Sunday, October 6, 2013

What a Positive Dog Can Teach You

This is a post from my new blog "A Year of Christian Mindfulness" that I used as a teaching for our Loving Someone with Mental Illness support group.  Enjoy!

One of the books that's helped me to put on a happy face during some tough times is "The Positive Dog" by Jon Gordon.  It's all about a dog in a kennel who has the right to be miserable, is miserable and scares off potential owners because of it.  One of the other dogs in the kennel promised God that if he lived through a house fire, we would be positive and happy.  Here's some of the things I got from the book:

  • Positive people live longer.  One study of nuns found that the cheerful nuns lived 10 years longer than the grumpy nuns. 
  • Marriages are most likely to succeed when the couple has a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. 
Jon's best tips really are related to mindfulness.
  • Smile.  A real smile produces serotonin in the brain.
  • Laugh.  My rule is:  If I haven't laughed hard by 9 p.m., I watch or read something funny.
  • Choose to feel "blessed" rather than "stressed." Think of three things you are grateful for whenever you feel stressed. 
  • Adopt the No Complaining rule. No complaining until you have two possible solutions to the problem.
  • Focus on the present moment. My tip:  If you get really upset or anxious, do a walking meditation ... walk around and focus on the feel of your feet on the ground and your lower legs moving through space.  Or do a nature meditation ... go outside and focus on what you see and hear around you, praising God for each individual thing you notice.
  • Look for opportunity in challenges. Life is hard. What can you learn from this?
  • Practice peace and kindness.  Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi famously said. Be nice. Encourage others. 
  • Pray and meditate on Scripture. This reduces stress, boosts positivity, and enhances health, vitality and longevity.
  • Choose faith instead of fear. All negativity is rooted in fear.  Fear believes in a negative future. Faith believes that your ultimate future will be good.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Freaking Out? There's an App for That

A iPhone or iPad is a great aid to stress reduction and mindfulness practice. Being a caregiver with a hectic job means I never know when a bad day will pop up. You can respond to this one of two ways: 
  1. Waiting for another shoe to drop
  2. Working proactively to stay calm, centered and abiding in God.
No. 2 works a lot better than No. 1.

In my Relaxation folder on my iPhone, I rotate, doing one app at day at least, with a timer set to remind me to stop, pray and de-stress at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

I call it my "Jesus Calling" alarm, and it's a harp sound. I stop and read "Jesus Calling," a great app based on a great devotional book.  The second time, I read a Bible verse on the iMissal blog or the "Girlfriends in God" email.  My Faith app folder on my iPhone includes a Bible, "iTalk to God" app, my church's app, and iMissal/Daily Office (because I still love a lot about the Catholic church even though I'm in the Vineyard movement now.)

The apps for mindfulness and stress reduction were mostly free, although I did do some add-ons to music and guided meditations. My favorites include:
  • "Stress Meditations" from the Cleveland Clinic
  • "Relax Free" from Andrew Johnson  (We liked that so much we bought his Relax + app as well.)
  • "Calm" from
  • "The Mindfulness App" from Catherine Polan Orzech, who teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia
  • "Office Harmony"
  • Any of the apps from the Meditation Oasis team featuring Mary Maddux, especially "Simply Being"
It's just a few minutes, but I can make a big difference.  If I'm caught in crisis communications or meetings, I just try to breathe deeply about six times.  It really gets you more centered in less than 60 seconds. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Day I Hit the Reset Button

Life as we have lived it:  Two hard-charging, high-pressure jobs.  Beloved adult children with serious illnesses. Community service on hands-on boards. Church ministry to hurting people. Participation in two or three small groups. Elderly mothers. Feisty cats.

The day we pushed the reset button came because we both had a medical moment.  A heart attack, followed by a return trip to the hospital for "too much, too soon."  An attack of hives that nearly turned deadly and had no real cause other than "stress."

"You've tried changing jobs," the doctor said. "So let's try something else."

My something-else is Christian mindfulness.  It's a way of living in the moment with the practice of the presence of God.  As a classic overachiever, I've always done prayer in a big, scheduled way.  Centering prayer.  Liturgy of the Hours. And so on. I've read and re-read Brother Lawrence's "Practice of the Presence of God."  So now I get to live it.  For at least one year, my sole focus will be on Christian mindfulness.  Let's see how this goes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Great Book: Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

One of the best books on mental illness that I've read in a long time is "Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder."  Getting a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder used to be a terrible experience, because it was said that it was basically untreatable.  Today, thanks to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and better use of medications, people with Borderline have an opportunity to function at a much better level.

Author Shari Y. Manning, whose practice focuses on people with Borderline, has some wonderful advice in the book.  Her definition of the disorder is slightly different from the classical definitions I've heard.  It is focused on emotional dysfunction, as well as tendency to self-harm, problems with impulse control and difficulties to managing relationships.

That actually makes the tips in the book even more helpful as they focus on dealing with a person who has out-of-control emotions.  The subtitle is actually "How to Keep Out-of-Control Emotions from Destroying Your Relationship."  Dealing with very intense emotion is a frequent problem when you love someone with bipolar disorder, as well.  Manning's tips are helpful, as is her explanation of the difference between self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

It's good book with good ideas for controlling your own emotions and soothing yourself before you get sucked into an emotional storm. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Is It Stigma or Discrimination? Words Matter

Health Care Land has its own language, generally filled with acronyms. In the land's Mental Illness Valley,  there's a thing called "stigma" that "consumers" (a silly term used to describe people with a mental illness diagnosis) deal with it. I call it discrimination. Plain and simple.

Stigma, the Mayo Clinic says, has four components:
  1. Labeling someone with a condition
  2. Namecalling
  3. Stereotyping people with the condition
  4. Dividing people into a superior "us" group and an inferior "them" group 
My Lord, it's high school all over again. All of this has worsened in the aftermath of the recent mass shootings. People continue to blur the distinction between those who have psychopathic behavior and those who have a mental illness and are more likely to be the victim of a crime.

Words matter. Even the phrase "mental illness" is very 19th or at best 20th century.  I know first hand that a person with brain cancer is treated quite differently from a person with schizophrenia, even if they are behaving the exact same way.  I have been fortunate to understand immediately that a "mental illness" is a brain disease, and that it is ridiculous and uncivilized to behave as if it were someone's fault.  It really is time for the Martin Luther King of those with brain diseases to show up, and use his or her eloquence to speak the truth.  How I long for that day.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Guardianship: Is it ever really a good idea?

One of the inevitable questions that people have when they have a family member with mental illness is:  Should we get guardianship?  In short, the answer is usually no. 

Here's why. Guardianship is a legal mechanism that families use to ensure that a family member gets care and to safeguard assets.  It's a legal relationship authorizing one person to make decisions for another person. The guardian can be a family member, a friend or someone selected by a judge.

You need to get guardianship is your loved one is unable to make health care and financial decisions AS WELL AS unable to pick someone to make those decisions for him.  This works for a person in coma, but not generally for the person with mental illness. 

The person has to be proven incompetent in court, and that's painful, humiliating and even harmful for a person who is striving to be as independent and competent as possible.

Or, unless there's an abusive situation going on, it's better to go a less invasive route: setting up power of attorney.  Of course, the person with mental illness can revoke this as any time.

If you do have to go for guardianship, know that the guardian will need to fine an annual financial report and a report every other year about whether the persons still needs a guardian.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Warning Signs of Mental Illness in Children

When should you worry about your child's mental stability?  The early warning signs of mental illness in children are a bit different than for young adults.  Here are some of the most common:
  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than a month.
  • Explosive, long or destructive rages after the age of four.
  • Lack of interest in play.
  • Severe separation anxiety.
  • Talking about wanting to kill others or wanting to die.
  • A belief in their own abilities to do things like fly.
  • Sexualized behavior unusual for the child's age.
  • Extreme, persistent irritability.
  • Ordering adults around, including telling teachers how to teach or behave.
  • Creativity that seems compulsive or driven.
  • Compulsive craving for certain foods or objects. 
  • Hearing voices.
  • Sleep disturbances, including not sleeping much or having gory nightmares
  • Creating drawings or stories that portray very graphic violence. 
You should be concerned if you see these things, especially if they are interfering with the child's ability to make and keep friends and/or with school success.  Those are all signs that there is a problem.

Above all, trust your instincts.  If anyone you know well ... a spouse, a child ... is exhibiting unusual behavior, don't ignore it. And don't accept the idea that it's just a stage.  Psychotic behavior is never normal. So even if the problems seems to be fading, go get a psychiatric evaluation.  Mental illness is episodic, so a problem may not be going away ... just going away for a while only to return in a more severe form.