Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Doing my part to raise awareness about mental health August 3, 2022

A hand reaches skyward in a mental health themed sculpture that once graced a street corner outside the Northfield, Minnesota, Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

WHEN HE HEARD ME rant for the umpteenth time about “people just don’t get it, they don’t understand,” he advised, “Then you need to educate them.”

He, my husband of 40 years, is right. Venting to Randy about offensive terminology and uninformed/misinformed comments and attitudes about mental illness does nothing other than temporarily ease my frustrations. Speaking out, writing, based on my observations and experiences, can make a difference. So write about my concerns I will, with the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional.

I photographed this shirt at an event at the Northfield Public Library. This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

WORDS MATTER

Today—on the heels of recent offensive lyrics by Beyonce’—seems the right time to share what’s bothered me for way too long. The pop singer used the derogatory term, “spaz/spazzin,” in her new release, “Heated.” Although she was referencing spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy causing motor impairments in limbs, and not mental health, the analogy fits. Her word choice proved offensive to people who are disabled. And rightly so. To her credit, Beyonce’ acknowledged her unintentional slur and is changing the lyrics. Just like Lizzo, who used the same wordage not all that long ago.

For the millions who each day bravely face mental health challenges and for those who love them, everyday careless language can hurt. Words like crazy, insane, nuts, it’s all in their head, off their rocker, out of his/her mind…are hurtful. As hurtful as the lyrics sung by Beyonce’ and Lizzo.

Recently, while reading a Good Morning America Book Club selection published in 2021, I came across this phrase: “the usual terrible but addictive schizophrenic medley.” In the context of this fictional story, the character was not talking about anything mental health related, but rather about what she was seeing on Instagram. I stopped reading and considered how insulting those words, especially to someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. I doubt the author intended to offend. But she did.

Buttons previously available for the taking at the Northfield library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF YOU HAD…

Now you might say I’m being overly-sensitive. But consider if you, or someone you loved, was diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, whatever, and uncaring words (which I can’t even think of) were tossed out there. It’s no different for those diagnosed with bi-polar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder…

I’m thankful individuals undergoing cancer treatment and/or who have survived cancer, for example, are not subjected to negative/offending words and behavior, but rather are supported with encouragement, fundraisers, even hot dishes delivered to their homes. That type of care and attitude should be a model for how all of us treat individuals dealing with a mental health crisis and their families. We should respond with equal love, compassion, care and understanding. And tangible support.

A sign explains the story behind the “Waist Deep” sculpture in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019)

CHANGING ATTITUDES, BUT MORE IS NEEDED

I recognize attitudes toward mental health are changing, that, as a whole, we are growing more informed, finally beginning to reduce the stigma of brain disorders. But much work remains. Individuals in a mental health crisis should have immediate access to care. Busy, understaffed emergency rooms are often the first-line treatment option. I don’t know of a single doctor who would send a person experiencing a heart attack home. Individuals in a mental health crisis, the equivalent of a heart attack, deserve the same immediate life-saving care. Yet the wait to see a psychiatrist often exceeds six weeks, at least here in greater Minnesota. That’s unacceptable.

There’s a need for more mental healthcare professionals and in-patient treatment and recovery centers. There’s a need for more funding, more research. Insurance companies should not determine care/medications or refuse to fully cover mental healthcare expenses.

This sculpture, once located outside the Northfield library, is called “Waist Deep” and addresses mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IT STARTS WITH EACH OF US

At a grassroots level—that’s each of us individually—more compassion, support, understanding are needed. A few years ago I walked into a southwestern Minnesota brewery and spotted a man sporting a jacket advertising a neighboring brewery. Imprinted on the back was an image of a straitjacket. I could not believe what I was seeing, especially after also reading the offensive name of the brewery. Later I looked online to read the brewery’s list of “Crazy Good Beer” with words like manic, catatonic, lobotomy, kookaloo… in the craft beer names. Simply writing this makes my blood pressure rise. I wanted to rip that jacket right off that beer drinker, so strong was my anger in that moment. Imagine the uproar, for example, if a brewery used words like chemo or radiation in its beer names or used an IV drip as its logo. Somehow a straitjacket is OK? Not from my perspective.

Imagine, too, if you have gone through cancer treatment and someone said you will be fine now that you’ve completed treatment. In the back of your mind, you recognize that the cancer could return despite the treatment. It’s no different for someone with a serious mental illness. Drugs work for awhile and then they don’t. Medications and therapy help manage symptoms, but there is no cure. Symptoms can return. Relapses, crises, happen.

I highly recommend this book, among many I’ve read on the topic of mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

GRATITUDE & RESOURCES

I appreciate every single person who has made a concerted effort to understand mental health, mental illness specifically. I appreciate organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which works tirelessly to support individuals and their families who face mental health challenges. I appreciate NAMI’s advocacy work and education. I appreciate mental healthcare professionals. And, most of all, I admire those individuals who deal with mental illness—whether depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar… They are among the strongest people I know and they deserve, yes, deserve, our love, compassion, understanding, support and respect.

THOUGHTS?

RESOURCES: If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, seek immediate help. Call 911. Call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Connect with NAMI. You are not alone.

Click here to read previous posts I’ve penned on mental health.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on words January 25, 2022

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Magnetic poetry words I strung together and posted on my refrigerator. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

WORDS MATTER. Which we use, how we use them and when. They can hurt. They can uplift. They can communicate a message. They can unite. They can divide. Words are, undeniably, powerful. And sometimes we’re better off not speaking or writing them.

When words are used in anger, in a knee-jerk reaction to something, then the consequences are often negative. “Think before you speak” seems particularly sage advice. Yet, we all forget and fail to filter our thoughts before they slip off our tongues or fingers.

Likewise, I find myself also pondering the depth of words, particularly when asked, “How are you?” More often than not, at least here in Minnesota, that’s a trite question. The expectation is that you will answer, “Fine.” Even if you’re anything but fine. People don’t necessarily want to hear about your problems/struggles/challenges.

But I challenge you the next time you ask, “How are you?”, to ask like you care. And by that I mean pausing, focusing, looking the other person in the eye and picking up on cues that indicate maybe, just maybe, everything isn’t all right. Listen. Take the time to show genuine care without interjecting your story. Empathy is good, but not at the expense of turning the conversation on you.

TELL ME: What thoughts do you have on words, whether written or spoken? What about listening? Is it a lost art?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of this earth January 13, 2022

A memorial plaque on a bench at River Bend Nature Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

AT RIVER BEND NATURE CENTER in Faribault, you’ll find an abundance of inspirational memorial messages. On benches. On pavers. Even under a tree near the interpretative center.

Recently, I paused to read this quote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

The message seems especially fitting right now, as many of us seek beauty in nature while living in a pandemic world. My appreciation for the outdoors/for nature and the peace and escape it provides has deepened in the past two years. A walk in the woods, along a river, across the prairie, anywhere outdoors, renews my spirit. Strengthens me.

I wondered about the source of the quote I photographed. It comes from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. The American writer, marine biologist and conservationist is credited with launching the environmental movement with her book. She was deeply concerned about the future of our planet. Her writing prompted changes in laws that protect our world, our environment.

I feel gratitude for writers and environmentalists like Carson. But I also feel grateful for Ruth and Harry, “Strong People Who Loved Nature.” Strength and love go a long way in this world.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Not so awesome words January 11, 2022

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(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

“IT IS WHAT IT IS.” If I hear that phrase one more time, I shall scream. Inwardly, at least.

Here’s why. I find that string of five words dismissive, uncaring and impolite. Let’s say you’re talking to someone about a difficult situation—whether personal or affecting many (like COVID)—and that individual responds with, “It is what it is.” That reply closes the door. Correction, slams the door to further conversation.

That statement, in my opinion, indicates the other person hasn’t listened to anything you’ve said, doesn’t care and/or simply accepts whatever with no concern about your thoughts or feelings. End of discussion. Alright then. Too many times I’ve felt dismissed by “It is what it is.”

How about you? Do you feel the same about that phrase?

And then there’s the word “awesome.” If I hear that word one more time, I shall scream. Inwardly, at least. It’s overused, thus meaningless. And what exactly is meant by “awesome?” Rather than use a generic word, I want to hear specifics. What makes something/someone “awesome?”

As a wordsmith, words matter to me. As someone who considers herself skilled in the arts of observing and listening, word choice resonates.

So I suppose you could simply tell me something is “awesome” and “It is what it is” as a way of explaining why something is “awesome.”

THOUGHTS, ANYONE? What words or phrases cause you to scream, inwardly, at least?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Inauguration day: Inspiring poetry January 21, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR THOSE OF US who write poetry, its power to move, to inspire, to uplift, to matter, were evident during Wednesday’s Presidential inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivered her powerful poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

To watch that 22-year-old Los Angeles poet stand before the nation’s capitol, before the new President and Vice President and so many others, and hear her deliver her poem with such passion filled me with hope.

Hope themed her poem. If you missed hearing Gorman’s poem, I’d encourage you to seek it out online and listen. Poetry, when read aloud by its author, takes on a depth missing if simply read silently to one’s self.

Gorman’s poem complemented, reinforced, the hopeful messages I took away from the day through speeches, songs, prayers and actions.

Words—like unity, resilience, strength, faith, respect, possibilities, together—resonated with me. Words that will write, as President Joe Biden said, “the unfolding story of our great nation.”

And part of that story will be the words of a young poet, who inspired hope on January 20, 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Words worth considering January 8, 2021

Posted at the Congregational Church, UCC, located at 227 Third Street Northwest, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

AS I PONDERED TODAY’S POST, even considered not writing one because I feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained from the events of January 6 inside our nation’s Capitol, I remembered messages I photographed back in June.

These messages, in the light of recent events in America (this week and in the past year, especially), seem more important than ever. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

The messages, posted on the side of the historic Congregational Church of Faribault United Church of Christ, are worth our focus. They are a reminder that we, as human beings, can strive to protect, care for, forgive, share, embrace and love.

We all need to look within ourselves but also look through the windows of others. Here I aim my camera up at the historic UCC in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

We can choose those actions over destruction, neglect, animosity, selfishness, separation and hate.

We can open the doors to better days by the choices we make. Some day I want to tour this church, to see the beauty therein in stained glass and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The many facets of this window create a beautiful piece of art, a metaphor as it applies to people. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The historic steeple of Faribault’s UCC. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I feel such sadness, mixed with hope, over all that has transpired in recent days. I sense that most Americans, including me, will now hold a deeper appreciation for democracy. For freedom. Perhaps we (or at least I) have become too complacent.

A historic marker tells the history of this aged church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

It would do us all good to review the suggestions posted at Faribault’s Congregational Church. To reflect. And then to put into practice those very basic principles of common decency and kindness. And to remember that what we think, say and write, and how we act, matters. Just like it did in 1776.

The impressive Congregational Church, Faribault United Church of Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please note that I monitor all comments on this, my personal blog, and will not publish anything I deem false, inflammatory, etc.

 

Creating kind words in chaotic times November 6, 2020

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My vintage Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

GIVEN MY LOVE OF WORDS, I’ve always enjoyed playing Scrabble. But it’s been years since I pulled out my 1970s vintage game to build words on a board. Randy doesn’t like the game. So it sits in the closet, collecting dust.

But let’s imagine for a second that I pulled out that Scrabble game, turned all the letters face down and randomly selected seven to start the game. What words would I form? Could I plan ahead and make the most of my letters to score the most points? I could try. Yet, another player’s actions often change the best thought-out plans.

Much is also left to chance. There’s only so much you can control while playing Scrabble, or most games for that matter. Kind of like life.

“Protect the herd” plays off Northfield, Minnesota’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Like right now we can do everything possible to protect ourselves from COVID-19 (such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands, avoiding crowds, etc.). But we may still contract the virus. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should just give up and resign ourselves to getting COVID. We do have the power, and the responsibility, to try our best—by following health and safety guidelines, by making changes in our behavior and finding ways to improve our health—to possibly fend off the virus. And we need to recognize that our choices and actions affect others. Just like in Scrabble.

The past few days have been difficult ones, not only because of the presidential election, but also because more and more people I care about have either contracted COVID or have loved ones with the virus. COVID cases and deaths here in Minnesota are breaking records. I feel pretty stressed, as I’m certain many of you do.

Displayed at LARK Toys. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

What’s a person to do besides stay the course and seek ways to relieve the building anxiety and stress? Part of the answer rests on the Scrabble board I photographed several years ago at LARK Toys in Kellogg. Be kind.

I can be kind to myself, recognizing that my feelings are valid. And if I feel like I need a handful of dark chocolate chips to help me feel better, that’s OK.

I can also strive to work harder at kindness. I recognize I sometimes fail and miss opportunities to express kindness. I can choose to take my focus off scoring points to creating kind words. That’s my Scrabble analogy.

And just so you know, the one person who always beat me at Scrabble was my mother-in-law, Betty, gone 27 years now She proved a fierce competitor. And I loved her for that.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Palm Sunday thoughts & messages from Minnesota April 5, 2020

St. John’s 50th presentation of “The Last Supper Drama” in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

PALM SUNDAY. It’s a noted day in the church year as we remember Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem followed this Holy Week by The Last Supper, the betrayal of Jesus and then His crucifixion. And, a week from today, we celebrate His resurrection on Easter morning.

Typically this Palm Sunday evening, Randy and I would head out of town to a country church to watch “The Last Supper Drama” at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. This would have marked the 58th year St. John’s folks present this depiction of The Last Supper, the final time Jesus gathered with all His disciples.

But this year, because of COVID-19, there will be no drama.

 

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Attending this drama has become tradition for us. And for many. The script, penned long ago by a St. John’s pastor, remained unchanged through the decades. I’ve always appreciated this mini-play in which each disciple speaks of his personal relationship with Christ. It gave me a new perspective.

I appreciated, too, the time invested in bringing this message to those of us gathered at sunset in this small country church. There’s something incredibly comforting in the sameness of it all—in the same narrative and monologues, the same music, the same costumes, the same fake beards (for those that don’t grow real ones), the same props, the same movement of the creaky spotlight… Only the actors vary from year to year.

In a time when we are all struggling, I reflect on those “The Last Supper Drama” presentations at St. John’s with gratitude. I can draw on memories of those messages to uplift me on this Palm Sunday.

Click here to see past posts I’ve written about “The Last Supper Drama.”

 

Photographed a week ago at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

MORE MESSAGES

Last week I photographed this message posted outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. It’s always interesting to see what local churches post on their outdoor signage. Words can be powerful.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE WORDS

I invite you to read my message posted earlier this week on the Warner Press blog. Click here to read “From Darkness to Light.” I lead the blogging ministry at this Indiana-based Christian publisher and am humbled to use my writing skills to help others during these trying times.

Many blessings to you and those you love today and in the Holy Week ahead and beyond. Be well, my friends.

(Disclaimer: I am paid for my work with Warner Press.)

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spread a little sunshine with words of gratitude July 26, 2019

 

GRATITUDE. How do you define that word, express it, show it?

 

 

I express my thankfulness mostly in words, written and spoken.

 

 

For that reason I was especially drawn to a tree on a hillside outside the Northfield Public Library. Upon the branches dangle colorful tags. And on those paper pieces, people penned their responses to this prompt: What are you grateful for?

 

 

 

 

I filtered through some of those answers last Saturday when heavy rains ended and the sky broke to partially cloudy. To read those responses brought more sunshine into my day, I expect exactly as The Spread Sunshine Gang intends. The Gratitude Tree is a project of the group, “a non-profit with the mission to share goodness, kindness and generosity to the Twin Cities metro area and beyond,” according to the Sunshine website.

 

 

 

 

 

That mission makes me smile as do these additional thoughts from the website:

The Spread Sunshine Gang believes the world needs more love, happiness, forgiveness and kindness. We are a motley crew of hard-working people who make time to spread a little sunshine. Through random acts of kindness and dedication to paying it forward we create events for others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

I love this, absolutely love the purpose behind projects like The Gratitude Tree. In a world where selfishness and meanness and anger seem sometimes all too prevalent, we need to pause and ponder gratitude. And then we need to act on that word and shine our thankfulness and love.

 

 

TELL ME: What are you grateful for? Have you seen a Gratitude Tree or something similar? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the value of virtues at family event in Faribault June 26, 2019

One of the virtues posted along the Virtues Project Trail, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

WORDS HOLD POWER. Positive or negative. The words we choose to speak—because we really do choose—can heal or hurt. Uplift or defeat. Encourage or discourage. Unite or separate. Words unspoken, meaning silence, hold the same power.

We all understand that, even if we choose to ignore the importance of words and simply say or write whatever we please, no matter the effect on others.

 

Loved in three languages. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

Here in my community, a year-old public art installation showcases the value of words in 10 mirrored signs showcasing 20 virtues. Because Faribault is a diverse community, those virtues are written in three languages—English, Spanish and Somali. Honesty, kindness, patience, tolerance and more banner the mirrors.

 

One of 10 mirrored signs along a trail that runs next to train tracks and the Straight River in Faribault’s Heritage Bluff Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

The Virtues Project Faribault, part of a worldwide Virtues initiative, aims to unite people. And what a creative way to do that through those strong and positive words posted along a trail in Heritage Bluff Park.

Those most active in promoting virtues here in my southern Minnesota community have done, and are doing more, than simply posting artsy signs along a riverside trail in the central downtown area. On three Wednesday evenings this summer, organizers are hosting Family Fun Night on the Virtues Trail. The first happens this evening, Wednesday, June 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m.

The event features something for all ages: music, games, Virtues Theater performances, face painting, crafts, storytelling, other creative activities and more, according to promotional information. The second two fun nights will be on July 31 and August 28.

 

Here’s how it works… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

I realize many of you live nowhere near Faribault. But I hope you will take time to reflect on virtues and the power words hold. Use/choose your words wisely, recognizing that your words hold power to heal or hurt, uplift or defeat, encourage or discourage, unite or separate.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling