Insights from Summer 2020 Camping

I have this romanticized view of camping. Escaping the hustle. Connecting with nature. Relaxing by the fire. Not worrying about sentence fragments.

My experiences with camping over the past few years, however, have been the opposite of relaxing. All the prep work. Packing the car. Unpacking the car because everything doesn’t fit. Repacking the car. Setting up the camp site. Broken air pumps. Holes in air mattresses. Lack of sleep. Getting rained on. Grumpy kids. Grumpy wife. Worrying about sentence fragments.

My summer 2020 camping experience was painful. I had planned on taking my two young children camping for a week at a provincial park. I chose a park close to home just to make things easier if I had to cut the trip short. In fact, after less than 24 hours I returned my six-year-old son, crying and covered in mosquito bites, home to his mom. The glare on my wife’s face that day knowing that she would not get a reprieve from the kids that week still haunts me.

I was ready to sell all my camping equipment and put an end to camping forever, but my eight-year-old daughter, for some reason, loves camping. So, after dropping off my crying son to my scowling wife, I returned to the campsite with my camping-loving daughter.

Over the next few days, something magical happened. I can’t say everything completely turned around and camping morphed into this amazing experience. But there were moments of amazingness. Connecting with nature. Connecting with stillness. Connecting with my daughter. Being one with the sentence fragment.

It makes me think that life is one big camping trip. It’s painful. It’s chaotic. Excrement hits the fan and when everything is cleaned up, s’more excrement hits the fan. Yet if we are aware, if we are attuned to what’s really happening, what really matters, it’s full of wonder, surprise, and beauty. And that’s why, like my daughter, I love camping.

A Short Piece of Writing on the Storm

We find ourselves navigating difficult times. For some, the waters are new. For others, the waters are new, yet the waves are familiar.

There’s a storm, starboard side. Our ship sails amok.

For some, there’s an albatross. For others, there’s a stern where they are calm and asleep, and they dream, and they are not afraid. For some, there is literature and poetry. And when we write, we are relaxed in the stern. And when we read, we read this:

When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces. When every aspiration is frustrated, a person still must seek a meaningful goal around which to organize the self. Then, even though that person is objectively a slave, subjectively he is free.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

And we are free.

Nourishing Gratitude with a Gratitude Party

An article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley highlights research showing that gratitude improves mental health.

With an awareness of the positive effects of gratitude, my wife and I are trying to nourish feelings of gratitude in ourselves and in our young children. (I must admit, however, that my wife is much better at it, and she often encourages me to be more grateful.)

On that note, at the end of last year our family hosted a gratitude party. My wife, kids, and I invited people we are grateful for. It was a great atmosphere. We gave all the guests cards that expressed our appreciation. In turn, they appreciated being appreciated. What an amazing cycle! It makes me even more grateful, and I’m excited to host similar celebrations in the future.

cycle: be appreciative, show appreciation, be appreciated
M. Fleming’s Appreciation Cycle

Developing Skills to Help Those Experiencing Mental Distress

Hearing a story of someone in crisis recently reminded me of the importance of developing skills that can be used to help someone in mental distress. Here’s a brief summary of three empowering workshops:

LivingWorks safeTALK

A four-hour workshop that teaches participants how to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, engaging with someone, and connecting them to an intervention resource.

Mental Health First Aid Canada

Offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, this 12-hour course teaches participants crisis first aid interventions for overdose, suicidal behaviour, panic attacks, psychotic episode, and acute stress reaction.

LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)

A two-day workshop that teaches participants how to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, providing an intervention, and developing a safety plan.

I would recommend any of the above training. After taking the training myself, I feel more confident in my ability to interact with someone who’s experience mental distress, and you never know, one day these skills might save a life.

Dear Ms. Wurtzel

I read your book Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America when I was in my twenties. I remember your journey through the darkness. I appreciated your honesty, your courage, your intellect, your literary prowess, your love of Bruce Springsteen.

You wrote:

And maybe—and this is a really optimistic maybe—somewhere along the way this dour story might give some people some inspiration and even some hope for a better future, for the future that people my age and younger can look forward to building.

I was saddened by the news of your death. It reminded me of the time I read your book. It reminded me of the time you inspired me. It reminded me of the time you gave me hope.

My Daughter Draws Attention To My Hypocrisy

This morning before getting ready for work, I quickly fill out a permission form for my seven-year-old daughter to attend a school field trip.

“I filled this out for you. Please put it in your knapsack to go to school.”

She looks at the paper and points to a g. “Dad, what letter is this right here? Is that an s?”

“No, it’s a g. It’s just messy. I wrote it quickly.”

“Dad…you’re always telling me to take my time and be neat when I write and then your writing is all messy.”

Touché.

The Power of Peer Support for Mental Health Recovery

As a facilitator of a peer support group for men who have experienced anxiety and/or depression, I have come to discover there are many benefits of peer support groups. In this post I’d like to mention a few.

First, peer groups provide encouragement and support.

Second, participants come to learn that they are not alone in their struggles.

Third, there is level of understanding and empathy that can only be provided by those with common lived experiences.

Fourth, individuals are more likely to be courageously vulnerable because the power gradient among peers is lower compared to the typical power hierarchy in client-provider healthcare relationships.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada underscores the value of peer support:

Peer support initiatives can have a great impact on a person’s journey of recovery. The relationship forged between the peer supporter and the person with a mental health problem or illness can help improve quality of life as well as reduce the need for hospitalization.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada also believes that peer support is undervalued.

I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps it’s because I have experienced and continue to experience its transformative effects on people’s lives.

The Biggest Fan of My Blog: Not My Wife

Last week I wrote about a recent camping experience in a post titled My Greatest Challenge When Camping: My Wife.

Shortly after it was made public, I received an email.

Thanks for painting me in such a beautiful light she wrote sarcastically.

Thanks for being a good sport I wrote.

Yeah, right. Everyone’s going to think you married a b****.

Don’t worry, babe. No one reads my blog.

Mustard Pranks

Mustard – I don’t like the taste of it, the smell of it, the look of it, the texture of it, the colour of it. It grosses me out to the max. As a matter of fact, my aversion to the condiment began inside the womb, for my mother’s cells loathe mustard as well.

My children, who are at the sweet young ages of five and seven, decide to play a prank on their old man.

They take a bottle of mustard and disguise it using their red crayons.

mustard bottle
Mustard bottle disguised as ketchup.
Photo by B. Fleming

“Hey Dad, we got this new kind of ketchup to try. It’s really good. I think you’ll like it.”

“Um…okay. I’ll try it on my burger.” I cringe at the site of the yellow stream on my hamburger.

“Ah, kids, it kinda looks like mustard to me.”

“Dad, it’s actually ketchup. It’s made from yellow tomatoes. Try it. It’s really good.”

I take a small bite. My senses cry foul at the pungent yellow nastiness. I spit out the mustarded burger in disgust, and my kids laugh and laugh.

Days later, I come home from work.

“Hey Dad, we got you a present today.”

They hand me a mustard shirt. And they laugh and laugh.

mustard shirt
My new T-shirt.
Photo by B. Fleming