Book Review: The Girl Beneath the Sea by Andrew Mayne

I started reading this on the beach and found myself struggling to be drawn in. Mayne’s characters are well developed, and the plot moves forward at a good pace, but I can’t help feeling like something is lacking. The characters are all clever and the audience is particularly prone to enjoy Sloan and her ambition to resolve the myriad of conflict from her family history, her profession, her relationships, and a murder at hand. The book leaves me wondering if this is ‘book two’ in a sequel and I am missing a foundation for the character’s stories, and it ends without many of the loose ends wrapped up that I am accustomed o as a reader. One of the best-selling authors on Amazon, I will likely give Mayne another shot to see what I am missing.

Mountains and Valleys of Mobility

Like most people with disabilities, I struggle with the highs and lows of the roller coaster ride I am on. I want to enjoy life and not let things stop me. “Good for you,” strangers pointed out to me yesterday on a small trail in Trough Creek State Park. Yet today, when I tried to get out of bed, I couldn’t. I sat with tears in my eyes and talked to myself about how it could be worse, how I could be worse off, how others have it worse.  I sobbed right through my whole inner-motivational-speech half hating the part of me that wouldn’t let me wallow. It is hard. My mom often points out to me that I am what she calls an in-between disabled person and that is one reason things are such a struggle for me. Yes, I am missing a limb and on crutches or in a wheelchair full time, but I am also able to do exceedingly well for someone in my situation. I am not content to sit back and let others take care of me, nor do I want to miss out on the adventures life sends my way. This predicament puts me in a unique niche as an in-between disabled person. Not helpless, not fully able. The price for partaking in life’s adventures often results in days like today where I am bedridden or bound to a wheelchair and unable to leave the house or mobilize myself at all.

And what of it? It is the low point of the emotional roller coaster of being disabled. If being able to climb the side of a mountain is a high point, the next four days of incapacitation will be the valley and pit of depression. In my mind it is so hard to reconcile the dissonance of the toggle, able/disabled, on a day to day or sometimes hour by hour basis. The emotional ride is exhausting and the irrationality of my reality can be costly. Yesterday, I could cook and serve a meal, take a short mountain hike, pack up everything from our trip, drive three hours home, pick up our pets, and carry my backpack of clothes in the house. Today, I cannot lift my tea kettle to pour myself a cup of tea. How can a person navigate these extremities on a daily basis without it taking a toll emotionally?

The first thought that I have, which many other disabled people share, is to simply stop doing things that are hard for me. I didn’t have to do the trek back to see the waterfall yesterday. I didn’t have to walk from the camper to the water several times with the children on Sunday, and I didn’t have to walk around the town of Bedford on Monday. If I hadn’t done those things, I would have maintained a relatively stable level of ability. But at what cost? What is the point of pushing through life without doing the things we don’t have to do? Should I have remained in the hotel room when others enjoyed the small town? Should I have been content only with pictures of the waterfall and sat in the car? Should I perhaps not follow the children and partake in their adventures but satisfy myself only in their stories of fun? The truth is relative in this situation. For me, I survived cancer to live and enjoy life and the fullness of it. Unfortunately, that means embracing these highs and lows along with it.

I am careful here not to produce scripture that I have turned to in these situations as a type of justification for my choice to be an active disabled person. As mentioned, the truth is relative in this situation and there is nothing in the bible that fully vests an interest in me being active and then unable to move because of it. The bible is full of encouragement for me as well as for those that choose to live in a more restrained manner . However, I feel one of my purposes on earth is to suffer well and be an inspiration to others through that suffering. It is not the case for everyone, and many would choose to play it safe and not push themselves to experience life at the expense of their body and comfort.

This particular morning, I sat skimming Facebook for a distraction through glassy, tear-filled eyes. I stumbled across one quote followed by another, the connection between the two was made by a wise friend: 

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller

Either you reach a higher point today, or you exercise your strength in order to be able to climb higher tomorrow. Friedrich Nietzsche

Personally, I am not sure how Nietzsche could make a statement like that in light of nihilism, but that isn’t the point of discussion here. The point is, I saw the principles in these two quotes, and embraced them. If anyone would know the ups and downs of disabled life and the emotional toll of it, wouldn’t Helen Keller? The excitement of learning and exploring as she was led about one day only to sit in the silence and darkness the very next, would certainly be taxing. Frustrating, to say the least. Yet, Helen maintained her inspiration and increased wisdom in all she did. I’m sure, no I’m positive, that she cried and had days like I have. But I love that it didn’t stop her either. She wasn’t content with allowing the world to be interpreted to her as others experienced things. Instead, she dove right in and chose to experience them herself.

Yes, living a fairly stable and mediocre life devoid of action or adventure would produce the most consistent and predictable outcome for me and my body. But will I truly grow, allow my soul to be strengthened, my ambition to be inspired, and my successes achieved by choosing such a modest lifestyle? Will I be content in knowing that I chose to not experience and embrace the fullness of the mountains God offers simply because I don’t want to embrace the valleys? The answer for me is a resounding no. I shall continue to push myself to reasonable limits, and enjoy the fullness of life. I’ll plan and enjoy one day at the expense of a few bad days; and I’ll abstain from things I truly want to do in order to save up my body for something I would love to do. One day, when I can no longer do these things and am stuck permanently in a wheelchair with limited ability, I will think back over my life and these memories. In that time, I am most certain that I will have more to reflect on than if I play it safe now while others partake in the adventures for me. Physical strife and emotional taxation are the price to be paid, and I am determined to pay it (within reason) while handling these trials and sufferings with the utmost integrity and honor.

Even bedridden today, I can experience and strengthen for tomorrow. I shall read and experience adventure through books, while healing my body to resume mobility. I may possibly play the piano and make music for the Lord to enjoy. If my hands hold up I can continue crocheting a blanket I plan to bless someone with. Writing via talk-to-text has already happened in this article today, and I can practice mindfulness and intercession as well. These down days will not be wasted days, no matter how low the valley I find myself in. All things are for the betterment of Christ’s purposes and I only hope to continue living up to that in the years to come.

Book Review: Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

When Cassidy accidentally started a fire as a child, she loses her best friend. Taunted as ‘fire girl’ in her small town, she never seems to escape the reputation of tragedy and blame. When her archenemy goes missing, it is up to Cassidy to search and prove she is not guilty, in spite of all evidence. The conflict in this book is mastered by Ichaso as issues of trust, knowing one’s own mind, and the intricacies of relationships are explored. This quick and well-paced read is perfect for light summer reading or fall devouring. Not one to venture into the arena of young adult fiction frequently, I am proud to say that this book managed to defy the norm and be an enjoyable read.

Quarantine Creations

My husband and I teamed up to present a collection of recipes that we started when we got married. Wanting to share with the world, we took the opportunity provided by quarantine to rename them with humorous, Covid-19 titles, and publish them in a small volume. This small book, and first publication from Crutchprints, is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, chuckle to your belly, and sweet aromas to your home. A wonderful gift, coffee table book, or addition to your cookbook collection, you will enjoy the delightfully simple dishes presented within!

You can view or purchase this paperback volume on Amazon by clicking here.

Book Review: Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Neff and Germer

This book is written in clips that are easy to understand and with lingo easily interpreted by the common person. It was refreshing to pick up a clinical book written by doctors that was applicable and practical. The exercises are challenging but achievable, and the lessons are kept short and to the point. Self-compassion is a foundational principle for healing and growth psychologists are finding, and this book provides a wonderful starting place.

Fear Not: Letting the Leaves Fall

As we morph from summer into fall, the transition comes so naturally to many of us. Black teas give way to chai and chocolate, citrus to pumpkin spice, and vibrant greens and blues retreat to give yellows, oranges, and reds prominence. The question “do I need a sweater,” looms in the back of our minds as we embrace the seasonal layering and plan our projects for the retreating sunlight hours. I love autumn, always have. 

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“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it…” (Holy Bible, Psalm 24:1)

In fact, I love all the seasons and feel I spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on nature’s seasons and the way in which they seemingly coincide with my life. Parables throughout the bible reveal their gems through the reference of nature, and God’s own handiwork is revealed through nature time and again. (Job 12:7-10; Psalm 24:1; John 1:3) If all of nature cycles around the commands of God and his purposes, are we not part of his purpose? (Isa 43:20) 

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of these does not know the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

Holy Bible, Job 12:7-10

Arielle Schwartz, PhD., is a licensed clinical psychologist and trainer for therapists (specializing in trauma and post traumatic stress disorder). Schwartz explains, “The seasons in our natural world offer many rich metaphors for healing. These seasons exist around you and within you. […] Each stage of growth has its own timing. Recognizing these rhythms and cycles can help you orient to the tasks of growth and change.” (Schwartz, 2020) In summary, Schwartz explains that spring invites us to plant new seeds and embrace growth while summer provides opportunity for growth and full, unhindered bloom. Autumn is an invitation to let go and release that which no longer serves us by pruning or reflecting on the wild growth of summer. Winter, she says, asks us to embrace darkness by connecting internally with stillness and quiet. I would add that during winter there is time for rest and planning for spring growth – gathering resources and education to support our plan.

My own life seems to follow the physical seasons of the world pretty closely, I notice. Sometimes there are major life events that occur over years of time and the length of those seasons will not coincide with nature. In addition, I usually am working through multiple seasons at the same time for different areas of life. I may be in a season of spring growth in a career while a season of winter within marriage. Or I may be in a season of fall with housekeeping and summer with creativity. The beauty of the seasonal model of growth is the embracing and understanding of all things and the timing of them. Understanding the seasons makes the trials and choices we have no less difficult, but understanding the cycle and normalcy of such hardships certainly takes the edge off. We are not isolated and alone, dealing with things all on our own. Instead, we are part of the natural world and larger world around us cycling through in the timing and way that God guides us. 

 I’ve recently read another model for growth that I enjoyed titled, The Journey Blueprint: Following the Hero’s Path to Take Control of Your Life’s Story. (Bouche, 2018) This served as a wonderful storytelling and personal tool, one that I recommend learning about. Not only was it a fun read, pulling from pop culture and referencing a lot of the familiar stories and characters we have learned to love, but Bouche breaks things down quickly and concisely for us.  It fits in well and honors the christian beliefs we share about God’s existence and omnipotence within our lives. The basic idea of this model is that for every hero, there is a journey he/she must follow. There is a moment of which they receive a call and must choose to cross the threshold into the unknown. They must train and have mentors and helpers along the way. They must reach a point of choosing the impossible. It is quite lovely to see the basic plot line of all good stories exposed and simplified in a way that can apply to our own lives. After all, God chose us with calls and impossible tasks too. The problem this has for me, however, is that it is such a complex and long model that I will not remember the many phases when my mind is already in a crisis trying to make sense of where I am and where I am going. The four seasons are simplistic. Nature will always have the central grounding of principles that I need to grasp and embrace circumstances.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

Holy Bible, Isaiah 43:18-21

It doesn’t matter what model we follow, or which metaphor we use, the truth is that we have been (as a world) coming out of a season of great growth and changes that have been pummeled upon us as a result of Covid-19. We are told that the virus is not over and that a second wave may be imminent. It is now October and we have been growing under the seeds planted by Covid-19 in January, regardless of what that growth looks like. For some, it is growth under unemployment or quarantine; for others it has been growth in empathy and consideration to respect the beliefs and boundaries of others. Some have been forced to close businesses and grow under the hardship and questions of, What next? Some have stepped up and taken risks and done work they would not have thought possible of themselves. Still others have grown by taking one stance and then shifting to another on the endless to mask or unmask; to close or open; to fellowship or isolate debates that rage within and all around us. Regardless of the type of growth we each have been forced to experience this summer, we are now moving into autumn and a new season.

“…Under the hot summer sun, everything grows […]. Although weeds are not inherently bad, you may not want them in your garden. Given this, it is wise to choose carefully where you place your energy so that you grow the thoughts […] and actions that support your true self.” (Schwartz, 2020)

We’ve grown in many ways over this summer, and so have our weeds. It is time to look at and remember our true self, the (God’s) call on our lives at this point in time, and align ourselves where we need to. Is it time to let go of something that is preventing you from growing even more? Is it time to prune back beliefs or behaviors that may have helped you survive at one point in life (or even recently through these times of Covid-19), but that are no longer supporting you? 

Are you living inside of fear or doubting your self-worth? Do you need to take a hard look at how you define success and reframe your perfectionism? It may be time to let go of these things which keep us small, keep us in fear. As the leaves leave the safety of the trees and the dormancy of rest and planning approach us, let’s embrace the season that we are in.

A simple search reveals that God uses the instructions “fear not” 365 times in the bible. So don’t be afraid to let leaves fall, to weed your gardens, to prune your vines. Fall is here and it is time to slow down and take in the smell of cider, taste of pumpkin, chill of the breeze, and sound of the owls hooting in the woods. It is ok to lighten the burden of the past season from your shoulders and prepare yourself for rest. Let go of those things that are no longer serving you and allow yourself to move into a new phase and approach.

References:

Arielle Schwartz, Seasons and Cycles, in The post-traumatic growth guidebook: practical mind-body tools to heal trauma, foster resilience and awaken your potential 12–13 (2020).

Holy Bible, Zondervan (2011).  

Julie M. Bouche, The Journey Blueprint: Following the Hero’s Path to Take Control of Your Life’s Story (2018). 

Book Review: Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory

Set in a post-WWI England, we find the characters are developed fully and entertainingly as only Philippa Gregory can do. Gregory seems adamant in all of her books to produce protagonists that do not retain flawless qualities . This was intense to read due to the graphic nature of PTSD, the cruelty and reality of warfare (trench and class), and the tendency of evil strains. I was tempted to put it down so many times due to the cognitive dissonance created by this book, but the end left me shocked and satisfied.

Book Review: Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics by Nancy Scheper-Hughes

After reading an excerpt of this in college (2003), I searched for 17 years for the actual title of this book to revisit. The lengths I went to were magnanimous, and in the end I was only a little disappointed. After all, 17 years of building something up in your mind is no low expectation of delivery. One of the original anthropological sociologists, this report is largely outdated and irrelevant since the rise of the internet and global commerce. Dated in the 1970’s Scheper-Hughes lived among those in rural Ireland for one year and reported her findings on the community. She particularly focused on mental illness, and though disguising all informants the townspeople identified themselves and their loved ones taking extreme offense to what they perceived as cold blooded betrayal. I find Scheper-Hughes is difficult to keep on topic and lacks provision of direction. This did not read as a case study with control factors and other elements we are accustomed to now, but rather focused largely on character development, individuality, and backstory. This work was groundbreaking and phenomenal at the time it was produced, and no doubt Scheper-Hughes will always remain a founding influence on cultural social studied. Yet my advice is, unless you are studying psychology or sociology, read the foreword (updated in early 2000’s) and let it rest.

Book Review: Remembrance by Rita Woods

I am not one for young adult reading, and this book treads the line on that genre. Received as part of the Once Upon a Book Club February 2020 box, I complied with the club rules and read diligently stopping only on the designated pages to open the gifts that coincided with the story. The pestle is wonderful, I might add! While I braced myself for an insightful glimpse into history, this story dances around historical events while slowly succumbing to the world of fantasy. I was not prepared for the slow introduction of white magic and supernatural gifts, but it did not deter me from finishing. (Perhaps the gifts were an incentive to finish, though I choose to believe the plot also captured my attention.) This is a book I would recommend to a select few, and if you are tight on time and don’t enjoy fantasy – a hard pass.

Mindfulness and Trauma

Most recently, I attended the online Trauma Skills Summit hosted by SoundsTrue. It featured ten days of amazing skills, practices, and guides for those that have experienced or support those with trauma. There was one lecture that stood out to me and I wanted to share the information with my friends here at Crutchprints. 

Elizabeth Stanley, PhD (creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, professor at Georgetown University, and certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing) lectured about trauma and mindfulness in a very impactful way. If you have a trauma background, you may find mindful breathing practices to be difficult or overwhelming. Especially if there is a history of physical or breathing constraint.

Stanley offered understanding for this in her lecture and explained the importance of recognizing our own bodily reactions to the exercises of mindfulness. While mindfulness is a wonderful aid during the healing process and embodiment phase for trauma survivors, it can be adjusted to your needs. Approaching your own situation with self compassion and resilience is within your power. You don’t have to give up or stop mindfulness altogether if you are uncomfortable with certain aspects within the practices. 

Stanley offered a few tips for those with backgrounds of trauma in regards to mindfulness practices, I’ve expanded on them below:

1. Find a place with your back against the wall. This allows the reptilian brain to feel safe (without looking over its shoulder for threats). 

2. Once in position, take time to slowly turn your head a full 180 degrees to the right and left. This impactful exercise allows the reptilian brain to register the environment, assess threats, and permit centering.

3. If you have an adverse reaction to the breathing focus, know that is ok. Focus on another part of the body that is safe. Perhaps focus on the place where your feet meet the floor beneath you. If you do not ‘feel’, press your feet lightly into the ground until you feel a sensation, or try an outdoors practice where you can safely be barefoot in the grass. Another suggestion is to take your hands and rub them lightly on the top of your thighs, focusing on that movement rather than your breathing. 

 4. If you aren’t comfortable closing your eyes (often due to sense of safety), let them rest softly open instead. Either focus vaguely on an object before you or allow your eyes to be open while focusing on a part of the body just as if your eyes were closed.

Science continues to discover ways that mindfulness assists all of us on our journey, whether or not we are in post-traumatic growth. It is important to know that even today, you are in control, you have a voice, and and you get to decide how to approach your journey. Finding things that work for each of us will empower us right where we are while encouraging self-compassion, resilience and delivering the enrichment of mindfulness.

(Sources: Elizabeth, S., PhD. (2020, August 26). Trauma and Mindfulness. Lecture presented at Trauma Skills Summit in Soundstrue.com.)