Why middle-agers should make their bed every morning

Make your bed. It all sounds so simple.

My young adult years were spent collapsing into bed after working all day and caring for my family’s needs. When dawn broke, my deep sleep was pierced by the exuberant and sweet sounds of my little ones who were ready to get moving.

Another busy day would begin. Without any thought of making my bed.

In the book, “Make Your Bed,” retired Admiral William H. McRaven writes about the importance of doing little things right. “Every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”

But I wouldn’t have needed a former navy SEAL to preach to me about making my bed. My mother (who had eight children) tried to teach by example. She made her bed every morning. And dear Aunt Thelma did her best to encourage me, as well.

Still, my bed remained a tangled pile of sheets and blankets during those years.

Often, timing must intersect with wisdom before we get it. We have to be ready to receive the message.

Now that I’m an empty-nester, I see things differently.

Before, when working and raising a young family, there was no shortage of tasks that needed to be completed. Making my bed was last on the list. It rarely got done.

I’m in my late 50’s, now, and still work. But the kids are grown and enjoying the hustle and bustle of their own expanding families. My husband and I have settled into a home life that lacks the busyness of the earlier years. Recently, I’ve been discovering that it’s not that hard to spend a few minutes making the bed in the morning.

And somehow passing by my bedroom, with its well-made bed, reminds me that it’s not time to give up the day just yet. It’s good to keep moving and keep accomplishing something.

An unmade bed sends the opposite message, that it’s quitting time.

All can learn from the discipline that comes with making your bed every morning. It becomes the first successful task for many who have a full day of activities—like young parents or those throwing their energies into building their careers.

But it seems especially important for middle-agers. Our tasks may be fewer, but seeing smoothed out and tucked in sheets and bedding reminds us that the day’s bounty isn’t over. We’re not done yet. We have more to offer and experience.

My prayer every morning is, “Thank you, God, for letting me wake up. Thank you for gifting me with another day. I will try not to waste it.”

Surprisingly, a well-made bed is a simple start to keeping that promise.

More personal responsibility, less COVID-blaming, needed in education

This blog was previously published in the Des Moines Register.

More personal accountability, less COVID-blaming, needed in education

Solving an education problem is never easy, but it’s helpful to at least identify what is not at fault.

A recent Des Moines Register article, “How DMPS is trying to get kids back into class after COVID” suggests that the pandemic is the cause of a high percentage of chronic absences in the district. It then likens Des Moines schools to schools nationwide, facing the same problem.  

Misery loves company because it reduces personal accountability.

It’s likely there are several schools suffering with attendance problems, for a number of reasons, throughout the country. But the knee-jerk response is to blame COVID.

The Iowa Department of Education tells a different story. Average daily attendance for Iowa schools was 94.7% for the 2018-2019 school year, which was pre-pandemic. Attendance fell to 92.8% for the 2020-2021 academic year. A total difference of 1.90%. Only slightly downward. And with a starting point of about 95%, there wasn’t much ceiling room.  

Certainly, COVID may have factored into the slight state-wide decline. But it doesn’t explain the huge drop experienced by Des Moines schools.

About one-third of the 327 schools listed had numbers that remained the same or actually increased in attendance percentage. Only two schools had a double-digit percentage drop in attendance—Des Moines at 10.60% and Davenport at 12.50%. Four schools saw a 5-7% decline: Ames, Burlington, Red Oak and Waterloo. Most of the remaining 200 schools saw attendance decline near the state average of about 2%.

What jumps out is that no other schools experienced the catastrophe that Des Moines and Davenport faced after that two-year period.

If the pandemic was the real culprit, double-digit decreases in attendance would be plaguing every school district in Iowa. COVID came for all of us, not just Des Moines and Davenport.

Stakeholders in this dilemma are teachers, families and school administrations.

Teachers are the difference makers in education. Placing a really great teacher in every classroom is one of the biggest determining factors in a student’s academic success. But it’s hard to see how the responsibility for student attendance should rest on their shoulders. We have to get them there, before they can take it from there.

Why aren’t families getting them there? There could be several reasons why some students are missing too much school. Perhaps the student has a chronic illness. Maybe, due to poverty, he or she also works to supplement a family income. It’s also possible that the student simply chooses not to go to school and that the parents are either indifferent to that decision or incapable of requiring school attendance.   

All of those situations can and do happen in the other 325 school districts that did not experience a 10-12% drop in attendance. Family problems are not unique to Des Moines and Davenport.

That leaves the administration.

Schools are hierarchies. It’s a top-down system of power and authority that must accomplish a lot. But its main role is to constantly and consistently set clear expectations of the student body. Expectations from ruling administrators and school boards can look quite differently from district to district. And lack of problem-solving ability, poor judgement, and weak leadership during these last couple of years may have done harm that is only now being quantified.

That’s not a COVID problem. It’s a people problem.

There are so many moving parts with education issues that it’s difficult to nail down a true diagnosis. But we can stop using the pandemic as a scapegoat.

We’ve had a toxic love affair with COVID-Blame, but it’s time to end it and start assuming personal responsibility again.  

Ukrainians hear the call of the wild

Sometimes life is so unfair. So unfair. And what are you going to do about it?

There are really only two choices—give up or go on.

Just a month ago, the people of Ukraine were busy building a government of the people. Democratic processes are messy, but the vision of a better life for the next generation was compelling the nation forward in a peaceful manner.

Then Russia invaded, for no greater reason than that it wanted to and it could. The assumption by many was that Ukraine would quickly give up. But they didn’t.

In Jack London’s, “The Call of the Wild,” Buck—a St. Bernard/Scotch Shepherd mix—was enjoying the good life in California with a wealthy landowner. He had the run of the estate and a cozy spot by the fireplace when he wanted it. The book is fictional, but it narrates through the very real time period of the 1890s Gold Rush in Canada and Alaska. Big dogs were needed to pull sleds over an unforgiving and frozen landscape. Demand was high, and supply was scarce.

Buck was stolen and then sold.

Unexpected cruelty is disorienting. Chained and captive, Buck was introduced to his new life by a dog-breaker and a club. “A dozen times he charged, and as often the club broke the charge and smashed him down.”

Some dogs never got back up. They weren’t able to transition into a life of violence and hardship, but Buck learned how to first survive.

Russia is carrying a big stick and bringing death and destruction to Ukraine. But the Ukrainians keep getting back up. They didn’t start a war with a super power, but they’re learning how to survive one.

Buck adapted to the life of pulling a sled over a frozen tundra and the kill-or-be-killed challenges from the other dogs. He adapted, and then he thrived. He became the lead dog and was able to trust the kindness of a human again and feel loyalty toward him.

After being stunned into survival mode, the Ukrainians are adapting to their new reality. They, too, face kill-or-be-killed situations. And every day, their fighting spirit grows stronger despite the formidable opponent before them. They’re showing what courage and leadership look like when faced with such an unfair attack.

Eventually, Buck finds freedom. He answers the call of the wild—the call of a wolf pack—and fights for and takes his rightful place with them. He’s free and finally, fully alive.

Hardship produces resiliency, but does resiliency require hardship?

A Quinnipiac University poll asked American adults what they would do if they were in the same position as the Ukrainians. Would they stay and fight or leave the country? Almost four in ten said they would leave the country.

There are 250 million adults living in the United States. Imagine 100 million fleeing if our nation was attacked.

This doesn’t square with the history of our people. We declared independence from a powerful monarchy and went on to finish two world wars that we did not start.

It’s just one poll, and polls can be wrong. But many of us do see a shift in our country. In the past, forced self-reliance produced an independent and fighting spirit. Now, big government breeds dependency and helplessness.

Over the years, our country has had a bit of a Wild West image. And it’s served us well. But now instead of willingly riding shotgun, too many have fallen asleep in the stagecoach and would not know how to survive, adapt and thrive from the surge that comes when meeting a threat.

The last chapter hasn’t been written on the Ukraine – Russia war. But no matter how it ends, the people of Ukraine have answered the call of the wild. They’ve become fully alive and know—will always know—what they’re meant to be.

Free.

Don’t over-correct the education system

This blog was previously published in the Des Moines Register.

A speed bump was placed on the outskirts of a small, Iowa community. It was put there to slow down a teenager who “lit ‘em up” on his way out of town as he was traveling to school. As I watched the lone town motor-head, it occurred to me that he would also be the type who would fight for our country. He joined the Marines after graduation.

But before that, the speed bump was installed.

Public safety is important. Speed limits are good. Enforcing speed limits is better. But installing the speed bump was an overreaction.

It happens all too often. We get a good idea and then take it too far.

All around the country, parents have been a positive force in the education system. Throughout the pandemic, they demanded that teachers return to in-classroom teaching, questioned the efficacy of masking students, and challenged the teaching of critical race theory or any type of racism or discrimination. 

Parents have been successful, and it’s prompted our legislators to introduce meaningful education bills.

But, now, we’re starting to see a few examples of education bills going too far.  

A bill was introduced in the Iowa House that called for cameras in the classroom, allowing parents to view live footage. The bill failed—thankfully.

Most school administrators and teachers would welcome a parent who wanted to sit in and personally observe a classroom. But sitting at home, day after day, and remotely viewing through a supposedly secure Internet connection is too much. It’s unnecessary surveillance of the teacher and improper videotaping of children.

Parents can still do what parents have always done. Ask their children about what’s happening at school at the kitchen dinner table. There will undoubtedly be “fork-drop” moments. At that time, parents can set up meetings with school officials and discuss any concerns.

Cameras in the classroom are not needed.

In Indiana, House bill 1134 is on the move and will require teachers to post annually by August 1, every textbook, all printed material, audiovisual materials, electronic and digital sources, Internet sources, library materials, presentations, lectures and any other educational activity that will be used for instruction in the upcoming year.

The writers of the bill did smartly exclude copies of tests and scoring keys.  

It’s a lengthy bill that covers many areas, but at least this section of it seems to reach a certain level of ridiculousness.

Communication is helpful. A provided syllabus is good. Stating class goals is better. But requiring the posting of a year’s worth of every scrap of resource a teacher may use is too much.

The whole point of in-person instruction is so the teacher can, in real time, gauge whether the students are comprehending an idea, answer questions, determine where further reinforcement is needed or a new approach is warranted, and know through a continuous process of a type of “call and response” when the lesson plan can move forward.

Children aren’t computers. It’s not a simple matter of inputting data. Even the very best teachers will not be able to rigidly adhere to previously posted lesson plans, and it’s because they’re good teachers that it won’t happen. 

A 2021 survey found that nearly one in four teachers were likely to leave their profession. Job-related stress was a big factor.

Attempting to put cameras in classrooms or regimenting the academic year before it even begins only adds to that stress.

Nobody loves these children more than their parents, and it is right and good for them to be involved in their kids’ education. But let us be reasonable in the pursuit of improving the education system.

If too many speed bumps are placed on the career path of teaching, there will be no teachers left who are willing to join parents in the fight for a quality education for all.  

Voting rights bills need further scrutiny

This blog was previously published in the Des Moines Register.

President Joe Biden is pushing voting rights legislation by denigrating anyone who opposes it. He asks, “Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president.

If we weren’t critical thinkers, the debate would be over.

But hold on. If half of Congress is against this thing, it must not be so simple.

And it’s not.

A reading of the actual text of two, recent voting rights bills reveals more than a few concerns.

Part 1 of the Freedom to Vote Act implements automatic voter registration through the state motor vehicle authority.

Just in the past five years, several states have already started some type of automatic voter registration. Oregon was the first.

But pump the brakes.

Not everyone who has a driver’s license is a citizen. This bill places a huge responsibility on the motor vehicle employee for determining if the person standing in front of them has the legal right to vote in our country. The info is then electronically sent to state election officials. These systems are often fully automated with no paper trail. Not a best practice.   

And the pressure for the motor vehicle employee to get it right—to only submit names who truly have the right to vote—falls away because the bill prohibits prosecution of any non-citizen who accidentally enrolls to vote and any motor vehicle employee who accidently enrolls them. The burden then falls with state election officials to catch errors.

They’re busy, too. It’s tougher to find a mistake than it is to simply start with clean voter rolls.

The automatic voter registration mandate is just one part of this lengthy bill. The full text of all bills should be studied, explained and debated. But they’re usually not. 

It would cost billions of taxpayer-funded dollars to implement the Freedom to Vote Act, without actually increasing confidence in our elections.

Then there’s the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. A section of this federal bill requires “preclearance” from the attorney general before states may make certain voting or election changes.

Sort of sounds like a federal takeover of elections.

If the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights could all be boiled down to one very important message, it would be to be very wary of a federal government that becomes too powerful and intrusive in the lives of its citizens. 

Our Founding Fathers clearly saw the wisdom of federalism and states’ rights.

We’ve seen it, too, these past few years by the very different ways that states have coped with a pandemic. Fortunately, here in Iowa, we weren’t forced to endure a “one size fits all” New York approach.

Biden stated at a recent press conference, “I have not been out in the community nearly enough…I don’t get a chance to look people in the eye…to go out and do the things that I’ve always been able to do pretty well: connect with people…”

Here’s an idea, Mr. President.

Schedule town hall meetings where the actual text of these bills is placed on overhead screens for all to see. Look people in the eye and explain why each part of this bill is good for the country. Invite an elected Republican legislator from the district to explain why there’s opposition. Answer questions from the audience.

Instead of accusing dissenters of being on the side of Jefferson Davis, transparently explain exactly what your side wants to do.

It took parents showing up at school board meetings to shine a light on questionable education practices. Citizens showing up at town hall meetings and combing through the actual text of proposed bills would force transparency from our lawmakers.

Biden said that we must defend our democracy.

We will.

Start lining up those town hall meetings.

Happy New Year, with emphasis on “New”

Every year our extended family gathers for a Christmas meal and a “grab bag” gift exchange. The location of the celebration rotates among family members, and the hosting sibling sets the guidelines for the gift exchange.

Most years, there’s a strong level of tradition and comfort on how this all plays out.

Until I host.

You see, I’m a change junkie. I like to constantly learn, do and experience new things.

And so naturally, there’s a twist in the game rules. Or as one relative put it, “So how are you going to piss off people this year?”

Yes, change is fun.

It explains why I feel driven to create New Year’s resolutions.

Last year, I chose to journey with Father Mike Schmitz and his “Bible in a Year,” podcast. It provided an opportunity to listen to the entire Bible as well as Father Schmitz’ daily commentary—which is so good. Because I’m a reader, I also printed the daily schedule so that I could first read the scripture passages.

It’s been an intense undertaking. Reading the daily passages took 15 minutes. I highlighted verses that spoke to me so that I could return to those chapters later for continued reflection. Listening to the podcast consumed about another 30 minutes. Imagine making room in your life, every day, for something new that takes 45 minutes.  

Life is busy.

By October, I was about seven weeks behind. Simple math dictated it would take one-and-a-half hours to complete a daily reading and podcast, as well as gain on one. Three hours would be required to gain on three.

Every free moment at home was spent reading the Bible. Every minute in the car was spent listening to the podcast. Fortunately, there were some two and three hour trips in there to visit grandchildren. Big gains were made on road trips. After some serious Bible-bingeing, I got caught up in late December. It’s now December 31st, and I’ve completed the “Bible in a Year,” under the guidance of Father Schmitz.  

Discipline plus goals equals accomplishment. Being stubborn helps, too.

And although the “Bible in a Year” consisted of daily reading and listening tasks, those tasks compounded to create greater revelations and spirituality.

The point is that growth cannot happen without some kind of new effort or activity. And life, without growth, seems like a lack of gratitude for each 365 days that God gifts us.  

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John found themselves in grave danger with Jewish authorities for proclaiming the new and good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. With the threat of imprisonment looming, it would have been easy for Peter and John to halt their activity. But they responded, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” And instead of praying for personal safety, they asked God to, “…take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness…”  

Make it impossible to live in 2022, exactly as you did in 2021. You needn’t have the boldness of an apostle—just a recognition that this is your time and your chance at some type of newness.

Cheers to living, and not just existing.

Happy New Year, with an emphasis on “New.”

A wish list for Trump’s social media platform

Former President Donald Trump is launching a new social media platform called, TRUTH Social. Plans are for it to become accessible in early 2022.

Trump was kicked off Twitter and Facebook, where tens of millions followed him. Twitter claimed that Trump incited violence, while Facebook cited public safety concerns. Trump maintains that big tech is silencing conservative voices.

That’s where competition comes in. Trump is starting a new social media platform, and he has the opportunity to make it better. 

Here’s a “Top Five” whimsical wish list for betterment.

*Make TRUTH Social a platform for all political voices. Truthsocial.com states that it will be America’s “Big Tent” that encourages, “…open, free and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.” I hope that’s the truth. Trump is my guy. I voted for him twice. But like anyone else, he’s not off-limits from criticism. Mr. Trump, keep your fingers off the delete key.  

*Welcome political activity but also encourage family and friends to continue to mostly post about their everyday lives, keeping us connected with each other. Personally, I enjoy political posts. But not exclusively. Not all the time. While in office, Trump signed an executive order reducing excessive business regulations by stating, “…for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination…” Small businesses rejoiced. In the same spirit, wouldn’t it be great if somehow only one political post appeared on your newsfeed for every two personal posts? Again, happiness.

*Make it impossible to receive notifications from the platform’s activity. Let’s make America focused again by using the platform in an intentional way—by choosing to open the app and spend time with it instead of being interrupted throughout the day with incessant notification beeps. Working hours would be more productive. Driving hours would be safer. Personal hours would be more relaxing. Win, win, win.  

*Consider calling it something other than TRUTH Social. Facebook and Twitter do not carry strictly truthful information, but they’re not called Truth. Mr. Trump, you will be regularly lambasted when something untruthful is posted on TRUTH Social. But that could be the master plan. In the “Art of the Deal,” Trump says of the press, “Sometimes they write positively, and sometimes they write negatively. But from a pure business view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks.” Maybe he’s one step ahead of everyone again and will use predictable outrage to gain publicity for his new social media platform.  

*And the number one wish for TRUTH Social is to prevent the harvesting and sale of user data. Ironically, people on social media want privacy. Money makes the world go round, and there needs to be a profitable component. But even a reduction in the amount of annoying ads on your newsfeed would be nice.    

Trump’s on to something with his desire to start a new social media platform. What we have now works great for multi-billion dollar corporations capable of influencing elections but doesn’t work the best for citizens.

Last year, Twitter and Facebook restricted an important New York Post story on then candidate, Joe Biden, during a presidential campaign. Both companies later removed Trump from its platforms. Big tech is deciding what we can read. The abusive power that is being wielded cannot be overstated.

Trump is still an entrepreneur. He recognizes a need and has the courage to take a risk and solve the problem.   

Even if none of my wishes come true, let’s hope TRUTH Social is an improvement over what’s offered now.       

Afghanistan withdrawal reveals dishonest leadership

September 11th is a day of mourning for our country. Nearly 3,000 innocents were slaughtered by freedom-hating terrorists. And over the last 20 years, we lost 7,000 of our nation’s finest—men and women of our military—in the global war on terror. Afghanistan accounted for 2,500 of those deaths.

It’s sobering.

But the homeland remained safe from a major terror attack for two decades. That one measurement of success is important to the 300 million living here. And it gave meaning and honor to the sacrifice of those who gave their all.

It’s different this year.

We fled Afghanistan in a defeated and dishonorable manner, and it threatens to reshape our understanding of the losses we’ve sustained.

Most are in agreement that 20 years is long enough to try to secure a positive outcome. But most would also agree that a 20-year investment, made by the most powerful country in the world, has value. Before the pullout, there were just 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan and no soldier deaths in the past 18 months.

You don’t need a royal flush to win in poker, just cards that are better than everyone else’s. The situation in Afghanistan wasn’t great, but we stupidly threw in our hand when our cards were likely the best at the table, at the present time.

People in positions of power failed us with an abrupt exit.

The Afghanistan debacle showed us that President Joe Biden doesn’t understand that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. He also doesn’t comprehend the idea of making an adjustment, when necessary. He lacks decision-making training because his only job, for nearly 50 years, has been to spend taxpayer money. None of this is helpful in developing and executing foreign policy.

Biden’s wrong way, no adjustment, bad decision-making came through in a July phone call to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban was on the move in other parts of the country. Biden reacted by telling Ghani, “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”

Biden seems fine living in a world of perception instead of reality.  

Leadership in top command positions in the military failed us, as well.

The country reeled from the loss of 13 military personnel who died because a suicide-bomber made his way through the Taliban-controlled area. Every mom and dad of every son and daughter, posted at the Kabul airport, could anticipate and predict the danger of trusting the Taliban for security. 

Our country was further dishonored when a drone was used to vaporize a car that killed Afghan children instead of terrorists. Military leadership misled the American people for several days before the truth came out about the botched drone attack.

The military spun an illusion instead of providing facts.

But perhaps the worst abuse by people in power is the mainstream media. Former President Donald Trump was relentlessly hammered, but the media gives the Biden administration pass after pass.

Nobody knows how to distort the truth better than the press.

The September 11th terrorist attack on our country jolted us. And there was a powerful military response.

Now, the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan is jolting us again. This is another moment that requires a response.

But this time it must come from the everyday American by demanding truth, honor and accountability from elected leaders, military leadership, and the media.    

Because anything less diminishes the meaning of the lives lost on September 11th and those who protected us for the last 20 years.

That’s not acceptable.   

Loneliness

What do we owe people who are lonely?

The answer is to be there for them, but it’s not so simple.

It’s complex because we play both roles, sometimes the lonely and other times the one comforting the lonely.

Most will experience periodic loneliness in their lifetime. And loneliness isn’t always about being physically separated from others. It can happen when we feel that we are not understood by others. A 2019 survey (before the global pandemic) utilized by health insurance company, Cigna, found that 61% in this country had feelings of loneliness.  

So since we’ve been there, we have empathy for those who are experiencing it.

But we’ve also played the role of trying to alleviate loneliness in others. That can be tough. There’s just one of us. And there’s a lot of loneliness in the world.

There are three things that can help.

First, we can be there for others when we can and where we can. When we serve the lonely this way, we get back more than we give.

But like so many things in life, there needs to be a balance. Helping others is the right thing to do. Understanding that we must live the gift of our life to the fullest is the right thing to do, too. Both can happen. Know when to give to others and when to be kind to yourself.

Next, we can start thinking about our own responsibility in assuaging loneliness.

Many have retirement financial portfolios. A plan is developed, starting during the early working years, to one day retire with financial security. Perhaps we should also develop an anti-loneliness portfolio, a plan for warding off loneliness as we age.

There are several tools we can put in our anti-loneliness portfolio.

Being mobile is one of them. The longer we can stay healthy, the more we’ll be able to get out of the house in order to connect with others. For some, because of health problems that are no fault of their own, this isn’t an option. For everyone else, taking care of our body is the vehicle that will put distance between us and loneliness.

Geography is an important factor. If it’s possible, make a plan to live near your family or closest friends. Long distance relationships can work. It works better, though, when we’re in close proximity.   

And be a lifelong relationship builder. Despite our best efforts, old age may eventually make us home-bound and dependent upon visitors. There’s no age limit, though, to being a welcoming host or hostess to guests. One of the most meaningful tributes given to my father when he passed away was that when you walked through his doorway, he greeted you as though he had been waiting the whole day just to see you. Visits were treasured.

Stay healthy. Stay close. And stay humble. All great tools to put in an anti-loneliness portfolio.

Lastly, there’s the whole way we look at loneliness. It needn’t be something that we strive to completely eliminate from our lives because solitude can lead us to God. In “The Bible in a Year” podcast with the Rev. Mike Schmitz, he explains a story in the Book of Ecclesiastes. “Against a small city with few men in it advanced a mighty king, who surrounded it and threw up great siegeworks about it. But in the city lived a man who, though poor, was wise, and he delivered it through his wisdom. Yet no one remembered the poor man.” In his day, the poor, wise man was a hero who accomplished a tremendous victory. But now he’s forgotten.

Being forgotten is something that will eventually happen to all of us. It’s ironic that we put up such a big fight against loneliness until we realize this. But the One who will never forget us is God. Seek Him when you’re lonely.   

And so the answer to the question of what we owe people who are lonely is to do what we can for them.

Then, do all we can for ourselves.

More work must be done to remove stigma from mental health issues

The second shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine eased into my arm with no effects. I went back to work and had a regular day.

Then there was Day Two. I experienced fatigue, low-level body aches, and a general feeling of “blah.” Simple tasks seemed to take an enormous amount of effort and energy. Leaving work early, I went home and slept for 12 hours.

When I woke, I felt normal again and relieved that the one, bothersome day of vaccine side effects was over.

That was a while ago. But I still think about Day Two because it showed me—at least for a day—what many people with untreated depression, anxiety or a bipolar disorder may suffer on a lot of days.   

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 20% of adults experience mental illness each year and that only about half receive treatment. Other sources report higher percentages.

No matter which numbers are used, they’re big. A major, contributing factor is that many are fearful of the stigma and being perceived negatively by society.

Which is strange. Because this country is a nation of second chances in so many ways. In sports, we root for the underdog. In politics, we call someone who bounces back as the “comeback kid.” In business, we admire the “Steve Jobs effect.” In finance, bankruptcy courts give individuals a path to build wealth again. In prison, inmates are offered rehabilitation programs. And many people find love again, after a loss.

But when an individual feels persistent fatigue, sadness, anger, loss of energy, an inability to focus, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, or a sense of hopelessness—all things that can be treated with medication and/or counseling—too many with mental health issues won’t give themselves the second chance they deserve because of stigma concerns.

Treatments work, and individuals can feel better.

People with mental health issues, though, aren’t idiots. By following the Britney Spears conservatorship story, they know that even a platinum-selling superstar can get derailed over a mental health episode. It’s actually quite rational for the average person struggling with depression, anxiety, or a bipolar disorder to believe that society, or the system, will not be kind to them either.

Public service messages promise people with mental health issues that there is no stigma in getting help. Meanwhile, the nightly news carries the continuing saga of a talented and successful pop star who cannot reclaim her life because of a past mental health issue.

Both things can’t be true. It’s not enough to say there’s no stigma in getting help for a mental health issue when we have continued Britney stories. We don’t have access to her medical records, but someone who has been fully self-supporting for several years should at least get a second look on whether a conservatorship must continue.  

The National Alliance on Mental Illness makes several suggestions for helping to reduce stigma.

Talk openly about mental health. More influential people, like Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, are going public with their personal struggles. If individuals with depression, anxiety or a bipolar disorder can see that they’re not alone, they may be more willing to seek help themselves.

Educate ourselves and others about the topic. Be a mental health myth-buster, when possible.  

And be conscious of language. Words matter. It’s surprising how many news outlets used the word, “meltdown,” to describe the Britney event. 

In a way, I’m thankful for my Day Two vaccine symptoms. It gave me a greater understanding of what others are feeling, far too often.

If you’re going through a mental health issue right now, seek treatment and know that enough will admire your courage to choose to live a better life.