Just for Fun: Blue Christmas Update


I just found out about this site and wanted to share it with you.


Reach out and touch one of your friends by sending them a recording of you and Elvis singing Blue Christmas together!


Go to: to make your recording and send it as a free holiday Ecard. If you sing like me, it's guaranteed to bring a smile to your friend's face.








When Red and Green Make Blue


The last time I heard the words "Blue Christmas," they were crooned by Elvis. This morning, my local paper ran an article by religion writer Gary Stern noting that two churches in Westchester County, New York, are holding special "Blue Christmas" services for people who are "sad, angry, depressed, lonely, melancholy or uncertain. "

Churches around the nation have been doing the same for more than a decade, traditionally scheduling these services on the day with the least amount of light; this year, the winter solstice falls on Sunday, December 21. The services are often somber and ecumenical, using candles to acknowledge that many are experiencing pain, loneliness, or grief.

Unfortunately, we all know at least one person who'll be experiencing a Blue Christmas this time around. The economic turndown has resulted in lost jobs, lost homes, increased costs, and for many, a looming sense of financial uncertainty. This month alone, the pending collapse of the Big Three Automakers and the mind-boggling Madoff affair were the icing on the cake of financial despair.

With government cutbacks, gaps in the health and social welfare systems have become gaping holes. And people are still reeling from the tragic costs, both human and economic, of the war in Iraq and from a string of man-made and natural disasters that caused senseless death and destruction.

If you know someone who is likely to feel blue over the holidays, be sensitive and don't overdo the merriment and good cheer. Figure out which friends, relatives, or neighbors you can help and what you can do. Sometimes even a "Hi, I'm thinking of you" phone call helps. Reminding them they aren't alone may be all they need to get over this holiday hump.

Listen to Blue Christmas on YouTube


Friendship born of experience


A shared experience can bring people together and even create the foundation for life-long friendships. When I first arrived at my position at the National Institute of Mental Health, without any forewarning, my new supervisor told my friend-to-be Risa that she would be sharing an office with me. Surely, no one likes to lose their space and privacy so things were kind of bumpy at the beginning. But after several months we not only learned how to co-habit comfortably in the workplace, we became close friends. I remember bonding with my friend Diana when we were breast-feeding our babies at the same time. We were both on maternity leave while navigating the new waters of motherhood together. We are still friends today.


Some life circumstances make times more challenging to befriend than others. Perhaps you're battling depression or addiction, reeling from a divorce or other loss, or someone you love has been diagnosed with a serious illness. At such times, it's natural to feel like you want to crawl under the covers and isolate yourself. Yet connecting with another person who understands your experience firsthand can help you cope and feel less alone.


So I was excited to learn about Experience Project, an internet site that provides an opportunity for people to connect and share a sense of community based on similar experiences. I interviewed Armen Berjikly, the founder and CEO, to learn a bit more.

How does Experience Project (EP) relate to friendship?

If you accept the premise that most, if not all, of our friendships are based on shared experiences-- cultures, religions, backgrounds, schools, careers, families, etc. then Experience Project provides the means to turn strangers into intimate friends.

EP harnesses technology to introduce people who could (and perhaps should) be friends in the physical world, based on shared life experiences, but who will either never meet, or never realize the extent of what they have in common. If you think about it literally, you pass hundreds of people a day, and any one of those people could be your next best friend-- if only you knew who to stop, what to ask, and even then if they felt comfortable responding. EP makes that happen thousands of times a day, providing a platform where who you are is all that matters.


Can you provide a bit of information on the demographics of your visitors? What proportion are women?

While visitors to our site break down nearly evenly, registered members are two-thirds female. More specifically, our typical member is an American mother in her late twenties.


What types of experiences seem to draw women to the site? Are their experiences different or similar to that of men?

Women and men are generally drawn to the site for similar reasons-- experiences around health and relationships. Broadly generalizing, the usage pattern of male versus female users differs a bit in that female members are more likely to build a community among the people they interact with-- exploring their profiles, commenting on their stories-- while male users are slightly more inclined to be problem-solving oriented, getting and giving input to specific questions. These generalities obviously don't hold true across the board, and many of our most active members in the community at large are male.


Do you ever hear stories of women who connected on the site and became friends offline? Or are all the visitors anonymous?

Members are required to remain anonymous in their public postings-they are not allowed to post information that could be used to specifically identify them, such as phone numbers, addresses, real names, etc. However, once people begin interacting, they have every tool at their disposal to communicate with other members privately. While they can continue to use the site to communicate anonymously, and indefinitely, some members naturally want to connect in the real world. We just heard about our first EP wedding-- the members were perfect strangers who met, and discovered each other, through the site. Their wedding will be attended by a dozen or so other members. Further, we know of dozens of coffee circles and even a group of members who went on a summer road trip together. So yes, EP can lead to connections offline, though we never push people to feel that they have to take it that far, and in fact do everything in our power to make sure that communicating on the site is comfortable and satisfying.


What were your motivations for creating the site?

I wanted to create a place where people could be themselves, and define themselves through all of the experiences in their life that they considered important, including the triumphs and the challenges. The site began after a close friend's diagnosis with a serious illness. After building an online community dedicated specifically to that disease, I saw the real power driving the site was connecting people who shared life experiences. Further, no one person was defined by any one experience, and connecting people who share a combination of experiences provided for the most personalized support, as well as the basis for a long-lasting and meaningful friendship. With 3 billion people on this planet, no one should ever have to feel alone, no matter what they're going through and how unique they feel their situation is.




Reader Q & A: Trying to find the courage to end it



Dear Irene,

I am in the middle of a bad friendship and am so grateful to have found this site. Thanks everyone! I am trying to find the courage to "cut down" on the friendship but I am a person who generally will hold things in and then explode. I did this to a friend in high school and still regret it and I never want to shout horrible things at a person again. This is one of the reasons that I have been putting off cutting down or ending this current friendship. But I have been practicing being assertive instead of aggressive and I hope this will help me in this situation.


My friend and I would see each other about twice a year and that was good. We would have fun and then I could get on with my life and spend time with the friends that I had more in common with. But, idiot me, I needed a job and she was able to offer me one. I then felt obligated to go out with her more.


She was recently separated and didn't have that many people to hang out with. I had nothing else really going on so I went. Since she only -- and I really mean only -- talks about herself (I just realized that I can't recall her ever asking anyone "How are you?") I got tired of going out all the time pretty fast. I am a super fantastic listener and do not even need to talk about myself a whole lot to be happy. This post is the most I've "talked" about this situation to anyone. But when you tell someone something and they say "uh-huh, so anyway..." it makes you feel like a doormat.


I have some very nice friends that I would love to spend more time with but I am so exhausted by this friend. I will actually daydream about the "real" conversations that I have with my other friends while this friend is telling me the same story for the tenth time. You remember those "real" conversations where one person says something while the other one listens and then the other person says something while the other person listens - Ah! the good old days!


So why, after a year, am I still a slave to the phone calls and "dropping-ins"? Well, first, I just had to hang out with her when her boyfriend was out of town (She has boundless energy and is easily bored, while I need ten hours [sleep] a night!). I would say to myself, "Okay, he'll be back and it's just one night and she's been going through hell with her ex-husband and needs a friend." But it wouldn't be one night because he would be gone for work for weeks at a time and so I was apparently supposed to be his stand in. At this point it was annoying but tolerable. Looking back (hindsight!!!) I should not have gone out with someone to have a tolerable time.


Now I feel like I missed the chance to get out of this because she is in a worse state than she was before. I kept thinking that she needed me because her ex-husband was making things difficult with child custody and after she got out of this rough patch I could slowly make myself less available. Well, now her boyfriend suddenly dumps her and she is semi-suicidal. I told her that she should consider seeing a therapist and gave her the suicide prevention hotline number. She is still saying things about suicide. Now how am I supposed to tell a suicidal person that they are annoying the crap out of me? Any advice would be greatly appreciated if anyone takes the time to read my ramblings.


Good luck everyone!


Trying to find the courage



Dear "Trying to Find the Courage:"


It sounds like you have gained quite a bit of insight into yourself and your relationships over time. That's good---but now you need to act on that self-knowledge. For some reason, it seems like you have been unable to extricate yourself from a relationship that has felt very draining. Admittedly, the timing now makes your situation more challenging.


As I understand from your note, you may also work with your friend or work for her. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to disengage or cut it off without worrying about its effect on your employment, so perhaps that is another reason holding you back from doing what you know you should do.


It's nice to be helpful and supportive to friends but relationships can't be consistently one-sided; they need to be reciprocal. I'm sorry that your friend is depressed and talks about suicide (as you are). Her threats need to be taken seriously. However, you aren't the person who can help her. It was wise (and appropriate) that you suggested she seek professional help. Do you know any other family members who should be informed and might be able to step up and help her? I think you also need to tell your friend that as much as you care about her and would like to help her, her issues are too complicated for you to handle.


Try to back off gradually and spend more time with other friends. Spending large amounts of time with someone who is very depressed can be depressing. I think you need a little respite from this difficult situation, which will help provide you with more perspective.


Let us know how things go.






Psych 101: When a close friend is depressed


It’s depressing to be with a friend who is truly depressed. You may even get weepy yourself. The black cloud of depression spreads over you too, making you feel like you want to escape and be with anyone else but her. But read this first!

I’ve blogged here repeatedly about the importance of female friendships to women’s emotional and physical well-being---and about the perils of toxic ones as well. I’ve talked about friends who are too needy, too self-centered, too angry, too demanding, or too unreliable and have pointed out that some friendships reach a tipping point when it’s time to call it quits. I still believe that relationships that are consistently draining should be ended or at least, placed on hold.

Then I received a post from a reader entitled, Toxic Friends May Be Crying Out for Help, which reminded me that there are exceptions to every rule---and that it is important to distinguish between a toxic friendship (which is pathological relationship) and depression (which is a mental disorder). Here's the post:

Dear Irene:

Thanks for pointing out that there are bad friends out there, However I want to play devil's advocate here and say that in 2006 when ALL and I do mean ALL 5 of my close friends bailed on me like a chain of dominoes I nearly died from the depression it caused. In the wake of that nightmare I found out I had a mental problem and needed HELP. Your call to DUMP Toxic Friendships would be better served by advocating INTERVENTION for people who may possibly be in serious trouble rather than leaving them behind like trash on the street corner.



Yes, there are some cases when close friends need to cut a little slack. Could it be that your friendship feels burdensome and painful because your friend is depressed?

Recognizing depression

Clinical depression is extremely common, affecting nearly one out of ten people in a given year, and it’s is twice as prevalent in women as it is in men. It’s more than a case of the blues or a bad mood that passes. Depression profoundly affects a person’s ability to function. And as hard as someone tries to shake it, it recurs nearly every day, all day, for at least two weeks or longer.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms of depression may include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, waking up during the night, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Does this list of symptoms and signs make you think of one of your friends? Well, this is a reminder. As much as you might like to, you can’t talk a friend out of being depressed. Even a kick in the pants won’t help. Depression is a biological illness.

What you can do

  • If you are a good friend, there are some ways in which you can help and possibly make a difference:
  • You can listen carefully, provide support, and offer to spend some time doing things you enjoy together (taking a walk or bicycle ride, or going to a movie).
  • You can offer to help her with concrete tasks she can’t accomplish on her own because she feels so overwhelmed or has no energy.
  • Try to be patient---and never be pushy. Don’t dismiss her feelings. Show that you understand them but encourage her to realize that these feelings are only temporary and will eventually pass.
  • Don’t pussyfoot around the issue. Remind her that depression is a treatable illness and encourage your friend to seek treatment.
  • If she resists your initial suggestion, try again but don’t nag. Don’t make demands or set ultimatums. Many depressed people need time to find their way to treatment and some people just want to be left alone.
  • If you worry that your friend may be harboring suicidal thoughts, you have certain ethical obligations. Be direct and ask her if she feels suicidal. If she does, remind her that she is important to you and that she needs immediate professional help. Never allow the burden of having a depressed friend be yours alone. Be sure to inform someone else (e.g. her partner or closest relative.) If you’re her partner, tell her doctor.

Recognize that you can only be a friend, not a mental health professional. There is just so much that friends can do and so much that they can give. You may need to reluctantly cut loose and be there for her when she begins to recover.

Note: This post is about friendship and isn't intended as medical advice.

This post can also be read on The Huffington Post.


Girl Talk: Too much of a good thing?


The findings of a recent study by Amanda Rose and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia challenge the conventional wisdom that it’s always good for adolescent girls to get problems “off their chest” by talking about them to close friends...


RX for healthy living: Good friends and many of them

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A recent article by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge on, Why Love Heals: How Friendships Keep You Healthy, discusses the findings of a study that examined the correlation between friendship and good health.

“A study of more than 4,000 women and men in Alameda County, California, showed a direct link between the size of one's social circle and survival, with larger circles bringing ever-greater longevity. Women with fewer than six regular contacts outside the house had significantly higher rates of blocked coronary arteries, were more likely to be obese and have diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression, and were two and a half times more likely to die over the course of the study than those with an extensive social network.”

The article goes on to say that both good friendships and a good number of them are associated with good health; a combination of the two is the best prescription of all.

What are your thoughts about why friendship is linked to good health?


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