Manners and Mental Health

It is difficult to admit that I visited McDonald’s at midnight this past week, mostly because I am a long way from my teens and aware that the product quality may not be the best choice for my physical wellness. Nutritional value aside, I did not expect to experience such disdain for people, human disconnection and absolute dishonour at this giant retailer’s hands?

There was a day when manners were expected by everyone, especially every staff member employed by the Golden Arches conglomerate McDonald’s.

At fifteen, I appreciated the opportunity to be employed by this company, making it possible to afford food and housing at a very difficult time in my life. I recall being offered the job, but only, as the manager said “if you cut your hair“. Yes, I had fairly long hair in the mid-seventies and that was not considered appropriate for working in the food service industry. We were also required to use manners for every request. The front staff would call out; “Six Macs please” (twelve or twenty-four if it was busy) and, as a grill person, I was required to respond; “Laying six Macs thank you“. This was required for Macs, Fries, Quarterpounders and even the Filet-O-Fish. You may get a caution or two but manners were an essential part of the McDonald’s staffing philosophy. Essential meaning do it or you do not work here!

McDonald’s strives to offer the same experience at every store in every country so I hope what happened to us is not spreading globally. Still today, their Canadian website offers McDonald’s staffing vision (see below) of top quality service which is a direct contradiction to our experience;

“Our People Vision”

“At McDonald’s® Canada our People Vision is for our people to feel valued and proud to work here. In fact we aim to be the best employer in every one of our Canadian communities.”          https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/careers/our-people.html

Manners Optional ? – Ask Macdonald’s

So what did we experience and was it as bad as we think it was? You be the judge. Just after midnight we had the idea to get a cone so we pulled into the drive through at Crossroads McDonald’s – Weston Road and 401. It took nearly ten minutes to approach the ordering sign alone. Either we really wanted a cone or the fact we had not way to exit influenced or patience? When we arrived to order a really upbeat and friendly automated voice greeted us followed by silence. We asked “Are you there” with another half minute of silence broken through by what sounded like a very depressed young lady’s voice… “Yes, what do you want”. The reverberation and distortion in the speaker system was also unusually high.

We placed our order which was not responded to with a thank you that is so commonly spoken in retail and fast food services. The woman did not even say the usual “please pull up to the next window”? Ok, maybe she is just having a bad day? We then waited for ten more minutes to get to the window to pay. What happened next was appalling. The young girl opened the window, went out of her way to not make eye contact, reached out her hand for our money, took the money, gave the change and closed the window without a single word spoken or any semblance of kindness or caring. The young girl later opened the service window and handed us our food, closing the window again without saying one word during the entire interaction… no please, no apology for a twenty-five minute drive through wait and no thank you at all.

Am I making a big deal over something small or is this discourteous approach to retail becoming all too commonplace? I have experienced this at a number of places over that past few years. Are employers resigned to not expect their staff to great people politely, to use common courtesy and to act happy about their decision to shop at their stores? Is it too much effort to train staff due to high turnover in low or minimum wage workplaces? I think NOT!

When I was struggling as a young teen, I was angry, upset, frustrated to be living on my own and quite comfortable with being rude to others fairly regularly. I was in an “I don’t care” mode almost daily. I had more “Stinkin Thinkin” about myself and others, than probably any other time in my life, but, when the manager said “cut your hair” and “you must use manners consistently” I had a decision to make – eat or keep being rude. Nine months of following the courteous and polite requirements at McDonald’s (circa 1973) taught me the importance of manners. I had to “fake it to make it” for manners to become a real part of my life.  Eric Erikson identified this stage of personality development as the identity crisis.  Successful completion of this stage involves the young person’s development of a clearer understanding of who they are, relative to others, their likes and dislikes and their place in the world.  Erikson postulated that a failure during this stage would inevitably lead to role confusion.  Role confusion is certainly one of the factors in life that contributes to anxious and depressed mood.

I sure hope the management and owner(s) at Crossroads McDonald’s behave better manners than those staff last Thursday night. I have my doubts though as I have come to learn that staff often mimic or follow the way they are treated. Perhaps this is why www.Hiringtowin is listed right on their sales slip. Right on their careers web link below, they state;

Careers | McDonalds Canada – McDonald’s https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/careers.html

“We believe the best people in the world work right here.”

I believe, if McDonald’s management had not expected me to be polite during my middle teens I would not have been just like the staff I had the displeasure of meeting the other day. Sadly, I may likely have never realized the value of being polite, the impact that using manners has on how I feel and, possibly, I may have never grown to expect this from our children, colleagues and staff?

Being nice to one another is one major way we can improve our mental health. Research shows that being kind, altruistic and using of polite, personal gestures helps both the receiver and the sender feel happier and more satisfaction.

Manners matter McDonald’s and every other retailer out there. When you insist upon this you help staff and customers feel better. Please change your training expectations accordingly to foster improved overall wellness.

 

 

There is no word or title to describe me

It occurred to me recently that there is no title for me that my ex-husbands new children can use when referring to me. There is not a single word to describe ‘my-half-siblings-mother’ or ‘my-fathers-ex-wife’ in the English language.  This made me think of how important titles are to me and that each one comes with a built in group of expectations and beliefs — mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, step-mother, cousin, niece, woman, professional…ex-wife.

Yup…despite trying to fulfill as well as I can on all of the expectations of all of these titles, I still ended up as an ex-wife. Which is a title that I did not want. I am keenly aware of the beliefs and expectations that people have of someone with the title of ‘ex-wife’. Especially my ex-husbands’ beliefs and expectations.

So this thought that I need a title for what my ex-husbands new children can call me seems important to me. These titles tell us and the rest of the world how we relate to one another and what they can expect from us. A title is helpful and makes it simple and straightforward for people to lump us in to their own thinking so they can move on with their day.

I most certainly don’t want to take up anyone’s time by trying to describe the complex-messy-fullness that is my life and the relationships and people in it. It would be so much easier to just say a word and everyone – including me – can immediately understand the relationship.

The fact that I am thoughtful about what my ex-husband’s children will call me is a sign of my growth and progress.

6.5 years ago my thoughts were occupied with my immediate survival of being heartbroken.  With two very young children I was worried about waking up each day and doing the next thing required of me. I had a new title – single mother.

And then, as time went on, my thoughts and energies were devoted to the process of living each day and trying…trying, to fulfill on these new titles that I grappled with wearing. Separated, ex-wife…high-conflict divorcee. I was living each day doing the best I could trying to wear all of the new expectations and

beliefs about these titles that I would never have chosen for myself. This violent shove into a new reality was more than I thought I could handle. I did my best.

We were stuck for years in our roles and titles as ‘ex’s’ in a ‘fight’. Not ‘fight’ in the messy yelling kind of way (although we’ve had our moments); more a ‘fight’ in the legal wrangling kind of fight. We added ‘client’ to our list of titles. Our divorce lawyers happily became our guides through the family court system.

We had a couple of legal issues, but mostly we just didn’t have the skills to

resolve issues with our enemy — a new title we both wore. Enemy. Nemesis. Again, living up to the beliefs and expectations of these titles for one another.

We both believed that we were doing a great job of insulating our children from our battle. We didn’t argue in front of them. We were exceedingly polite when we did speak. We effectively ignored each others’ spouses, but again, we would never be overtly rude! We did not think we spoke badly of the other parent. We both believed we were doing a great job protecting these beautiful children from our inner, legal and financial turmoil. We were both fighting the good fight. Doing what the family law system tells us is the right way to serve our children. This allowed us to add “martyr” to the long list of titles we were accumulating through this process.

We ended up being very angry, bitter, broke, suffering – all titles I wore proudly to show the fight was worth it. Fighting endlessly with the only result being that one of you loses is stressful and painful. It’s frightening. For some reason, we also felt like our children didn’t see or feel our fear. After 6+ years in the family court system we were at an impasse.

Family counselling became a way out of the wet paper bag that was our lives…no judge could solve our issues. No two lawyers would encourage us to just speak to one another! We were ingrained in our titles of warriors and enemies. Then we began family counselling.

The humbling experience of family counselling began in earnest…with bi-weekly appointments and tension that you could cut with a knife. We all met together, the four of us; me and my spouse with my co-parent and his wife. We had to deal with our titles and our beliefs about one another. We had to learn how we would speak to one another and the basics of human interactions. We said our fears out loud. We listened and heard one another for the first time. We got angry. We got resolution. We got to laugh. We cried. We reached…agreement. An agreement about how we wanted to co-parent going forward.

 

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Through this process I have come to accept that we all carry another title…a title that overrides any of us as individuals. We are a SYSTEM. Each part of the system is critical. We all have roles in the system. We each have impact on the others. This was a humbling thing to accept  because you can not stay enemies with someone your system/team depends on! You need them to be happy and healthy so that your children, and ultimately the system can thrive. We are a family system. None of us chose it. None of us know how to do it well. We are all learning. We are all figuring it out as we go.

Through the process of accepting the system  I could still name my roles in the system. Mother. Partner. Co-parent. I was defining how I wanted to look and feel in these roles and with growing confidence we were all wearing our titles with some pride. We were developing new expectations for those titles in our system.

Which brought me to the realization that started this entire thing…there is not a word for me and my role in the lives of my ex-husbands children. What do Luke and Emily call someone who loves them simply because they were born my children’s sibling? What title would apply to someone who values and cares for you as part of a family entity that all works together?

I have heard that the number of words a society has for something indicates how important it is to the society. Is it true that my role in their system is not important? That can’t be because I have seen evidence of the fact that we are a system. And I have empirical evidence that all of our lives are improved with the acknowledgement that we are a system. A living and breathing and evolving system that must work together to the benefit of everyone in it. Does everyone else get a title except me?

Looking back on all of the titles I have worn during this process I have to wonder…do these titles actually help us? Are the beliefs and expectations for each role even true? Do titles alone describe the value of each role in the system? Have these titles and beliefs that society puts on all of us helping us forge ahead in this new world of blended families, problem solving with the enemy, and embracing the fact that we are a system…that no individual is more valued than another?

No!!! Living up to these titles might be the reason we stayed so long as a failing system.

I choose to see this lack of a name and title as liberation…we can all define my role in their little lives in a way that works for us in our system – no expectations or set beliefs. If my role is not immediately clear and understood by others, that’s okay because maybe in describing the role I play to others we can all move the needle on how we understand and name people in a blended family system. How we can move past the titles and become valued parts a system that thrives. It is not perfect, but it thrives. It is not our choice, but it is our reality. I, for one, am ready to break out from the titles and beliefs and expectations everyone has of divorce and blended families and I want to say….”I’m ready to try this in a way that honours everyone in the system. In a way that honours me”

Who needs a title when I have a name. They can call just me Karen  🙂

 

(editors note: this post was submitted by a mother, co-parent, person … who was brave enough to imagine, seek, find and adopt a different outcome after separation and divorce)

How a Head Injury Changed My Life

Imagine having a head injury that took away your capacity to remember day to day events.  Imagine waking up and not knowing what happened yesterday while having a much less fuzzy recollection of things that happened years ago. Imagine waking up and reading the sticky notes and papers that are taped to your wall before leaving your bedroom in order to understand the world you are about to face; the people who are close to you, healthcare professional appointments. Imagine social emptiness.

This is the story of one young adult, as written in his poem below. After suffering a major head injury, life was altered irreparably.

******

          Untitled

I draw blood everyday

so I am very familiar with its stain

Now I need to read the whole manual

first before I will try any new GAME.

So now I need to learn more than a new language

in order, just to fix my FRAME.

But then I see the wall marks, to remind myself

that to learn my new stuff or meet any new ones,

requires a new one.

So whose sum?

Others must remind me that I am a new some,

who is now without sum,

in which resulted in me now having to take a few some

in order just to process some or one.

So now I find that the ones experiencing similar,

are those obese anorexics on the constant ketchup,

breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Lost myself, after Falling like timber.

Left-over broken and incomplete.

Most would have cowardess in defeat.

But as my thoughts were echoed

and I tried to fix myself

my emotion was let go.

So I am now left in despair,

trying to understand myself

just through the reflection in the mirror.

******

Be thankful for the memories you have, the good and the bad, for they give us our identity, our sense of belongingness and connection in the world. Our ability to remember allows each one of us to know just enough to build upon day by day, to grow and develop, to learn and improve. Hopefully we use our memories well.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Delivers Relief

A substantial evidence base supports the efficacy of problem-specific cognitive-behavioral interventions for a variety of childhood and adolescent anxiety and depressive disorders. Unlike other psychotherapeutic techniques that have been applied to these disorders, CBT is consistent with a perspective that values empirically supported problem-focused treatments. CBT presents a logical theoretical framework to guide practitioners through assessment of specific problem domains, the delivery of problem-specific treatment interventions, and well specified outcomes to monitor treatment progress. However, CBT is not simplistic. Helping children, adolescents, and parents make rapid and difficult behaviour change over short time intervals [three to six months] requires considerable expertise and training.

“Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy for Anxiety and Depressive Disorders in Children and Adolescents: An Evidence-Based Medicine Review”                  SCOTT N. COMPTON, PH.D., JOHN S. MARCH, M.D., M.P.H., DAVID BRENT, M.D., ANNE MARIE ALBANO, PH.D., V. ROBIN WEERSING, PH.D., AND JOHN CURRY, PH.D.                                                                                                                        J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 43:8, AUGUST 2004

For more information about anxiety and depression visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America ADAA website

www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety

To find out more about our professional counselling and support services in Durham Region or to schedule an initial assessment  Contact us today!

Do You Feel You’re Not Getting Anywhere?

How often do we feel frustrated and alone, like no matter what we try life doesn’t seem to get any better. We might change this or that behaviour, for at least a short while, only to end up back in the same situation. We can gradually or not so gradually get more down, hopeless and tried as we seem to return to the same ‘rut’. I heard once the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth?

The poem below, written by Portia Nelson, conveys these very sentiments and walks the reader through five ‘chapters’ in order to signal a flicker of hope somewhere on the road of life.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk (five chapters)

                     1

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5

I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I think most of us want to believe we can change, that things will improve, and that one day we will reach that illusive better place? While there are certainly no guarantees and we really don’t know anything for sure about the future, what is life without hope? How do we, in the face of severe difficulties, loss, pain and grief, manage to hold onto hope? What can we do to regain a sense of hope we may have one had?

These and other questions strike a nerve in our spiritual being. Who am I? Why be good to myself and others? What does the end of life really mean? Almost all people will contemplate questions like these, pondering issues that do not seem to be answerable by science; at least not yet anyway. This is both a frustrating and exciting element of human life. This is where faith and one’s belief system becomes essential. Our task is to examine our hearts and minds, our emotional selves and seek to discover an improved understanding of ourselves and the amazingly contradictory world we live in.

A journey that doesn’t include the unknown is not really much of a journey at all. Imagine a trip with no surprises, no unexpected discoveries, whether this is an actual holiday or the challenging journey in a close relationship. As we said to our children in preparation for our adventures, “let’s find a way to look forward to and enjoy the journey”.   Rather than being a burden, this attitude seemed to improve our ‘getting along’ and each leg of the trip a more enjoyable and exciting adventure.

Cognitive shifting can help us see situations a bit more positively and in a way that helps us achieve a more balanced emotional state. We can change our thought patterns about almost any event or situation when we are determined to stop falling into the holes in the sidewalk.

 

 

Photo credit 1: willybearden from morguefile.com
Photo credit 2: quicksandala from morguefile.com
Oshawa therapist, durham region counseling

I Feel All Alone

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a place where we feel we cannot go on. The people in our lives do not seem to be enough or we aren’t enough? What are we to do in this #dark place ? Writing or expressing our emotions artistically can help both with getting them out and also with reaching a place of new understanding and awareness. Using poetry, art and music provides a healthy expression of the wide range of feelings (all of which are normal and useful). Artistic avenues also provide some relief and the opportunity to share our grief and struggles with others who may be suffering.

One teen did just that! She sent her poem in to share… with the hope it may help others not feel so alone

#Heavy

heavy eyes
heavy shoulders
heavy weights upon my shoulders
i realize this is not normal.
but what really is normal?
not me, i see, everything around me
smiling happy,
joyful, pleasant.
and happy.
this word.
what is it?
it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit.
what am i doing?
i’m trying, i’m trying
but all i’m doing is colliding
with the thoughts inside my head
they crowd me,
they surround me and i can’t get away
they love me, they hug me and they kiss me & they tell me that everything will never be okay.

i’m running as fast as i can but the truth is i’m not getting anywhere
and i’m jam packed between the voices of society and screams inside my head.
they tear me apart
and i’m aware of every single look and every stare
it makes me crave to know if every little string of hair is in place.
and i know i’m out of place
i’m displaced
i’m misplaced
and i’ll be replaced
but i wont be retraced.

but i’ll put on that straight face
and walk through the crowd everyday.
listen to the voices of society saying everything will be okay.
this word
what is it
it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit
what am i doing?
i’m trying i’m trying but all i’m doing is colliding
with the thoughts inside my head
they crowd me.
they surround me and i can’t get away.
they hug me they love me
they kiss me and they embrace me
and they tell me that everything will never be okay.

        -Teen Girl

Photo credit: jzlomek from morguefile.com