Author Archive

International Day of the Girl: Empowering Girls in Conflict

Oct 11

The 2017 UN International Day of the Girl seeks to empower girls in conflict. The YA novel Losing Elizabeth is a book whose mission is the same.

Today the world comes together to honor girls, our young women who have the potential to bloom and thrive and make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. Sometimes, though, a girl’s potential is thwarted. For that reason, the United Nations raises awareness of girls, their lives, and their struggles every October 11.

EmPOWER Girls: Before, During, and After Conflict

This year, the theme for International Day of the Girl is “Empower girls: before, during, and after conflict.” This is a important focal point indeed, for according to the UN, an adolescent girl somewhere in the world loses her live as the result of violence–every 10 minutes.

Sometimes the violence is related to war. Sometimes to some inhumane punishment. Sometimes, it’s abuse by a parent, boyfriend, or other person in the life of a girl.

Losing Elizabeth is a novel for adolescents in middle- and high school to help them see what an abusive relationship is like. It’s a vehicle for discussion to help empower girls to recognize all types of relationship abuse and remove themselves from a toxic, even violent, situation.

The curriculum Find Yourself. Keep Yourself. accompanies Losing Elizabeth. I’ve taken it into schools for a 12-week (once weekly) program and to libraries for a single afternoon program. The goal is to use the story and discussion to empower girls to

  • Know the early warning signs of toxic behavior
  • Recognize control tactics like isolation, manipulation, behaviors, and words
  • Respond and act
  • Know how to help a friend
  • Know how to ask for help

Additionally, and most importantly, girls explore and come to know themselves, their relationship goals, their hopes, dreams, and plans, and more. For it is when girls and teens develop self-awareness that they are empowered to keep themselves rather than losing themselves to others, to abuse, to violence.

 

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For Mental Illness Awareness Week, What I’ve Learned About Mental Illness

Oct 4

mental-illness-awareness-week

Mental Illness Awareness Week. It’s one of the “ribboned” events, with a dedicated chunk of time (the first week of October each year) during which knowledge and understanding of the issue are brought to light. Mental illness is a wonderful thing to which to dedicate time and attention, for as anyone who has lived with any type of mental illness knows, lack of understanding can lead to prejudice and discrimination. To help end that problem, we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week.

The term mental illness, though, is both vast and vague. Of what should we actually be aware? Of course there’s no single right answer to this, which is one of the things that makes Mental Illness Awareness Week so powerful. Both on- and offline, people and organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide facts, statistics, and other information in order to increase awareness of mental illness and those whose lives it touches. I don’t keep it a secret that I have not just professional (I’m credentialed as a National Certified Counselor) but personal experience with mental illness.

After a traumatic brain injury, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder as well as anxiety disorders. As people don’t live in a vacuum, I had to navigate the worlds of family, friends, coworkers, supervisors, students, parents, clients, and more. It’s from both my personal and professional experience that I offer these insights for Mental Illness Awareness Week:

When it comes to mental illness, I’ve learned that…

  1. “Mental illness” is a fairly meaningless term. We don’t tell someone that we have a physical illness, because that is too broad. More specific: cold, asthma, prostrate cancer, breast cancer, influenza, schizophrenia, depression, dissociative identity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder. When we know the specific illness, we understand the symptoms and how to manage them.
  2. “Mental illness” refers to a diagnosis rather than to a person. It’s a medical term used to identify what’s going on and how to treat it.
  3. “Mental illness” does not refer to a personal character trait. One isn’t depression, just like one isn’t cancer.
  4. “Mental illness” involves a different way of experiencing oneself and/or the world. It is not a wrong way of being with oneself or in the world.
  5. “Mental illness” doesn’t erase the good in your life and in who you are. To be sure, it adds challenges and difficulties, but it doesn’t not diminish the good within you and around you.
  6. With a diagnosis of a mental illness, someone can still “be,” can still exist and have strengths and weakness and ups and downs and interests and talents and more.
  7. With a diagnosis of a mental illness, someone can still “do,” can make choices and decisions and behave in intentional ways.

To me, the most important thing of which to be aware when it comes to mental illness…

8. With or without mental illness, each and every one of us can find our passions, live with purpose, and create a life worth living.

To be sure, when someone lives with a mental illness, adjustments might have to be made and living with passion and purpose might take extra effort, but passion, purpose, and a life worth living are within reach of everyone. That is important to know during Mental Illness Awareness Week and beyond.

A great way to increase awareness, understanding, and empathy for people living with mental illness as well as their families and friends is through stories. Listening to what someone has to share about their experiences is empowering for the storyteller and the listener. Reading stories, too, can help deepen human understanding. Fiction can convey fact in a way that goes far beyond information and extends to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Stories humanize mental illness, which is one of the main goals of Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Others are recognizing, too, that novels can both entertain and inform. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, here’s a peek at what professional critics are saying about Leave of AbsenceMy Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, and Twenty-Four Shadows:

24-shadows-us-review-quote-1   loa-pdx-bk-rev-quote-twitter   nutshell-portland-book-review-quote   24-shadows-us-review-quote-2   loa-us-review-quote   nutshell-kirkus-quote   24-shadows-odonis-person   loa-kirkus-quote   nutshell-kirkus-quote-2-twitter   24-shadows-kirkus-quote   PurchaseLinks circle for website 2
Do you have a question about mental health or mental illness or a topic you’d like to hear about? Use the contact form below to submit it (put Q&A in the subject line), and I’ll address it on the Wellbeing&Words Q&A show on YouTube.

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SOS! What OCD Treatment Will Help Me?

Sep 27

OCD treatment can seem impossible. Yet OCD help and treatment are available. Here, learn about OCD treatments ERP and a new app called nOCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a cruel disorder to live with. It involves obsessions, repeated thoughts that cause sometimes-unbearable anxiety. To tame the fierce anxiety and get the thoughts to stop, or at least slow, someone with OCD often performs patterned behavior, or compulsions.

These obsessions and compulsions alone are cruel, but adding to the pain of OCD is the fact that most people with OCD know that the anxiety and fear are disproportionate to the situation and are even rather irrational. They know it intellectually, but the brain goes into freak-out mode anyway. Physical and emotional responses escalate, even when the intellectual part of the brain tries to reason with the anxiety.

The nature of OCD makes treatment difficult and frustrating. That doesn’t mean, however, that OCD can’t be treated. It can. Successfully.

Treatment & Help for OCD

The two treatments that research has shown to be effective for reducing obsessions and compulsions so people can live a full life are medication and a specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) called exposure response prevention (ERP). According to the International OCD Foundation, about 70 percent of people seeking treatment for OCD benefit from medication and/or ERP.

ERP involves exposure to those things (in both your inner- and outer worlds) that trigger anxiety and fear. You face them, experience them, accept their presence and notice the increasing anxiety you feel. The response prevention component involves making a choice, a commitment, to be with the anxiety without engaging in a compulsive behavior in an attempt to relieve the anxiety.

Does ERP sound just a tad intimidating? That’s because it is. It goes against all human instinct to purposely expose yourself to a trigger then choose to do nothing about it. (Well, you’re not doing “nothing.” You’re learning how to face it and reduce the degree to which it bothers you. You’re just not succumbing to your compulsions.)

ERP is done with support, especially at first. Expecting you to expose yourself to a distressing thought, situation, place, object, etc. with no help through it would be as cruel, if not more so, than OCD itself. Support is as important as the exposure and the response prevention components of ERP. (Maybe it should be called SERP or ERPS.)

Why is Support so Important in OCD treatment?

A little story will illustrate the importance of support during ERP treatment. In the book My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham is a man who, while he doesn’t have OCD, suffers from debilitating anxiety. He begins to see a therapist, who mentions that they’ll eventually engage in exposure therapy. A situation arises that makes him decide to try exposure on his own, at a crowded grocery store.

When I pull into Albertson’s I sit in my car for what feels like a long time and just stare at the building. The doors keep sliding open and shut, like a monster’s maw, sucking shoppers in and spitting them out. There are so many people. Before I can leave my vehicle, I have to breathe into one of my paper bags. I have to keep shoving the bag down when people walk close to my car so they don’t see me lamely hyperventilating into a bag. Finally, my breathing approaches normal and I can enter the store. The moment I step inside, I regret attempting this experiment.

Brian has an extensive panic attack that lands him in his therapist’s office for an emergency session. This is part of their conversation:

“You mentioned last time that we’d do exposure therapy and in vivo therapy, so I was trying it and failed.”

Even though everything is liquid, I can see her smile. “We’ll do those things because they are effective, but it’s far too early. We need to take this one small step at a time.”

Brian went out on his own and purposely exposed himself to triggers. This increased his already intense anxiety, and if he had OCD, it would likely have led him to do the compulsions rather than resisting them.

It would be great if everyone with OCD (or with anxiety disorders like Brian) had a therapist constantly with them. Too bad it’s not possible. But wait! Maybe it is.

Enter nOCD into Effective OCD Treatment

nOCD isn’t a therapist, but it is an excellent support and treatment OCD treatment and help can seem impossible. Yet OCD help and treatment are available. Here, read about OCD treatments ERP and a new app called nOCD.tool for OCD. It’s an app, so it can be with you at all times, whether you use a smartphone or smartwatch.

You create structured, daily ERP plans (this app is yours; OCD is different for everyone, and treatment should be, too). You use proven exposure response prevention therapy to decrease your symptoms, and you use it with your therapist for feedback and support. Your nOCD app also gathers your data so you can see what is working best and what needs adjusting.

nOCD was developed by people with OCD who know what it’s like, who know how obsessive thoughts and anxieties caused by those thoughts as well as by external triggers can severely limit your life. The developers know how the compulsions can be so time-consuming that you miss import things that you really don’t want to miss.

The creators of nOCD know, too, that treatment is possible and that ERP can be successful with the right structure and support. Thus nOCD was born. It’s your mobile treatment and support app to help you live free and well. The cost of the app? Nothing! It’s free in order to give people access to this OCD treatment technology.

OCD treatment can seem impossible. Yet OCD help and treatment are available. Here, learn about ERP and a new app called nOCD.Check it out, and download it. Take charge of your treatment! (If Brian Cunningham had had this, he might have been better able to deal with his grocery shopping experience.)

 

 

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What Triggers a DID Switch?

Sep 19

 

 

What triggers people with DID to switch to an alternate identity? Learn more about what causes this dissociation?

A DID switch, a dissociation in which a different personality emerges and takes the place of the dominant one, can be painful and bewildering.

Now an excruciating pain spread across his forehead, behind his eyes, and radiated sharp fingers toward the back of his brain. He staggered back against the counter and tried to massage it away. His vision blurred, and he had to close his eyes. He opened them, blinked, and looked around. He began to shake his head. (Excerpt from the novel Twenty-Four Shadows)

The sudden pain, change of vision, and closing and re-opening his eyes signal one of Isaac Bittman’s DID switches.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a confusing, frustrating mental illness. Someone who lives with DID has within him or her a number of alternate personalities, also called alters or parts. The alters are legitimate identities in their own right, with unique interests, abilities, traits, gender, sexual orientation, and more.

The different identities, who can number from two to hundreds, form in the person’s childhood in response to severe abuse. They emerge throughout life, taking over the main personality and causing perplexing problems and situations. Switches originally happen as a defense mechanism to protect the child from horrible abuse; the child dissociates to escape from an unbearable situation, and a different personality emerges in his/her place. Once he or she grows up and the abuse is no longer a threat, why do switches continue to occur?

No. This couldn’t be. They weren’t really firing him. It just didn’t make any sense. He didn’t miss work the way they were accusing. He didn’t. He came to work. He didn’t miss. He was confused. Heavy guilt joined the rest of his thoughts and feelings, stomping from his mind down to his heart and kicking hard against it. What about his family? He couldn’t lose his job. The room was slanting and spinning, nauseating him. He didn’t know how to convince them or change their minds, but he needed to. His stress level was rising rapidly, and he was struck across his entire forehead with one of his searing headaches. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

When he opened them, he took off his glasses so he could see better and tucked them carefully into his shirt pocket. To make himself more comfortable, he slid down in the chair a little into a bit of a slouched and crossed his right ankle over his left knee. He studied the two people who sat across from him looking so somber. He extended his arms, palms up, and then shrugged. He grinned broadly. “Hey, c’mon, guys. What the heck? It’s me!” He thumbed himself lightly on the chest. “I ain’t got a clue what y’all are talking about, but surely we can make this right.” (Excerpt from Twenty-Four Shadows)

Isaac had just switched again.

In DID, What Triggers a Switch?

In both of the above passages from the novel Twenty-Four Shadows, Isaac is experiencing a switch. Every single time he switches, he’s going about his life when one of his alters takes over. Isaac recedes and a different part emerges. A big question Isaac has is why?

Isaac to his psychiatrist: I’m really sorry. It’s just that I don’t understand this at all.

Dr. Charlie: It’s okay. The experts don’t fully understand it yet, either, but we’ve figured out a lot and we’re constantly learning more. The human brain is so complex that we’ve only just begun to understand it. We do know that it’s strong and it does what it takes to survive.

It’s true. There is so much yet to be learned about DID, including what triggers a switch. Experts continually seek to answer those questions. So far, they’ve figured out some things about why people switch between alternate identities. Switches can be triggered by

  • Stress When someone is under duress, one of his/her alters often emerges to help, to ease tension or pain, to solve a problem, or give the primary personality a break.
  • Memories For all of us, memories can evoke strong feelings, and for people living with DID, they can trigger switches.
  • Strong emotions A sudden onset of emotion, either positive or negative, can cause alters to take the dominant spot in the personality system.
  • Sensory input Sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes can lead to switches between parts.

 

In looking at things that trigger switches in people who have DID, something important is evident: Every single one of these elements is something that can cause strong reactions in all of us, whether or not we live with DID.

People with DID live with a very difficult challenge that was caused by severe childhood abuse. They are triggered by the same things other people are; the difference is that for them, the trigger leads to dissociation and different identities coming forth to live in the world for a while. Switches are stress reactions that cause different parts of a single human being to emerge.

The movie Split, released in early 2017 features a man living with DID and highlights his switches. While some of this fictitious psychological thriller is quite unrealistic, the talented lead actor does an outstanding job of portraying DID switches. For more on the movie and to help decide whether it’s worth your time, check out these posts:

What the Movie ‘Split’ Got Right (and Wrong)

‘Split’ and Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

What does it feel like to be Isaac Bittman? Check out this short preview.

 

Do you have a question about mental health or mental illness or a topic you’d like to hear about? Use the contact form below to submit it (put Q&A in the subject line), and I’ll address it on the Wellbeing&Words Q&A show on YouTube.

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Checklist to Help Make an Emotionally Healthy School Year

Sep 12

 

Emotional health is just as important as academics when it comes to your child's or teen's wellbeing. Learn how to help them be emotionally healthy.

The school year is underway. Classes have begun, students are learning, and ideally, there’s a concerted effort among schools, home life, and other support systems to help students build academic success. Academics are important, but they’re not the only part of school. Our kids, no matter their grade, deal with an entire world of people and situations that impact their emotional health and wellbeing.

A child’s daily school experience involves learning, and it involves navigating the world of peers, teachers, other adults, expectations and routines that vary from classroom to classroom, lunchroom norms, playground dynamics, and more.

What’s often hard for parents is the fact that we can’t control much of what our kids experience during their school day. What parents can do, however, is to help their children create, fill, and maintain a school supply list for an emotionally healthy school year.

What, Exactly, Does Emotionally Healthy Mean for Kids and Teens?

Life isn’t perfect. School isn’t perfect. To be emotionally healthy doesn’t mean a child feels only happiness or other positive emotions. To be emotionally healthy means that a child (anyone, actually) is resilient, bouncing back from all of the bumps and potholes, and experiences wellbeing in spite of those bumps and potholes.

It’s sad but true: parents can’t control much of what their kids experience. Happy and true: parents can impact how their kids handle what comes their way every day at school. How? These supply-list concepts can help you help your child:

Help kids and teens identify and understand their emotions. Emotions are complex and can be difficult to understand. When kids’ can’t identify their emotions, the emotions become incredibly overwhelming and even harder to handle. Observe their body language, tone of voice, and content of their words, and reflect it back to them in a neutral, non-judgmental way. This will help them develop words for what they feel. When they can articulate their feelings, they begin to have power over them as opposed to letting the emotions control them. This leads to emotional intelligence and emotional regulation, both essential for emotional health.

 

Work with them to monitor their emotions and then choose thoughts. It’s common for kids to catastrophize, taking a bad experience and super-sizing it so that it encompasses everything in their world. For example, a child or teen who is shunned by a friend quite commonly will think that everyone hates him. When you notice this type of thinking, help him identify her emotions, and then help him put her thoughts in perspective. Have him name one person who was nice to him that day, and build from there. Helping kids and teens notice how their emotions are shaping their thoughts, and then helping them question their thoughts and look for other evidence is a very important part of helping them develop emotional health.

 

Allow kids to empower themselves through their actions. Emotional health involves three key principles: feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Kids can’t always control what will happen to them. They can, however, control what they do about it. Even the youngest elementary school student can begin to learn—and use—this lesson. The first step is item one on the school-supply list; kids need to learn to identify their emotions. Next comes monitoring both emotions and thoughts. With this awareness comes the ability to act. Help kids understand that they have a choice in how they behave. A crucial message for emotional health is you can’t always control how others act, but you can control how you react.

 

The positive. Help kids find the positive every day. I tell people, whether it was my students, it’s my own children, or it’s adults in my life, to make great moments in their day. “Have a good day” isn’t very empowering. Teaching your kids that they can make great moments in their day sends important messages; it tells them that they are in control of making their day great—they’re not dependent upon things they can’t control—and it tells them that even though an entire day might not be great, the day will have positive, great moments. This is a very important perspective for emotionally healthy kids.

 

An emotionally healthy child or teen views life realistically and positively. An emotionally healthy child or teen thrives in school, both academically and socially, despite problems. Creating an emotionally healthy school year means that you and your son or daughter are creating strategies for dealing with problems, keeping the problems separate from the self, and focusing on the positive. This, as much as anything else, is part of the foundation for life success.

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OCD: Wherever You Go, It’s There and In Control

Sep 5

What is OCD like to live with? It is a shapshifting disorder. Learn how people with OCD describe it. Is there hope for overcoming OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a life experience beyond a penchant for neatness, beyond lots of hand washing. It’s a mental health disorder involving racing, obsessive thoughts and repetitive, ritualistic actions taken to counter those thoughts. OCD can be life limiting and debilitating.

Knowing what OCD is, the facts and the symptoms of it, is very helpful. It increases understanding, which leads to healing. Knowing a list of symptoms, though, stops a bit short. It helps us understand the disorder, but it doesn’t help us to fully understand the people living with OCD.

It’s important to humanize OCD and to increase understanding and empathy. To do that, it’s necessary to know not just what OCD is, but what it is like. To develop this understanding, I’ve sought information from people who live with OCD, read their words, and watched vlogs.

Patrick, a man who lives with OCD, shares what it’s like for him:

I’ve found that OCD is a shapeshifting condition– whatever matters to me most in my life will become the target of all my anxious thinking. This makes it especially difficult, because you’re never able to leave it behind. Wherever you go, whatever new things you add to your life, it’ll be there, knocking on your door. It took me a long time to realize that the only way out of this tangled mess was to focus less on the content of the thoughts and more on the patterns they were adhering to. By noticing these patterns and refusing to let them dictate how I would make decisions in my own life, I started to feel a bit more like myself again. But there are still difficult points in every day, especially because a lot of my intrusive thoughts emerge during or after social interaction: did I do something wrong? Did I harm that person somehow? Maybe I should apologize. But no, I must not apologize!

Life with OCD: Common Themes

In gathering information from people like Patrick who live with OCD, themes and patterns emerge that consistently capture what it’s like to live with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Thoughts! Thoughts! Thoughts! Intrusive thoughts, thoughts that people neither choose nor want, run incessantly through the mind and have been described as a broken record.
  • Constant, unrelenting mental discomfort. Ever-present negative thoughts create urges to do something to get rid of them, and this discomfort won’t up until this something, this compulsion, is acted upon. But relief is temporary at best because of thoughts! Thoughts! Thoughts!
  • Lost and wasted time that you can’t get back. Obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions can take hours or longer, robbing people of living life in ways that they’d rather.
  • Physical sensations. Many describe a prickly feeling on the skin, a tightness in the body, a vibrating “hum” in the body, or more that accompany the obsessions and/or compulsions.
  • Fatigue. Constantly battling overwhelming, negative thoughts and undergoing rituals to try to ward them off is exhausting.
  • Lack of control. Overwhelmingly, people who describe what it’s like to live with OCD talk about feeling like they have no control over who they are or what they think or how they live their lives. The thoughts overtake them, making even small daily pleasures that others take for granted, like watching TV or reading, impossible. When the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t your own and won’t go away, it’s not only exhausting but frightening.
  • Fear. That feeling of not being in control of the thoughts in your mind? People report that that is scary. Terrifying. Then of course there’s the content of the negative thoughts. The thoughts that come, unbidden, into the mind and stick there, are often disturbing to the person they’re consuming.

Does OCD mean Out of Control for the Duration of Life?

OCD is indeed controlling and life-limiting. It doesn’t have to forever remain that way. YA book author John Green, who lives with OCD, tells us that

It can be difficult to get effective treatment, but there is hope, even in your brain tells you there isn’t. The vast majority of mental illness is treatable, and lots of people with chronic mental health problems have fulfilling and vibrant lives.

What is OCD like to live with, beyond the facts and symptoms? Learn how people with OCD describe it. Is there hope for overcoming OCD? One tool that is incredibly helpful in treating OCD is an app called nOCD. It uses ERP, exposure response prevention, to help people regain their control. ERP, along with CBT, are the two therapeutic approaches proven by research to help people with OCD. The app, nOCD is customizable so users can tailor it to their own needs for maximum effectiveness. It’s a great supplement to therapy, and it’s completely free. You can download it here.

OCD robs people of their control over their minds, their actions, their time, and their lives. Happily, OCD is treatable, and people can thrive.

 

 

Further reading & sources:

 

 

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Why Do Therapists Use Mental Health Tests?

Aug 29

Mental health therapy can involve testing. It’s normal to wonder why therapists use mental health tests. Asking questions helps you get the most out of testing.

Questions about mental health and wellbeing are normal. We all have them because we all want to overcome obstacles to live well and thrive. Question and answer forums can help us sort things out.

For this reason, I’ve launched the weekly Wellbeing & Words Q&A Show on YouTube. I also write novels, stories that show characters—representative of real-life people—dealing with mental health challenges or loved ones that have such challenges. These stories can answer questions you might have and address topics you need or want to know about.

Bringing the characters and stories to life not just in the books but here on the Wellbeing & Words blog can address common questions, too. Here, characters have a chance to explore questions and concerns and to share them with you.

Today’s question comes from Brian Cunningham, protagonist of My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel. At age 37, he’s seeing a therapist for the first time in his life (he doesn’t want to do so, but his mother made the appointment). He has debilitating anxiety and would like help, but he’s nervous and afraid. When at his first appointment his therapist, Dr. Beth Greene, wants him to take an test, he has concerns.

Why Do Therapists Use Tests and Inventories?

Part of therapy can involve the use of assessments, especially at first so therapists can learn more about the client and the symptoms he is experiencing. This helps focus treatment. Naturally, many people are nervous about the idea of being tested, including Brian.

Brian: Is it a test?

Dr. Greene: It’s an assessment, so kind of. I hate to think of it as a test, though, because unlike tests, this doesn’t have right or wrong answers. It’s technically called an inventory because that’s more accurate. It’s a record of traits that apply to you. Every single person is different, with unique traits. This inventory helps people identify and understand them.

Brian: Yet again, I don’t know what to think. It’s reassuring to know there are no right or wrong answers, although I have the distinct feeling that I’ll manage to do it wrong anyway. After I settle into a chair, Dr. Greene puts the booklet in front of me and grabs a pencil from the cup in the center of the table. I glance at the booklet. The front cover prominently displays “MMPI-2” above the words ”Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory 2.” There are other words, too, but I can’t read them because they’ve blurred and are floating around on the page as the room tilts. I shove the booklet away and leap to my feet. I have to brace my hands on the surface of the table for support.

Dr. Greene: I’m so sorry that I didn’t explain the name of this inventory before plopping it down in front of you. Personally, I think that the name is misleading. It’s not a personality test the way people think of personality tests. It really is just a grouping of traits. It helps me learn about people so I can work with them better, and even more important, it helps people understand themselves. This can be used by us to look at some things that might be causing you some difficulties, and that can help us plan some things to do. That’s it. This isn’t a judgment of who you are as a person, Brian.

 

The idea of mental health testing in therapy makes many people nervous. Are these pass-fail types of tests? Do they pass judgement? Do they assign permanent labels to people? These are legitimate concerns that deserve an answer.

When done correctly, tests are used the way Dr. Greene used the MMPI-2 with Brain: They gather information. Mental health tests are communication tools, allowing the client to express concepts to the therapist and allowing the therapist structured ways to talk to the client. The results of any test are used by both counselor and clients to better understand problems, choose the best treatment options, and set goals for overcoming difficulties.

Mental health testing increases understanding. It can also be a map guiding you toward your own ideal destination.

 

Do you have a question or a topic you’d like discussed on the Wellbeing & Words Q&A Show on YouTube? Submit it here:

 

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Are My Racing, Obsessive Thoughts OCD?

Aug 22

OCD involves racing, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that disrupt life.

 

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a debilitating illness that involves, in part, racing and obsessive thoughts. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, OCD affects one percent of American adults—that’s over three million adults in the United States alone. Because it impacts millions and has been portrayed in movies, television, and books, the term OCD has become fairly well-known; however, obsessive-compulsive disorder is often misunderstood, leaving people wondering  if their racing, obsessive thoughts are OCD.

If someone has racing thoughts or a need for neatness and order, does he/she have OCD? Diagnosing OCD can be complex and requires a medical or mental health professional, but there are telltale signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (both what it is and is not) that can help you decide if your racing, obsessive thoughts might be OCD.

Perhaps it might be helpful to first look at what OCD is not. Because of the misuse of the term, there are a significant number of people who are worried that they have this disorder that is rooted in the brain’s functioning. When I was a high school teacher, I had a surprisingly large number of students over the years fear that they “were” OCD (another misuse of the term; people have OCD, but they aren’t OCD) because they were bothered by messes, disorganization, crooked wall hangings, and misaligned items at the front of the room. Many times, those students needed to straighten and tidy before settling down to work in class. One student was worried because she needed to double-check doors at night to ensure they were locked. Certainly these are indicative of OCD, right?

Actually, not so much. OCD is a brain-based illness that significantly disrupts someone’s life and can make functioning extremely difficult or downright impossible, depending on the severity of the disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves thoughts (the obsessive part of OCD) and/or behaviors (the compulsive part of the disorder). OCD includes

  • intrusive thoughts (things that pop into your mind uninvited and won’t go away) that frequently race; they can feel like bubbles in a pot of boiling water that continue to form and bounce faster and faster, crashing into each other and continuing on and on and on
  • obsessive thoughts; the bubbles in the above example don’t change but instead have the same words and images that race and ricochet in someone’s head
  • anxiety; anxiety often causes the intrusive and obsessive thoughts, and the thoughts contribute to more anxiety, which leads to more thoughts, which leads to more anxiety… Anxiety is the fuel that heats the water that makes the bubbles that race and crash
  • rituals of behavior that are done to make the obsessions and anxiety disappear; they may or may not relate to the obsessions (anxiety about harm to self or others might lead to checking behavior to ensure safety or it might lead to counting in one’s head, for example)

If you are experiencing obsessive thoughts that are bothersome and are concerned about whether or not you have OCD, consider the severity and the degree to which the thoughts and possible compulsive behaviors are interfering in your life.

  • Do your thoughts consume you, making it difficult to think of anything else and get anything done?
  • Does your anxiety block your ability to interact at work, home, and in relationships?
  • Do you have compulsive behaviors that you feel you must do in order to control the thoughts?
  • Do these obsessions and compulsions consume a significant portion of your time? (For example, checking locks two or three times before sleeping isn’t all that disruptive, but staying up for hours and hours because you are repeatedly checking the locks is indeed disruptive.)

If you are having trouble living the life you want to live because of racing, obsessive thoughts and accompanying compulsive behaviors, you might consider talking to your doctor or a therapist.  If you’ve already been diagnosed and are in treatment for OCD, there’s a new tool for taking charge of your treatment and getting your life back. It’s an app, and it uses Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) to complement the work you’re doing with a therapist. Learn more and download the free app.

nOCD is a free app that puts control of your life back in your hands.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Quiet Your Mind

Aug 15

 

Quieting your mind is important for mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. With patience and practice, you can quiet your mind. Learn how.

 

The idea of quieting the mind seems like a foreign concept, esoteric and perhaps even the stuff of science fiction. As our society get busier and noisier and faster, so, too, do our minds. Stress levels have skyrocketed, tens of millions of people live with anxiety disorders and more than that experience bothersome anxiety that isn’t quite diagnosable as a disorder. “Agitated” has become the new form of “calm.” Because of this, experts in the fields of psychology, mental health, wellbeing, spirituality, and common sense agree: it is more important than ever to be able to step back and quiet the mind.

It’s a conundrum. Our mind races with thoughts of stressors, worries, and fears. Racing thoughts become broken records, and we begin to focus too much on these thoughts, strengthening and perpetuating them. We overthink. For our own health and wellbeing, we need to become still, to quiet our mind. But because of our racing thoughts, becoming still seems impossible. The harder we try to quiet our mind, the busier our mind grows.

To be sure, quieting your mind is challenging. Doing it, though, brings deep peace. Imagine facing the same stressors you face now but feeling at-ease in spite of them. Imagine, too, possessing the ability to believe fully in yourself and rise above stress and anxiety. Quieting your mind brings these mental health benefits. With patience, practice, and persistence, you can quiet your mind. These five tips can help you along your journey:

5 Tips to Learn How to Quiet Your Mind

  1. Become physically still and comfortable. The mind and body follow each other in a dance.
  2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Let your mind concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations (but don’t force it).
  3. Be mindful. Tune in to your senses. Pay more attention to what you see, hear, feel, and smell than your thoughts.
  4. Accept your thoughts rather than fighting against them. Allow negative thoughts to come and go while you do your own thing and practice mindfulness.
  5. Gently conjure images of positive things, such as your personal values and goals. Visualize yourself experiencing them.

For the visual among us, here are the principles in graphic form.

Quieting your mind is important for mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. With patience and practice, you can quiet your mind. Here's how.

 

One of the approaches to mental health and wellbeing that promotes the above principles is acceptance and commitment therapy.  With ACT, you define what’s important to you and learn how to accept what you can’t change while taking charge of creating a high-quality life. For a workbook that shows you how to quiet your mind and create your life worth living, check out Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps.

Using the five steps to quiet your mind will help you, over time, create inner peace and contentment. The stressors will remain, but you won’t become trapped in them.

 

 

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Enhance Your Emotional Health with a Bare Spot in a Garden

Aug 8

We can enhance our emotional health with a bare spot in a garden. Creating a bare spot helps shift perspective and appreciate beauty despite what’s around us.

 

Emotional health is an important component of our mental health and has to do with our subjective emotions like joy and sorrow, pride and shame, self-love and self-loathing, and more. While it’s true that emotions come and go, often striking us seemingly out of the blue, it’s also true that we are not powerless in the face of our feelings. While we might not entirely stop them, we can rise above negative emotions in order to live well in spite of them. One way to do so is by creating a bare spot in your garden.

A brief visualization exercise might be helpful here. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, lavish garden. What does it look like? What flowers or plants are present? Are there trees? Would you enjoy a pond, and if so, what is in it? How do you enjoy this garden? Are there comfortable benches or a swing within the garden or nearby? Perhaps there’s a winding path for walking meditation. Now become still and appreciate the beauty of this garden. As your eyes roam, your gaze falls on a patch of bare ground, dry and devoid of visible life.

Perspective and Emotional Health

As you continue to observe, where do you find your focus? Are you returning to the bare spot over and over again, are you seeing it while you’re looking at the beauty around it, or are you ignoring it and avoiding looking anywhere near it? Your response to the bare patch, a response you can learn to choose intentionally, is an important factor in your emotional health.

Our negative emotions are often responses to external events in our lives. We face stressors and problems on a daily basis. Some are chronic, such as toxic relationships, a hostile work environment, the effects of trauma, or caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled. Additionally, our negative emotions can be caused by internal factors such as mental illness or other mental health challenges.

Like everything in life, emotions are neither all good nor all bad. Just as there are negative emotions, there are positive ones, too. Some are a mix of both. Self-conscious emotions, those that deal with our feelings about ourselves, can be positive and motivating or negative and damaging. It’s actually not the emotions themselves but what we do about them that determine our emotional health.

The situations, whether external or internal, that cause unpleasant or life-disrupting emotions are the bare patches in the garden of life. Compared to everything else around them, they’re ugly. Barren. They seem to have nothing to offer. They ruin the garden. How can someone enjoy the garden of life and make it a garden worth being in when there are unsightly, dirty patches?

It’s a legitimate question that leads to some very important questions:

  • What is the rest of the garden like?
  • Is the bare patch truly capable of ruining the entire rest of the garden?
  • Does the spot make the nearby vegetation worthless?
  • Is the bare spot in control of what you see in the garden, or are you in control of your perspective?
  • Are you looking exclusively at the bare spot in the garden of your life?
  • Are you trying hard to avoid it but find yourself unwillingly focusing on it (because if you try not to think of X, you’re still thinking of X)?
  • Are you seeing the complete garden, all of it—flowers, bare spot, and all—and appreciating its beauty for what it is?

To Enhance Mental Health, Appreciate Beauty No Matter What Surrounds You

Reflecting on your complete garden allows you to appreciate real beauty, the wonderful flawed beauty that is life and people and gardens, and to develop the emotionally healthy perspective that allows you to see the good that exists despite the not-so-good. Appreciation of beauty, incidentally, is one of the character strengths that research in the field of positive psychology has shown to be a component of mental health and wellbeing.

I planted a small flower garden in my backyard, and I purposely left a bare spot as a reminder to check my perspective, appreciate beauty, and maintain emotional health and wellbeing. Negative and positive will always exist together. It’s how we see it that enhances our emotional health.

Consider planting a garden of your own. If you don’t have a place for a garden, you might buy plant and a flower pot that is bigger than necessary. You’ll have your own mini garden, complete with a bare spot, as a reminder of perspective and emotional health.

 

 

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