TIPS ON RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA

Although it has been 2 months since Hurricane Irma devastated Collier County, many people are still feeling the effects of this traumatic event. Today I was with some friends who continue to suffer daily due to Irma. Some are homeless for an indefinite amount of time, some are seeking welfare and Food Stamps (something they never thought would happen in their lives), and spending their days on the phone with government agencies, insurance companies, etc. A traumatic event is a life-threatening occurrence and post-trauma stress is a normal response to an abnormal event, such as Irma. Living through a trauma affects the body, mind, and spirit.
The effects of a traumatic event may be experienced for several months after that event. Again, this is a normal reaction and does not necessarily lead to the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Indeed, that diagnosis cannot be valid until at least six months after the event.
Common symptoms of post-trauma stress are irritability and anger, memory problems, fatigue, confusion, feelings sad and hopeless, difficulty sleeping and hypervigilance (an increased state of awareness that may be caused by extreme fear or anxiety).
Many people in Collier County are still experiencing these feelings. It is not of sign of weakness but rather a strength to become aware of how you’re feeling and accept that there are “normal” reactions.
Following are some coping strategies that might help:

• Stay connected with your social supports and avoid isolation.
• Self-compassion – be gentle with yourself.
• Talk to others. Telling your story helps decrease stress.
• Try to avoid self-blame and judgment. Remind yourself that you did the best you could under very dire circumstances.
• Stay in the present moment. When you realize that you are feeling bad about the past, or worrying about the future, that’s a good sign you are not in the present moment! Mindfulness exercises are a great way to “be here now”. Remember that another word for the present is a gift.
• Avoid alcohol. It’s natural to want to “calm down” with a drink, but alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Their use can worsen your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.• Get plenty of sleep.
• Good nourishment.

The best suggestion I can give you is to take time to play –  neuroscience shows that play is just as beneficial for adults as it is for kids!  And we know that laughter produces biochemical results such as an enhance immune system and relaxation. Do something silly, made a date with a someone who makes you laugh, see a funny movie or favorite TV show  (Lucy in the Chocolate Factory always brings a smile to my face). I understand many of you are coping with very serious things, you don’t have to take yourself seriously! As a wise saying goes, “This too shall pass.”

For more resources visit these websites:

PTSD: National Center for PTSD
National Institute of Mental Health
Center for Disease Control
If your symptoms do last beyond six months, please seek out professional help.
Psychology Today – Mental Health Resources Collier County

PARKINSON’S & ME

IVAN ESCOTT, JR. 1919 – 2007

In 1997 my father, Ivan Escott, Jr. was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was a lucky coincidence that this was the year that the Parkinson Association of South Florida (PASFI) was founded. I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting with the founding members of PASFI before they were incorporated so knew about their mission. A few weeks after that, my dad received his PD diagnosis. How fortunate we were to know there was a place where he could be involved, receive education and support. He eventually became a board member and served there for several years.
Dad had served as a pilot in the Army Airforce in WWII and had flown for Pan American Airlines for 37 years. He had a brilliant mind and was accustomed to “being in charge”. The loss of control over his body, and eventually his mind, was very painful to live through. But he was also a courageous man and coped with these challenges with dignity and a lot of laughter.
Dad continued to lead an active life for15 years – playing golf, traveling to Pan Am Airline’s reunions and a very busy social life (he was a very desirable gentleman as he was widowed, handsome and had a great sense of humor!)
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a movement disorder that affects up to 1 million people in the US and doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases each year. Symptoms may include facial rigidity (masking), difficulty speaking, depression and anxiety.
By 2002 Dad’s symptoms had worsened. My husband and I lived with him until his death in 2007. We had so many laughs, as well as tears, during those five years and the memories of Ivan are still vivid.
One of our favorite stories occurred one night while we were watching television. Several years earlier I had been a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire (unfortunately did not become a millionaire!). By this time the re-runs were on nightly television. This particular evening the show closed with Regis announcing the guests for the next night’ show, including me. My dad looked at me and said, “I hope you do better this time.”
Dad was an incredibly good sport. As his disease progressed we took him to a wonderful senior daycare that had many activities. At first, he balked, saying he didn’t want to be around a bunch of “old people”. But eventually, he got used to the routine. One morning as he headed towards the garage my husband asked, “Ivan, where are you going?” He said, “I don’t know but I have to be somewhere.”
In the last few years of his life, he developed Lewy Bodies, a type of dementia that worsens over time.
Researchers have noted that many changes occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, including the presence of Lewy Bodies. These are clumps of specific substances within brain cells and are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of Lewy Bodies include fluctuations in alertness, visual hallucinations, slowness of movements, trouble walking, and rigidity.
Despite the progression of his disease, Dad always kept his great sense of humor and appreciated his family and friends.
Dad loved to fly.Besides his love for our mother, it was the greatest thing in his life.
I was honored to be with him during his dying process. One day I asked him what he was his proudest achievement. Of course, I had hoped he would reply, “My wonderful daughter.” But instead, he said, “Flying in WWII and bombing the hell out of those Nazis!”
During his last moments, I whispered in his ear, “Dad, you’re flying with the angels now and Mom is up there waiting for you.”
Parkinson’s disease can be a terrible thing for the individual with PD and their families. Of course, I did not like to see my father suffer, but the privilege of becoming close to him and giving back just a little to a man who gave me so much was a blessing that I am eternally grateful for.

Play Isn’t Just for Kids-Improv for people with Parkinson’s Disease

Free Improvisational theater games classes for people with Parkinson’s and caregivers

We don’t have to want to be a performer on stage to learn improv games! We can play them just for the fun of it. There is growing research on the therapeutic benefits of Improvisational Theatre Games for people with PD. The Neurology Department of Northwestern University has partnered with Second City since 2015 researching the benefits of teaching improv to people with PD and their caregivers. Their research showed that improvisational theatre games help to cultivate focus, improve communication, and promote well- being. Link to research article: Laughter is the best medicine: The Second City improvisation as an intervention for Parkinson’s disease 

Neuroscience shows that the act of play is very important for adults. In the aging process, thinking may become rigid. Improvisational exercises help open up creativity and reconnect individuals with their playful, joyful selves again.

Parkinson’s Disease can be isolating not only for the individual with PD but the family as well. In this four-week class, participants will work with partners and in small groups to play a variety of improv exercises each week. while learning about improvisational theatre principles. We work with partners and in small groups. In these lively classes, participants get a chance to express themselves non-verbally through movement and music activities.  To aid in cognition and memory skills, improvisational games present fun challenges to solve.

Classes held Tuesdays starting November 7. From 10:00AM to 11:30AM.

For more information contact me at margotescott@mac.com

SOCIAL WORK & IMPROV?

SOCIAL WORK AND IMPROV COMEDY

Portrait of Jane Addams, co-founder of Hull House, with her head resting on her hand.Date: ca. 1890

As an MSW and an improviser, I am proud of the relationship between my two vocations and the women who pioneered social work and improv comedy, the “Mother of Social Work” and the “Mother of Improv”. How their lives intersected is inspirational to me.

Jane Addams (September 6, 1860-May 21, 1935) is known as the “mother” of Social Work and was a pioneer in the American settlement movement, an activist/reformer, social worker and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. In 1920 she was the co-found of the ACLU. In 1931 she was also the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1889 (the year of the first MSW program at Columbia University) she co-founded Hull House. In the beginning Hull House was for recently arrived immigrants to help them assimilate to their new country. Her project continued to grow and by 1911 she had 13 buildings.Hull House had numerous programs for children and soon developed a theatre company and a Recreational Training School.

Neva Boyd (February 25, 1876 – November 21 1963) was a pioneer in social group worker and in the Modern Play movement, who founded the Recreational Training School at Hull House.  She ran movement and recreation groups for children and used games and improvisation to teach language skills, problem solving, self-confidence and social skills. She published numerous papers and books, including Play and game theory in group work: A collection of papers by Neva Leona Boyd (1971)

Viola Spolin (November 7, 1906 – November 22, 1994) is considered the “mother” of improvisational comedy. In1923, Spolin began studying with Boyd at the Recreational Training School at Hull House.  She then worked with the Chicago WPA as supervisor of creative drama a recreational project in the 1930’s

It was during this time that Spolin began creating the improv games that resulted in her “Bible of Improv”, Improvisation for Theatre published in 1963.

When you read Spolin’s work, you will see how much of an intuitive therapist she was. Her method of “coaching”, without labeling the work as “good/bad” is an example of her therapeutic approach with her students.

“Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination.” Neva Boyd

“The only person I felt was the inspirator of my life was Neva Boyd—and she continues to be.” Viola Spolin

Over the past 30 years I’ve been conducting workshops on the “Positive Power of Play” for adults and most recently “Improv and Therapy”. These inspiring women have helped lead me to my path today. I am eternally grateful for Jane, Neva and Viola.

Improv for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are one of the top reported psychiatric disorders in the US today. Most of the clients seeking help in my practice are coming due to anxiety issues.

There are many types of anxiety disorders, from nervousness to full blown panic attacks.

According to professional literature, psychotherapy that emphasizes working with, rather than against, the experience of anxiety – for instance, CBT, ACT, and various forms of exposure therapy – has proven very effective.*

However, there are other alternative techniques that help this painful disorder such as meditation, mindfulness and creative arts therapies.

Improvisational Comedy is a creative arts therapy being used in many clinical settings today. So far, Improv shows a lot of promise in helping to reduce a person’s anxiety.**

I had recently recovered from a ruptured brain aneurysm surgery when I attended my first Improv class. I wanted to do something completely new that might “help” my brain. I learned first-hand the therapeutic value of Improv Comedy after that first class. I left feeling upbeat, more confident and supported by a group of strangers (similar to a 12-step meeting but with a bit more laughter).

I also recognized the similarities between Improv philosophy and psychotherapy.

One of the first principles of Improv is “acceptance.” The first class in Improv teaches the acceptance concept. We accept everything anyone does on stage. For examples if Joan says to Bob, “I love your Mohawk,” he doesn’t respond with “I don’t have a Mohawk” but rather “Thanks, I did it myself.”

In treatment, the first task is to create a therapeutic relationship and acceptance is a key factor. Building a therapeutic alliance with clients is accepting them where they are in that moment and creating a safe space.

Next week I will discuss the acceptance philosophy with Dr. Carl Roger’s psychotherapeutic technique of person-centered psychotherapy.

*For greater understanding of anxiety disorders, visit Dr. David Carbonell’s site Anxiety Coach. Dr. Carbonell is a leading expert on this topic and the director of the all-therapist Improv Team The Therapy Players.

**See Dr. Kristin Krueger’s work on the effects of improv on anxiety, depression and self-esteem at Dr. Kristin Krueger.

Why I Love Improv

George Carlin, when asked, “How old are you?” “I’m four and a half! You’re never thirty-six and a half. You’re four and a half, going on five! That’s the key.”

I love Improvisational Comedy because it connects me to the playful, spontaneous child that’s still a part of me, and all of us! Find a friend and create a story together today. Or have a deep conversation with your dog. Better yet, call someone and tell them, “I love you.”

Improv Improves Toastmasters Skills

Improv-Photo-for-FacebookHow does the popular art form of Improvisational Comedy help members of Toastmasters? Let me count the ways.

Improv Comedy Classes and Performance Groups have been mushrooming internationally over the past decade. Inspired by the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and comedians such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Steven Colbert who all studied Improv, there are hundreds of classes and thousands of Improv Players today. These fun and skill building techniques are being taught in schools, universities, health care, mental health (insert Article Below Improv anxiety) and now Toastmasters are learning to have fun and gain greater expertise with Improv Comedy. *see below what is Improv

What’s in your Toolbox?

Tools

Recovery from addictions and maintaining sobriety isn’t an easy process, but the 12-step programs offer practical Tools for Recovery to help us get sober and stay sober. These tools work!

There are four tools we will look at today, in the acronym, HALT, Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These four tools help the newcomer as well as the “old timers”.

Living in Day-Tight Compartments

rock_odatA piece of advice often heard in 12-step programs is to learn to live “one day at a time.” Striving to live one day at a time has been said millions of times in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step rooms for over 75 years. Practicing this suggestion can be difficult, especially for people who want to stop drinking. But this principle is essential in recovering from alcoholism and addiction.

Moment of Clarity

sky-214844_640Alcoholism* is often described as a three-fold disease – mental, physical, and spiritual. The mental aspect of the disease of alcoholism is characterized by denial and delusion thoughts. Family members and friends are often amazed that, despite severe consequences such as arrests, divorces and physical deterioration, the alcoholic continues to drink. The defense mechanisms of denial and delusional thinking are so powerful that the active alcoholic cannot comprehend the reality of their situation.