Monday, August 27, 2012

In and Of a System

Tonight, I'm going to bring you into the mind -- or an excerpt therefrom -- of Yours Truly, on or about June 27th, 2006. Let's dive in:

The bottom line is that many of us humans have done very well by the system as it currently stands, but many, on the other hand, have not. My hypothesis is that education and enlightenment are the primary tools at our disposal to help bring balance to the system. The short-term goal should be to eradicate poverty. The long-term goal should be to evolve humanity toward an unknown and higher moral purpose.

A couple of imprecisions aside, I'm inclined to high-five my younger self, for he was right. And it ties right back into the theme of this blog, of course. Many people with psychiatric-mental-psychological (whatever you want to call them) disorders tend to fall squarely into the latter category of my first (referenced) sentence up there. Rampant individualism, so sexy and influential in empowered American culture, has tipped the scales of our cultural rhetoric and policy from the compassionate to the draconian. We are quick to blame others for their station in life, for their financial difficulties, and for their impaired mental status; but we are loathe to consider the devastating impacts of intergenerational poverty, illiteracy, lack of education, lack of nutrition, abuse, neglect, trauma, biology, etc. Worse yet, while working ourselves up into a lather of righteous indignation -- "I worked my fingers to the bone to get where I am! I had to overcome so much!" -- we tend to completely ignore the many privileges of our birth that have directly or indirectly made manifest our happier station in life.

I'm grateful for my station in life, and I hope you are, too. I think it's incumbent on us all, though, to approach one another with compassion. And my dream is that our system ultimately reflects that.

"Think globally, act locally."
"Be the change you want to see in the world."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Human Rights Issue

The following post will be the first of many (I'm sure) about depression and stigma. Though I haven't contacted her to ask permission to do so, I am using Allie Brosh as an illustrative example here. Ms. Brosh is the author of a widely followed and hilarious webcomic-blog entitled, "Hyperbole and a Half" ( I feel okay about using her as an example here because A) she made her story public and freely available online, and B) I am linking to her related content to let it speak for itself. Check it out:

What's my point in sharing this with you? Well, first and foremost, I think it's vitally important to challenge --  and seek to debunk -- the many stigmas and false notions associated with mental health issues, including depression. Ms. Brosh did a very brave thing by self-disclosing her struggle with depression, especially since she surely knew her post would be read closely by thousands of people. She also surely knew that any conclusions about her and her content, once published, would be beyond her control, and in the hands of the masses, for better and worse. Do a quick Google search, and you'll notice there are quite a few posts and questions and comments about her depression -- the mill has been spinning.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, schizophrenia, personality disorders, PTSD, mania, hypomania, addictions, etc. etc. etc. just ARE. They do not denote a deficiency in character. One who experiences these disorders cannot simply "snap out of it." It's not a thing to be laughed at. Like all other human experiences, it is to be viewed through a lens of compassion.

There's a certain paranoid humor that's commonly shared among students and practitioners who have familiarized themselves with diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders; namely, the symptoms of the disorders are personally recognizable in each of us. If you look back at my post about behavior occurring on a continuum, you'll understand my way of thinking about why this is the case. Sadness, elation, hyperactivity, anxiety, doubt, confusion, paranoia, disorientation, passive-aggressiveness, obsessiveness, poor decision-making, and irrational beliefs, feelings, and behaviors are all things that perfectly "healthy," "normal" (haha) people all experience periodically. You, dear reader, experience these things periodically. So if you get the chance, crack open a DSM-IVtr and notice how quickly you recognize many of the symptoms and signs of XYZ disorder within yourself. Pun intended: it's really crazy.

Here's the kicker about all that: if you can acknowledge that you experience those things sometimes, you can begin to understand mental health "disorders"; and this means that you can show yourself and your brethren some respect when they exhibit the signs thereof. And you can relax, then, and be accepting, and kind, and compassionate, and helpful. Life can be difficult, you guys. Our systems of government, structures of society, and acceptable social behavior standards simply aren't a natural fit for all 7 or so billion of us here on planet earth. Open your mind if it's closed. Fight against stigma; fight against cruelty; fight against unfair, discriminatory policies: it's a human rights issue.

Friday, August 24, 2012


I have another question for you, and this time it's related to resilience. We all experience disappointment; it's an inevitable part of life. Disappointment can be pretty big, as when a relationship fails, or we don't get the interview we wanted, or the purchase or sale of a home falls through. Disappointment can also be on a smaller scale: that movie you wanted to stream is only available on DVD, or the grocery store is out of your favorite flavor of ice cream. 

Whether on a big or small scale, disappointments can be disruptive. They can throw us for a loop, knock us off course, and put us in a negative frame of mind. With enough disappointment, it can sometimes feel as if the universe is conspiring against you, and the way forward, once so seemingly clear, can become hazy and uncertain. Our thinking may become muddled, and we may second-guess ourselves. 

These downward spirals can be difficult to overcome, especially when life -- pesky!! -- doesn't stop to give you a breather. Nope! Life moves on, obligations and all, whether you feel like you're ready or not. My question, then, is this:

How do you get yourself past the inevitable disappointment(s)? Or, put another way, what does resilience "look like" to you?

Enjoy your weekend. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Try this: toward the end of whatever day you read this, take 3-5 minutes and write down the things you've done well and / or are proud of today. It's important to let yourself acknowledge such things, because many of us tend to focus solely on, and thereby remember only, our shortcomings. That, in turn, can contribute to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and self-defeatism.

Here are a few examples of the good things I did today:

-I completed a 6.4-mile hike
-I ate a healthy, nutritious breakfast
-I'm writing this list for the second day in a row
-I took some time to practice my guitar
-I saved a lot of money for the week to come by buying groceries to cover all my meals

Got it, right? Yeah, you do. :)

Mental health, clear-mindedness, and positive self-esteem are things to be practiced, much like physical health can be "practiced" or maintained with a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, rest, etc. Keep these things in mind, and ask yourself how you can regularly, intentionally contribute to your own psychological well-being.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Movement and Stillness

Movement and stillness, movement and stillness. It occurs to me that life can be characterized by these two states. Whether it's the howl of the wind or the still, silent air; whether it's 30 years under the same roof or 5 roofs in 5 years; whether it's a tidal wave or the glassy calm of low tide; and whether it's breathing in and out, or the serene stillness between breath, life is an oscillation between movement and stillness. Both are natural, and it is helpful to me, at least, to remember that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I have a few questions for you...

I have a few questions I'm interested in hearing my readers' responses to regarding thoughts. For the purposes of this post, feel free to use whatever definition of the word "thoughts" you use, and write your answers in the comment section below. I don't have a specific agenda with your responses, although I may, of course, be inspired to write a follow-up post on this subject which may take your responses into consideration. Unless you indicate otherwise, I will NOT use your names or user IDs in such a post; nor will I quote you directly. Thanks!! The questions are below the break:


How much, or how little, do you identify with your thoughts?

How much value do you place on your thoughts?

How much do you rely on your thoughts for guidance?


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Adaptive Nature of Emotions

As the title suggests, our emotions have an adaptive nature. That is, they have utility and purpose -- or, rather, they can have utility and purpose if we allow ourselves to see them that way. To paraphrase one of my former teachers, it can be helpful to conceptualize emotions as messengers, and to ask the question, "what is this feeling trying to communicate to me?" After all, emotions do not simply occur; they do not, like the cheese, stand alone. Emotions exist in relationship to our conscious and subconscious thoughts, hopes, goals, expectations, etc., and to our physical circumstances. Thus, it can be difficult, and even futile, to parse out our emotions in service of determining their origin, as they are likely tangled up with a lot of other stuff. But it can be very helpful and grounding to seek out what they're trying to tell us. 

I'll use myself as an example. I'm looking for work, and it's a slow process. It's frustrating, in fact. I periodically find myself sighing, shaking my head, feeling tense, etc. as I search for jobs. So I take a step back and ask, "what is my frustration communicating to me?" In this case, the answer is pretty simple: I want a job, and I want one now; and since I don't have one now, I want the rest of my search to be easy and quick. Expectations and Desires, meet Reality. It is helpful for me to recognize this, because it tells me 1) I should, for my own peace of mind, adjust my expectations, and 2) give myself props for knowing and pursuing what I want.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Views and Points, and Points of View

I was out for a walk around my neighborhood with someone the other evening, and we strolled by a small, three-or-so-story office building. Since it was getting dark outside, it was easy to see through one of the windows into an illuminated room. There was movement inside that caught our attentions, and we both stole a look as we walked by. My initial glance made me laugh, because my brain had very obviously not accurately perceived the scene inside. (I'll refrain from disclosing what I thought I saw. Suffice to say it was 'haha' worthy at the time.) At any rate, my walking companion, it turns out, had perceived something else entirely in those brief passing moments -- something, it would seem, that was closer to the reality of what was actually happening in the room. I, on the other hand, had seen the same details, but my senses and perception had conspired to compose an entirely different scenario of what we were seeing.

Aside from providing unsolicited insight into the strange little workings of my mind, the difference in our conclusions is revealing, and has broad implications regarding "reality." I am not a philosophical scholar, so I won't embarrass myself by attempting to discuss the minutiae of the nature of reality -- others have done that for centuries. For my purposes now, I'll just take it as a given that, to us humans, reality is a thing we perceive to be so. There may be an Objective Reality out there, but we haven't found it yet; so again, reality is a thing we perceive to be so.

Many of us agree on certain definitions of things as to make life, generally speaking, more synchronous. Language is one such thing, for example: we agree to use certain symbols in certain sequences as to indicate concepts, objects, people, etc., and we construct our mutually agreed-upon reality around that; i.e., you know what I mean (more or less, anyway) when I say the words "air conditioner." Usually, in a casual interaction, one person can mention an air conditioner and proceed without having to really explain what, exactly, they mean when they say "air conditioner." This is why it's so interesting to me when two people look at literally the same thing and yet see two completely different things. When the agreed-upon concept suddenly isn't agreed-upon; or when one party, fully invested in and believing their perception of a thing or event or concept or whatever, realizes that the other party sees things differently, there is confusion and mystery.

There are many paths we could take at this juncture of the discussion, of course, but this blog is about mental health. What implications, then, does all of this stuff have for mental health? Well, there are many, which is pretty much my point. We each attach meaning to the events of our lives. We endow people, objects, and even ourselves with certain characteristics, and we label them as such; moreover, we tend to attach to these definitions and deem them to be capital-t Truth. The work of psychological maintenance and upkeep, then, often requires that we re-examine these supposed Truths, and open ourselves to the possibility that there might just be other, equally valid ways of defining, or looking at, things. Just as it's unwise to tighten a screw too much for fear of stripping its head, so is it (often) problematic when we get too rigid and inflexible -- i.e., too tight -- with our Truths. A too-rigid Truth construct can lead to myriad problems. Why? Well, if one tends to view Truth in terms of all-or-nothing, black-and-white terms, indicated by statements such as, "he's a bad person!", then one neglects the gray areas -- the uncertainty -- which seems to characterize this earthly existence in actuality. How else could there be so much variation in our versions of Truth? What is life but a mystery, after all?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Persistence is good, right? It's the term we give to that certain quality of doggedly moving ever forward, come what may, toward one's goal. Persistence is necessary to achieve goals, because obstacles, or seeming-disincentives to proceed, can and do arise. And we humans, animals that we are, tend to have to will ourselves to favor the long-term over the short-term. In other words, we're rolling in this game with loaded dice: we're wired for pleasure and gratification! Ask any behaviorist out there: we learn, by way of conditioning and reinforcement, how to respond and what to do in given situations. And if we're doing something that brings us periodic, sometimes unpredictable disappointment, discomfort, or pain, our initial impulse may be to stop doing that something.

And so, to get what is not immediately within our grasp, we need persistence.

Now, remember my jag in the previous post about continua? Here, too, I am hesitant to label persistence as, simply, "good." I think it's definitely much farther along toward the "good" side than the "bad," granted, but it's important for us to remember, when endeavoring to achieve, that we must always of necessity make room in our lives for the things we want to get -- and the process and practice of making room for things can be difficult at times. After all, it requires that we disrupt the status quo and seek a new balance. Sometimes this requires others' cooperation, which is where things can get especially tricky, and require even more persistence (i.e., we don't always share an agenda with the key stakeholders of our lives: our partners, friends, family, etc.).

You get the gist.

When pursuing your goal, be willing to make room for it, be willing to grow, and be willing to tolerate some possible discomfort along the way. But know that discomfort, in and of itself, isn't necessarily "bad." Depending on the context, discomfort can be in service of cultivating a deeper contentedness. Think of someone who wants to get in shape, for example. Maybe they go to the gym, or maybe they take up jogging or mountain biking. Whatever they choose will involve some temporary discomfort. Ultimately, however, the satisfaction derived from getting in shape -- i.e., the achievement and manifestation of one's goals -- far outweighs any discomfort which occurred along the way.

So: Be persistent. It's worth it.