The past, the present, and the future are unique to each of us and that journey has brought us to where we are today. You may be reflecting on this present moment and wondering, “Where do I fit in the creation of a new normal? Am I a changemaker?” In this interview, you will get to know Kamakshi Hart MA, the creator of Origin’s latest course for personal and professional development, The Changemaker. As Andi and Kamakshi share experiences about awareness, mindfulness, and non-linear healing, you will learn more about the people behind the trainings here at Origins.

(Pictured above: A wise girl and her best friend)

October 8, 2020|  By: Lori Chelius MBA/MPH

“So I want to get this straight…in our family, when something gets tough, we just give it away?”

That’s what Jill Stamm’s daughter, who was six years old at the time, asked her parents after they concluded they would have to find another home for their rambunctious puppy who was destroying furniture and eating everything in sight.

Stamm was stunned. That was not a value she embraced at all. In fact, with another older daughter with multiple handicaps, she deeply understood the importance of commitment and love, even when things are hard.

Out of the mouth of babes.

That question changed everything. It led to a very explicit value in Stamm’s family that has even passed along to her grandkids (her daughter is now a parent herself): “We don’t turn away from tough stuff. We face things head on.”

In a recent webinar hosted by Origins– “A Trauma-Informed Approach: Three Myths Busted”–we explored the critical role of values in building and sustaining a healing culture. Stamm, who is the Prevention and Brain Science Specialist at Arizona’s Children Association and co-founder of New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development, shared how the value of not turning away when things get tough became a bedrock for her family across generations. It influenced her in many ways in both her personal and professional life and even contributed to going back to complete her PhD at age 50.

One definition of culture is a “set of shared attitudes, values, goals, or practices that characterize an institution or organization.” All organizations, communities, and families have a culture, whether it has been created intentionally or not. Part of being intentional is articulating these values that really underlie your culture. The puppy incident led Stamm to make explicit a value that was already implicit in her family.

In our upcoming Resilience Champion Live course, we explore the critical role of culture in implementing a trauma-informed approach and provide tools to help you intentionally develop the culture in your own unique setting. This six-week course is for leaders who want to integrate a trauma-informed approach in their setting. Weeks 1-2 of this course provide an overview of the key concepts behind a trauma-informed approach from our Basics course. Weeks 3-6 focus on translating those concepts into action.  Join us for this series starting on Wednesday, Oct. 14th from 10-11:30 PT. 

(And, by the way, the puppy stayed).

mental health awareness tree

BY 

When I was an adolescent and young adult, I struggled with depression. As I reflect back on that time, so much of what I was experiencing was deeply tied to coming to terms with my sexuality. Growing up in the 1980’s in a relatively conservative town, I was closeted (even to myself) until I was a young adult. The pain and fear of being different, of not belonging, of being judged or rejected for who I was more than my adolescent brain could wrap its conscious head around. To protect myself from being “found out,” I often turned inward, keeping a safe distance from many.

 

In a talk by Gabor Mate, he says: “As a physician I have witnessed and treated what we call mental illness; as a person I have experienced it. I say ‘what we call mental illness’, because disease is a very narrow perspective from which to view a complex process, one that cannot be reduced to subjective symptoms, observed behaviors or to the biology of an individual human being’s brain and nervous system. Yes, this process entails suffering…But suffering is not the same as disease.”

 

I think a lot about that line–”suffering is not the same as disease” in terms of my own experience. Was my experience with depression a “mental illness”? Or was it suffering? Are they the same thing?

 

May is mental health awareness month. With the health and economic impacts of the pandemic continuing to grow, it certainly seems timely to raise awareness on the importance of mental well-being. 

 

But what exactly is “mental health?” The National Institute of Mental Health defines their mission as “to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.” But is mental health simply the absence of an illness?

 

We are only beginning to understand the long-term impacts of the collective trauma of the global pandemic

 

And there is a lot of suffering.

 

As of May 20th, the official U.S. death count has passed 90,000 and continues to climb. Families and friends are often unable to say good-bye to their loved ones in person or grieve the loss in many of the ways people often do. Economic devastation and uncertainty are rampant. The US economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April alone. Widespread school closures have left many kids vulnerable while they are home with stressed out parents, often cut off from friends and community connections. The health and economic impacts of COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, revealing and often amplifying underlying inequities.

 

Amidst this suffering, there is a window to reexamine how we think about and the language we use for mental health. 

 

Psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor Viktor Frankl once wrote that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

 

That quote seems pretty relevant right now as we all respond to this collective trauma. For some of us, those responses might include behaviors such as short tempers, obsessively reading the news, or panic buying. Other responses might be more physiological–sleep disruptions, headaches, or upset stomachs. The science behind ACEs and a trauma-informed approach can help us understand these responses as normal responses to an abnormal situation. A trauma-informed approach recognizes that those responses are symptoms, often symptoms of underlying suffering. 

 

As the impacts of the coronavirus continue to unfold, likely for years and even generations, the importance of emotional wellness for kids and adults should be a huge priority.  But in doing so, let’s not pathologize our normal responses to a very abnormal situation. Grief is not an illness. Fear is not illness. 

 

In the words of Gabor Mater,  “Let’s all drop the pretense that we are either normal, or abnormal. We are all in the same support group: ordinary people who must deal with the struggles that come with being human.”  And, as Origins co-founder Andi Fetzner likes to say, “being a human is hard.”

 

Amen.

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Lori Chelius is a co-founder of Origins Training & Consulting. Origins helps educators, health care professionals, social service workers, and other leaders integrate a trauma-informed approach into their work so they can build more resilient organizations and communities. She lives in California with her wife, three kids, and their dog, Oliver. Learn more about Origins’ and its online training offerings at www.originstraining.org.

In this video, Andi will be talking about how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are not the only way that stress can become toxic (insert pandemic here). Understanding our origins (see what we did there) can help us understand what we’re going through can make all of us feel less alone (and less weird).

At Origins, we encourage self-reflection as we navigate advocacy during this social justice revolution. While we are all in this storm together, we recognize the reality that we are not all in the same boat. In scrolling through social media this last week, I came upon a poem that speaks to this truth. The author is unknown.

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Sitting on my bookshelf in my office is a framed copy of Time Magazine from April 14, 1997. On the cover is a picture of Ellen DeGeneres with the headline “Yep, I’m Gay,”

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Anyone who attended last year’s (2017) ACEs Conference hosted by the Center for Youth Wellness knows there was an exceptional line-up of speakers. From Nadine Burke-Harris and her welcoming remarks to Bryan Stevenson’s closing keynote, there were many inspirational examples of work being done to push the ACEs movement “from awareness to action.” The format of the conference also encouraged interaction of attendees, which was a strong reminder that sparks of change can originate in unexpected places. I noticed this even before the conference started. As I was waiting in line to pick up my badge, I struck up a conversation with the person standing next to me in line. This experience was a reminder that you just never know who you will meet and what type of journey you might end up on together.

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