I’ve Been in the Mental Health System for Years, Why am I Not Getting Better?
The unfortunate reality of our mental health system is that most people who get into the system, stay in the system. Intense symptoms and challenges and unbearable thoughts bring most people in. Life may feel as though it’s crumbling around you, as though the life you once had or the life you wanted to have are just distant memories and day dreams. It doesn’t have to stay that way though.
While the symptoms are what brought you to the mental health system in the first place, they are just the messages and signals your brain and body is using to communicate with you. Symptoms don’t appear out of thin air, they happen for a reason. If your treatment has been focused on managing the symptoms, supressing the symptoms, or getting rid of the symptoms, your healing will be as surface level as your treatment. From my experience, once you get to the root cause and begin to understand why those symptoms are there, that is when the deeper change and healing can begin.
2)The root cause for your struggles hasn’t changed
It only makes sense that your body and brain would keep sending you the same message over and over if it’s needs are never met. Blood sugar changes, hormonal changes, food allergies and intolerances, illnesses and diseases, traumatic experiences, being unsafe and side effects of medications all can cause symptoms that resemble mental illness. When you begin to take a step back and see the patterns and when the symptoms arise the story you begin to see will be very different from what you saw prior. Once you can see when the most intense symptoms are happening and what has led to them, real and lasting changes can start to take shape.
The unfortunate reality is our system is not designed to cure people or make them fully better, it is designed to manage their symptoms. Ask most doctors, psychiatrists, neurologists or other people working in the mental health system and they will tell you that for the rest of your life you will be living this way, battling these symptoms and struggling with the mental illness(s) you’ve been diagnosed with. It isn’t their fault, they are funding by pharmaceutical companies and trained to prescribe lifelong medications to incurable people. They are just doing what they know and understand. I’ve met next to no people who did make a full recovery simply from being in the medical system. In order to heal you need to be able to step outside the system and access the care of people who know recovery is possible because they have seen it and believe in it. The perspective, beliefs, and expectations of your support people is going to make a huge difference in what path your life is on and where you mental health journey is taking you.
The most unfortunate thing is that for most people they lost hope for themselves. The doctor or psychiatrist (the head of their health team) has told them they will be sick forever, they will be on medications forever and this is their new normal. The psychiatrist may have told them they will never finish school, never have a healthy relationship, they will never go back to work and that their life will be managing their mental illness. It’s a pretty grim and dark thing to say to someone who is already struggling so much. It only makes sense that when offered the choice of the intense pain and suffering they are experiencing or ending it all, many people turn to suicide. Life with intense mental illness symptoms can feel like a life that is not worth living. That is why it’s so important to have a professional in your life that can hold onto the hope for you until you are able to hold onto some hope for yourself. If the choice is between losing hope and risking your life in the free system or investing in a therapist who will help you regain hope and rebuild your life, the decision really is simple. If you die, the money won’t matter anyways. There is no price tag that can be put on your life.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past two decades volunteering, working and studying in the mental health system, it’s that healing is possible. I’ve seen people heal and regain their quality of life after countless diagnosis and so many years of suffering. From people who have just had a traumatic experience and gets help quickly to heal quickly, to children who are able to lessen learning challenges and ADHD symptoms, to people who have numerous diagnosis but forge a healing plan and high quality of life anyways, to those who dedicate a year or more to ensuring they understand their symptoms and needs and hear their body and brains communication so they can meet the requests, anything is possible. Miracles happen, people heal. It isn’t the popular message people get, but I know it’s true because I’ve seen countless clients do it, and I’ve done it myself.
If you have any questions or would like to book a session with a skilled therapist who believes in healing. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org Happy Healing!
“YOU CAN’T POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP”
By: Christine Hall June 11, 2016
It can be easy for parents to spend so much time fretting about their children, that their own needs go unattended to. It is important to recognize that self-care is NOT selfish. Being good at taking care of others, means also being good to ourselves. Parents are children’s number one role models, and they will learn to take better care of themselves, form healthy boundaries with others, and implement better coping strategies if they witness their parents/caregivers doing the same.
WHAT CAN YOU AS A PARENT/CAREGIVER DO TO START PRACTICING SELF-CARE?
Take stock of where you are now. It is important to realistically recognize our strengths and weaknesses in relation to taking care of ourselves. To do this, it may help to ask ourselves a series of questions, which may include the following:
- What are my current stress levels? (on a scale of 0-10; 0 being under-stressed, 10 being dangerously stressed)
- What shape am I in physically? (nutrition/fitness/sleep/weight)
- What shape am I in mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
- What areas do I need to prioritize?
- What gets in the way of me taking care of myself? (attitudes, lack of supports, time, etc.)
KNOW WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
It is important to consider self-care strategies that address all the dimensions of self-care from our physical, emotional, social and intellectual, to our spiritual needs.
- What helps me relax?
- What physical activities can I engage in on a regular basis?
- What helps my emotional needs?
- What helps alleviate my stress/worries in a healthy way?
- What activities do I (or used to) love doing?
- How can I combine some of these activities with family time, and also find time for “me-time”?
SOME TRIED AND TRUE SELF-CARE STRATEGIES INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Research shows there is a positive relationship between exercise and mood. This needs to be brisk enough to raise your heart rate for at least 20 minutes, 3 times per week. The key is finding the right exercise for you and working it into your routine. This could include “incidental” exercise such as walking or cycling with the family to school or the shops. Dancing while vacuuming or watching TV works too!
RELAXATION: The relaxation response is important in helping to bring our heart rates down and restore a sense of calm. As little as five minutes per day, can reduce stress levels. Not all people need a block of time to be alone to relax effectively. Relaxation can happen in the middle of your daily life. Sit in the car after dropping the children off at school, and listen to your favorite radio station. Practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment) while eating your lunch. Allow yourself a cup of tea and five minutes to sit still in the middle of a hectic day. Find what works best for you.
EMOTIONAL / SOCIAL: Parenting is frequently a lesson in patience, and has the ability to raise strong reactions such as anxiety and anger. It is important for parents to recognize and process emotions. Regular intense emotions can cause chronic stress, affecting our overall wellbeing as well as hinder our capacity to think realistically and effectively problem-solve. Since everyone is different, it is important to recognize what your needs are for emotional and social support. Extroverted people tend to benefit from the energy of being around others, while more introverted individuals often seek alone time.
INTELLECTUAL: There is philosophical and psychological belief that humans need to a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives in order to experience happiness. This sense of meaningfulness often (but certainly not always), presents in the form of challenging oneself intellectually. This can happen by reading, engaging in discussions with others that challenge your own worldview and belief systems, learning something new such as carpentry, gardening, sewing, cooking, arts, etc.
SPIRITUAL: This dimension is about connecting to something greater than oneself, or recognizing that we are all interconnected; spirituality is not necessarily defined as religion alone. For some, they feel a sense of spirituality being in nature, practicing yoga or meditation, engaging in creative pursuits or running.
Now that you have assessed your stress levels and considered the dimensions of self-care, you are ready to include some aspects of personal wellness into your schedule. Time for ourselves does not need to take excessive amounts of time or come at someone else’s expense. It just takes a little commitment and planning. Many of the dimensions of wellness can be combined – e.g: A hike with a friend or loved one combines physical, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
Should I Stay or Should I go?
By: Angela Englander March 28, 2016
Are you in a relationship that isn’t going quite as you imagined? Do you feel frustrated and confused and unsure if your partner is the right person for you? Well do I have the solution for you! This concrete calendar based activity will let you know the answers. What you do is you take a calendar and on every day you’re happy with your relationship you leave the square on the calendar blank. On the days when you have a fight with your partner or you’re unhappy with your partner you put an X. At the end of two or three months take a look at your calendar. If half the squares have X’s on them, it’s time to go. If less than a third of the squares have X’s on them it’s a relationship that’s worth keeping. If between one half and one third of the squares have an X on them you may be able to salvage this relationship but you’ll likely need to see a marriage therapist or a relationship therapist to help with communication and figuring out what’s happening that’s causing the relationship stress and friction.
I hope this tool was helpful and as always feel free to e-mail me, email@example.com with any questions or leave a comment below.
Things I can do When I’m Overwhelmed
By: Angela Englander March 3, 2016
The next time you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed it may be helpful for you if you’ve got a list of things you can do to feel better already prepared. Sometimes people carry their list with them for when they need in, sometimes people will post a list on their fridge or in another place they can easily find it when they need it. Use the space below to make your list, when you start to feel overwhelmed do the first activity, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, do the next activity. Continue doing the activities till you get to the bottom of the list then start at the top again until your emotions are feeling more manageable. Remember to keep breathing, the feelings will pass. If you can’t think of ideas feel free to check out this list: http://waystowellbeing.ca/pleasant-activities/ .
By: Christine Hall February 29, 2016
[kuh m-pash-uh n] /kəmˈpæʃ ən/
a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
- mercy, tenderness, heart, clemency, sympathy.
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”
― Christopher Germer
Self-compassion is compassion directed inward. Operationalized self-compassion consists of three main elements: Self-kindness (vs. self-judgment), a sense of common humanity (vs. isolation), and mindfulness (vs. overidentification). These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.
So why would one wish to incorporate self-compassion into their life? Self-compassion can give you super hero powers! No, really. Self-compassion can help you when experiencing personal inadequacies, mistakes and failures, as well as confronting painful life situations that are outside our control. How great would it be to be able to make YOURSELF feel better during times of pain or suffering? Pretty great, I say….kinda like having superhero powers!
Let’s explore the 3 elements:
- SELF-KINDNESS: Being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you are hurting. We are often SO hard on ourselves. Try to imagine what you would say to a loved one that was hurting. Now imagine saying those same kind things to YOURSELF. Watch your language. You may be so used to criticizing yourself that you don’t even realize that you are doing it. If you wouldn’t say the same statements to someone else, you are being self-critical.
Comfort yourself with a kind gesture: Kind physical gestures have an immediate impact on our bodies, activating the soothing parasympathetic system (like tapping into super powers!). Examples of physical gestures could be putting your hands over your heart or simply holding your arm. Any gesture will do.
Memorize a set of compassionate phrases: Whenever you find yourself saying things like: “I suck”, it helps to have a few phrases at the ready. Pick statements that resonate with you. Combining that with a physical gesture – like hands on the heart – is especially (super!) powerful. Here are some examples of phrases:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment?
May I give myself the compassion I need?
- COMMON HUMANITY: Realizing that you are not alone in your struggles. When we are hurting, we tend to feel especially alone. We think we are the only ones to experience loss, make mistakes, feel rejected or fail (I bet this sounds familiar, right??). But it is these very struggles that are part of our shared experiences as humans.
- MINDFULNESS: Observing life as it is (especially the messy parts), without being judgmental or suppressing your thoughts or feelings. You’re probably thinking: “ick, I don’t WANT to sit in painful feelings!”, but when we do this, we actually amplify these unwanted emotions. For example: some people self-harm in an effort to numb to painful emotions. In the short term, self-harming may feel soothing. However in the long run, it ends up increasing one’s stress level. Sitting with our emotions simply means allowing them to happen, resisting the urge to get rid of the pain, and not judging ourselves for having them.
So, how do I that?
- Observe your emotions. Sit with your emotions by noting what you are experiencing without judging yourself. For example: “I’m feeling hurt that (fill in the blank)”. I am feeling like I want to cry – my throat is tightening up. Now I am noticing that I’m starting to judge myself because I don’t want to cry.
This is uncomfortable, but I am okay; I CAN tolerate this, and I can recognize that this will pass.
- Validate your emotions. Validating your emotions, means accepting Accepting uncomfortable emotions does NOT trigger extra pain. When you are “angry” at someone, attempt to discover what is underneath that anger for you. Anger is considered an “intense reaction to an unmet need”. What need of yours is not being met? Could it be: desiring to feel included, desiring to feel heard, respected?
Oftentimes, we can jump to negative conclusions about others, when in actuality they did not mean to hurt our feelings. Have you even unintentionally hurt someone else’s feelings?
- Focus on the present. It is helpful to focus our attention on the present, instead of “wallowing” in the experience. We wallow when new fixate on the feeling, judge ourselves, or judge others or the situation which triggered our negative feelings.
“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
― Louise L. Hay
Christine Hall, Youth & Family Counsellor Community Options Society
- Adapted from the works of Kristen Neff & Christopher Germer, creators of Mindfulness Self-Compassion
Coping with Negative Self-Talk
Anna Bystrova February 27, 2016
When we talk about self-care, we often think about external stimuli that help us battle everyday stress. Taking a walk, going on vacation, meeting with friends and family, eating healthy food, exercising, learning something new, doing something exciting, going for a massage, and many more come to mind. All these examples are great choices of activities that help us lower our stress level and balance our emotional selves. However, there is one very important aspect that we often forget to address when we embark on a journey of self-care – negative self-talk!
Our brain is a magnificent thought-producing machine. It comes up with new ideas, stores and recalls wonderful images of our experiences, and provides us with millions upon millions of thoughts every day. However, at times, negative thoughts and memories come to the surface, often flooding our consciousness. Have you ever felt like a negative thought could not leave your mind regardless of how hard you tried to forget it or ignore it? It almost feels like the more you try to forget it, the more your brain tries to remember it and focus on it. These could be phrases that you have heard in the past, or some persistent messages from your childhood. These also could be ideas that stem from a recent failure or painful experience. In any case, these thoughts can become very heavy to bear on your shoulders. It is important to recognize that this experience can be overwhelming for anyone. You might even start to believe these negative thoughts because they are so persistent and you feel like you cannot escape them. In that moment, you might succumb to the power of your brain’s memory and accept these negative thoughts as the ultimate truth and reflection of your true self. There is great danger in this, as these thoughts can become so strong that they turn into your everyday mantra, leaving you with no space to breathe.
Recognizing that the negative self-talk spiral can happen to anyone, and you might have experienced it already, it is important to know how to take care of our thoughts and how to cope with negative self-talk.
Here are some examples of trigger thoughts that can start a whole cascade of negative self-talk, increasing your cognitive vulnerability:
__”I am so stupid”
__”I will never be able to do this”
__”There is no point in trying”
__”I’ll never achieve anything”
__”People always hurt me”
__”I am unlovable”
__”I am a failure”
__”It was my fault”
__”I can’t trust anyone”
__”There is something wrong with me”
__”It will never stop”
__”No one cares about me”
__”I don’t deserve to be loved/happy/successful/__________________”
__”I am incompetent”
__”I am going to be alone forever”
__”I am a bad friend/son/daughter/employee/parent/_______________”
__”I can’t make it in life without the help of _______________________”
__”I am broken”
These thoughts can prove to be a powerful source of your distress. However, it is important to remember that even though it is difficult to ignore them and escape them, it is possible to learn to replace them with some coping thoughts that eventually will change the way you think, literally re-writing and rewiring your brain.
Coping thoughts can help you soothe your emotions and rebalance yourself when you are in distress. They are statements that remind you of some commonly held truths, your strengths, and your successes. If you find yourself in a situation when you begin addressing yourself in a negative way, use a self-encouraging coping thought that counteract the negative thought. You can create your own list of coping thoughts that you find powerful, encouraging, and motivating. Think of a list of negative thoughts above. Indicate those that apply to you and add those that you know you often think about. Then, keeping that list in sight, create a new list of coping thoughts that you think counteract those negative thoughts well. You can always search for more encouraging statements on the internet, ask your friends to come up with some, or look for some encouraging quotes that are easy to remember. If you are religious, you may want to use quote from your religious text that apply to your daily situations and can help you feel encouraged or motivated in a stressful situation.
Here is a list of some positive coping statements to start with:
___ “You don’t need to be perfect! Everyone makes mistakes”
___ “This too shall pass”
___ “My fear/sadness/anxiety won’t kill me. It just does not feel good right now”
___ “These are just my feelings, and eventually they will go away”
___ “It is ok to feel sad/anxious/angry/afraid sometimes”
___ “I can think different thoughts if I want to”
___ “My thoughts don’t control me; I control my thoughts”
___ “I am not in danger right now”
___ “Thoughts are not facts”
___ “It was not my fault. Some situations are out of our control”
___ “My feelings are like a wave that comes and goes”
___ “I have survived other situations like this before, I will survive this one too”
___ “I can ride this out and not let it get to me”
___ “I am strong enough to handle what is happening to me”
___ “This is an opportunity for me to learn how to cope with my fears”
___ “I can take all of the time I need right now to let go and relax”
Remember, it is not useless to continue doing this exercise on a regular basis as it work on a neuropsychological level. Your brain houses about 100 billion neurons (more for children and adolescents) that interact between each other with the help of synapses. To simplify the process let’s visualize a pathway between point A and point B. When a stressful situation happens, a neuron A fires or activates. You start thinking a negative thought – your neuron B activates. Since they fired in close timing, they connect with a pathway. So, what happens when we react with a negative thought (neuron B) each time the stressful situation happens (neuron A)? We strengthen the pathway that our brain laid out the first time. Think of a grassy meadow. If we want to cross it, and there is no path in sight, we lay out a new path by stumbling through the grass. The next time you want to cross that meadow, will you stumble through the grass again or use the path you’ve already created? Yes, the majority of us will use the old path. So, each time you are near that meadow you end up using that path over and over again, until even grass does not grow there anymore, and you don’t even question which way to go, stepping on that path. It is exactly what happens in your brain. When you use negative self-talk each time you encounter a certain negative situation, the synapses (pathways in your brain) become stronger and more powerful, making it more and more difficult to see any other way each time that happens. Thus, to change how we think, we should not avoid the path, but consciously make a new one. Afterwards, we have to consciously choose that new path until the old path is covered with grass again.
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
7 things you do that cause depression and anxiety!
By: Angela Englander February 15, 2015
- Watching or reading the news: Seeing devastating and upsetting stories sends your brain messages that the world is a scary and unsafe place.
- Focusing on the negative: Focusing on the negative aspects of your life are training your brain to ignore positive events in your life and amplify the negative events. Over time you will have a hard time to appreciate things or feel happy and will just feel stressed and depressed.
- Spending all of your time with unhappy people: The brain uses a process called mirroring to help you sync up with the people you are around. You may have noticed you use similar mannerisms and have similar beliefs to those of the people around you. Your emotions are likely also similar.
- Trying to change the past: By refusing to accept things as they are you create an ambivalent tension in your brain. You logically know you can’t change the past yet you continue to rethink what you could have done differently.
- Working too hard: By over-extending yourself you are ignoring the messages your body is sending you. Your body may become more and more tired until you can’t ignore it any more.
- Holding grudges: These subtle energy seepers leave you tired and cranky!
- Ignoring your emotions: Emotions are the language of our subconscious. If you ignore its communication you won’t be able to make choices in your best interest.
Thanks for reading and have a great day! As always feel free to e-mail me at Angela@waystowellbeing.ca or leave a comment below!
A Moment of Mindfulness
By Angela Englander February 10, 2015
Mindfulness is a practice that can easily get forgotten when life gets busy, when we are stressed or nervous or frustrated or simply too busy or rushed. When we are on overdrive our system may feel sped up, as if we have had too much coffee, or perhaps you needed the caffeine to get your system pushing past your limits in the first place. This chronic pushing ourselves and going beyond our limits may make sense in the context of our busy lives and our busy culture but does it make sense biologically and from an evolutionary lens?
When we stop listening to our body’s signals we tend to fill up with stress hormones and exhaust our body’s natural storage of hormones and enzymes. In the moment we feel alive and have the energy to attend that extra meeting, run that race, stay out at that party, or get in to work a little early for a meeting. In the long term your adrenal glands (the ones responsible for your energy hormones) can literally burn out. Taxing these organs leads to feelings of exhaustion, depression, apathy, avoidance, weight gain, trouble sleeping, and a number of diseases. This adrenal fatigue also leads to boredom with life, increases risk taking behaviour, reduces impulse control and can lead to putting yourself or others in dangerous situations just to feel alive. The numbing between the adrenaline rushes and the feelings of exhaustion when not in over drive make it that much harder to switch gears, and who wants to slow down when life can be so exciting?
If you do find yourself wanting to slow down, to allow your body system’s to naturally rebalance and avoid diseases, or if you want to feel naturally calm and content, this moment of mindfulness is for you!
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, this comfort is very important because I’m going to encourage you to spend an entire minute in this position during your mindfulness. Put your phone aside and remind yourself that for the next minute you are just going to slow down and be at peace. Take a deep breath, feel the life giving energy entering your lungs. As you exhale blow the air slowly out of your mouth and focus on what the air feels like on your lips. Is the air warm or cool? As you continue breathing take a moment to focus on your back, is your spine straight? Are you leaning to the side or backwards of forwards? Without judging yourself just take a moment to notice what your body is doing. As you take another deep breath focus on your gratitude. Find one thing that you are really grateful for and focus on that thing for the next thirty seconds. If you can’t think of something to be really grateful for, you can be grateful that you can read, you are able to breath, and you are alive. These everyday blessings that we so easily take for granted are gifts. Take a moment to notice how privileged you are to have these blessings. Take a moment to be thankful and really feel that blessing of having these gifts. Thank you for spending this moment of mindfulness and I wish you peace on your healing journey. If you have any questions please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org