Thrive with TBI: See the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Jun 6

My first traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurred more than a decade ago, and since that time, I’ve worked to thrive, to live well in spite of my unique brain injury sequelae. I recently discovered a whole new way to thrive with TBI. I now see the world through rose-colored glasses.

TBI can cause different types of visual impairments and disturbances. For me, my already-mediocre vision worsened, I began experiencing double vision, I developed depth-perception issues that exacerbated my normal clumsiness and rendered me unable to properly give high-fives (much to the amusement of my children), I developed significant sensitivity to light (termed photophobia despite the fact that it has nothing to do with fears and phobias), and headaches (I haven’t had a single headache-free day since 2004). Finally connecting with the right eye doctor has improved my vision and my outlook.

The Meaning of Rose-Colored Glasses

I truly see the world through rose-colored glasses now. My lenses are special FL-41 lenses. As the picture vividly shows, the lenses are pink. They’re rose-colored. They reduce photophobia and make seeing simply feel better. Light no longer pierces my eyeballs to rush along my optic nerves and sear my brain. Admittedly, I still have a headache, but it’s better. (Said headache could be caused by adjusting to a stronger prescription, adapting to bifocals, and by noises given that my brain is overstimulated by both light and sound).

The term “rose-colored glasses” can have a negative connotation, invoking a Pollyana-type image of someone living in denial. It can be an accusation that someone is falsely positive, ignorant of the hardships of life.

“Rose-colored glasses” more accurately describes a worldview that acknowledges the negative but intentionally focuses on the positives in life. Someone who sees the world through rose-colored glasses is someone who faces obstacles and challenges and finds ways to move forward anyway. This is a true optimist; wearing rose-colored glasses, he or she has both a why and a how in life—his vision is on the beauty of his purpose. He sees the hues (roses and pinks) of possibility despite obstacles. She has hope.

The way we perceive our world is significant for our mental health and wellbeing. My FL-41 rose-colored glasses allow me to appreciate the beauty around me on an even deeper level and to feel physically better as I live a life of purpose and meaning. It’s intriguing to me that this positive treatment is happening now, thirteen years after my initial TBI. After so many years of accepting my vision issues as just a part of a brain injury, I see that there is more that can be done. It’s not too late to seek improvements.

Rose-Colored Glasses, Acceptance, and Mental Health

Acceptance is an important concept in the world of mental health. There is even a therapeutic approach that centers on it: acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It can be a confusing concept, because like the phrase “rose-colored glasses,” acceptance has different meanings and interpretations.

Acceptance does not mean

  • resignation to a bad situation
  • giving up or giving in or rolling over

Acceptance does mean

  • knowing what can’t be changed and making new plans around this fact (for example, after seeing different eye doctors who told me that the only changes to my vision would be changes for the worse, I accepted it as fact and learned how to appreciate imperfect beauty anyway)
  • using the knowledge of what can’t be changed to move forward; sometimes knowing the reality that certain things won’t change helps prevent people from being stuck in rumination and regret
  • having an open mind and being willing to integrate new information (when I discovered that my town has eye doctors and vision therapists that specialize in brain injury, I accepted that maybe there was new information that I could benefit from)
  • keeping ego at bay (sure, pink lenses in glasses that aren’t sunglasses might not be ultra-fashionable, but I’m willing to accept that in exchange for better vision and functioning).

While I am literally seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, it’s just as effective to do so figuratively. Move forward knowing that it’s never too late to make the progress you want to make. Gather tools (for me, one tool is these glasses), intentionally shape your perspective, and create ways to thrive. Whether you’re thriving with TBI or other life challenges, see your world through rose-colored glasses.

 

 
 

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Mindfulness for Traumatic Brain Injury, Mental Health

May 30

For a long time, mindfulness and traumatic brain injury didn’t fit together for me at all. Thirteen years after my first brain injury (I’ve had three), I still deal with TBI symptoms (check out these eight signs of TBI). I’ve explored a wellbeing technique known as mindfulness for numerous challenges, including anxiety, mood disorders, “ordinary” stress, and so much more. It works to improve mental health. But what about for brain injuries?

Mindfulness has benefits but is hard to do with a TBI. Learn a few mindfulness techniques that work for mental health and TBI.The practice of mindfulness involves quieting the mind, becoming still, and using all of the senses to increase awareness of what is happening in the present moment. I’ve found it helpful for many mental health issues, and I’ve helped others use the technique. However, when I thought of using mindfulness for my TBI symptoms, I’ll admit that I was quite skeptical. When I tried it anyway, it didn’t work — until I figured out how to do it.

Brain injury symptoms are numerous and, like almost anything related to the brain, are individualized. Brain injury looks different for different individuals. For me, the ones that are the most annoying are the ones that loom over me in attempt to disrupt my life. It can be hard to function in the vast array of life tasks that includes work, family, other relationships, organization, problem-solving, and more when wrestling with

  • sensory overstimulation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty focusing properly
  • headaches that make the above even more pronounced

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce these challenges to brain functioning and overall mental health and wellbeing. However, how does one practice mindfulness when one’s brain is overstimulated, uncomfortable, and unable to concentrate?

How to Practice Mindfulness with a Brain Injury

Mindfulness is traditionally the practice of stillness. Similar to meditation, it often involves sitting or lying down and using all of the senses to be fully aware, or mindful, of the present moment. It helps quiet mental chatter, such as worries, fears, self-doubts, negative thinking, and more, in order to induce a sense of peace and enhance mental health and wellbeing.

When concentration and focus are out of reach and the brain is already overstimulated with sensory input, trying to practice mindfulness can be aggravating. It can further disrupt mental health rather than improve it. That doesn’t mean mindfulness should be abandoned or that it can’t work when you have a brain injury, though. When sitting quietly and trying to focus doesn’t work, try these things instead:

  • Practice moving mindfulness. Take a mindful walk, go for a swim, or otherwise move around while paying attention to your surroundings. You don’t have to be still to be present in your moment.
  • Use an object. Having something tangible to feel, study, listen to, or even taste (think fruit) helps a jumpy brain tune in and learn to focus.
  • Do something mindfully. Help soothe a TBI by coloring, building, crafting, or doing any other hobby.
  • Stay far away from screens and technology to give your brain a much-needed break from what it often experiences as overstimulating chaos.

Experiment to see what helps calm your brain and increases your attention on your present moment. Even with a TBI, practicing mindfulness can pull you out of your head and into the moment. When you do this, you’ll decrease your brain injury symptoms and increase mental health and wellbeing.

 

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My Mental Health Awareness Month Lesson: It’s Never Too Late

May 16

It’s mental health awareness month, and opportunities for growth and increasing our wellbeing are all around us. We simply need to know where to look. For me, this “looking” had the most literal of meanings. For mental health awareness month, I scheduled an appointment with a new eye doctor.I learned a lesson for mental health awareness month. It's never too late for the brain to heal.

Many people might wonder about this. For mental health awareness month, rather than seeing a therapist or other mental health professional, I treated myself to an eye appointment. Mind and body aren’t fully separate. Sure, they have separate components, but all of those components make up the single whole that is you (and me — each and every human on the planet).

To be mentally healthy, we need to tend to our whole selves. My vision leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve worn glasses since I was a child, but my vision worsened after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2004 followed by two more concussions within a couple of years. Because I had never been able to find an eye doctor who specializes in TBI and vision, I assumed that I would just have to deal with lack of clarity, light sensitivity, becoming overstimulated easily, double vision, and more. When I realized that there is indeed such a thing as an eye doctor who knows about TBI’s impact on vision, I was encouraged…and then did nothing about it for several months.

I was interested in such an eye doctor, and I believed wholeheartedly that yes, brain injuries can negatively impact vision and that yes, while some damage may be permanent, there are things that can be done to lead to significant improvement. That’s what wellbeing is all about: making choices and taking action, small steps at at time, to make positive changes in life. I believe that this is possible for everyone. Yet I didn’t believe in it for myself in this very specific instance.

Fourteen years is a long time, long enough to make any effects of a TBI permanent. After all, weren’t things “set” now so that improvement in my vision would be impossible? Happily, I was wrong (I’m not always happy when I’m wrong, but in this case, it works for me so I’ll own my error). The brain possesses a quality known as neuroplasticity, which means that it can adapt, even more than a decade after a brain injury. It’s never too late for treatment and improvement. Many things can help the brain continue to improve.

For mental health awareness month, I learned that it's never too late for the brain to heal.Therefore, for Mental Health Awareness Month, I saw a new eye doctor in hopes that I would be able to improve some things about my vision that are bothersome. Mental health is not passive. Mental health means making choices and taking action to enhance wellbeing and quality of life. I am very glad that I decided to see an eye doctor who specializes in brain injury because I discovered that it’s not too late to improve my vision and functioning.

What are your mental health goals? What would increase the quality of your life? Whatever you envision for your mental health, know that it’s not too late. What will you do today to get started?

 
 

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Self-Confidence : Finding Yourself, Keeping Yourself

Mar 14

Self-confidence is a major component of our mental health and wellbeing. Self-confidence involves valuing yourself (as in self-esteem), and it involves believing you have the ability to do things (as in self-efficacy). Self-confidence also is about feeling deeply satisfied with who you are as a human being, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and struggles. Self-confidence is knowing that you’re not perfect and being okay with it. When you have self-confidence, you know that life isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. You feel good about your ability to create a quality life in which you are strong enough to hang on for the ride.

Self-confidence would be an empowering thing to have in large quantities. It’s not, however, something that comes naturally to most of us. We’re quick to see our flaws but reluctant to see our strengths. We tend to have a bad habit of comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we don’t measure up. We see what others choose to project to the world and compare it to the stuff we keep hidden away. As a result, we have a difficult time feeling, or sustaining, a sense of self-confidence and our overall sense of mental health and wellbeing takes repeated hits.

Gaining Self-Confidence: Finding Yourself and Keeping Yourself

It’s possible to increase your self-confidence and maintain it so it lifts you up rather than pulls you down. Believing in yourself involves knowing who you are, the complete “you.” It also involves doing things to keep the real you at the forefront of your thoughts and emotions rather than letting it slip away. Finding yourself and keeping yourself are two important components of self-confidence, mental health, and wellbeing.

These come a program for teens I’ve developed that accompanies the novel Losing ElizabethIn fact, the name of the program is Find Yourself. Keep YourselfKnowing who we are, believing in our abilities to survive tough times as well as to achieve our goals, is what self-confidence is all about.

The book and program for teens focuses on toxic vs. healthy relationships. Self-confidence is important in remaining strong (but not rigid) in relationships, but it applies in all aspects of our lives. To find yourself, ask yourself some important questions:

  • What do I enjoy right now — what are my passions?
  • What are my hopes and dreams?
  • What is important to me?
  • What type of person do I want to be?
  • What are my strengths?

These are important components of who you are, and being able to answer them is integral to building self-confidence.

Once you’ve begun the process of finding yourself, it’s important to maintain that and build on it. It is this keeping yourself that solidifies self-confidence. Some things to explore:

  • Where can I turn my values, those things that are important to me, into actions?
  • How can I use my strengths to help myself live a quality life and to help others achieve mental health and wellbeing, too?
  • What small steps can I start taking now to achieve my hopes and dreams?
  • How can I add things that I enjoy to my life?
  • How can I manifest the person I want to be?

Self-confidence is so important to mental health and wellbeing because it is who we are, and beyond that, it is what we do in our daily lives to shape who we are. When we believe we have the ability to shape our lives, we begin to do it. This belief coupled with action is self-confidence. It creates more action and then a stronger belief in who we are. Explore the above questions as you continue your journey to mental health, wellbeing, and confidence.

 

In this video, I read a short excerpt from Losing Elizabeth. High school junior Elizabeth had once found herself and had self-confidence. A toxic relationship, though, is chipping away at who she thinks she is. Here, her self-confidence is nearly gone. Will she be able to find herself again?

 

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A Balanced Approach to Balance, Mental Health, and Wellbeing

Mar 7

Creating balance in life is one of the most important components of mental health and wellbeing. The idea of balance for mental health is that, instead of being pulled in multiple directions, sometimes tipping one way and sometimes tipping other ways, we stay centered in one spot, calmly doing life tasks. The idea of living a balanced life is valid and legitimate. Balance brings harmony around us and within us. However, the mere fact that we need to strive for balanced implies that we’re rather imbalanced. And because we’re imbalanced (and likely stressed and otherwise challenged), achieving balance can be difficult.

Multiple tools exist to help us create balance in our lives. Among them:

  • eliminating unnecessary tasks on our to-do lists
  • exercising
  • making time for a personal life, family, friends
  • cultivating a daily meditation practice
  • practicing self-care
  • getting enough quality sleep

This is only an abbreviated list, but it includes the most prominent advice for achieving balance, mental health, and wellbeing. Each and every one of the above items is a proven way to lower stress. However, there is an inherent problem here. Each one is excellent but incomplete; for true balance, we need all (or at least several) of these approaches. This becomes one more thing to balance: we have to fit wellness techniques into our already challenging lives in order to be balanced. This can trip up even the most graceful among us (I am not one of the graceful among us).

Creating Balance in Your Life

I propose a different approach to balance and to mental health and wellbeing. This approach is balance itself.

 

 

This approach to balance begins at the core—your core—and revolves around it. With this method of achieving balance, you define what a quality life means to you, what makes your life worth living, and then you live your life intentionally to achieve it. Intentional living involves

  • Work. More than paid employment, work refers to the things you do to make your life run. It also involves the ways you contribute to your world.
  • Quality time with others. Who is in your life that you like to spend time with? How do you spend that time?
  • Self-care. How are you nurturing yourself (mind, body, and spirit)?
  • Enjoyment. En-JOY is an action verb. What are you doing to create joy and happiness in your life?
  • Meaning. What brings meaning to your life? This is the “why” behind what makes your life worth living.
True Balance

Life is unpredictable. The best way to handle it is to accept this and roll with it. Picture balance as a ball. If a ball is over-inflated, rigid, and doesn’t roll, it will pop when it meets an obstacle. If we are rigid and can’t roll with life, we run the risk of popping, too.

True balance comes from doing what you need to do in each moment to live your quality life. Sometimes work will need to dominate, but we can balance that by rotating to one of the other areas. This model for balance is fluid, round, and it rotates on its axis, which happens to be your life worth living. Balance doesn’t mean straining to keep every circle the same size every minute of your life. Balance means having a vision of your quality life and taking action in all of these areas (but not all at once) to achieve it.

What is your vision of a quality life? Achieve it, and with it mental health and wellbeing, with balance.

 

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College Student Suicides: Let’s Fix this Mental Health Crisis

Feb 5

As a world of humans, we’re facing a mental health crisis; when fellow humans turn to suicide because they feel, for various reasons, that their future is so bleak it’s non-existent and turn to death as what seems like the sole option, it’s a mental health crisis. Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), attempts, and completions are mental health tragedies that affect people of all ages, ethnicities, and nationalities. No group is exempt. Suicide can and does impact anyone. College students are no exception. College student suicides are a tragic problem at universities and colleges worldwide, and as a caring society who believes that mental health and wellbeing are possible for everyone, it’s time to fix this mental health crisis.

Between September, 2016 and January, 2017, a university in Ontario, Canada (locations in Guelph, Toronto and Ridgetown) has seen the deaths of four students by suicide. Understandably, the Guelph University community is seeking solutions. College student suicide (one completed suicide is too much, and four in half a school year is unthinkable) is a mental health crisis that must be fixed.

But how? Is it possible to help college students—people of all ages and backgrounds—create hope even in times of despair? Can we help each other, when blinded by overwhelming depression or other mental illness or crushing stress, see a way through?

It is possible. An important step is to be able to talk, to speak openly and frankly and be heard, for it is in this action that we can talk ourselves into solutions.

In light of the current suicides and stories from the University of Guelph TranQool has decided to donate 20 sessions for students to see registered therapists from home this week….We want the students to know that they in addition to the campus efforts to help student’s mental health they have access to TranQool. Learn more: TranQool Stands With Guelph University Students

The Basics: Information to Understand and to Help

College Student Suicide: Let's Fix This Mental Health CrisisThe Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has a wealth of information to help reduce the mental health crisis that is suicide. Among their resources is an excellent fact sheet entitled Suicide Among College and University Students in the United States(The statistics included in this resource apply to US colleges and universities, but the information within applies to colleges and college students worldwide and can be very useful to the Guelph University students and greater community).

Mental health experts look at suicide and suicidal ideation from an in-depth perspective. They examine suicide from a problem-oriented point of view: what is it that creates such a depth of despair in people that they think of death as the only viable option? What mental health issues, specific mental illnesses, are interfering in someone’s will to live? SPRC, in the above-linked handout, delineates risk factors that include

  • behavioral health disorders
  • individual characteristics
  • stressful life situations
  • family characteristics
  • school/community factors

Knowing what risk factors to watch for in each other can help us know how to reach out with an offer to talk, or to help take someone to a professional who will listen and help.

Beyond the risk factors are protective factors. Looking at protective factors is an incredibly powerful way to fix this mental health crisis of college student (and all) suicides. The risk factors help us identify things that are wrong so we can do something about them. The protective factors help us all know what it is that we can do about them. Protective factors are strengths within each and every one of us, and protective factors are those things around us, in our circles and our communities, that help us overcome even the greatest obstacles.

SPRC identifies these categories of protective factors that we can use to transcend real challenges to thrive again:

  • individual characteristics and behaviors
  • social support
  • school and community factors

Again, the above link takes you to SPRC’s fact sheet with more information within each category, useful resources, and statistics.

It’s Possible to End the Mental Health Crisis, College Student Suicide

Hope is never lost. When people, such as college students at Guelph University and elsewhere, feel as though there is no hope for a better future, that is a mental health crisis. When people act on this very real feeling and belief and seek and end by suicide, that is a mental health crisis.

It can very much seem like hope is lost, and that’s when as a world of humans we band together and help see each other through. We can be there for each other as we wrestle with problems that, when we’re alone, seem insurmountable. We can build up each others’ protective factors and resilience. Together, we all can enhance each others’ mental health and wellbeing, and we can fix the mental health crisis that is college student suicides.

On #BellLetsTalk day we pledged to donate free sessions to those on hospital waitlists but we are now opening these free sessions up to University of Guelph students. We are also pledging to donate up to $1000 to help our inspiring TranQool ambassadors at Guelph University provide access and resources to the students. We want to ensure that every Guelph student knows that there is always help available. We stand with you. To join in the solution, help TranQool connect Guelph University students with counselors. Visit their GoFundMe campaign to make a donation of any size.

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Stranger Danger! Reduce It, Reduce Anxiety, Improve Your Life

Jan 10

Mental illness messes with people and interferes in their lives in numerous ways. Each mental illness has a list of symptoms people experience, and beyond that, mental illness inserts itself in sneaky, obnoxious ways. Something many, if not all, mental illnesses do is put people on red alert for stranger danger.

Parents warn their children not to approach strangers, people they don’t know. Instilling this caution in appropriate ways is healthy because it makes children aware of their surroundings and realize that not every person they will encounter is a trustworthy human being. This is healthy awareness of stranger danger.

Mental illnesses take stranger danger in a different direction and to an entirely new level. Mental illness can turn someone into his or her own stranger. This isn’t a stranger that is a threat to others. Not at all. Instead, this is a stranger that can be anxiety-provoking for the person him/herself.

Mental Illness Can Make Someone a Stranger to Himself

Imagine being an outsider in your own mind. This is what Isaac Bittman must face in the novel Twenty-Four ShadowsHe’s been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, what used to be called multiple personality disorder. Isaac perpetually feels like a stranger in his own mind, and to him it’s frightening because he doesn’t understand it.

  • * Isaac has twenty-three alternate parts of himself (called “alters” or “parts”), but he doesn’t know them. He thinks of these strangers as things, which causes problems.
  • * Isaac doesn’t know what his strangers are up to, and that causes great anxiety.
  • * Isaac now feels like a stranger in his own family. He watches his wife, son, and best friend be “normal” and feels suddenly estranged from both them and himself.
Mental Illness Can Make Someone a Stranger in the World

Living with mental illness can be isolating. Mental illness isn’t a wrong way of being; instead, it’s a different way of experiencing the world. Still, someone’s symptoms (which differ for each diagnosis), can make him or her feel separate from the rest of the world.

In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham has such severe social anxiety that he is diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder. He wants to be able to connect with people, to have friends, but he is too afraid. He feels like he doesn’t fit in because he’s a complete stranger in the world.

Reduce Stranger Danger

This stranger, the stranger that is the self and the world, is quite hard to deal with because there is no real escape, at least not in the traditional sense. That’s okay, because escaping is just avoiding, and avoidance doesn’t work.

Avoidance consumes a lot of time and energy, and it greatly interferes with the ability to live a purposeful, valued life.”   — Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps 

If avoiding the stranger danger, the fear and anxiety that comes, legitimately so, from feeling like a stranger to yourself, the world, or both, doesn’t work, certainly there must be something that does. There is indeed something that works to reduce the sense of stranger danger within you and around you. Actually, there are three somethings:

  • * Accept what feels like a stranger. It’s part of your world, and struggling against it only wears you out and   increases fear, anxiety, and stress. Isaac can acknowledge the presence of his alters. Brian can acknowledge that the world isn’t going to go away.
  • * Define your values, your purpose. What do you want in your life? How do you want to become familiar with your inner and outer worlds so you no longer fear stranger danger? What will your life look like when the stranger danger is gone? (Well, the situation might not actually be gone, but the anxiety, fear, and sense of danger will be gone because you’ve replaced it with something else.)
  • * Decide on an action plan. Taking action is the most powerful way to replace a sense of stranger danger with one of familiarity. Taking action, even small steps every day, gives us a sense of power over what’s bothering us and stomps on fear and anxiety.

Mental illness plays all sorts of nasty little tricks, including making people feel like strangers within themselves and within the world. This can create extreme anxiety and fear, causing a sense of stranger danger. Acknowledge exactly what feels like stranger danger and accept it’s presence. Know what you want to replace it with, and create a plan of action. These steps will help you reduce stranger danger and replace it with familiarity and content.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

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Overwhelmed? Take Back Your Mental Health & Wellbeing

Jan 3

Life, as wonderful as it often is, can also be quite stressful. Demands and deadlines can stretch people to their limit. Many different things can cause us to feel overwhelmed. The stressors of daily life can take a tremendous toll. Relationships can be difficult to navigate. If these weren’t challenging enough, sometimes we’re hit with big whammies like disease, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, or personality disorders.

You can reduce that overwhelmed feeling and thrive. Rather than waiting for stressors to pass so you can feel better, take charge right now. Sure, you might not be able to get some problems to instantly disappear, but that’s okay. You don’t have to be problem-free to feel mentally  healthy. These four simple steps will help when you’re feeling overwhelmed no matter the reason.

Four Simple Steps to Take Back Your Wellbeing

Pause. When we’re overwhelmed, it can be hard to think and easy to become disorganized. In response to stress, heart rate and blood pressure can increase, and breathing can become more rapid and shallow. Muscles tense. Anxiety can set in. When you notice the physical and mental symptoms of stress, pause. Put some space, both distance and time, between yourself and what is making you feel overwhelmed. Breathe deeply and practice mindfulness. Taking even a short break can help you reset and return feeling better.

Partake. Do something to nourish your mind, body, and/or soul in the moment. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing, you might sip hot tea or coffee, take in fresh air, breathe in essential oils, mindfully peel and eat an orange, or anything else that’s healthy and that you find personally soothing.

Purpose. Sometimes, we get so caught up in problems that we lose sight of what’s important to us. When tasks, relationships, and more feel like an overwhelming burden, remember your greater purpose (and do so as you pause and partake). Knowing that there’s a reason we’re doing something can make life feel less overwhelming.

In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, for example, Brian Cunningham suffers greatly from anxiety disorders and avoidant personality disorder. He works as the sole custodian on the night shift at an elementary school so he can avoid having to deal with people, but when a neglected and abused little girl crosses his path, he is forced out of his safe comfort zone. He is overwhelmed and his perpetually high anxiety skyrockets further when he has to interact with people in order to help her. At times he is so overwhelmed and stressed that he wants to quit and retreat, but when he remembers his purpose, to help a hurting little girl, he is able to endure and regain a sense of mental health and wellbeing.

Plan. Sometimes our circumstances feel like a trap. We try and try to break free from the trap, but we simply spin our wheels. This going nowhere only increases stress. Know what you want to accomplish, and create an action plan involving small steps taken intentionally in order to achieve it. Often, having a tangible plan and acting on it is empowering and enough to feel mentally healthy rather than overwhelmed.

Additional Ways to Take Charge, Recover, and Achieve Mental Health & Wellbeing

Pausing, partaking in something soothing, remembering your purpose, and planning are effective ways to deal with feeling overwhelmed in order to take back mental health and wellbeing. There are other things you can do, too, to enjoy life once again.

Reach out and allow others to help. Whether its for help organizing clutter or easing symptoms of mental illness, accepting help can make you feel better more quickly.  In the novel Leave of Absence, Oliver Graham is in a behavioral health hospital. His doctor tries to convince him to allow people in to help:

     “Nothing at all makes a bit of goddamn sense.”

    “Exactly. You need help processing all of this. You participated actively in an art group on Saturday. That played a part in allowing you to open up yesterday…You were starting to process this mess.” Dr. Wilson stopped talking. When she resumed, her tone was softer. “It is indeed a mess, isn’t it?” 

    Oliver nodded.

    “Hang in there. Let people help you through this very difficult time.”

Do What You Need to Do in Each Moment

Most of us are rather skilled at imposing rules onto ourselves, believing that we should be doing x or shouldn’t be doing y. Berating ourselves only makes us feel more overwhelmed and unwell. Instead, plan what you need right now and do what it takes to help you regain mental health.

In the novel Twenty-Four Shadows (named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016), Isaac Bittman begins to attend a special treatment center after learning he lives with dissociative identity disorder. He is struggling, and his doctor, Dr. Charlie, knows that he needs to rest. Isaac feels that lying down is a waste of time. Here, Dr. Charlie convinces him that it’s okay for him to do what he needs to do in each moment.

     “Remember that I said you get a private room? It’s for journaling and meditating and resting. You need to participate in the activities here, but this is only day one. You had two switches; it looks like they’ve taken a tremendous toll on you, and you need to sleep them off. I promise we’ll work on things here, but right now, you need to lie down. Other patients do, too. That’s why we have private rooms with beds. What do you think?”

    “I…” Isaac’s voice cracked. Rather than trying again, he nodded vigorously. Dr. Charlie escorted him to his room.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is an unfortunate part of being human. A fortunate part of our humanity is our ability to take care of ourselves. Pause, partake, remember purpose, plan, accept help, and do what you need to do moment by moment. In so doing, you’ll increase your mental health and wellbeing.

 

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

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Does Sitting on the Couch at an Athletic Club Count as Going to the Gym?

Dec 29

Right now I have a wonderful room with a view. Seated on a smooth leather couch with deep, soft cushions, I can see calm blue water through the picture window in front of me. If I get hungry or thirsty, I can stroll over to the deli counter and order myself something nourishing. This would be great if I were actually on vacation. Unfortunately, I’m not on vacation. The calm blue water isn’t a tropical lagoon. It’s a lap pool. I’m at the gym my son and I belong to. He’s working out. I’m just working.

Sitting in the lobby with a computer on my lap isn’t quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to go to the gym. I joined for physical health, mental health, family bonding, and connection with others. I enjoy increasing both heart rate and endorphins. Exercise enhances wellbeing and improves lives. Does it count when I go to the gym but sit on a couch rather than on exercise equipment?

Yes, it does count. Sitting on the couch at an athletic club does count as going to the gym. Here’s why (and I’m truly not just trying to justify or rationalize my sitting on a cushy couch while my son sweats).

Why Being at the Gym Counts Even When You’re Not Exercising
  • I’m actually at the gym. My existence here is real and valid and not dependent on what I am or am not doing.

Take-away advice: drop the “shoulds.” Thinking that you “should” be doing x, y, or z simply because you are in a certain place is faulty reasoning that contributes to stress and anxiety.

  • I’m honoring what I need to be doing in this moment. Right now, working on specific tasks is going to make me feel better mentally and physically—much more so than hopping onto an elliptical machine.

Take-away advice: Know yourself and honor what you need in each moment. Take life a moment at a time. Working in the gym’s lobby is better for me right now than working out on the machines. Tomorrow, I’ll hop back on the equipment.

  • I’m living my values. One of the reasons I joined this gym was to bond with my son and support him in his life goals. I drove him here today (at 15, he doesn’t yet drive alone) and am staying here as long as he wants to be here. Usually, I work out too. Today, though, I chose the couch. I’m still upholding what I value.

Take-away advice: Know what you value, and make your decisions accordingly. Knowing that you can be flexible in your actions but still honor what’s important to you helps enhance your wellbeing and sense of peace with who you are, where you are, and what you are doing.

  • I’m taking action. My actions right now might not quite match the intentions of an athletic club, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. As long as our actions aren’t done to intentionally harm ourselves or others, there is no black-and-white, right-or-wrong way to act. I’m doing what I need to do right now, in this moment, to feel mentally healthy.

Take-away advice: For mental health and wellbeing, the important things are to know your values and to take actions, small steps every day, to achieve them. In any given moment, choose to act in a way that moves you forward, and do it. It counts for a lot.

  • The couches are here for a reason. If people weren’t meant to sit here while they were at the gym, the couches wouldn’t be here. They have a purpose. People have a purpose. By sitting here and working, I’m fulfilling purposes.

Take-away advice: Know your sense of purpose, recognize that others (even couches) have a purpose, and act in ways that fulfill the purpose.

So, yes, sitting on the couch at an athletic club counts as going to the gym. It counts because we exist and we count. When we acknowledge that there is no right way to be, no “shoulds,” what we do counts. When we know our values, our purpose, and choose actions intentionally, what we do counts.

Boldly and intentionally do what you need to do in each moment, wherever you are and however you are, and know that you and your actions count.

 

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Book Award: Sign of Progress for Mental Illness

Dec 19

Thanks to the work and dedication of many people, the concepts of mental illness and mental health are beginning to emerge from their dark hiding places and experience some much-deserved sunshine.  Mental illness in general is still difficult to discuss and can be met with cold misunderstanding; however, that is beginning to change. Understanding and empathy are increasing. It’s becoming a little bit safer for people experiencing mental illness to seek and receive help.

A sign that thing are moving in a positive direction in the field of psychology, mental illness, and mental health is that professional and respected book review companies are honoring novels about mental illness and people living with it. Kirkus Reviews has released its list of Best Books of 2016, and Twenty-Four Shadows has been awarded a place on that list.

 

In their review of this novel, Kirkus Reviews said, “An exploration of dissociative identity disorder, this fourth novel by Peterson My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, 2014, etc.) valiantly addresses the stigma of mental illness….[She] is able to say to the reader in earnest: this is mental illness, this is how it feels.”

Twenty-Four Shadows was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016 because of the way it addresses dissociative identity disorder, a serious mental illness. For similar reasons, Kirkus Reviews named My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel to their list of Best Books of 2014, further indicating that mental illness (anxiety disorders and avoidant personality disorder) are important to bring into the sunlight.

Other well-known review companies have recognized the novel Twenty-Four Shadows as well. The Midwest Book Review lauded it, and The US Review of Books awarded it one of their coveted Recommended ratings.

All of this is a very good thing. Such honors for a novel that addresses a previously taboo subject shows that society is beginning to open minds and hearts to those living with mental illness. When readers learn about mental illness through realistic stories, mental illness, and those living with it, are humanized.

I speak a bit more about this in the below video, and I read a passage from the novel, too. I invite you to tune in.

 

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

 

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