Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Responsiblity or Pathology?

How's my mental health today?

It probably depends on who's diagnosing me. Or what I'm trying to excuse or justify!

Last week I heard a newsbrief mention of an RCMP officer charged with a number of infractions including drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident. The defense strategy employed by his lawyer was to justify/excuse the officer's behaviour due to his "suffering" from an addiction and PTSD.

As an advocate and activist working to reduce the stigma and negative public perception of mental illness I was always angered by stories like this. I still am - even though I stepped away from those roles 4+ years ago.

The bottom line is that mental illness and addictions SHOULD NOT, and MUST NOT be used to excuse deliberate choices and behaviours.

I have a mental disorder, I am not responsible for that - I certainly did not ask for it, or desire it in any way, shape or form. I have no control over that. I am, however, responsible for how I respond to my reality. It IS my responsibility to educate myself about my condition, the danger signs, and what I need to do about them. I am responsible to do those things in my power that will help me stay as healthy as possible. If my doc prescribes meds or other treatments - it is my responsibility to comply with the treatment plan. If I disagree with the treatment plan, it is my responsibility to negotiate another approach with my physician.

If I deliberately choose to ignore and/or not comply with the treatment plan, I cannot use my illness as an excuse for any resulting mishap or catastrophe. Nor should I be allowed to use that justification.

One of my first jobs in mental health was with a mental health crisis service that was  located in a building that also contained a number of emergency housing services and addictions treatment programs. I was a smoker at the time, and while getting my nicotine fix one day (in front of the building) I overheard a conversation between 2 young men. One was telling the other about his intention to go out and score some crack later that evening. The other responded, quite incredulously, "What are you doing? You're in a treatment program! Why mess that up?"

The response: "I can't help myself. I have an illness."

Such a crock! Making deliberate, destructive plans are not a symptom of an illness or addiction. Cravings and urges are - but not the conscious choice to satisfy those urges and cravings. The second young man was still giving the pathetically "ill" guy an earful when I left to return to work.

This story is unfortunately too common in our culture and society. How often do we see and hear the "I'm not responsible", "I have an illness", "I have an addiction", "I was drunk" justification for destructive incidents where someone got hurt or even killed?

(The overuse of early childhood victimization through social injustice, poverty, family dysfunction, etc as justification for continued destructive adult behaviour is a whole other rant).

I don't deny that there are tragedies that occur as a result of illness which victimize both the injured party and the "perpetrator". In those instances the illness is clearly the cause of the calamity (and I will speak up loudly in defense of the afflicted in these circumstances).  Those situations are far more rare than defense lawyers would have us believe.

In my opinion (and many others) the social sciences have played a significant role in this trend to pathologize bad choices and behaviours and the subsequent use of this pathology as justification for these behaviours and choices all in the hope of avoiding responsibility for inevitable destructive outcomes.

The list of psychiatric disorders is expanding at an amazing rate. It appears that more and more socially and culturally undesirable behaviours, character traits, eccentricities and personal beliefs (including religious) - are being labeled as some kind of disorder. The spectrum of acceptable social norms is shrinking and everything outside of that spectrum is quickly pathologized and given a psychological or psychiatric label. (I'm not talking about clearly blatant criminal behaviour).

During my years working in mental health I had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people, including individuals whose driving passion was their involvement in the anti-psychiatry movement. While a few were rabidly over-the-top, many presented some fascinating, legitimate, articulate arguments.

Some were even entertaining. The ones that amused me were the stories and parables that mocked the practice of analyzing and pathologizing everything. The first link below will take you to one of my favorite anti-psychiatry discourses. For Winnie-the Pooh fans, here's a whole new slant on your favorite characters.

Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne

Even general medicine gets ridiculed.

Medical Mysteries of the 100-­Acre-­Wood

Responsibility or Pathology?

It's time for more honesty - we need to call behaviours and choices exactly what they are!

If it's clearly deliberate, intentional, especially driven by selfishness - it's not justifiable or excusable as the result of illness.

Sin is sin - not an illness!


A bit crude - but it makes the point!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dangerous Labels

How's my mental health today?

I don't know yet. I'm actually writing this a few days ahead of time. When I know that I have several days of blog posts prepared my stress levels drop considerably.

When I worked in mental health I spent a lot of time and energy addressing the monster  known as "Stigma". People have so many biases, prejudices, and use discriminatory labels that are harmful to others, especially those that can't defend themselves.

Take this image for instance:

At first glance, the attempt at humour is obvious. But for people living and struggling with mental illness it's not so funny.  The text contained in the image takes a not very subtle shot at mentally imbalanced. It's a clear putdown - an insult! Jokes and jabs that denigrate someone, belittle them or mock and insult them are demeaning and destructive. They are evil thinly disguised as humour. It is NOT FUNNY!

In my work I frequently came across the saying, "When you label someone, you are giving yourself permission to treat them differently". (source: unknown)

This doesn't just occur in mental health; we see it, hear it, and read about it everyday!

As I continue reading the books mentioned in my recent (prior to last weekend) blog posts I can't help wondering how much of the labeling of others is a consequence of our focus on self? Do we intentionally attempt to boost our self-esteem by besmirching, maligning, and vilifying those who threaten our self-image?

Several years ago, I frequently found myself the target of sharp criticism. Much of the criticism resulted from the absence of a clearly defined line of accountability in my job, and some of the most vocal critics wanted the program funding and my job for themselves. The most frequent accusation was that I was only concerned with promoting myself, rather than working and providing opportunities for the members of the community I was hired to serve. (There's a lot more to the story, but there's no need to get into it here).

That was a difficult charge to respond to - it was a lose/lose situation for me. There was no way for me to defend myself. I was offended, hurt, disappointed, and felt the personal risks I was taking to speak up for the vulnerable were unappreciated. But I had to ask myself how much truth, if any existed in these arrows fired at me. To this day I wrestle with the question of "Is this about me?" Is it wrong to be ambitious? Am I motivated by praise? Reputation? Being in the spotlight? Does the label of glory-seeking and narcissism apply to me?

Is it possible to be an activist, an 'agent of change' and stay completely in the background? I find myself very reluctant to be anywhere but behind the scenes, quiet, unnoticed, undisturbed. Deep down I desire to be as safe and unassailable as possible.

That is so very contrary to who I am and who God created me to be. That doesn't fit with blogging. Or with writing for publication. How do I resolve this tug-of-war? Am I too worried - too focused on myself?

Can I boldly step beyond the fears of criticism and self doubt to follow what I believe is my calling and purpose? Do I want to?

“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm 
but because of those who look at it without doing anything” 
~ Albert Einstein

Monday, February 27, 2012

Me and Social Justice

How's my mental health today?

It's not that important at the moment. I'm more fascinated and stimulated by the exercise of reading the Old Testament (I've now moved on to Numbers) and The Narcissism Epidemic at the same time. My mind is racing down many tangential trails again.

As I read the Mosaic laws (keeping in mind the expansion and completion of the same in the New Testament) I find it impossible not to reflect on what I see, hear, and read about in our world today. From my perspective, there is no way to reconcile the current cultures and values of the so-called 'Christian' world with the teachings of Scripture and the principles our country was supposedly founded on.

The injustice, violence, hatred, bigotry, racism, selfishness, greed and corruption rampant in our society belies any reference to God in the birth and growth  of our nation. The rapidly expanding gulf between rich and poor; the lack of equitable justice; and the deficit of social conscience are a sad indictment of our country and the so-called Christian Western World.

Why is there such a push for heavy punitive action against copyright infringement, while abuses and violations perpetrated against the most vulnerable and helpless people often receive incomprehensible 'light' consequences? Why is there such a blatant disregard for the sanctity of life? (It seems just yesterday that violent disagreements were settled with fists - now knives and guns are pulled out).

While I think I understand the concept and goals of restorative justice, should not the consequences of evil and unlawful behaviour fit the crime?

Furthermore, why do so many pictures of the devastation in Haiti look no better today than it did immediately after the devastating earthquake of a few years ago? Why are so many people dying of hunger and disease in the Sudan and other African countries while our flat-screen TVs are getting larger and larger?

Are we, who have so much, doing enough to address the injustices in the world; in our own communities? Are we even aware of the needs of others; the crushing pain and suffering in our world? Are we aware of how we are benefiting from the oppression and abuse of others, the despondent, the impoverished, the disenfranchised people of our world, our country, our city, our backyard?

Am I?

It is impossible for me not to take a hard look at myself as I read the argument presented in the Narcissism Epidemic.

Am I too focused on myself and my desires? Sure I'd love to have a faster computer, a big, opulent home entertainment system, a luxurious vehicle, a lavish holiday, a 7 figure bank account, etc. Do I need them?

Am I doing enough for others? Am I prepared to do with less than I have? What am I prepared to give up? What will I give up?

In my last job, my role was primarily that of an 'agent of change'.  Has that role and responsibility changed or ended just because I'm now retired?

What am I doing to love my neighbour as myself?

Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, 
so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.
~~ Sigmund Freud 


Friday, February 24, 2012

Narcissism Epidemic

How's my mental health today?

I've been deep in thought. (Usually a good sign)

One of the books I'm reading at the moment is "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement" by Jean M. Twenge, PH.D. & Keith Campbell, PH.D. (2009).

In their Foreword the writers say,

We imagine narcissism in society resting on a four-legged stool. One leg is developmental, including permissive parenting and self-esteem focused education. The second leg is the media culture of shallow celebrity. The third is the Internet: Despite its many benefits, the Web also serves as a conduit for individual narcissism. Finally, easy credit makes narcissistic dreams into reality. The narcissistic inflation of the self was the cultural twin of the inflation of credit. They are both bubbles, but the credit bubble popped first.

Each of these legs supports living in a narcissistic fantasy instead of in reality. Few boundaries are set by families, and teachers tell children they are "stars" and "winners" even as performance stays stagnant. Celebrity culture and the media tempt people with the idea of fame - often fame rewarded for the amount of attention one draws to oneself rather than actual accomplishment (Paris Hilton?, Kim Kardashian?)*. The Internet allows people to present an inflated and self-focused view of themselves to the world, and encourages them to spend hours each day contemplating their images... Easy credit serves as a personal Fairy Godmother who makes wishes come true, but only until the bills come due.  [* my insertion]

We can take the road of narcissism... Along this road we see the signs of greed, self-centeredness, shallow relationships, vanity, social isolation, phony economics, bailouts, and blame. Or we can walk a different path, one whose way is marked by responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities. This road values the things that bring us joy without harming others, such as close relationships, strong communities, hard work, and passions or hobbies. These things celebrate personal freedom but also responsibility. This path is harder because it is based on reality rather than fantasy - and it is a path rather than a destination because perfection doesn't exist - but in the long run it is the right road to travel.

Very thought provoking - at least I find it so.

The authors frequently point to the surge of social media media usage and blogging as a factor and indicator in the rise of narcissistic attitudes and behaviours in our culture.

It's very easy to pigeonhole other people, deciding where they fit on the 'narcissistic road' (judgement comes so easily, doesn't it). The more difficult and painful challenge is to examine myself and look at which road I'm walking. I'm using Facebook and blogging. Am I too self-focused?

This book has me examining my motives and actions. Furthermore, where does my Christian faith fit?

The authors of the book aren't writing from a Christian perspective, but I noticed Chapter 15 is titled, "God Didn't Create You to Be Average". I'm just beginning the book; that chapter and how it fits into the authors' presentation/argument has piqued my curiousity.

As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.
~~ Daniel J. Boorstin



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Me and You, Narcissism and Leviticus

How's my mental health today?

I have more energy this morning than I've had in over a week. On top of that I finally seem to have got over a stomach flu that's laid me out since Sunday night. That certainly is a positive influence on my mental health!

Over the past  4 days I've done a lot of sleeping and reading. Along with some brain candy, I've been reading newspapers, the book of Leviticus and I've made a start on a book titled, The Narcissism Epidemic; Living in the Age of Entitlement by Twenge, PH.D. and Campbell, PH.D.

Yesterday I read a column by a weekly newspaper columnist and was jarred by one sentence in particular, not because of its content, but because of its structure. The writer began the sentence with, "Me and the other board members..."

While it may appear to be a simple grammatical error, I see and hear so much of that 'me and you' language that I've come to believe that it is a clear indicator of the dominant social value of our culture - namely "Me First"!

That is remarkably contrary to the values I was taught (actually drilled in) when I was growing up. It is contrary to what Paul taught when he wrote to the church in Galatia, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love." (Galatians 5: 13)

'Me first' is contrary to what I read in Leviticus. The societal relationship laws in Leviticus proscribe responsibility, not rights; social justice, not selfishness; respect and love for others, not narcissistic greed.

When, where, and how did our culture get it so screwed up?

There are so many thoughts on these matter whirling in my head, I may take a few blog posts to sort these out.

I love what I do for a living, it's the greatest job in the world, but you have to survive an awful lot of attention that you don't truly deserve and you have to live up to your professional responsibilities and I'm always trying to balance that with what is really important.
  - Tom Hanks

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Neglected Step-Child

How's my mental health today?

Better than my physical health. Seems I have come down with a nasty stomach flu. I'll let a former colleague speak in my place today.

Mental health care treated like neglected stepchild
William Ashdown -
February 15 2012 01:00 AM -0600

Mental health experts from across Canada are converging on Winnipeg today for a rare two-day summit on mental health issues, particularly as they affect children.

Traditionally, mental health has been the neglected stepchild of the health-care system -- the last service to be improved and the first to be shortchanged. It has few champions.

Mental health funding is easiest to squeeze, with the least amount of political consequence. After all, these are not prominent illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, nor are they "niche" maladies with strong public support, such as breast cancer. Nor do they pull on the heartstrings the way that children's diseases do.

It is easier to underfund services in mental health and few are willing to complain, either because they are ill or because of stigma.

This is typical worldwide.

And, no wonder! The usual picture of the adult mentally ill is vastly different from the reality. Media cover only the most unnerving examples of the illnesses -- slumped figures on street corners, begging for coins, or raging at shadows. Manitoba's "Bus Killer."

The vast majority of people with mental illness, however, are invisible -- teachers, nurses, bus drivers, pilots, policemen, professors, radio hosts, politicians, priests and rabbis.

The only thing they have in common is a category of illness that affects the way they feel and sometimes clouds the way they think. Only in the rarest of cases are they problematic to anyone but themselves and their loved ones.

Crime stats clearly demonstrate the mentally ill are vastly more often the victim than the villain.

Within medicine itself, mental illness has always been treated as second-rate. Ask any medical school administrator what are the popular specialities, and rarely will psychiatry be mentioned. Residency positions for psychiatry are usually easier to acquire than others.

As a result, Canada faces a critical shortage of psychiatrists, at exactly the time when we need to be bolstering the numbers. More than half of all psychiatrists in Canada are within five years of retirement, with nowhere near enough replacements being trained.

In other specialities, this would be a national crisis. In mental health, it barely raises an eyebrow.

Psychiatry as a speciality also ranks among the lowest-paid, far below most other specialists. Yet psychiatrists have the challenge of dealing, not just with a patient's mental health, but also carefully monitoring the larger picture.

For instance, many illnesses, heart disease, for example, show up with initial symptoms that mirror mental illnesses. Failure to recognize these for what they are can lead to disaster.

Psychiatry also ranks well down on the "social scale" of medicine. Other specialities often denigrate them.

A surgeon I knew referred frequently to psychiatrists with contempt as being "doctors who refused to practice medicine" and who took the "easy way out." He had nothing but scorn for psychiatry, until his own family needed help.

Yet doctors themselves are especially vulnerable to mental illness. One doctor in three will have a significant mental illness during his practice years, affecting his practice, his patients and his health. This is an extraordinarily high rate of illness.

Until the last few decades, medical authorities treated mentally ill doctors with a brutality sometimes reserved for criminals. Most were struck off, or driven from their positions, and forced to take lesser roles. Often decisions were based on little evidence and concrete proof. No wonder that doctors are among the most reticent to ask for help when they need it.

Several times in my career as an advocate for the mentally ill, doctors came to see me for advice and aid rather than reveal their symptoms to a colleague. Often they would sneak in after hours, through the back door, so as to not be recognized.

With that picture in mind, and given that many with mental illness refuse to seek help, it is understandable psychiatric disorders might not be easy to accurately estimate. Making it worse is the fact many will be misdiagnosed, or will refuse to accept their diagnoses.

No one wants mental illnesses (and sometimes doctors are reluctant to diagnose them) due to stigma, the pervasiveness of which is clear from the constant use of euphemisms -- breakdown, exhaustion, stress leave, needing a break. The English language abounds with innocuous words disguising symptoms of mental illness.

Another complication is that not everyone agrees as to what is what. But generally, the gold standard is set by the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health.

In 1990, the WHO listed five psychiatric disorders among the 10 most disabling in the world. These are not the deadliest illnesses, just the ones that create the most disability.

Depression tops the list at No. 1, followed by alcohol abuse at No. 4, bipolar disorder at No. 6, schizophrenia at No. 9, and obsessive-compulsive disorders at No. 10. Five of the 10 most disabling illnesses on the planet are illnesses of the function of the brain.

In more local terms, NIMH (National Institute for Mental Health)data indicate 9.5 per cent of Manitobans annually suffer from a mood disorder, half of which will be classified "severe."

That means at least 114,000 Manitoba men, women and children will have a mood disorder this year and 51,600 will be severely ill, which means sick enough so that their lives, jobs and relationships are damaged or destroyed. About 160 will kill themselves.

As to how many get help, in 2010 about 70,000 Manitobans were treated and, depending on the severity of the illness and the skill of the physician, about half received adequate treatment.

William Ashdown is vice-president of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dr Seuss on Aging

How's my mental health today?

It's great to be Canadian - today is a holiday (at least it is here in Manitoba)!

Back to the question.

Humour helps - a lot!

Even (sometimes especially) if it is a bit crude.

Enough said.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's Sunday!

How's my mental health today?

Other than being Bedside Baptists today and listening to Pastor Pillow, and then feeding our kids dinner, we're taking the day off.

Got nothing else today.

Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2012


How's my mental health today?

It's Friday! End of a challenging week. I hope it'll be a low-key weekend - I need more rest to catch up on the sleep I didn't get throughout the week.

Yesterday was a day to regroup. After the frustrations of the first 3 days of the week, I needed to rest. I was so tired I fell asleep on the massage table, even when the therapist was doing some deep muscle work.

Although I needed to ascertain whether or not I had solved the first issues of the week - namely successfully digitizing some music, I decided it was important to give myself a break from frustrations.

It was a good day to catch up on some of the planned reading that I had fallen behind on. And if I fell asleep while reading - no big deal as long as I didn't drop a hard cover book on my face.

Today I have a coffee meeting scheduled in the morning and then I'll get back at digitizing  music. I anticipate better success than this past Monday.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Murphy's Law

How's my mental health today?

I'm tired - physically and mentally.

As I've been trying to establish more structure in my day, a variety of challenges have reared their heads.

For one, I haven't been sleeping well which is never good for my health, mental and physical. It's a red flag that I need to pay attention to. I'm not sure what I have to do to get a better night's sleep. I've been exhausted but as soon as I get horizontal I'm wide awake. Definitely not good.

On Monday, I ran a number of errands including doing my valentine's day shopping. When I got home I decided it was time to deal with one of my unfinished projects, namely digitizing more of the vinyl (LPs) sitting in a crate in my office. I had everything set up, began recording the album at the front of the pile. Twelve minutes and some seconds after starting the process the recording inexplicably stopped. I deleted the little I had and started  the process again. This time it recorded a little over 2 minutes before going on strike. I tried a few more times. The turntable kept spinning but for some reason the recording was not working. I decided to just monitor the signal as it came into the computer without recording. This time it played for just over 17 minutes before the audio quit.

Was this an equipment problem or a software issue? The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to isolate the problem without any success. I set it aside for the next day.

The next morning (Tuesday) I had Heidi drop me off at a hardware store where I made a small purchase and from there I walked to an electronics/computer store where I purchased new software and digitizing hardware. I decided to walk home - after all it was a nice, sunny, mild morning and the walk would only take about 45 minutes. Problem was it was rather slippery. I slipped a few times but managed to stay upright. The next time I slipped I hit the ground giving myself a bruised and scraped elbow and forearm. Nothing serious - at least I didn't tear my coat. I was less than 10 minutes from home when I slipped again. One foot slid backwards and out - the other went in the opposite direction, of course. Down I went again. This time I had a little difficulty getting up. I had tweaked the knee that I had torn cartilage in a year and a half ago, and I felt something pop at the back of my ankle. Not only were my knee and ankle uncooperative in my efforts to stand up, but I was also still on a very slippery section of sidewalk. I envisioned myself doing a solo slapstick routine but I was able to get back on my feet without further calamity and carefully limped home.

I was a little sore but it was quite manageable. I got back to work, trying to determine where the problem was in my digitizing efforts. I was finally able to determine that I had a hardware problem and dealt with it. I loaded the software for the new equipment, connected the new hardware and started up the recording program. Now I had to register the new equipment before the software would work. I entered all the required information and hit send.

New problem. All of a sudden I had no internet connection. I went through the usual process of trying to correct the problem, but it got worse rather than better. After shutting the computer, modem and wireless router down and restarting everything my home network disappeared. My computer wouldn't even let me set up a new network connection. I messed around trying to isolate the new problem and got nowhere. Calling my Internet provider was no help. As usual I got the automated response which told me that all lines were busy and my call would be answered when I got the the top of the waiting line. "Please hold." A little elevator music and then a recording told me that most problems could be resolved by visiting their website. I hate that message. The only time I ever call for tech support is when I can't get internet access. And then as should be expected, my call was disconnected.

Next step. I disconnected the wireless router and plugged the computer into the modem. After the annoying exercise of setting up the broadband connection I finally had Internet access. That didn't help because now my ISP website wouldn't load. I could get onto any other website I tried, just not onto the site I needed. I am convinced that I was a victim of a conspiracy to push my frustration levels to the limit - the websites I was able to access loaded painfully slow.

I started doing a burn. Time to quit for the day.

I was tired, frustrated, and my ankle was swelling and stiffening up. I could hardly put any weight on it. I spent the evening sitting down with the foot elevated. Then I had another night with next to no sleep.

Yesterday, Wednesday morning, was my weekly coffee and Bible study at 6 a.m. We started with 1 John 3:18 which reads: Let us not love with word or tongue but with actions and in truth. The question was asked, Who did each of us need to show love for today?

I knew what my answer needed to be - whatever staff person at my ISP I was going to be dealing with later in the day. OoooKaaaaaaay.

I had another coffee meeting following the Bible study - the weekly get together with my unemployed and underemployed siblings. Afterwards I went to my"office" (the cafe) and ascertained that the problem was not with my laptop computer. I had no trouble accessing the Internet through the cafe's wi-fi.

Then it was off to visit my friendly neighbourhood ISP (can you taste the sarcasm?). It was a good thing I had been to the Bible study, because the staff were no help. I would have to make an appointment to have one of their servicemen come out (at my cost, of course) even if all I wanted was to have the old equipment replaced by the newest available. Not what I wanted to hear. I calmly and politely thanked the young man I was dealing with and left.

I decided to buy a new wireless router but not from one of the electronics box stores. I went into a shop I don't visit very often (they're a little pricey) but I knew I would get good, honest service, and quality equipment. Surprise, surprise - the sales rep was a fellow I knew from a church I attended 20 years ago.  He explained my options to me and let me decide without pressuring me in any way.

I headed home with my new router. I unpacked the router and papers, but there was no software disk. NOW WHAT?

I opened the booklet of easy(?) installation instructions and learned that I needed to go to the manufacturer's website to find and download the drivers and software I required. What else am I going to run into?

Success, finally!

I got a new wireless home network set up and now Heidi and I can once again both surf the 'net at the same time.

Time to get dinner started.

Digitizing the LPs will have to wait until the next day (today).

2 weeks ago I would not have managed this sequence of events very well. My mental health has obviously improved a bit.

Today will hopefully go better. At least it's starting well - I have a therapeutic massage appointment to start the day.


  • If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the first one to go wrong.
    • Corollary - If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.  
  • If anything can't go wrong, it will anyway. 
  • If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Octopus on Roller Skates

How's my mental health today?

As I explored the concepts of gifts, talents and discipline the last few days I came across a number of interesting quotes.

For example:

"Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. 
There's plenty of movement, but you never know 
if it's going to be forward, backwards, or sideways".
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

(As I read this the silly song, You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd starts ringing in the back of my mind).

Setting that musical distraction aside, there is something in Brown's statement that resonates with me. I love the word picture and it is an appropriate depiction of how I feel about the way I employ my talents at times.

Why do I find discipline so difficult? Perhaps I never learned how to learn and practice discipline?

Maria Montessori made an interesting statement.

“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . 
We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been 
rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a 
paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined."

As I look back on my growing years I realize that obedience (avoiding misbehaviour and making mistakes) was not an opportunity for learning - it was simply an exercise in avoiding the consequences of transgressions (corporal punishment). Instructions of what to do and what not to do rarely included an understandable explanation of why - it seemed to be more about "obey, or else..." I didn't learn discipline through fear of punishment.

I wonder, did I do this any better with my own kids?

Hindsight tells me that when I graduated from High School I had no idea of how to study, how to do research, how to write a paper. Critical thinking was a foreign concept for me. I got through school by relying solely on my ability to remember information. If the information didn't interest me it was tough to remember. If I didn't understand the information, if it didn't make logical, applicable sense to me I couldn't remember it either. It wasn't until 27 years later that I learned how to write a paper. This June it will be 40 years since I graduated from high school. I still don't have a clue how to study effectively. Research isn't quite as baffling.

Looking back on my years of learning to play the violin and viola I have become aware of that fact that I never learned how to rehearse. Practicing never became more than mindless repetition to fill the required rehearsal time. It is obvious to me that this lack of knowledge inhibited my ability to learn and increase my technical skills.

Unfortunately, I didn't come to realize these deficiencies until decades after the point where it would have been useful to know and address. I know that as long as I'm alive it's not to late to eliminate these deficiencies in my knowledge and skill sets.

Developing more structure and discipline in my life requires more than just getting at it. I need to learn the requisite skills. I'm going to be busy.

“Right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, 
but in the habits of mind which lead spontaneously to 
desirable rather than undesirable activities.” 
~ Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Intentional Living

How's my mental health today?

Going for a walk in the sunshine yesterday certainly helped.

I began the day with the decision to be more deliberate and disciplined in my day-to-day activity. Hopefully that will help me get more things done.

The questions about my gifts and talents (see yesterday's post) still remain. They will be easier to answer as I complete the stack of unfinished projects on my desk. Finishing things I started will also help my mental health.

As far back as I can remember I have always been an ideas/big picture person. Visionary? Perhaps. Some might tell you that I'm a dreamer, others will say that I get caught up in grandiose delusions. Whatever the truth is, the bottom line is that I have a very strong dislike for the drudgery of taking care of details. I can do it if I have to, but it's a challenge for me to sit down to the task. I'd rather come up with new ideas, explore them, and sometimes even get a new project started.

Now the time has come to clean up little details. At the beginning of this year I recorded my goals for 2012 and they include finishing up the 2 largest projects that have been waiting for my attention for some years now. One is a time consuming, unimaginative task of just doing it. The other involves research, organizing materials, and writing. Completion of these projects may even help me answer the question of what to do with my writing.

The discipline of applying myself to tasks and seeing them through to the end are a part of what I have to do to stabilize and improve my mental health.

Regular exercise, eating well, vitamins, meeting and talking to others, keeping my brain active by reading things that build my knowledge, practicing spiritual disciplines that enhance my faith life,and proper rest are all things that will also help my mental health.

I just have to do them. Every day. Deliberately and thoughtfully - knowing their purpose and benefit.

I have to overcome my distaste for regimen and practice intentional living.

My biggest challenge? Doing all this without getting all stressed out over it and not overdoing things. Keeping a healthy balance in my life is critical.

God, I need your help here!

“Many of life's circumstances are created by three basic choices: 
the disciplines you choose to keep, the people you choose to be with; 
and, the laws you choose to obey” ~ Charles Millhuff

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Morning Headache

How's my mental health today?

My thoughts are spinning on the question of my gifts and talents.

Am I putting the gifts and talents God gave me for the purposes He intended? Am I employing them to the fullest or am I wasting what I have?

Although these questions were triggered by the message we heard in church yesterday, they have been in the back of my mind for a long time.

For many years I believed I had a gift for music. I was very involved in all sorts of music programs and activities. Twice I won the Royal Conservatory silver medal for having the top mark in the province in my violin exams. I was shining in the spotlight in my small world. When I went to Germany to study at the Music Academy in Hanover I discovered I was musically illiterate; in fact, my violin instructor told me I was not a violinist. I continued pursuing a music career for a few years but didn't get anywhere. It's easy to explain this as the result of the instability of my mental health,, but deep down I wonder.

Is music my God given gift that I failed to employ to its fullest potential, or do I have an appreciation and love for music that has been heightened and sharpened by my past musical involvement and exposure as well as my music education?

I really don't know how to answer that.

What about other gifts? I went through a process of determining my spiritual gifts 11 or 12 years ago. I don't remember what they all were but I do remember there were more than a few on the list. Given I don't remember what they were, I very likely haven't used them to their fullest potential.

In the last 10 years of my work in mental health I did a lot of public speaking. I know I had an impact - I was told that many times. Is public speaking my gift? I really don't have a desire to go back to that again.

I began this blog last summer as an exercise to explore my creative abilities to write. Is writing my gift? Some people tell me it is. Maybe its communication in general, although my ability to communicate with my wife and kids can be seriously questioned at times. If writing is my gift and God-given purpose, what am I going to do with it?

If I'm going to write, it has to be more than blogging! A few people have strongly encouraged me to write a book.

But what do I write about? Who do I address, for what purpose? This has got to be about more than receiving recognition and accolades. Can I write without being in the spotlight? Is humility congruent with the creative arts?

Can I serve others by writing? If so, how do I do that? Where do I start?

My head hurts now. I need to take a break and get back to sorting these thoughts out later.

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, 
I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, 
and could say, "I used everything you gave me.” 
~ Erma Bombeck

Thoughts? Comments?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Darkness and Hope 2

How's my mental health today?

I'm still processing Michael Landsberg's documentary.

I spent a little bit of time trying to find the video on-line and only found it after I had posted yesterday.

If you missed it you can watch the video at:

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Darkness and Hope

How's my mental health today?

I'm processing.

Last night I watched Michael Landsberg's documentary Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me on TSN2. It had been on  TSN earlier in the evening but we had dinner guests at that time. I watched the show before going to bed.

If you want to hear familiar, famous sports figures talk openly about their experience with depression, watch this show. It will be broadcast again on Sunday, February 12 at 2 p.m. on CTV.

I don't have much to say today. Landsberg, Stephane Richer, Darryl Strawberry, Clara Hughes, Rowdy Roddy Piper said it all last night.

Check out:

It's worth a read.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let's Talk About It

How's my mental health today?

Apparently today is the day to talk about it.

I'm curious to see what will transpire today since Bell has promoted this event for several weeks.

It's great that so many prominent people are stepping up to talk about their struggles with depression. While that is vitally important, my hope is that mental illness as a whole is talked about. Disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and panic disorders also need to be brought out of the closet. Trauma disorders and personality disorders need to be included in the discussion.

It is crucial that the fears and myths about mental illness are exposed and corrected.  I have heard too many people deny their reality because of their fears of being labeled 'crazy'. Stigma must be eliminated. The more these disorders are openly discussed and normalized, the safer it is for people struggling with these challenges to come forward for treatment.

As we promote accurate, correct information and the possibility of recovery we will bring hope to those affected, their friends and families. If we as a society and community learn how to assist, support, and encourage people living with mental illness, we will make it possible for them to participate in community and live meaningful, and most likely productive lives.

I hope we do more than talk today. I would like to see more people taking action to make a difference in someone's life.

Learn to do right; seek justice. 
Defend the oppressed. 
Take up the cause of the fatherless; 
plead the case of the widow.
~ Isaiah 1:17

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Would Stalin Say?

How's my mental health today?

I heard about some stuff on Youtube and looked it up yesterday. I howled with laughter.  I've been chuckling ever since.

I just have to share it.

It's a rather lengthy (almost 2 hours) concert but if you have the time, it's worth a look. Unless you're a music purist, you'll soon be tapping your foot and smiling (if not laughing).

Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Chorus. (Check out the hair and the shoes).

Red Army Chorus singing Sweet Home Alabama with a faint hint of Volga Boatmen - too funny! Jagger/Richards, Lennon/McCartney, Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and many more. In between a variety of Russian Folk Music and dance. It's all quite entertaining.

I laughed at first, but after watching it a couple of times I found myself fascinated by the musicianship and the unique mix of Western and Russian cultures. the more I watched, the more impressed and entertained I was.

If nothing else - it's good for my mental health.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Occupy SuperBowl XLVI

How's my mental health today?

OK at this point - but I didn't sleep well last night. I'll have to pay attention to that. Too many consecutive nights of poor sleep can become a problem.

I've been thinking about other things - things that are going on in our city; in our country; in our world.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Am I to ignore the pain, the lawlessness, the darkness of what I hear, see, and read about?

How do I respond to a 15 year old pulling a gun and robbing a woman of her car in the middle of the day at one of the busiest malls in our city?

What about a 23 year old male walking through a downtown mall carrying a sawed-off rifle under his coat?

Last Friday newspapers reported another young woman (15 yrs old) had been missing since January 31st. Why? Why is it that so many of the reported missing young females are aboriginal?

Yesterday I watched a mostly tedious football game that was the central point of a national orgy of excesses in the USA. Why is our culture so enamored with gladiatorial spectacles and their sideshows that cost hundreds of millions of dollars while so many people in our communities and throughout the world are suffering poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness, warfare, violence, etc? If the occupy movement is protesting the wealth and excesses of the few in the face of the poverty of the many, why was there no "Occupy SuperBowl XLVI"?

With the chaos, the social injustices, the pain and suffering in the world around us today I wonder: what kind of world will my children have to deal with? What about my future grandchildren?

Can things get better or will they only get worse?

How do I make a difference? Can I make a difference?

I have somehow arrived back at the theme of "where's God in the midst of calamity?"  that I saw in the movie The Tree of Life several weeks ago.

In Luke 17: 26 - 29 Christ says,  
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
    “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all."

Are we eating and drinking and blindly carrying on with our lives as our world is heading for destruction?

Too bad that all the people who know how to run 
the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair. 
                                           ~ George Burns

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Drawing a Blank

How's my mental health today?

I've certainly had a much better week than I had in the previous 4 weeks.

Only problem is, I've drawn a blank as far as what to write today.

I have had one question repeatedly coming to mind since Wednesday - why do so many people say FebUary when it's spelled FebRuary?

Am I obsessing? Possible, but I find the mispronunciation annoying.

I suppose that if that's the worst thing bugging me right now, things are pretty good.

It's Friday. Enjoy the weekend. I'll be back on Monday.

I found an interesting observation on the World Wide Web yesterday. 

Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phones, and Pinning the the Tail on the Donkey --- but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.~ Author unknown.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is this News or Entertainment?

How's my mental health today?

I'm not awake enough to be able to tell.

Last night I was watching the news on television and observed a young man on the street asked his opinion on a story just reported. I felt embarrassed for the young guy. His response included such blatantly incorrect information that it invalidated the credibility of his position.

I wondered why TV newscasts put interviews like that on the air? This was certainly not the first time it's happened. What is the purpose of showing these clips? Is it to spread incorrect information? Do they do it to mock the intelligence of the viewers? Do they do it to demonstrate how stupid people can be?

Is this a newscast or another entertainment show?

Why do TV newscasts and newspapers include opinion polls with yes or no questions that clearly emphasize biased editorial positions?

Is this the news or political commentary?

Can't they just report the facts?

Why does the local CBC 5 p.m. News broadcast last 90 minutes? Do we really need to see the same story repeated 3 times?

When I was studying in Germany (almost 40 years ago) the TV Newscasts were 15 minutes long. The viewer was told what happened and the known facts and then they moved on to the next story.

I much prefer the brief, unbiased, factual reports. Too bad we don't get those here.

The voice of the intelligence is drowned out by the roar of fear. 
It is ignored by the voice of desire. 
It is contradicted by the voice of shame. 
It is biased by hate and extinguished by anger. 
Most of all it is silenced by ignorance.
~ Karl A. Menninger

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A New Facility

How's my mental health today?

Much better than a week ago.

The sunny, mild days certainly help.

I went for an hour long walk yesterday and visited a friend working at the new Youth for Christ (YFC) facility. He gave me a tour of the place.

What an incredible facility! Indoor skate park; an indoor and outdoor climbing wall (50 feet high); a huge gymnasium dividable into 2 smaller gyms, with basketball, volleyball, and floor hockey; a fully equipped workout room; pool tables, ping pong, air hockey, foozball, and several large video games; meeting rooms; lounge areas; several kitchens; counseling services; sitting areas; and more.

It is an impressive facility for kids 13-18 years old, set in one of the most impoverished areas of our city. When I was there (in the middle of the afternoon) the skate park was a busy place; there were probably 25 - 30 young men (16-18 yrs old) zipping around trying out their various tricks and maneuvers.

In the 12 - 13 years that I worked in mental health, I was part of many informal conversations / discussions (mostly just dreaming out loud) of the need of such a facility for adults with mental illness who live in poverty and lack the resources to access recreational programs and facilities such as this. While the need and value of such a facility was acknowledged there was a distinct lack of political will, funding, and interested, committed people to develop a cutting edge facility such as the one YFC has built.

I wonder what it would take to fill that need?

Who would initiate it?

Who would fund it?

Who would support it?

Who would run it?

Do I have the energy to explore the idea?

Who would I approach to assist me?

Do I want to take on that stress? Why?

Do I really want to get involved in the mental health system again? Why?

I'm very reluctant to do that.

But... is that my new calling?

I don't know. It's just a thought.

I'll have to chat with God about it.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 
not looking to your own interests but 
each of you to the interests of the others.  
Philippians 2: 3-4