First off lets talk about truth versus fact.
Many of us think that the truth would be easy to recognize. Undebatable. Actually the truth is more like one of those shape-shifting aliens in the X files. It somehow manages to be a whole bunch of different things — even opposite things — at exactly the same time.
To me, and for tonight, for all of you, here are my definitions:
A fact is something easily verifiable and agreed to by 99.9% of humanity.
A truth can be a perceived fact seen thru a lens. What may be a truth to me, may be far from a truth to you. A truth is a deep, heartfelt belief. A truth can be formed by your life experiences. A persons truth is as unique as a person.
In short, a person is the collection of all their truths. This is your authentic self, your true home. When you are living according to your collection of truths, you are at peace with yourself. Maybe not with others, but defiantly with yourself.
So now let’s talk about living our truths. First, let’s talk about what if we lived in the perfect world. In this world we are strong and confident. A world without consequences. A world where your could actively live your authentic life 100% of the time.
Even here, it takes strength and courage to admit the truth and even more to live it. Or said another way, to live your authentic life means to live with personal integrity.
‘Simply put, Integrity is telling myself my truth, and then living it.
When you are living your authentic life, living your truths, you are expressing love for yourself. You are treating yourself with respect and love. Something we don’t do enough of in our daily lives.
Always remember, loving others is a choice but loving yourself is a responsibility. Our primary responsibility. Act in a way that your authentic self approves of. Act in a loving way to yourself and your truths.
Living your truth is healing. Not living your truth is divisive. Not just to others, but also yourself. Most lies hurt you much more than they hurt others. They internally divide you. Every additional lie fractures your soul further. Eventually, it becomes impossible to keep track of the lies and to hold together all the shattered pieces of your soul. The truth is much easier to keep track of. Even if it is more painful to admit in the moment.
All that said, we do not live in a perfect world. But how do we fit our authentic self into a divisive world? We must recognize that, while being honest and truth telling to yourself is good, it is also not going to work out perfectly in the imperfect world that we live in.
Incorporating some known boundaries into your life are necessary. You do not need to go to the highest hill and scream all your truths to the masses to be truly your authentic self. There are consequences to being 100% truthful 100% of the time. To avoid most of these consequences, we must recognize and accept a few boundaries to shield our authentic selves from our imperfect world. As long as those boundaries are consistent, over time they too will become part of your authentic self.
There are a few, very few people I relax these boundaries around. But I am quite practiced and can go behind or come out from behind these boundaries quite easily. Sort of like having my authentic self, and a slightly different other version of my authentic self.
Our biggest fear is not expressing our truth, but that we will be attacked or belittled because of our truth. The world is on fire right now. We are more divided as a nation that we have been in a very long time. And many are so dug into their positions, that there is no hope for civil discourse. For many, the line between a person’s truth and a fact, is practically nonexistent.
Just because a lot of people are saying the same thing loudly over and over, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Even when the masses are screaching, Don’t bend; don’t water your truths down. Especially don’t edit your own soul according to what someone else says.
And when and where it is appropriate, be your authentic self. Around friends, voice your truths.
You, your authentic self, your truth is in here, not out there. They do not define who you are, you do. In here is your home, your safe space, your true identity. Lying, not living your truth, only splinters your soul. And if your soul is splintered enough, your truth starts to disappear, only to be replaced by a hollow shell of lies. At this point, it is almost impossible to see your authentic self.
Live your truth, as much as you can. Erect as few boundaries to your truth as is possible. Make them small. Do not be that person that has to constantly wonder if your friends like the real you, or they like the person you seem to be around them. In the long run, that never works, better to be truthful from the start. That way you know.
Just remember, the truth, your truth, is in here.
On Thursday May 18th, Miriam shared with us her presentation entitled
“ Isolation “.
So, what is the definition of isolation? Isolation is having the effect of making one disengage. It can also be a coping mechanism. It can also help increase your symptoms of low self esteem. The longer you isolate, the harder it is to go back out into the world.
What are some of the reasons you may have been isolating to begin with?
Maybe you don’t feel understood? Or it could be your own self doubt. Stress or anxiety may be a factor. Or you may experience a physical ailment. If you find yourself canceling activities frequently or if you have anxiety and you are feeling dread about social interaction, those are symptoms you may be isolating too much.
So, what are some ways to isolate less?
1) get moving, and get exercise
2) identify the root cause of your isolation. Remember, depression and anxiety lie to us.
3) acknowledge the harmful effects of isolation
4) reach out to others, even with a text
5) FaceTime with others, rather than just over the phone
6) schedule a short outing
7) learn something new
9) Make a list of reasons others would want to spend time with you.
10) Give yourself compliments
11) Make a schedule and stick to it
12) Take up a sport
13) Plan something to look forward to
But most of all, it’s important to get out there. And believe in yourself!
On Thursday May 11th, Kris shared with us her most recent presentation entitled “ Cleaning up my Manic Mess”
Kris shared with us that she started her mental health journey when she was around 12 or 13 years old. She also shared that it has been about eight years ago now since she was first diagnosed with Bi-Polar.
She told us that early on in her diagnosis, she became really good at keeping her manic self out of view, and maybe not sharing some of these early feelings with others as she should have. Kris also shared that experiencing Bi-polar is not about judging what you’ve been through or what you have or haven’t done. She also shared a little bit about what goes through your mind during a manic episode.
Residual Emotions…Kris shared that residual emotions are experienced sometimes after a manic high or a crash after the high. Afterwards you may start to feel ashamed about things you have done, which can put you back into a depression. It’s important to remember though that it’s not your fault and it’s all a part of your illness.
Probably the hardest part is to forgive yourself after a manic episode. After the episode there may be some disbelief about what happened. But you can forgive yourself. Remember we may experience Bi-polar, but we are not our symptoms.
It’s also important to remember that living in the past may keep you shackled, and prevent you from moving forward. But it’s important to learn to forgive yourself…maybe find activities in your life that are more calming. Such as yoga, taking a walk to enjoy nature, writing a letter, or even meditation. Or if something is on your mind, call a friend to vent and talk it out. It’s important to have a routine, and to go to bed at a decent hour every night…this is very important!
And when it comes to any hurt that you may have caused towards another, you can’t deny that. Just learn to ask forgiveness from those that you have hurt. Even more importantly learn to forgive yourself. If you have recently been through a hard time, most people will want to know that you are planning on re-building your life if needed. It’s important to have a clear understanding between your symptoms and where you are today.
Many of us have friends or family members that try as hard as they do, really do not understand us as well as we would like them to. They do not know how to cope or deal with us from time to time. If you have someone in your life that you think might benefit from being in a discussion with fellow friends and family, May 25th is the night to bring them along. Don, who has been married to a bipolar type 2 wife for over 30 years and has a son that also struggles with anxiety and depression, will lead a second hour group of just friends and family where all can talk openly and maybe leave with a better understanding of mental issues.
On Thursday May 4th, Don shared with us his most recent presentation entitled “ A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away “
In honor of May 4th, and National Star Wars day, Don shared that when Star Wars first came out in 1977, some of the early reviews compared it to Flash Gordon. Don shared that Star Wars was inspired by many sources, including southern and eastern religions, classical mythology, Roman history, and parts of the Abrahamic religions, just to name a few. Creator George Lucas stated “ Most of the spiritual reality in the movie is based on a synthesis of all religions. A synthesis throughout all history; the way man has perceived the unknown and tried to deal with it “.
When we get to the second movie, we are introduced to Yoda, who happens to be my favorite Star Wars character. Yoda is a most unlikely example of a great warrior. But Yoda is much more than a warrior, he is the moral center of the story. Yoda is the one character that makes Star Wars tick!
Don shared that in the world of the Jedi, we are known as Padawans, the Jedi term for learners. As Yoda was a Jedi Master, he teaches many of the things we talk about here at our DBSA meetings each week.
Yoda talks about self-confidence, fear, failures, choice, darkness, the future, the force and your role in the world. He also speaks of using “ the Force “ in everyday life, and remaining positive. After all, when you start out with a negative thought, how can you truly succeed? Don reminded us that our depression lies to us, and may rob us of our confidence and our belief in ourselves.
Remember your self-strength flows from your self-belief, and you can’t succeed if you don’t believe. And your self+belief is your force. You can’t hope to get started on the past, if you don’t truly believe in yourself. Confidence and belief in yourself are prerequisites to success.
When it comes to achieving goals, it’s good to remember that smaller goals are the building blocks to smaller successes. As a starting place, when it comes to goal setting start with a small goal.
Yoda is the also a master of quotes, and Don shared a few of those with us last Thursday.
“ Size matters not, look at me. Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not. For my ally is the force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It’s energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings we are, and not this crude matter. You must feel the force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock-everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship. “
Don shared with us some thoughts on this quote. Don started with the beginning of the quote. On the outside Yoda looks small and fragile, feeble. George Lucas went out of his way to make the most powerful and wisest in the galaxy to look this way. Simply put, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
We are all flawed, but we all have our strengths. Look for strengths in yourself and others.
Remember we are far more important than what we believe. In life, experience leads to more self-confidence. Yoda talks about “the Force “ with regard to the energy that surrounds us and binds us. To use your energy and live in the past takes away from our future.
Don shared that here Yoda is talking about shared beliefs. When we meet as a group at DBSA, we are a group energy. Our shared experiences bind us and allow us strength to say things we may not say anywhere else.
Anger, fear and aggression are on the dark side. When we are trying to be our best selves, we need all our energy focused in a positive direction. There is no room for the negative. Remember to live in the past takes away from our future. Let your dark past be your past. We must acknowledge fear before we can overcome it.
Another one of my favorite Yoda quotes is “ The greatest teacher failure is”
In other words, learning from failure, rather than repeating it, is a true sign you are on your way to recovery. We must take every opportunity to improve ourselves. The future will offer many choices for you. When making choices, take a breath, be at peace with your choices. To be a Jedi is to face the truth, be a candle in the night.
On Thursday April 27th, I shared with everyone my most recent presentation entitled “ Peer Support 101”
When trying to decide what topic to present for my next presentation, our President and fearless leader Miriam suggested that I talk a bit about Peer Support Specialists. As I had just finished my training as a Peer Support Specialist, I realized what a perfect idea that was.
I was very much interested in taking the training, and have been searching for a way to retire from my job of many years. I’ve also been looking for even more ways to give back to the community. I’ve made a couple of great friends recently, who are practicing Peer Support specialists, which peaked my interest even more.
So, what exactly is peer support? A peer support worker supports a participant on their wellness journey. A support worker does not “ help someone “ on their journey, we support them. We help participants by supporting them as they identify what their strengths are, and encourage them to make choices for themselves. We accept participants where they are in their journey, and we are partners to those we serve. Peer support services are are always chosen by the participants, and not by the peer workers.
Peer support recovery is focused on physical, psychological and emotional safety.
I also learned from my Peer support training, that the most important part of our job is self-care. Some agencies you may work for might require a self-care check-in every so often. I shared two things I do for self-care, which are joining my walking group on the weekends, and singing with my church choir.
If you become certified as a Peer Support worker, you will be advocating for someone in recovery, as we walk with people on their journey. You will also facilitate recovery groups, also help support participants in becoming reconnected in their community. In addition as a Peer Support worker, you support your participants to identify the stages of change, and also support them in the value of learning through shared experiences. You will also be involved in mentoring and supporting the participant when setting goals. In addition you will also support your participants in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.
Another area of my Peer support training that I found beneficial, was when we discussed the importance of a safety plan. This is an important topic that you would discuss with a participant as part of your job as a Peer support worker.
Once someone has a safety plan created, they may even want to keep a copy on top of their refrigerator.
So, if any of the above sounds like something you might be interested in pursuing, how would you begin?
There are two different avenues in this area where you could take part in Peer Support training to become a Peer Support specialist.
1) Community Alliance offers a Peer Support program. If you are interested, you can contact Dr. Jai directly at 402-341-5128, or email Dr. Jai at Lsookram@commall.org
2) Or you can contact Well Being Initiative, which is where I completed my training. They can be emailed at Wellbeinginitiatives.org
On Thursday April 20th, Carolyn shared with us her most recent presentation entitled “ Learning from my Mistakes “
Carolyn began by sharing some thoughts on making mistakes. We will learn from some of our decisions that turn out to be mistakes. That’s why it’s important to learn to make decisions without thinking twice. We should view each day as another opportunity for happiness.
In our society today, we always seem to want instant gratification. However change takes time. Carolyn shared life really changed for her when she ended up in the hospital. She feels that the stigma that is directed towards those that experience mental health challenges put her into a different state of mind. At the time she felt very confused about what happened. It was during this time that she was lucky enough to find a caring therapist.
We all have dark times, however we will become more caring once we can make decisions. Sometimes it’s hard to trust ourselves, and you may feel in the future that you made a wrong decision. Maybe you are afraid of your un-managed mind? When it comes to making decisions, you will know when it’s the right decision, when you feel great about it. Maybe consider how do you connect with others? Maybe we can be that go to person if someone has a problem?
Carolyn also talked a little bit about values. She began by sharing that we may need to rewire ourselves to find values that are clear and achievable. We may need to accomplish higher life values, to feel accomplished.
Sometimes if we associate pain with some of our emotions, it can affect all of our decisions. It’s important to be aware of what emotions you are moving towards, and try and create a list of life priorities.
She shared that some of the emotions we need to try and avoid are rejection, anger, frustration, and guilt.
Carolyn shared one quote with us that I really loved.
“ Try to happily achieve, than to be happy about achieving “
I like this. I take it as, maybe it’s more about the journey in life, rather than the destination?
Carolyn also shared a handout with us, listing approximately 40 different values. She advised we should try and narrow down our list of values to about three or four. My top two values I chose were Spirituality and Peace. Carolyn suggested as things change in our life, we will have to revisit our list of values.
I really loved the values handout she gave us. I bet it made a lot of people really stop and think when they read that list. I know it made a difference in my life.
On Thursday April 13th, Miriam presented her most recent presentation entitled “ Forgiveness “
Miriam shared during her presentation, she would present how she feels about forgiveness. Miriam shared one definition of forgiveness.
Forgiveness “ is giving up all hope for a better past” . I really like this definition.
So, who are some of those we may be angry with, and need or want to forgive? Family, Parents, co-workers, kids, maybe even a total stranger. Those are some.
Miriam also shared that forgiveness can also be looked at as a conscious, deliberate feeling towards someone. If you forgive someone, it’s not saying that what that person did is okay.
If you’re holding anger or resentment against someone, it may make you feel like a prisoner with those feelings. If you learn to somehow forgive that other person, it’s like setting a prisoner free. And that prisoner was you!
Remember you get to decide when or how to forgive that other person.
Some of the hardest people to forgive are those that are closest to us. The closer the person, the harder it will be to forgive.
One huge benefit of forgiveness is that it can lower depression and anxiety levels. That’s a great benefit!
There are also three different types of forgiveness;
1) exoneration…which is wiping the slate clean with that other person. This may be a situation where something someone did was purely by accident.
2) forbearance…this is a middle ground. This may mean an apology from another, but mixed with blame. With this type of forgiveness, the other person might try and make you feel responsible for the situation.
3) release…this is the most common type of forgiveness. This is when the person that hurt you, doesn’t realize that they hurt you. The other person may be truly sorry for what they did, and may ask forgiveness. An example of this type would be if a spouse were to cheat on you.
With forgiveness, you get to choose when to put it down and leave it there. Forgiveness does not require you to continue that relationship, but it does allow you to release the bad feelings towards the other.
Remember, don’t let that other person that hurt you, continue to live rent free in your mind. Instead of feeling powerless, forgive that other person and move forward. This release will give you freedom!
This can also be about forgiving yourself for bad choices you have made. Try and learn to understand your emotions. Why does it really bother you if you have made a bad decision? Try and learn to accept responsibility for your choices.
Also remember, to treat yourself with compassion. And realize it’s okay to make mistakes. Try and learn ways to grow from your mistakes.
Remember forgiveness is a good thing, and it may finally be time to forgive that other person and put the burden down!
On Thursday March 30th, facilitator Abigail shared with us her most recent presentation entitled “ Mind and Body, Body and Mind”
Abigail began by asking us the question, who has heard the phrase “ the body keeps the score” ?
She shared that it’s a phrase coined by a famous trauma focused psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolkata.
The meaning…frequently for people with PTSD, their minds desperately try to leave trauma behind, but their bodies keep them trapped in the past.
Abigail shared that the history of psychology has mostly been focused on our thoughts and feelings. It’s only been recently that researchers have started to explore the connection between our brains and our bodies.
She also shared some thoughts on somatic experiencing by sharing a definition.
Somatic…means relating to the body. So what happens in our bodies when we experience trauma? Why do our bodies keep the score?
When we experience trauma and are exposed to things like violence and abuse, it creates an inner car alarm system inside us. And this constructs a body that gets stuck in fight or flight, and eventually freeze. This happens whether the danger is real or just perceived.
When this inner alarm is going off in our bodies, our bodies will then create and release a stress hormone called cortisol. Over time elevated release of stress hormones in our body can cause damage at a cellular level.
A public health researcher by the name of Arline Geronimus, calls this process “weathering “ which she says” literally wears down your heart, arteries, and your neuroendocrine systems.
Polyvagal Theory…..is the theory of our nervous system and the science of safety. It’s the science behind our inner car alarm. Our central nervous system consists of two parts. The first is our brain and spinal cord. The other is our peripheral nervous system, which consists of nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Our nervous system controls so many things, how we feel safe, and how we interact with the world.
Ventral vagal… a healthy nervous system has three levels of activation. The first, ventral vagal, is a state of us being grounded, connected to your body, calm, safe and open to learning new things. This is where we feel curious and open.
The second state in polyvagal theory is our sympathetic nervous system. A lot of people have heard of this, because this is where you have fight or flight. When there’s danger or risk in our environment, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, and we go into fight or flight. During a flight response we feel panic, fear, anxiety and worries. During a fight response, we feel frustration, irritation and anger. Our car alarm is is in full effect during this time.
The third state is dorsal vagal…this is shut down mode. This is when we freeze. When we go into dorsal vagal we shut down, feel numb, collapsed and frozen. What’s happening in this state, is the threat of emotional disturbance is so great, and we have been fighting it for so long, we shut down.
When we’re in Dorsal vagal, the feeling is “ I can’t “
Abigail shared that when she is in Dorsal vagal, is when she starts to isolate, she stops eating, she stops taking her meds, and stops showering.
Sound like depression or disassociation?
Abigail also shared a little bit about what happens in complex trauma, to the nervous system, when we get stuck in any of these phases.
Our nervous systems can get damaged if over a long time an adult stays in fight or flight, and not able to feel safe or relaxed in their body. The nervous system becomes hard wired into hyperarousal. It damages that person’s ability to tell the difference between real danger and perceived danger.
A damaged nervous system looks like chronic anxiety, chronic depression, and chronic mental and physical health symptoms. It’s exhausting for the body to always be on high alert, and to never feel safe or relaxed. It’s been linked to cancer, heart attacks and stroke.
The Body Keeps the Score…
Another sign of a damaged nervous system are emotional flashbacks. This is also one of the signs of complex trauma. An emotional flashback is something that happens when a trigger- either external or internal- brings you back to a time in your life where you felt powerless and helpless, and the body reacts and shuts down the same way. What’s happening in those moments is the nervous system is taking in a stimulus, a stress response, and interpreting it as danger.
Mentally a damaged nervous system can look like chronic anxiety, a hard time navigating emotions, and emotional regulation. You might go back and forth between highs and lows and have a hard time finding that middle ground.
You might go back and forth between hyper vigilant and really anxious and on edge, and crashing and feeling depressed and tired.
A damaged nervous system will also impact our cognition, and we often can’t think clearly or make rational decisions. It affects our ability to make connections with others. It impacts our emotional regulation and our ability to manage triggers. It’s a pretty big deal!
Don’t let yourself feel bad for a second. Your nervous system has probably been working overtime for your whole life, compared to someone who hasn’t undergone the same adverse experience.
Top down vs Bottom up therapy…
If you’re struggling with a damaged nervous system, how do you treat this?
Top down therapy focuses on how the mind interprets information.
Bottom up therapy refers to therapy which targets the lower part of the brain,
which would include automatic emotional responses, subconscious core beliefs, and our defense survival strategies. Some of the most effective bottom up therapies are experiential therapies, where clients are guided to actually experience their emotional inner worlds in the therapy session. Such as EMDR, brain spotting, and somatic experiencing.
One of the most common types of top down therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is where you’re focusing on the link between your thoughts and behaviors and trying to question unbalanced thinking, and learn to form healthier thinking patterns.
Finally, Abigail shared with us some tips if we may feel like we’re stuck in a sympathetic nervous state or in the middle of fight or flight. We will want to do our best to ground and connect with our body.
She suggested the first step is to breathe. Breathing has a huge impact.
When we breath we want to inhale through our nose and we want to exhale longer than our inhale. If your inhaling for four seconds, your exhale should be for six seconds.
The second tool you can employ is singing! I like this idea. Singing or humming stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve when it’s stimulated one of the immediate effects is our heart rate slows down very quickly.
Another great grounding tool is the 5 4 3 2 1 technique. This is where you find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
This type of technique is called orienting.
Abigail shared that it took her ten years of trying and feeling stuck and working hard to heal her trauma. She shared that the best thing she has done for her recovery is to seek out a provider who understands trauma and practices somatic therapy.
This was an amazing presentation from Abigail, leaving us plenty to think about!
Dr. Jai Sookram the Director of Family Education and Peer Support Services reached out to me to let me know that he has a new Family Education class starting on May 12th. This class is offered for families of people living with mental illness. It’s a tremendous class that educates families on major mental illness, how to support their loved ones, current medication, communication skills, and crisis/relapse prevention.
It’s an 8 week free course that meets in person one night a week and I know the families I have worked with in the past who have taken it have gotten a lot out of it. I think – like us – being in a room of people that can understand what we are experiencing and learn together is a really valuable thing.
If you know of any families that are interested or have any family members in your small group who could be interested – Dr. Jai can be contacted at email@example.com or 402-341-5128.