Tag Archives: mental illness

Who Is Right About Happiness?

Tandem skydiveWe know very little about what it takes to be happy, and a lot of what we know is wrong. This seems to be the conclusion of some voices in the movement known as positive psychology. It’s a relatively new field set against the traditional focus of psychology, which has delved into neurosis, psychosis, and mental illness generally. Positive psychology studies normality and tries to improve it. Is happiness normal? That depends on who you ask.

Pollsters, for example, usually find that happiness is quite common; around 8 out of 10 people in the U.S. report that they are happy. This number fluctuates with the rise and fall of events. A recent Gallup finding is that Syrians and Iraqis have the highest rate of negative thoughts – not a surprise – while people in South America have the most positive thoughts, which is a surprise. Gallup also studies well-being, using various leading factors, and hardly any country exists where 30% or more of the population is “thriving,” Gallup’s highest measure of well-being. A sharp drop in well-being occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya just prior to the turmoil of the Arab Spring.

Among psychotherapists, happiness is generally viewed pessimistically. Some estimates from therapists indicate that up to 50% of the population exhibit signs of mental illness, including anxiety and depression. Suicide rates among white males rose by 40% recently, which is generally attributed to the economic downturn, and it’s no secret that antidepressants and tranquilizers are a multi-billion dollar market, even though neither class of medications actually cures anxiety and depression.

Against these conflicting reports, some commentators assert that we stumble into happiness” here and there, while our dream of being constantly happy is self-delusion. People are bad at knowing what will make them happy, we are told. Things like getting married, having a baby, winning the lottery, or even having a high salary don’t bring the happiness that we assume, as a society, they will. Mothers of young children report, for example, that taking care of infants and toddlers is one of the biggest stressors in their lives, while lottery winners typically say, a few years after their windfall, that they were happier before they won.

Why are we so bad at being happy? Were we born to struggle? These are questions that have fueled centuries of philosophy and spirituality, with no reliable conclusion. Since the Sixties, the rise of the New Age amounts to a search for a higher reality that promises more happiness than organized religion does. Has the promise come true for dedicated seekers? We’ll see. In a way it’s depressing that the most famous soliloquy in Shakespeare is about suicide (“to be or not to be, that is the question”). Now that I’ve laid out the contradictions that are involved, the next few posts will explore in depth how happiness works and where the pursuit of happiness should be leading us.

(To be cont.)



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Daring Photographer Takes On the World of Mental Illness Behind Bars (Slideshow)

KSR - CPTUPhotographer Jenn Ackerman is nothing if not a boundary-pusher. Her work delicately treads the line between art and ethnography, offering glimpses into worlds that both trouble and intrigue us – from beauty pageants to dying inmates. Alongside her husband and creative partner, Tim Gruber, Ackerman captures the beauty and grace that can exist in even the harshest conditions, as demonstrated poignantly in her photo series “Trapped.” This project, inspired by a NY Times article on the growing population of inmates with mental illness, brings viewers into the stark world of someone trapped both physically and psychologically. It’s a place none of us would want to be, but one in which Ackerman immersed herself for the sake of shedding light on this little known side of the prison system. Ackerman writes:

My intention was to make that made the viewer feel what I felt when I was inside the prison. I took a more personal and emotional approach to this project than I ever have…I left the prison everyday wanting to help these men that have nowhere else to go. There were days that I was extremely scared and others that I left thinking how much someone on the outside missed them. Some days, I had to remind myself that many of these men had done heinous things. There were also days when I was reminded that some of these men have faded into the system with no hope of getting out…

For most of these men, they have been outcasts of society and rarely heard. So they had a chance to share their story and have someone listen that actually cared to listen not just focused on treatment or safety. My intention is to spark calls for reform for the treatment of the mentally ill and the prison system in the US.

On the project’s website you can watch the feature video, which includes a combination of action footage, still images, facts about the conditions of mentally ill inmates, and audio from an interview with the warden from the prison Ackerman photographed. The content is unsettling and at times hard to watch, but it is an important step toward shedding light on a community that might otherwise go faceless and nameless. Their stories, at least, will not remain trapped.


Photo credit: Jenn Ackerman

The Truth About Medications during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 5.54.14 PMThree years ago, I received a tragic phone call from a friend. Her sister, whom I’ll call Mary — a bright young woman who had struggled with bipolar disorder throughout her life — had recently given birth to her second child. Mary had chosen to go off her psychiatric medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This hadn’t posed a problem during and after the birth of her first child. But this time, it led to disaster.

Lack of sleep, stress from caring for a toddler and a newborn, and problems at work took their toll on Mary. She began to spiral, pacing and panicking. Just as her husband was about to take her to the hospital for treatment, Mary slipped into a psychotic episode. She heard voices telling her to attack her husband and children — which she did, with a knife.

Thankfully, Mary’s husband was able to wrestle the knife away and prevent her from causing any real physical harm. But the damage had been done. The government accused Mary of attempted murder and domestic violence assault. Mary was sent to prison and later a psychiatric hospital. She was forbidden from having any contact with her children. Only last month was Mary permitted her first visit with her now 3-year-old, who has no memory of his mother.

This is obviously an extreme illustration of what can happen when pregnant and breastfeeding women don’t treat their own illnesses out of fear of harming their children. But my closeness to the incident has made me extra sensitive to the issue, which is so important yet rarely discussed in our society or media.

2013-04-25-KateHeadShot-thumbI was so excited to hear that a dear friend of mine, writer/editor Kate Rope, had taken a position as editorial director for a new non-profit called the Seleni Institute. Seleni is dedicated to women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. It offers online resources and support as well as research funding for women’s mental health issues. And, in early May, Seleni will open a clinic in Manhattan to serve women during this critical time in their lives.

Kate, who has been a health journalist for the past 15 years, began focusing on the mental health issues of motherhood after her own difficult pregnancy. Just one week after conceiving her first child, Kate ended up in the emergency room with horrible chest pain. The doctors, worried that she had a blood clot, gave her a CT scan — but found no answers.

For the next five months, Kate suffered from debilitating pain that was misdiagnosed as heartburn. When several different medications brought no relief, she ended up in the hospital again. After three days of tests — including one that involved nuclear radiation — she had a diagnosis: inflammation and fluid around her heart. For the rest of her pregnancy, she had to take ibuprofen and steroids to control it.

And she worried about the health of her baby constantly. “Everyone around me was planning home births and practicing prenatal yoga. Meanwhile, I was doing all the things pregnancy books say are dangerous — taking medications and getting X-rays. I felt very alone and scared.”

Kate’s story has a happy ending: Not only did she eventually get the diagnosis and treatment she needed, but also she gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter. Still, the experience traumatized her and led to two outcomes: postpartum anxiety so severe she needed medication to treat it, and a personal commitment to helping other women facing the same choices get good information and peace of mind.

2013-04-25-CarlheadshotKate got help for her postpartum anxiety and went on to co-author The Complete Guide to Medications During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding with Carl P. Weiner, M.D., a perinatologist and professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

Kate explained to me that there is very little well-researched information about the safety or effectiveness of medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Most pharmaceutical companies won’t do controlled clinical studies because of concerns about liability. Therefore, much of the information doctors use to make prescribing decisions comes from doctor’s case studies, animal research, and epidemiological evidence.

Dr. Weiner had already combined all of this scattered information into an academic text to help doctors choose appropriate medications for their pregnant and breastfeeding patients. Kate helped him translate that text into an easy-to-understand, A-to-Z directory of over-the-counter and prescription medications for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. It also explains how to find good medical care if you have a chronic condition or develop complications during pregnancy.

“We want pregnant and breastfeeding women to have good information and to know that they are not alone and they don’t have to sacrifice their well-being for their baby’s health. We want to help them make good decisions with their health care providers,” says Kate.

If you are planning to become pregnant and require medication for physical or psychological conditions, Kate and Dr. Weiner recommend getting informed before trying to conceive. “Meet with your doctors — your psychiatrist, OB-GYN, midwife, or specialist — and talk through your concerns,” says Kate. “Ask them what they know about the medications you take, their risks and benefits, and whether or not you should switch to a safer option or discontinue treatment during pregnancy.”

Of course, you may not have the chance to prepare (half of all pregnancies are unplanned). In that case, don’t make any choices about stopping or starting medications on your own. Meet with your health care providers right away to discuss your treatment.

And whether you plan for pregnancy or need to make choices once you learn you are pregnant, Kate and Dr. Weiner both recommend looking for providers who have experience treating your condition during pregnancy.

It’s also wise to be wary of the Internet. A March 2013 study supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed 25 websites that published lists of “safe” medication during pregnancy. The researchers found 22 medications deemed safe by one site were labeled unsafe by one or more of the other sites. “That kind of inconsistency online,” says Kate, “not only means you don’t have access to the best information, but that you can become unnecessarily anxious.”

In the end, “the important thing is to remember that you need to be a healthy, happy, high functioning person for yourself and your child,” Kate offered as reassurance. “And that means getting good medical care and making good choices for both of you.”


Photo credit: Flickr

Photo credit: Kate Rope

Four winning ways to overcome mental illness

Mental Patients Against Stigma Mental health problems have run in my family for years. I spent my childhood with a mother who was in and out of mental facilities in the 1940s and 1950s, and bless her heart, she did as well as she could in those days. In the United States we are finally coming into a time when many understand that a person with mental health issues is not some spooky kind of person, but is a person who needs medical treatment, just like people with physical health issues.  We have treatments that are far advanced to what was available when my mother was struggling.

However, if you or a loved one are suffering from a mental health issues such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, it is still a struggle even with the best medical help.  Having been around so many people in my family with mental health issues, I have come to see that the people who are proactive and have the will to fight for a happy life do indeed find joy.  Those who give up are not very happy.  Here are four things that I have observed people do to create a good life despite their mental illness.

  1. Be Proactive: The winner is proactive about getting treatment. Knowing that it takes time to diagnose and find the right medication to treat a mental health issue, the winner is patient and keeps going back to the doctor until he or she feels better.  Those who have clinical depression and their loved ones are well aware that a psychiatrist may have to experiment with several medications before finding the one that works for a particular patient.  The winner does not give up during this difficult time. He or she watches funny movies to lighten this difficult period of time.
  2. Eat healthy: The winner is aware that eating a healthy diet is more important than ever now, and stays away from a lot of caffeine or alcohol.  The winner instinctively knows that feeling good physically is crucial now.  This IS the time to learn to cook new healthy food. This IS the time to spend an afternoon investigating a new market that sells freshly grown local food.  These activities bring a sense of well-being to the winner.
  3. Exercise: The winner exercises regularly, unless there is some physical reason not to do so. And even if the winner does have some physical challenges, he or she asks the doctor to recommend exercise that is appropriate.  The winner understands that exercise releases stress from both the body and mind, and exercise can help a great deal.
  4. Spiritual Practice:  The winner has a spiritual program to turn to, be it a church, temple, twelve step program or support group.   The winner does not drown in self-pity but finds a way to have gratitude for all that is good in life.  While fighting a mental health problem it becomes more important than ever to have faith that life will get better and that there is a Higher Power, God or Divine Consciousness there to help.

Of course there are some who grapple with such severe mental health issues that it becomes impossible to even engage in these behaviors. Our hearts go out to them.  But a greater percentage of those with mental health problems ARE well enough to be winners, if only they stay motivated and do not give up. I have seen many of them succeed.  Should I ever have a mental illness, they will give me hope. I am so proud of those I love who have mental health issues and are winners.


Loyalty Vs. Blind Loyalty In Families

I admire family loyalty; I believe in it.  However, I do not believe in blind family loyalty.  Here’s why.

A blindly loyal person follows lockstep and unquestioningly behind the family.  Often, the marching is done unconsciously because one doesn’t want to upset or anger another family member – a practice of "keep the peace mentality." Sometimes, the blindly loyal member will "go along" with something even when common sense and rationale plead with them to speak out.  Sometimes, the blindly loyal member rejects hard core examples of a family’s neurotic, enabling and codependent responses and that behavior hurts and damages their other relationships.  How so?

Families operate on a continuum of being open with their communication or closed.  Families with high functioning open systems can address any topic even when extremely painful, difficult or sensitive: loss, divorces, mental illness, secrets, alcoholism, various abuses, feelings of shame, affairs, death of beloved members, etc.  These high functioning families feel confident and secure enough individually and as a family unit to discuss these circumstances and call them what they are.  Individual expressions are not only permitted, they are encouraged.  And, while I agree it can be complicated and tricky at times where family confidences are concerned, it is not impossible to negotiate peaceful outcomes.

But, this isn’t the case in the closed blindly loyal family.  For example, in a blindly loyal family where the father was cold and dismissive to his children and now one member wants to let "the cat out of the bag" this member is often rejected by other family members. Blind family loyalty expects everyone to remember how terrific their celebrations were even when mom fell into the potato salad and knocking over Uncle Albert were regular occurrences. In other words, the blindly loyal family must turn "mom the sinner" into "mom the saint."  And heaven protect the family member who challenges the accepted family view.

Where does blind loyalty originate? Usually, it’s formed in early childhood to win parental approval and love because the worse thing for a child to feel is disapproved of, unloved and unwanted. We all want to believe we had the perfect family so we ignore the imperfections and transform family issues into virtues. The reality comes later when we see other people’s families or we marry someone who is a more higher functioning emotionally than we. That’s when we have a point-of-reference for comparison.  But telling ourselves that something was perfectly wonderful when it was not is emotionally unhealthy and a form of denial or repression.  Those feelings don’t disappear; they go underground to get projected and played out later with coworkers, spouses, friendships and even with their own children. For example, the adult child who could never please mom, dad or both unconsciously feels never good enough and becomes highly reactive when criticism comes his or her way.
But with acceptance of what really occurred in your family system, coupled with insight and introspection and sometimes help from another sibling, relative, friend, spiritual director or professional, most of us can understand more fully the childhood we experienced and not turn around and misdirect that disappointment, anger or hurt onto others.  Yes, my friends, we can become loyal "to our own experience" and that’s a really good thing.

Remember, there is no shame in admitting that we have wounds from some family experiences and that we have wounded others, sometimes blindly so, but let’s not make a blind loyalty into a family affair. Instead, let’s accept that no family is perfect and most do the best they can. When we are open to this conscious shift from being a blindly loyal family member to an authentically loyal family member our families will be true places of refuge.  Places where we can always return to heal a hurt, to laugh and cry, and, yes, sometimes even exhale a bona fide sigh of those memorable words: home sweet home.

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP
Author of When Every Day Matters
Simple Abundance Press

A Hidden Cause of Obesity

 I know it does no good to shout at a TV screen but I do it anyway. Watching advertisements for upcoming specials on "obesity in America" or "best diet tips" or "the best way to fight weight gain" provokes my on-going one-sided argument. 

When I see doctors such as Dr. Oz or Dr. Gupta talk about weight-loss interventions and offer their support to individuals on their long journey to weight loss, I keep hoping they will at least occasionally focus on those individuals who gained weight from their medications. They never do. That is a real problem. For the 25% of the population whose use of antidepressants is causing them to gain weight, the doctors’ wise and supportive words are irrelevant. Even the Queen of Weight-Loss Discussions, Oprah, has not addressed this serious issue and the silence from other media such as women’s magazines is overwhelming. Yet it has been years since the SSRI’s have been identified with weight gain and at least 40 years since drugs like lithium and the early group of antidepressants were known to be associated with obesity. 

Discussions about antidepressants and weight gain are all over the Internet, from scholarly articles listing the many drugs that cause weight gain to blogs by those who are experiencing obesity from their use. Typical is one I came across on the website All Experts asking about the use of an amphetamine-like drug, phentermine, for weight loss. The female writer said she took phentermine and lost weight but stopped the drug because she needed to go on an antidepressant. She took Lexapro and gained 35 pounds, stopped that, started Prozac and gained another l0 pounds. Her desperation at gaining so much weight caused her to quit the antidepressants to go back on the amphetamine-like drug. She said her family is begging her to go back on her antidepressants and she wants to know if she can take phentermine along with her serotonin reuptake blocker, Prozac. According to the pharmacist-expert, she can’t. The FDA prohibits combining an amphetamine-like drug such as phentermine with an SSRI because it might lead to serious illness or even death. The writer is clearly upset by the answer and it is possible she will still take the phentermine because losing weight is more critical than a possible lethal side effect. Her problem, which is so typical of many on similar drugs, is greeted by silence from media experts on obesity. 

What is equally upsetting about our national discussions on obesity is the finger pointing at someone who is 100 or more pounds heavier than he or she should because of treatment with mood stabilizers or atypical antipsychotics. We see someone morbidly obese and immediately assume that the individual is obese because of bad food choices, eating too much and lack of exercise. We don’t understand that the individual may have been thin before going on the medication, and may have always eaten healthily and exercised. Unless we are on similar medications ourselves, we would not know how it feels to have an antidepressant or mood stabilizer take away our control over eating and leave us so tired we cannot bring ourselves to exercise. Medication-generated weight gain is almost never acknowledged in the seemingly endless national discussions about the obesity epidemic, in the monthly magazine diets or the seasonal focus on weight-loss by television’s medical experts. 

The lack of attention paid to this problem in the media has led some, like the overweight blogger, to seek out solutions such as taking drugs that are potentially dangerous. Others may despair at following the diet advice given on television and in magazines because much of it doesn’t work for people on antidepressants. And some, of course, will give up their medications because the emotional pain of being obese is worse than the emotional pain of depression. 

Yet the solution to losing weight while on antidepressants is easy and simple. It simply requires knowing that brain serotonin does more than regulate mood. It also regulates appetite. 

When enough serotonin is made, eating stops. Drugs such as the SSRI’s may promote the activity of mood-enhancing serotonin but for reasons we do not understand the same drugs may prevent the activity of the class of serotonin that enhances satiety. Giving more drugs to shut off the appetite is not possible because there are no drugs right now that are safe and effective.  

Decades ago, MIT researchers showed that consuming carbohydrates without protein triggers the production of serotonin. When this happens food intake slows down or stops. The solution to losing weight on antidepressants is to eat snacks or meals based on non-fruit carbohydrate like pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, cereal, and cornmeal. These foods, by eliciting normal insulin secretion, increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is an amino acid that goes into the production of serotonin. Once made, serotonin increases satiety and turns off the urge to eat anymore. We utilized this approach in a hospital-based weight-loss center whose patients had gained weight on antidepressants, mood stabilizers and atypical antipsychotic medication. (This is described in our book, The Serotonin Power Diet.) Unlike phentermine or other drugs that may cause serious side effects, the only side effect from using carbohydrate as an appetite suppressant is weight loss. 

© 2010 Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs — Nature’s Own Appetite Suppressant — to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain

Author Bio
Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs — Nature’s Own Appetite Suppressant — to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain, has discovered the connection between carbohydrate craving, serotonin, and emotional well-being in her MIT clinical studies. She received her PhD from George Washington University, is the founder of a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility and counsels private weight management clients. She has written five books, including The Serotonin Solution, and more than 40 peer-reviewed articles for professional publications. She lives in Miami Beach, Florida.


New position at State Department of Rehabilitation

I have very good news.  My "intentions" came true and I obtained a position as a Senior Rehabilitation Counselor in Santa Maria, California.  I taught a class in Santa Maria for University of Phoenix at the Santa Maria Inn.  I liked the city so much that I said to myself that I would like to live there.  (It was 65 degrees in January).  I got home and a day later got a call from the State Department of Rehabilitation stating that they had an opening there!  I am very grateful for this opportunity to help persons with disabilites obtain employment.  My intent is to "change stigma" for persons with disabilities through education and counseling.

Are We Thinking Beings Who Feel or Feeling Beings Who Think?

It seems most Americans like to think of themselves as thinking beings who happen to feel.  But research into the human brain shows that we are instead feeling beings who are able to think.  I believe our failure to recognize this causes untold frustration and the current epidemic of people being diagnosed with depression.

Culturally, we tend to adopt the stoicism of northern Europeans.  In my family it was expressed as, "not showing yourself in public".  This meant one should not get emotional or air emotional issues in public.  We often hear people saying to people in emotional distress, "Keep a stiff upper lip" or "pull yourself together".  I’ve watched someone crying at the death of a loved one while people trying to comfort them by patting them on the shoulder and saying, "there, there, don’t cry".  As a culture we are uncomfortable having emotions in public or seeing other people express them. 

Stoicism considers "negative" emotions to impair logical thought.  Some emotions which might be considered negative include; anger, jealousy, fear or grief.  We are taught to hold in our emotions or to deny them outright.  This is simply not human.  Humans emote.  To deny the very essense of what we are is simply not natural and contributes greatly to modern mental illness

The American culture is actually a tapestry of many different cultures, all of which have their own values and rules.  Some cultures within America may allow a greater expression of emotions while some may be even more restrictive than the mainstream.  All of these influences will affect how tuned in you are to your own emotions and it is important to consider them. 

Families, too, have their own rules about emotions; to what degree emotions can be expressed, which emotions can be expressed and who can express them.  Perhaps Dad can express anger, but no one else can.  Perhaps Mom can cry, but no one else can.  Perhaps no one is allowed to cry because it is interpreted as "weakness", but everyone is allowed to be angry. 

Gender roles further complicate the picture.  Men are typically not allowed to express fear or sadness.  These emotions are considered "weak" and/or "feminine".  Women are typically not allowed to be angry.  This is considered "strong" and/or "aggressive".  The outcome? 

When men are scared or sad they may express it as anger.  (This is called "anger as a secondary emotion" because anger is not the primary emotion, it is being expressed for another emotion, i.e. fear.)  If their anger becomes violent, they are diagnosed with "anger issues".  If they stuff all their emotions until they become a seething volcano, what do you expect?  Repressed anger erupts in violence or turns inward into depression.  If it turns outward into violence, we send them to "anger management" classes.  If it turns inward into depression, we send them to the doctor for antidepressants.  We are violating nature at every turn.  The only way a man can be a fully functioning healthy human is to be allowed to express all of his emotions.  Men should be able to say, "I fear you are going to leave me when you do that" instead of blowing up and being aggressive and controlling.  Then we can honestly, openly deal with the fear which is actually present rather than an angry outburst which is not even the issue.

I have heard many people, including therapists, mistakenly say that anger is always a secondary emotion.  They maintain that anger is never a legitimate emotion, it is rather a substitute for some other emotion.  Anger may even portrayed as a "bad" emotion.  (And if anger is a "bad" emotion, men who express anger must be "bad" too?  What a Catch-22 that is.  You can’t express any emotion except anger, but if you express that one you are "bad".   Not fair.)

I think that anger may sometimes be a secondary emotion.  However, I also think that anger is a legitimate and necessary emotion of its own and serves a very, very important function.  Anger is our self defense.  It is what makes us stand up and say, "Hey!  You can’t treat me like that!"  It is how we detect and protest injustice.  Many people equate anger with violence, hence its bad name.  This is simply wrong.  Anger is simply an emotion.  It can be quiet and sane or it can be violent and scary.  That is a choice.  But anger is not violent in and of itself.  Living without it causes untold problems of its own.  Let’s look at gender roles and women for an example.

Women are allowed to cry and express fear, but heaven forbid they get angry.   When we take away a woman’s anger, we take away her ability to defend herself.  We take away her ability to fight back or express her distress in an honest, open manner.  So her anger gets turned inward and becomes depression, or it seethes out slowly as nagging, whining, bitching or passive aggression.  Women should be allowed to say, "I really get mad when you do that!"  Then her partner can address what’s actually going on.  (I’m reminded of Whoopi Goldberg in "The Color Purple" spitting into her abusive husband’s lemonade.  The situation does not change when she does this.  Since she says nothing, nothing gets addressed.  Change does not occur until she stands up to him and tells him how angry she is and walks out on him.)  

There is such a strong taboo against women being angry that I have often seen women smile the entire time they are trying to deliver a message that they are angry about something.  This dual message ("I’m angry you are treating me this way" and "Everything is lovely") not only confuses people but compromises their perception of the woman as strong and confident.  These are two more things which women are not allowed to be, so the woman smiles to deny them.

What are the effects of denying some or all of our emotions? 

In our brains, the sections which produce emotion are more ancient than the thinking parts.  Feeling came before thinking.  And for a good reason.  Our emotions act as a radar.  Through them we experience the world around us and gather information about it.  They detect "blips" in our world, they produce "intelligence" about what is happening around us and they filter this "intelligence" back to the thinking parts of our brain.  These feelings, or intuitions, are then communicated to the brain where we make decisions about how to react. 

What happens when this information is suppressed or ignored?

The logical brain we are so proud of is compromised.  How can we make logical decisions if our "intelligence" is faulty or missing?  When I was younger I stuffed my emotions, or denied they even existed.  And I stumbled blindly through life making stupid decisions.  Only as I get older have I undone this programming and begun to tune back into to my emotional radar.  How does one do this?  It’s tricky, but well worth the effort.

Tuning Back Into Your Emotions

Emotions are not usually logical or verbal.  They are usually just feelings we experience in our bodies.  Some emotions are expressed as punctuation rather than words.  I may experience a "!" or a "?".  It is a feeling of alarm "!" or an alert that something has happened which does not make sense "?".  A "!" may indicate I should be on guard.  A "?" may arouse my curiosity or alert me to pay more attention to discrepant information. 

The experience of other emotions may be more corporeal.  When I’m angry my gut tenses, my teeth clench, my chest tightens.  Sorrow may be experienced as heaviness in the chest, my eyes tearing.  Fear hits me in the stomach like an electric bolt through my gut and may cause my "hackles" to rise or my skin to tingle. 

What purpose does this serve?  Just to make me uncomfortable?  Yes, exactly.  What???  We want to uncomfortable?  Yes, we should.  This is how we are supposed to work.  But somewhere along the way, Americans seem to have adopted the notion that we have a right to be happy all the time.  This is utter nonsense and denies 90% of the human experience.  Humans are not designed to be happy all the time, else why do we come with tear ducts and a fight-flight-freeze response?  Why should we want to be uncomfortable?  Because discomfort moves us to act.  And lack of action results in feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and ultimately, depression.

Anger tells you something is happening which is unjust.  It should provoke a defensive reaction.  Sorrow tells us we have experienced a loss.  Fear tells us we are in danger.  And envy alerts us to needs or desires.  Jealousy may communicate to us that something, or someone, we love is in danger.  (It may also alert us to our own insecurity.) 

Being in touch with our "negative" emotions can have positive benefits.  I’ve noticed the more I am aware of discomfort the more I am aware of comfort.  When I am attuned to my emotions I’m more aware of how the warm sun or the cool breeze feels on my skin.  I’m more aware of the smell of mint or the sound of wind chimes tinkling.  The sound of laughter and the smell of fresh baked bread are more tangible.  And since I’ve learned to stop and attend to emotive messages I’ve become much more aware of why I act the way I do.  I’m also more aware of why other people act the way they do. 

People who spend a lot of energy suppressing emotions they deem unpleasant, abnormal, negative or wrong end up reacting to things without knowing why.  I see this a lot in trauma survivors.  They suddenly go off on someone, burst into tears or have panic attacks without ever knowing why.  This can make one feel out of control and crazy.  Other people may make derogatory remarks about your emotional instability (i.e. "hysterical", "explosive", "melodramatic").  Psychiatrists may diagnose and medicate you (i.e. "Bipolar Disorder", "Borderline", "Histrionic").

See the actual diagnostic criteria for:  Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder

People who spend a lot of energy suppressing emotions and memories may also end up having dreams or nightmares.  Your body and brain will find ways of getting what they need in spite of you.  If you deny what you feel or know during the waking hours your brain will work on it at night when you are asleep.  Your brain will fight to communicate to its thinking parts emotions it has experienced and memories it has stored.  Somehow it knows these are important bits of information necessary for our survival, even when we try to "outsmart" the process by ignoring or denying them. 

Being aware of all of your emotions is the definition of "mindfulness".  Unfortunately, many people are taught that "mindfulness" means manipulating your emotions to drown out unpleasant feelings and replace them with pleasant feelings.  This is absolutely incorrect.  Mindfulness is being aware of whatever feelings you are having and listening to them.  Responding to them.  Experiencing them.  Knowing and understanding them.  Sit quietly and listen to what they are telling you.  Doing so may be scary or painful if you have repressed a lot of unpleasant memories or feelings.  You may have to start with small bits at a time.  You may have to take a break when it becomes too much.  But only by tuning into and honoring them will ever be at home in your own body.

For more articles on mental health issues please visit my blog at: Kellevision.com.



The Hidden Business Cost of Mental Illness

It’s hard to focus on your work when your child is hallucinating.

One of the least discussed yet quite salient issues for American business in this year of health care reform is an important yet hidden cost associated with mental illness: the drain on productive work endured by family members struggling to support loved ones who suffer from such diseases. The good news for business leaders is that it’s not hard to do something to help and thus feel good while improving company culture and morale, as well as your bottom line.

Mental illness comes in a staggering array of forms, and affects a broad swath of our general population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an “estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”

Awareness and understanding of mental illness has grown in recent years; still, it’s often not taken seriously or treated as a legitimate medical disease either by businesses, by the health care system, or by our society. Indeed, too many people remain reluctant to get the help they need because of the stigma associated with mental illness. The website bringchange2mind.org (with a powerful new public service video by film director Ron Howard) asserts that “for many, the stigma associated with the illness can be as great a challenge as the disease itself.”

This stigma extends beyond those directly stricken to family members. Parents of children with mental illness are often viewed as guilty by association, unfairly perceived as the cause of the illness — the source of harmful child-rearing practices — when the origin is mainly biological. Parents and other family members feel shame and a sense of failure. I know because one of my adult children suffers from a toxic combination of schizophrenia (a thought disorder) and bipolar illness (a mood disorder).

There are real costs associated with employees having to carry this heavy weight of worry and responsibility, especially if they feel they must do so without the understanding and support of their organization. There is stress, unwanted social isolation in the workplace, and the feeling that they must find clandestine ways of responding to urgent demands for their attention. All of this undermines productivity by causing burn-out, unplanned absences, distractions from focused effort on tasks, and poor confidence in being able to contribute to the team.

As a leader in your organization, you can reduce these costs and inspire greater performance from valued employees. You can enable them to feel freer to ask for the help they need in supporting their families by changing how you think , how you talk, and how you act. In turn, they are bound to repay you with extraordinary effort and commitment to your goals and to your company.

Mind your attitude. Changing your attitude toward one of greater understanding and acceptance requires education (see, for example, this recent Harris survey on schizophrenia). If an employee with dependent care responsibilities born of a physical abnormality or illness needs to bring a loved one to a doctor’s visit, no one judges him harshly. Indeed, this is likely to evoke sympathy. On the other hand, if he has to disrupt his work schedule to care for a family member, who — for reasons difficult to grasp and explain — cannot be left alone for fear of hearing voices or of some other dread psychological symptom, then he might well be reluctant to risk letting others know why he needs the time because they might look askance or even question his own mental stability. Your attitude can make all the difference. By taking mental illness as seriously as any physical illness, you convey emotional support and encourage employees to get the help they need to cope with the strains of caring for their sick loved one.

Watch your words. The words you use, and the way you use them, convey your attitude. Here’s a tip from bringchange2mind.org: “Refrain from using terms like ‘crazy,’ ‘nuts,’ ‘psycho’ and ‘lunatic.’ While there may be times when it is too challenging or simply not possible to politely correct someone else’s insensitive use of language, you can always try to watch your own.” To combat harmful stereotypes and demonstrate understanding, it’s better to say, for example, that someone “has schizophrenia” than to call that person a “schizophrenic” — the illness is not the person.

Model behavior. The kinds of actions that show genuine support are the same ones you’d want to show all your employees in treating them as whole people, with important aspects of life playing out beyond the bounds of work: Initiate and encourage dialogue with an open mind, address the individual needs of each employee, respect confidentiality, and be flexible and willing to engage in joint problem-solving while focusing on results that matter to you and to them.

Change the culture. As a business leader you are in a position to have a positive influence on the culture of your organization which, in turn affects all your employees as well as other stakeholders — clients and customers, suppliers, community members, and so on. Your supportive attitude about those who are forced to live with mental illness — with the words and deeds to reinforce it — can shape your company’s values and the behavior in it that determine whether or not all your people get the help they need to both contribute fully to your business and lead productive lives.

What else can be done to make it easier for parents and other loved ones of those who live with mental illness to perform well at work? Please comment and share your stories, advice, and resources.

Learning Lessons


Some spiritual thinking suggests that patterns of (unwanted) events keep reoccurring in our lives, until we understand the lesson it is trying to teach (and change the pattern). I can understand how this may be applied to, for example attracting dysfunctional personal relationships with the same type of person, but I am wondering if you can help me understand this:  My mother, who I love deeply, has a metal health illness of 25 years with periods where she does very well, and then periods that require psychiatric hospital care (bi-polar/ schizophrenia). Each time she gets sick I try to understand what I am supposed to learn, and then maybe if I get it, it won’t happen again. I try very hard to understand, and that maybe it’s about unconditional love for her, patience, letting go, but the thing is, is that year after year she continues in the cycle of wellness, sickness regardless. 

Am I on the right track to think that I can change the pattern of reoccurrence of mom’s illness if I can just see what I’m supposed to learn? Or is "getting the lesson/changing the outcome" something that is not applicable here? I find it difficult to see the bigger picture from a spiritual perspective.


I’m not so sure your mother’s mental illness pattern is your lesson to learn. It may not even be a lesson for her as much as a journey or experience she undergoes to temper or balance her consciousness.  

If there is a lesson to be gained  from a situation there will usually be a subconscious pattern that is erupting in life that is at odds with the conscious flow of your intentions. Your mother’s difficulties are not driven by your subconscious. Now if every time she is hospitalized, you react by going into a “poor me” victimization response, then that might be something you could look at and explore. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The only thing that suggests itself in your letter is that you seem to want control or stop your mother’s episodes by trying to fix yourself. I know that you are motivated only by love and compassion for your mother, but ultimately you don’t get to control what happens to her, and secondly, you can’t know for sure what her soul really requires from this process.

It good that you continue to try to help her and support her in her healing process in every way you can, but at the same time try to cultivate an acceptance and understanding that it is all unfolding exactly as it needs to.





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