Friday, March 20, 2009

Kelly Lambert at VFOB

Kelly Lambert spoke last night at the Virginia Festival of the Book about her book, Lifting Depression, and about her neuroscience research. She was a personable and engaging speaker whose views about depression did not seem as extreme as those expressed in her book. Her research into what she calls the "effort based rewards" system is fascinating. There's little doubt that the effort-based rewards feedback loop is broken in people with depression and the suggestion from Lambert's rodent research that this reward system could be retrained is encouraging.

Lambert specifically suggests knitting as one possible activity that might help depression, and serendipitously there was someone in the audience who was knitting. She agreed that it is a relaxing and rewarding activity.

Lambert has convinced me that I should try doing more things with my hands such as cooking, baking pies, and painting lobsters as I did last week. (No lobsters were harmed during this activity.) Creating is fun and can make people feel good, whether it cures depression or not.

Justine Willis Toms at VFOB

Justine Willis Toms, author of Small Pleasures and co-author of True Work, appeared at the Virginia Festival of the Book last night. Her picture here looks a little blurry but that's the photographer's fault -- she's not really blurry in person. She's really lovely in person, with a warm smile for everyone. She began her talk by saying we are living in a time of great growth and recommended that we try to turn worry and fear into curiosity and optimism, which I thought was good and timely advice.

Toms was soothing yet challenging. She encouraged optimism during the present moment, which is a challenge for lots of us right now. She encouraged living your dreams and had the audience write down what they most wanted and what they needed to be happy. I wrote that I don't know. I even underlined "I don't know."

Justine Willis Toms might have me convinced that I'm not dreaming big enough.

If you missed her last night, she's appearing again tonight at 6 pm in the City Council Chambers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hardships and healing panel, VFOB

Writers Susan Skolnick-Lozano, Russell U. Richards, and James Herndon with moderator Faith Andrews Bedford.

Today was the first day of the Virginia Festival of the Book and I went to my first session at 6 pm at the Northside Library. The panel was entitled "When Life Takes a Turn: Authors Write About Hardships and Healing." It was an interesting, well-moderated session which addressed more writing issues than healing issues. Each author read for a few minutes from his/her book, and then fielded questions from the moderator and the audience.

Responding to a question about what they had learned about themselves while writing their books, Richards said that he discovered that things he had believed about himself weren't true; Skolnick-Lozano discovered that she was a great motivator with the ability to get people to believe in themselves; and Herndon discovered that he was a naive young man, adding that writing his book was one of the happiest periods of his life.

I was touched by these authors' willingness to reveal very personal things about themselves in their books. Skolnick-Lozano said that one reason she wrote and was willing to share such personal information was that "people need to know they're not alone." Amen to that.

More tomorrow. The Book Fest goes through Sunday -- check out the schedule and come to some events!

True Work

One of a series of posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book:

True Work
was written a decade ago by Michael Toms and Justine Willis Toms, the co-founders of New Dimensions Radio, and is about following your bliss as it pertains to your working life. I was going to write a really short review of this book, saying that I love any book with a sentence like this in it:
A regrettable case of degenerative curmudgeonliness befell a small office we knew.
Is that not a perfect sentence? I think it is. The rest of the book is warm, encouraging, and quotes lots of excellent teachers on the subject of work and life. If you're in a rut, or have a dream you've been wanting to follow, you would do well to read this book. My work life has been in a bit of upheaval lately, my time being doled out to several divisions, and I liked hearing about "walking through the valley" of bad times and how we can learn important things there. The Toms also encourage readers to set up their own True Work Circles in order to give and get support. There's a lot to like about this book. It's spiritually sensible in a kind of new-agey way.

Michael Toms had to cancel, but Justine Willis Toms will be at the Book Fest on Thursday night (see below). I'm looking forward to hearing her speak, and hope to see a lot of people there.


New Dimensions: True Work

Justine Willis Toms, co-host of the award-winning New Dimensions radio show, joins success coach Michelle Prosser to talk about doing what you love and loving what you do.

Thu. March 19th, 2009 8:00 PM

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lifting depression?

One of several posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book:

Kelly Lambert's book, Lifting Depression, is an interesting read. Her basic premise is that the lack of what she calls "effort-based rewards" can lead to depression. She uses a combination of current research and evolutionary psychology to make this argument. Effort-based rewards are just what they sound like, working (expending effort) to attain a goal. Lambert thinks that if that goal is the creation of something tangible, so much the better. She tells us she beat depression by vacuuming, and recommends other activities such as knitting and sewing and cooking meals, which primarily use the hands and produce material objects. She argues that our ancestors did a lot more work with their hands and they had much lower rates of depression. I'm not sure we know what the ancient rates of depression were. Depression isn't a new thing; melancholia has been with us for a long time. It's diagnosed more now, and I would argue that's because of the continuing destigmatization (which unfortunately still has a long way to go).

I wouldn't object to Lambert's ideas as being of possible assistance in depression, had she not seen fit to trash the use of antidepressants and therapy along the way. I myself would not be able to FIND the vacuum cleaner without antidepressants, and while they may be overprescribed by general practitioners who have no business prescribing them, they are invaluable for those with moderate to severe depression. Lambert refers to meds at one point as "masking uncomfortable but important feelings." That's absolutely untrue. On meds, I laugh, cry, feel joy, feel anger -- feel the full range of human emotions. Without them, in the throes of depression, I feel only the low end of the spectrum, and my lows are lower than most. Lambert refers to depression as being useful in that it points to problems in our lives. While that can be true, people with depression are likely to fall into an episode with no trigger at all. Even when triggered, depression as a reaction is overkill. It's maladaptive.

There's nothing wrong at all with taking a multifaceted approach to treating depression, and I know lots of knitters who find knitting a fun and relaxing hobby. And I agree that making things from scratch can be incredibly satisfying. But there have been times in my past when I had anhedonia, the inability to take pleasure in anything, and I certainly tried to do things to bring myself out of it, but guess what worked? Therapy and medication.

If you have depression, I think it makes sense to try whatever might work to alleviate it. Exercise, cook, knit -- all of that. But I would also recommend finding a good psychiatrist and pursuing medical treatment. It's an illness with a high rate of relapse. Get treatment.

Kelly Lambert is speaking about her book at the Virginia Festival of the Book this Thursday. Hope to see you there.

Lifting Depression: Have Important Clues Been in Our Hands All Along?

Thu. March 19th, 2009 6:00 PM

Kelly Lambert (Lifting Depression) considers both our ancestors' lifestyles and the evolution of the mammalian brain to generate novel ideas and offer help for the skyrocketing rates of depression in contemporary society.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hardships and healing

One of a series of posts about Virginia Festival of the Book events:

The three authors participating in VFOB's "When Life Takes a Turn" panel have all faced adversity in their lives in different ways. Two have serious illnesses and one helped her daughter recover from a traumatic brain injury. In reading their books, I focused on the theme of this panel -- facing hardships and healing.

Russell U. Richards' book, The Arts and Innards of Russell U. Richards!, was specific and detailed in chronicling both the writer's artistic journey and the natural history of his illness, ulcerative colitis. At times quite blunt and detailed, this made for a good story.

I would not be surprised to learn that this book was dictated, as it reads very much as if Richards is just telling the reader his story. The author's voice, while not polished, is authentic and because it is, his story is quite compelling, equally as compelling as the reproductions of his artwork which are printed in the book. The way health and artistic life are intertwined in the story is interesting. Richards' art is not easily categorized but I really enjoyed a lot of it, particularly The Isle of Life which is brimming with, well, life and color.

Riding at Fairhunt seems meant for a younger audience, possibly young people beginning a life of horsemanship. Susan Skolnick-Lozano delivers advice about life and attitude among the practical rules of riding. I would have been interested to hear more about her daughter's recovery post-traumatic brain injury. What she writes is brief and to the point, and her can-do positive attitude permeates the story.

Jack's Shop, while a nostalgic memoir of growing up in Madison County, ends just as the author/narrator, James Herndon, is coming down with encephalitis. The author is thus presumed to have lived through the adversity of a serious illness, but it all takes place after the time period covered by the book. The author plans two sequels, however.

I look forward to hearing these three writers talk about their experiences at the panel this Wednesday. I hope you'll join me there.


When Life Takes a Turn: Authors Write About Hardships and Healing

Wed. March 18th, 2009 6:00 PM

James Herndon (Jack's Shop: Beyond the Front Porch), Susan Skolnick-Lozano (Riding at Fairhunt... For Love, Life and Therapy) and Russell Richards (The Arts and Innards of Russell U. Richards!) discuss their books of personal difficulties and triumphs.