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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

“Every human being wants to love and be loved.  This is very natural.  But often love, desire, need, and fear get wrapped up all together.  There are so many songs with the words, “I love you; I need you.”  Such lyrics imply that loving and craving are the same thing, and that the other person is just there to fulfill our needs.  We might feel we can’t survive without the other person.  When we say, “Darling, I can’t live without you.  I need you,” we think we’re speaking the language of love.  We even feel it’s a compliment to the other person.  But that need is actually a continuation of the original fear and desire that have been with us since we were small children.”

~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Fidelity:  How to Create a Loving Relationship that Lasts

I was sick last week and did not get to post this. . . Aug 2nd was my parents’ 52 wedding anniversary.  I wish that everyone could experience the ups and downs that they have and the bond that has kept them together.

Much love and deep bows of gratitude to Bob & Judy Stevens.  Thank you for all the love, sacrifice, and compassion they have fostered in our family!

Namaste, Jennifer

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“Your relationships would also benefit great from a commitment to never part in anger.  If the other person in the relationship is willing, make a commitment to one another that if there is a problem, a moment of anger, you will stay and work it through until you can part in love.  We have seen over the years that if the final interaction with a loved one was of anger, the grieving process can be much more complicated.”

~~John E. Welshons, Awakening from Grief:  Finding the Way Back to Joy

One of the harder things for the bereft to deal with is things that didn’t get said.  Sometimes, an even tougher thing to reconcile with is the things that did get said.

I like John’s suggestion that if both partners (romantic, familial, etc) are willing to pledge to work on never parting in anger, a relationship can be stronger and the grief less complicated.

People may talk about kids having magical thinking… “I got made at my sister and told her I wished she was dead” and then at some point the sister dies and the child believes that they are the cause for the disease, accident, etc.

But adults do something similar… they may have had a relationship with someone for decades, a loving relationship where the two people really cared for and about each other, and there are harsh words or a rift of some sort and one of the people becomes very sick or dies.  We tend to focus on that rift rather than all of the thousands of ways we showed that we cared.

Think about the adult child who has to put their aging parent in a nursing home because of ill-health, dementia, etc.  The adult child might have promised that parent that day would never come and now it’s here.  Or the parent went to live at the home and died…

In our grief, we will not think about all the doctor’s appointments we took that person on.

Or the trips to the store to get their favorite ice cream at 10 pm.

Or the holidays where we always made sure they had their favorite dish.

The flowers that they bought for no reason except that they loved the person.

But all that gets over looked because that one day when you had three hours of sleep you said to yourself, “When will this end.”

Or you fought about something minor and didn’t get the chance to make things right with each other.

Grief gives us the opportunity, more than many other experiences to do two things:  to learn compassion and to learn forgiveness…. both of these in regards to ourselves and in regards to others.

If you need to walk away and cool off, do it… but don’t let a lot of time go by without at least saying, I’m angry and I love you.

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Wow, this summer has been 10 times crazier than I ever would have thought.  I snapped the photo above when I was running errands about 10 days ago.  Even when it’s busy, you’ve gotta stop and check out the clouds… it’s been too hot for a lot of stopping and smelling those proverbial roses.

I’m getting ready to teach General Psych for the first time this fall.  I start in less than 3 weeks and it is a LOT of work, on top of dissertation work and working a stressful 40 hour work week.

So, I have to admit that this blog has suffered.  And I thank all of you who stopped by, left me messages, checked to see if I was okay, etc.  I really enjoy doing the blog and unfortunately, there are only a few things in life that I can put on the back burner.

I’m thinking the Fall will be just as busy but I will do my best to find still, clear moments to share things I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, etc.

I’ve just re-watched Clara’s Heart with Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Patrick Harris several days ago when I was home with a migraine.  It’s the story of several losses and how everyone involved deals with their losses.  And well, it’s fun to see Neil Patrick Harris as a little boy.  If you have Netflix check it out.

I picked up a new book for my Kindle. . . The Wisdom of Listening by Mark Brady.  I have to say that I am really enjoying the few stolen moments that I find to read a couple of passages.

In this book, Mark states,

Once you have the attitude in your mind and heart, no matter how distressing your work environment, you can be really happy. . . Before beginning your daily meditations, spend some time reflecting on the suffering in the world, or your friends’ or patients’ suffering, and as their suffering touches and opens your heart, let your compassion grow even deeper, and your intentions to help even stronger.”

There is a lot of suffering that goes on at my full time job.  Our direct care staff work long hard hours with little gratitude.  We work with very difficult clients and there isn’t a day that goes by that their shifts are probably not very demanding.

Add on top of that all kinds of threats in the last year. . . the Governor will close your site.  The Governor is going to take a big chunk of your pay.

And then there is the world at large that might not impact us day to day but it does wear on our psyche. . . a new shooting today in neighboring WI. . . because someone’s religious beliefs and looks were different.

And a few weeks ago, another shooting in Colorado. . . in Aurora which is not that far from Columbine and it is the story of many systems going wrong. . . the mental health system, schools, enforcement of gun control or the lack thereof.

Of course, there is also the hostility that is the backdrop of most elections. . .

The Buddha was so wise is saying that our problem was suffering and illusion.  We can spend a lot of time focused on the lack, the need, the pain, etc.

But I like Mark’s reframe in this quote.  It’s much like the concepts of metta and tonglen.  We cannot ignore or be ignorant of the pain and suffering in the world.  If we do, we can become foolish or calloused.

But we cannot fret and let the world paralyze us or worse, make us wall off our hearts.

So what do we do?  We walk the middle path. . . we acknowledge the suffering in the world, we hold it close and let it fill us with compassion so that our hearts break open to hold more.

There is so much pain in the world and sometimes it feels like not nearly enough love.  So, when we look at holding compassion and lovingkindness for those who suffer, are filled with fear, are alone, etc., we generate lovingkindness in its midst.  We create love because of the suffering of others.

I know that some will say that just praying for people doesn’t do any real good.  I would disagree.  I don’t know if praying for some different outcome will work, but opening your heart and allowing it to expand to hold much more can never be wrong.

So, before you settle in with a difficult situation, a full schedule, chronic pain, heart break, and other craziness in the world, take those 10 minutes to sit with the suffering on a global level and allow it to touch your innermost essence.  And allow the space for your essence to foster new and deeper love as well.

May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

JRS

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“If we examine our motives honestly, we will usually find that there is some sort of fear inspiring our prayers.  We are afraid of something.  And we are asking to be protected from whatever we are afraid of.

The fear that inspires us to pray actually gives us the most significant clue in our efforts to understand an unanswered prayer. When our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, we often have to expereience the things of which we were afraid.  We are forced to confront our fear.”

~~John Welshons, When Prayers Aren’t Answered

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The Buddha encouraged us to think of the good things done for us by our parents, by our teachers, friends, whomever; and to do this intentionally, to cultivate it, rather than just letting it happen accidentally.

~~Ajahn Sumedho, “The Gift of Gratitude”

I am truly thankful for all those who are in my life. . . my loving and devoted parents, my dear supportive friends, and wise teachers.

Life is nothing without love, compassion, and faithful companions.

Deep gratitude and prostrations to you all.

Namaste, Jennifer

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The subtle suffering in our lives may seem unimportant. But if we attend to the small ways that we suffer, we create a context of greater ease, peace, and responsibility, which can make it easier to deal with the bigger difficulties when they arise.

Gil Fronsdal, “Living Two Traditions”

Have you ever listened to your thoughts?

I mean really listened?

Take 5 minutes right now and open Pages or Word and just type whatever comes to mind.

Or scroll through your wall on facebook.

Really pay attention to what’s there.

Do you see (hear) your thinking?

Do you see (hear) the suffering there?

Listen carefully. . . I’m such an idiot (because your computer and ipad weren’t on the same network and wouldn’t sync).

I’m such a loser (because I’m tired at work and bored with what I do because it seems so meaningless).

You’re welcome! (when the person you let go through the stop sign and they don’t wave to you in thanks or acknowledgment).

What the hell’s wrong with you? (when the person in the right lane moves ahead of you in your lane and never uses a signal light AND slows down).

I’m such a slacker (spending one weekend in pain from a root canal and the next two weekends out flat with a migraine).

Do you hear it?  Does it sound familiar?

Whining about the weather being too hot, too cold.

Not having enough money and wanting stuff that can really wait.

I keep crying, I’m such a baby (or one that bugs me. . . for you guys. . . when you say or think I’m crying like a little girl). . . because someone you love has died.

We bombard ourselves with stuff like this all day, all night, every day.

Would you talk to your kids this way?  Your best friend?  Would you let others talk to you this way?

There is a lot of talk today about bullying. . . and we need to talk about it.

And I think we need to first be aware of our own thinking and our own speech.

We can be pretty cruel and cause ourselves so much unnecessary suffering.

Life can be filled with pain, heartache, injustice, loss, and other tragedies. . . why do we add to all of this?

Stephen Levine, in The Grief Process, talks about the little injuries and losses that we sustain throughout our lives that we overlook and let chip away at us.

He questions, at one point, if we were able to have mercy for ourselves and acknowledge these little losses, would the losses of those we love be as big and hurt so much.

A new wound is most likely going to hurt more if it is at the point of a reopened wound.

So mindfulness helps us learn to acknowledge and bring into our full consciousness that which is usually below the surface, despite how much it can impact us.

With practice, we practice having compassion for these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Even if it feels rote or fake, we go through the process until our barriers begin to melt and we can hold our pain, our grief, our illness in our conscious awareness and experience patience, compassion, and equanimity.

This isn’t an easy practice but it is a life saving one.  And our very practice helps us to strengthen this life saving tool.

Listen to how you talk to yourself about your practice. . . do you make excuses for not getting on the cushion.  Do you beat up on yourself when you have a “bad session”?

Great moments to practice patience.

Maybe it will be easier to practice compassion for yourself in these moment than when you are in the midst of intense emotions or safer than situations (or people) that are really hurtful.

Life is filled with pain, danger, illness, discomfort, and other difficulties.  But it is vital to learn the difference between what is inherent because of the human condition of fragility and what is our own creation . . . our own layer of additional suffering.

And then of course, as those start to become clearer, mindfulness and lovingkindness give us the tools to transform suffering into peace.

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English: Thumbnail portrait of Atisha based on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

The Sixth of the Nine Contemplations of Atisha. . . your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Think about how easily we can be overcome by something microscopic like a germ cell.  We don’t need a tiger to kill us, a few cells can do the trick.

It’s been over 90 in the Midwest for a couple of weeks and it’s been several days with temperatures above 100, without the heat index and on the news last night we heard that two elderly people in the area had died because they had stayed in their homes without air conditioning.  So even something that cannot be seen under a microscope can take these very lives of ours.

Our own bodies can turn on us, as when we have an autoimmune disease.

We grow up in this country to believe that we are rugged individualists, that we have boundless freedom and are invincible when we get good grades, get a job, marry, and raise the perfect family.  And most people can probably name at least a handful of people for whom this narrative isn’t the case.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Our teeth decay.

Our muscles grow weak.

Our cells multiple, sometimes out of control and cancer grows.

Sometimes our bones break.

Our sleep gets disturbed.

We “catch” the flu.

Our muscles spasm and our arches fall.

It doesn’t take much water or ice on the floor to bring us to our knees or drop us on our heads.

Think about your mindful breathing. . .

Don’t you take for granted that as you focus on your in-breath that an out-breath will follow and then another in breath?

Would you if you had asthma?

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

And what about our minds?  We often forget that there is interconnection between our minds and bodies and think of them as separate entities.

It doesn’t take a lot for our minds to “betray” us too.

We have afflictive emotions.  We have perceptions, sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts.

We can have hallucinations, dreams, and forgetfulness.

We take little pills to change our thinking and feelings.

Some of us will be born and develop depression, schizophrenia, autism, or dementia and although we see the effects of these diseases, we can only conjecture what really happens, despite our collective belief in levels of serotonin, problems with synapses, etc.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Illness, like death, is an edge for us.  It is a mindfulness bell.  We usually don’t appreciate good health until we have lost it much in the same way that our love grows fonder and deeper when the object of our love has died.

A sore tooth or an aching back remind me of how fragile my physical life is.

I appreciate the rest of the teeth I have while I am sitting with the discomfort of a root canal.

When I have a migraine, I am painfully aware of the week I have had without the pain, sensitivity, nausea, etc. but that does not mean that I have been mindful to the lack of pain during that week.

So, can we use our physical presence and bodies in our meditations?

Definitely!

We cultivate awareness with meditations like body scans and progressive muscle relaxations.

Or focus on attention by practicing Yoga Nidra.

We allow our awareness to the sensation of our abdomen rise and fall with our inhalation and exhalation.

I remember a story from my first philosophy teacher. . . she was the one who introduced me to Buddhism and meditation.  I remember her telling me that her friend, during meditation, knew that there was something wrong with her kidneys and was able to get hydrated and get to the doctor before it was too late.

Our bodies may be weak, vulnerable, and fragile and we will ultimately die from something.  Not even the Buddha himself was able to avoid it.

But our cultivated aware and attention can be powerful as we practice meditation.

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Kenneth Doka coined the term “disenfranchised grief” and there are probably fewer grievers that are more disenfranchised than those who have lost someone to suicide.

Disenfranchised grief occurs when a loss occurs and something about it isn’t socially sanctioned. . .

For instance, many who lost partners to HIV/AIDS back in the 80s and 90s would be considered disenfranchised grievers — people may not have been “out” about their sexuality or the nature of their relationship.  And at the time, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence.

When a person loses a best friend or a more distant relative, like an aunt or a cousin, a person can be considered disenfranchised.

Think about it. . . maybe your mom’s best friend took care of you after your parent’s died.  There is no bereavement time off when this best friend later dies and you have to try to explain it to them at work.  This person maybe the closest living person to you, but in the company’s eyes, this relationship does not constitute a close family member.

So, I think that helps to explain what it means to be a disenfranchised griever. . . these aren’t people we think to send sympathy cards to after their loss.

But what about suicide?  Why have I started off a post about suicide by talking about disenfranchised grief?

There is so much stigma associated with suicide. . . societal, religious, spiritual, and interpersonal.

Grief is hard enough to deal with and loss due to suicide is even tougher for most people to try to understand.

We have a lot of thoughts about suicide. . .

“How could they do this to me?”

“Did I miss the signs?”

“Could I have done something?”

“How could the person I love go against God’s will?”

“Didn’t she love me?”

“Why didn’t he get help?”

According to an article on buddhanet.net on suicide:

“Why would anyone willingly hasten or cause his or her own death? Mental health professionals who have been searching for years for an answer to that question generally agree that people who took their own lives felt trapped by what they saw as a hopeless situation. Whatever the reality, whatever the emotional support provided, they felt isolated and cut off from life, friendships, etc. Even if no physical illness was present suicide victims felt intense pain, anguish, and hopelessness. John Newer, author of After Suicide, says, “He or she probably wasn’t choosing death as much as choosing to end this unbearable pain,”  

It’s hard, when you have never experienced grave psychological or physical pain, to understand what might be going through the mind of the person who attempts to suicide or completes suicide.

Grief is never easy, no matter what the circumstances, even when we feel relief for the end of a person’s pain.  But grief gets more complex as we add layers onto it.

We don’t understand what was going on with the person we loved.  How could they not come to us for help?

Other people might not understand the relationship that we had with the person who completed suicide.

And the type of death, suicide itself, has multiple kinds of stigma attached to it.

Grief for the person who is bereft because suicide can be a confusing and painful.

The best thing you can do to help is to let the person know that you are there and can listen.

Acknowledge the loss, don’t run from it.

We all want to know that someone is there for us when we are hurting.

If you can be that person, let them know.

If you can’t, find out what services are in your area and let them know that help is available.

Next post on loss due to suicide will give you more information on how to be supportive.

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One Day – an idea that will horrify you now – the misfortune will be a blessed

memory of a being who will never leave you.

But you are in a stage of unhappiness where it is impossible

for you to have faith in these reassurances.”

~~Marcel Proust

Someone posted a question to my About page, questioning what I thought about the idea of “gifts” that come from loss.  Essentially, this is an area that I tread lightly in… for the person who is in the depths of their grief, gifts, meanings, messages, life lessons, etc is something that I do not talk about at that time.  I think it can almost be cruel… like when someone says to a grieving parent, “you’re young, you can have another…”

I can think of nothing else that could be more injuring to the memory of the person who died or to the aching heart of the bereft person.

There have been times, where I can honestly say, yes, I’ve wanted to hit someone for foolish, hurtful words like these.  And I have to remember that we are just so uncomfortable with our own pain but to be present to another’s pain is a thousand-fold worse for so many people.

I’ve thought a lot about this topic during the past week and posted a reply to this “sister” blogger last night… I am sure that she will not be the only person to bring up this topic and so I decided to post my response here.

I am so grateful to her for asking her question and I hope that this will either comfort someone, help them understand another’s grief, or at the very least, get us thinking about our reactions to the grief of another person.  So, here is my reply:

I do not believe that there is any inherent purpose to death.  It is a function of being a human being and having these bodies that we do.  I don’t think there is any more inherent purpose than I believe that there is any inherent meaning.

The existentialists were split into two camps about this very topic… there were those who believed that there was no meaning in the world and were nihilistic.  There was another group who also did not believe that there was an inherent purpose, however, they did believe that we create our own meaning.

In this second group, I think of Viktor Frankl.  He once said, “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”  And this is how I see the losses we endure.

I don’t believe that there was “a” purpose to my brother’s death.  There were three of us that were most affected by this loss and we all had different relationships to him and this loss.  We each had to find our own meaning and purpose to live with this loss.

I know that all three of us would prefer, in some ways that he was back in our lives, happily living.  But he wasn’t happily living while he was here and through his dying, our lives were changed and other people have been influenced by us.    And if he was alive, he would not be healthy.  Given that, I have to make sense out of this loss in order to live with it.  That is where the purpose comes into the picture.

I know that many people who are bereft, especially parents of young children, hate hearing that there is a purpose to the death of the person who they loved.  And I struggle when I hear people saying that to them.  If we come to that place, in our own lives, over our own losses, then great.

But I think we have to face that for most of us, if it was the choice between us gaining some gift (compassion, insight, greater love, etc.) and the person who we lost, I cannot think of anyone I have ever met that would choose the gift instead.

I also don’t think that finding meaning and purpose is a panacea or defense mechanism.  I think that when we find meaning and purpose, if we do, that it helps to guide our lives.  It gives us an ethic or viewpoint, a lens, that we see the world through and then act in accordance.  I don’t think we use that as a way to deny the pain, though I suppose it could be.

I think we have to find ways to re-create our lives and figure out how to live them without the physical presence the person we love because they are not coming back.

These are just the thoughts that have been swirling around in me for the past few days.  They are influenced by my philosophical and spiritual ideas and my experiences.

They are also informed by the hundreds of people who I worked with at hospice, those who seemed to struggle and soar after someone’s death and those that seemed to struggle for the rest of their lives.

May the merit of all the good we do go out into the world

and shine on all who are in need of light.

May the merit of our love

be an inspiration to all those who have never felt love.

Namaste.

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I think before we can talk about grief due to a loss because of suicide, we need to understand suicide.

I believe that psychoeducation is one of our most basic and important tools for conquering anything.

So, how do we know if our loved one needs help or is in danger?

Here is a list of warning signs from “Survivors of Suicide” by Rita Robinson.

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Suicide threats
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Statements revealing a desire to die
  • Sudden change in behavior – withdrawal, apathy, moodiness, anger
  • Depression – crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, helplessness, worthlessness
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Loss of interest in appearance
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Acquiring a weapon
  • Failing to take medication
  • Giving away items
  • Sudden appearance of happiness or calmness

There is a lot of help out there.  Contact a qualified mental health professional in your area if you need help or you are seeking help for someone you love.

Resources:

http://www.griefnet.org/resources/suicide.htmlRelated articles

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

http://www.sprc.org/

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