Skip to content

An old piece of clay.

February 9, 2012

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.” ~ John Updike

Blogging for Mental Health, 2012

February 8, 2012

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2012 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

I am happy to express a “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart to Jen at Step On A Crack… for passing the Blogging for Mental Health Pledge on to GrowthLines.  Jen is an insightful soul writing powerful and poetic thoughts about life as the child of an alcoholic mother, about losing too many too soon, about growing through the hard places.  She talks candidly about the ripple impact of Wernicke-Korsakoff; alcoholics dementia, on the alcoholic and their spouse, children, extended family, friends, and community.  In Jen’s words,

“This is a cautionary tale.  I hope it will be of help to those who live with alcoholics, are active alcoholics and those who are in recovery.”

It is a tale well worth reading.  Jen was courageous enough to start the conversation.  I hope you will drop by Step on a Crack, and join in.  Thank you, Jen

My Mental Health Map, Chapter One
Good News, Bad News

Two important characteristics of maps should be noticed. A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. ~ Alfred Korzybski

Frankly I am struggling a bit with the idea of posting my “mental health” biography.  Not for reasons you might assume.  I’m not ashamed or incapacitated by my history, although I do have some regrets and scars due both to choices I made and things imposed on me by others.  No, my struggle has more to do with a) being a pretty introverted, private person, and b) the value I place on finding a balance between knowing I bring my “self” into the therapeutic relationship and knowing that “it’s not about me”.

I came out of childhood with an array of “good news, bad news”.  The bad news was attached to learning that life can hurt, disappoint, and change you.  I lost people close to me, discovered that grownups you trust aren’t always trustworthy, and had to face the outcome of foolish decisions.

The good news is that I experienced childhood surrounded by people who loved me.  I experienced the wisdom, love, nurture, and discipline from three generations of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. I had the luxury of celebrating childhood with cousins and close friends.  My childhood wasn’t idyllic.  It wasn’t awful.  It was a mixture, and I am still learning and being shaped by the whole of it.

My Mental Health Map, Chapter Two
Seeds, Earthquakes, and Rogue Waves 

I hope you will stop by later for “the rest of the story”.  The part I love to talk about.  I look forward to thinking out loud about the joy of being a part of the mental health community, of the ways my life has been enriched, of the continuing education I have received under the tutelage of clients and colleagues.  Another day, another conversation.

NOW, the fun part. I (we) get to ask five (5) other people to take the pledge for blogging for mental health.  Please join me in supporting and encouraging mental health by visiting these voices:

C PTSD – A Way Out

Our attitudes and daily effort will determine our misery or happiness going forward.  Healing is possible and likely if you do the work.  You have to believe you can heal and practice that belief daily.

Grief:  One Woman’s Perspective

Every person’s grief is unique. Every person – and their own “factors” –  are unique. Every factor plays a part in how a person grieves and how long it takes to integrate the loss into the fabric of life. Because we live in a society that is distanced from grief, it falls to the bereaved to teach others how to help. This is a daunting task, especially for a bereaved parent already dealing with so much.  This blog is written using selected journal entries I have written since March 2002. My only goal is to give some insight of what it’s like to be on this side of the fence. I hope in some measure it can be of some help.

 The Better Man Project

The world needs better men. This blog is simply my journey to becoming a better man every day and the lessons I learn along the way.

The beginning of my mother’s ending

Good Life

Like a compass needle slamming from South to North! My life was eventually turned from disaster and depression to hope and gratitude! I only look back in order to remember how difficult it is to find serenity and direction when first sober.

The rules of the pledge are:

1) Take the pledge by copy and pasting the following into a post featuring Blog for Mental Health 2012

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2012 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

2.) Link back to the person who pledged you.

3.) Write a short biography of your mental health, and what this means to you.

Singing my ABCs…

February 5, 2012

I want to say big thank you to Debbie at Two Minutes of Grace, for sharing the ABC award with me. The time it has taken me to respond is no indication of how much I appreciate being thought of by Debbie.

The ABC instructions are:

Add the logo to your site.
Pass the ABC award on to other bloggers.
Use the alphabet to make a list of words describing you so readers will learn more about you.

I am pleased to pass the ABC award along to these wonderful bloggers:


The Reinvented Lass

Carol Wiebe Wonders Out Loud



for the love of Nike

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally, and often far more, worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” ~ C.S. Lewis 

Debbie, I borrowed your C.S. Lewis quote to introduce my ABC list, not of words, but of children’s books I love.  Some are from my own childhood, some from my daughters, and some I have enjoyed reading to my grandchildren.  I have used many of them in my therapy practice with people of all ages.

An Alphabet of Children’s Books

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst
Angelina Ballerina – Katharine Holabird
Are You My Mother? – Phillip D. Eastman

Best Friends for Frances – Russell Hoban

Corduroy – Don Freeman, Calamity – Camilla Ashworth

Dinosaur’s Divorce – Marc Brown

Ella the Elegant Elephant – Carmela & Steven D’Amico

Franklin in the Dark – Paulette Bourgeois

Giving Tree, The – Shel Silverstein
Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney

Horatio’s Bed – Camilla Ashforth

I Promise I’ll Find You – Heather Patricia Ward
I Was So Mad – Mercer Mayer

Just Like You – Jean Fearnley
Just Go to Bed – Mercer Mayer

Kissing Hand, The – Aubrey Penn

Llama, llama, Red Pajama – Anna Dewdney

Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Kate DiCamillo 
Midnight Farm, The – Reeve Lindbergh

Not A Box – Laura Vacaro Seeger

Oh The Places You’ll Go – Dr. Seuss
On The Night You Were Born – Nancy Tillan

Polar Express, The – Chris Van Allsburg

Quiet Book, The – Deborah Underwood

Ride a Purple Pelican  – Jack Prelutsky

Stellaluna – Janell Cannon
Snowy Day, The – Ezra Jack Keats

Talking Like the Rain – X.J. & Dorothy M. Kennedy

Up and Down – Oliver Jeffers

Velveteen Rabbit, The – Margery Williams

Whale’s Song, The – Dyan Sheldon

Pooh’s Xylophone Book,  closest I could come to get an “X”. 

You and Me, Little Bear – Martin Waddell 

Zoo for Mr. Muster, A – Arnold Lobel

How many of you have found yourselves singing the ABC song in your head, maybe even under your breath, when trying to put something in alphabetical order?  Please tell me I’m not the only one.

a motherless child

January 28, 2012

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home,”.

Reading this post may be like sifting through a pile of scattered thoughts.  A reflection in itself of the fact that losing a parent is an experience that covers the lifespan.  My hope is that you will see it as a continuing conversation, not a final answer.  And that you may find some encouragement and strength for your journey.

The loss of a parent may be one of the broadest experiences of loss.  No stage of life guarantees us that our parent’s death will go unfelt or unmourned.  No stage offers us immunity from feeling that loss, or facing the change it brings.

The younger we are the more our loss may encompass grieving the parent we never knew.  For a child, the death of their parent can mean living with the nagging feeling of having been left.  Not unlike being left on a hiking trail without our guide, before we’re confident of our ability to find our own way.  When one parent dies, a child often loses the other parent to their own grief.  We may feel isolated as we try to protect the other parent from feeling our shared pain.  Sometimes we arrive in adulthood carrying the wounds of childhood losses experienced before we had an older, wiser, more forgiving language.  A language to help us both describe and soothe our pain.

The feeling of being left can come at any age.  As though the color of abandonment is present for each of us, just in different shades based on the time and circumstances.  When my dad’s mother died I recall him saying reflectively, “Now I’m the oldest living member of my family”. There was sadness, resolve, and a touch of uncertainty in his voice.  I was surprised.  There were ways he had lost her long before that moment, to the dementia that swallowed her up one bite at a time.  And even before that when her 13 year son died suddenly from spinal meningitis.  She was forever changed, and at age 11 my dad lost his brother and became the oldest son, bearing the weight of hopes and dreams not yet lived.  It struck me that all of those losses, sudden and progressive, did not protect him from the finality of that moment.  Of knowing that he would never have more of her in this life than had been gathered from his birth up to the time of her death.  And that in the starkest of realities, the buck now stopped with him.

Our experience of loss may also be colored by the gap between who we needed our parent to be and who they actually were.  We can believe that an abusive parent’s death will bring relief and freedom from our pain, only to discover that in being rid of harm we also lost all possibility that the parent we need would someday appear.  Whatever has been left unsaid, the acknowledgement of harm, the “I’m sorry”, the “Please forgive me”, will forever be unspoken, silenced by our parent’s exit.  It can be a devastating and confusing loss.

Words said that can’t be taken back.  Words never said that we wish could be spoken.  Questions never asked.  Choices never explained.  Stories never told.  All these and more are frozen in time for us when a parent dies.  Their weight varies depending on where we are in this marathon. From being parented in infancy through the love hate race of adolescence.  From the renegotiated relay of adulthood to the discomfort of accepting the baton to run this final leg of the race as our parent’s parent.  And if they cross the finish line before us, to know it is ours to grieve the success and failure of their life, ours to allow them to rest in peace in their death.  Ours to learn to run our own race untethered by what is now behind us.

“I am amputated, inconsolable.  My father has died.
Now I must invent him, perhaps fictionalize, mythologize him.
Most of all, I will have to find a way to mourn him.
E. M. Broner, Mornings and Mourning:  A Kaddish Journal

Places of the soul…

January 22, 2012

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret place of the soul.”  ~  Plato

…,and keep your sense of humor.

January 19, 2012

My first clinical internship while in graduate school, was as a therapist in training at a hospital.  I worked primarily on the adolescent residential unit with kids who were there for a length of time.  During the internship, I was also hired to work weekends.  After graduating, I worked full time while completing the requirements for licensure.

I loved my job.  I might still be there, except the hospital closed.  But while I was there, I loved being a therapist and working with teenagers in an inpatient setting.  I had already worked a lot with kids in a church setting, and I discovered there were many similarities between church and hospital.  Perhaps the most striking difference was that the kids now lived at the “church”.  They were there 24/7, which meant I got to be present for the best and the worst as teenagers tried to navigate their life (lives).  The teachable moments happened frequently right in front of me.

We’re used to thinking about teachable moments in the lives of children.  We’ve heard a lot about the importance of adults recognizing and taking advantage of those moments as golden opportunities for growth.  Moments when children are more open to learning, more malleable.

Working in that hospital, fresh out of graduate school, taught me that teachable moments aren’t reserved for children.  I was sometimes painfully aware that while the kids on the unit were trying to find themselves and their path, the adults involved were engaged in a parallel learning process.  We were routinely faced with our own teachable moments, often under the instruction of the kids we were responsible for.  Growth was an equal opportunity experience for doctors, nurses, techs, a variety of therapists, unit school teachers, and me.  It was on that adolescent residential unit that I learned the impact of responding vs. reacting.  I began to watch the ways our behavior as staff helped escalate or de-escalate the behavior of the kids on the unit.

One day as I talked with a frustrated colleague, I began to think out loud about the self-management skills that could make or break your work with hospitalized adolescents.  Over time my colleagues began to refer them as Paulann’s Cardinal Rules for working on an adolescent residential unit.  A fellow therapist arrived at the hospital one day with a stack of computer generated “Cardinal Rule” cards for me to hand out to my peers.  It became a running joke grounded in seeds of truth.

When the hospital closed I went on to new jobs, new colleagues, new consumers, and new teachable moments.  I don’t think I realized at the time that the one thing I took with me were those rules.  I discovered they were helpful to remember and to practice, with my children, my colleagues, my clients.  Those rules have been with me for twenty years.  I think I even have one of those original cards in my momento stash. Those rules have served me well.  I would like to say they’ve become second nature to me.  That I do them in my sleep, with one hand tied behind my back.  But in spite of knowing them, there are times I violate every single one.  So maybe they’re better thought of as goals to shoot for.  So, for what it’s worth, Paulann’s…,

Daily Goals To Shoot For

1.  Don’t Forget to Breathe.


2.  Keep Your Sense of Humor

3.  Don’t Take it Personally

Back story…

January 17, 2012

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”  ~ James Baldwin 

Candle Lighter Award

January 16, 2012

The GrowthLines blog has been nominated for The Candle Lighter, a WordPress award.  I would like to say “Thank you” to Jen at Step on a Crack, for her gesture of encouragement and recognition in gifting me with this award.  Jen’s writing has a level of beauty that helps us look at the harsh realities of truth, and find the path to a life lived with strength and authenticity.  I count it my extreme good fortune to have become her friend across miles, through pictures painted with words.  Thanks, Jen.

This award belongs to those who believe,
who always survive the day,
and those who never stop dreaming.
For those who cannot quit,
for those keep trying,
and if you’re in this category,
you are entitled to this Award.

I would like to nominate the following blogs for bringing the light of kindness, creativity, and hope to those looking for a good word, a reason to smile, and a welcoming place:

The Reinvented Lass

Thursday Morning Meditations

The Heartbreak of Invention

Rob Slaven Photography

Carol Wiebe Wonders Out Loud

Yellow House Cafe

The Better Man Project

Belle of the Carnival

Alternate Economy

The idea of spreading light seems particularly fitting as we commemorate the life and light of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dark Into Light

There was dark

in this world

day and night.

And then

a single candle lit


to full flame.


we know

the power of

a single flame

to light the world.

© Paulann C. Canty, 1.16.2012

The Little Rock Nine, Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas

Grief in hiding…

January 15, 2012

We all grieve.  But each in our own way.  Grief as fact is universal.  Grief as experience is personal.  There are common themes, but even those are shaped by our personal touch.  Regardless of your way of grieving, it’s important to remember two things.  Loss may be an event.  Grief is a process.

What we know in theory, sometimes becomes blurry in reality.  We bring our own histories and personalities to this partnership with grief.  We are still at risk of assuming that others grieve like we grieve.  We forget that differences, like our age, or the number of times we have encountered grief, affect how we feel our grief.  Our experience in the dance of loss affects how we show our grief.

Our acquaintance with grief begins in childhood and continues through adolescence.  Friends move away.  We lose pets. Grandparents die.  Painful lessons about life and the passage of time, happening in an order we don’t like, but come to accept as life’s way.  Sometimes loss happens out of order, bringing painful lessons about time cut short.  Sometimes we are children facing the loss of a child, a peer.

I was in junior high school the first time I faced the death of a peer.  He was a year younger than me.  We didn’t go to the same school, or even live in the same town.  We weren’t best friends or extremely close. Perhaps it made a difference that we had become friends on our own.  Our parents didn’t know each other.  Our respective friends didn’t know each other.  I met him during the summer when I visited my grandparents.  We rode horses together, talking about incidentally important teenage topics.  At the end of the summer he stayed in the country, I went back to the city.  And then the news came that he had killed himself, with a shotgun, over a girl.  He left a note.  “She doesn’t love me anymore.”

I traveled the fifty miles, by myself on a Greyhound bus, to attend his funeral at the local high school. The gymnasium was filled with people from the rural community and beyond.  There were junior high and high school students.  Young people facing the loss of a peer, a death out of order.  I was there to pay my respects to a brief friendship, and perhaps to stand with other teenagers as we each found our voice of grief.

I lost and grieved other peers, all too young to die, as I finished adolescence and stepped into young adulthood.  In the years that followed I have sat with grieving children and teenagers as they found their own way through loss that came too soon, to those too young.  What should we take from young grief? Who should we be to the children and teenagers in our lives who are facing overwhelming and traumatic loss?

We’re used to learning from the wisdom of age and experience.  When children grieve we discover there are things to learn and lessons to be reminded of from the wisdom of innocence.  For the sake of the young let’s remember

  • they are not empty human-like containers who are here but devoid of feelings until they reach the magic age of majority at 18.  Our failure to recognize this means we may be insensitive to the ways their life has been disrupted.
  • not displaying emotion doesn’t mean a child isn’t feeling something.  Are we modeling a variety of ways to express feelings?  Are we respectful of their need to be with us, and to have time alone?  We may fail to acknowledge the hole left in their lives if we assume that silence means there is no hole.
  • they are not adults in smaller bodies.  They are not fully equipped to identify, feel, and express the complex range of emotions related to loss.  We may explain away their emotion by referring to their displays of grief as adolescent drama.  Defining their grief as overstated may allow us to hide our own discomfort with grief in understated ways.  Will we risk being uncomfortable to be with them in these raw moments?
  • they will accommodate us, at their own risk, if they believe we can’t handle shared grief.  If the things they need to say, the questions they need to ask “make” us cry or shut down, they will take care of us by keeping their thoughts and their questions to themselves.  We get to help them know it’s okay to cry, okay to be quiet, okay to step outside.  We get to show them how to grieve, even as grief continues to be our teacher.  It’s not our grieving that harms, but our determination to leave it the unnamed presence in our midst, and children to wrestle with it alone and in hiding.

“Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect.  The wisest know nothing.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson                                    

Show and Tell

January 10, 2012

Adults tell children.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  It’s our job as parents, teachers, grownups in a community.  We’re supposed to teach them right from wrong, how to be responsible, how to make good decisions, how to succeed as they make their way in the world.  We know it is our job to tell them how to do what they’re supposed to do.

Adults show children.  That’s more complicated.  Most of us have had the chance to learn how much easier it can be to “say” what to do, than it is to “show” what to do.  If we are going to show what our children need to see, we must become good observers of our own behavior.  The less we know ourselves, the greater the risk that the subtle, and not so subtle messages in our actions may speak louder than what we’re telling a child is of value.  The task of telling and showing children how to be sometimes meshes well, and sometimes leaves us in a “do as I say, not as I do” moment.  Even in a moment of contradiction we have the opportunity to tell and show our children how to go back and make it right.  How to face ourselves and adjust our behavior.  How to grow toward congruence.

We tell and we show.  We’re the grownups.  They’re children.  They listen.  They watch.  They follow.  All true.  But what if there is more to the story?  What if our teaching relationship with children is part of a multi-lane highway system instead of a single lane, one way street?

It was cold and drizzling rain this morning as I began my day.  A day of being in and out of the wet, cold weather. Alone in the car I began to grumble about the unpleasant weather, planning ahead for how cold and miserable I would be as the day wore on.  And suddenly she was there in my head.  A little girl, holding an umbrella, running in the rain…, laughing.  You may remember her from And we begin…, running, laughing, umbrella in hand.  She was there in my head, reminding me how to celebrate a rainy day.

Then I began to think of all the children, my own two and beyond, who have been my teachers.  Children who showed me how to call it what it is, including the elephants in the living room.  Kids who showed me how to be honest when I’m afraid, to try something new when I’m uncertain, to laugh at myself, to push through a hard task. Kids of all ages who have shown me what generosity, tolerance, and empathy look like.  I spent a cold, wet, dreary day smiling with gratitude each time I thought of the kids who have taught me.  Glad that teaching and learning live on a two way street.  Determined to be an authentic teacher and a good student.

“Kids:  they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.”
                                                                                             ~ William Stafford

%d bloggers like this: