Full Catastrophe Living

I only made it officially through one book in February (which is an all time low for me), but one powerful book is better than two or three crappy ones, right?


It all started when my colleague was complaining about her new-age instructor for an education leadership class. Apparently his love for dream-catchers and meditation was his answer to being a great principal. The more I asked about him, the more I grimaced at the thought of sitting through the class – but I was still curious about the “required reading.” One of the texts was by John Kabat-Zinn, and through a bit of surface level Googling, I impulsively purchased one of his other books, Full Catastrophe Living.

What’s it about? Here’s what the back of the book says:

“Stress. It can sap our energy, undermine  our health if we let it, even shorten our lives. It makes us more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, disconnection and disease. Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s renowned mindfulness-based stress reduction program, this classic, groundbreaking work—which gave rise to a whole new field in medicine and psychology—shows you how to use medically proven mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga to counteract stress, establish greater balance of body and mind, and stimulate well-being and healing. By engaging in these mindfulness practices and integrating them into your life from moment to moment and from day to day, you can learn to manage chronic pain, promote optimal healing, reduce anxiety and feelings of panic, and improve the overall quality of your life, relationships, and social networks.”

First off, I read anything like this with a grain of salt. However, the traditional medical treatments when I blew out my knee seemed very limited – one time the doctor even held up his hands and said, “I don’t know what to do with that,” when I described a horrific pain in my foot after knee surgery. But chiropractic and naturopathic treatments have worked in slow, steady increments (in fact, my chiropractor fixed my foot with a simple touch later that day). Admittedly, the acupuncture that required wrapping my knee in chainmail and tin foil was dubious, but I feel generally fantastic since prolotherapy.

You see, I’m just not the kind of person who wants to just take a pill. There’s got to be another way.

During Full Catastrophe Living, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes! That’s me! I understand what you’re talking about!” Although I’m not dealing with terminal illness or the tragedy of losing a spouse, I do feel daily aches and pains that I know are related to stress.

But also – my mind keeps me up at night. Whether it’s the burden of being a public educator, or I’ve just spent too much time on Reddit reading about MK Ultra, I wake up at night with too much going on in my brain. Donald Trump isn’t helping.

giphy.gif I already use my Headspace app regularly, but that feels a bit surface level. What I appreciate about Full Catastrophe Living is that it goes into the research of mindfulness and meditation, as well as gives a lot of practical strategies.

If anyone can relate to thinking that this is all ridiculous fluff, I can. A few years ago, I laughed in my naturopath’s face when she suggested I meditate. It wasn’t until I worked for a raging bully and was considering a medical leave that I thought, Maybe I need to give that meditation thing a try. I even mediated in secret because I was so embarrassed – and now here I am blogging about self-help books, for all the world to see.

“Catastrophe” to John Kabat-Zinn does not mean disaster, it just means that we have all these things going on in life – and learning how to manage them in a mindful way can make people realize that the things that feel overwhelming can actually be rewarding. For instance, people complain about work, but many people who are chronically ill or incapable of working would give anything to have a job. It’s a matter of perspective.

If you think mediation is boring or you don’t have time, they say “That’s ok,” and give 30 second strategies. If you have been meditating for awhile, it gives more advanced strategies (of which I am so far from being able to do).

As many people know, the stress of dealing with my dad’s house has been paramount in my life right now, but I’m working on experiencing the catastrophe rather than fighting against it. Speaking of which, the house goes on the market in three weeks.



Books of September

As usual this month, there were some winners and some losers.

51K6PMcWEKL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly by Dennis O’Donnell – Written by a guy who was an orderly for many years in a psychiatric unit, he loosely retells stories that he witnessed and experienced with patients and other orderlies. I admit that I chose this one hoping for some shocking stories, stuff that would disturb me. Instead, it was a somewhat “heartwarming” account of how people with mental illness struggled but then were also treated by a generally competent staff in a competent place. Which is all fine and dandy – I can sleep easier – but it just wasn’t what my warped brain was looking for. I also struggled to read the Scottish dialogue and felt that some of the stories felt contrived, or molded for a purpose. For me it was meh, but I could see people who are into Oprah’s Book Club enjoying this one.

Unknown.jpeg438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathon Franklin – Aha! This one was much more my speed! I vaguely remembered reading about this story when it hit the news: a Mexican fisherman rescued after over a year adrift in the Pacific, and it was so unbelievable that many called it a hoax. This book tells the story of an experienced fisherman, Salvador Alvarenga (actually Salvadorian), who was caught in a storm and then survived for 438 days adrift with no supplies in an open boat. His survival skills are unmatched as he learned to catch fish and birds with his hands and scavenge garbage to make tools and shelter.

And just when you think being rescued is the end of the story – it’s not. His physical and mental state are seriously damaged, and his story was put into question. But if you read this book, you’ll see that how intelligent and determined he was to survive (he was drinking his urine and eating raw turtles by day 5 – no down time for him!).

Unknown.jpegPapillon by Henri Charriere – At the end of 438 days, the journalist who wrote the book said that Alvarenga was his version of “Papillon” – the guy who manages to continue to survive despite all odds. There is a lot of controversy over who is the real Papillion, and the inter web tells me the story is probably not true despite the claim.

After reading this book, I DON’T CARE. I hated it; I hated him. The narrator was full of himself from the first moment, and in fact I enjoyed when prison guards beat him mercilessly. It seemed at times he was proclaiming the gross inequities and brutalities of incarceration (which I have no doubt are true everywhere) and then two minutes later he was full of false bravado about his intellect. His escapes seem phony, or at least wildly embellished, along with all the romantic pursuits. I couldn’t finish this book fast enough, and not in a good way.

Want to more about Salvador Alvarenga – the real deal?


Books of June

With the regular school year ending, a trip to Greece, and starting to teach a new term at the university – I was slammed in June, but I did manage to meet my “three books a month” goal.

71Qo1SMfiCL.jpgThe Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin – I can’t believe that I had never heard of this book. A sci-fi book from the 70s based in Portland, Oregon and I’ve never read it? HOW? Without spoiling the plot, you have the main character, George Orr, who has discovered that his dreams are altering reality so he seeks the help of a doctor who ends up manipulating the dreams. There were times when I couldn’t read this book fast enough, and many other times where their existential dialogue was just too much for me. How many times do we need to discuss the precarious existence of man?!

It’s a great book, unique and strange (and based in my hometown!), but it’s not quite the escapism I was looking for.

jacket-cover-flat.jpgRestoring Opportunity – It’s hard for me to believe that there are people out there who honestly think that kids have an equal playing field in education (and life), but they’re out there… This book goes into the research of what is happening (and not happening) with our students of color and students in poverty. For me, it’s a dry read, but you can’t ignore the evidence.

What I don’t particularly like about this text is that it reads like a college textbook in that it’s full of research, but I didn’t find it to be much of a practical guide for an educator.



Everyday Anti Racism – I love this book. It’s super short essays and excerpts from a massive amount of experts in the field, and the final section is straight up practical strategies teachers can use with their students. My pre-service teachers that are reading this for my class, however, are experiencing a lot of displeasure with the text. I can’t yet say if it’s because the topic makes them uncomfortable, they don’t yet have enough context as newbies, or they are just sick of homework – but personally I recommend this one for all my teacher friends. It’s a hefty book, but super digestible because each section is short and to the point.

Books of April

I’m halfway through my third book so I didn’t meet my goal, but I struggled to finish my first book of the month so I’ll call it a victory.

Unknown.jpeg Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King – I had finished several books in Hawaii and wanted something entertaining for the plane ride home so this was a spontaneously iBooks choice. The first 100 pages had me interested; the premise being that someone in a Mercedes plowed into a huge crowd of people, killed several, and got away with it. After the killer was never caught and the case died down, he wrote a letter to a retired detective and a whole cat-and-mouse story started. But seriously, this book was 400 pages too long, and kind of offensive. After proclaiming my love to Joe Goldberg in You, I obviously don’t have a problem connecting with a murderer, but in Mercedes, the writing felt so heavy-handed and didactic. The detective was a cliche: bored, fat, and missing the action. The killer was equally cliche: emotionless techy with a thing for his mom. I won’t get into the details (because there were so so so many completely pointless and redundant ones) but I couldn’t wait for this book to be over.


Room by Emma Donoghue – Meanwhile, I couldn’t put this book down! I purposely didn’t see the movie or read reviews so that I could read the book first – and I’m so glad I was patient. You’ve got a young mother and her five year old son imprisoned in a garden shed by a stranger…for years. But rather than exploit the horrific physical and mental abuse that Joy (the mother) experiences, the story is told from the point of view of her five year old son, Jack. While sometimes he is scared, he is more curious and excited because Joy creates a world of safety in Room.

It’s a great story of survival and bravery, and unique in the way it’s told.

I watched the movie, which followed the book extremely closely. The book was a page turner, and the movie was just as gripping (hel-lo Brie Larson won the Oscar). Everything was just as I had pictured it. But I won’t lie and say it was easy to read or watch – it’s a story that sticks with you for some pretty dark reasons.