Online learning knows no boundaries

“The best poetic moments are moments when you’re allowed to reside in the moment without looking to the future,” – Jonathan Bates, University of Warwick.

In the past year I’ve learned, firsthand, the value of online education.

It started out when I took a course in Developmental Psychology for credit through Athabasca University. In spite of my initial resistance to doing an online course, I found it a much more enjoyable way to learn than being stuck in a lecture hall, hearing just one human, blah, blah, blah ad nausea and surrounded by others who, of varying degrees, may or may not want to be in the course.

In the Athabasca online course there were pretests and post tests and challenges and study tips and it was a much more interactive and focused experience than I expected it to be and it resulted, for me, in what seemed like greater retention of the subject matter than is typical for me.

More recently I completed a four week online course about PTSD in U.S. Veterans and how to interact with them and their families. It was called Mental Health Care for Family Members of Post 9/11 Veterans: Practical Approaches to Addressing the Impact of the Invisible Wounds of War on Families.

It was offered through the Massachusetts General Hospital and directed mainly at therapists and mental health professionals. Registering as a student, they let me in and it was free.  There were role-playing therapy exercises that were videotaped that used experienced therapists doing therapy with volunteer actors and volunteer military family members to demonstrate interventions. They highlighted the intergenerational model, how to manage substance abuse and communication methods using the CRAFT model,  as well as educating around the DSM V definition of PTSD including symptoms to ask about and be aware of. The videotaped sessions, and then a roundtable of case exploration at the end was so fantastic in terms of giving insight into key factors to be aware of in working with many of the common problems that arise in this specific population. But would be transferrable to others.

More recently, I saw a course offered through the University of Warwick and a portal called FutureLearn.com about Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Well Being. In this recent course, very well-known personalities, Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellan, along with university professors discuss the impact of literature, poetry specifically, on stress reduction and mindfulness. It’s wonderful to hear and see others, especially an actor of McKellan’s quality, read a poem aloud beside the river Thames in keeping with the lines in the Wordsworth Poem, ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge.’

When I read this poem below, it was my favourite of the bunch. By the late W.H. Davies, a welsh poet.

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

The discussion boards on this course on Literature and Mental Health have a ridiculous number of comments, up to 2,500 on a single question.  It’s AMAZING!  The students are dropping in from all over the world via their computer screens. There is no reason to leave your house anymore. And yes, that is a problem!

There has perhaps never been a better time to embrace lifelong learning than in any other time in history, and the fact that it’s free elicits delight indeed!

Have you ever taken an online course? What was your experience? Do you even think about how you can continue to learn into old age and all the ways that’s possible?

Goofing off for future productivity

 

It’s important to be self motivated when you work for yourself. This is true regardless of what you do. It’s especially true, and I admit that I’m biased, if the work has anything to do with writing.

One of the tricks about that is knowing yourself well enough to know when you need to buckle down, fight the inner child who just wants to goof off, tell them to go to their naughty mat and stay there, and force yourself to buckle down to get whatever you need to get done done.

It’s just as important to know when it’s playtime. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. It’s time for a little close to home excursion. Yahoo! Clap your hands with excitement.

I don’t know if it’s just the freedom of being able to do what you want, when you want to, or if it elicits traces of the feeling we all got, if and when we played hooky during high school, but taking the time is like reaching through and snatching a bit of the open space for ourselves.

I did that yesterday. It was 31 degrees. I wasn’t staying in my apartment staring at a computer. Are you kidding me?  That would be crazy. I made my way out to Steveston at around 1:30 pm and headed immediately to grab lunch at Pajo’s on the wharf. I ordered the salmon and chips. I said “Yes,” to the tarter sauce. I shouldn’t be eating any of that but tough.  And on a day like yesterday did I feel lucky that I control my own schedule right now? Oh yeah!

I sat at Pajo’s, ate my lunch which was wrapped in newsprint, and soaked up the Vitamin D of the brilliant sunshine.fishnchips

Afterwards, I wandered down to look at all the slippery shiny sockeye fresh off the fish boats backed into the dock. The tourists and locals streamed past. Fingers pointed at which fish they wanted. Shaved ice kept the salmon in the big bags fresh. Caught! Poor Mr. Salmon at life’s end, that remorse mixing with my own anticipation of delicious meals ahead.

As I carried on along the beautiful cement walkway that fronts the river from the little village to the Britannia Shipyards, I admired the sparkling water, the boats, the people clustered in little groups of twos and threes, chatting and walking and drinking coffee at Starbucks. I saw the fishers on the dock. When I arrived at the little recreated historical village, I spoke with a volunteer. I wanted to know what some big ship near the dock was. Did it do research? What was it? “I think it offers luxury excursions,” she said. It was called the Pacific Yellowfin.

I admired the little wooden structures that I’ve been in many times before. I listened to the music from the 1940s. I admired an old phonograph, saw postcards of women in bathing suits, letters from home across a bed. I tried to imagine the life of the people who lived then, worked then, their joys, their sorrows. How hard it must have been and yet the anticipation of building, something, even if it wasn’t clear then.

Outside, I noticed the bull rushes along the shore, the sea grasses,  and the way the sunlight hit the top of the metal roof off the old shipyard building, the sparkles off the water painting everything new. There was one of those yellow pianos on the dock, sitting there, inviting anyone to play it. I touched a note, feeling regret that I used to play, took lessons for years and now, without music, without practice, all that dormant.

I stopped at the gardens behind one of the tiny historical houses and peered in at the last bit of greens and feathery dill.

Mostly I just luxuriated in having time, my own time to do what I wanted with. It’s a luxury and all I’m really trying to say is that it’s good to be grateful (always) but especially when the day unfolds in a way that offers a bit of this and a bit of that, in all the ways that make you happy. The experiences are every bit as tantalizing as the morsels at one of those progressive dinners that used to be popular.  I felt like Mrs. Dalloway minus the high society and the party at the end of the evening.

To compensate I bought my own salmon.

Cutting it up and freezing it later. That’s a story for another day…

Pushing silence out of suicide’s way

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Recently, I decided to take a course called Introduction to Counselling because I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Masters and before I can even apply there’s a bunch of pre-requisites to be completed. One baby step at a time.

My ultimate goal, a never ending journey in the past few years, is to find a way to do something for money that complements my writing but will bring in more money than my writing has and will enable me to be self-employed.  I love the idea of doing more than one thing to make money. In fact, going to one job, in one place, for the whole day just seems like too many contradictions: a luxury, a penance and some retro fantasy that seems really outdated, especially if you have an artsy background.

Now, those of you who know me know that I’ve had way more than an introduction to counselling in my own life. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. Pretty much already have the PhD in life experience.   But, no, that’s not true because I don’t, have a PhD that is, and because it’s different when you’re on the other side.  Surprise, surprise. Counselling is harder than it looks, and so far, in the class, we’ve only been practicing with fellow students, people who aren’t desperate, or even if they are, aren’t expecting you’ll be able to help them help themselves, for real.

It’s been a fascinating experience because it takes away any illusion one might have about other people being so much more together. They’re not. Simple. Done. Wipe the hands. Everybody’s got their shit. It’s an absolutely hallelujah moment to recognize that everybody’s got their shit and, well, so what?  Next. Moving right along.  The question is, are you dealing with it or inflicting it?

I mean if Robin Williams is done, what hope is there for the rest of us? And I really wonder if that’s what some of the more fragile out there are going to think. I wonder if the suicide hot lines are going to be off the charts this week with people who feel this way after the tragedy of Robin Williams taking his own life.

On  a more positive note, I feel like we are reaching a turning point, a barely visible shift when it comes to depression and other mental illnesses being taken seriously, and it’s been slower than proverbial molasses. People finally get that depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness, and most importantly, it’s real. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t moralize. Don’t ignore the signs. Don’t think you’re better because you’re always just fine thank you very much. Hold the cliches. You know what they are. Think on the bright side. You’re glass is either half empty or half full. Cheer up. It’s not so bad. Count your blessings. What have you got to be depressed about?

When I was in high school and suffered what I consider my first major bout of depression, I might as well have been naked on a raft in the middle of an ocean with nothing but a Bengal tiger and a hyena for company. It was the 1970’s. Depression? What’s that? That’s how alone, how ashamed, how isolated and desperate I felt made worse by how everyone around me reacted by not reacting at all. I could feel the shame. Was I embarrassing them? I can still recall the misery all these years later, and the misery of every time the darkness beyond black has descended. Immobilized. Ashamed. Here but not here. Stuck. And yet still a worthy human being. Right here. Me. Deal with it.

I have experienced the suicide of someone I loved. I know the devastation first hand. His name was Mac Rymal. I have heard about the suicide of someone I played basketball with for five years in high school, attended her funeral, and the pain of knowing how and what she did, leaving behind three young daughters as a result,  is something I think about regularly. I’ve always wondered how her girls, one just a baby at the time, have made out in life and I have never forgotten her. She was the captain of our championship basketball team. Her name was Donna Digby.

It might surprise you to know that the death rate for suicide is higher than the death rate from motor vehicle accidents. It surprised me.

It’s no longer okay for the S words to remain in the closet. Are you thinking of killing yourself?” is a legitimate question. It needs to be asked when it needs to be asked. It won’t push someone over the edge.

It’s so long overdue, one loss after another, to kick those other two S words: silence and stigma, to the curb.