The Future of iwalktheborderline.com

As it is with life in general, all things must change and all things must come to an end. That being said, while my twitter account will remain active, iwalktheborderline.com will not be renewed by the January deadline. As it is obvious by looking at my last post date my availability to update this blog has been sparse, to say the least.

I appreciate my subscribers very much and look forward to re-launching the blog with a new format and purpose, which will be revealed at a later date.

Thank you for your continued support and comments. God Bless.  Let us all be advocates for Mental Health Awareness!

iwalktheborderline.com

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The Knot – Part 1 (An Allegory)

I’m trying to knit a sweater with the little experience I have in being able to create anything more than haphazard rows of straight lines. We’ll see how this goes. I found the perfect color of yarn and have just the right amount to make what will in no doubt be my masterpiece. People will surely compliment all the hard work I’ll put in to this. Perhaps others will request that I make a sweater for them. Won’t that be fun?

Here I go. I’m following the booklet and think I’ve got this down. This is looking great so far! Then I reach my first roadblock: a series of knotted strands that are feet long. It will take forever to get all those knots out. I don’t have time for this! I know, I’ll walk to the closest craft store and see if they have any more skeins I can buy.

Shoot. The color of yarn that I have is discontinued, no longer manufactured. I explain my problem to the cashier. All I get in return was blank stares.   But a lovely (sarcasm noted) yarn sales rep overhears my predicament and begins to describe the process of how the wool is gathered, spun and dyed in order to produce the yarn I wanted to buy but could not provide. Granted, what he is saying is interesting but of no help to me at all. I did learn a LOT about yarn that I didn’t know about yesterday.

So I visit my grandmother at the local nursing home to see if she could help. She is a comfort for sure, offering to stuff me full of cookies and listens very intently. Her presence is relaxing but she also doesn’t have the yarn I need, nor can her arthritic hands help me undo any of the knots. But I don’t regret the visit at all. I leave encouraged.

Upon my return home, I glance over at the ball of knots that I had previously hoped would have been turned into my glorious sweater. I sit down and slowly try to imagine a possible solution. How in the world did this yarn get so knotted anyway? After, all I haven’t attempted to knit in years! This yarn has just been sitting in my craft basket by the couch doing nothing. Wait, now I remember. My last attempt at knitting (years ago) ended in me throwing the skeins against the wall in frustration, kicking it around the room and then shoving everything back in the craft basket, knitting needles askew. Eventually I stacked magazines, remote controls and cat toys on top, leaving the yarn’s potential forgotten. WHY DID I DO THAT? Why didn’t I take better care of it?  

And so it is with our emotions and our lives. It is so easy to forget how to take care of you, to take the gift of our own life for granted. We occupy our time with distractions, forget how to progress and heal from trauma until its time for us to forge a new path in our lives, a new direction, a new landmark. But its too late to know how to successfully do it; we are vastly unprepared. So we venture into new life experience with the little knowledge we have. And we cope the best we know how. But roadblocks seem like brick walls and we often have to backtrack and relearn.

We reach out to others for help, others who mean well and can offer up all that they know (remember the yarn salesman and the grandmother?). They provide us with useful information and comfort, but they can’t solve the problem. We may even reach out to someone for help who has no idea of what to do (the cashier).   This isn’t to say that reaching out doesn’t provide us with help, only that they cannot solve the problem.

Just as the knots in the yarn didn’t appear out of the blue, your solution to the problem will not be instantaneous. Ultimately, you have to go back to the yarn. You can’t go the shortcut route and buy new yarn at this point. You’ve passed the point of no return.  You also can’t just cut up the yarn and give up; the sweater has to be made.

Carefully, slowly and intently, do your best to untie the knots. Your sweater may come out a little more frayed than you imagined, but nonetheless you’ll still have a work of art that you can call your own.

Don’t Forget the Asterisk!

I’ve heard the phrase, “People make plans and God laughs”. Never have I experienced and agreed with that sentiment more than during the last few months.   In February, almost every single dream I’ve wished for and worked towards attaining resulted in a dramatic answer of “no”.

I’ve learned much and cried a lot. I’m still finding broken pieces of my heart in unexpected places….in memories I’ve tried to push inside, in the looks on people’s faces and in the places that didn’t hold much personal significance before February 11th but now feel like a vice grip squeezing my soul.

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a credit card on television? On the last one-second screen grab before the commercial switches you will often see a long list of impossible-to-read qualifications and terms, enclosed in asterisks. Or you will see very small print at the bottom of the screen. This is intentional, meant by the advertising company to be able to legally say, “I told you so”, while at the same time distract you with the flashing images on screen.

Now picture a list of coping skills as your own advertisement for “optimal mental health”. Envision an attractive person reading them out loud on television. They are smiling, wearing professional attire or something intentionally provocative. But before you send the ad to the editing room you mustn’t forget the most important part– the legalities.

Mental health professionals often stress the importance of identifying and utilizing coping skills when going through trauma. But sometimes they forget the “terms and qualifications”…the most important part of the “offer” for better mental health! Your “terms and qualifications” must including the following statement:

*Coping Skills Will Not Make Life Easier. Coping Skills Will Only Make Your Ability to Deal with Life Easier*

More than I’ve ever done so before, I’ve used my coping skills to deal with this personal trauma. The pain hasn’t fully gone away. Neither has the shame, embarrassment or regret. I’m going to still experience much more but my bag of tricks, my coping skills, is my safeguard against mental illness relapse. And for that, I’m immeasurably grateful.

Notice the Fine Print

Notice the Fine Print – or can you? 

Hiccups

Bumps in the road. Setbacks. Detours. Call it what you like, but I prefer the term “hiccups”.

I absolutely hate getting hiccups. Usually it happens when I’m eating too quickly and pause to stop. Suddenly the hiccups arrive and its impossible to do anything but deal with the popping pain. Your tablemates provide countless well-meaning suggestions on how to make them stop…

“Drink some water and hold your nose.”

“Hold your breath for 10 seconds.”

“Here, I’ll jump out and scare you – pretend I’m not here!”

It doesn’t work. What’s interesting is that more often than not, the hiccups tend to go away naturally. There’s nothing I can really do to make them stop except to stop what I’m doing and slow down.

Similar parallels exist in coping with mental illness. We speed along with our progress, expecting that all will be well when, unexpectedly, a painful emotion surfaces with which we don’t know how to cope. Times like this can take you aback, and makes you wonder if all the work you did was actually worth it. And, like they do when hiccups appear, your well-intentioned friends and family may offer suggestions that do not work.

A piano teacher doesn’t give one of their introductory students the task to master “Fur Elise” by the following week. They work with their student slowly, intentionally and encouragingly. They repeat instructions such as, “don’t lift up the pedal too quickly”, “sit up straight”, and “remember to curl your fingers”. And with some time, student effort and repeated praise, the ability of the student to play “Fur Elise” eventually becomes a reality!

Similarly, once “Fur Elise” is mastered, this doesn’t mean that the student won’t play it ever again without a missed note. The brilliant pianist Arthur Rubenstein has professional recordings with missed notes, but his regality shines regardless. He is still considered one of most proficient musicians of all time.

Don’t expect to never get hiccups in your mental illness recovery. Hiccups are never to be considered failures, but opportunities to rest and learn how to cope with unexpected pain. Next time you get the hiccups, stop what you’re doing, slow down, reflect upon what’s happening and recognize what you’re doing so you most likely don’t get hiccups so soon again.

The Gratefulness Bug

As I reflect upon the last year since this blog began (and especially since the holiday season began), one word comes to mind again and again…

GRATEFULNESS

I look over to my dining room table to see only about half of the Christmas presents for my family that are wrapped in pretty blue and silver paper. More gifts will come in the mail this week; more to wrap and more to give. I look at these gifts and happiness swells inside. Not because of what I expect to receive in return, but instead knowing that I have so many people in my life to give presents to.

I’m grateful because I have a career in mental illness and that I have the knowledge to speak with authority to those who feel lost and need comfort. I’m grateful for the twitter followers, blog followers and colleagues who support and inadvertently advertise this blog through their “likes” and favorites”.   Although my online presence is pretty small, it’s growing in small steps.

I’m thankful and grateful for increasing awareness of mental health issues and although this year’s awareness peaked in August with the death of a tremendous talent, it hasn’t completed subsided. And I’m thankful for the mental illness with which I’ve struggled tremendously for decades and from which I’m now in remission.

Its been shown through clinical research that having an “attitude of gratitude” positively affects your mental illness symptoms for the better and also has the ability to improve your physical health! Employers who show regular thankfulness to their employees see improved work ethic and high motivation in return. Gratefulness also has the ability to multiply and persist – its proven to be contagious! Gratefulness has the ability to go “viral”.

What are you grateful for? It is my hope that the person on the top of your own list is YOU! I encourage you this holiday season to do the following (and completing both parts is imperative!):

  1. Write a one-page letter of gratefulness to someone special in your life. The person can be alive right now or have passed on. You can decide to give the letter to them or not. If you do give it to them, encourage them to do the same and “pay it forward”.
  2. Write a one-page letter of gratefulness to yourself! After all, you are the most important person in your life! You owe it to YOU to be a compliment, inspiration and encouragement to yourself. And ultimately, you deserve it!

Be a beacon of gratefulness and the rewards you reap will be plenty!

**If you would like to post on here your own letters of gratefulness, please do so via a comment. I will copy and paste the letters in a new post.**

Without Words

To say that Monday’s death of Robin Williams was a shock is insufficient. Witnessing Robin’s tremendous talent meant to belly laugh until it hurt at his comedic skill. His jokes and quick-fire delivery were like shooting stars – you could only watch in amazement as his wit sparked beams of brilliant joy. As an actor, he had an astonishing ability to emote; in his films his world became yours. So it wasn’t a surprise when the world heard of his death that in the midst of our grief we also felt his pain.

If there is ever a time for an honest discussion about suicide prevention and mental illness, it is now. I cannot comment on Robin William’s state of mind other than to say that his hope and despair must have been so great that suicide seemed like the only viable “solution”.

Here is what suicide does and doesn’t do.

What suicide does:

– It robs your loved ones of your presence and causes them emotional pain…for the rest of their lives. Sure, the pain will fade but it will never disappear.
– It steals your chance for a better future.
– It masquerades as a “heroic” action to the emotionally vulnerable.
– It teaches that pain is an unmanageable monster and something that must be avoided at all costs, instead of a temporary challenge to conquer.
– It sustains the myth to others that suicide provides any kind of relief. The person who commits suicide ends their life in aching blow that doesn’t recover. You’re in pain, and then you’re gone.
– It erases the idea of hope and positive change for those who struggle with mental illness.

What suicide doesn’t do:

– As mentioned above, suicide doesn’t provide relief.
– It doesn’t leave a positive and endearing legacy.
– It doesn’t fix the problems of the sufferer.

It is obvious that Robin was a bleeding heart professionally but a closed book in private. We can now only imagine what his next chapter would have been.

If you are in a despairing time and need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Someone is available to talk every day, 24 hours a day. You are never alone.

Lifestyle Changes and Mental Health

For the first time, we have a featured contributor, Christie Ransom! The opinions below are expressly hers and reflect how a dramatic lifestyle change including exercise and healthy foods positively affected her mental health. As with any exercise and diet program, you should consult your doctor.  Christie shares her story as mode of encouragement and inspiration. If you would like to be a guest contributor and share your mental health story, leave a comment with your contact information below.  Thanks, Christie!

In my early teenage years, I started to recognize a significant difference in how I felt and behaved. My moods were erratic and very depressive. From attempted suicide to medication and therapy, I never felt in control of my emotions. I related it to my life situations and circumstances and assumed that had everything to do with it. For many years, I would continue to struggle with depression and anxiety and mental anguish. I was gaining weight, which was creating more emotional pain. I was exhausted and felt unable to even smile some days. My thyroid had stopped functioning properly and my digestive health created pain worse than any I had experienced. I finally hit a point where continuing along that path was no longer an option. I decided to focus on my physical health, because I felt it was the only thing I had the power to control.

In January of 2014, I changed my entire lifestyle. I began eating organic foods and focused on clean eating. I incorporated nutritional cleansing into my life. I eliminated all processed and fast foods and soda from my diet and I began to exercise (though minimal… it was more than I had been doing previously). I embarked on that journey with the hope of losing some excess pounds. What I hadn’t anticipated, was how it would affect everything else. From my thyroid health and digestive health, to my energy levels, mood and mental health… everything changed. I felt amazing. I felt a way that I hadn’t recalled feeling in as many years as I could remember. It opened my eyes to the possibility that I had created so many of my mental health issues strictly based on what I had eaten. This caused me to start reading and doing research to discover the correlation between the foods we eat and our complex mental health.

When it comes to mental health, far too many people are ignorant to the root causes. For those that suffer from depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and so many others… the feeling of hopelessness is nearly enough to swallow them entirely. From one medication to the next, from one dose to another, from one therapist to the next… the “cure” to remedy these debilitating diseases is sought after. And yet, for many, the relief from symptoms is rarely fully realized.

What I find interesting is that many sufferers from mental health disorders (which are on the rise at a rate that would shock most of us) do not have a family history of similar disorders or situations. While our life situations and the pains that we experience along the way play a role in our mental health, what most do not know, is that FOOD and EXERCISE play a much more prominent role! Everyone understands the connection between nutrition and physical illness. However, depression is typically associated with a bio-­‐chemical deficiency in the brain. Nutrition, however, will impact the direct onset and the severity of depression.

While looking back into the history of our ancestors’ health, we discover a much lower rate of obesity and mental illness. Though it did exist, it was not nearly at the rate in which we see in society today. In recent years, life is far different and mental health disorders and diseases are far more common. When researching people with depression, the National Institute of Health states that an interesting observation was made… their nutrition is far from adequate. Studies have shown a direct correlation between our diet and our physical, emotional, and mental health. Look in your refrigerator, your pantry, your freezer… how many items can you find that are pre-­‐packaged, pre-­‐processed, or boxed for convenience? How many snack foods /cereals/soda line your cupboards that are filled with processed sugars and MSG’s? Artificial flavors and colors have been shown to produce a myriad of health concerns. ADHD, for instance, has a direct relation to MSG, artificial flavor and color, and preservative intake. Processed sugars affect our mood by producing a “high” or energy boost that ends with a crash and an opposing “low”. Such sugar intake can trigger mood swings for that very reason. It can also cause a feeling of depression as we crash and a feeling of anxiety or restlessness on the high.

Processed food consumption has also decreased the protein supply in our diets. Proteins contain amino acids, which also influence mood and directly impact neurotransmitter production in the brain (including serotonin and dopamine). We need protein to maintain our skin, organ, muscle, and immune function, but many people are unaware of how important it is to our mood and emotional health. Essential fatty acids (Omega 3’s) are also critical to brain health and function. All of the excess preservative and artificially filled and mineral and nutrient deficient foods have created deficiencies in our bodies that didn’t exist 50 years ago. With the increase in genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), foods have lost nearly their entire nutrient density. Not only that, but they are high in toxins and chemicals which cause a myriad of problems within our bodies on a cellular level. Soils no longer contain the minerals in which we need to maintain healthy brain and body functions (Calcium, Chromium, Iodine, Iron, Lithium, Selenium, and Zinc) or the vitamins we need for cellular and organ health (Complex B vitamins, Vitamin B-­‐12, Folate). The more processed and depleted foods that we ingest, the greater this epidemic becomes.

All of those deficiencies in our diets create the beginning of mental health and physical health problems, which in turn create an ever-­‐repeating cycle. Maintaining a healthy weight is very crucial to preventing depression and other mental health conditions. Depression affects people in so many different ways. Some people lose complete interest in food, while others use it as an emotional release and over-­indulge. Both excessive weight loss or weight gain can make your mood worse. Weight loss and lack of good nutrition will deprive the brain of glucose and the other nutrients that control the mood. On the other hand, putting on excess weight or feeling out of control of your eating can increase depression and also lead to excessive dieting and eating disorders. Another thing that impacts our health is our water consumption. Not drinking enough fluid (or the wrong fluids…sugary drinks) each day has significant implications for mental health. The early effects of even mild dehydration can affect our feelings and behavior, causing symptoms such as irritability, loss of concentration and reduced mental functioning. Caffeine, on the other hand can increase blood pressure, anxiety, depressive symptoms and sleep problems.

I have changed my entire life, absolutely based on what I eat, and what I DON’T eat. Additionally, I have changed how my children eat. I have made it my life’s work to help educate people as to the effect of their nutrition on their entire body and both physical and mental health. Every day I coach those ready to make a change. My hope is that we can soon educate the masses on the correlation of nutrition and mental health and change the way we treat people entirely. Let’s treat the problem or prevent it from the start, instead of treating the symptoms once they have begun. You are what you eat. Remember that. Live it. Eat in a way that will love your body, so that you can find peace, contentment, and whole body health permanently.