News for the ‘Thoughts on Mental Health’ Category

Effects of the Government Shutdown on Mental Health

Before I start the article, I want to go over a few things. First, I have my opinions on where the blame lies for the shutdown. Second, I will not go into such things in this article. Finally, I will not approve any comments that talk about the politics of the situation.

Over the past few weeks, those of you living the United States have undoubtedly seen and heard many stories about the affect the shutdown of the federal government has on the economy, at all levels, and the affect it has on many social programs around the nation. While these are all true and serious concerns, there is one thing I have not heard anything about at all, the impact that the shutdown is having on the mental well-being of the furloughed employees and their families.

As one of the 800,000 furloughed employees and the only source of income for my wife and I, I can provide a little insight into this aspect of the shutdown.

The shutdown has greatly increased my stress level, kept me up at nights worrying about how I would put food on the table and pay my bills. These symptoms did not start on October 1st when the government shutdown, rather they started  about a week before the shutdown as it became apparent that the shutdown was inevitable. Each day the stress and anxiety around the office increased, each day there was less productivity because all we could think about was what are we going to do if they do not pull a miracle out of their ass and fund the government? How were we going to pay our bills? How were we going to feed our families?

It is more than just stress and sleepless nights, those two combined have left me feeling physically ill.

I have on more than one occasion felt like a failure and useless because I could not guarantee that I could provide for my wife and I. It has left me increasingly frustrated and angry; especially, since I am hard working and for the last eight years have earned excellent performance reviews from my managers, performance awards and other forms of recognition. It has left me feeling helpless and powerless, to be put in this situation without having done anything wrong and not being able to do anything but sit at home and twiddle my thumbs waiting for Congress to get their heads out of their proverbial asses.

With every day that passes without a resolution, my emotional state deteriorates and I become more stressed. Everyday, I have to fight even harder to keep myself as emotionally regulated as possible. Each day it becomes more difficult.

Sadly, in some cases I am one of the luckier ones. It is just my wife and I. I know a number of people that are married with children, where both parents work for the government. Good hardworking, responsible people who are in the same situation I am in, but even worse off because they have kids. Some of them have some savings while others have had to use up all or most of their savings for medical bills.

How many other workers face mental health challenges? How many of them will suffer severe set backs to their health? How many of them will end up losing their lives if this situation drags on much longer?

These politicians forget, or maybe they do not care, that they are screwing with the lives of human beings. People that are hard working dedicated employees with families, people who just want to do their jobs. People who work for the government, for less money than they could in the private sector, because they love their country.

Edited: October 12th, 2013

Worrying

Recently, I received some news that has left me troubled. There are two problems with this. The first is that worrying is a useless and wasted emotion. The second problem is that at this point there is no confirmation of the problem.

The doctors require more information before they can say it is a problem. The reason is that what they are seeing may be pre-existing and not a new or worsening problem. It may just be status quo.

Let us look at both problems one at a time.

The first problem is worrying about the situation at all. No amount of worrying about a problem will correct the problem. If you worry a little, a lot or not at all it will affect things in the same manner. The effect will be nothing.  It reminds me of something that the Dalai Lama once said, and I am paraphrasing, if you have a problem but no solution exists there, is no reason to worry and if you have a problem and a solution does exist there is no reason to worry.

If a solution exists, what do you gain through worrying? Enact the solution and the problem will go away. If there is no solution, not all the worrying in the world will make the problem go away and you have a great opportunity to use the skill of radical acceptance.

The second problem is that right now there is no confirmed problem. I am “borrowing trouble”, or in other words, I am creating a problem where one does not yet exist. We all have enough real problems, stress, and difficulties and flat out drama that we need to deal with every day that we do not need to make up new ones that are not there. Besides the universe will kindly provide you with real things to deal with if you really feel the need for more problems.

Worrying about problems that do not exist wastes valuable time and energy. There is a discipline called risk management in which you identify, categorize and provide a plan for how you will deal with a possible risk.

For example, if you live in hurricane alley, you know there is a high risk that a storm a hurricane will hit during certain months. You would come up with a plan on how to mitigate the risk as if you cannot mitigate it; how you would, deal with it is it happens. The plan might include having a bag packed fit each member of you household, including your pets, in case you need to evacuate. It may also include making sure you have enough canned goods, batteries, after, etc on hand in case you lose power.

Once you have the plan in place, you do not worry about it anymore. You do not sit there worrying that maybe a hurricane will hit this weekend especially if there is no tropical activity.

I joke at times, I might walk out my front door and are hit by a meteor, but you know what, I am not going to worry about it actually happening. I could be hit by a car walking across the street, again I am not going to worry about it and assume it will happen. I will make sure I am careful crossing the start though. If I worried about everything that could happen, I would be paralyzed with fear and never move.

I need to try to live my life and only deal with actual problems that exist without making up be ones.

 

Edited: September 11th, 2013

Non-Traditional Sources of Help

When we think about various sources of information that can help us and inspire us, we typically think of the more obvious sources, for example, we think about sources like therapists, psychology texts and journals, and things like faith and prayer. While those are definitely good sources, they are not the only places we can find help, inspiration and inspiration.

 

In this article, I will briefly talk about a few non-traditional sources. I am planning to talk about the various items in more detail over the next few months, as well as a few others not talked about in this article.

One non-traditional area is ethics.

Currently, I am re-reading a book by Dr. Rushworth Kidder, which I first read in 2008, titled How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living. As I read the book, it reminds me of how many things I found valuable for improving my mental health.

Using this book add an example, it explores the concept of how to deal with situations that are not cases of right vs. wrong, but rather cases of right vs. right. The very concept of there exist situations where both choices are ‘right’. The basic concepts within the book can be expanded, with some thought, to apply to other areas in life. Even beyond that though, the book itself does help with how to resolve ethical dilemmas. Figuring out how to resolve any kind of dilemma makes our lives easier, it removes a stress point.

I plan to write more about this book, as well as Dr. Kidder’s book Moral Courage in the coming months.

We can also find help by identifying our personal strengths and talents. When we come to understand what our strengths are, we can look for ways to use those strengths. This is very different from finding out our weaknesses are, and more uplifting. I can think of hundreds, literarily, of things, I am not good at, but that only helps a little and looking at the list can be depressing. However, if I find the things that I am the strongest in, it is by its very nature positive rather than negative. It also lets me look for things that I can excel in rather than telling me things to avoid because I might fail at them. It sets me up to succeed and thrive as opposed to preventing me from falling. There is a significant difference between succeeding and not failing.

The difference between succeeding and not failing will be a topic of a future entry as well.

One last area that I am going to touch on is learning to read body language. I know that this sounds like one that is way out there, but learning to read body language can be a very useful tool for us. A person’s body language can tell us a lot about a person’s feelings about a situation, whether they are being open and honest, closed off, angry, etc. I personally think this is a very important to learn about and master. While we may be better than the other groups at telling when a person is expressing negative emotional facial expressions, we do not do so well with identifying neutral or positive expressions. Being able to read body language, including facial expressions, can help evaluate any given situation.

Understanding body language also allows us to be aware of the image we are projecting. In either case, reading other people’s body language and being aware of what our own body language is saying, allows us to reduce confrontation with other people and lower our stress. It can help make life easier.

Below are a few books that I have found useful over the years.

  • Moral Courage –   Kidder, Rushworth
  • How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living – Kidder, Rushworth
  • Strength Finder 2.0 –  Rath, Tom
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths – Buckingham, Marcus and Clifton, Donald O.
  • The Definitive Book of Body Language – Pease, Barbara and Pease, Allan
  • Enhanced Detection of Emotional Facial Expressions in Borderline Personality Disorder – Schulze L. · Domes G. · Köppen D. · Herpertz S.C.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23006779)

 

 

Edited: February 2nd, 2013

Thoughts and Feelings

One thing on my mind lately is how do you know when you can trust your thoughts and feelings?  Now, keep in mind I am far from ‘perfect’ with this, but I think I am getting better with it. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

For me, in addition to the wild emotional ride, I also have a strong analytical part to me. So over the last twenty or so years, I have taken to analyzing myself. The last few years, I have come to start analyzing ‘why’ I do things, ‘how’ I think, ‘why’ I feel certain ways at certain times, etc.

So, I have developed a bit of a ‘baseline’ understanding of myself and an acceptance of at least some of my strengths, weaknesses, ‘flaws’, etc. (In some cases it took decades of people ‘hammering it into me’ before I finally did accept certain truths.)

I have started getting to a point where I can mentally ‘Gibbs’ myself when I start going toward a thought or feeling that I know is not true.

For example, recently I had a series of rough meetings at the office. My lead was not there and my customer was NOT happy at all, so I took the brunt of her displeasure. I knew that part of the reason they were NOT happy was because of mistakes, real not imagined in this case, that I had made over the last few weeks.

I started to feel like I was a total failure, screw up, etc. but I was able to ‘Gibbs’ myself. I was able to tell myself “NO” that is not true, it is just a feeling and one that does not reflect the truth. I was able to use the things that friends, family and co-workers have drilled into me over the years and that I had accepted as truth. I was able to look back at where I was and some of the things I had accomplished and compared them with the way I was started to feel. Once I did that, I saw that I could not trust my feelings at that point.

Another thing I have come to believe is that when I have a really intense emotion or feeling, that more often than not it is not completely accurate, because most things in life fall in the middle. So when I have a really intense feeling, I do not trust it. I am firmly agree with the old advice of not making any important decisions when you are experiencing extreme emotions, because more often than not, you will choose wrong.

With more moderate feelings, I rely on past experiences, checks against my values and beliefs and at times just my gut. I try not second guess every feeling or thought. When it comes to more moderate feelings and thoughts, I know I will get some right and I will get some wrong. I also figure, then when things are moderate feelings or thoughts, if I am wrong, it will not be a disaster most times.

Edited: December 24th, 2012

Engage!

“Engage!” is one of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s more well-known lines from Star Trek: The Next Generation, said over 300 times during the series run. It is also one way of dealing with difficult periods. It is also a method I use frequently.

When you use this concept you find ways to keep your mind engaged in other positive and productive tasks. It allows you to distract yourself for a period of time. Your mind becomes actively engaged in unrelated tasks so you do not dwell on what has you upset.

This gives your mind the opportunity to return to a calm state where you can then address the root problem calmly and with a wise mind instead of an emotional mind.

However, there is a second part to this, you eventually have to address the problem. You cannot just bury it. Burying problems allows them to fester and get worse.

It is OK to distract, it is not OK to bury and pretend the original problem never existed.

An example from my life happened today. There are a few things that have bothered me the last few days that I need to deal with and handle. However, I also have to work and I cannot let my problems get in my way. Since they, unfortunately, do not pay me to do psychological analysis or therapy, I have to find a way to cope with my problems without them interfering with work.

The best way for me to handle this scenario is to stay fully engaged with my work. Today, such as, I was in meetings or conversations all day. This let me focus on the tasks at work and distance myself from what has me upset.

Now, I am on my way home on the metro writing this blog entry. Here I am still engaged in other tasks, but at the same time given the nature of the task it let’s me devote some time to resolving the root issue.

Edited: December 5th, 2012

The Invisible Man Sensation

Trigger Warning: This entry discusses the sensation of not being part of the world around you. It also touches on self-harm in times of distress. This may trigger some people.

One of the more difficult things to cope with is the ‘Invisible Man’ sensation, that feeling that you are not really part of this world. It is that sensation that you are on the outside of life looking in on everyone else.  It is a hard feeling to cope with, you feel like no one sees you and that if you vanished off the face of the earth that no one would even notice, or if they did somehow notice they would not care.

You feel like you are adrift in the world, but at the same time like you are not in the world. You are left feeling alone and unwanted. You see life going on around you, but cannot seem to reach out and touch it. It is like there a glass wall separates you from everyone and everything else. You are left banging your fists against this wall trying to break through to join the world, yet nothing you do works.

It is a very difficult and painful feeling. It is one that I have struggled with over the years. I remember saying to people that:

“If I walked out my front door, got in my car and drove until I ran out of gas and money and then started walking that no one would ever notice I was gone. I could walk all the way to the Alaskan wilderness and no one would notice.”

When you start feeling like this, the most important thing is to find a safe and non-harmful way to validate your existence and worth. I say a safe and non-harmful way, because at times like this, we may feel that engaging in self-harming actions can validate ourselves; however, at the end of the day, nothing good comes out of hurting ourselves. So it is important to find positive and safe ways to validate ourselves.

When, I start feeling like this, I try to sit back and think of all people that I have an impact on in this world. I look at things both personally and professionally. I try to remind myself that I have an affect on each of their lives and that most of the people in my life are their by choice. There is nothing that is forcing them to be in my life, so the mere fact that they are still around must mean I exist in the world.

Edited: December 2nd, 2012

Modern Culture and Mental Illness

Trigger Warning: Since this entry talks about families, family relationships and touches on holidays, I have decided to add a trigger warning to this entry. I know that for many people one or more of these topics can be triggering.

Note: I know that not everyone has had a positive family experience; however, for this article I portray family as a positive influence in our lives.

The other day I had a brief conversation with someone about the fact that their family does not get together for the holidays the way they did when they were younger. The family gatherings started becoming more infrequent after the family’s matriarch, the grandmother, passed away. Adding to the difficulty, several of the matriarch’s children also passed away within a few years of her death. This of course led to even more infrequent holiday gatherings; especially, since most of grandchildren were of an age that they had their own families and committed relationships, with a few of them even moving to other states.

This conversation, while brief, reminded me of something that I read awhile back. In one of my books on mental health, treatments and BPD, I ran across a discussion by the other on how the change in our culture has impacted mental health.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the book and the exact quote. The author proposed that as we have moved away from the tight knit family units, who for the most part all lived in the same general geographic area for generation to a more of a ‘scattering to the winds’ culture that this has had a negative impact on our mental health, both at the individual level and at larger cultural levels.

In the past, when families stayed in the same region and maintained closer relationships, it helped provide a stronger sense of identity and a strong support network for everyone. At the same time, communities were closer and often provided support for those who needed help. Since families remained in the same area, often time parents would teach their children their trade, further helping provide an identity for the next generation.

However, as we have moved from a family and community centric culture to a more materialistic culture, our families at times have scattered to the winds, at times moving hundreds or even thousands of miles away from one another in the name of advancement and progress. While, there are obvious upsides to this, there are also negative effects as well.

Moving far from our family denies us a strong support network and takes away a component of our identity. Moving far away removes the consistency that being around our extended family provides, that continuation of family values, culture and loving support.

Unfortunately, I do not know if any research exists that shows this correlation exists or if it is merely someone’s personal opinion and theory. I know it is one theory that I do believe has a good amount of validity to it.

Author’s Note: Writing this entry has been emotional for me. Several times as I wrote this entry I have had to distract myself to take care of myself. It has brought up both positive and negative emotions for me.

 

 

Edited: November 24th, 2012

Slow Down Your Haste is Making Waste

Slow down you’re moving way too fast
(Your feet don’t ever touch the ground)
Slow down You know you’ll never last
(You’re seeking that which can’t be found)
Slow down your haste is making waste
(Your feet don’t ever touch the ground)
Slow down and join the human race
(You’re seeking that which can’t be found)

-from Slow Down by Ozzy Osbourne

It is not often that people look to Ozzy Osbourne for advice with life; however, even the least likely of sources can provide insight into life and good advice at times.

If you look at the lyrics above, Ozzy offers up some good advice, slow down. Too often in life we find ourselves running around like the proverbial chicken with its head chopped off. This is unhealthy and unproductive. Rushing around leads to a lot of extra waste in our life, wasted effort, wasted time and wasted stress.

The more we rush around, the more stress we add to our day. When we rush around, we put ourselves in a constant state of flux, trying to figure out what we need to do next, where we need to be next, etc. Each of these things stress more and more. Rushing around also leads us to make more mistakes and not just more mistakes, but bigger mistakes.

Rushing around also leads us to burn ourselves out; it causes us to wear ourselves down physically and leaves us exhausted. We can only keep up a hectic pace for so long before we run out of steam. The more physically exhausted we are, the more emotionally sensitive we are and more difficult it is to regulate our emotions.

These days, when I feel myself starting to rush or get impatient, I make a conscious decision to slow down. For example, if I am walking to the metro and get behind someone that is moving slowly, and I feel myself getting impatient and wanting to rush, I slow my pace down, at times even coming to a dead stop for a few seconds and taking a deep breath before continuing.

Slowing down has helped me deal with stress quite a bit. It has also reduced the number of mistakes I make and the severity of the ones I do make. Both of these things have reduced my stress even further.

So like Ozzy says, “Slow down and join the human race.”

Edited: November 16th, 2012

How Do I get to Carnegie Hall?

There is an old joke
“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice.”

Playing Carnegie Hall has long been a mark of great achievement since only the people at the top of the music industry ever get to perform there.

How do you get to be at the up of the music industry? It takes a lot of practice, commitment, time and hard work. The same is true with everything in life, including mastering skills and achieving recovery.

While playing at Carnegie Hall is something that few people will ever achieve no matter how hard they practice, every one of us can master our skills and eventually reach a point of recovery. The biggest difference is that unlike trying to get to Carnegie Hall, we are not competing against each other. In fact, we should be trying to help each other as much as possible. When we help others, it helps us practice the skills and work toward mastering them.

The more we practice our skills, the better we become at them. Not only do we get better at them the more we practice them, they also start to become second nature. The more we practice a skill the easier it becomes to apply and the more successful we are at applying it.

You eventually can get to a point where you do not need to think actively about what to do in a situation; you just start to do it. The skillful and safe ways of handling difficult situations start to replace the harmful and negative ways you have dealt with them in the past.

Edited: October 17th, 2012

Withdraw or Open Up?

Many times we are faced with an important and difficult decision. Do we open up about something that bothers us or do we shut down and lock out our loved ones and friends?

There is no one right answer. Sometimes we need to open up and other times we need to shut down. Ultimately, we do need to open up and be honest with people; however, sometimes we need a little time to process things and figure out how to explain them.

Right now, that is where I am. I want to open up to my wife about how I am feeling, but I am afraid to open up at the same time. I am afraid because it was something she said and did that had caused this emotional storm within me.

She knows that she hurt me and she knows what hurt me. She wants me to tell her what I am thinking, but I am worried that anything I say will only hurt her or make things worse.

I am torn between opening up and shutting down. Even though she hurt me, I have no desire to hurt her back. For now, I have told her I need to process things before I open up about what I am thinking.

If we shut down it can make things worse, but so can opening up and saying the wrong thing. It is very difficult to know which route to take at times; especially, if you are emotionally dysregulated. My opinion is of you are dysregulated, bite your tongue until you are state of ‘wise mind’, the state where your logical and emotional minds overlap.

If you cannot get to a state of wise mind, you want to at least get to a point where your emotional state no longer dominates your thoughts. If you act, in words or deeds, from a highly emotional state, you are almost guaranteed to make the situation worse.

Edited: September 27th, 2012

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