It’s Happening! I’m Kickstarting “Her Lost Year”

You’ve heard me talk about my book project, Her Lost Year, for months now. (When you work on a book, it kind of takes over your life. And once you start getting close to the finish line, you just want to tell everybody about it!) Thanks for sticking with me.

Throughout the process of writing (for three years!), I have been going back and forth between thinking about indie publishing (self-publishing) and traditional publishing (getting an agent, landing a publishing contract). For now, indie publishing has won out, primarily because I feel a great sense of urgency to get the book released and into the hands of parents, educators, and concerned citizens across the country.

Her Lost Year Kickstarter Campaign

In order to complete this project—and launch a professional-quality book, I need to raise money to pay for services such as copy editing, layout, and cover art. I’ve decided to use the Kickstarter platform for this. Take a look at this video we created to promote the campaign (narrated by my daughter, Rebecka):

Visit our Kickstarter campaign website to learn more and see if you’d like to support us. There are some pretty nifty rewards (including a signed book, of course!), so make sure to check those out. If you’re not in a position to contribute financially at this time, please share the campaign on Twitter or Facebook (or wherever you hang out online!).

Thank you. You rock—a lot!

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Why We Can’t Let Campaign Fatigue Keep Us from Voting Today #Election2014

I am tired of political junk mail in my mailbox. I am tired of expensive smear campaigns by all parties for public offices at all levels. I am tired of the daily emails asking for money (I already contributed!).

However, as tired as I am, and as fed up as I am by grown women and men—leaders of our cities, counties, states, and country—campaigning like out-of-control, mean-spirited teenagers, I will still vote today. Indeed, I already filled out my absentee ballot and popped it in the mail.

Why?

Because it is my right and my duty as a citizen of the United States of America. And because I haven’t given up on social change through policy. I believe that if we get enough of the right people in public office—people who care more about their constituents than Big Money—we can make change happen.

We can raise the minimum wage. We can pass laws supporting parental leave. We can force Big Business to pay their share of taxes and take the burden off small business owners. We can overturn Citizens United and return to some resemblance of fair elections. We can prioritize student-centered public education, healthy school food, and preventative health care.

We can…

Why Politics Matter

I have an entire chapter in my forthcoming book that describes changes that must happen in politics in order to create a society optimized for mental health. The chapter is called “Establishing a Just Republic” (as opposed to our current unjust oligarchy).

Several of my beta readers struggled with this chapter. “What does politics have to do with mental health?” they wondered. So in the second draft, I added a few paragraphs to a section titled “Politics Affect Everything:”

But enough about the problems, we’re here to talk about solutions—how to optimize children’s mental health through policy changes.

“Wait, what?” you may be thinking. “What does policy changes have to do with mental health?”

Everything.

Politics affect everything in our lives. And when I say politics, I don’t mean Republican vs. Democrat or gun rights vs. gun control. Let’s move beyond that and think about politics in a larger sense—how it affects everything from our children’s education to access to holistic health care to parents’ ability to put food on the table, factors that all play a role in children’s mental health outcomes. It is impossible to avoid the topic of politics and have an honest discussion about mental health. Indeed, any book that attempts to address mental health, but ignores the politics of it is a fairytale. So stay with me!

Politics Should Serve the Common Good

I continue…

Between lobbying and campaign bashing, we have forgotten that politics is supposed to be about serving the common good—or to “promote the general welfare,” to quote the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. What would constitute “common good” as it relates to children’s mental health? Guaranteeing parental leave for all new parents. Ensuring that no child has to go hungry or worry about where they’re going to sleep tonight. Pulling families out of poverty and creating safe neighborhoods. Providing student-centered, holistic education to all children. Creating and preserving natural spaces so all children can experience unstructured play. Restructuring the mental health system to take profits out of the equation. (The list goes on…)

As we continue our discussion, keep in mind this connection between policy and our ability to optimize children’s mental health. Mental health is a social concern as much as it is an individual concern. And currently, policy is dictated by a handful of wealthy, mostly white, mostly male owners of giant corporations pursuing their individual interests—more money and power. Unless we change this structure, our politicians cannot serve the common good.

Vote for Kids’ Future Happiness

We know there are many environmental factors that impact the future happiness and emotional wellness of our children. Mothers who have to return to work soon after their child’s birth are more likely to be depressed, thus risking passing on depression to their child. Living in a food insecure household is a form of trauma—and childhood trauma can result in a host of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Our one-size-fits-all, standardized testing-based education breeds anxiety and depression in our nation’s youth. (I could go on.)

Meanwhile, a powerful Big Pharma lobby ensures that pharmaceutical companies can keep pushing medication—designed for adults—to pediatricians and psychiatrists to medicate our children off-label for symptoms of being a creative, sensitive, rambunctious, critically thinking, or kinesthetically oriented child in a society that is not designed for their emotional well-being. Rather than adapt the environment to meet the needs of all children, we adapt these children to their environment.

There are certain politicians who support healthy families and communities and there are some politicians who are more concerned with getting re-elected with Big Money. Figure out who supports healthy families—of all shapes and sizes—and vote for them today—even if you’re tired.

Because what matters more than our kids’ health and happiness?

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Income #Inequality, Food Insecurity, and Mental Health #BlogAction14

Blog Action Day BannerEditor’s Note: Today is Blog Action Day. Bloggers from over 105 countries will be blogging about inequality.

A few months ago, I binged on documentaries one weekend, while gathering information for my upcoming book about how—as a society, educators, and parents—we can optimize children’s mental health. Among other films, I watched Inequality for All and A Place at the Table. While I kind of knew things were bad, these two films really drove home two points: income inequality isn’t sustainable and food insecurity is real—right here in the U.S.A., the “richest country in the world.”

(I got so riled up, I now have a max documentaries per weekend rule.)

What Does This Have to Do with Mental Health?

I was interested in these topics because my research has revealed that much mental distress stems from environmental factors. Yes, we may be born with a predisposition to mental illness, but it’s our environment and experiences that determine mental health outcomes. For example, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study links childhood trauma to a host of long-term health problems, including depression and suicide. One report indicates that half of all children have experienced trauma. And guess what the most common form of trauma is? Financial hardship.

This is why there is no way to have an honest discussion about mental health without considering the impact of income inequality, food insecurity, and all the other social factors that contribute to mental distress. This is not an individual issue and people who suffer from mental illness should not be stigmatized as being weak or “crazy.” They are simply reacting to a sick, unjust, unequal society that is not designed to optimize mental health, but rather to optimize profits and economic growth.

Indeed, income and status inequality is directly associated with mental illness—on both ends of the spectrum (dominance and subordination). Write Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, co-founders of the Equality Trust:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that we become less nice people in more unequal societies. But we are less nice and less happy: Greater inequality redoubles status anxiety, damaging our mental health and distorting our personalities — wherever we are on the social spectrum.

A Few Disturbing Facts

  • The United States ranks fourth in income inequality.(Fourth, people!)
  • The average single black or Hispanic woman owns a can of soup for every $40,000,000 owned by a member of the Forbes 400.*
  • Twenty percent of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2013.**
  • Over 15 million U.S. children lived in food insecure households in 2012.**
  • Four million children and teens in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a serious mental disorder.***
  • In my home state, Iowa, 19 percent of eleventh grade girls contemplated suicide in 2012.

Are You Proud to Be an American Yet?

I want to be proud of my adopted country. I want us to lead the way in developing sustainable economic models that care less about the bottom line and more about the welfare of all citizens and the health of our planet. To do so, we must create legislation that holds business owners accountable to the common good. Further, we must reduce income inequality and, subsequently, eliminate food insecurity. Corporate leadership must pay workers a living wage—enough for three healthy meals a day, safe housing, clothing, transportation, education, and hobbies.

There’s enough money to go around. Any one of the richest ten people in the U.S. could pay for housing for every homeless person in our country. And there is plenty of food to feed everyone. No child should have to go hungry. As former astronaut Buzz Aldrin has said, “If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.”

Now that we know that mental health is highly dependent on our environment, it’s time we take a stand against income inequality and hunger insecurity (oh, so related). There are lots of way to get involved. First, vote for the people who are more likely to support these changes. Then visit the Inequality for All action page to figure out where you can plug in. And talk to your friends and family about these issues.

Income inequality, food insecurity, and resulting mental distress is simply not acceptable in my book.

We can do better.

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for the minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


*Source: Inequality for All – Fact 5
**Source: Child Hunger Facts
***Source: Facts on Children’s Mental Health in America

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Ten Years of Blogging: A Reflection

Birthday candles black and whiteTen years ago on this very day, October 11, I embarked on an adventure that has allowed me to express myself in ways I never imagined and connect with folks near and far. Ten years ago today, I wrote my first blog post.

For some reason, ten years ago it was cool to write all lowercase—and incomplete sentences. Smiley faces were apparently also a thing. My first post was just an “hello world,” really. And not many people saw it. In fact, I think I had it turned off in the search engines for a while, because I thought it was kind of creepy that people I didn’t know might read it.

For quite a while, I just wrote about random topics. Sometimes, it was inspired by something I heard on the news while working out in the morning. But mostly it was about my life, which sometimes was a little insane, but even back then, I realized that taking weekends off was a good thing (but it didn’t happen very often).

By 2006 or so, I started really getting into my profession, product management. So I started a product management blog, Product Management Zen. It focused on how to survive the quite taxing product management profession and was kind of popular with other product managers. However, after a few years of product managing, I moved into more of an executive role (little to no hands-on work), so I decided to let that blog go.

In mid-2008, after neglecting my original Tablog for a while, I came back to it. At this point, I had started wondering what the heck I was doing with my life. We moved. I got interested in voluntary simplicity and became a budding tree hugger. (A.k.a. midlife crisis.) I started writing more about productivity, health, and going green—and combos of these.

I also fell in love with Decorah, IA, where we now reside. Wow, it’s really fun to go back and read these thoughts of yonder years. Six years ago, here’s how I described Decorah in one paragraph:

Decorah is a small town, but has lots of character and is progressive in nature. It boasts a great co-op and is actually mentioned in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for its “Seed Savers Exchange,” which is a network for sharing heirloom seeds. In addition, it was founded by Norwegians, so it has a Nordic flavor to it from Norwegian flags on the architecturally interesting houses to a Viking mascot at the local high school.

Throughout 2009, I started feeling more and more that I wanted a blog focused specifically on simple living. So I started dreaming up this blog, Simply Enough. In late December, 2009, I bid farewell to the happy-go-lucky Tablog that had been my platform for over five years and wrote my first of 287 published posts here on Simply Enough.

In the spring of 2010, our family embarked on a journey which would turn out to be the most difficult of our lives. Without warning, we were hurled into the mental health system when our daughter started losing weight and complaining of stomach aches and feeling depressed. I took some time off. It ended well, but first we had to endure a seemingly never-ending cycle of drug cocktails, out-of-control side-effects, hospitalizations, and never quite knowing if we were doing the right thing.

At the end of that journey, I left my nine-year career in software, and started freelancing. It gave me time to think and get to know lots of different people. I started to realize that our health—wellness—is everything. If we are not well, nothing else matters. I also started making connections between simple living, local food systems, and wellness. I did a year-long wellness project and decided to become a health coach. I updated Simply Enough to be more of a business website. I also started writing a book about our experience with the mental health system.

However, life has a way of taking twists and turns in a way you’d never expect. While still pursuing my health coaching certification, I started working at Luther College, managing the website and online advertising. I switched Simply Enough back to a simple blog and informed people that I wasn’t taking new clients. That spring, I also launched Decorah Holistic Health, an online directory for holistic health providers in NE Iowa. I stopped working on my book. And I stopped blogging for a couple of months.

It was weird not to be writing. So I picked it back up. First my blog. Then my book. And I committed to writing a weekly email letter to subscribed readers. It’s been over a year. I still send out emails almost weekly. And I try to blog at least once a week. My manuscript is done. I’ll be formatting endnotes the rest of the afternoon. In November, I’ll run a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for copy editing, layout, cover design, and first edition print run. I hope to celebrate the launch of my book next July.

As much as I sometimes wish I never had to sit in front of a computer monitor ever again, I love blogging. I love the way it allows me to express my feelings when loved ones pass away and discuss topics about which I’m passionate. I love connecting with readers and getting emails saying that I helped somebody in some small way or made them think about the world differently. The encouragement from readers and the inspiration of other bloggers turned authors is what gave me the courage to pursue writing my first book. All 80,000+ words of it. I can’t wait to share it with you.

And I look forward to ten more years of blogging (at least!).

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You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Do Good

I’ve written before about the fact that I am not perfect. (I know—shocker!) For example:

  • I once stood by as a sales person made racist remarks during a sales meeting. (I wanted to say, “If you have to preface your statement with ‘I know this isn’t PC, but,’ don’t say it!” But I didn’t.)
  • I’ve taken my career so seriously that it upset the health of my family.
  • I complain too much—especially when people don’t meet my (unrealistically?) high expectations.
  • I sometimes pull out of commitments at the last minute, because I’d rather be reading in bed.

I’ve done—and continue to do—plenty of things of which I’m not proud.

Am I Worthy?

I think about this, and I wonder, who am I to call myself a social activist? I’m not Gandhi or Mother Theresa. I still live in a biggish house while writing about simple living. (Hearing Dee Williams, author of The Big Tiny, speak last night gave me even more perspective on what it really means to live simply.) I barely scrape together ten minutes of formal mindfulness practice each day, yet I’m giving lectures and presentations on mindfulness in education. I’m a health coach, but I just ate a pumpkin cheesecake bar (so good!). And I want to end injustice in this country, but I haven’t taken the time to really get to know those who truly suffer injustice.

The end of my stream of consciousness ends with: Am I worthy? Do I have what it takes to be a “social activist?” Or should I just go back to watching TV?

The Common Good

This morning, I finished Jim Wallis’ little ebook Conservatives, Liberals, and the Fight for America’s Future. I found it when searching online for writings on the “common good.” Our politicians—and most of us, really—have lost sight of the common good. Doing something “for the common good” means to do something that benefits all. Not just people with money and power. Not just your own interests.

While reading this book, I realized (again) that everybody can—and should—contribute to the common good. We don’t have to be perfect to do good! In fact, according to Wallis, “the common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make.”

The epilogue includes a list of “Ten Personal Decisions for the Common Good.” They are all excellent and many overlap with the calls to action in my forthcoming book. But my favorite one is this:

Ask yourself what in the world today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice. Decide to help change that and join with others who are committed to transforming that injustice.

Transform That Injustice

It doesn’t say anything about having certain qualifications or meeting specific standards to make change. No, it’s about diving it and “transforming that injustice.” For me, that’s ensuring that all children are given the best possible start in life to improve their mental health outcomes. That’s why I’m lecturing about mindfulness in education. That’s why I write about having “enough,” but not using more than your share. That’s why I spent thousands of dollars to become a health coach so I can help others manage their stress and have a happier and healthier home life.

If we wait for perfection to start transforming that injustice, it will never happen. And we don’t have to wait! Perfection is an illusion. We are fallible humans who make mistakes, don’t live up to ideals, and continuously disappoint ourselves and others.

Now’s the time to start or recommit ourselves to transforming that injustice, imperfect as we may be.

What injustice will you be transforming?

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