The Eagle

Title of Painting: Eagle Fishing on Lake Malawi
Painter: John Cyril Harrison

Written by Zaithwa Gwaza

The painting above is set in Lake Malawi; it’s the ninth largest lake in the world and the third largest lake in Africa.

Firstly, what attracts me to this painting is the eagle and its hard work and patience to be able to catch a fish in the lake; this is an incredible skill that eagles possess. Eagles are phenomenal birds, they work hard. When I look at this painting, it tells me that in life, discipline is very important. The eagle is a very disciplined bird, it has good vision and surely stays focused on what it wants – this is a life lesson to me.

Prior to coming to America, I was told by many people back home that I have to stay focused on my primary objective of being in the US; which is to work hard in my studies to be able to get my undergraduate degree. This is something that this painting reminds me of, the eagle is a bird, and the fish is always in water, therefore to be able to catch a fish requires intense focus. And, that is exactly what I need to do while I’m in the US; primarily focus on my studies. Additionally, it isn’t easy for the eagle to catch the fish, however, the eagle is still determined catch fish so that it can have food to eat. “No pain, no gain” is a philosophy that has been used since life on the world begun, and that also applies for the eagle.

Eagles have as many as a million light-sensitive sensory cells per square millimeter of retina; this is five times the amount allotted to the average. Their vision is incredible; that also speaks to me. In life, it’s important to have a vision for your life. For example, in my life, my single mother has worked hard and sacrificed so much for my happiness and well-being, therefore I envision myself being able to spoil my mother in the future and to help develop my local community back home (in terms of giving some people the opportunity to go to good schools). However, achieving this won’t be easy, so I need to stay focused and implement smaller goals in order to achieve this life goal. The eagle has good vision however if it doesn’t use this skill well, it won’t be able to get its prey. Therefore, that also applies to my life, I have been given the opportunity to come to the US, however, the ball is in my court, it’s my decision to work hard and to be able to sow plenty in the future.

Moreover, the background of the painting also communicates to me; it shows how the weather is about to change, from a bright cloudy day to a dark cloudy day. It reminds me of the sudden change that occurred in my life when I was 9 years old; my father passed away – life took a whole new turn. And, things like this can’t be anticipated. However, for me my father’s death is probably one of the things I’m thankful for; obviously, it’s not like I wanted him dead or anything, no, that’s not my point. The point I’m trying to make is that through my father’s death I was able to learn from it and I am what I am because of all my experiences, so I’m thankful to God for every single thing that has happened in my life. I was able to appreciate my family more, but also able to use this experience to comfort and help those around me. Everything that happens in our life to make us stronger, and in the end, it all works out for our good. Just like in the painting, despite, the weather changing, but this also can benefit the other parts of nature, such as crops.

Additionally, dark clouds aren’t always going be there forever, the clear clouds will come out again. That’s how life is, we all go through painful circumstances, but pain helps us grow. So, the background speaks to me about being positive, life isn’t easy; it was actually never meant to be easy. It’s important to be positive, yes, I will admit, it’s easier said than done, however, it’s always important to try look at the brighter things of life while accepting whatever hurdle is there. I’m thankful for everything I have, my life, family and even the fact that I was able to having a mother that didn’t ever give up on me. Lest I forget, I’m also very thankful I was able to come to the US to complete my undergraduate studies.

***

Zaithwa Gwaza is a student at Robert Morris University where he majors in economics. Among his many goals Zaithwa wants to own a family farm and launch a start-up business in his hometown of Malawi, East Africa. He one day hopes to use his earnings from these endeavors to help others pay for school.

Unwelcome Feelings

Photo by Naletu on Unsplash

By Christy Gualtieri

As someone who suffers from generalized anxiety — an overall sense of dread and worry regarding just about anything — I recently found myself in a strange place: a place of not really having anything to worry about.

Oh, I can find things to worry about – I do it all the time – but I’ve been trying to make more of an effort these days to sit with the surprisingly uneasy feeling of not-worrying.

And it truly was uncomfortable.  There was no immediate thing to be anxious about or worry over, and I wasn’t happy.  But I truly wanted to see what it would be like to be a person who didn’t worry so much, so I just tried as hard as I could to sit with that feeling, to make myself just not worry.

And among the feeling of discomfort was another feeling, one I wasn’t prepared to experience, really: BOREDOM.  I was bored.  (I don’t know about you, but when I worry, the adrenaline wakes my body up a bit, you know?) Could I find something among one of my friends to complain about? Probably, but I’m trying not to do that, either.  Could I utilize my favorite technique of tapping into the general unrest the majority of the world is feeling right now? I could, but then I’d end up feeling helpless and more depressed, so I decided to fight that temptation, too.

And much like little Wednesday Addams in the film Addams Family Values, when the stone-faced girl manages to smile and everyone is completely horrified, I grimaced my way through these feelings and sat with them.  I tried to focus on things outside of myself, but the more positive things this time, instead of the noisy calamity of the world I usually find myself thinking about.  I put my phone in my pocket for a few minutes, and I listened to the birds.  I thought about the joys my friends and my family brought to my life.  I remembered a funny joke I heard a while back and smiled about it.

I remembered all the things I had read about and discussed with my therapist over the past many years – deep breathing, self-awareness, and truly looking at the world around me, as plain and unexciting as it was.

These are all incredibly simple things, I know.  And they didn’t always work for me in the past, because my mind wasn’t in the state where it could calm down enough to think about something other than PANIC! PANIC! PANIC! All the time.  But it really worked for me this time, and as the darker and more disappointing feelings began to dissolve, they were replaced by the emotions of gratitude, and calm, and peace.

They’re still hanging around, these new emotions, even as I write this.  I know they won’t last forever, and to be honest with you, I don’t much know what to do with them.  But I like them.  And I want to encourage you, if you’re at a place in your journey that you can allow yourself some time to actually get to know these new feelings of not-worry, that you give it a try.  We’ll discover them together!

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.

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.