haven’t seen in years, or I’m finally being productive with a creative project — and then here comes the cue on the bottom of the page that reminds me that there’s more to come.

I don’t know what it’ll look like, and sometimes that makes me nervous. I don’t know what your life is going to look like next either, but I invite you to choose your own adventure today! Choose to take the riskier path, have a little fun! I will try to do that same thing too.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

A Wintry Peace

Unsplash Photo By Ben White

By Christy Gualtieri

When writer and film director Philip GrӦning wanted to make a documentary following the lives of the reclusive Carthusian monks, he wrote to their superior for permission.  He was told no, but maybe someday.  Sixteen years later, Groning received a phone call, and he was invited to stay with them for half a year to document how they lived.

The Carthusians in the film reside in the Grand Chartreuse, the head Carthusian monastery in the French Alps, and spend their days in nearly complete silence and contemplation.  They also study, work producing Chartreuse liqueur, and maintain the centuries-old building.

What makes this documentary (called “Into Great Silence”) so compelling, frankly, is its monotony.  There are no special effects (in fact, there’s hardly any music, or speaking, aside from a few minutes of mid-night chanting); no villains; and little conversation.  The camera only focuses on one of the monks at a time for most of the time.  But the viewer is drawn into the rhythm of the monks’ lives, the cycling times of work, rest, meditation and prayer, sleep, and rising.  There is a calmness that seems to go right through the screen and after a while what seems like a boring premise becomes a meditation unto itself.

The interesting thing about it, really, is that our lives can be very similar.  We have a rhythm to our days, and our weeks.  It may be waking up, going to work, coming home, and going to bed.  It may be waking up, driving a truck for twelve hours cross-country, sleeping in a rig on the side of the highway, and waking up to do it all over again.  It may be waking, studying, learning, and taking exams, followed by caffeine to stay awake to keep studying! Whatever your life, your routine, looks like, there is a sacredness to it.  There can be a calmness to it.

It doesn’t always feel that way, I know.  You may feel restless; want to see the world, but you’re unable to because of your circumstances.  You may feel bored, tired of the same commute, the same co-workers, the same drudgery.  I know that, for me, there are some days that just drag, and I don’t see the beauty in the housekeeping or the balancing of the million things I have to do but don’t necessarily want to.

But then I think about the monks, and realize what a benefit there is to the process of living a routined life. Each movement that you know is coming helps to expand your ability to contemplate the world we live in, and helps us to learn more about ourselves. Maybe that 40 minutes you’ve spent in traffic has, over the years, made way for helping you expand your thinking as you’ve listened to audio books in the car.  Or that time in that big rig all by yourself has helped give your time to listen to yourself, to discover what you want from the world we all live in.

And maybe all of that drudgery is just a season in your life, and you’ll be able to accomplish more one day, but you would only have gotten there because of the work you’ve done on the ordinary ones.

In this cold, still (and short!) month, I wish you the gift of a routine.  The gift of those moments in between the things you have to do, the moments where you can dream, and explore, and find out who you really are – so you can get ready to hit the ground running once it thaws and the warmer weather brings more opportunity for you.  And even if it doesn’t, I hope this time of winter routine brings you the best gift of all — peace.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

Taking The Plunge

unsplash photo by tommaso fornoni

By Christy Gualtieri

I didn’t want to, but I had to.  The situation was getting out of control.  All the signs were present for danger: it was up to me to go downstairs, walk over to it, and just take a peek.  And when I did: all my fears were confirmed.  This was going to be a huge mess.

Let me start at the beginning.  When my family and I moved into our home a few years ago, we kept all of the appliances that came with the house, deciding to run them into the ground before going out and purchasing all-new things.  Many of the appliances proved to be short-lived once we settled in — the hot water heater was the first to go, and then the dishwasher.  But the washing machine and dryer, to my great dismay, kept hanging in there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad they worked, and I know that I am fortunate to be able to have possession of a washer and a dryer at all.  But they were ancient, and the dryer was the nosiest appliance on the face of the Earth, screeching this ludicrous noise the entire time it was running, clearly audible from its home in our cellar all the way up to the rooms at the top of the house.

I’m not normally what you would call a materialistic person, but I craved a new washer and dryer like you wouldn’t believe.  And, as luck would have it, the set broke down two years in.  I was extremely giddy when our new front-loaders were installed, practically dancing as I put in the first few loads.  They were beautiful! They were new! They were mine!

It’s been a year now.  And they’re moldy.

Well, the washer is, anyway.  It was a fact I couldn’t ignore anymore.  As vigilant as we tried to be in keeping the doors open when not in use and wiping it down to try, there were still standing water issues and black mold everywhere.

So we had to get in there, get to the source of the trouble, and then try to disinfect it.  It was not something I looked forward to, unlike all of those months when I had the old set and would fantasize about getting a new one.  This was the opposite of that.  But it had to be done.

I’m telling you all of this because it’s a new year, and if you’re like me, you’ve set a few goals.  But if you’re like me, there’s a good chance that you might not achieve those goals, because – and this was true of the moldy washer situation – I don’t like to get too uncomfortable.  I procrastinate.  I drag my feet.  I make excuse after excuse and then feel terrible when something I would’ve liked to accomplish has passed me right on by.  I knew that the washer was getting moldy.  I knew that if I didn’t do something about it, it wouldn’t fix itself.

I think about different interests I have, different projects I’d like to work on.  And I feel so stuck by them sometimes; feel a lot of pressure to Get It Done.  I think most creative people are like that.  But then I look at everyday situations where I have to get my hands dirty (sometimes literally), and I think of the sense of accomplishment that I get after I’ve gone through with it.  I think of the relief I feel, of the empowerment to try another thing, or a new one.  And it propels me toward the next goal.

I don’t know if you have any goals for 2017, and if you have them but are resigned to the fact that you’ll never be able to do it because you’re just sure you won’t be able to, I encourage you to head down towards it, roll up your sleeves, put on those waterproof gloves, hold your breath and plunge into what’s stopping you.  Find out what’s making your water stand, and fix it.  Or just try, anyway.  If you need help, there are professionals out there who now how to help you — seek them out.

And know I’m right there with you, too!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

A Brilliant Spark: Finding Happiness and Meaning

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by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

For what it’s worth here are a few end-of-the-year thoughts. As a therapist, I am asked many things some are heartbreaking, some are deep and provocative, while others light and humorous. Two common questions that I hear have little to do with psychology or counseling such as, “What is happiness?” and/or “What is the meaning of life?” Though well versed through personal experience, I am still hardly a pundit on such matters. So it is with my utmost apologies if what follows seems too brief, too sanguine, or too morose a response. In spite of all our failures I remain “tragically” optimistic that we can acknowledge and respect each other, not just as beings made unique by our differences, but as fellow travelers to the grave. Our journeys begin and end in a brilliant spark, and to know death is to know life and vice versa.

So if the answers to what we want in our lives is more happiness and meaning, then what are the self-imposed obstacles? Moreover, if we know the answers then maybe we are not asking the right questions. Do we fear death? Do we fear life? Do we fear each other? If so, how do these fears influence our ability to be “happy” and to live the life we want or think we want?

Weltanschauung is a fun German word meaning ideology, political doctrine, dogma or articles of faith. Yet, with all it’s trappings, weltanschauung shouldn’t solely define our purpose as a species. For one thing, it may provide some peace of mind, but it certainly does not foster happiness. And for the record, suspicion, ignorance and prejudice kill. Doesn’t abhorrence of others and fear of the unknown sabotage the very happiness we profess to want in both our personal and collective experiences? My point is that happiness is fleeting. It’s time with us is brief as it is birthed in thought, sustained in action and nurtured in experience. In short, the answer to finding happiness (if there is one at all) lies somewhere between I should do and I will do. Oh, and as for the meaning of life? Go make something…

Peace, love, and better days to you and yours in 2017.

In good health,
Don