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.


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.

All “work” and no “play”? You’re missing out!

By the way, who benefits from you maintaining this attitude...?

While the cartoon talks about losing it (Big time!) from doing the same thing over and over, that’s the easy situation to spot and deal with. All work and no play? Go have some fun!

The tougher situation that many people avoid is dealing with pain and discomfort. Most people don’t see enough of a benefit, so they “just deal” with things, hoping it will go away, getting so used to it that they’re inured, or anesthetizing themselves out of pain. They also might think that doing the work to heal or improve will be nothing but a grind. All self-improvement, all the time? All therapy, no joy? All recovery, no happiness? All hard work, no fun?

If this is what you’re worried about, you’ve been misinformed. The point of therapy, self-improvement, recovery, all of those efforts… the point is to heal parts of ourselves that prevent us from having fun, expressing joy, feeling fully alive! It’s the exact same as dealing with a broken bone: you properly align the bones, set a cast to keep it in place, and let the bone heal; then, if necessary, you use physical therapy to build up the muscles around the break and bring them back up to strength.

It’s a smart idea to avoid the same activities that broke the bone in the first place while you heal…

For dealing with mental illness, you use whatever means is appropriate to correct the brain chemistry, maintain the adjustment while allowing your brain to get familiar with proper functioning, then build up your mental processes and behaviors while leveraging your restored mental health.

If you’re in a relationship, disharmony with a partner is usually based in differences of values, and values greatly drive emotional responses. It takes an effort to adjust things within ourselves; imagine what it takes for two or more people to change. The payoff is just as great, though, as the benefits to be experienced with a well-developed relationship is often far greater than what you can achieve yourself.

If you’re in recovery, and your program is all about going to meetings and doing H&I, I encourage you to talk to your sponsor about that. “We are not a glum lot” says much about our attitude. We can carry the joy of being sober, freedom from the bottom that our disease took us to, into everything we do. It concerns me when I hear a person think that the foundation of their ongoing sobriety is to go to meetings frequently and do recovery-based activities only.

If you’re avoiding “getting to work” on yourself because you can’t see the benefits modeled in others, get a “second opinion”! Find people that “have what you want”; most likely they’ll be eager to share how they got it!

If you’ve done the work, and you’re not feeling the joy, there’s more work to be done. Don’t give up! You’re likely more than halfway there…

If you’ve done the work, and you’re reaping the benefits, share what you’ve regained and been given… please! Aren’t you overflowing with gratitude? The world needs your help! As you know, there are infinite ways to do be of service, but it absolutely requires that you have that intention. And, anyway, what else would you do with all that joy?

Do you pay attention to emotional warning lights?

So, let’s say you’ve got something essential to your performing well; a car, a computer, a phone, some appliance or equipment… Remember, this is something you absolutely need to work well, otherwise you’re struggling, inefficient, losing time or money.

If a warning light comes on, how do you respond? Blow it off? Watch it for a while? Tap the warning light to see if it’s loose? Call the repair tech right away?

While it’s obviously a good idea to at least check to see how dire the trouble is, the more important thing is to recognize that the light is blinking. If you can’t see the warning light, or you see it and ignore it, you’re definitely putting yourself at risk.

Many of the warning lights I deal with are emotional. The problem is that while many people see the warning lights flashing, often for long periods of time, they don’t realize that they are indicating problems! They typically ignore the signs, often imagining them unimportant!

Warning signs of emotional issues come in countless shapes and sizes; we could barely scratch the surface of them in a blog post. All I hope to bring up for you is that there are symptoms that are very effective at indicating that something needs tending to.

It’s important to know that just because you might have an emotional issue to work through, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you; emotions are an intrinsic part of being human, and people often receive inadequate education on how to handle challenging emotional situations.

If you have any concerns, get an educated opinion. Not tending to something that needs fixing can often lead to breakage and costly damage.

On a related note, a New York Times editorial pointed out the value of “Fix(ing) things early”, due to the finding that “the most widespread peril children face […] may be ‘toxic stress’ early in life, or even before birth.”

“[T]he most cost-effective window to bring about change isn’t high school or even kindergarten — although much greater efforts are needed in schools as well — but in the early years of life, or even before birth. […] As Frederick Douglass noted, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.'”

Here’s a great example of recognizing that the struggles that many people go through later in life are indications of trouble from very early on. Imagine how much pain could be avoided, and how much opportunity for growth and creativity would be made, if early indicators were tended to promptly.

The Good Fight

Perhaps you’ve experienced the love and compassion of a person concerned with your “salvation”, the idea of you being “saved by grace”, leading you towards the means of “everlasting life”. I’m all for it, personally. I love life in all its form, and any chance of having more life, in any of those forms, sounds good to me!

What I’ve also come to understand is that there are numerous people in this world also committed to doing all they can to help people become fully alive, “self-actualized”, “authentic”, “whole” beings. They offer workshops, counseling, trainings, etc… all for the purpose of helping a person learn, heal, and grow as much as possible.

Education, development, practice, self-improvement, ascension, evolution, enlightenment… can we see any similarities here? Oh, and “therapy” is the “treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder”, repair some part that’s broken, all so that a person can get back into the groove of growing again.

Whether it’s academic, therapeutic, business, religious, yogic… whatever; people are interested in striving for something greater. Perhaps it’s an ideal or principle; a heavenly Father’s approval; becoming One with everything; or just getting smarter. Maybe it’s raising a healthy family; building an enterprise; finding balance one day at a time… There are countless ways of seeking the most out of life, and while there are just as many differences between these ways, they’re headed in the same direction.

So, can’t we all just get along? Can you smile at your neighbor, knowing they’re in pursuit, or seeking the same sort of thing as you are?

Pay close attention, though. While it may seem like you disagree with another person, it may just be that you are actually speaking a slightly different language, using different words, familiar with different appearances. Thus, if you find yourself in those circumstances, you might just take it on faith that the person in front of, or next to, you is doing their best to make the most of life, just as you are.

p.s. If you need help, just ask. There are many people looking for ways to help.

p.p.s. Thanks, Star!

Refuse, Insist, Demand

“Your career is strong. It can handle more than you realize.” — Sally Hogshead

“A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact it’s certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure.” — Seth Godin

As Sally suggests, “refuse to castrate your (self)”. Seth promotes the idea of “shipping”, making art, creating something new, borne from your unique self.

Fear, such a lovely monster. More often than not, nowadays, I can laugh at the ways in which fear holds me back. In the past, I couldn’t help but think it was a reflection on my self worth, that if I were “better, smarter, more lovable”, then I wouldn’t feel fear. That analogy was such a load of crap.

Now, having excised that demon, I can see the tricks and mind games that fear tries to play on me, especially when I want to get something done, make something new.

Whether it’s in my career or some other aspect of life, it really is appropriate to cop some attitude: to absolutely refuse to castrate myself, to insist (damn it!) on staying tapped in to my creative spirit, to demand respect for my mission in life.

Most importantly, though, I have to apply those attitudes to myself.

Note: If this is a really difficult proposition for you, you might benefit from professional help. Please consider it, get a professional opinion, even if the result is clarity that you don’t need help.

Another note: If you have people trying to convince you that you can’t do this, that you’re not good enough, you might consider excusing yourself from their company.