Thursday, November 21, 2013

Albert Ellis Quote

"Show yourself that your very Belief, “I can’t accomplish this! “I’ll never be able to do so!” is often a self-fulfilling prophecy that will encourage you prematurely to give up and to “prove” that you can’t. Don’t act like many people who derive grim satisfaction from “successfully” predicting their failures!"

Friday, November 8, 2013

Inspiration from the Pope

Pope Francis recently made the news with a very public act of compassion. In the course of reading about it, I encountered a series of Papal Tweets, one of which was particularly moving to me:


I was stunned by that Tweet. I still am. It's so profound in its simplicity and truth; and yet, in view of the rather lofty, almost royal nature of the Papacy itself, it is nearly incomprehensible. Put another way, the Pope is one of the most powerful people on Earth, and powerful people usually do not associate with "the poor, the weak, the vulnerable."

And yet, Pope Francis up and declared that association to be a mandate of his Office. Indeed, he declared the nature of that association to be one of servitude -- whereby he is the servant.

Wow.

I meditated on these thoughts as I took my doggie for a stroll around the neighborhood. I wondered, "What does it mean to serve? What does it mean to do for others? What does it mean to help, and to demonstrate compassion? Is it necessary for us to perform our deeds of service on a grand scale? Must our deeds of service have widespread, notorious impact, on par with a Pope's, in order to be of real value?"

To those last couple of questions, I thought, "Well, no."

The Pope literally embraced a man from whom most would shrink away in disgust or astonishment. He embraced that man as an equal and shared a moment of compassionate supplication with him.

In so doing those things, Pope Francis lifted the spirits of a person who suffers an obvious burden -- and who is likely shunned in a variety of ways because of his burden. And in so doing that, Pope Francis reminded everyone who bore witness that we are all worthy of respect, compassion, and love

Francis' simple embrace has resonated with so many people because of the basic fact that we all suffer. Many of our burdens are hidden, or largely invisible to others, but they are there. Each of us, I would argue, longs for unconditional acceptance, compassion, and love, even in view of our flaws; and Francis' embrace reminded us that we are very capable of giving (and receiving) such acceptance, compassion, and love.

On the most basic level, I recall that this all begins with my approach to myself: it begins with my compassion for myself in view of my own suffering. The more I treat myself with compassion, love, and self-respect, the more I emulate those qualities to others.

Be a beacon.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What does "hard work" mean to you?

Serious question:

What does "hard work" mean to you? Given your personal definition of "hard work," is it something that you value?

I'm not sure I know what to think about "hard work" anymore, because I discovered that my working definition of it is unpleasant. To me, work is hard if I'm doing something I really don't like to do, or if the task at hand is boring or silly. "Silly," in this case, means I'm doing some task that should and could be made more efficient, thus minimizing the amount of energy and attention I need to give to it.

If, on the other hand, I'm interested in the work I'm doing, it doesn't seem "hard." It may be challenging or difficult, certainly, but "hard," to me, has a really negative connotation. And now that we're down to brass tacks, I'll say this: given the context in which many folks seem to use the phrase, "hard work," I think it's intended to have a negative connotation. To me, that's frightening and unfortunate.

Why do we believe that work must involve suffering in order for it to be of value?

I'm sure some of you will read that question and protest, "but I don't." Think about it for a minute, though. My guess is that many of you -- myself included -- have internalized the belief that work is a drag, and if it isn't a drag, it's probably because the worker is either A) lucky, or B) lazy. So we trick ourselves into feeling this sort of grim satisfaction if we've really suffered. It's like a badge of honor or something.

I think that's destructive and sad.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Reckoning

Things have changed for me. I'm writing this post from a quieter place than I have in the past. When I started this blog, I was spilling over with things to say and explore in the realm of mental health. I'm glad I recognized and honored that need, and I'm proud of the work I've done here. But I'm in a different place now.

I'll say this, for starters: I am not in a "bad" place. I've been in "bad" places before, and I can say with certainty that this is not one of them. Things are different, though. It's hard to explain, but something imperceptible within myself, something as-yet unnamed somewhere within my psyche -- call it intuition, call it wisdom, call it my soul -- has awakened; and with that awakening, if you will, has come the knowledge, and the conviction, that I have entered a new stage of life.

I detect that it is time for me to attend more fully to living in this world, if that makes sense. I've been very focused on, and immersed in, very heady and nuanced matters for a long, long time. It feels as though I've been wandering through a forest, if you will; I've been wandering through a deep, sometimes dark, often beautiful, and mysteriously nuanced forest for the past 15 or so years, by my calculations. And quite suddenly, I'm in more of a grove, and there's a path that leads out of the grove. 

Put another way, it feels as though I've completed a necessary task. I succeeded perfectly, in that I experienced exactly what I was called upon to experience. Every misstep, every banal moment of avoidance or idle silliness, and every tragedy, torment, and triumph was completely necessary. I experienced exactly what I must have experienced in order to bring me to this present moment, which, I trust, is precisely where I need to be. And you know what? Even if I'm wrong about that last point -- if I'm horribly off course -- then there isn't anything I can do about what's happened up 'till now. If nothing else, then, I've learned what it feels like to truly accept, which, I suspect, is no small feat.

I can't help but feel some sadness at this inflection point. It is the sadness of mourning. I have lost much, and have been obliged to thoroughly reorient my life on a number of occasions. Now, let me say, very clearly, that I chose those things. My sadness is not the sadness of one who believes oneself to be a victim of circumstance: no. I chose my life's meandering path, and participated fully (or, at times, incompletely) in it. I own that; but that does not preclude me from feeling sadness, nor does that strip me of my right to feel sadness. 

I digress.

What's next? I don't know. What I do know is that it's time for the rubber to hit the road, so to speak. It's time for me to apply all the lessons I've learned, and all the skills I've gleaned, bit by bit, and step by step. My Spidey Sense tells me I'm in a good place: I feel a day-to-day consonance that I have only fleetingly felt before. 

The other day, I recorded some of my thoughts for my personal benefit, as I am wont to do. I spontaneously spat out a metaphor that rung true to me at the time, and that reoccurs to me now: if one's inner world is a symphony, it is incumbent upon one to assemble the external pieces of the orchestra that will play in the same key as one's symphony. That is to say that I must choose, where I may choose, circumstances that reflect, and are in harmony with, my inner life. The circumstances I assemble will, in turn, influence and modulate the symphony of my heart, mind, and soul. In this manner, then, do I dance with life.

That all being said, this point of inflection transcends any circumstantial flotsam and jetsam (not to make light of circumstances). Far, far below the surface, and far, far below the depths, and far, far above the stars, is a quiet, conscious sanctuary, the scope and might and simple beauty of which I have only begun to grasp. What I have perceived, however, is that the nature of this place, in part, is in its constancy: it is ever-present. It abides all. It transcends any circumstance. It is my touchstone. It is my wisdom, my self-knowledge, my clarity. It is my sanctuary. 

And so, as I journey forth into the world as never before -- more fully cloaked, and more fully vulnerable -- do I simultaneously deepen my roots within myself.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Response to Facebook's Question

Facebook asks me, "What have you been up to?" which I find to be most apt at this time. Well, Facebook, I've been working in a new job, and I've been going about the business of opening a new chapter of my life. It's an as-yet undefined chapter, but that's okay. I do know that there's been a shift in my consciousness, and that I detect within me a strong, even concrete, sense that my task now is to integrate all I have pondered, learned, and preached into my daily life. In other words, I am now to go about the business of living. I am frightened and uncertain, but I am open and willing and ready.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Feeling Good: Creativity and Mental Health

I recently said I had the idea to create a sort of series from of the "Feeling Good" title of a previous entry. I still like the idea, but I don't know exactly where I'm going with it. No matter -- I'm sure it'll reveal itself. In the meantime, I'd like to take the series into "part 2" with a discussion of creativity.

The late American author Kurt Vonnegut said, "To practice any art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So go do it."

That's one of those quotes that makes you feel good when you first read it. To revisit it, however, is to likely feel some uncertainty. Okay, it sounds good, but what does it mean?

The way I see it, artistic, or creative, endeavors are those activities that allow us to express ourselves in a vital way.

For example, I use language. I see it as as a vehicle by which I can express myself in ways that serve my needs at the moment. Writing can give me relief from relentless mind-chatter; a conversation can help me open my eyes to a new perspective, and get me "un-stuck" from old, unhelpful beliefs; and I can use my words to share my ideas with others. I can also -- imagine that! -- have fun with it.

(the author, caught in a moment of feverish note-taking)

To me, then, creativity is an activity that can mean many different things, depending on the time and the person. Some people focus on one creative form, while others dabble in several. Regardless, there is no right or wrong: it's deeply personal, and you get to decide for yourself.

In my opinion, there is great value in expressing the content of our hearts, minds, and souls; and whether that content be deeply personal, or silly, shallow, and topical, is quite beside the point. It is the practice that Vonnegut referred to that can encourage peace, self-knowledge, and acceptance. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A New Idea

Hey there! I had an idea after publishing my last post, "Feeling Good: Exercise and Mental Health." Namely, I should make a series out of it. I like that. There are so many disciplines and outlets that can aid one's mental health, and really just augment the quality of one's life overall. So be on the lookout for another installment, revolving around art.

Thanks!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Feeling Good: Exercise and Mental Health

(the author can be cheesy at times)

You've probably heard it before: exercise makes you feel good. You've probably heard all about endorphins and dopamine, too, and how even modest physical exercise affects the levels of those brain chemicals, which in turn leads to an increased sense of well-being.

My guess is that most of you have read all that stuff at some point, nodded your heads in approval, and surfed on over to the next article of interest without making a single change.

Who can blame you? I certainly can't. Exercise is tough. Besides, there's a big difference between understanding a good idea and implementing a good idea. You can probably point to several examples of that principle in your own life: those habits you keep that you know are bad for you, that letter you've been meaning to write but never seem to get around to, etc. It can be difficult to put a good idea into practice -- exercise among the rest!

The way I see it, the problem with exercise is that there's a relative delay between the activity and the perceived payoff, whereas most of us tend to prefer immediate results. That is, if we're going to do something, we want to see results now. We want to feel good now. It can be difficult, therefore, to stick to something like exercise, which is often uncomfortable in the short term, and for which the positive results aren't always readily apparent.

What I want to say, though, is this: all the stuff you've read about exercise making you feel better is true. I'll say it again, differently: Exercise really does increase your senses of happiness and well-being. 

Now, please note I'm not saying exercise is a cure for everything. But I am saying, with great assurance, that it helps.

I started being more physically active about a year ago, and I can't overstate how much I've benefited from it. Here are some specific ways it's helped me feel better:

-I'm more comfortable with my body.
-I suffer less from random aches and pains.
-I sleep better.
-I'm less "moody." Put another way, I'm more "even keel," emotionally speaking.
-I have an abiding sense of well-being.
-I'm more alert and focused during the day.
-I feel a sense of accomplishment during and after a workout.
-I feel proud to know I'm doing something truly positive and healthy for myself.
-I get to enjoy my mode of exercise.
-If I'm feeling negative before or during my workout, I get to use my workout as an outlet.
-I've gained heightened awareness and understanding of myself.
-I get to reinforce the knowledge that I can achieve my goals.
-I experience being "taught" by my workouts, which, I've learned, are active, personal metaphors, and sources of great inspiration.

I'm not a fitness guru, so I don't have specific advice about any particular workout regimen. I will say, however, that I think it's important to do something you enjoy. I love to walk, for instance, so I do that. I discovered fairly recently that I also love to jog and bike, so I do those things, too. And since I enjoy those things, actually doing them doesn't feel like such a chore, you know? I look forward to doing them. Plus, I've found the more I do them, the more I want to do them. In other words, a sort of momentum has set in: it's easier now to keep up with my exercise habits than it used to be.

Now, listen: the benefits I've described in this post didn't appear for me overnight. It's taken time. What's helped me, though -- and I think this is key -- is I've made a point of giving myself positive feedback before, during, and after my workouts, even if it feels like BS at the time. That is, I've given myself due praise for making room in my life to feel good.

A few final thoughts: even if you're thinking about it, you're on your way. I recommend acknowledging that to yourself. Also, there are lots of terrific and inspirational -- and FREE -- resources on the Internet that can help you get started, or stay on track. Check it out.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It Is Possible!

Hi! It's nice to be writing here again. I didn't intend to take such a long break, but, well, I did. I took a trip back home to visit family and friends, so that certainly contributed to my relative silence. Mainly, though, I think I needed to recharge.

I've been slowly reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. It's my first immersive experience with Jung's work, and it's been fascinating, enlightening, inspiring, affirming, and serendipitous. (A lot of 'ings'!) It will undoubtedly influence my work here, although I cannot yet say how, exactly.

In the meantime, I did some further thinking about the name for this blog. I've been vaguely mystified by it since I picked it, and I've seriously considered changing it on more than one occasion. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, you know? Mental Health for Humans. There's so much buzz online and on bookshelves about "branding" and "web friendly content" and the like, and I've realized all along that this blog pretty much flies in the face of what's considered clever formatting. But what I finally decided is this:

I DON'T CARE ABOUT THOSE THINGS.

So what if the name of this blog is strange, or even awkward? So what if I don't always keep my blog posts short, or pepper them with witty lists, or find the latest, greatest bells and whistles to entice Today's Discerning Reader?

I'm my own person, and this blog is a conscious and unconscious reflection of who I am, and what I'm about. Why should I try to make this blog be anything but my blog? Why shouldn't I take my own advice and, you know, honor who I really am? "Mental Health for Humans," a name I created, is the perfect name for this blog which I also happened to create. So that's that.

But I realized something else, too. Namely, I have a real ax to grind, and have for some time, about our society's general perception of mental health. Mental health isn't just a subject for psychiatrists, therapists, nurses, students, patients, or the families and friends of patients. No, mental health is for ALL of us. Mental health, simply and profoundly is, yes, for humans to consider -- because if you have mental activity (which we humans certainly do), you have some degree, or lack thereof, of mental health. It's just like how if you have a body, you have some degree, or lack thereof, of physical health. You dig?

It makes me sad that my culture so strongly devalues giving attention to one's own inner life. We are trained to believe that happiness is to be found outside us somewhere -- maybe in a new car, or a bigger bank account, or in our partner. Culturally, we give lip service to individualism and personal responsibility, but we are quick to blame other people for our problems. We proclaim to value strength and toughness, but we avoid coming to terms with ourselves.

We humans are full of contradictions, and that's fine, in and of itself. However, we get into real trouble with our contradictions when we try to bury them, or to pretend they aren't there, i.e., when we try to avoid them. (Not coincidentally, that's how we get into real trouble with most things.) For my part, I feel it's important to do what I can to shine a light on these matters, because I believe they unnecessarily enslave far too many of us.

It is possible to live a free and satisfying life. Will it be perfect? No! Does it have to be? Heck no! Life is a strange and mysterious process of becoming. It is ever unfolding into an uncertain future, and it does so along an often curving and elliptical path. We are marvelously complex and fascinating creatures, and no two of us is the same. My hope is for us all to move toward a freer, kinder, and more peaceful shared reality.

But it starts with you. It starts with me. It starts, not "out there" somewhere, but "in here" -- inside your own (my own) mind and heart. Recall the words which are variously attributed to Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." The wisdom, values, dreams, and essential self which you seek are all right there, right now. Enjoy it. And enjoy the ride that is this lifetime.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Not About Mindfulness...Or Is It?

My post today was originally going to be a vehicle for me to assert my opinion that mindfulness-based approaches to mental health therapy are superior to other approaches. I was also going to discuss practicing mindfulness in day to day life, lauding its efficacy as a tool of personal development. I was going to say those things, and say them proudly. I still want to, actually, because I believe them to be true. But I'm not going to, because I had one of those head-smacking "OY" moments you have when you realize you've made a rookie mistake.

What was the mistake?

It's simple: I was mistaking my subjective, personal beliefs for objective, generalizable truth. I was projecting my experiences onto you, Dear Reader, and I was going to rubber-stamp it. My bad. I'm glad I didn't go through with it. 

What I'm left with, then, is a mixed-bag perspective, which I will now scribble out in the following paragraphs.

I'm not going to beat myself up for wanting to share my opinion with an authoritative voice. For one, this is "my" blog, you know, and I'm allowed to do that if I want to (hehe). For another, it's perfectly normal to be biased in favor of one's own experiences, perspectives, and beliefs. (Incidentally, as we proceed through life, we tend to embrace information that reinforces our beliefs, and ignore/reject information that contradicts our beliefs -- a phenomenon also known as "confirmation bias.") 

Anyway, our abilities to both communicate our subjective experiences to others, and to consider the subjective experiences of others, are pretty amazing and essential aspects of what it means to be alive. So while the word subjective sometimes carries negative connotations, it really isn't negative at all -- not in essence, anyway. 

To be sure, subjectivity can become quite negative if it isn't acknowledged and accounted for. That is, if one takes one's own perspective to be Absolute Truth, and attempts to impose it on others as such, then the potential for doing harm is very great indeed. Because let's face it: each of us is unique, such that no single perspective could ever hope to resonate with, or be of relevance or use to, ALL of us -- and certainly not in the same way, and certainly not as intended by the original perspective-bearer. 

Consider the religions of the world, for example. Within any given religion, there is a broad range of approaches, and even beliefs, among adherents and clergy: some emphasize ABC, while others emphasize XYZ, while others maybe emphasize Q and P, and a little bit of M. Ya dig what I'm getting at here? 

I'm reminded now of why I loved -- still love -- my grad school training, which culminated in a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree: in it, I was reminded to be aware and respectful of the intrinsic power I hold as a practitioner. To that end, I was reminded to never lose sight of two very important facts: 1) Each of us has the right to self-determination. That is, each of us has the right to do whatever we see fit for ourselves. 2) Each of us is the expert of our own lives. 

Those are incredibly valuable -- and crucial -- things for me to remember as I work on this blog. 

The ideas I share in this space will necessarily be of a subjective nature, you know? They're my ideas -- or, at the very least, they're other people's ideas that I've interpreted through my own life experiences. Do I think they're valuable? You bet I do. Do I think they can help people? Yes indeed. But I strive to remind myself, too, that my ideas won't resonate with everyone, and that, indeed, they aren't even applicable to everyone. 

There's a real freedom, and a real peace, in that. 

Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reading My Journal

Over the past few days, I've read through some of the older entries in my personal journal. It's been interesting for me, because while I certainly have memories from that period of time, my journal entries afford me a clearer peek into the machinations of my inner life. After all, throughout our lives, each of us negotiates external and internal experiences; and the details and nuances of our inner lives, given their rich and mostly private natures, are all too often obscured in our memories by the wheres, whens, and whos.

Some of the things I read were shocking to me, given the developments of my life in the time that's passed since I wrote them. In several instances, for example, I could clearly "see" the origins of certain events and avenues of personal growth which have since manifested. In some cases, it was uncomfortable to revisit old concerns and troubles -- not to merely recall, but to reoccupy them, if only for a moment. And it was truly ponderous, having stepped back into my past, to lift my eyes from the pages and return to the present -- to traverse, in the blink of an eye, personal realities separated by years. 

I found myself wishing I could somehow reach out to my younger self. I wanted to tell him that it's okay to be confused and upset about certain things, and to not have the answers to certain questions. I wanted to tell him that "this, too, shall pass." I wanted to tell him that I know now that every experience in life, painful or sublime, is part of life's Story, and that we can and do integrate every experience into the fabric of that Story -- and that it is beautiful and good and wondrous. 

None of that is to say my life is now perfect, by the way. I still have problems and confusions and frustrations and foibles, and all the rest of the "negative" stuff that comes with the territory of being alive. But what I know now, in a much richer, more integrated way, is that my life has been, and continues to be, a gift. That's the undercurrent now. And what a gift to recognize that, and to have come to a place where I can affirm that. What a gift to be here now, writing these words.

I think we all need to be reminded of these things sometimes. That life unfolds ever onward, with or without our approval. That we will always have problems, perhaps, but that the nature of our problems is temporary. That, despite the fact we don't always perceive it, we can, and do, change (as do the shapes of our lives). That our cynicism, which would have us believe certain things about our nature, and the way life will unfold, is very possibly wrong. That each of our lives is comprised of a series of intertwining stories, which are inextricably linked to other people's stories -- and that none of us knows for certain whether any given event is at the beginning, middle, or end (or all three).

Thank you for reading today.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Frustration

Ask someone with a chronic mental illness what it's like to live with it, and you'll probably hear -- among other responses -- that it's frustrating.

Many words are rightfully dedicated to the exploration of symptoms of various mental health problems, and coping strategies for the successful management thereof. After all, lots of people with mental illnesses need help learning about them. What is often overlooked in that sort of work, though, is the essential fact that it can be powerfully frustrating to live with a two-steps-forward, two-steps-back illness -- one that feels okay on some days and crippling on others. In that regard, as I recently pointed out, living with a chronic mental illness is no different than living with any other chronic illness, such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

I digress -- let's stick with the frustration that can be felt by a person living with chronic mental illness(es).

A person struggling with their mental health can make great strides on one day, and feel as though they've uncovered the key to their ongoing wellness. Illumination can occur by way of almost anything: a thought; a sight; a sound; an interaction; a line or passage of text; a therapy session; a movie; a piece of art; an action.

And that same person can wake up the next day and discover that same key, which held so much meaning and importance yesterday, doesn't resonate today; moreover, they might discover, to their dismay, that they feel just as pained and confused and lost as ever.

How incredibly frustrating. It's easy, perhaps, to see how one could lose hope in view of such ruthless eradications of progress. We human animals are programmed to respond to, and learn from, stimuli, after all. We need positive reinforcement to see things through. In general, it's very difficult for us to favor long-term over short-term thinking. Think about it: it's why countless New Year's resolutions never come to pass; it's why so many people struggle with maintaining a nutritious diet; it's why impulse shopping is a problem for many people. We want positive feedback and results, and we want them right now.

So it goes with managing a mental illness. It's an ongoing process by nature, but we want to feel better, permanently, right now. And who can blame someone for wanting that, and for feeling that way? Not me. Mental illness can be torture.

And so, as with many things in life, mental illness isn't fair: those with the most immediate and pressing needs for comfort and peace are asked to be especially strong, patient, and diligent. 

It isn't fair, and it isn't kind, but it is a fact. 

A few more thoughts before I wrap up this post.

The various religions and mythologies of humankind have addressed these aspects of human suffering, which is important to remember, as they offer a wellspring of wisdom, guidance, and comfort. I'm going to pluck three examples off the top of my head from this vast repository -- of which most content I am, admittedly, ignorant. At any rate, the examples are 1) Shamans; 2) The Beatitudes (well, one in particular); and 3) an old Japanese proverb.

Please note it is not my intention to endorse or otherwise privilege any religion or belief system by selecting and discussing these examples.

1. You may know that the word "Shaman" is generally synonymous with "healer." What's interesting to me, though, is that a necessary precondition of being a shaman is to have experienced severe personal crisis. A shaman, then, is one who has been deeply wounded -- who has experienced, and possibly continues to experience, deep suffering. But the way through the crisis has endowed the shaman with skills of healing, which they then share with others.

2. The Beatitudes, according to Christian beliefs, were delivered by Jesus as a series of blessings and proclamations in his Sermon on the Mount. The one that comes to my mind is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What that means to me in view of this discussion of mental illness is this: the struggle can feel painful and hopeless and frustrating -- but it is worth it. Why? Because if you keep struggling, you will learn, on a level of extraordinary depth, what it means to suffer, to heal, to live -- and to serve yourself and others in your own particular way. 

3. If all that feels a little out of reach and esoteric, consider the third example I referred to -- the Japanese proverb. It is, simply, this: "Fall seven times, stand up eight." 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Trip Into My Past: Brief Thoughts on Negative Male Behavior in Romantic Heterosexual Relationships

I was perusing some of my old notes and documents, and I encountered the following snippet. It's rather cynical, but I stand by it, because A) it's part of where I've come from, intellectually; and B) I think the insight has some validity. Namely, I was attempting to honestly describe what I perceived to be a rather pervasive and destructive pattern of attachment in male-female romantic relationships.

Here it is, in only slightly edited form (as to properly represent where I was 'at' in a rather impassioned moment seven and a half years ago, at age 25):

A reason that men can be so horrible to their female companions is that they weren’t “allowed” to express themselves, or to sound off, if you will, to their peers as they grew up.  The [socially] acceptable manner in which males relate to one another during their adolescent years is dominated by sports talk and participation; neo-gang pack mentality; self-inflation (weight-lifting, braggadocio); and mischief and derision in general.  Men are, in essence, encouraged to channel their turmoil into one of these pack-endorsed pursuits.  When they land a girlfriend, then, they are presented with an altogether new outlet.  If the relationship matures, the man will recognize that the woman has accepted him to some degree for who he is, including all of his foibles and heretofore buried emotions.  The result is that the male will at first sound off to his girlfriend in quick, exhilarating vapor bursts of release.  As he receives positive feedback for this practice, however, he will make it his habit to closely include her in the smallest nuances of his emotional life, eventually growing to depend on her; and he eventually becomes, in essence, addicted to her ear.  The male will proceed to employ an astonishing variety of tactics in order to secure his girlfriend’s ear; he comes to operate under the premise that he even controls her, or that she is his right, his possession.  The original opportunity to grow, of course, has been squandered or missed altogether, and only through conscientious effort and communication can both parties rid themselves of this facet of co-dependence.

I don't usually write in such general, sweeping terms any more, and with good reason. And I spoke from a certain cultural perspective, of course. That and other criticisms notwithstanding, however, I agree with the essence of what I wrote rather hastily during a time of personal flux and transition. 

It's neat to revisit that time of my life -- not the outer circumstance, mind you, but the inner. Psychologically, I was highly interested in origins as my vehicle of understanding human behavior; i.e., I was interested in pathology, or the questions, "where does this behavior come from? how did it start?"  And that makes sense. After all, I was an actor, and part of my creative process entailed a certain reverse engineering from the outside in; furthermore, such methodology was my mode of introspection, and I came to greater degrees of self-knowledge that way.

Anyway, thanks for indulging this little trip of mine. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It Dawned on Me Today

I think it dawned on me today
I think I figured it out
How to choose happiness

How to pluck it from the flood of thoughts
How to choose it
As if I were selecting vegetables at the grocery store
Looking each one over
Returning the ones that don't suit me
Selecting the ones that do
And moving on

Deciding with each selection
That my happiness
My sense of joy
My sense of ease
My sense of wellness
That feeling of feeling good
Is the most important thing

Because if I don't
If I avoid the choice
Or if I choose the rotten vegetables
The ones that make me sick
The ones that hurt me
That make me believe I'm broken
And dark
Then I become Slave to my misery
Always in relation to my misery
Chained to my misery
Unable to see another way
Or the existence of anything but it

So today I choose something else
Today I choose to feel good
Today is the day I decided
I am pretty great, as a matter of fact

Yes I am

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Link: Why You Aren't Living Your Dreams...

You should read this article over at "tiny buddha." Its full title is, "Why You Aren't Living Your Dreams and What to Do About It." It's informative and inspiring. Give it a read, and get going on your Grand Vision!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dare

I have what I've come to consider an excellent app on my phone entitled, "Transform Your Life." It appears to be an extension of the work done by a person named Cheri Huber, who is a self-described "Zen teacher, writer, speaker." Here's her website: http://www.cherihuber.com/.

The app is very simple and straightforward. It provides a daily "reading" in the form of a short quote, followed by an "assignment" to undertake. Here's an example:

(image is a screenshot from my phone)

That's a ponderous statement by Mr. Kirkegaard, isn't it? What I get from it is that I have have two choices in life: 1) Be exactly who I am. Tell the truth as I know it; be willing to be (very) different if necessary; be willing to put myself first; and be willing to tolerate some fear/discomfort along the way. 2) Adhere only to conventional wisdom. Do only what others believe to be "safe bets" and "good ideas." Base all my decisions primarily on the consideration of others' approval or disapproval. Force myself to want the things that society tells me I should want out of life.

Let's see. If we take the first route (#1), we'll probably have to contend with the voices of our own fear, and with others' disapproval -- if not constantly, then at least fairly often, probably. Huh. Those are difficult things to endure. 

The other route seems easier. After all, if we take that road, we'll be doing exactly what we ought to be doing -- and that's a good feeling! Most of us want, on some level, to be understood, embraced, and accepted, after all. So if we're doing things because others want us to do them, we're almost guaranteed their approval!

The problem, though, is that route #2 doesn't include YOU. 

Taking route #2 guarantees only that YOU -- your unique self -- will be relegated to the status of a silent, backseat passenger in the road trip of your own life. Others will approve; but you will fade.

I choose the first road. It's scary, and it's full of uncertainty -- because no one's ever lived my life, according to my personal Truth, before! But to me, a slow fade, a slow death of self, is simply no way to live. Not in my opinion, anyway. 

Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Words, Words, Words

I have an app on my phone called, "Transform Your Life," which, aside from being simple, easy to use, and all-around awesome, is a really helpful daily practice touchstone -- for me, anyhoo. I have it set such that every day at a designated time, I am notified of a new reading and its accompanying assignment. Most of them are excellent, and sometimes the timing of their appearance is downright uncanny.

Today's reading and assignment were, for me, equal measures humorous, humbling, and ponderous. Here's a screenshot:


On one level, today's reading is a little tough for my ego, because I'm a "words guy." I pride myself on my ability to use language as a tool in service of meaningful precision and clarity. And yet, "words are the fog one has to see through." Hehe. It's always a little bit humorous, I think, when the ego bubble gets poked. 

And of course it's true. That's not to say I'm wrong, or that words and language have no place in fostering peace, understanding, recovery, growth, and enlightenment (of course they do); but it is a reminder that we, all of us, construct our realities through language. We have names for everything; we attach meaning to things; we call them good and bad...our thoughts and reflections are shaped and limited by our language. 

Thus, language is a double-edged sword. It has the power to free us, and it has the power to imprison us. And it does both at times, most assuredly. 

So what's with the assignment?

To me, it means that I am to sit down and let in some silence. To take even a single minute to get really simple: to sit down, breathe, and notice what's happening with me. 

In my experience, the literal and figurative words which emerge from these places of quiet and simplicity are the truest of the true; they are the ones that lead to the heart of things.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Honesty

It's hard to make a practice of being honest, I think. It is for me, anyway. I'm habituated to "protecting" other people from what I really think when there's disagreement or conflict; traditionally, I'm the peacemaker. So for me, it often takes a concerted effort to be really open and honest.

Now, one thing I do know is that it's not necessary or advisable to be completely honest 100% of the time. If we were all completely honest 100% of the time about our opinions, thoughts, and feelings, we'd probably launch Armageddon in very short order. Why? Because our reactions are often completely irrational, and incredibly temporary.

If we 'sit' with our turbulent reactions to the various events of this world, we often find that we calm down, gain perspective, change our minds, and forget about it altogether, even. How many times have you said something you regret in the heat of the moment? Something hurtful and nasty and reactive? Yeah, me too: a lot of times. Now imagine if we just went through our days just like that, without a filter, just escalating and escalating...I'd actually rather not.

So it's good to know how to be honest. It's good to know how to be honest with measures of compassion, actually, because honesty, wielded in certain ways, can be utterly selfish and narcissistic. Although, it can be tough to tell the difference sometimes between compassionate honesty and selfish honesty. And then of course comes the question, "Whose well-being deserves the most consideration right now?" Sometimes the answer is "Mine." 

I digress.

At times, I've royally screwed up in the honesty department on an interpersonal level. I've kept the truth hidden for so long when it really mattered that I laid waste to any semblance of kindness, respect, or decency when it, the now-toxic and distorted Truth, finally came out. On those occasions, the pressure of the truth built up to such an unbearable degree that I couldn't help be anything but selfish. And I've done that a number of times in my life, unfortunately.

I'm responsible for those actions, and I'm sorry for each and every one of them. And the thing is, while it sucked for the other people involved, it sucked far, far worse for me, because I was the one who was ultimately stuck with my mountain of guilt, shame, and confusion. 

What I've learned, then, is that honesty is difficult in practice, especially if you're programmed to make misguided attempts at protecting other people from your opinions, or if you're unsure of yourself, or if you're just plain scared. 

And it is scary.

I think the first time I got really honest for a protracted length of time was in an acting class, interestingly enough (and sadly enough, perhaps). I was 21 years old. I was terrified, because it felt like I was out of control. And I was out of control, in fact: during one exercise, I blacked out, punched a wall, and split my hand open. Awesome, right? (Not so much.)

I'll tell you what, though: as I got better at being honest, and practiced it with compassion, I steadily felt a psychological weight lift from me. I was free, confident, and happy to an altogether new and far-reaching extent.

It seems that my well-being is in direct proportion to the quality of my honesty practice: the better I am at being honest, the better I feel and function -- not just for myself, but for other people, too. Conversely, many of the troubles of my adult life can be traced back, at least in part, to how honest I was being.

I'm telling you all this, folks, because although honesty is difficult for many of us, it is worth it. It is freedom.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Weeks Off, and Balance

I took an unintended hiatus from writing for this blog last week. It was probably Tuesday when I first realized that I hadn't written anything for "MHFH" in a few days, and I felt a surge of guilty anxiety when I realized it. As I was unusually busy, though, the thought didn't linger -- but it persistently returned throughout the week.

You see, I feel responsible for this blog, and rightly so. For one thing, it's my blog, plain and simple, and I've put a lot of time and effort into it. For another, I'm very aware of the fact that the content herein is my content; that is, it's my creation, with my name is attached to it. A relatively simple Google search of my name will now and forever reveal the existence of this blog. Given that discoverability, and given that I have a personal and professional life to attend to, I want the blog's content to be good.

On another note, I feel responsible to you -- again, rightly so. Mental health is serious stuff. It is, of course, possible and appropriate, in some cases, to foster insight and discussion of mental health through less serious means, but I've chosen to write about it with an earnest authorial voice. That means that I have a responsibility to take these posts seriously, and to do no harm by you.

I'm also ambitious, quite frankly. I don't necessarily have a goal in mind for this blog, per se, but I do want to distribute this, and other, work to a wide audience. Pursuant to that, then, I acknowledge the importance of writing well, and writing often.

So, again, I felt uneasy and anxious and irresponsible with each passing post-less day -- at first.

But then, an interesting transformation: my relationship to the thought changed -- or, put another way, my opinion of the fact that I hadn't written for this blog changed. My new responses to the awareness of my non-MHFH-writing were, and are, twofold:

1. Sometimes, the best thing to do is take a break. That's true of just about anything I can think of off the top of my head, and I'd assert it's especially true in mental health. Sometimes we just gotta do other things, know what I mean? For one, life rolls on, and things come up that demand our attention. For another, it's a good reminder that there is, and must be a life outside the consideration of mental health/self-help/psychology/etc. It's part of that little thing we call balance. We cannot long sustain our health, happiness, and well-being without some semblance of balance. Besides, the consideration of mental health/self-help/psychology is ostensibly engaged so that we can live our lives in a more personally satisfying manner.

2. A) I'm not that important. Anyone who reads this blog will go on living their own lives in the manner they see fit, regardless of whether I ever write another post again -- which is exactly how it should be; B) I do this because I believe my thoughts and posts and images are of value, and because, moreover, I like to share them; and C) I live a full, rich, and busy life. I am fortunate to have lots of interests, and lots of things I like to do. Sometimes, those things will take precedence over my self-imposed and admittedly arbitrary blogging schedule. And that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart says.

People who care about other people, and about the work they're doing, fall prey to burnout very easily. It requires conscious practice not to, actually. When you care deeply about the people and ideas you're serving, it's natural to throw yourself into it with everything you have. That's well and good. But it's like drawing water from a well: unless the water supply is steadily replenished, the well is going to run dry.

Unless we take the time to really, truly take care of ourselves, we will burn out -- and that's true for all of us, not just those of us involved in mental health work as patients or practitioners or writers or researchers, etc. We must find a way to give ourselves what we enjoy, what we relish, what gives us peace. It's our spiritual medicine. Each of us is different in that regard, surely. Some people need just a wee dose of it every day; others can go weeks or months without it, and then set a weekend aside and fill 'er up. Whatever it is for you, just do it.

This is a long, elliptical post, which is nice, because my thoughts tend to be that way. Let me just reemphasize what, for me, was the biggest revelation of this week of non-writing:

Balance is good. It might not be recognizable at first, and it might even be uncomfortable for awhile, but it's good. It's necessary. It's a balm for the soul.

Have a good one, folks. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Lincoln Tunnel

When I was a kid, my parents would take my sister and I down to Long Island a few times a year to visit relatives and go to the beach. Given that said relatives lived about 45 or 50 miles East of Manhattan, we usually took the George Washington or Tappan Zee Bridges as to avoid an unnecessary slog through Mid or Lower Manhattan traffic. 

On one occasion, though, for some reason I can't remember, we were indeed in Midtown Manhattan, and were taking the Lincoln Tunnel out of the city. (For those of you who aren't familiar with NYC, the Lincoln Tunnel connects Midtown Manhattan with New Jersey.) 

The Lincoln Tunnel is rather narrow, especially to the eyes of a seven-year-old kid who is unaccustomed to such sights and riding in the back seat of his Dad's car. I watched the wall -- so close, it seemed, I could touch it -- in amazement as we sped through the tunnel. My Dad's from Brooklyn, and I knew two relevant facts: 1) he knew exactly what he was doing; and 2) he had driven all over New York City. Still, I wondered, "How are we not crashing into the wall? It's so close!"

(image of Lincoln Tunnel from guestofaguest.com, "Weird New York"


So I asked him. Little did I know his response would become one of the most important working metaphors of my life -- and one that I'd pass along to countless friends, family, and clients. His response went something like this:

"It's easier than you think. When you're driving, you have a tendency to steer the car toward where you're looking. So when you're driving through the tunnel, all you have to do is look ahead at the road -- at where you want to go. Because if I were to look at the wall, I'd drive right into it, or come dangerously close."

It was an "Ah-ha!" moment for me ("Coooool!") -- I'd been given insider information on one of those super awesome grown-up mysteries: I now knew how to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel. And that was satisfaction enough for me.

It's curious, but I whereas I remember that early, simple memory with precision and clarity, I couldn't tell you much about the moment, years later, when I recognized the deeper brilliance of what my Dad told me that day. It boils down to this:

If you focus on what you don't want (to hit the tunnel wall), you're setting yourself up to get what you don't want. But if you focus instead on what you do want (drive safely through the tunnel), you're setting yourself up to get that

In other words, our actions, and all their consequences, tend to follow our focus. 

I think it's possible in just about any situation to identify something you don't want; heck, I'll go out on a limb and say that's even what most of us are trained to do automatically. Think of it. How often do we say, "This sucks!" or "I don't want to do that." How often do we focus on our problems? (Hint: very often.)

It is far more useful, productive, and pleasant, frankly, to give your attention to what you want, i.e., your goals, and the outcomes you desire. There will be challenges and obstacles, but if you remain persistent in your focus on what you want, you will seek, and find, solutions. 

I can't stress enough what a powerful life skill this is. And the good news is that this type of perspective reorientation is a very simple matter of choice. All you have to do is be willing to say to yourself, "Okay, I'm very clear on what I don't want. What is it that I do want?" That simple thought will propel you forward; and, as I recently said in another post, your life will open up to you.

Thanks.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Affirmation Today


Snapshot: Loss and Grieving

Here's one of the takeaways from "Loss and Grieving," as I see it:









Loss and Grieving

Coping with the loss of someone or something important is one of the most difficult tasks a person can face. It is in our nature, after all, to get attached to things; and, to put it clinically, when the object of our attachment is gone, we suffer. Its absence leaves what feels like a gaping void in our hearts, and the grief can be overwhelming, all-encompassing.

We get attached to people, places, and things. We get attached to our routines, our opinions, our beliefs, our goals, our homes, our lifestyles, our expectations.

It's almost as if we're lined with an adhesive, we get so attached to things.

And that's okay.

Attachments really only become an evident issue for us when we experience suffering. Fortunately, the consideration of suffering is a road well-traveled by our forebears, and we can all lean on their wisdom and guidance for assistance. The Buddha, for example, addressed the matter of human suffering in great detail. Regardless of your religious or spiritual identity / orientation, and even regardless of whether you believe in a higher power, are agnostic, or are atheist, The Four Noble Truths are useful guides in view of suffering. I recommend taking a look at them.

I'm not here to promote Buddhism, though. I'm here to talk about what it feels like to lose something, to grieve, and to heal.

Loss can make one feel utterly empty. It can feel shocking, unreal, and overwhelming. Loss can incite feelings of incredible sadness and longing. It can feel as if one's entire world has ended, and has been swallowed up, furthermore, by some deep and terrible void. It can feel like it's never going to end, and that there's no hope. Chances are good, actually, that a major loss will incite any combination of those experiences in a person. 

Grieving -- something which follows and emerges from loss -- is a process. And as with any emotional process, it's a safe bet to expect some tumult; that is, a person who is grieving will probably experience a wide spectrum of feelings, and will very possibly be on the proverbial emotional roller coaster. What's more, each person's grieving process will "look" different, and will span any number of days, weeks, months, or years, even.

Are you familiar with the concept of the Five Stages of Grief (as articulated by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)? They can be a useful guide for better-understanding the grieving process. One thing I learned, though, is that the stages do not necessarily occur in order. Oftentimes, a person who is grieving will, for example, experience several stages simultaneously, or will revisit stages as time goes on. That fluidity between the stages is important to keep in mind, because it can otherwise be very confusing and disappointing if one finds themselves "regressing."

Another important consideration is that different cultures have different perspectives on loss and grieving. ("Culture," in this case, can refer to groups big and small, from entire populations on down to families.) There is extraordinary diversity among attitudes toward death, for example. There are rules and guidelines among different cultures, both written and unwritten, which inform the processes of grieving and letting go.

At any rate, that brings us to the question, what does it mean to heal in the wake of a loss? The thing that keeps returning to my mind around this question is a metaphor I learned as an intern mental health counselor:

Imagine your heart (not the organ; rather, your center of feeling) is a glass. When you suffer a major loss, it's as if a large, foreign object is uncomfortably wedged into the glass. What many people hope for is that, over time, the foreign object -- the burden of the loss, the pain and suffering -- will shrink. While that may be so, there's a better way to think about it: imagine that the glass, your heart, expands over time, thereby more comfortably accommodating the sense of loss.

I love that metaphor, because it's true: Loss doesn't entirely go away, but our abilities to accommodate it and integrate it into our daily lives do expand.

We cannot help but be indelibly changed when we experience loss. But we aren't forever diminished by loss, either. No. Instead, we are transformed by loss. If we attend to our suffering in a compassionate manner, we are transformed into beings with greater capacities for love, peace, self-knowledge, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion. We are transformed into more complete versions of ourselves -- as if a layer of steam has been wiped off a window.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

*Notice*

For us human beings, mental health is everything. It's omnipresent. Even, and maybe especially, for people who don't think it affects them, I'm telling you -- mental health is everything. Consider this: if you took someone who loved their work, and you took their work away from them, and you left them in an existence devoid of that work, that person would be affected. They would almost certainly be unhappy. They might even feel despondent and lost. Their psychological life, then -- their mental health -- would be affected. And as a result, other parts of their life would be affected, too. So, I repeat: mental health is everything -- it's omnipresent.

I named this blog "Mental Health for Humans" on a lark. I'm not thrilled with the name, but it works for now. Besides, "what's in a name?" I'm not a media strategist, I'm not a slogan-writer, and I'm not prone to snappy witticisms, especially when I'm trying to come up with snappy witticisms. What I knew, prior to launching this blog, was that I had a lot to say about mental health in general, because I had studied it, practiced it as a therapist, and had my own struggles with it.

"Mental health" was, and is, important to me. I feel an urgency about it, in large part because I know that suffering can be assuaged. I know that this earthly existence of ours can feel rather strange and uncertain and mysterious; but I know we can all proceed through it with a greater degree of grounding and happiness. That means a lot to me. I want good things for us. I want us to learn from our problems; I want us to study ourselves, and our universe; and I want us to grow. I want us, collectively and individually, to achieve deeper levels of awareness, and higher levels of consciousness.

The thing is, I'm not really sure that the stuff I write about, and the stuff I want to write about, fits all that neatly into the mental health "bucket." I've never been much of a fan of buckets in the categorical sense, anyway. (Actual, literal buckets are fine, I should note.) I'd rather honor my many and varied interests by drawing connections between them in considering a topic of import; and I'd rather draw strength and passion from them as I pursue a sharper image in my craft (i.e., writing). Besides, there are plenty of people who do a really good job disseminating straight-up, traditional "mental health" content.

I want people to read what I write, and I know there needs to be a thematic orientation for people to "get" my work. So while well-being is extremely important to me, and probably always will be, I may occasionally -- or often, even -- stray out of traditional bounds to discuss it.

For example, I love baseball. I love food. I love architecture, city planning, personal finance, spirituality, literature, theater, art, music, science, culture, etc. It all ties in for me, and each of those things fuels my interest in the other. At a given moment, tattoos and beards might capture my interest and set me off on an exploration of ideas and themes I couldn't have otherwise accessed without their foundational support.

In other words, folks, please take note that I'm going to give myself the space and freedom to explore that which lies beyond the conventional walls of the "mental health" realm. It, mental health, will remain a primary orientation, but even that -- the definition, that is -- is probably broader, for me, than for many.

I hope you enjoy it. If not, that's okay, of course. You need to do what works for you. You need to find content that appeals to you. I'm confident I have something to offer, though, and I invite you in for a look.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Releasing the Grip of Anxiety: Acceptance & Compassion

I want to write about anxiety. First of all, everyone feels anxious periodically. It's part of caring about things, and it's part of being human. Like other emotional experiences, anxiety provides us with important feedback in a given situation. It's adaptive, it's necessary to our well-being, it's valuable, and it's good. There's nothing wrong with anxiety in and of itself.

Some of us, though, experience anxiety to a disruptive, invasive, and even debilitating extent. And of course, this can be an occasional experience, or a persistent one, or one that waxes and wanes, or one that eventually disappears altogether, etc. There's a lot of variation with it.

Anyway, how do we differentiate between normal/healthy anxiety and problematic anxiety? My view, in general terms, is that anxiety (or any experience, really) is an issue when it persistently, invasively interferes with one's ability to function in a personally satisfying way.

(Incidentally, my view is pretty common among mental health professionals, and it more or less jives with how the various mental health "disorders" are defined by the DSM-IV-TR, which is the clinical reference guide used by mental health professionals in the USA [and some other parts of the world].)

There are many so-called Anxiety Disorders in the DSM, and for brevity's sake, I will not discuss them all here. And besides, that's enough about the problem of anxiety -- let's move into a discussion of ideas and solutions.

I think anxiety's roots are in avoidance. That is NOT to say I think it is a person's "fault" for having a problem with anxiety -- not at all!! Here's the thing: I think we all want to feel good. So when something really bad happens to a person, they do the best they can to move on with their life. And sometimes that entails developing new sets of beliefs about themselves, and about life in general; and sometimes it also entails compartmentalizing or otherwise pushing aside one's thoughts and feelings.

That all makes sense, especially in view of our intuitive desire to feel good. "Avoidance," then, in this case, is about avoiding that which causes suffering. The problem, though, is that it doesn't really work -- at least, not when it comes to the often messy reality of our inner lives. That's what I meant when I posted this image a few weeks ago:


What disruptive anxiety "says" to me, then, is that the sufferer probably has some inner "stuff" they need to approach and consider in order to truly move on. In other words, one's past must be accepted and released before one can truly occupy the present in happiness and health.

I'll be straight-up with you: The process of approaching one's "stuff" is usually pretty scary and uncomfortable; and that can seem a little counter-intuitive, of course, seeing as how the ultimate goal is achieving a greater measure of peace. 

The thing is, that's okay. Sometimes, that which seems paradoxical conceals a deeper truth. 

Take it slow. Whether you choose to undertake the process on your own, or with another person's assistance (i.e., a counselor), make sure you're in a safe, secure place in which you feel as free as possible to express anything that comes up. Also, set an expectation for yourself that it won't necessarily be a linear, quick-fix process -- and setting that expectation is important, by the way, because it invokes the keys to release: Acceptance and Compassion.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that self-directed Acceptance and Compassion are ALWAYS harbingers of positive things to come in terms of peace, happiness, well-being, clarity, balance, and achievement. 

Here's the beautiful thing: we don't necessarily have to like something in order to accept it; and we don't necessarily have to agree with someone's actions in order to show them compassion. 

In other words, it's okay to say, "Wow, that thing that happened was really unpleasant. It was really painful. I really wish it hadn't happened." You can retain that basic attitude and still, at the end of the day, augment it with acceptance: "But it did happen. It happened. I survived it, and I'm sitting here right now."

We all have aspects of ourselves which we don't like. We've all done things we regret. We've all done things which, even today, make us feel sad and guilty to ponder. We've all done things in violation of our senses of right and wrong. And we've all had bad things done to us.

While that stuff isn't great, it doesn't mean we deserve to forever languish under the burden of displaced torment.

I firmly believe that we are all worthy of happiness and peace -- which means that we are worthy of acceptance, worthy of compassion, and worthy of forgiveness. 

After all, none of us is perfect. Let me repeat that (in all caps): NONE OF US IS PERFECT. (You might not like it, but you have to accept it.) What that means, in part, is that we periodically make big mistakes. Sometimes we screw up and hurt other people; sometimes other people screw up and hurt us.

The only thing to do is practice acceptance and compassion.

And it starts with us. It starts with each of us giving those things to ourselves, first and foremost. It starts with each of us being the kindest, most loving friend to ourselves that we can imagine. 

You, Dear Reader, are worth it. I know it in my bones. 

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you have an awesome day. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Leaving Hell

I've made several prolonged trips to Hell. Each visit was quite terrible in its own way, and I realize, as a result, just what a vast, dynamic place Hell really is. My tour bus took me from solitary wastelands to crowded peaks, and everywhere in between. (I hope you realize I'm not speaking literally.)

Hell is the capital-w Worst, it really is. It seems to have an ability to customize itself to fit precisely the vulnerabilities of each of its visitors. It is such a torturous, despairing place, and there are some -- many -- who don't make it out alive.

I made it out alive, obviously. And I've been determined, in recent years, to make efforts which might help others who are going through their own versions of Hell, whatever that looks like. Hence, this blog, for example.

If you've been following along here in recent times, you'll have noticed I've created a number of what I call "snapshots" -- images, with several lines of pointed or inspirational text superimposed thereon. Snapshots like the ones I've been creating are nothing new, of course, and anyone who spends any time whatsoever online -- whether on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, etc. -- is familiar with the medium. I had mixed feelings about creating them at first, because I'm a bit of a traditionalist in that I think there is real value in taking the time to sit down, read a document in its entirety, and derive meaning.

I realized two things, however, that changed my mind and helped me take the plunge into single-shot media. First, I realized it is quite natural for people to want a distilled, simple, readily accessed message -- especially on the Internet. Time is of the essence today more than ever, it seems; and content-browsing online, furthermore, usually lends itself to short bursts of attention. I know that's true for me, most of the time. Second, I remembered that it was a series of very choice quotes, and extractions from larger bodies of text, which helped rescue me from the depths of my own version of Hell.

Since we're all different, not every story, quote, image, axiom, etc. is going to resonate equally among us. And something which resonates powerfully with a person one day may not have the same impact a day or two later.

That's beside the point.

The point is in the willingness to seek and consider new ways of life -- from a new way of looking at the world all the way on up to major lifestyle changes. I'll repeat: it's in the willingness to seek and consider new ways of life -- of being.

Those who seek will find. That I can promise you. It may not be what was originally sought after (or it may); but the journey will provide. The journey will provide the tools and lessons that a person needs in order to get where they want and need to go in life. It's what all the great stories are about, and it's what all the great religions are about. Life is our teacher; we must only be willing to listen.

I'll start to wrap up this post with a few quotes which have been especially helpful to me (one of which is my own):

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot
"You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream." -- C. S. Lewis
"Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one." -- Stella Adler
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!" -- Henry David Thoreau
"The cure for grief is motion." -- Elbert Hubbard
"If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." -- Dale Carnegie

And a metaphor I developed which has proven useful on a few occasions:

"If you leave your car in the garage, it won't ever get dented or wrecked; you'll be protecting it, and you'll be protecting yourself from those headaches. That is true. But you also won't ever get anywhere. Take a chance: give primacy to your desire to get where you want to go, and take the car out of the garage." -- Yours Truly

These are but a few of the many which have helped me over the years. I encourage you to seek, collect, and create your own. Develop some metaphors -- they're amazing teachers. Maybe create a file for them on your computer (that's what I did), or a folder to keep in your desk, for quick reference.

There is an ocean of wisdom available to us, and it can be accessed just about anywhere. Anything we see, do, and experience can teach us, if only we let it -- even Hell.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rumination and Depression

One of the common features of depression is ruminative thought. "Rumination" is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows:

1. to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly
2. to chew repeatedly for an extended period

The problematic fixture of rumination, when featured in depression, is its compulsive nature. Compulsive behaviors (thinking included) are characterized by obsession, repetition, automation, and a lack of choice on the part of the the individual.

Unfortunately, the thoughts, images, memories, and ideas upon which a person ruminates are usually unpleasant.

It can be easy for an outsider to consider these points and say, "Ok, just stop ruminating on that stuff." If only it were so easy. Chances are good that the person suffering from depression has tried that -- "just stopping" -- to no avail. The fact is, one usually cannot simply "stop" a compulsive behavior like rumination; rather, one (usually) must learn a new, more functional (and satisfying) behavior to replace its compulsive cousin.

I think the human mind is a diligent problem-solver. By extension, then, rumination, to me, is a process (not necessarily consciously understood) by which the mind is seeking to solve a problem. Rumination acts like quicksand, though, in that a person's thoughts get pulled into, and stuck upon, the object of rumination -- and this makes it difficult or impossible to clearly identify and solve the underlying issue. This isn't pleasant, it is usually unwelcome, and it can be highly frustrating; but it is, nevertheless, a signal from the mind that a problem exists and requires attention.

I think the intention of problem-solving in and of itself is awesome; and I think, furthermore, such intention is to be partnered with in seeking to proceed out of one's depression. In other words, embrace it, pat it on the back, and get crackin'!

The first step is to put on your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat and get curious about the deeper problem your rumination is seeking to solve.

(This is why I'm a big believer in therapy, incidentally. This stuff can be very difficult to recognize and describe on one's own. An impartial, external party, then, can be of incredible value to a person.)

It's impossible for me to speak in anything but general terms at this point, because everyone's problems are different. Often, however, people find that their rumination is trying to solve the following issues (which are also general terms): guilt, shame, anger, and/or frustration. People also find, sometimes, their rumination is a defense mechanism against feelings of worry, doubt, fear, powerlessness, and/or vulnerability.

The great thing is that this Sherlock Holmes process represents real hope for the sufferer. Once a person's underlying problem is understood, it is possible -- very possible -- to begin the process of resolving it. For example, if a person is struggling with shame and guilt, it is possible for that person to achieve self-forgiveness.

A really nice byproduct of all this, incidentally, is that people often learn so, so much about themselves when they go through it. They often come to a deeper understanding of "what makes them tick," their needs, their values, their relationships, etc. They learn skills and tools which help them manage future struggles more efficiently. They learn acceptance and compassion.

And that, as Martha Stewart puts it, is a good thing.

Monday, March 4, 2013

CRISIS

Today, I'm going to write about CRISIS.

I don't think it's a stretch to say most of us have experienced crises of some sort. They occur when the proverbial straw breaks the camel's back, or when an unexpected, major event occurs. Either way, when a crisis happens, it changes things -- maybe everything, or close to it -- and it cannot be ignored.

I don't have a ton of insight to share on managing crises; after all, they're each their own unique little bundle of joy (haha). Crises also tend to induce varying degrees of "survival mode" in people, and that, pretty much, is what it is. Crises can be pretty unpleasant, and all those involved do the best they can with them. 

That all being said, when a crisis occurs, the people who have to take action seem to dissociate a little bit, generally speaking, and interestingly enough. In other words, they detach a bit from the emotional impact of the event in order to preserve their decision-making abilities and get things done; and that's a good thing, in my opinion, because after all, in times of crisis, things have to get done.


(Image from Google Image search "git er done"...I couldn't help myself)

I experienced a bit of a family crisis over the weekend. (I'll refrain from sharing details, but thankfully, everyone involved is alive and relatively well.) When the crisis was at its peak, I found myself in an Action Mode state very similar to what I described above. And it was necessary and good, believe me.

What I took note of, though, and what I'd like to underscore here, was the stuff that happened after the crisis -- that is, once the situation had stabilized. 

Generally speaking, the immediate aftermath was, for me, almost equally as dicey as the crisis itself, but in a different sense. My dissociation had faded; but while there was still plenty of business to attend to, I no longer had the luxury of operating with that nice little buffer zone between myself and my emotions. Instead, I suddenly found myself having to manage my tumultuous, intense, and crisis-induced emotional responses along with my need to take care of business. 

Everyone experiences and expresses their emotions differently, especially in times of stress. I did notice, though, that it was tempting to indulge catastrophic thinking. After all, I was worried; my system was flooded with adrenaline; and my brain was teeming with unusual levels of neurotransmitters. In other words, everything in me was ready to FREAK OUT. Hell, everything in me WANTED to freak out. So whenever there was a new development, I felt myself escalating. Minor annoyances became Big Deals; passing, innocuous thoughts were Urgent Matters. 

It was exhausting, and it was unpleasant. After all, I was aware of what was happening with me, and I initially tried to do exactly what I recently warned against: forcefully change my thoughts and feelings. Oy. Mercifully, I soon realized that all I could really do was to breathe, let myself experience whatever came up, and be my own best friend. That helped -- a lot.

So. In the aftermath of a crisis, be extra compassionate and forgiving with yourself. Let yourself experience whatever it is you’re experiencing. Know that you're probably going to think and feel a lot of contradictory things, or things that surprise you, or things you wish you wouldn't. You might even feel yourself regressing, or being pulled into old, unwanted habits of communication and behavior. Whatever the case may be, have patience with yourself, give yourself “space” to exist, and know that “this, too, shall pass.” 

A few closing thoughts. If other people are involved with you in a crisis, know that they’re going through their own versions of the experience, and that they, too, are probably thinking, feeling, saying, and doing things that are unusual, unwelcome, or unfamiliar. Or maybe not. Either way, extend to them the same senses of compassion and forgiveness I described above.