Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Can You Do?

I post a lot about education, removing stigmas, raising awareness, and supporting people when it comes to mental health. I also realize that this can be a bit confusing. So I thought that I'd write a (relatively) short post on a few things that people can do to help in these areas. Some might be broader, and some might help just one individual person. But both are equally important, because really, you often change attitudes one person at a time.
  • Be supportive of people who are open about having a condition. If you want to know something about the condition and feel comfortable, ask them. You may want to ask them if you can discuss it with them first, instead of bringing it up out of the blue. Even for those who are open, it may still be a somewhat sensitive topic. Knowing the actual answer is so much better than assuming - especially than assuming and being incorrect. 
  • Do some research. Organizations such as MHA, NAMI, and DBSA are good references for information on various mental health conditions. If you read an article, check it's sources - just because it's an "official article" doesn't mean it's accurate, and everything has a context. 
  • Participate in walks or public events that help raise both awareness and funds for mental health research. For instance, many local NAMI chapters organize walks. BBRF helps organize events to raise funds for brain and behavior research. There are also the Out of Darkness walks for suicide prevention. These are just several examples. I'm sure you can find others in your area, and I'm happy to help you to do so - just ask!
  • If you feel strongly enough, take legislative action. mental health aid, along with numerous other areas of healthcare, is always in danger have being cut. Learn what's happening in these areas, and if there are any petitions or other actions that you can take to help. 
  • Encourage those who are struggling to seek the help they need without making them feel badly about it. So many people are afraid to seek help because they don't want to be labeled, are afraid of the stigma, and for numerous other reasons (including lack of funds to pay for the appropriate treatments). Ask them howyou can help. Encourage them if they want to seek help - gently, not in a "What's wrong with you? You need therapy!" kind of way. 
  • Utilize social media to help fight the stigma. There are plenty of organizations, personal bloggers, mental health professionals, and others that you can follow on various social media outlets to help raise awareness, educate people properly, and decrease the stigma. You'll probably also learn a good bit in the process. 

Monday, January 21, 2013


If you know me, or have read this blog at all, you know how I feel about the mental health stigma. Or actually about stigmas in general. Whenever you want to make a generalization about a person, a group of people, a condition, a life situation, or whatever it is, say to yourself - or out loud if you have to - that really annoying yet affective phrase about assuming. You know.... it makes an ass out of "u" and me. Although many some cases it's really just "out of u", the person assuming.

This might sound harsh, but think about it. Have you ever made an assumption about someone only to find out you're embarrassingly wrong? Like asking (or wanting to ask) a person that has gained a lot of weight when they're due, assuming they're pregnant only to find that they're not? Or seeing a guy that looks kind of disheveled an assuming he works some low level job, if any, and finding out he's an esteemed college professor or high level scientific researcher? You get the point . Nobody wants to be that person - because they feel like an ass.

I've addressed mental health stigmas before. And I'll do it again. I'll do it until they go away. Which is probably never, unfortunately, so I'll keep on doing it. Plus, I meet new people every day, and I hope at least one new person reads my blog every time, so it's worth a revisit. I'll try to change it up a bit to address things that have recently been bothering me, and I suspect others with mental health conditions. You'll notice I use a lot of comparison to physical conditions. It's because people tend to understand those better and because, I feel like I can't say it enough, the brain is also a physical organ!

1. Everyone with a mental health condition is not automatically mentally ill.  It makes my stomach turn when I hear people say "mentally ill people should/should not...". Because someone has depression, or anxiety, mood cycling, doesn't mean they're deranged. It very well may mean they have something chemically going on that their health professionals are successfully addressing. End of story.

2. We are not our conditions. Last time you met a new employee at work, were you introduced as "This is Bob Smith, he's an asthmatic"? Unless you really need to know this for purposes of the job (you work in asbestos removal, say) it was probably more like "This is Bob Smith, he works in accounting". He can probably do a perfectly good job in accounting regardless of his asthma. It's not defining him. So don't define people with mental health conditions as "she's bipolar/depressed/etc".

3. Much of the time, our condition is not related to our state of life. Again, it's often a chemical, genetic occurrence. Just because someone has a nice car, big house, good relationship, great job doesn't mean they have no reason to be depressed. Put it in physical terms. Breast cancer has been said to be linked in part to diet and exercise. But there are plenty of people who eat well and exercise daily who get breast cancer. Because nobody told the cancer the rules. Same with mental health conditions. Sure, we may get down when we lose our job/house/relationship but that's because it's the natural thing for anyone, condition or not, to feel.

4. People with mental health conditions can get upset, happy, sad, angry, silly, loving, detached, and every other emotion just like everyone else. If I'm pissed off at you, most of the time it's not because my condition is acting up. It's probably because you're being a jerk. It may be because you're "ass"uming something about me and my condition.

5. If you think you "know" mental health conditions without having one or being very, very close to someone with one, consider this. If you're a guy diagnosed with prostate cancer, how would you feel if a woman said to you, "oh I know exactly what you're going through. My great aunt had breast cancer". Um, what? Exactly. So thinking you can characterize someone with depression because you've had a few bad days or because someone in your office says they get depressed doesn't exactly make sense either.

A final thought for people who still don't get what the stigma feels like. Think of something about you or your life that you are sensitive about. It could be your job, your relationship situation, your family situation, your weight, your height anything. Then think how you'd feel if someone made a blanket, about "your kind". It would probably really hurt. And it might well be grossly untrue about you. So why is it ok to do to others? In fact, why is it ok to let anyone do it to anyone? It's because of this that I keep on writing and keep on trying to fight the stigma. Because otherwise, everyone will keep on doing it. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let 'Em Have It!

I promised that after the holidays I'd get back to letter writing posts, and one of my largest pet peeves in life is when people don't keep their promises, so here you go. I needed to be in the right frame of mind to write this post, and I didn't want to mix it in with the holidays, lest it jumbled up with everything else.

This letter is probably the most emotional of all of them to write, because the purpose of it is to go all out writing to someone who you feel needs to hear it.  I know that sounds rather vague, but as you read that sentence I suspect someone popped into your head already. I'm a firm believer in gut reactions and instinct, so that's probably your most likely recipient. I say "all out", but a letter full of curse words and name calling isn't really going to accomplish what you need to do - which is open up fully about what's bothering you and get closure on whatever the issue is. While it's ok to have a parting word or two, the purpose is to let the person know how they've made you feel and why. And because of that, it needs to be a bit more thought out than something you'd say to a driver who just cut you off in traffic. Here are a few points to consider including:

  • What has the person done that's hurt/upset/frustrated/angered you? Do they know this or is it news to them? 
  • Why do YOU feel they've done it? Perhaps you have different perspectives on this and that's important to express. Sometimes people don't realize the way their actions look to others. 
  •  How has it made you feel? Why? Again, must be addressed. 
  • Are they still doing it? If so, do they care that it's upset you and are they willing to consider  working on it?
  • Is there a way to rectify it, or are you just too far gone but need to say your peace anyways? 
These are just some ideas. Each situation will require a different tactic and only you know the ins and outs of the situation. 

Once you have finished the letter there comes the big decision: it is completely up to you if you show the letter to the person. However, I strongly suggest writing the letter with the intention of NOT showing it to them. If you constantly wonder "oh what will they think? Should I put this in there; it might come off wrong?" your efforts will be squelched. You won't really be saying all that you need to say. However, if at the end, you read it (a several times, with at least a 24-hour break in between) and decide you'd like to send it, then perhaps you should. Before doing so, carefully think through and weigh your options with all potential outcomes. You may have one hopeful response in mind and you may get something completely different ... or nothing at all. 

Two final points to consider in choosing who to address the letter to: the person does not have to still be in your life, nor do they need to be living at all. The point of this letter is to un-bottle your feelings and allow to stream out of your head and onto the paper. Whether or not you have them read it (or they are able to at all) is secondary. That's up for each person to decide on their own. The second point is this: If you have any intention of sending it, choose someone that has not yet received a similar letter from you. We all know there's no point in beating a dead horse. 

I highly suggest writing this on pen and paper for two reasons. First, it seems, at least to me, that it's easier to write free form this way. Things just flow out easier without all of the spell check and other electronic tools that can distract from the actual process of writing. Secondly, there's no chance of accidentally hint the send button, or for that matter, the delete button. You'd have to be sleepwalking to accidentally put a letter in an envelope, stamp it, address it, and put it in the mailbox.

Good luck with this exercise. I'd love to hear how you felt after writing your letter! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Knowledge is Power

In my blog yesterday, I wrote about my goals for this coming year. One of them was to narrow down the focus of the things I'm working on. Basically, you can't do all things well for all people, and when you try, there are two possible results. One is that you do everything ok for everyone, but nothing is great. The other is that you do manage to do well for everyone else, but you don't manage to do well for yourself. Simply put, it's burnout. I've found I usually end up with the second result. So, this year, I need to pare down. I need to focus my business on more of a niche. I need to figure out a more specific path for my mood disorder/mental health awareness efforts. I need to figure out specifically where I want to be and why. Then, I need to start creating and following a path that takes me there. Note: this doesn't mean everything must go according to that plan - sometimes you need to sit back and wait to see what the next steps should be. But it means that I need to focus in and pay attention; make sure I'm walking one foot in front of the other and not simply in a circle.

In narrowing down, I have to look at a subject that is one of the most painful for me to swallow - letting go. I have learned over the years, that sometimes, stepping away from a situation is the best thing you can do. It might be a friendship, a project, a job, a relationship, or something else that for whatever reason isn't going the way that you hoped. I've also learned that sometimes, even when you know that you could make this work, that you could be the best for this person/job/project/etc, that others might not see that. And finally, I've learned that this has to be ok. My confidence used to always come from others. A breakup, not getting a promotion, a fight with a friend or a friendship that dissolved would cripple me. I'd think I wasn't good enough. What was I doing wrong?  What if I conformed to exactly the image that they wanted? What if I worked even harder (though those who know me realize that this might not even be possible - I give 150% to anything I dedicate myself to)? I often felt like the dancing bear in the circus saying "look at me, choose me, pick me!".  Then one day, I realized that the reason the dancing bear in the circus is so entertaining is because it looks ridiculous. And I stopped putting my faith in myself in other people's hands.

This isn't to say that a breakup, not getting a promotion, a fight with a friend doesn't matter to me. It does, because I am a type A personality and a fixer by nature, and I want to be able to make everything work. But it means that I have to now step back and say, "You know what - maybe the reason this isn't going 'according to plan' isn't something I can do anything about. I know I'm good enough. I know I'm worthy of this. But everyone may not see things the way I see them. I can try to show them, but I refuse to be the dancing bear any longer. If they don't see it that way, then they don't. Perhaps one day they will. And perhaps then we'll agree. Or perhaps, I'll be in a different place and no longer need them to."

I've learned the hard way that sometimes the best option is to step away and re-evaluate. It doesn't mean throwing a hissy fit and storming out when I don't get my way. It means taking a step back and closely examining the situation in a different light. It means valuing myself enough not to sit there and say "oh look at me, watch me, pick me" and look ridiculous doing so. Finally, I've learned that I will know when the time is right. It will just come to me. I'll know when to keep trying, and when to call it a day. It's not giving up. It's knowing the best course of action, at the best time. It's having enough confidence to know you're enough even if others don't necessarily see it, and realizing that this internal confidence may have to be enough. And when it comes to living with a healthy mind and a positive self esteem, that knowledge is such personal power.

Monday, January 7, 2013

No Resolutions

Welcome to 2013! I almost can't believe it, despite it being seven days in. It's my first blog of the new year, and I thought that, like probably every other person blogging on the planet, I'd use it to take a look at the year ahead. (Fittingly, my last blog took a look at the year behind, also like every other blogger on the planet).

I don't believe in New Years Resolutions. Why? I saw a post on Facebook the other day that said something to the effect of, and I'm totally paraphrasing here if that wasn't obvious, "I'm going to open a new gym that has gym equipment the first six weeks of the year and then turns into a bar for the rest of the year." That pretty much sums it up. Resolutions strike me as the type of action someone declares they'll take after their third cup of coffee in the morning only to discover that by 2 PM they're in a food coma and caffeine slump and all the only thing they could fully commit to is taking a nap. 

Instead of resolutions, I make goals. What's the difference? I looked up the specific definition of "resolution", and while each source worded it slightly differently, almost every one included the terms "firm" and "determination". While this isn't bad in and of itself, it seems to me very black and white, quite unwavering. And as a person who's spent 30 odd years of their life being very black and white, the last thing I need more of is this. It feels like go hard or go home approach and for me, that can get overwhelming. It can also make it way easier to give up all together if you can't quite keep your exact resolution. The various definitions of "goal", on the other hand, contain words such as aim, striving, effort.  It's doesn't indicate a must or must not. It's something you aspire to, and allows you to take baby steps to achieve it. This means that if you stray or are drawn off track - because we all know life throws us curve balls when we least desire them - we can adjust our course and still perhaps attain our goals by another approach. Or if we have to, we can set more reasonable goals based on our new situation. 

So what are my goals for 2013? Well, I'd be lying if I said I had them all set in stone and wasn't still developing the details a bit. But here are some of the general premises. I realize some of them may sound kind of nebulous. However, if you read my blog regularly, or even periodically, you probably can get the rough idea. 
  • Narrow down my focus to a couple of key parts of life and really concentrate on those. Sometimes my attention focus, if depicted on a chart, may slightly resemble a lawn sprinkler. I need to reign this in a bit. You can't be everything to everyone/everything. 
  • Fulfill the commitments I made through The Artist's Way course/book. This may seem silly (especially if you're unfamiliar with the book) but it's actually incredibly important to me. 
  • Do something nice for myself each week. This doesn't mean "instead of working until 6 PM, I'll stop at 5 so I can get the laundry done." I mean genuinely do something for me. Doesn't have to be expensive or extravagant, just nice and just for me. 
  • Attend meditation at the Buddhist center at least once per month. I'd love for it to be more often, but I also want to be realistic.
  • Allow my creativity to flow more openly. Follow my creative intuition more. 
  • And finally, from the title of one of my favorite books, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway." I've written a lot on fear. It's one of my favorite topics because it's one of my least favorite parts of life. 
I've purposely listed those actions that I truly feel need improving. Of course, the people and four legged friends in my life are always a top priority. But I am always working focus on them, so I don't feel it's a goal that I'm striving for necessarily. It's something I feel I do well and want to continue to do well. 

So what are your goals for 2013? Have you made them? Why or why not? As always, I'm open for discussion through comments or private messages. Happy New Year! Let's make this the best year yet!