Chatting with Phyllis Serene on Emotional Fitness

I had a wonderful time chatting with Phyllis here at Mestizo in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. We discussed a wide range of applications, all grounded in healthy emotional fitness.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this talk. Can you relate? Am I missing anything? Do you agree with how relevant I think this is for all of us?

What are your biases towards “mental health”?

When you hear, or think of, the term “mental health” (or “mental illness”), do you jump to conclusions, or do you have a simple attitude of “all mental illness is bad”?

When I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I didn’t really know what to think at first. It was a shock, it was something I had to sit with and let sink in. I couldn’t easily see how my actions, behaviors, and choices were symptomatic of clinical depression.

It took some time, but I was struggling already, and if this got me a step closer towards not feeling so crappy about myself and about life, then I was going to investigate this as open-mindedly as I could.

How severe are mental disorders?

I had this thought, recently, that mental illnesses and disorders come in all shapes and sizes. My depression, in hindsight, was like a really bad case of pneumonia, stubborn, took me down hard at times, but in the end, was curable or manageable.

There are plenty of disorders or illnesses that are far more severe, but in the end, it’s a matter of seeing it as clearly as possible, and choosing the most effective way of managing/treating it. It’s likely not always as easy as taking a pill, that wasn’t true for me, and sometimes it’s difficult/impossible to treat all the manifestations of a disorder. Also, there are times when multiple disorders are in play, and they have to be broken down to understand what symptoms are manifest from which disorder.

But, in the end, with patience, care, and healthy support, most everyone I’ve ever known with mental disorders/illnesses has been able to treat or manage their condition(s) well, and able to live fulfilling lives.

How does this relate to spirituality?

Our perceptions and interpretations can be grossly distorted by mental illnesses and disorders. It could be as simple as affecting how we hear things, or what thoughts they bring up.

“With our minds, we make the world”, is a Buddhist adage, and if we’re contemplating distorted perceptions or thoughts, then our emotional responses will be affected, as well as our world view. You can imagine that our thoughts about ourselves would be affected as well, and this can impact our self esteem, self image; anything egoic, really.

So, from my experience, part of getting clearer in our spiritual path is to humbly and honestly consider our mental health.

The Takeway

Like I started, it’s important to have a more educated attitude towards the scope of mental disorders, to not simply lump them all as one-size-fits-all, which it terribly dehumanizing and causes nothing but harm.

Just like you would care for your biology with a regular physical exam, do the same for your mental well being. Find someone you trust, someone that has a breadth of education and experience, to be able to give you some healthy, honest feedback. You might simply get a clean bill of health, or you might become informed about something you couldn’t see objectively.

In the end, it’s about optimal health, so that you can live your life as fully as you desire.

Blessings!

There’s more work to be done

I’m torn… I’ve just read several articles of horrendously unfathomable behavior, and I feel compelled to share, yet I don’t want to forward them directly.

It’s not that I want to share the behaviors, but rather I want to expose the “illness” that we, as a race, still struggle with. Yet, I know I can’t cure the world, thus I look to be available for those people that want to improve their lives.

Well, that’s my aim for now.

It’s an extraordinary thing to me, a person ready to make a change. As I’ve mentioned before, there are three things required: H-O-W — Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness.

I could argue that everyone is already skilled at using “willingness” each day. We comfortably choose our clothes and food using those elements; we make countless choices that are effortless because we’re so willing.

Honesty with ourselves can be tricky. We give ourselves “guilty pleasures”, so there’s honesty in that. We are often truthful with others, yet we’re biologically wired to be dishonest. We tell lies, some of them “white”, for various reasons. People will most likely call themselves honest, yet there’s often an internal dialog that considers just how honest they need to be in various circumstances.

People often deny fleeting thoughts and emotions for higher values; while there’s honesty in living with integrity, we sometimes turn away from parts of ourselves without full acceptance of what they are and what they represent in us. Some refer to that as our “shadow selves”, our “dark side”.

How open-minded are people usually? Trying a new kind of food can be distasteful, or simple out of the question. What’s it like to consider a new political view, or reframe a spiritual belief?

And willingness? I’ve been wondering lately about “the gift of desperation”. I’ve dreamt of finding a way to instill the willingness that people get when “reaching bottom”. Funny, I see it often portrayed in TV, characters absolutely willing to turn on a dime and do such outrageous things. Since shows are scripted, it’s easy to put a character in dire circumstances, easy to show them make ruthless choices, easy to avoid any costly consequences. Does that work against people watching? Does that set up a challenging inner dialog when real life comes up; knowing that things can’t ever be as carefree as they are in the movies, does that keep people from being willing to dare?

Like I said, my mind’s reeling at the moment. The articles I read were as of this date, so if you’re feeling macabre, you can look at some headlines from today. You might want to reach for your comfort food or teddy bear first, though.

Time for work.

We are “Children of the Lie”

Precinct Commander Steven Mauriello “failed to meet [his] responsibility.” As a result, “an atmosphere was created discouraging members of the command to accurately report index crimes.” — from the Village Voice

Whoa.

When I read this, I wonder what my part is, in maintaining and encouraging the demands and expectations of people in these positions of authority. Clearly, what’s going on is wrong and against my values. Have I been ignorantly promoting the pressures that the police management have bowed under?

This is another example of the third(?) level of evil that is described in “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck. I imagine this behavior is against everyone’s values, at least the people I know, yet our society has enabled and allowed this, so we are responsible.

Here’s a succinct summary of some of the points from the book, from a review at Amazon:

  1. The evil hide their motives with lies.
  2. Evil people want to appear to be good.
  3. When confronted by evil, the wisest and most secure adult will usually experience confusion.
  4. Evil seeks to discourage others to think for themselves (fosters dependency).
  5. To oppose evil we must have an ongoing dedication to reality at all cost.

That all seems to apply here. So, now that we are aware of what’s going on, we have a choice, don’t we? What is within our realm of influence that we can choose in order to make a difference?

Postscript: I’ve categorized this with “Clinical Depression” (among other things), per point 3 above which names “the wisest and most secure adult”, but what about the rest of us?

When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn’t The Whole Story

As NPR’s article clarifies today, the popular treatment of depression by addressing Seratonin deficiencies is an overly simplistic one, still to this day buoyed by the bright spot that a pharma treatment (Prozac) originally brought to a terribly discouraging ailment.

While there are numerous ways to address the effects of _clinical_ depression, it’s still an incredibly complex issue (along with all mental illness) with no _simple_ scientific remedy. That said, there are definitely effective therapies available; I’m living proof, and I know of numerous others.

Also, for many people dealing with addiction, such as alcoholism and narcotics, there are a very many cases where people in recovery are struggling against untreated mental illness. Without addressing the mental illness, recovery is a far more difficult process. These cases are referred to as “dual diagnosis”, and treating one and not the other is like having two broken legs, and insisting that only one needs healing.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with _untreated_ mental illness, please, please, please, get a qualified evaluation and educate yourself as best you can.

Of course, if there’s some way you think I can help, please let me know.

Insatiable

An insatiable thirst […] will eventually lead to failure.” — Seth Godin

Hey, friends, sound familiar? That need to fill an emptiness isn’t just a human shortcoming, it shows up in business, too. This dynamic of “organizations suffering from an insatiable thirst” can be described by some as “driven by personality rather than principle”.

Longing and hunger can be slippery, and can be addressed with discernment. Having the drive and determination to pursue things can be very beneficial and productive, but where’s that urgency coming from; urgency doesn’t always come from the same needs or reasons. Knowing where it comes from for yourself is powerful.

Get help to figure this out if you’re not crystal clear within yourself. It’s absolutely possible, easier than you think, and necessary if you don’t want to be driven by unconscious and subconscious impulses.