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Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health’

Tonight our church observed a new tradition, holding a service of the Longest Night, marking the coming of the literal longest night of the season which immediately precedes the coming of the nativity of our Lord.

I’d never heard of it before, but during some of the moments of silence in the service, I reflected how it mirrors other challenging times that precede other celebrations, such as the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.

I suppose I’ve had some years of merriment, a seven year Mardi Gras of sorts, leading up to this Longest Night. But through the darkness and in quiet solitude, God is faithful to fill our horizons with bright crimson Sonrise.

This morning’s walk was breathtaking…

Psalm 46 was read tonight, one of my favorites: “Be still, then, and know that I am God…”

I decided to try out the service for 3 reasons: that I lost my mother last year and continue to grieve the deaths of both parents, that I work 70 hours a week helping the mentally ill, the suicidal and others who grieve, have lost, are hurting or are lonely…and that I myself have a fresh loss that has been a long time coming but just yesterday confirmed that it is a forever loss.

And yet, by God’s mercy, all 3 are gains.

Yesterday’s loss was punctuated by the sting of being told that only merry emotions and memories were welcome during this season, that my needs for afore-promised comfort, attachment and reassurance were interfering with the celebration of a dear one’s Christmas…

”So why would I want to be available to your mood swings during these precious days celebrating the birth of Christ, detracting from it?” the email sharply read, banishing me into the land of coal and switches, for even daring to darken the doorstep of one picture-perfect American Christmas. A fantasy blog to which I was apparently, blatantly and abruptly blocked. Unfriended. Unfollowed. Deleted.

My arms got tired holding up the happy mask 24/7. I flunked Christmas Perfection 101. Failed to leave the party while it was still rocking.

My Longest Night had begun, and the service could not have come at a better time.

The intercessor began with, “In the spirit of the season, let us now ask God for what we need for ourselves as we participate in the Season of Christmas as people coping with loss, pain, suffering, loneliness, grief and sadness.

“God, we come to you as Christmas dawns with pain growing inside us. As the nights have been growing longer, so has the darkness wrapped itself around our hearts. In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain in our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put into words. Loving God, hear our prayer.

“Compassionate God, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. A death or loss has changed our experience of Christmas. Once it was a special day for us, too, but someone has died or moved away or abandoned us. Or we have lost a job, or a cause.

“We find ourselves adrift and alone, lost. Lord, help us find our way.

“The Christmas season reminds us of all that used to be and cannot be anymore. The memories of what was, the fears of what may be can overwhelm us. all around us we hear the sounds of celebration, but all we experience is a sense of melancholy Please be near us this season.

“Compassionate God: You loved the world so much that you sent us Jesus to bear our infirmities and afflictions Through acts of healing, he revealed you as the true source of health and salvation. For the sake of your Christ who suffered and died for us, conquered death, and now reigns with you in glory, hear the cry of your people. Have mercy on us, make us whole, and bring us at last into the fullness of your eternal life.

“Each of us comes bearing our own hurts, sorrows, and broken places. We want to invite each of you to offer your wounds to the God who loves each of us deeply and wants to carry our pain. God waits, patiently, gently calling out: ‘Give me your pain, come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, I will refresh you!'”

We were invited to either stay put and observe silence, come to the altar to receive a blessing or go to the back and light a candle.

I appreciated the options since I could have easily benefited from all 3. But I couldn’t go to the altar because I would have wept openly (what was I thinking, not packing Kleenex in my purse for this?!), and I didn’t want to passively stay put in silence.

So I made my way to the back and lit a candle and said a prayer for my parents and their parents before them, all godly people who fucked up and righted themselves at some point and somehow made their way back to God.

And, after looking around to see if it would be greedy to light a second candle, grabbed another one and quickly lit it, mourning the loss of my bff and noticing the brightness of that candle, there in the darkness, committing it to God and thanking Him for the salvation of a marriage and a family.

I quietly returned to my pew, kneeled in reverence, was washed over with peace and gratitude for God’s mercy.

Thank You, God, for Long Nights, for they signify that daybreak is near.

Thanks God, for Things that matter most. Sometimes the Long Nights are the Things that matter most.

And letting go (of things that matter most) IS letting God.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

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This week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I decided to begin a few new traditions.

Research shows that you can improve both mood and health throughout the day by identifying one or more (different) things you’re grateful for, first thing in the morning. No more than 1-2, however, since studies also show that listing 5 or more dilutes the gratitude and its benefits.

So in that predawn hazy zone of waking up and just before I open my eyes, I then count a blessing or two.

(I wonder if saying a gratitude just before drifting off at night would yield better slumber and/or dreams?)

Our longstanding Thanksgiving family tradition is to walk off our feast down at the town pier at sunset. We are always thankful for the friends and beautiful scenes we see:

Cast netting…he might bring up crabs, mullet, shrimp, shark, eel or redfish

Colorful kayaks await tomorrow’s paddlers

A pelican under a wavy ribbon of clouds

Crimson Tide

Quiet fishing

Mother/daughter bonding through texting?

Roll, Tide, Roll!

Contemplation? Praying? No, hunched over texting…

Nautical Christmas spirit!

Serenity indeed…

Life is good at this latitude!

Thank You, God, for a holiday with a sole purpose of gathering to give thanks and gratitude for blessings past, present and for blessings to come. Thanks for the privilege of life, the bounty of love and the gift of mercy.

Thanks for beauty everywhere…for precious time…for forgiveness…for laughter…and for those people and things You that touch our lives in ways that make the world a better place along our journey.

May we never take these gifts for granted and always be grateful.

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Today I had the privilege of working with a homicidal patient who is partial to philosophy. This can present a challenge as a therapist, in that one must steer the patient away from an unhealthy amount of overthinking – and yet insight comes from a certain degree of thinking beyond the garden gate.

My patient quoted a line from a poem by Rumi (see below), so I brought it up on my device and together we tried to untangle the mystery of whether the darkness of mental illness is a guest in our lives, or if we are a guest in the darkness.

We wrestled with how to achieve mindfulness; to tolerate, endure and to even embrace the unexpected or the unwelcome. We contemplated how to find balance. We considered if it is pain or freedom that is fleeting and temporary. 

While we mused, she played in the kinetic sand tray on my desk. Afterwards, I observed aloud how, when talking about her pain and darkness, she stabbed at the sand and carved deep but symmetrical gashes. When she spoke of healing and hope, she used the roller to smooth it out. Someone had left the sand in mostly one half of the tray; I commented that as she had approached it, she met it where it was – she did not attempt to rearrange it, only made impressions on it. 

“What do you make of that?” she asked.

“Mmmmm….” I paused, “What do YOU make of it?”

She broke out in a broad smile for the first time I’d seen.

Yes, “meet them at the door laughing and invite them in!”

Here is how she left the sand – what do YOU make of it?

  
THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi,

    translation by Coleman Barks

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The other day I heard a piece on the radio about melancholy; how melancholy can be as prevalent during the holidays as holiday cheer. The reflection included the sage suggestion to give honor to those people or things associated with the melancholy, but then give way to and give thanks for the present and future.

As I reflected on this on my run that day, I pondered a pair of points:

1.) God gave us melancholy, along with all other emotions. These are not wrong. He also instructed us to maintain moderation in all things. I believe to allow any one emotion or state of mind to dominate our being to where it interferes with our ability to honor Him and His will for us, turns into coveting.

To be melancholic is to pine away for something that is not, was not, will not be or cannot be. It is the sadness that accompanies wishful thinking, or lusting after the imagination of what was not intended to be so. This, I perceive to be covetousness. To covet is to break a Commandment. Therefore, we must be circumspect as to how we give time and energy to our emotions.

2.) Last week while leading a group therapy session, I pointed to different expressions of emotion and asked the children if each one was “good” or “bad.” Instinctively, most of them ascribed “bad” to feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety and grief. “Good” emotions included happy, joyful, excited, surprised, loved and calm. As you, dear reader, already surmise, the point of the group content that day was to teach the children that ALL emotions have worth and place in our lives, all emotions are okay, all of them are GOOD. It’s what you do with them that matters.

That being said, we often tease that we can tell when a child is ready to leave our hospital when the little Butterball thermometer pops out of their side and they’re “done.” The thing that pops out for me, as their therapist, is how well they’re able to COMPARTMENTALIZE their emotions, how they organize their emotions, both in their heads and in their actions.

Can anger or sadness, grief or melancholy be tolerated and even embraced as a legitimate source of forward movement in the natural process of growth and change? (remember, I’m working with little ones who have no families, or who have families who’ve rejected them or chosen drugs over them, or with families who will never have the capacity to love).

Can you find room in your heart to allow the natural discomfort of difficult emotions, and find a way to organize them into your psyche, give them their place use them as a springboard to move forward?

Can you find gratitude for the way things must be? I ought to change the title of this to “finding the silver linings,” but I may have already used a similar title, I believe. Silver linings are just my nature, and I have a soft spot in my heart for those whose nature gravitates toward having to monitor their melancholy.

It’s all good, baby!

I was tremendously grateful for this snippet about melancholy, since it pertains to us all in various ways, but in much greater proportions we often overlook. And it’s true for all emotions. To spend too much time in positive emotions, we’d neglect our duty to feel sorrow for those without or to feel guilt for our transgressions. Negative emotions propel us to betterment, both in ourselves and in loving our neighbors.

There is a time for ashes and sackcloth, and there is a time to move on. To remain stuck is to become stagnant (refresh thy iPod regularly!). To move on is to discover the future.

Yes, I embrace the melancholy, and even relish it for a moment, here and there, even moreso when something occurs to me down the road that I neglected to realize…but I am moved by the current down the rapids, which does not allow me to wallow and wade in the waters of what was or wasn’t. I am moved forward with wonder into the excitement of His will.

May we all be.

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Thank you, dear readers, for your thoughts and prayers for the little ones I serve, and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

~~ssm

********************************************************

Dear                            ,

I hope you know that even though you just came to (this lockup hospital) Santa always knows where you are, so you don’t have worry that I didn’t know where to find you this Christmas! Santa comes to (this hospital), too, and I know all my boys and girls, and especially YOU!

I’ve been told that you’ve come through some very, very hard times in your life recently, and that it is terribly difficult for you to talk to others about those times. I want you to know that besides Christmas presents, I am going to give you a different type of present, a present that doesn’t come in a box or in wrapping. That present is called COURAGE, and it is something I know you already have plenty of. But I am giving you MORE, because you are very dear to me and you didn’t deserve to have the things happen to you that happened. Those things, dear one, were NOT your fault. (Remember that naughty people, especially grown-ups who are supposed to know better, get lumps of coal and a lifetime of shame for things like that).

Please know that as you use the courage I give you, time will help heal your pain. And I want you to know how very proud I am of how strong you’ve had to be, and how strong you will be as you learn to trust grown-ups again. That is not an easy thing to do. In the meantime, please don’t hurt yourself or hurt others – you are such a beautiful child, and I want you to feel good about yourself and about your life. You have a very bright future.

Thank you for believing in me, because I believe in YOU, too.

Merry Christmas with Love,

Santa

*************************************************

Dear                             ,

Thank you for writing to me with your Christmas list. I always love to hear from the boys and girls I care so much about, and you are one of them!

I will try to get you as many of the things on your list as you listed. Even though you won’t be able to be home with your family this Christmas, I know where to find you at (this hospital). Santa doesn’t need keys! Listen for the clatter of my reindeer on the roof.

Since you asked me for some things, I’d like to ask you for something. I would like you to work on not saying naughty things when you get angry – try not to curse, not to make threats to hurt other people or your family, and to try to be respectful. Remember, the people you talk to are people I love and care for, too, and I like to see people happy. You are a smart boy, and I know you will be able to make good choices, even though things aren’t perfect.

Enjoy your presents, and have a very, Merry Christmas!

Love,

Santa

*******************************************************

Dear                          ,

What up, bro’? Thank you for writing me such a good letter! I will try to bring you as many things as I can from your list. I like how your writing has improved, and that you are able to talk respectfully to other people about what you’re feeling inside, more than before. That is what makes things better.

Did you have a nice birthday? I was so excited that you had so much fun and got to go on a pass and all that jazz. I overheard you asking me to bring you a Dad for Christmas, and I am working on that, although it won’t be THIS Christmas – hopefully soon, though. I want you to know that even though your family can’t be together this Christmas, that I know of another family who is waiting for YOU to join them. They will wait for you to finish working on your treatment goals, so keep trying to do your best. Everything will work out just fine.

And someday, I hope you decide to become a professional athlete – I don’t know anyone else your size who can shoot a hoop from across the gym each and every time like you do. You’re a pretty amazing guy. And now that you’re eight, you’ll be able to do even more!

Have a very, Merry Christmas and enjoy all your presents!

Love,

Santa

p.s. – Don’t try to fool the Tooth Fairy any more – she reports directly to ME. But your therapist told me that everything’s cool now, so we’re good, dude. Jam on.

****************************************************

Dear                          ,

I got your letter that you wrote to me and I want you to know how much it meant to me. I will try to bring you as many things on your list as I can. My elves are working overtime to get everything just right.

I know how difficult it must be not only to be so far away from home, but to have to wait so long for the right family for you. I am so proud of how patient you are and how much hope you continue to have even though it feels like it’s taking forever. I see how hard you are working on your treatment goals, and I know someday you will join a new family who is waiting for the right child – that’s YOU! In the meantime, I want you to have fun this Christmas.

When you are sad, please remember that I am thinking of you and that so many people are working to get you home. Don’t do things to hurt yourself (no more tying things around your neck!) or to hurt others – this is very important, because I love all my children very dearly, and I want you to feel better, to feel happy. Remember that God and I care for you very much and will make sure that you stay safe this Christmas. We will wipe your tears away with our love. Never give up, never lose hope – stay strong and keep facing forward to your bright future. Keep believing!

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas, with love,

Santa

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The nurse handed me the envelope like it was an Academy Award last week, and it was up to me to make the announcement.

The name on the front was of a seven-year old little bro’ from the ‘hood; in it was the tooth of his ten-year old roommate, both of them locked up this Christmas because both of their mothers have forsaken them for drugs and strange men, their daddies are in prison. Anger, profanity and destruction are all they know.

The way it happened was the ten-year old lost a tooth week before last. The Tooth Fairy happens to have access to this lock-up mental health facility for little children, and she showered him with candy, Play-Doh and stickers under his pillow.

The only problem was the ten-year old takes about five different types of medication for his mental illnesses, one of them for sleep which is in the process of being adjusted (don’t want to medicate too much too fast), and has not yet reached maximum benefit dosage yet. Translation = kid roused when Tooth Fairy left loot.

Tooth Fairy ran like the wind because said kid has long history of aggressively rousing his peers if he can’t sleep in the night, leading to mayhem and security issues. Tooth Fairy scuttled butt out of there – alas, leaving the treasured tooth behind, happy to have succeeded in leaving the loot, at that.

Fast forward to last week. Ten year old secretly convinces his seven-year old roommate that if he can convince the staff that he lost a tooth, he can have his tooth and put it under his pillow, too, and they can split the loot. Sounds like a deal!

Seven year old, waiting until the next staff rotation, faking innocence and excitement comes prancing out of his room at one point with the ten-year-old’s tooth, announcing, “Look, look! I lost a tooth. Innocent staff put it in an envelope and escort him to the nurse’s station where his oral situation is examined in detail.

Not finding any blood or newly-exposed socket, the wise, old nurse looks at the tooth in the envelope, looks at the seven-year old and pats him on the head and tells him he’ll turn it over to the child’s therapist, who has special connections to the Tooth Fairy.

After the little chap trots off to his Christmas-themed activity group designed to take his mind off the fact that he has officially been screwed over by the world at large, his therapist contemplates the envelope in question.

How are we supposed to fix a world that uses excuses like budget cuts, avoiding lawsuits at all costs and shifting responsibility?

How are we supposed to tell a broken child that it’s going to be okay, that there are other ways to manage their anger, that it wasn’t their fault?

How are we supposed to tell an exasperated parent that if it weren’t for policy constraints, we could get to the root of the problem and fix it, but they are making us discharge him sooner than later? That if we only had six more months, we could find the right combination of medications and therapy and you’ll be able to sleep again at night without worrying that he’ll follow through on his threats?

That if his parents chose him in the first place, and made him the center of their universe and stuck with him, that it might be better, and even that’s no guarantee?

That all this might not have happened if somebody hadn’t dropped the ball way back then?

So, how do you fix mental illness that includes homicidal ideation? How do you instill conscience where little hearts have been irreparably shattered?

I don’t know what the answer might have been for Newtown.

But this Tooth Fairy issued a restriction to each offender who tried to bluff her, an hour apiece at separate times so they couldn’t conspire, along with a therapeutic writing assignment (3 pages) about dishonesty. The administrator commented no such restriction had ever been witnessed before:”Trying to fool the Tooth Fairy, and right before Christmas, too,” followed by the Tooth Fairy’s professional credentials. Unheard of.

Sure, we got a lot of mileage behind closed doors out of the Tooth Fairy conundrum, but then Newtown happened, and it brought us all back to what we’re doing here on the front lines.

One offender made graphic threats to end the life of the Tooth Fairy and used his writing assignment to hurl epithets and more threats to her and her family in her direction; the other was remorseful. Just guessing, one of them will remain locked up longer than the other; one will become institutionalized, the other will be adopted and become a professional athlete.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Tooth Fairy was unavailable to assist the dad at home who was temporarily thrown into a panic and shock reaction because the name on the headlines was one letter away from the name of the school our children attend – and that was another whole can of beans to contend with – the numbness, the readjustment realizing it wasn’t our children, and the bliss of extended hugs upon family reunification that evening.

That, followed by the somber realization that the parents being told their children would never come home, could have been us – and our hearts beating with theirs for that moment as we recalled the day they told us our child wouldn’t be coming home. Except ours defied odds and did. Theirs didn’t.

I pray I don’t become one in a line of several who tried but failed to prevent something like Newtown. I pray that those in the path of duty along the way can say they gave it their best, that they stuck their necks out despite policy, despite budgets, despite red-taped constraints, and did what was ultimately best for society. Even if it meant a little squirming and flack for “being too hard” on them now, for treading on thin air with regard to their “rights,” especially in light of the number of mental health hospitals which have been closing for the past couple of decades due to those budget cuts.

Now, we have to give them a chance. And that is a chance society at large bears the burden of risking.

At what point would you determine that someone is safe, no longer homicidal, no longer a risk to society, before you step them down to a less-restrictive environment? (Are there special goggles to be able to see and know where that bar lies?) And, sometimes, we simply can’t account for those who just “snap.” But certainly, there is more we could be doing as a whole, as well as individually.

God, grant us the vision to know how to prevent such horrors as Newtown. God help the families who are mourning the loss of their children and loved ones who died in the course of protecting those babies. Give us the courage in politics and religion to be able to establish common-sense rules that respect rights along with protecting the greater good without treading on  freedom…if that is even possible.

God, please make things right…

~~post script: Be it known that these enterprising young men will be receiving letters from Santa informing them that he and the Tooth Fairy work together and that they forgive the boys…and if it was loot they were after, no worries – Santa’s got your back – don’t take matters in your own hands, trust and believe, and wait…

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I’ve just returned from a workshop about using art therapy to treat loss and grief. There I picked up over three dozen nifty ideas to use in the practice of healing those whom I serve. I expected to passively sit and be taught, like a good little seminar-attendee, pen purposely poised over legal pad, brain in sponge-mode. A nice way to end a hectic work week, to be paid to hang out in the Sunshine State for a day of intellectual ministering. Woot!

Silly moi, I should have anticipated that a good learning experience involves, well, experience…and that creative sorts like artists are all about the process. The pen sat largely idle and the pad was brought home mostly blank. Instead, I carried away a very personal experience of how art heals.

That’s right, she put us to work. This “Sorry, I’m limited to stick-men” kind of a gal didn’t get too far with that excuse with an art therapist. There was no hiding in that hotel conference room, and only so many times you can use the restroom/important call/refill the coffee excuses. Reluctant and reticent, I got sucked into the world of self-expression and vulnerable exposure. One cannot, after all, change others if one is not intimately familiar with the experience of changing, themselves.

I was reminded of the old joke in the field of child & family therapy…I started out with no kids and 4 theories; now I’ve got 4 kids and no theories. In order for healing to hold water, one must know something about holding water. Neither book smarts nor experience in and of themselves are ever as powerful as the combination thereof.

Our first project introduced us to the Mandala Circle, a large, outlined circle on a blank page. The instructions were to choose an oil pastel (each of us had been given a generous supply at our tables), and draw anything for 30 seconds.

As is my custom, I was already fretting about what to color, and thus I failed to hear that I would only have 30 seconds. So when the time began, I slowly and cautiously began to color around the outline on in the inside of the circle, using my favorite color (orange). I didn’t know where I was going with it, and was feeling mentally hijacked in being asked to DO something besides vegetate for the duration of the seminar, so I mindlessly and mechanically put pastel to paper.

As I began to plan ahead to where I might go with this drawing, she interrupted and stopped the time, instructing us to trade papers with another person. I was mildly miffed: not only was I NOT going to be able to plan and complete whatever it was I had not planned for, but now I had to go an mar someone else’s pretty circle with my lack of artistic talent.

Adrenaline rising, I quickly took mental note of the location of each emergency exit sign in the room, but was again interrupted by the timekeeper-lady, who summoned us to begin the next 30-second drawing. In front of me was someone else’s pretty pattern, in blue. I was terrified of ruining what they began, but I obediently put pastel again to paper, and found myself tracing their pattern with my orange. It reminded me of one of my favorite color combinations on my commute, when the sun is beginning to set and the water takes on a bright glacier-blue hue, and the sky turns into Creamsicle orange. Yum!

My trepidation began to melt into relaxation and enjoyment. Snap – she called another trade! I had no idea where my page was at this point or what it might possible look like, but now in front of me was a circle with purple and red…and at the start of the new 30 seconds, I added my orange to this one, which resembled a dream-catcher pattern. I wondered what would happen if I went out of the circle…damn, I couldn’t remember the directions! Was this allowed?

Risk-taker rogue that I am, I spat into the wind and zagged that orange pastel smack out of the circle and, like a bolt of lightning, boldly directed the line skyward to the top of the paper. There, I was happy now – I did something impulsively unique and creative, and I liked how it looked. It drew the eye away from the main, central theme and forced the mind to wander…and to wonder. Suddenly I was overcome by a quick flash of remorse, hoping the owner of the circle wouldn’t be upset that I colored outside their lines.

As I was balancing my regret and satisfaction (satisfaction won!), we were instructed to trade again. I cheerfully took it upon myself to color outside of more lines. Yes, this was ME! This was my Zorro-Z! I put to the grave my shame of henceforth being limited to stick men, and was filled with new artistic self-assurance. Rules be damned, lines were made to be crossed and my orange zags electrified and brought added interest to each circle. At least in the eye of this beholder.

After about five or six trades, we were instructed to find the original owner of the circle. When circles had been reclaimed, there was a hush in the room as we all beheld what had become of our circle. I was humbled and amazed at the journey mine had taken. What began with self-doubt, reluctant hesitation, emotional distress drowning out the directions and with only my favorite color to cling to, my circle had become the most beautiful creation which I could not have done – no-way, no-how, by myself. It could only have turned out so beautiful by my being forced to allow others to help me, to contribute to my experience and by others filling in blanks left by my limitations. Yes, this is how we become rich, and how life gets its true value.

Life is a joint effort. We are ourselves because of others.

According to research (Smitheman-Browne and Church, 1996), Mandala circles drawn at the beginning of each therapy session (whether group or individual) have been shown to reduce impulsive, anxious behaviors. In engaging in this exercise, I was able to see how I myself went from my own limitations through the change, to a redefined sense of self. As in life, it challenged me to evaluate my needs and expectations, to challenge those expectations, to compare my reality with those around me, and forced me into making choices I might not have otherwise made.

It reminded me of the anguish of those with mental health problems whose symptoms directly interfere with the basics of getting through a task or a conversation, much less an entire day, without their problems mucking things up worse for them and further reinforcing negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors in an endless, downward spiral, further perpetuating the stigma and hopelessness.

The drawing took me through feelings of artistic inadequacy, being anxious to the point of not hearing basic directions, winding up surprised and upset when asked to change (yet being forced to), finding a way to feel comfortable and define a new style all my own (using my favorite color to overcome fear and creating something I liked), reinforcing this with repetition to the point of enjoyment, and emerging on the other side of the exercise with new courage and a redefined self. Wowzers!

This also drove home how very hard it is to be on the other side of the couch, or worse, to feel as though you are alone in your plight. When we are in pain, it takes extra courage to reach out and ask for help, and even greater courage to change. Change involves risk, and risk can be scary. And the only way through scary is to trust. From a clinical perspective, I can extrapolate this exercise to apply to many different types of problems and diagnoses, but the goal for all is the same: the process of being able to trust others, begins with trusting oneself. Herein lies the greatest challenge of all, and for all.

How well do you trust yourself? And how do you regain that trust when your world gets rocked and your trust is shaken…or lost?

Postscript:

After the circles were returned to their owners and the hush had become fully pregnant, one participant raised her hand but did not wait to be called upon. “SOMEBODY DREW OUTSIDE OF MY CIRCLE,” she announced with great agitation, pointing to the bright orange zag emerging out of her otherwise-neat circle. She fully expected the scribbling scofflaw to be identified, drawn and quartered in front of everyone. The instructor smiled and looked at her picture, which the participant held high for all to see the violation for themselves. The participant sought confirmation: “We weren’t supposed to go outside the lines.” The instructor, still smiling, said, “I never said that. I was very careful to give you just general instructions. Isn’t it interesting the limitations we assume lie in the tasks we face in life? And how that may limit our ability to solve problems? Or limit our ability to guide others in solving theirs? As helpers, we must constantly think outside the box, since answers to life rarely lie within the confines of the boundaries we perceive to exist.”

Thanks, God, for having all the answers (even if we can’t see them), and for teaching us to trust.

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