Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Connect with other book lovers

Following up on the book website article: share your personal favorite sites in the comments of this post!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Understanding depression

Here's a brief talk on depression by Robert Sapolsky, Stanford biologist and author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, a bestselling book on stress. It's worth watching for a look into some of the ways depression can affect everyday functioning in some surprising ways.

Matthew Tiffany works in Gorham as a mental health counselor in private practice. He welcomes any questions or comments, and can be reached at his e-mail address,, by phone at (207)518-8145, and via his website.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Five approaches to happiness

Continuing Mental Illness week, I thought I'd share this short video from Tal Ben-Shahar, a psychology lecturer at Harvard University. Ben-Shahar lectures extensively on "positive psychology," more information about which can be found here. (My apologies for the right edge of the video being a little cropped; you can also see the video here, as well as read a transcript of the talk here.)

Matthew Tiffany is a mental health counselor, freelance writer, and parent. He welcomes any questions or comments, and can be reached at his e-mail address,, by phone at (207)518-8145, and via his website.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Caring for a depressed friend

This week is Mental Illness Week, so I thought I'd write a bit about being helpful to people suffering from depression. The fact is, nearly everyone will have difficulties of this sort at some point in your life, whether it be severe depression or "a case of the blues," whether it be discomfort around changes in your work schedule or full blown stress and panic attacks from being laid off. Mental illness can and does affect people of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

  1. The first thing you can do to help a friend or relative who has depression is to help him or her to get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. If the depression is severe, you may need to make an appointment for them and accompany them to that appointment. Also, encourage him or her to stick with the treatment - the problems that can lead to depression often have roots that go way back, and it takes time to address those causes. You can find a counselor or therapist in your area at this excellent website.
  2. Offer emotional support and encouragement. Let the person know that you're available to help out. A quote: "It was one of those times when you have to decide between your own convenience and the unknown quantity of another man's troubles." (R. Macdonald) Listen to him or her openly, without judging or trying to downplay how the person is feeling. What may seem like a minor matter to you (and might to them, also, if they weren't struggling) isn't minor to them.
  3. Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your friend's or relative's counselor or doctor. If you are unsure about how to contact them, or need further advice on how to proceed, the Maine 211 help line is a good resource.
  4. Invite your friend or relative to go on walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but remember not to push. Although diversions and company are needed, placing too many demands on the person may increase feelings of failure.
  5. Remind the person that with time and treatment, the depression will lift. Let them know that although depression can feel like the worst sort of loneliness, many people suffer from it and are able to turn around a situation that seems hopeless.
Matthew Tiffany is a mental health counselor, freelance writer, and parent. He welcomes any questions or comments, and can be reached at his e-mail address,, by phone at (207)518-8145, and via his website.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to school - for parents!

Whatever you might think about the President's address to school children the other day, it's hard to argue with the importance of a good education. Your children may still be undecided about what they want to do after finishing high school, and depending on their age, they'll probably downplay their feelings about the value of school. Whether you've got a first grader who's still excited about learning, or a jaded teenager counting the days to graduation, the fact is, they're going to be spending most of their waking hours there.

It can be frustrating for parents to have such diminished influence over their kids. There are some things you can do to make things easier, both for you and for your kids.
  1. Start at an early age with getting organized. This can be as simple as a wall calendar that you use - with your kids' participation - to track everything that's going on, from after school activities to science fairs, from homework and project due dates to field trips. If you're more technologically inclined, start a Google Calendar for everything school related and have reminders of upcoming events emailed to you. Talk with your kids about the calendar - don't just fill it out yourself (though that may seem easier), because doing it together will teach them to keep themselves organized and on task.
  2. The new day starts the night before. Set aside time for homework - and set aside time for unwinding - but it makes the morning a lot easier to pick out the next day's clothes ahead of time. (One family I know takes 15 minutes on Sundays to plan out clothes for the whole week. It may sound strange, but it's one less thing in the morning.) Pack lunch foods the night before. It's all about habits - hard to make, but hard to break.
  3. Stay in touch with teachers. Many teachers are now using the Internet to list assignments on an ongoing basis - you can use this with your home calendar to make sure you're up-to-date on any changes. Also, find out at the beginning of the year what the teacher's preferred method of contact is - do they want to write notes back and forth in a spiral notebook, is e-mail more convenient, do they want telephone calls? It's not only okay to be a squeaky wheel when it comes to your kids' education - it's mandatory. If you talk with the teacher early in the year to set up some back-and-forth on an ongoing basis, they'll be able to plan for it, and you'll be more likely to follow through. Don't wait for a problem to arise before you get to know the teachers.
  4. Open house. For many parents, going to open house is a no-brainer, but there are ways to improve on it. Remember going in that the teacher is going to be having conversations with anywhere between 20 and 70 parents in the span of a couple of hours. Keep your check-in brief, and use this time to set up a separate parent-teacher conference to talk about your kids' strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Also, call ahead of time and ask if there's anything you can do to help with the open house - whether it's bringing a snack, or showing up early to help set up, whatever might be helpful. You'll be helping a probably frazzled teacher and building a relationship with him/her.
  5. Offer to volunteer. Yes, the "v-word" - "It's really hard to find the time for volunteering, and what could I do, anyway? I'd just make my kid nervous." Teachers are well aware of parents' feelings about volunteering, both positive and negative; if you ask, they'll be able to steer you in the right direction. Maybe they'll ask you to read to younger kids in a library reading time; maybe there's something related to your profession that you could talk with the kids about, or maybe you have a hobby or special talent you could share. Again, there might not be a great deal you can do to help - schools have specific rules about volunteering - but the offer creates good will between you and the teachers, letting them know that you've got their backs. It also shows your kids that you're interested in making sure they get the most out of their years in school.
Do you have any tips that have worked well for you? Share them in the comments.

Matthew Tiffany is a mental health counselor, freelance writer, and parent. He welcomes any questions or comments, and can be reached at his e-mail address,, by phone at (207)518-8145, and via his website.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The blanket of Freedom...A story for Veterans' Day

The Blanket of Freedom

The other day my daughter and I met for a bite to eat and some chat time. As we entered the front door, a Marine in full dress uniform caught my eye.

"Wow," I said to my daughter, almost walking into a table, "whoever designed those uniforms should be designing clothes for civilians as well. We need someone who can get the kids away from those belly shirts and pants worn so low I don't want to know what's holding them up."

My daughter laughed. She's over thirty and can afford to laugh at such fuddy duddy comments made by her mother.

When we got settled at our table, I felt bad for temporarily reducing the Marine Corp to a statement of fashion. After I caught my breath, I mean, I'm old enough to be his…older sister; I started to think about what these men represent. As the Jack Nicholson character so eloquently said in the movie, 'A Few Good Men,' these men guard the walls. We sleep beneath the blanket of the freedom that they provide.

I wonder how many of us, as we climb under our covers each night, think about the fact that we can go to sleep without fear, that we live in a country with liberty and justice for all. We are free to speak, to worship, to vote for our leaders…we are even free to disagree with how our country is being run and most importantly, free to do something about it.

Sure, our leaders have made decisions we disagree with especially when it comes to defending democracy. We all have opinions on the morality and purpose of each war as we wait for history to record which ones were right. But the men and women who stood on the wall did so without question, without doubting the orders they were given. America's soldiers held that wall for us, right or wrong.

Every year in November we devote a day to honoring our soldiers and veterans as well as remembering those who gave their lives. But when I think of those men and women who died for our country, I also think of their families, their friends and the dozens if not hundreds of people who are affected by each and every death. I wonder what one day a year means to children who have lost their parents or to parents who have lost their children.

In the movie Shenandoah, James Stewart plays farmer Charlie Anderson, a widower with seven children caught between the north and south during the civil war. After losing several of his children to the war, he speaks at the grave of his wife, his words choked with tears. "There's not much I can tell you about this war, Martha. It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning it, the politicians talk about the glory of it, and the old men talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home."

So, this year, on Veterans' Day and every day that follows, I will pray that all the soldiers come home…and soon.

I know that bringing them home will not end all wars. If history has taught us anything, it has taught us there will always be wars. But this year as I climb into bed on the eve of November eleventh, I will dream every one home, even if just for one day.

As my daughter and I got up to leave, I walked her to her car and gave her a big hug, holding on an extra second because I didn't want to let go.

"Thanks for supper, Mom," she said as she got into her car. "Give my love to Dad. See you next week!"

It was as simple as that. See you next week, Mom. And I know we will. I know we will because she sleeps under the same blanket that I do, that all Americans do, the one that the Marine and his comrades so bravely gave us, the blanket of freedom.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Good Grief! Great Finds at Goodwill

It’s been many years since I stepped foot in the Gorham Goodwill store. A few weeks ago, after a rare sunny beach outing, the girls convinced (begged) me to stop in on our way home.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a clean, bright, nicely laid out store just bursting with bargains.

The store is easily navigated, and divided into sections for household, books, men, women and children. There are clothes, shoes, clothing accessories, toys, games, furniture, jewelry, CDs, books, sheets and towels, kitchenware, decorative items – just about anything you would find in a large department store.

There is a mix of used and new items, and everything is priced to sell, though it does take time and a good eye to spot the outstanding deals.

My best find of the day was a pair of Banana Republic jeans - no tags but in brand new condition – for $6.99, a lot less than the typical $69 retail price. I also bought a package of two camisoles for $5.99 (new) and an LL Bean cardigan for the same price.

Every one of us found “treasures,” with the total bill adding up to less than $50 for nine articles of high quality clothing and two books!

The best part about the shopping experience was getting up to the register and being told that something was half off the already low price, according to the colored label or “barb” (those plastic things that hold tags) that was on the item. So, a shirt marked $4.99 was $2.50 because it happened to have the barb that was that week’s sale color. Not bad!

Goodwill also offers a discount card for an annual fee of $10 that entitles the shopper to 10% off every purchase and access to special sales.

Thrift is hip these days and just makes good economic sense. Being thrifty is also easy when there is a Goodwill store offering a variety of low priced, high quality merchandise right here in town.

102 Main Street