A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of May 13-19, 2015
May is the month of flowers and mental health awareness
When I was young, I remember being excited once school was out during April and May. I remember looking forward to the month of May because it seemed that many special events were happening in our community. The pomp and pageantry of the Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan processions come to mind. I remember being in awe of all those beautiful young women wearing makeup and shiny-with-sequins gowns, their handsome escorts in barong Tagalog, and the decorative arches that tower over each pair.
“Flores de Mayo” (flowers of May in Spanish) is held as a Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary by offering flowers and prayers in her honor for the entire month. On the last day of Flores de Mayo, the “Santacruzan” (procession of the holy cross) pageant is held in honor of Reyna Elena and her young son, Emperador Constantino, for finding the true cross in Jerusalem. In the Santacruzan procession, many Biblical figures are represented, among whom are Methuselah, Ruth and Naomi, and Queens representing Faith, Hope, and Charity (Reynas Fe, Esperanza, and Caridad, respectively). The various titles of Mary based on a litany are personified by young women bearing symbols of what they represent, for example: Reyna Justicia (“mirror of justice”) who carries a weighing scale and a sword, or Reyna del Cielo (“queen of heaven”) who carries a flower and accompanied by two little “angels.” But don’t worry, if the symbolism gets lost on you, you can always read the young lady’s title across her “arko” or arch which looks like a rainbow banner over each maiden and carried on each side by a couple of strapping youths.
All in all, the Flores de Mayo, and especially the final salvo, the Santacruzan, could be one long procession indeed, complete with a marching band. However, you know what we Filipinos say: “Pagkahaba-haba man ng prusisyon, sa simbahan din ang tuloy.” (No matter how long the procession is, it still winds up in church.) This could be taken to mean that even a longstanding courtship still ends up in a church wedding, or that a long-standing matter will be resolved in the best way possible, or that patience and perseverance will be rewarded with God’s blessings. These traditions held during the month of May have been handed down through the Spanish Catholic branch of our Filipino heritage in our birth country.
Closer to our current home and much more recently in history, May 2015 has been declared by President Barack Obama as National Mental Health Awareness Month (https://www.whitehouse.gov/…/presidential-proclamation-nat…/). It begins thus: “This year, approximately one in five American adults — our friends, colleagues, and loved ones — will experience a diagnosable mental health condition like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress, and many others will be troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty.
For most of these people, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible. Yet today, millions of Americans still do not receive the care they need. This month, we stand with those who live with mental illness, and we recommit to ensuring all Americans have access to quality, affordable care.” The proclamation proceeds to mention that the Affordable Care Act has extended benefits to over 60 million Americans with mental health and substance abuse issues. The statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) still says that one in five Americans between 13-18 will have a severe mental disorder in a given year, and that mood disorders are the third leading cause of hospitalization among the 18-44 age bracket. We have been bombarded with media packets, articles, and websites aimed at helping us detect depression. I don’t have any argument with that and I truly recommend being familiar with the signs and symptoms of depression, especially if we are dealing with a loved one with a mental health disorder. Please do check out http://www.nami.org for additional resources.
Personally, I check three things as part of my mental health hygiene: my mood, appetite, and number of hours of sleep. It’s my sleep time which is the first to be affected when I notice myself about to slip into a mood change, and this means I need to see my doctor right away. A lot of our resources have rightly been allocated toward facing the aftermath of severe depression, in terms of consultation hours, medications, and other interventions which may reach crisis proportions.
However, I do think that we should also turn part of our focus toward the prevention of depression. What can we do to help ourselves? What definite strategies can we use to lift our mood?
I found a promising article (http://southtahoenow.com/…/spring-wellness-promoting-positi…) by Betsy Glass, MSW in the South Tahoe Now online news.
1. Practice relaxation skills: You can try guided imagery, meditation, or what I do sometimes, which is to tense then relax my muscles starting from my feet, then my legs, then my thighs, going up… they call it progressive muscle relaxation for short.
2. Socialize: Seek out a family member or friend. Volunteer or join a group.
3. Strive for growth: Challenge yourself by actually following your heart’s desire in your choice of jobs or activities.
4. Balanced diet: Make sure you get nourished properly with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins, which are all full of mood-energizing nutrients.
5. Try something new and creative: Adding something new to your routine has been shown to be a mood booster.
6. Exercise regularly with others: You can walk, do aerobics or other activities with your friends!
7. Practice gratitude: If it were up to me, this should be a daily habit. Appreciate yourself, what you have, and the presence of others in your life.
8. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep: Anything less, like I said, affects mood adversely. Develop a sleep routine that does not involve caffeine or the glare of TV screens.
9. Recognize when you evaluate yourself or others. Review the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971): “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
10. Do one thing at a time with your undivided attention: Let go of distractions, whether they be thoughts, feelings, or actions, then gently guide your focus back to your task.
11. Surround yourself with nature: Find a quiet place where you can take in the sun for a while. Plant or place flowers in your work and leisure spaces. Maybe take off your shoes and stand safely on some grassy piece of earth. This is very grounding when you notice that you’re living too much in your head.
Wherever we are this month, my hope is that we will reflect upon our experiences and be all the better persons for it. Enjoy the flowery, mentally healthy month of May!