10 Things About Memorial Day

Earlier this year, I did a 10 Things post about Valentine’s Day. It’s a widely celebrated holiday in many countries and has evolved quite a bit over the years. This month, I decided to tackle Memorial Day. Though many countries have something similar to honor deceased soldiers, the day it’s celebrated in the United States can and does vary from other countries. The how and the why it got started is also different.

Since most of my 10 Things posts are specifically themed to help writers think about ways to round out their worldbuilding, I thought this might be an interesting way to take another look at a holiday. Conceptually, it is celebrated in other countries, but not usually at the same time and certainly with different traditions. Are there multiple cultures, real or imagined in your fiction? Do they have holidays that differ? Perhaps theirs are based on the local dominant religion or celebrations of important victories in national history. Some holidays may be shared in totality, others in concept, others not at all.

And yes, I know I could use a specific religious holiday(s) that just passed to make my point, but I’ll be honest. I don’t know enough about that holiday to do it justice and there are some things that online research can’t completely explain. If any of my readers know and celebrate such holidays and would like to volunteer to share some thoughts with me, I’d be grateful.

Anyway, here are ten things about Memorial Day:

  1. It was first known as Decoration Day. Starting as far back as 1864, widows would march together to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of deceased Civil War soldiers. While many different towns claim to be the first to celebrate Decoration Day, congressional recognition is given to Waterloo, New York who first organized a community-wide service in 1866. The holiday was first granted to living soldiers as a time to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day’s wage on May 30, 1868.
  2. While Waterloo, NY is credited with the first organized service event, there is historical evidence that a year earlier on May 1, 1865 (two weeks before the Civil War officially ended) a group of freed slaves organized to rebury the dead of fallen Union soldiers in proper grave sites.
  3. It wasn’t technically a “national holiday” until the 1970s. Because it was first recognized as a day for soldiers (and eventually other government employees) to visit and decorate the graves of their friends or loved ones as a way to honor them, it wasn’t actually a holiday for civilians. The state of New York was the first state to recognize the holiday for all citizens in 1873. Other states began to follow suit, though many southern states didn’t officially recognize it until after the first World War. It was actually a state holiday that was celebrated by all the states on the same day. In 1971 Congress moved official observance of the day from May 30 to the last Monday in May (Uniform Monday Holiday Act) and made it a federal holiday.
  4. After World War I, it changed from a holiday to honor the dead from the Civil War to a holiday to honor fallen American soldiers from all wars. Evidence of this is the Biker Rally that began in 1988 and continues in Washington, D.C. each year as a way to bring attention to soldiers still “Missing in Action” from Vietnam.
  5. Officially, American flags should be lowered to half-mast until noon on Memorial Day and then returned to full mast. At 3 PM (local time), there is supposed to be a moment of silence to honor those men and women who lost their lives serving their country in military conflicts.
  6. Though Decoration Day was never limited to only the graves of Union soldiers after the Civil War, many states of the former Confederacy still chose to celebrate their fallen on a separate day–a day that is still on the calendar in many southern states. It is a different date for each state that celebrates it and while it is on state calendars, it is not widely celebrated. I’ve lived in the south the vast majority of my life and until it became part of a bigger heated discussion in a news story (about symbols, traditions, and monuments that still honor the Confederacy), I honestly didn’t know that my state even had such a holiday on the calendar. Don’t misunderstand, I’m certain there are people who do celebrate it, I just don’t personally know any (that I’m aware of).
  7. Again, though Waterloo, NY is credited with the first organized community event for Decoration Day (and history shows us that it was only the first recognized event involving white people–see point 2), earlier in 1866 a celebration occurred in Illinois and another in Mississippi (smaller event) where flowers were added to the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers as a way to promote regional healing while honoring those who lost their lives.
  8. About 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868. Arlington National Cemetery sits on land that was confiscated from the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. When other local military cemeteries were close to being full, the Lee estate (known as Arlington House, which also once belonged to the family of George Washington and had been passed down via inheritance and marriage), was deemed suitable and desirable as a new location. However, after the war, the heir of the estate sued the government for confiscating the land without due process. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in his favor and the land was returned in 1882, after it had been used as a military cemetery for almost twenty years. He agreed to sell the land back to the government for $150,000 (about $3.5 million today) and signed the agreement with then-Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln. Let me break that down. The son of the leader of the entire Confederate military sat in a room to sign documents with the son of the president who had been assassinated by Confederate sympathizers after the end of the war, and money exchanged hands. That is some Netflix worthy drama right there. I want to know what each man said to the other that history chose not to record. I bet shade was being thrown left and right.
  9. On Memorial Day of 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan gave a moving speech as a set of bones were added to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. The tomb was first erected for the remains of a World War I soldier who could not be identified. It is guarded every hour of the day as a way to honor the soldier. Over the years other unidentifiable remains have been added in their own crypts within the tomb. However, the bones added on that Memorial Day in 1984 spurred an investigation that wouldn’t be complete for fourteen years. DNA testing was eventually able to identify the soldier and his remains were reburied near his hometown. His original crypt in the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier remains empty.
  10. Not everyone observes Memorial Day with solemnity. In 1911, the Indianapolis 500’s inaugural race was scheduled on Decoration/Memorial Day. The state of Indiana had observed the holiday since approximately 1890. An attempt to bring back the gravity of the day happened in 1922, when that was the day chosen to dedicate the Lincoln Memorial (with a crowd of 50,000 people present).

When your characters celebrate a holiday, do they know why they celebrate it? Why it’s that day? Do they care? These are things that can help shape both the world you are creating and the personality of your characters.

Think about it. And maybe, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a little extra writing time in on this year’s Memorial Day.

10 Things About Snack Foods

 

popcorn serving in white ceramic bowl
Photo by Felipe Cardoso on Pexels.com

Snacking, while not unique to American life, is very much tied to American culture. And like so many other things we enjoy, our favorite snack foods have influences from many other cultures. Historically, snacks have also represented divisions in socioeconomic levels. There’s a lot more to that bag of pretzels than salt and dough.

As a writer building a world or setting a scene, don’t forget or ignore the cultural significance of food. We don’t necessarily need to see your character eat every meal, but food has the power to bring people together or divide them further. Does your main character always know what fork to use, or does it cause them embarrassment during a gathering? Do members of your ensemble cast bond over a shared favorite indulgence? Perhaps things in your political thriller hinge on a diplomatic dinner going well, only to discover that the menu includes massive cultural faux pas.

Food can be the source of simple sustenance, great joy, or emotional struggle. However, it can be easy to overlook in the grand plot scheme. Readers don’t usually want to read through a six-course meal. But using food, a seemingly minute detail, to enhance worldbuilding or showcase a class divide is realistic. What foods are common to the culture of your Fantasy world? Do your characters fight for every scrap of food to avoid starvation, or do they live in a world of indulgence and opulence where food is more about showing off than survival?

If characters have enough food in their day-to-day lives to also be concerned about snacks, it says something about their economic standing and food scarcity. In the U.S., snacks are a big industry, and we certainly have our favorites. Let’s look at a few.

Here are 10 Things About Snack Foods:

  1. In Western European history, after silverware or utensils became prevalent, any food eaten without the use of proper utensils was considered lower class. This didn’t change until sometime in the early 1900s. Those cucumber finger sandwiches that your great-aunt likes to serve at parties would have marked her as a poor peasant woman less than a century and a half ago.
  2. Peanuts came to the United States through to avenues. North from South America where evidence of their cultivation predates the arrival of Europeans, and across the Atlantic from West Africa during the slave trade. Knowing their origin, it’s not a surprise that they were first prevalent in cuisines in the Southeastern United States and didn’t become common in the North until after the Civil War. However, once their popularity spread it didn’t take long for them to become the preferred snack at early baseball games and even vaudeville theaters.
  3. Popcorn has been around for thousands of years. Evidence backs up cultural histories that say Native nations in the United States and Mexico began making popcorn over fires for anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. It wasn’t called “popped corn” until the mid-1800s and the modern day microwave popcorn bag was patented by General Mills in the early 1980s.
  4. Pretzels came to the U.S. with German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania who would become known as Pennsylvania Dutch. The origins of the pretzel in Europe are disputed, but that hasn’t affected their popularity in America. Though, until the late 1800s and early 1900s they were closely associated with street vendors and saloons which made them decidedly lower class. However, as ballparks and concert halls began to sell them, they gained popularity across the board. With new strides in packaging and manufacturing processes since the 1950s, pretzels became one of the most popular snacks in America.
  5. The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair debuted Dr. Pepper, waffle cones, and cotton candy. It also popularized “carnival foods” like hot dogs and hamburgers.
  6. The most popular cookie in America, the Oreo, was first sold in 1912. The origin of the cookie’s name and who actually came up with it are both points of dispute, but they got their embossed design in 1952. There are more than five patents associated with the original Oreo cookie.
  7. Candy bars such as Mr. Goodbar, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and Mounds, along with other candy treats like Mike & Ike and Reese’s peanut butter cups all gained massive popularity in the 1920s during Prohibition. They were a feel-good treat that could still be enjoyed in public while alcohol had to be consumed behind closed doors. Prohibition also saw a rise in a new drink, 7-up, though since the first incarnation of the recipe included a mood stabilizer that’s probably not surprising.
  8. Girl Scout Cookies started as a simple bake sale fundraiser and only included one flavor, sugar cookies. However, in the late 1930s the orders started to become so large and so common that they had to begin outsourcing the baking to commercial bakeries. Considering the nation was still largely suffering the effects of the Great Depression, that was quite the impressive feat.
  9. M&M candies were introduced in the 1940s. The candy coating was designed to be a little more heat resistant than tradition candy bars because they were specifically meant to be shipped to soldiers serving in World War II. Tootsie Rolls also appeared on the market for the same purpose. Anybody who could spare the money could send a sweet treat to their loved one to remind them that someone back home cared.
  10. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Graham Crackers were invented by different men and at different times, but for the same reasons. Both Kellogg and Graham believed that indulging in decadent foods somehow led to sexual promiscuity. Corn Flakes were meant to be sustenance without flavor so that one could eat without carnal temptation following. Graham Crackers held the same purpose, but modern incarnations include so much added cinnamon and sugar that they wouldn’t be recognized by their inventor and namesake. And he would be beyond appalled at the use of his crackers as part of a beloved sweet snack like S’mores. The scandal!

There you have it. Sex, drugs, and cookies. Never underestimate the power of food.

10 Things About Tornadoes

Since I mentioned the communities in South Alabama in a recent post and asked you to take a moment and send a kind thought their way, I’d thought I would talk a little more about what a tornado actually is and does. Some of my readers are from parts of the world where tornadoes are less common than where I live and aren’t as familiar with what that kind of storm entails.

Also, as an update, the communities I told you about have been on the receiving end of such an outpouring of generosity that they have now asked that people stop sending donated items. They have the physical items they need to help the population at the moment, and are now in need of money and extra hands for clean-up and rebuilding.

As for my fellow writers, a lot of people will say that unless it’s pertinent to the story not to write about the weather. But sometimes, it makes a difference. And for worldbuilding purposes in Fantasy and Sci-Fi worlds, you might want to think about what kind of weather would make a difference. Perhaps the spaceship can’t enter the atmosphere in the spot it needs to because of a large lightning storm. Or maybe your wind mage is throwing a hissy fit that could level a town. Sometimes the weather does matter.

Anyway, here are ten things you might not know about tornadoes:

  1. Tornadoes can and do form in every U.S. state and, in fact, have been recorded on every continent except Antartica. While they are more common in some regions than in others, and in some places are quite rare, they can form anywhere.
  2. The most commonly affected place in the United States (and by a small margin, the world) is known as Tornado Alley and encompasses The Great Plains and large portions of the Southeast, though no exact boundaries have ever been defined. This is largely due to both geography and topography, specifically the areas between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, with weather patterns greatly affected by the jet stream and the Gulf of Mexico.
  3. A common misconception is that tornadoes cannot cross mountain ranges or bodies of water. While it’s not a common occurrence, storm cells have been recorded passing over mountain ranges. And a tornado passing over water is a common enough occurrence that a tornado over water has a special name–a waterspout.
  4. In the current early warning system, a Tornado Watch means the storm conditions in the area are conducive to creating a tornado. A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been spotted on the ground or via radar and you should take cover immediately.
  5. Tornado warning systems have steadily improved over the last seventy years (since the first warning system in 1948), but because of the nature of the type of storm, the longest warning times average about thirteen minutes. Most of the time, people in the affected area have less time than that to get to their safe place.
  6. The tornado warning system has about a seventy percent false alarm rate because it’s better to be safe than sorry when strong funnel clouds start appearing on radar. However, this means that some (large portions) of the population don’t always take tornado warnings as seriously as they should. Also, some people wait to hear their local tornado siren, but it can be easily drowned out by the noise of the storm–or be destroyed by the storm before it has a chance to alert locals.
  7. In a tornado, the safest place to be is underground, preferably in a concrete storm cellar. If no storm cellar is available, the bottom floor of a house or building, in a room with no exterior walls or windows, especially under stairs. In my house, my master bedroom closet is the only room that fits this description–and yes, I’ve dragged my kids and my dog into that closet with flashlights, snacks, a weather radio, blankets, and pillows when the local tornado sirens have sounded.
  8. Tornadoes most commonly have wind speeds less than 110mph and are about 250 feet in diameter. They also only commonly travel a couple of miles before dissipating. The largest tornadoes on record, though, had wind speeds exceeding 300mph, diameters of approximately 2.5 miles, and traveled dozens of miles.
  9. Tornadoes are rated on an EF scale. The EF stands for Enhanced Fujita and is an upgrade from the previous Fujita scale, named for the scientist who created it. The scale ranges from EF0–where a storm will down trees, but probably not cause significant damage to substantial structures–to an EF5–a storm that can rip houses off their foundations and pull large trees out of the ground or snap them in half. It is common for a tornado to have its rating on the EF scale upgraded after assessing the damage it caused.
  10. A single tornado can be a single vortex or a multiple vortex grouping–meaning multiple funnel cloud formations that officially touch down to the ground, but all originate from the same cell.
lightning and tornado hitting village
An example of a single vortex tornado (from pexels.com).

So all you Fantasy writers out there with wind mages in your story, they are not to be underestimated!

10 Things about Valentine’s Day

It’s the tenth of the month! Around here that means it’s time for me to spout off random trivia in hopes that you might find any of it interesting or helpful.

In fiction, especially in Fantasy and Science Fiction, worldbuilding is an important element in telling the story. We want the reader to become part of our world. I’ve touched before on athletic topics and how we can use sports to make our world seem more real. Another way is to assign holidays.

Most cultures around the world have at least a few major holidays and some minor ones as well. Religious holidays are generally the most well-known, but not all major holidays have something to do with religion. Think about the holidays you celebrate during the year. Think about how you celebrate, whether you get the day off or not, whether you celebrate with family or not, etc. The people in your fictional world might celebrate an armistice, a religious event, a monarch’s jubilee, etc. And a holiday that has been celebrated for a number of years might change over time.

This month, our case study is Valentine’s Day. Here are 10 Things about February 14th.

  1. Saint Valentine’s day is still part of the official Anglican and Lutheran calendars of commemorative saints days, but has been removed from the official Roman Catholic calendar as of 1969. Even so, it is still widely celebrated.
  2. There were no less than three saints named Valentine/Valentinus, all of whom were martyrs. The two best known were both originally buried on the Via Flaminia in Rome between 269 and 275 AD, though the remains of at least one of them have been relocated. Both are said to have died on February 14th.
  3. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine is commemorated on July 6th.
  4. There are legends that say a priest named Valentine secretly performed marriages for soldiers under Roman Emperor Claudius II who forbade the practice reasoning that single men made better soldiers because they were less concerned about the wives they left at home. However, there is serious doubt that any such ban on marriage ever existed.
  5. There was a priest named Valentine who was imprisoned in Rome for ministering to Christians during a time when Christianity was cause for persecution. It is believed that this Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer, and the entire family of the jailer converted to Christianity as a result. The legend goes on to say, though this part is more disputed, that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and on the night before his execution wrote her a letter signing it “Your Valentine.”
  6. There is still no record of Valentine’s Day or February 14th being associated with romantic love until 1400s England when it was mentioned by Chaucer and his contemporaries. There is also a poem the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt (1415 AD), which is considered the oldest “Valentine” on record.
  7. Formal “valentines”–handwritten notes or tokens of affection traded on Saint Valentine’s Day–became more popular in the 1500s, but were not commonly traded until the 1700s; and during the latter part of the 18th century commercially printed messages started to become available.
  8. In the 1840s, Esther Howland began making and selling pre-made Valentines greetings with scraps of lace and ribbon around colorful pictures. It earned her the moniker “Mother of the Valentine.”
  9. Though most of the marketing we see near Valentine’s Day seems to be aimed at men, women purchase as much as 85% of Valentine’s Day cards.
  10. In some countries, mass weddings are held on February 14th. It is also said to be the most common wedding anniversary date in the Philippines.

Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates, or other tokens of affection. But Saint Valentine’s Day was originally a day set aside by the church to commemorate a man (or three) who lost his life because he was being evangelical. It was not associated with romance until several hundred years after his death. And was not widely celebrated as a romantic holiday until centuries after that.

love heart romantic romance
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The point is that holidays can evolve, no matter what they originally celebrated. Traditions develop over time and sometimes deviate between cultures, regions, etc. They can be an excellent way to showcase different cultures, even ones that are seemingly similar in your worldbuilding.

What are your characters celebrating?

10 Things About the History of College Football

Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.

It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.

A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?

It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.

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10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).

  1. American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
  2. While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
  3. The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
  4. Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
  5. Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
  6. The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
  7. As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
  8. While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
  9. The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
  10. “Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.

I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.

And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.

 

10 Things You Can Do To Show Support for Someone with Mental Illness

It’s time for another 10 Things post. I was originally going to do 10 More Things about the Georgia Aquarium because I took a behind the scenes tour and that place is a nerd paradise. Then I thought I might go festive instead and write a 10 Things about Christmas. However, all those plans changed at the last minute.

This morning I got a phone call from my best friend. Someone very close to her, whom she loved dearly, lost a battle against depression. Out of respect for those closest to the person, I will withhold further details. My friend is grieving and in shock. And like most people who lose someone who has been battling mental illness, she knew on a logical level that it was not her fault and there was nothing more she could have done, but on an emotional level, she was struggling.

It was not her fault.

She did everything she could to support her loved one.

I spoke with her throughout the day because she’s my friend and she needs support now too. But as I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t help but think about the many people who fear this situation more than any other because they have a loved one living with mental illness.

This is not the first time someone I know has lost a battle with mental illness. I wish it were. Unfortunately, this is too common an outcome because our society still puts a stigma on mental illness which discourages some people from seeking the help they need or sticking to a treatment plan.

I’m no expert. By any stretch of the imagination. So when it occurred to me that this month–since it is one of the hardest months of the year for people with depression–might be a good month to talk about how to support your loved ones with mental illness, I had to do some research. I turned to Psychology Today, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Psych Central who all offer tips for anyone who is trying to show love and support to someone with a mental illness.

If any of this information is incomplete or outdated, I apologize. And if this post is something you think you might need to read through, please also do more research on your own. I will repeat: I’m no expert. Please seek more knowledgeable resources. In the meantime, hopefully, this can get the ball rolling in the right direction.

In tribute to those who are suffering because of their own battle with mental illness and to all those who have to stand on the sidelines as they witness their loved ones battle.

10 Things You Can Do to Show Support for Someone with Mental Illness:

  1. Research. Ask questions, read articles and books. Devour the information available so that you know how the illness works. Do not let misconceptions make the illness just a “personality quirk”.
  2. Have Reasonable Expectations. If your loved one has a few good days in a row, that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean they’re cured. You need to know that and so do they. They should still try not to exceed their limits.
  3. Get Help for Yourself. Every resource I consulted strongly advocated that family members and loved ones of the person with mental illness seek outside support for themselves. A therapist, a support group, etc. You need someone to talk to.
  4. Encourage Them to be Honest with their Treatment Team. Is this medication not working? Does it have some side effects that they’re not comfortable with? The doctor needs to know. They are not disturbing the doctor by being honest, they are reasserting control over their bodies and their lives. Encourage them to do so.
  5. Know Where to Draw the Line. You have to set limits. No matter how much you love someone, if they put you or your mental health in danger, it isn’t helping either of you. Set limits.
  6. Treat Them with Respect. Do not talk down to someone with a mental illness. Speak at an age and maturity appropriate level. Living with mental illness does not lower their IQ.
  7. Be a Good Listener. Ask how they are doing and wait for the answer. Engage in the conversation. Show them you genuinely care. Don’t just hear their words, listen to what they are saying. And this should be a discourse, not a debate.
  8. Pick an Appropriate Setting. If you are going to talk to someone about their mental illness, do it in a place or at a time where they won’t feel ambushed or put on display. They need to be comfortable and willing to share, not called out in front of friends or family.
  9. Don’t Guess. If you don’t know how you can help, ask. Even if you think you already know what is best, ask. It isn’t your life, it’s theirs. They have control. Unless they are in a position where you know they can or will do self-harm. That changes everything.
  10. Remain Calm. If you are speaking to a loved one about their mental illness, it will not help them for you to get heated or melodramatic. I’m not saying you can’t have feelings on the matter, but this isn’t about you. It’s about them and how to best support them.

This isn’t a complete list. Please seek other sources.

Above all, know this: Even if you do everything you are supposed to do, sometimes they lose the battle. It isn’t your fault. It’s not their fault. They were fighting an internal battle and lost. You couldn’t fight it for them, no matter how much you wanted to slay their dragons. And if you lose someone to this battle, it’s okay to seek help for yourself, too.

I sincerely hope that I didn’t mislead anyone with bad advice and again, I strongly suggest seeking other sources, but I wanted to take the opportunity to start a conversation. To serve as a reminder.

10 Things About The Georgia Aquarium

Yesterday was a momentous day for my family. My oldest turned five. He was so excited all day. It was the kind of excitement that’s infectious. Everything was fun and amazing because it was his birthday.

Instead of a party this year, he wanted to go on a creature adventure for his birthday. What can I say? Wild Kratts and Planet Earth are his favorite shows. Anyway, since we live in the south and have family in Georgia, we negotiated a trip to The Georgia Aquarium. He’s been once before and still raves about it.

So perhaps while you’re reading this, I’ll be traipsing through the world’s second largest aquarium with a look of awe to match my son’s. It doesn’t matter whether you’re five or ninety-five, that place is cool.

Which is why today’s post is 10 Things About The Georgia Aquarium.

male_whale_shark_at_georgia_aquarium
Male whale shark at The Georgia Aquarium
  1. When it opened in 2005 it was the largest aquarium in the world. It was surpassed in 2012 by one in Singapore, though after the expansion currently in progress I’m unsure if it will regain the lead.
  2. It sits on land donated by the Coca-Cola Company. And thanks to corporate and private donations, it opened debt free.
  3. It is the only institution outside of Asia to house whale sharks.
  4. More than 100,000 specimens representing over 700 species reside there. Including a manta ray rescued from a net in South Africa–it is one of only four sites worldwide to showcase such.
  5. Its biggest individual tank is 6.3 million gallons, and combined it has more 10 million gallons of marine and salt-water habitats.
  6. While the aquarium has served as an economic boost for Atlanta, the board also pushes education and conservation as prioritized goals. When the dolphin show fell under controversy, it was redesigned to focus more on education.
  7. The coral used in exhibits is man-made and part of a joint project between Georgia Tech and The University of the South Pacific.
  8. The aquarium partners with universities (eg Georgia Tech, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Florida Atlantic University) and the federal government to help save endangered species through research and education.
  9. It has a 4D simulator that can take you on a submarine tour of prehistoric seas.
  10. The aquarium is part of the Smithsonian Affiliations program, and although run as a non-profit, has some of the highest admission charges nationwide.

 

Well, that’s it for November. Maybe next year I’ll give you 10 Things About Veterans’ Day, but for now whale sharks and manta rays are dancing through my head. Just keep swimming!