Favorite Video Of Last Week: “Raised Without Gender”

A 10 year old showed me this video last week.  It was really great to see how schools of the future may eventually evolve to adopt a philosophy of not inculcating gender norms and gender roles on young 4 and 5 year olds. Maybe in about 50 years, most schools will just be like this. The family in it is really great. My favorite part is when the parent is sort of accused of inculcating their views of gender and forcing them on their children. The parent replies, Yes I am doing that. So does every other parent. I’m just not doing it the way many others do, but I’m doing the same thing all parents do. So true.

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The Mid Life Crisis, Continued. Movies

There have been great movies made about people having a mid life crisis. Too many are about men experiencing one: “American Beauty”, “Lost in Translation”, “Manhattan”, etc.

Are there any good movies about women or other gender identified people having a good old fashioned mid life crisis? Woody Allen made one, “Another Woman”, (1988). It’s a great def fpiction of a woman going through all the aspects of a mid life crisis. There’s the idea of having a sudden break of time, where you’re not doing everything as usual, in this case a sabbatical, then the way things can suddenly appear different and give you a different view of yourself, noticing other people’s perceptions of you not matching your own, the typical suddenly looking at a long marriage and seeing it and yourself and your partner differently. Noticing someone else and it having a big effect on your own self identity and concept of who you are. Big changes happening as a result, some that you don’t engage in as a choice. I found the movie very compelling even when I wasn’t viewing it as a mid life crisis movie.

I can’t really think of or find many movies about women having a mid life crisis. The Huffington Post dug up movies that will make you feel better about your mid life crisis, with women as the protagonist, “Enough Said”, “It’s Complicated”, “The Bridges of Madison County”, “Kramer vs. Kramer”. I draw the line at that one. Just because Meryl Streep is in the movie does not mean it’s a genuine mid life crisis movie. Yes, it has a lot of the ingredients, and she is the character that’s going through a crisis of identity, but she is just too young to make it convincing to me. It feels like she is questioning her life and choices, but it doesn’t have the elements of urgency having to do with a sense of the life span. It’s more like, she’s still young and wants to rewrite her story, but it isn’t that she wakes up and looks back on a long life with many choices and all the other complicated elements of a mid life crisis.

This is movie land, so all the movies you could dig up on this topic are full of the usual drama. There has to be a lot of extreme stuff going on on the outside to portray the big conflicts of mid life that go on inside the character.

In real life, it isn’t always about affairs, divorce, affairs, losing one’s mind, affairs, falling in love with someone really young to gain back one’s youth.

The title “In Search of Lost Time” sums it up well. I haven’t read the book, so it’s the title that appeals to me.

To be continued…

Friday is Creative Deed Day!

This week I posted on Creative Deed the two photos of a bunch of art cards in process, some almost done and some barely started. I also discovered the fun of cutting out word blurbs from comic books to use as the “words” element I use on every card. I also had fun in a play group with a little boy who wanted to make his own cards! He and his parents each chose one. I left another one for my waiter at Bubby’s last weekend…

  

  

  

  

  

                     

Grammy’s Tackle Serious Societal Issue! Domestic Violence

I did not watch the whole of the Grammy’s but I did see the speech that a survivor made and then the performance of Katy Perry directly after. She chose a song from her latest album that I already love, called “By the Grace of God”, which is about the subject of reaching a point of suffering where you don’t know if you want to go on any more, and the song is about the choice of deciding to “Stay”, and what that means. I confess to being a big Katy Perry fan. I like her sense of humor balanced with serious topics related to self worth. On another post, I quoted the words from her song “Wide Awake” another big “message” song. This performance was especially beautiful and minimal, just Katy in a long white dress singing with shadows in the background. A very good choice, as she can easily choose big showy stuff that is fun and crazy and what she is known for as well. This song needed no extra “dressing up”. I applaud her for writing many very therapeutic songs about self love and self respect.
Here is the link to the whole thing:

Movie: “Back From the Edge” – Borderline Personality Disorder

I just recently watched this video on Youtube. I highly recommend it to everyone: other clinicians who work with BPD or who want to learn more about it, people with BPD, people with loved ones with BPD, and those who know nothing about it.

The good news is that there is finally scientific evidence that Borderline Personality Disorder is actually a biological even hereditary illness not that different from diabetes or bipolar disorder. Those suffering from it are relieved to find out what is “wrong” with them and that it is not their fault that they suffer so much, that there is a name for and description of what they struggle with and they are not alone with it. I am especially glad to see them cover the whole issue of diagnosis and show how people who find out they have BPD are so relieved and also feel that they are understood and that they now know what is going on with them and because it can be explained very precisely and all their “symptoms” are mentioned and described in a way that they resonate with the whole diagnosis, there is great hope for them to recover fully and lead happier, more satisfying lives and have better relationships and hope for love with others.

I think this is a great example of the usefulness of diagnosis and the DSM 5 (the diagnostic tool for people in the mental health and substance disease field). It argues against people’s beliefs that some diagnoses are not good and make a person feel worse or sentenced or that having BPD and being told you have it means you are “one of those crazy sick people”. It also helps people encountering BPD in themselves and others have more patience and understanding of the terrible self harm behaviors and very extreme amount of suicidal thoughts, wishes and attempts.

In terms of treatment and hopes for recovery, the movie shows how people benefit greatly from the most documented and researched treatment: DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, founded and invented by Dr. Marsha Linehan. There is also brief discussion of other treatments, especially psychodynamic, however, they leave out a newer treatment called “Mentalization”, maybe because it wasn’t well known when the movie was made. I still don’t understand much about Mentalization, except that it was founded by a psychoanalyst but is not psychoanalysis. I believe it focuses on cognition and accessing the reasoning part of the brain to get the patient out of the amygdala, which is the “fight or flight” response; people with BPD have different brain chemistry from people with “normal” brains. The reason they are so highly reactive, sensitive and emotional in response to interactions with others that other people do not react to or receive as hostile and dangerous is that their brains are wired differently and thus, while ill, people with BPD spend a lot more time trapped in the amygdala. With mentalization, I believe there is some emphasis on learning about responses of other people to the patient’s behavior or reactions and learning to look more neutrally at interactions with others.

Anyway the basic principles of DBT therapy are explained and patients describe how it helped them to learn to self regulate and decrease their extreme symptoms. The movie is not an exhaustive description of DBT as it empasizes the experiences of people with BPD, before effective treatment and after as well as their family’s experiences before and after.

The “New” Fairy Tale: “Brave” and “Frozen”, Finally “Feminist”!

A quick post on Disney’s newest princesses.

The movie “Brave” is the older movie that came out in 2012, awhile “Frozen” is on a long run currently still in theaters and has become a big hit with both boys and girls. In both these movies, I was excited to notice that the relationships that are revealed as most important and the ones connected to the main “conflict” of the story, are between the main female characters, mother and daughter in “Brave” and sisters in “Frozen”. Both movies focus on relational conflicts between the two female characters, with the male characters in supporting roles or pushed very much to the side of the action…

One unfortunate part is that in each one you have the stereotypes of the archetypal females, such as “the ice queen”, the “cold” type of woman who doesn’t seem to have “needs”, the very rigid and insensitive mother in “Brave” and the distant rejecting older sister in “Frozen”. The young girl in “Brave” is actually a well fleshed out character with contradictions, but the young girl in “Frozen” is a little too flat, portrayed as “naïve”…. Unfortunately, I ultimately prefer the earlier movie “Brave” because the main character is much more appealing and “full”.

When I saw “Brave”, I was very excited to finally see a princess movie about a princess not wanting to get married. The main driving force of the plot is Princess Merida’s wanting to escape her mother’s rigid enforcement of her getting married and getting married when she the queen wants. The movie turns the princess meets prince and lives happily ever after on its head in many ways. Merida is the antithesis of the typical Disney princess; her hair is neither blond nor black; it is red and wild. She loves archery and horse back riding. She is smart, adventurous, independent, unique, and, well, brave! Her mother is not dead and not an evil stepmother, but nonetheless not very open-minded. Her father is not dead either, but like most of the males in the movie, he is portrayed as rather impotent and does not “do” anything to help his daughter, as his wife is the one in charge. He also is missing one of his legs due to his fight with a bear. All of the “suitors” are also portrayed as rather helpless and hapless. Merida is the best archer and they are also portrayed as rather unintelligent and slow. Even Merida’s little brothers are not very developed; they mostly want to eat sweets. Even though, these are castrating portrayals of males, it seems ok that Disney does this, as forever, we have been subjected to portrayals of females as weak, innocent, and needing a man to complete their identity.

The main conflict in “Brave” is between mother and daughter, who want different things. The mother does not listen to her daughter’s plea to be left alone and not forced to marry, so Merida ends up turning her into a bear. By the end of the movie, the daughter and mother have both changed, grown and evolved; they now appreciate each other and have become closer. The mother “lets down her hair” and opens up, and the daughter, having saved her mother and got her back to being human, mends “the bond” between them. Instead of the movie ending with a wedding, it ends with the mother and daughter riding off on horseback together, with their hair getting swept and swirled by the wind, both having learned a valuable lesson and become closer in the process.

Hair is a big thing in fairy tales and movies based on them, which is why I focused on it in describing “Brave”. The color and kind of hair, the hairdo, all of it is meaningful. In “Brave”, the mother tries to “tame” her daughter’s red locks but they return to their natural state of wildness and the mother’s hair goes from being tightly controlled and “perfect” to loosening up. In the movie “Tangled”, the most recent portrayal of Rapunzel, I noticed that the wicked person looks like a Polish woman with very dark curly hair, and I think some grey streaks, which struck a cord as it looked like my own hair is currently. Of course, the whole fairy tale Rapunzel is centered on her long hair and a whole blog post could be written about that. Anyway, in “Frozen”, hair is again metaphorical and symbolic. Anna, the narrator and main character, has a white streak in her red brown hair from when her older sister almost “froze” her as a young child. Later on in the movie, her hair turns completely white when her sister has frozen part of her heart. Her hair turns back to its regular color at the end of the movie when the conflict between the sisters is resolved.

“Frozen” is also fascinatingly different from typical princess material in so many ways. It makes fun of the main stereotype of most fairy tales, the idea of “true love” being between a prince and princess and that they fall in love at “first sight”, without knowing anything about each other, that they “complete each other’s sentences and complete each other”. The real “true love” in the movie is that between Anna and her older sister Elsa. Elsa does not know how to control her power to “freeze” things, and at first sees it only as dangerous when she gets scared by what she does to her sister. Her keeping alone and distant from her younger sister is done out of love and fear that she might destroy her with her power. The movie is seen from the point of view of the younger vibrant silly, exciting extrovert Anna who does not understand why her sister has always pushed her away, kept her out, left her alone, rejected and been “cold” to her. Elsa by nature stays alone and avoids people, supposedly due to her powers keeping her literally at arms length from everyone. One thing I noticed in reflecting on this relationship was that the whole event of Anna meeting her “suitor” on her sister’s coronation day and believing she had “fallen in love with him” and deciding to marry him really had nothing to do with her actually falling in love with this man or believing she was infatuated with him. The whole impetus to trust this man came from her I think finally going outside the castle and still feeling rejected by her sister. Her act of coming to her sister with this “fait accompli” and introducing him was more about her relationship with Elsa than any desire to marry anybody. She was essentially saying, “You won’t pay attention to me or let me in or be close to me, so I will go find the first man that is nice to me, spend the evening with him and then tell you that I’m going to marry him because if you really care about me at all you will actually tell me you don’t want me to marry him and ALSO be close to me again in the way that I want you to be.” The fake closeness she has with this stranger is more warmth she has experienced since her sister “dumped” her long ago, so of course she is very open to being with anyone who acts loving toward her. Even her interaction with the other guy, the one she meets when looking for her sister seems related to her sister. He is similar to the cold aloof Elsa in that he is a loner, content to do his work with his deer and not interested in interactions with other humans. He is not very friendly either. Perhaps she is drawn to him not only because he knows how to get around in the cold but because he reminds her of Elsa!

Another funny aspect of this movie is the way it portrays the older sister and younger sister relationship; the older sister stops playing with the younger sister and rejects her. She knows things the younger one does not know or understand. She wants to be left alone, while the younger sister craves her attention, is puzzled by the rejection and saddened by the change from playing together to being left to play by herself. How many sisters have experienced this? Of course there are other kinds of relationships between sisters, but the movie portrays one of the main kinds of older versus younger sister dynamics, where the older sister later comes to see that the younger sister is not as naive and ignorant as she once was; the younger sister has “grown up” and the dynamic shifts in adulthood to a different kind of appreciation of each other’s qualities.

Anyway, there is more to be said about these movies and their attempts to turn the stereotypical princess story on its head, but I must say, I am very pleased to see these mainstream Disney princess movies take on more complex and interesting themes, conflicts and plots, shifting from the unrealistic “true love” marriage tale to some more complicated focus on the family dynamic between two females, mother and daughter and sisters, older and younger and reveal two courageous characters who are fighters in every sense of the word… I wish I could have seen these movies when I was around 5 or 6 and thought marriage and having kids was awful!

Valentine’s Day Post: Be Your Own Valentine!

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I used to have a very jaded view of Valentine’s day as a marketing ploy for chocolate, flowers, stuffed animals with hearts and other stuff, as well as this idea of high expectations and not a great day for single people, of which there are many in NYC.

Even when not single, I thought this holiday was tacky and so mainstream boring; every day challenge is to be loving and celebrate love and give gifts that are not expected. However, since having a child age 3 and up, my point of view has totally changed. I see how the day can be fun and a celebration of love not between romantic partners, but for family, friends and the idea of inclusion in terms of school age kids’ making valentines for everyone in their class, especially age 4 to at least 8 or 9, when gender is not so important and children are excited to make valentines for their friends and family. Of course being an artist and art therapist, I have used the day as an occasion for making art with my child and patients. 

The idea of making your own valentine came from my child when she was 4 or 5. We were cutting out little hearts to decorate for each person in her class. The first one she made she liked so much she asked if it could be for herself. “I like this too much; I want it to be mine!” she said, excitedly. How cool was that. From the same person who said, “of course you have to love yourself,” when we were talking about who we loved the most. What a great idea, while making valentines for others and focusing on who you love, to make one also for yourself. I think she ended up keeping two of her own. We always make one for the teacher and she makes me one and I make her something extra special each year. All home made with art supplies.

This year was no different. Valentine’s Day happened to fall on a Friday, one of my busiest days in my practice. I went to work thinking, I want to make valentines’ cards with my patients and invite and challenge them to make themselves a card. I had a few phone sessions which worked out well for this directive too.

The main idea is to make yourself a Valentine’s Day card and in so doing , remind yourself to love yourself. WIth each patient who did this, I asked them if they would be comfortable for me to make them a card. Nobody refused! For adults this was definitely more oriented toward female clients, or it might have been that everyone I did this directive with was comfortable already with making art in the session, so they happened to all be women.

Anyway, for the people who came in person, I had lots of materials out all day, including: colored cardstock paper for the card, sharpies colored and metallic, decorative paper, foam heart shapes and other shapes, jewels, rhinestones and lots of fun stickers… I had fun in the session making each patient their card, and discovered a new kind of card — the triple decker card. I had cut a small peice of colored paper for a card and realized it needed to be bigger, so I added another card and glued it on top. Sort of like a stacked cake. 

This directive is a simple example of how great art therapy can be for helping people appreciate and accept themselves as they are right now, not who they have been or want to be. Also, accepting a card from me seems to be a sort of connection to their own therapy process and their appreciation of their work on liking themselves in art therapy. The card from the art therapist functions on many levels; as a “transitional object”, as a concrete object to represent the therapeutic relationship, as an indication of the trust that has built in the relationship with the therapist, and as a positive kind of statement about being in therapy and feeling good about it.

Making Valentine’s cards all day long from 8am until 8pm was definitely a fun and different way to spend Valentine’s day. I think throughout the day about 6 of the 8 sessions I had involved making Valentine’s. With the phone sessions, there was a fun part of the process involving knowing what we were making and having a surprise email afterwards, emailing back and forth photos of our cards and knowing that the patient would be getting their card next week.

I also made a Valentine for my colleague during our peer supervision and she made herself a birthday card. At the end of the day, I realized I had not had time to make a card for myself! As an art therapist I am a firm believer in doing the art you ask your patients to do always, so I knew I would be making one for myself. Yesterday while drawing with my daughter, we ended up making Valentine’s for each other; I had already given her two on Valentine’s, but as I started my own one, she asked for it, so I had to make a whole new one for myself. I had fun doing it, especially enjoying writing the phrase: “Happy Valentine’s Day to Me”, with the idea that anyone can look at my image of my valentine and say it to him/herself!

I am happy to be less jaded as I age, and a convert to all things childlike: hearts, rainbows, glitter, beads, Valentine’s Day, stencils, coloring pages, mosaics, all of which I had much disdain for when in art therapy school. Thankfully, I now know better and have a much more broad view of art making and art therapy.

Happy Valentine’s to me and to you and your Self! Make yourself a Love card as a reminder to love yourself every day…

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Photos: Top, my own card to myself, Sharpie on collaged paper cut out heart
First on bottom: Triple decker pieced together card for a patient, mixed media on cardstock
Second on bottom: detail of above
Third and fourth: other valentine’s cards made by me for patients
Fifth and Sixth: front and back of a card I made for my daughter
Last photo: Part of a Valentine made for a patient