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August 21 2018


Suicide Can Bring a Complicated Type of Grief

The path of grief is never a straight line.

I got the call on a Wednesday evening from my husband. Earlier in the day, he had driven by a cliff where traffic had been stopped, with helicopters and fire engines on the scene. He had heard that a truck had gone over the cliff, but that’s all he knew. Later that day, he found out the truck had been driven by our friend. The place where it was driven off the cliff made it clear that it had been purposeful.

The day before, I had heard news of Kate Spade’s suicide, and that same morning, had heard statistics on npr about the rising number of suicides in America, calling it an “epidemic.” The next day, I heard about Anthony Bourdain. The collective confusion and grief was accentuated by the suicide of our friend, who was only 46, and leaves behind two teenage daughters who will never really know the big-hearted, fun-loving, extreme athlete that was their father.

Deep wells of grief sprang open inside of me for these girls—I know the pain and confusion of losing a father to suicide. My dad took his life almost five years ago and yet it feels like just last week when I come across an old friend and burst into tears at the memory of him. I don’t know if those moments of raw tenderness will ever stop. A friend recently told me that it is a sign of the love that I had for him- which is true- but I believe it’s more complicated. The path of grief is never a straight line. My father had been ill for years —a complicated illness fueled by addiction and depression. Rabbi Ben Kamin writes in his book The Blessing of Sorrow, “what is grief, if not the most painfully informative experience we humans come to know? It is also a chance to visit with somebody who is gone from this world. We do best homage to our dead when we apply the truth to our visits—just as we tried to do when they were on this side.”

The service for our friend was held last weekend. Friends streamed to the beach, carrying flowers and surfboards for the paddle out. We all wished he could have seen how many lives he had touched, how much love there was, and is, for him. The family made the difficult decision to speak openly about his struggles and his death—I imagine this was not an easy decision, but it was a powerful one. The complexity of emotions being felt were honored—sadness for the loss, guilt that we hadn’t been able to help him, and anger that he had made the choice he made were spoken of in equal measure. I felt a palpable relief in the group around me as the truth of our complicated feelings were said aloud.

The takeaway for each of us was to love each other, to look around and see our community. If we feel hopeless, reach out. If we see someone struggling, take the time to help that person, or help them find someone that can help them. I know from experience that it’s not as simple as that. Addiction and mental illness do not present themselves in an uncomplicated way. There are people who will feel there is not a way out of their pain. The last words from my father, left on a voice message, were “I just can’t take it anymore.” How I wish I could have helped him bear his burden, figured out a way to do something I hadn’t done.

Dr. Nadine Kaslow, former president of the American Psychological Association, spoke recently on NPR and offered these suggestions for how we can start to make a difference in this epidemic:

  • Reach out. Most importantly, says Kaslow, “ I think all of us need to do a better job connecting to each other—reaching out to our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors—and not just reaching out once but continuing to reach out to each other. I think we all need to be part of the solution to this problem”
  • Make mental health services more accessible and affordable. Often mental health issues go undiagnosed or left untreated because of financial barriers.
  • Teach kids coping skills. Life stressors are only going to increase. When we teach children methods for handling stress, we are giving them a chance to make it through those challenging times.
  • Ask for help. Kaslow suggests reaching out for help if you are feeling lost and suicidal. She suggests hotlines, clergy, doctors and friends – and even apps that you can turn to that can be helpful. And finally, she implores, “please reach out to mental health professionals when you really are struggling—there is help, there are evidence-based psychotherapies can really make a difference and help you feel better about yourself and your life.”

In the wake of the suicide, I heard comments of anger and blame, “look what he did to his family, how could he?” My only response is that he clearly couldn’t see another way. Both our friend, and my father, loved his children more than anything. In that moment, as I imagine it, they just needed the anguish and the pain to be over—and felt they had nowhere to turn.

Rose McGowan spoke out after Anthony Bourdain’s death, and offered these words for anyone struggling—I wish I could have spoken them to my father five years ago, and to our friend two weeks ago:

If you are considering suicide, reach out. We need you here. You matter. You exist. You count. There is help a phone call away, reach out.

USA: (800) 273-8255

United Kingdom: 08457909090

For a USA Crisis Text Line, please text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.

This post courtesy of Spirituality & Health.

The Banality of Lost Guns: Producing Null Data Sets by Kristin Doughty

The Poisonous Effect of Jealousy on Your Relationship

Most of us have felt it at one time or another. It could be a mild annoyance or like a fire inside you, consuming you and making you feel like you might explode. Although it is a common emotional reaction when a person is feeling threatened, jealousy is one of biggest relationship destroyers out there.

Jealousy can range from feeling bothered that that your husband is admiring another woman or that your wife is looking at another man, to imagining things that aren’t actually there. Either way jealousy will have a negative effect on your relationship.

What Is Jealousy?

Although feeling jealous is something most can relate to, the feeling is often confused with envy. Envy and jealousy are quite different, however. Envy is a reaction to lacking something and wanting what someone else has. You might be envious of someone’s good looks, or their beautiful home, etc.

Jealousy on the other hand is the feeling that someone might try to take what is yours. For example, your husband becomes close friends with an attractive co-worker, and you may feel jealous of — and threatened by — their relationship.

At its most mild jealousy is considered an instinctual reaction that makes us want to protect what we feel is ours. Unlike simply being protective though, jealous feelings can balloon quickly into destructive behavior and cause us to act in ways that are selfish and controlling. It can even cause us to assume things are happening that are not, like seeing a friendly exchange as the sign of an affair, or working late as hiding a secret addiction.

Instinctual or not, jealousy is not productive. People who struggle with controlling, jealous feelings are often struggling with deeper issues as well. Uncontrolled jealous behavior is typically a symptom of one or more of the following:

  • Insecurity
  • Fear
  • Low self-esteem

Understanding the root of the behavior can help you work toward controlling it. Any of those three, or combination of them, will not only allow feeling jealous to manifest in destructive behavior, but will also create other problems in a person’s life.

What Jealousy Does to Your Relationship

Jealous behavior can be extremely harmful to a relationship. At best the jealous partner is needy and constantly looking for reassurance that they are the only one and that no one is a threat to replace them. At its worst jealously can manifest in controlling and distrustful behavior, and even physical or emotional abuse.

A jealous partner may try to control the actions of their partner , checking up on their whereabouts or monitoring their calls, texts or emails. This behavior sets up a pattern of distrust that is unhealthy and will eventually cause a relationship to collapse.

The foundation of any healthy and happy relationship is trust and respect. A person struggling with jealousy is unable to trust the person they are with or show respect for them as an individual or their boundaries.

Overtime this behavior will destroy the feelings of love and affection that once existed. It will also likely cause repeated arguing and a need for one partner to prove themselves and their loyalty over and over again. This can be exhausting and prevent a relationship from growing and establishing a solid foundation.

How Can You Control It

Jealous behavior can be tough to control. The underlying issues rarely go away on their own. If jealousy is a pattern of behavior that is repeated in relationship after relationship it may take the intervention of a professional therapist to help reign it in and provide tools to cope with the causes that are driving it.

Getting past jealousy in a relationship requires building trust. One partner must trust the other enough to know that, regardless of the circumstance, the love and respect they share will prevent outside influences from threatening their relationship. This can be difficult if one partner is insecure and struggles with trusting overall.  

If you have found that jealousy is a problem in your relationship, whether it is you that are jealous or your partner, it can be painful for both of you. Getting beyond it will take patience, communication and changing of beliefs. If it working together on overcoming jealous feelings and behaviors isn’t working don’t discount seeking help.


Best of Our Blogs: August 21, 2018

My family and I fit in one final family vacation before the school year begins. While there, I fantasized about life without illness.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a break from illness the way we take trips?

The idea of long swaths of time without worrying sounds simply blissful. There may be no way to completely wash away the challenges that come with illness. But there are still ways to feel moments of peace even in the midst of our greatest challenges.

Meditation and self-compassion are two ways you can relieve your mind of the constant loop of constant worrying. It is the focus of our top posts this week and can give you peace of mind before the hustle and bustle of a new season.

6 Hurtful Childhood Lessons That Linger into Adulthood
(Psychology of Self) – If you heard things like, “Think about how I feel,” or, “You don’t mean that,” growing up, you may need time to undo those harmful beliefs.

What Self-Compassion Really Looks Like
(Weightless) – It’s a way of looking at self-compassion that you never thought of before.

Online Psychopaths and Narcissists: How Abusers Stalk, Troll and Cyberbully Their Victims
(Recovering from a Narcissist) – These are some of the most dangerous online bullies out there. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.

7 Ways Meditation Helps the Brain
(NLP Discoveries) – Need extra motivation to meditate? Research shows some pretty amazing benefits.

Tips for Parental Alienation Victims’ Partners
(Full Heart, Empty Arms) – If you are romantically involved with a victim of Parental Alienation, arm yourself with this post.

August 20 2018


Does Depression During Pregnancy Affect Your Baby?

It has long been known that maternal depression may affect infant development. Studies have shown that children of depressed parents are at an increased risk of developing depression themselves. It has also been determined that the amygdala’s microstructure — how it is wired — was seen as abnormal in two-week old infants born to depressed mothers. Abnormal amygdala function is a feature of mood and anxiety disorders, so this is a cause for concern.

A July 2018 study published in ScienceDirect takes this one step further and finds that a mother’s depression during pregnancy was connected to several adverse outcomes for her baby.

The study, known as The Psychiatry Research and Motherhood-Depression (PRAM-D) study , was led by Sarah Osborne MBBS, PhD, of King’s College London. Dr. Osborne and her colleagues found that mothers who had major depression during their pregnancy also had a shorter length of gestation by an average of 8 days compared with mothers who did not have depression. In addition, those who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder during pregnancy had several raised inflammatory and cortisol biomarkers in their third trimester. Mothers without depression did not have these raised markers.

In regards to the babies, those exposed to their mother’s depression in utero had adverse effects on neurobehavioral functioning as early as 6 days postnatal. This was marked by a significant difference in suboptimal functioning in several Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale clusters after adjustments. However, exposure to depression in utero did not appear to have any impact on the infants’ development as assessed by the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development at 12 months of age.

In reference to cortisol responses to stress no difference was seen at 2 months of age, but these children did have higher cortisol responses to stress compared with the control children at 12 months of age.

Dr.Osborne told MedPage Today :

“Our findings that compared with women without depression in pregnancy, women with depression in pregnancy have increased stress-related biology, newborns with less optimal neurobehavioral function, and infants with a greater biological response to stress, confirmed our hypotheses. Our hypotheses were based on bringing together evidence from a combination of previous, but perhaps less clinically relevant, research.”

“We felt this [the study] was important, as depression is common in pregnancy, occurring in approximately 10% of women, and is easily recognized and treated. Furthermore, the study had the potential to deepen our understanding of how the biological environment of the developing fetus might affect its later development — so-called ‘developmental programming.'”

“The results of our study alone are not sufficient to make recommendations regarding clinical practice. However, our results will highlight the importance of actively looking for depression in pregnancy, and will inform clinicians when they are considering the risks and benefits of actively treating depression in pregnancy.”

More research is warranted in the area of depression during pregnancy and how it might affect not only mothers, but their babies as well. The good news is that in most cases, depression is treatable, and perhaps these new findings will encourage more pregnant women to seek help when needed.


I Want You to Shine: Simple Tips to Live the Mindful and Present Life of Your Dreams

We are surrounded by the message to “live in the moment.” But sometimes, the moment just seems too hard to manage. Our breath shortens and muscles tighten, and all we want to do is break free from the present.  This experience happens to us all — a medical exam we want to avoid, a work project we want to erase from our plate. It’s all we can do to breathe and take a step forward.

The thing is, that stress and fear are what continuously hold us back. And they exist in the present. As a result, the only place  to  handle them is in the here and now. 

So I am, for a moment, going to be like all the others — because I want you to feel free of the worry and to tell you what you’ve heard one hundred times before: live in the present. Sit in the present. Be present.

But don’t sit in that hard-to-manage present unprepared and alone. Instead, equip yourself with these simple reminders today, so that you can face your fear and worry with your truest strength:

1. Highlight your strengths.

We are beautiful creatures, built with a balance of strengths and weaknesses. Our minds, though, are these curious things, focusing mostly on the parts of our lives that need improvement. We don’t see ourselves in a fair light in the least. But when you look at those around you, what do you see? That neighbor who is living the life of your dreams; that classmate living great adventures; people finding more time than you can imagine to be social and sparkling.

I’ll let you in on a secret: when they look at you, that’s also what they see. You are their sparkling, glowing, brilliant comparison, the one they want to be. And YOU ARE!

Everything others see in you, everything you deny from your own self-reflection, is true. Highlight your strengths and choose to embrace the part of your reflection that others see.

2. Live without barriers.

We all face obstacles. Walk down the street — take in the sun and the movement; it’s great for your soul! And notice the people around you. I guarantee that not one of them got to where they are today without facing an obstacle. And no obstacle is greater than another; they are just different and a result of being human.

So, when faced with obstacles, we are left with two options: freeze, or take a step forward. Perhaps we could just not be human and voilà! Obstacles will vanish. But until we morph into an alternate life form, we will face obstacles, and we will face the choice to stay frozen in the past or continue moving forward in the present. The thing is, you have already made this choice — and the brave choice at that — plenty of times! To get to where YOU are today, you chose to move forward despite your life challenges. And you made it through! I’m even willing to bet some of those obstacles that seemed so daunting in the past have become silly little memories. It might be hard to believe those obstacles would have ever held you back!

So for a moment, remember that you are here. Remember all you have been through to get here. And smile in the mirror, telling yourself that YOU did that.

3. Live YOUR life.

We grow up in a society that makes us think we are supposed to be a certain way, dress a certain way, act a certain way. If we don’t follow a certain life trajectory, we are led to believe something is wrong. If we make a choice outside of the norm, we are forced to justify our position, if not to others than to that internal dialogue we have established from all that we’ve learned growing up.

We’ve learned we are unique, and yet we fall into a pattern where no two lives ‘should be’ different.

It’s time to take the temperature of this environment, though. Are the choices you make bringing you joy? Is the life you wake up to fueling your energy and feeding your passions? Are you laughing every day and finding yourself with connections? Do you feel free to unapologetically be you?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, celebrate the life you’ve created. Rejoice in the realization that YOU are someone who brings you and the world around you joy.

If you find yourself leaning towards no, don’t worry! You are not alone! We all end up in that place from time to time. And not all of us are so good at recognizing it, so great work! You really do know who you are — you know enough to realize some changes need to be made to live the life of your dreams. And knowledge is power enough to start to make small choices every day to return to living for YOU and authentically as you. And it’s okay to be wrong; a simple choice can change your trajectory again. Trial and error, when guided by your authentic voice, will lead you on the right path before you know it.

So remember, check in with yourself. Support yourself. Let your inner self shine! You can create the life of your dreams. You can create a life where every present moment is as beautiful as a dream. 


Ep 23: All About Mania: 2 Truths and a Lie Edition

Mania has an odd place in our society. For people who have not experienced it, it’s seen has as exciting, productive, and desirable. For those of us who have been consumed by it, we are either thankful it isn’t depression or devastated by its impact.

For most, mania is a dangerous symptom of mental illness and not something to be taken lightly. In this episode, Gabe & Michelle each share three stories about mania with two being the truth and one being a lie.

Can you tell fact from fiction? Listen now.





Google PlaySpotify



“When I’m manic, I like to follow no rules.”
– Michelle Hammer


Highlights From ‘Mania’ Episode

[0:00] Gabe and Michelle play two truths and a lie, mania edition.

[2:30] Michelle tells a story titled, “Manic No Pants Elephant.”

[5:00] Gabe tells a story titled, “Manic Drop In, Drop Out, Drop In . . .”

[7:30] Michelle tells a story titled, “Manic Invincibility.”

[9:15] Gabe tells a story titled, “Manic Property Management.”

[11:30] Michelle tells a story Gabe titled, “Michelle’s Lie.”

[14:20] Gabe tells a story titled, “Gabe’s the worst homeless man of all time.”

[16:50] Guessing begins and the truth is revealed.


Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit


MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC.

August 19 2018


How to Make a Soul Mate Relationship

It’s a sweet idea, isn’t it? — The idea that there is someone out there who is a perfect match; who understands you completely, totally accepts you for who you are, is emotionally stable and sexually exciting, and with whom communication is so easy and natural that you never have conflict. Yeah. It’s a sweet idea.

It’s also an idea that causes unrealistic expectations and disappointment in love. Believing it sends people on a search that is bound to fail. Even when people find someone they believe to be the mate of their soul, they are more often than not disappointed once they truly get to know them.

Think about it: If there is only one someone out there who is your perfect match, the chance of finding him or her (or of that person finding you) is almost impossible. There are billions of people in the world. Who’s to say that your soul mate doesn’t live in another city or country? Maybe the perfect person for you is 20 years older or 8 years younger or not the gender you think you need or speaks a language you don’t understand. The two of you will be unhappily searching for each other in all the wrong places.

Even if, by chance, you do somehow find someone who seems absolutely right on an almost cellular level, it’s likely that your certainty that you’ve found your soul mate will fade once the fizz of initial romantic love meets the demands of daily reality. Love that lasts is love that mellows and accommodates all the little irritations and imperfections of the partner.

So give it up. The notion of a “soul mate” is the stuff of romantic movies and romance novels. A search for that one in a billion guy or gal is a fantasy that is likely to prevent you from finding and keeping love that is true.

But all is not lost. Yes, there is such a thing as love that lasts. There is such a thing as love that is deeply satisfying and mutually sustaining; where each person cherishes, appreciates and supports the other; where each person helps the other grow; where each helps the other become the soul mate they want and need.

How do you find it?   By working at it . Yes, working. Like most things, success in finding and sustaining love requires the willingness to put in the effort to make it so. It involves honest self-evaluation and the willingness to change. It involves compassionate understanding and support for the beloved.

One caveat: All bets are off if abuse is in the equation. No matter how charming someone may be, they are not the material for soul-mating if they are verbally, emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abusive. If you have come to care for an abuser, get out as quickly and as safely as you can. Yes, some abusive people are capable of making fundamental changes. But take distance until you see strong evidence that the person has done it.

Nurturing a Soul Mate Relationship

It’s unlikely that you will find a soul mate but you can make one and be one. Once you and someone else click; once you both decide that a relationship is really, really promising, you can make each other into a mate for your soul.

  1. Look in the mirror. Making a soul mate relationship first requires that you each be the kind of person that someone else wants to meet soul to soul. Are you each trustworthy, kind, and considerate? Are you willing to sometimes put your partner’s needs before your own?  
  2. Do you each have a reasonable list of non-negotiables?  It’s highly unlikely you will find someone who matches your every want. Everyone has issues and limitations. Can you each let go of some of the attributes you thought were essential when you consider the whole person?
  3. Do you share fundamental values? I’m not talking about what religion or which political party you belong to. Values are even deeper than those practices. Do you, for example, share values like honesty, trustworthiness, the importance of community, and/or financial stability, etc.?
  4. Do you share a definition of what it means to be sexually and emotionally faithful?  Soul mates are clear about the boundaries for their relationship and commit to being true to them – no matter what. When temptations happen (and they often do), they don’t act of them. They talk to each other about what was amiss that made the temptation so tempting.
  5. Do you both communicate what you want and need in a loving way? Or do you expect that someone who loves you will just somehow know what you are thinking?  Good soul mates are not necessarily good mind readers. But they are good responders.
  6. Are you both committed to dealing constructively with conflict? Conflict, and there is always conflict in even the most loving relationships, requires being in charge of your emotions and being willing to work things through. Do you know how to express your point of view without blaming or shaming?  Do you know how to compromise or take turns? If it’s “your way or the highway”, people who could be your soul mate will quickly look for an exit.
  7. Have you each learned from past failed relationships? It’s too easy to lay the blame entirely on another person when a relationship ends badly. Except when a partner is abusive, both people have a part in a breakup. Even then, the abused person needs to examine what practical and emotional factors kept them in too long. Until you each face your part and figure out what to do differently, the chances are that you will repeat whatever it was that doomed prior relationships.

Having a relationship of mutual trust and love is possible for everyone. When both people are committed to being a worthy soul and are equally committed to the task of nurturing the other’s soul-matedness, they can have a truly special connection.


​Increasing Your Child’s Attention Span & Ability to Focus

Author imageBack in 2015, a survey conducted by Microsoft showed that people in this digital age have a shrinking attention span. In fact, sources like Time magazine claim we have the attention span of a goldfish . What a horrible thought!  But it turns out that assertion may be just a fish story. The statistics on which this statement was based were too vague to be trusted. Our reputation for being more attentive than goldfish appears to be, for the moment, safe.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of it. We may not have a goldfish attention span, but there’s no denying our focus has been compromised thanks to the constant stimulation offered by modern technology.

As I would review past interactions with my kids, I realized that I hardly ever saw them look up from their phones to simply savor a moment of quiet. And for myself, I was just as bad.

The average American spends five hours a day on their mobile devices, according to a 2017 study reported in It has been found that teens spend even more time online, many showing signs of an addiction to the internet.

If I want to help my kids to improve, increase their attention span, and their ability to focus, I have to push them to pay attention more than a handful of seconds. This starts with the example my wife and I set.

Here are some goals we set as a couple to be better examples for our kids:

  • Get the kids involved in something engaging. Summertime is a great opportunity to get out and explore the city. We aim to try a local museum and the zoo, go swimming at the local community pool, take picnics in our neighborhood park. There are a number of sites like that have helped us find local places, events and activities perfect for family fun. If you’re more of a home-body, having picnics or campouts in the backyard, baking or cooking together, or family board game tournaments are just a few ideas to get the whole family involved in something fun.
  • Start reading as a family. Did you know the library has reading lists by age or grade, as well as by categories? Some branches even hold summer reading competitions. Our whole family has joined and begun to experience losing ourselves in a good book each month. It has gotten our kids away from their screens while growing their brains, vocabularies and imaginations. As legendary imagineer Walt Disney once said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”
  • Make sure we’re giving them brain food. We took a good hard look at our family diet. Sometimes junk food is just easier and my reasons for turning to fast food and Lunchables are perfectly justifiable. But our kids’ focus won’t benefit from excess sugar, fat and salt. In fact, it only makes them more sluggish! We make simple changes like replacing milkshakes with green smoothies, and finding other ways to make healthier substitutions in our meal prepping. We involve our kids in the process by shopping together for wholesome ingredients. Healthy food is brain food!
  • Establish screen-free times throughout the day. We set aside time during the day where phones, tablets, computers and other screens are off-limits. It’s important for our minds to take a break from the constant stimulation we are bombarded on a daily basis. Meal times have proven to be a great option as it has given our family meaningful time to engage. So is the hour or so before bedtime, which gives the brain a period where it can switch off to help with sleep.

Follow these steps and you are sure to see improvements in your children’s attention spans. You may even find yourself being able to focus for longer lengths of time too!


B. (2018, March 19). All About Butter and Other Fat Substitutes. Retrieved from

McSpadden, K. (2015, May 14). Science: You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. Retrieved from

Perez, S. (2017, March 03). U.S. consumers now spend 5 hours per day on mobile devices. Retrieved from

Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention. (2015, October 06). Retrieved from


​How Technology Affects The Way Our Brain Works. (2018, May 28). Retrieved from​how-technology-affects-the-way-our-brain-works/


The Generosity of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

When we hear the word “generosity,” we may think about donating money and helping the needy. While these can be expressions of a generous heart, there is a more fundamental and soulful way that we can extend generosity in our everyday lives. And it doesn’t cost us any money.

A deep human longing is to be seen, heard, and understood. The epidemic of loneliness and depression in our society can be traced in part to how we often don’t hear each other. Perhaps we’re driven by a fear of survival in a highly competitive society. By the end of the day, we may be exhausted and seek solace in the TV or computer.

We may have grown so accustomed to not being heard, and being criticized and shamed when we’ve tried, that we’ve learned to hold a lot inside. Our feelings and longings go into hiding and atrophy when we’ve given up on them. We shut down our vulnerability, or worse, we turn against it in an attempt to erase all vestiges of being a vulnerable human being. Sadly, when we don’t turn toward each other for support, reassurance, and encouragement, we isolate ourselves. We succumb to the emptiness that derives from removing ourselves from the fabric of life.

We’re wired with a need for human connection. When that need goes unmet, we may give up and seek secondary gratifications, such as for power, fame, or money, which don’t really fill our emptiness or satisfy our deepest yearnings. Or we turn to various addictions to distract us from our painfully unmet longing.

Consequently, we may then lose sensitivity not only to ourselves, but also to the plight of others. This is a sad state of affairs, especially when those in leadership positions promote policies that increase divisiveness and dissociation from our humanity.

Begin with Generosity Toward Yourself

Being generous toward others begins by developing a generous presence toward ourselves. Rather than judge and criticize ourselves, we can cultivate a “caring, feeling presence” toward our feelings, as described by Focusing teachers Dr. Edwin McMahon and Dr. Peter Campbell. We’re then well positioned to extend attention toward others’ experience.

Meaningful relationships are nourished by the generosity of attending to others. How deeply do you listen to people when they are sharing something important to them — hearing not just the words, but also the feelings beneath their words and stories? How attuned are you to their felt experience? Do you notice your attention wandering or preoccupied with any of the following:

  • Preparing your response?
  • Finding things to criticize?
  • Turning the conversation toward your own thoughts or feelings?
  • Struggling to find something to say to make them feel better or feeling badly that you don’t know how to respond?

It’s natural for our attention to wander, but the generous art of listening means sustaining our full attention toward our partner or friend as they’re sharing something personal or difficult. This is not about fixing their problem or telling them what to do. It’s simply about extending your caring, feeling presence toward someone who is struggling. It’s about listening with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict put it.

What could be more generous and healing than opening our ears and heart to how another is experiencing life right now? Listening is the doorway to the connections we seek. It is the salve that soothes our disconnectedness and eases our isolation.

Listening can open a door to being heard. When a person feels heard, they feel cared about. They feel less alone. They feel more connected. By creating a climate where others experience your generous attention, they are likely to appreciate you, feel drawn toward you, and come to care about you. If you want to be heard, begin by listening. It’s a powerful practice to give to others what we’d like to receive from them.

August 18 2018


Vacationing with OCD

August is a popular time for many of us to take vacations. That’s what summer is all about, right? Many of us look forward to this summer vacation time all year. But what if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? How does going on vacation, planning a vacation, or even thinking about a vacation, affect you and those around you?

When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he could barely move, let alone go on a vacation. But when his obsessive-compulsive disorder improved to a moderate level, he planned a trip to Canada with a friend for his winter break. He was excited about going, and from all accounts had a great time exploring and trying out exciting new activities such as dog sledding. He wasn’t able to leave his OCD behind completely on this trip, but still managed to enjoy himself most of the time.

I, on the other hand, was worried the whole time he was gone. I was concerned about the stress of him traveling (he flew), the change in environment and routine, the absence of therapy (and his therapist), and the inevitable trials and tribulations that come along with vacations. Also, what if he needed help while away? Would he tell us? Where would he turn? Who would he call?

Indeed, the very nature of vacations is often conducive to stress for all of us, not just those with OCD. But if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, dealing with changes in daily routines as well as sleep routines, might be particularly difficult. Perhaps you’re staying with friends or family when you are used to being alone. Or perhaps you are alone in a hotel room, when you are usually surrounded by people at home. Your food choices might be different. And if you suffer from contamination OCD, you are faced with many challenges on vacation. Public toilets in particular seem to be a trigger for a lot of people with OCD.

Still, Dan’s vacation turned out to be more stressful for me than it was for him because he was able to do what I could not: embrace the uncertainty that comes with a vacation — that same uncertainty that comes with all of life.  Those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder who are able and willing to go on vacation are indeed facing that uncertainty head-on. Will their OCD improve while they’re away? Maybe. Sometimes getting away from old, familiar triggers into a totally new environment will quiet OCD. Or will their OCD spike due to new triggers, or because of any of the other reasons mentioned above? Maybe. It’s certainly possible.

Of course, there is no way of knowing until you go. In my opinion, if those with OCD aren’t allowing their disorder to prevent them from actually taking their vacation, the trip, whatever the outcome, should be considered a success.

That’s the thing. We can’t let OCD call the shots. We need to continue to live our lives as fully as possible. So whether your summer involves vacations from OCD or with OCD, I hope your experiences are positive ones that create some great memories.


The Practice of Self-Compassion and Reducing Stress

There is more abundant and accessible stress reduction available to us if we direct our attention away from the “big ticket” relaxation events (the cruises, spas, and anniversary indulgences) and become curious about quieter, subtler forms of relaxation. Of course, we think of the big ticket items because we tend to aggregate all of the stresses in our lives and then look for a comparably sized stress reliever.

Self-compassion is a powerful tool for reducing stress before it becomes “cruise-sized” because it can be applied liberally and frequently, and even preemptively before built up stress takes on epic proportions. And similar to the way that eating small meals throughout the day is more effective for staying energized and full than eating two or three large meals, self-compassion is a more effective long-term way of achieving your stress management and wellness goals.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the act of having empathy for oneself. Empathy is showing care, concern, and nonjudgmental acceptance of feelings as they arise without declaring them “right” or “wrong”. Self-compassion is often tricky in families or cultures that emphasize self-discipline and “no excuses” mentalities because in extreme, these perspectives often view self-compassion as an undesirable quality synonymous with being lazy, self-pitying, or weak.  

The truth is that self-compassion has nothing to do with a pity party or weakness, and everything to do with acknowledging the reality of how we are feeling so that we can cope with it more effectively and constructively. Pretending that we aren’t feeling sad or stressed so that we don’t appear “weak” is like pretending not to have a flat tire. You can push through temporarily in some cases, but the longer you go without acknowledging it the more likely you are to have a bigger challenge. Acknowledgement and acceptance of unwanted feelings — which are mental acts — are often unfairly translated in our culture to the physical activity of moping. But they are not at all necessarily connected. Sure, wallowing in bad feelings often comes before the stagnation of moping, but not necessarily.

Think about the example of paying your taxes. For most of us, we’re unhappy about it and very clear that we’re unhappy about it, but we still do it. Another example is new parents who are facing dirty diapers in the middle of the night. New parents are well aware that they are sleep deprived and miserable when they have to get up in the middle of the night and change a dirty diaper for the umpteenth time. And they still do it without pause. We’re actually pretty good at accepting “negative” feelings and continuing to do what we need to do anyway. We just don’t remember that we’re good at it if the IRS isn’t breathing down our necks.

How do you use Self-Compassion to reduce stress?

At the end of the day, we can’t fool ourselves about how we’re feeling any more than a runner with a blister on the bottom of his foot. And if a runner with a blister on the bottom of his foot wants to finish the race, he needs to stop, examine it, put some ointment on, and find a bandage or cushion. That’s self-compassion … acknowledging what’s going on and addressing what you need accordingly. Otherwise, the runner will just be in more pain and even less able to run further on down the road … more stressful, not less. The same is true of any individual facing emotional or mental stress or pain. Taking care of our needs requires us to acknowledge what those needs are, and that means being willing to have self-compassion and accept our feelings so that we can reach out, find, and utilize the tools we need.  

Once we accept and acknowledge our feelings, we can get a much more effective handle on addressing them. Otherwise, we’re running blind, so to speak, and highly likely to hit a wall. Self-compassion is a nonjudgmental curiosity about and warm acceptance of how we are doing, with the intention of supporting ourselves accordingly through those feelings, just as we would someone else. It enables us to reduce our stress by more effectively identifying and therefore addressing our needs.


Psychology Around the Net: August 18, 2018

Screentime not making kids moody, crazy and lazy

Happy Saturday!

This week’s Psychology Around the Net covers tech companies using persuasive design to get kids racking up more screen time, a new startup designed to help people find mental health care more quickly and affordably, how dating apps have the potential to be both helpful and hurtful, and more.

Tech Companies Use ‘Persuasive Design’ to Get Us Hooked. Psychologists Say It’s Unethical: A new technique known as persuasive technology or persuasive design looks at how computers can change the way we thing and act, and big tech companies are employing mental health experts to use it — especially on kids.

Autism and DDT: What 1 Million Pregnancies Can—and Can’t—Reveal: An analysis has found that women who are exposed to the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) are more likely to give birth to children who develop autism. The study’s authors stress that their findings don’t prove DDT causes autism, but it is the first association using a direct measure of exposure to the pesticide.

How to Use Dating Apps Without Hurting Your Mental Health: While research shows many people believe dating apps and websites are great ways to meet people, they also have a way of hurting your self-esteem, setting you up for rejection, and overall overwhelming you. Experts weigh in on how you can get the benefits of dating apps while avoiding any blows to your mental health.

5 Tips to Wake Up from a Sleep Paralysis Episode [INFOGRAPHIC]: Sleep paralysis is a nightmare (I don’t even know if I’m using that figuratively or literally, but it doesn’t matter — it’s that horrible). Learn more about what causes sleep paralysis — also known as “Old Hag Syndrome” — and how you can can snap yourself out of an episode. (Trust me, if you’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis, you want this information.)

How Retail Mental Health Could Be Medicine’s Next Frontier: Dr. Tamir Aldad has developed Mindful Urgent Care, an award-winning startup staffed by a variety of mental health professionals and designed to help people find access to mental health care faster and more affordably.

Typical Kid Behavior Or a Mental Health Problem? It Can Be Hard to Decide: Mood swings, changes in behavior, personality traits you didn’t recognize before — for teens, these can be mental illness warning signs or, frankly, just some stuff they’re going through as they work out the teen years. Mental health professionals advise that the first steps parents can taking in recognizing what might be mental illness and not just a mood swing are to be familiar with the child’s normal habits and patters, pay attention when the child starts moving away from them, and making sure the child has a comfortable environment in which to talk to them.

August 17 2018


Getting Stuck in the Emotional Funnel

Have you ever found yourself caught in a downward spiral of negative thoughts? It’s as if your mind is like a funnel with thoughts racing towards the bottom only to get stuck in the neck. The more you try to think your way out of the funnel the more distressed you become because there appears to be no way out.

Negative thoughts can be overwhelming, and if we are not careful, they create pathways in our mind from which we draw . Unfortunately, thoughts rarely occur without emotions. When we add emotions to our negative thoughts, we try to think our way towards a solution yet as we spiral downward, a solution seems out of reach . So much so, that we start to panic.

It may look something like this. (Figure 1) Picture a funnel, wide at the top, narrowing at the bottom. Consider the thought, “I feel grumpy today.” Now, put this thought into your funnel. This thought is worrisome but not distressing. However, what would happen if more worrisome thoughts followed? “I’m usually not grumpy. Maybe I’m a grumpy person. Oh…I wish this feeling would go away…”  

We ask ourselves, “Why can’t I solve this problem? I don’t like the way this is making me feel. I wish this dreadful feeling would go away!” That’s just it! How do you wish away a feeling? It’s impossible. Emotions are like waves on the ocean. They come and go freely…unless…we take the time to notice what is happening versus why it is happening.

We do this by incorporating what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) calls, our “observing-self.” The observing-self comes from the practice of Mindfulness and grounds us in the present moment as we are experiencing anxiety caused by uncertainty. The observing-self allows us to experience life through our senses. As we notice what is happening within us, we slow down our thought process by exploring our experience versus trying to analyze it. When we explore our emotions, we are open to our experience in a new way.

How to incorporate the observing self:

  1. Observe: Observe when anxious thoughts are present. Noticing thoughts is like watching a balloon as it moves along the sky. We are just watching.
  2. Breathe: Take a deep breath and then exhale slowly. Repeat this for one minute. Notice how your chest rises and falls as it takes in and releases air. Regulating the breath helps slow down the thought process.
  3. Pay attention: Pay attention to what is happening in your body. Discomfort occurs because we are experiencing more than just our thoughts. Make room for any emotions, body sensations and urges that accompany these thoughts.

Can the observing-self really make a difference? Let’s return to our funnel metaphor incorporating the observing-self in the example below. (Figure 2)  

I feel grumpy today.” I am noticing I am having the thought that I am grumpy. I feel discomfort in my stomach. Breathe in and out…again. This feeling is making me want to run away or do something else to avoid feeling it. Ok, I am going to just pay attention to this sensation and see what happens when I allow it to be there. Breath in and out slowly…Stay with the feeling…Observe it. Notice what is does. Hmm…interesting.”

As we allow ourselves to observe the possibilities of this discomfort, we avoid getting stuck in the funnel. We observe the experience by not adding to or taking away from it, thus, slowing down our thought process. We are still in the funnel as thoughts, emotions and body sensations occur, however, the way we address them leaves room for our mind to have some clarity amidst the uncertainty we are experiencing.

The next time you are experiencing discomfort, take notice of what is happening. Validate your situation and observe the experience with openness and curiosity. As you practice incorporating your observing-self, you will learn how to work through anxious moments more effectively and you will be able to spend your time doing the things you love to do with the people you love to be with.  It will take some practice but soon you will begin to experience a better, stronger, more confident you.


Breaking the Cycle of Ouch: Why It’s OK to Not Feel OK

Fixing. Solving. Smoothing over. We often reach for the metaphorical superglue when we feel bad or out of sorts. We seek to plaster the cracks of ourselves so the negative emotions don’t leak out, keeping a self-imposed equilibrium of what life “should” be like. But it is OK to be frightened, sad, stressed, anxious or feel grief because it’s OK for it not to be OK.

The amount of effort it takes to hold the self imposed equilibrium tells us something — something important if we choose to listen. What it’s pointing out is we are fighting a battle we may not win. We are effectively fighting our own pain which often results in further pain. It’s a cycle of ouch.

As well as denying ourselves the opportunity to develop healthy ways to cope with adversity. We are giving power to the emotional energy and building it into an insurmountable beast.

The Cycle of Ouch

The actions of fixing, solving or smoothing over suggest to our subconscious that what we are feeling is wrong. Its an inadvertent judgment saying it’s not OK to be in pain. We try to turn the tap off to our emotions by diverting attention or ignoring it, which triggers yet further pain, continuing the cycle of ouch.

If we give ourselves permission to experience the emotion, open ourselves up to the vulnerability of pain we can find security. It is scary to even consider it. But being in the present with it, simply saying, “Hey, I feel you and I’m not fighting today,” takes away some of the energy of the emotion.

This is a neutral position of working with the emotion rather than against. Neither holding it in or pushing it down into our bodies and hoping it will just go away. Or expressing it to its fullest so it bubbles over and becomes a bit messy. Neutral is a softer way to experience emotions.

Rather than fighting life, we go with it. We find more inner peace as we embrace our experience just as it is. This won’t be easy to start with as this approach is a skill you practice and develop over time, but once you have it, it’s an approach that you will get plenty of use from.

Five Skills to Develop to Break the Cycle of Ouch

  1. Say hey to it – Give the emotion recognition: “I see, hear and feel you and I’m OK with that.”
  2. Name it – Identify the emotion you are experiencing. The more honest you can be with what you are feeling, the gentler you can ultimately be with yourself. “I feel you ‘anger,’ I feel you in the pit of my stomach, I’m not going to fight you today, its OK that I feel you and it hurts.”
  3. Hang out – Just sitting with the emotion and even giving it space in your mind and body brings the potential for calm with no effort on your part. The emotion’s energy sometimes runs out when you allow it space; it kind of gives up as it’s not causing the desired drama.
  4. Focused breathing – Just noticing your breath, not making an effort to breathe deeply, just noticing where you are breathing from and maybe even counting the length of breath in… and out… will help the mind and body cope with what it is experiencing. Our minds can’t multitask so focusing on the breath rather than the emotion will automatically break the cycle of ouch.
  5. Trust yourself – Remembering that you are the best person for the job and your willingness to feel uncomfortable is a true sign of strength. Trusting in the knowledge that this will last for as long as it lasts but it won’t be forever, is powerful. This isn’t easy, but fighting or ignoring it isn’t easy either and takes more effort.

Once the emotion has lessened, when you feel able you can choose to reflect on your experience and recognize your thoughts that triggered the emotion, you can do so, but you don’t have to do anything with these thoughts — again it is just acknowledging them because it is OK.

Having simple, but effective techniques we can call upon when we experience negative emotions takes the power and energy from what is a scary experience. You can start to break your own cycle of ouch by just by remembering it is OK, for it not to be OK.

Top of the Heap: Reading in pairs with Ayo Wahlberg by Hannah Gibson

Best of Our Blogs: August 17, 2018

Worry, fear and even anxiety have been circling in and out of my life for so long, it became a part of me. I thought everyone walked around with worst case scenarios replaying in their head.

The greatest things that helped me, which you’ll also read in our top posts this week are spending more moments in focused presence and calm so my days are not just constant pop-ups of anxiety-provoking news or upsetting updates.

Living without urgency is one way to send the message that everything is okay. But I’ve also learned to be kind to myself. This means that instead of avoiding negative emotions or berating myself for having them, I approach feelings of worry with curiosity, patience and love.

This is the theme of this week, which is to find ways to work with the struggles you have. Whether it’s watching a movie to give you a new perspective, try out a new communication strategy or meditate to help you stop overthinking, these posts will help you work with the obstacles and challenges that come with the life you have.

6 Surprising Predictors of Relationship Compatibility
(Change Your Mind, Change Your Life) – Why are you attracted to certain people and not others? It may have less to do with what you want, and more to do with your biology.

Narcissistic Abuse and the Movies that Counteract and Contradict It
(Narcissism Meets Normalcy) – If you’re in need of inspiring and healing movies that can give you a view into a life you could be living, add this to your must-watch list.

Childhood Trauma: How We Learn to Lie, Hide, and Be Inauthentic
(Psychology of Self) – This post reveals the things that change us from honest children to inauthentic adults.

4 Common Communication Mistakes
(Anger Management) – You think it’s helping, but you’re actually hurting the situation if you’re doing these four things.

5 Scientifically Backed Strategies That Will Help You Stop Overthinking Everything
(Success in the Workplace) – If you can’t stop worrying and analyzing a situation, try this to break the cycle of rumination and overthinking.

August 16 2018


The Portals into Self-Compassion

I grew up in a Quaker family where I was taught to serve others and consequently became a therapist which has brought great meaning into my life. However, until recently, I was never as good to myself as I was to others.

As a result, I often felt depleted and even “burned out.” Fortunately, I listened to the wisdom of my teenage son and began to treat myself with the same compassion I had for others. I was gratified to discover that my efforts filled me with an abundance of happiness and inner peace I could pass onto others.

I have been on a mission ever since to spread the wonders of self-compassion far and wide though the use of the following portals. I have witnessed and experienced the healing and transformative power of these portals in my work with clients and my own quest to be more self-compassionate.  

Be Your Own Best Friend

If you “beat up” on yourself in a harsh, judgmental manner, begin talking to yourself inside your head or out loud in a caring and helpful manner, just like you are your own best friend. For instance, when you are going through a hard time, you could say to yourself, “Hang in there, I am behind you all the way!”

Develop Beliefs that Work for You

You may hold onto beliefs that cause you unhappiness, stress, etc. One of the keys to self-compassion is to identify your beliefs that are not working and replace them with ones that are more functional, like you are shedding an old skin. In fact, one of the key components of my work with clients is to encourage them to “try on” new beliefs to see how well they work.

Know that You Are Inherently Worthwhile

You may mistakenly believe that you are not worthy because you fail to live up to your own expectations, the bad treatment you have received from others or the mistakes you have made.  However, worth is not something we need to earn. We are all inherently worthy and knowing this fills us with a lightness of spirit that spreads through our entire being.

Do Not Project Your Needs onto Others

We often make the mistake of projecting our needs onto others and feel hurt or even angry when these people do not provide us what we are looking for. However, it is impossible for anyone to know us well enough to consistently meet our needs. We alone know best what we need and are generally much better able to give it to ourselves than anyone else.

Give Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Peace of Mind

People often believe that they need their unhappiness and stress to motivate them to make changes in themselves and their lives. However, this is not the case. These negative emotional states deplete our energy and diminish our quality of life.

We can strive to choose happiness and peace of mind, regardless of the challenges we face. Doing so will fill us with the positive energy we need to overcome these challenges and achieve our goals.

Take Great Care of Yourself

One of the most self-compassionate things we can do is to take great care of our physical, emotional and social needs. In fact, each day presents us with countless choices about how to spend our time and focus our energies. When we respond to these opportunities in ways that bring us meaning, pleasure, comfort and good health, we feel satisfied with our lives. When we ignore our needs, we feel frustrated and even depressed.

Tune into Your “Authentic Self”

We all have an inner realm we can access by transcending our thoughts and feelings that enables us to experience greater peace and hear our inner voice amidst the noise in our heads and the world around us. This is a permanent part of us that does not change as we experience life’s challenges or develop different outward identities. In a nutshell, it is who we are at our most basic level.

Eliminate Negative Reactions

It is very freeing to train ourselves to respond to difficult situations in a calm and balanced manner rather than with frustration, anger, etc. The key to this challenge is to recognize the visceral, physiological sensations we experience just before we have a negative emotional response and to tell ourselves in no uncertain terms that we have the choice not to act on these sensations.  

Appreciate What Your Already Have

A major key to happiness is to appreciate all the good things in our lives. Whether we are marveling at the unconditional love our dogs give us or enjoying a beautiful sunset, our ability to bask in life’s pleasures significantly improves the quality of our precious time on this earth. In fact, one of the most important decisions I have ever made is to totally appreciate every positive aspect of my life.

Enjoy the Present Moment

There are a variety of portals into the moment that are always accessible.  One is to switch our focus from our thoughts to what we are experiencing through our senses which opens us up to an entirely different world.  We can also “lose ourselves” in activities that fully capture our attention. Finally, we can view the moments of our lives as opportunities to be savored rather than stepping stones to getting to some other place.

Pass Your Compassion onto Others

One of the best things about achieving self-compassion it that it fills us with care and goodwill that we can pass onto to others. We are also compelled to do our part to eliminate suffering and help build a better world!

Many people believe it is selfish to be self-compassionate. However, there is nothing selfish about treating yourself with kindness and taking great care of yourself. In fact, your spirit and serenity will attract others to you and inspire them to let their own light shine.

I invite you to “try out” these portals into self-compassion to discover which ones work best for you — it will be your gift to yourself.  I hope they change your life as they have mine!


Unsure About Treating Your Bipolar Disorder, or Seeking Treatment Again?

You’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Or you suspect you have it. Sometimes, you feel a persistent, relentless kind of darkness. You feel like you can’t breathe. Or you feel numb. Hollow. You have zero desire to do anything. The smallest tasks feel burdensome.

And other times, you feel on top of the world. You feel like you can stay awake for hours. And hours. And you do. You feel like you can work for hours. And hours, too. You feel extremely restless or irritable. You feel impulsive, and do things you normally wouldn’t. You have racing thoughts that feel like bumper cars, colliding into each other. You also talk rapidly, talking over everyone else.

But you’re not sure if you want to seek treatment. Or maybe you’re sure you don’t. Maybe you’ve already worked with a doctor or two. And they were terrible. Maybe they even made you feel worse.

Maybe you worry that medication will quell your creativity, or cause other difficult side effects. You’ve heard that other people struggle with everything from shaking to dizziness, and that just sounds awful to you. Understandably.

Maybe you feel shame about having a mental illness. Maybe you feel weak and insecure and inadequate. And you prefer not to think about it. You prefer to handle it on your own.

Maybe you don’t think anything will work anyway, so why try?

At 25 years old, Gabe Howard was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He was deeply depressed, experiencing delusions and had a suicide plan. He’d been struggling for years, but others assumed it was a behavioral issue.

Today, with treatment, including medication and therapy, he’s recovered. Today, he continues to take medication and attend therapy. Today, he’s a writer, speaker, and co-host of The Psych Central Show podcast and A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic, and A Podcast.

Howard wants readers who are iffy about treatment to know that bipolar disorder is a medical illness that requires working with a doctor and taking medication. He cautioned against believing that exercise and natural remedies—“the latest ‘magical treatment of the day’ is cannabis oil”—work alone, no matter what you read on people’s blogs or in social media posts.

“People believe they work alone because of the cyclical nature of bipolar disorder. Doing literally absolutely nothing will result in improvement eventually because that’s the nature of the disease.”

Doctors and medications aren’t perfect, Howard said. He struggled with various frustrating side effects, but with the help of his doctor, these side effects have either been eliminated or greatly reduced.

Karla Dougherty, a prolific writer and author of Less Than Crazy: Living Fully With Bipolar II, used to worry that medication messed with her creativity and writing. But she’s actually accomplished more while taking medication than she has without it.

“The freedom from fear, anxiety, and sadness is worth more than any side effects of a drug you are taking,” Dougherty said. “And there are so many different classes of drugs to take now that working with your psychiatrist, you can find something that will work for you.”

Howard stressed the importance of being an active participant in your treatment: Work with your medical team, and ask good questions. Bring up your concerns. Speak up when you don’t understand something. Speak up when side effects have become too much. Be honest with your practitioners.

If you haven’t found the right treatment team, keep searching. Therese Borchard, a writer and senior editor at, went through half a dozen doctors. Some even made her worse. At one point, she was seeing a psychiatrist, who was supposedly the best psychiatrist in Annapolis. As she writes in her powerful book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, he had her taking 16 pills a day.

Borchard finally found excellent, life-saving treatment at Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center in Baltimore, Maryland. She still sees the same psychiatrist today.

“The right care and treatment is always going to improve your quality of life. It’s worth shopping around and being persistent to get quality care,” Borchard said.

“[S]eeking treatment for bipolar disorder gave my husband back his wife and gave my kids a more normal childhood and made me feel like I could participate in life for the first time in a long time,” said Tosha Maaks, a mom to four teenage boys and a frequent contributor to Psych Central. “It was nice not to hate myself, not be angry all the time, think the world thought poorly of me, or never finish anything I started.”

“[G]etting treatment was the best thing I could have ever done for myself and my family,” Maaks said. “Looking back, I wish I would have figured out how to be well a lot sooner.”

Maaks underscored that treatment for bipolar disorder is a comprehensive plan that’s unique to each individual and takes time to develop. In addition to medication and therapy, it includes support systems, self-care strategies and a healthy routine, she said. She also recommended peer support “either in support groups or in the form of a CRSS (certified recovery support specialist) or mentor” (along with your psychiatrist and therapist).

Bipolar disorder is a complex, difficult illness. Getting treatment doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong, because it takes hard work, and because you’re facing your challenges head-on.

And getting treatment doesn’t get in your way. Getting treatment helps you achieve your goals. It helps you harness your creativity. It helps you get clear and live according to your values. It helps you be present and available to your loved ones. Getting treatment helps you create fulfillment and meaning.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re struggling with a condition that’s known as a mental illness. The fact is that when we’re sick — with whatever — we deserve to get the help we so need. We deserve to stop needlessly suffering. We deserve to feel better. And you do, too.

The Reproductive and Carceral Politics of Ambiguity by Natali Valdez
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