Look For the Helpers

Photo by Tulen Travel on Unsplash

By Christy Gualtieri

The hurricane had been raging for hours.  We couldn’t see very much outside on account of the plywood boards my parents had put up to stop the windows from blowing in; but from what I could see, the rain was coming in absolutely sideways – like something out of a blockbuster movie.  The palm trees were bent over and pushed relentlessly by the wind, and as my parents and brothers and I huddled beneath a queen-sized mattress in our dining room, we heard the terrible screaming of the wind.  There was an awful noise – this screeching noise – in the kitchen behind us, which turned out to be our refrigerator physically moving from its place against the wall to the middle of the room.

It was the middle of the night.  As the sun rose and the storm ended, we were so relieved to hear a knock on the door, and the sound of my uncle’s voice, calling to us to see if we were all right.

We got up from beneath the mattress and when we got to the front door, were greeted with an almost apocalyptic sight: a flooded street, trees completely uprooted, even from beneath the sidewalks, a large tree down in our front yard.  Our house was still standing, but the home two doors down from us was not – it was complete rubble.  Part of our garage door had been blown away, leaving the inside of the garage soaked, palm fronds strewn everywhere.  My bedroom, too, had been damaged when the plywood had fallen off and the window had burst – but remarkably, we were all okay.  We were safe.

That was Hurricane Andrew, in 1992.  This past weekend’s storm – Hurricane Irma, which is still making its way up the Florida panhandle, was so much bigger.  Hurricane Harvey left so much devastation in its wake in Texas just a couple of weeks ago – unspeakable flooding, terror, and decimation.

Disasters like this can leave us with such a sense of helplessness.  The folks right in the middle of the storm are powerless to do anything against such a force of nature that they confront head on, and the people who are farther away, glued to the television and the Internet for updates feel as though they can’t do much so many miles from the storm.  As I read about Harvey and worried about Irma (and my family, still directly in its path) I found myself still feeling the way I did as a frightened twelve-year old dealing with the aftermath of such a terrible storm, not sure at all of what I could – and what I should – do.

Here in the greater Pittsburgh area, there are few other people that symbolize compassion, peace, and love more than Fred Rogers, the creator of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.  He knew that it was imperative for young children to feel safe and secure if they were to grow up to be healthy adults, and it was a mission for him on his show to speak about topics that were painful, difficult, and uncomfortable – but such a gentle way that his young viewers were able to understand them.

In an interview later in his life, he stressed the importance of “looking for the helpers” during catastrophic events:

“You know, my mother used to say, a long time ago, whenever there would be any really big catastrophe that was in the movies or on the air, she would say, ‘Always look for the helpers.  There will always be helpers.  Just on the sidelines.’ That’s why I think that if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams, of showing anybody who is coming into a place to where there’s a tragedy, to be sure that they include that, because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

I find it such a comfort to know that I can be a helper in situations like these, that I can provide home, as small as it can seem.

And it does matter.  A few days after Hurricane Andrew hit, my family and I drove down to the town of Homestead, FL, which was absolutely devastated by the storm — there was precious little left of homes, possessions, everything.  We found a family there with young children.  We brought them supplies and played with their kids.  We were suffering, but they had it so much worse than we did.  So we did what we could to help, and it was a help.

I am many states and many, many more miles away from hurricanes these days.  But my capacity to help is still great – and yours, too.  If you find yourself moved by the horrible tragedies these multiple storms have caused, please do what you can to reach out.  It may feel like you’re doing nothing at all, but I promise, what you can give matters so much.

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.

Finding An Oasis

Photo by Tung Minh on Unsplash

By Christy Gualtieri

No, I have not yet read The Hobbit — but I recently came across a great quote from the book that I wanted to share with you:

“His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.  Evil things did not come into that valley.”  – The Hobbit, A Short Rest

It’s a great image, isn’t it? And I bet you know of a home like that, or maybe not even a home exactly, but a place somewhere you’ve been that exudes a sense of “perfection” to you.  I aspire for my house to be that house — that house that has something for everybody, that house that inspires people to be their absolute best.  An oasis in the desert, a port in the storm.

Take quick second and think about what that house would look like for you.  What would be in the house? What would you be able to do there? How would it be decorated? For a few minutes, just think about what it would be like to be in this space – this sanctuary – and what you would feel.

I know that if I was in a perfect house like that, I would just feel peace.  As a person who struggles mightily with anxiety and excessive worry, I know I would need it.  And these days, to be honest, I think we could all use a little more peace.  So much of what we take in throughout the day can be so distracting at best and utterly terrifying at worst, and it can be awful to feel like there is no place for you to feel loved, respected, and safe.

And what is the result? Check out the last sentence of the excerpt: “Evil things did not come into that valley.”  When we are in a space of peace, it becomes very noticeable when non-peaceful things are around, and so we know better how to resist them.  We learn how to identify that which does not bring us peace, or joy, or love, and we learn how to resist them to the point that they will have a hard time approaching us.  We become people of peace, of joy, and of love.

It might seem like a pipe dream, but you can make your own home a place of peace.  You can cultivate that environment, and your home can one day be that place where people who most need it find that great “mixture of things” that helps them.  And it doesn’t have to be your physical home, either — it can be you, too.  Do you know people like that? People who just seem to exude peace and joy? Not that they are devoid of struggle, or pain, but they seem to find joy outside of it?

I envy people like that.  I am most certainly not that person.  But I do know they exist.  I have met them, and am even lucky enough to call some of them my friends.  It doesn’t have to be about the house — the oasis you need can be found in another person.  We can find it in each other!

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 Anxiety Jump

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

By Christy Gualtieri

This one is for all of my fellow anxiety sufferers out there.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a pro at making stuff up to be anxious about.  Does this ever happen to you? I like to think that I’m living my life, while in reality I’m just jumping from worry to worry.  Just recently, I was anxious about my son’s birthday party.  How would it go? I thought. Would everyone have fun? Was it going to rain? What if a kid didn’t have a good time? How would that affect my son socially?

Did you catch that transition there? It was two jumps from “Is it going to rain” to “How is my son going to be socially affected by his own birthday party?”

I mean, really.

It’s horrible, and the thing is, I know it’s happening, but I can’t stop it.  By the time I’ve reached that level of anxiety, my body just takes over, and I’m down that rabbit hole.  There is not a lot left for me to do except ride it out.  And it’s a horrible place to be.

We ended up having the party.  It did not rain.  My son’s social abilities seemed to be fine.

But then, the next day came, and so now that the party was over, I quickly moved to the next thing to worry about, which was a trip to visit family that wouldn’t happen for another five days.

I think a lot of anxiety sufferers (and make no mistake, this is suffering) struggle every day to escape this way of thinking.  I know I did – and still do.  It’s taken over a decade of therapy to get to the point where I can know what’s going to happen and to know that I have to reach for a (sometimes physical, mostly mental) box of tools that will help me through the rough spots.

I hope that one day, my anxiety will be overcome completely, but I don’t know that it will.  It’s like those ads on TV for prescription medication that has a symbol of a problem hanging around (like a little cartoon bladder or a COPD-symbolizing elephant).  If I can learn how to manage my anxiety, then it can walk around with me, I guess, but it doesn’t have to control me.  It doesn’t have to send my back and chest into painful spasms and cause headaches.

We can coexist, but I can be in charge.

Am I there yet? Not really — at least, not right now.  But I have hope that I will get there! If you are suffering from anxiety as well, know that you are not alone.  Please try and seek help from trained counselors that will help you explore your own ways to move past the jumping from problem to problem style of living to the calm, peaceful life you were meant to live!

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.

Getting To The Bottom of the Glass

By Christy Gualtieri

When you think of the phrase “craft beer,” what image comes to mind? A frosty glass sitting proudly on a polished-wood bar, the light shining through it just-so, making it irresistible? A skinny hipster with a well-oiled mustache holding a pint glass in one hand and a corncob pipe in the other? Or a long-lost American art form making a delicious comeback?

Whatever it is to you, it’s certainly a phenomenon.  Craft beer is more than just a drink – it’s become an experience; similar to sommeliers standing around sniffing, swirling, and judging a glass of wine, so too do beer tasters gather to taste, discover, and savor the flavors of craft beers.

The revival of beer in America, according to a timeline from craftbeer.com, began after Prohibition ended in the United States.  Prohibition had killed off hundreds of breweries, and hundreds more were closed between the 1930s and the 1980s due to commercialization and beer monopolies.  In the past few decades, however, homebrewers, looking for a way to create the beers they could no longer buy on the market, capitalized on the curiosity and desire of others to find something outside the box, and began their own breweries (often called “microbreweries”), thus beginning what many would call the “resurrection of beer.”

The craft beer industry has grown exponentially in recent times.  According to the Brewers Association, there was a 17% rate of growth in breweries between 2015-2016 alone, with over 5,200 craft breweries in the market.  The greater Pittsburgh area, where we are located, is home to over thirty craft breweries, and offers beer lovers an annual ten-day festival in celebration of craft beer.

But let’s take a look at the psychology begin the phenomenon: what in particular has been drawing so many people to craft beer? Here are some possibilities:

  1. It’s still a niche market.  Craft beer, although exploding in popularity, is still not the most popular option.  It needs to be sought out – and learned out, as well.  Craft beers – and the process it takes to create them – is not something that is easily commodified, and people can be drawn to the process it takes to create it.  There is still an exoticness that exists around craft beer that can draw folks in.

  2. It’s a sensory experience.  Much like wine or even coffee tastings, craft beer can offer drinkers a chance to discover the many flavor profiles, food pairings, and aromas that come with it.  There are thousands to choose from, which could send any craft beer enthusiast on a long mission to discover them all!

  3. It connects knowledge to knowledge.  Writer Russell Edwards, who wrote on the subject of the psychological connection to craft beers, explained that there are many opportunities to connect craft beer to history.  A brewery might showcase a particular beer that was popular during an earlier time, for example, bringing knowledge of that time period and the history of the beer together, which might peak someone’s interest!

  4. It’s honestly just great fun! For hundreds of years, people have communed together to share stories, community, and quality time with friends over beer.  Gathering with a microwbrew or craft beer in hand is another fun way to continue the tradition!

Until next time,
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.

Acknowledging Our Healing

By Christy Gualtieri

Have you ever swallowed a pill that was so big and so awkward that it hurt going down, and maybe even hurt your insides for a while afterward? Or eaten a taco chip that had an unfortunate point on one end that you swore scraped your entire esophagus going down? I’ve felt like that recently, but not physically – emotionally.  Maybe you have too: you’ve gotten bad news from work, or had to handle a situation with a family member that hurt for much longer after the conversation has ended.

How do we heal? How do we keep going?

There is some truth to the fact that time can work wonders.  Simply removing ourselves from a bad relationship or a social media addiction can make a difference, for example.  And it’s very tempting to just keep plowing through things like nothing’s happened at all, but I know, speaking from experience, that it just won’t work.

I know what not to do when faced with a hurtful situation: nothing.  Because whatever is hurting you will never turn into nothing; it’ll keep growing inside of you, nearly consuming you, until it gets what it wants: acknowledgement.

I think a lot of times people just want to be seen.  Not everyone, of course (I know many shy people who would prefer to have very minimal contact with anyone if they didn’t have to), but I think, shy or not, we want to be seen.  Known, even if just to a few people.  Acknowledged.

A brief story about that: a number of years ago I worked at a large coffee chain, and every now and again the staff would be charged with holding coffee tastings.  We’d set out samples of coffee and stand behind a table, and hand out coupons for drinks people might be interested in.  Although it had to do with coffee, and most customers were there to drink coffee, there were a lot of people who did not want anything to do with the tastings and samples.  Many people would walk right past us as we smiled at them and said hello, and, to be perfectly honest with you, it was a bit hurtful.  Some folks would go out of their way to not have to talk to us; some people would ignore us; some people wouldn’t make eye contact, just plain willing us to not speak to them.

Life can look very different when people go out of their way to avoid you.  But just as it can look negatively, it can be such a positive thing when people see you, when they return your smile, and when they actually look at your face instead of right past where you are.

And it’s the same with healing the problems that we carry within us.  Even just acknowledging them, giving them a name, does a great service: it tells us that we’re aware, that we’re working toward fixing it, whatever that fix would look like.  It may be a visit to the doctor, a phone call to an estranged family member, a session with a therapist.  Acknowledging your problem is having an awareness that things might not look how you want them to, but it’s a step forward.

And sometimes, just that one little step might be all you need to keep you moving into a peaceful place of healing.  If you’re struggling today, know that I see you! And I hope that you find what you need to be well.

Until next time,
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.

One of Her Greatest Lessons

By Christy Gualtieri

Thud: Peter, you know what?
Peter: What?
Thud: My happy thought will help you.
Peter: What’s your happy thought, Thud?
Thud: Mine’s my mother.  Do you remember your mother, Peter?

  • Hook (1991)

Mother’s Day is approaching, and I sit uncomfortably between two worlds: being a mother myself, and having to remember my own Mother’s passing.  She died last year at the end of January, and it seemed that all of the Mother’s Day decorations and cards exploded in the grocery store right after Valentine’s Day, leaving me with a lot of time to think about what I would be missing.

The week before Mother’s Day last year, I found myself grumpy, irritable, and just plain angry at things I normally wouldn’t bat an eye at.  It was fear — how would I get through the day? Would I be able to enjoy my own Mother’s Day, my own children, on that day? Or would it just be about my own Mom, and how much I missed her? The day itself came and went and it was difficult, but here we are, another year later, and I find myself facing those same emotions, that same fear.

But this year, I’m a little farther out from the day she died, and it makes a difference.  Last year, Mother’s Day was a brutal hit of reminders about how she’s just not here anymore.  And this year, I’m feeling more reflective about it.  I think about how she gave me a great gift just before she died, a great lesson that I think – and hope – to turn over in my mind when the holiday comes.

Just before my mother died, in the last few months and in certainly the last few weeks, she became very aware of what was important.  Issues she had cared about barely even registered with her; things to gossip about just fell away.  Time became very essential, and the things that she felt mattered the most to her – her faith, her family, the love she had – those were the things that now occupied her mind.  She didn’t have time anymore for the trivial things, because she could see now how much they truly didn’t matter.

And this year, I am leaning on that example. I’m taking stock of what I find to be important to me, and holding them closely, learning how to let the other things go.  All of the fears, all of the worry, all of the thousand little insignificant things that would make up my day are things she taught me to get rid of so I can focus on the rest.  I hope I am able to keep trying to do that, and I am grateful for her example that showed me how.

I wish a very happy Mother’s Day to you and yours, especially if your mother is no longer with you.

A quick reminder! May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and I encourage you, if you haven’t already, that it’s a great time to find a counselor or therapist who can best meet your needs.  If you’re feeling alone, depressed, anxious, or just plain “stuck”, know that help is out there for you! It has done wonders for me personally, to get to know myself and what really matters in my life, like my mother did.  I hope the same for you!

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.

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.