New Website

I wanted to take a moment to let you know that I've been working on a website for the nonprofit where I work. It's my first time publishing a website and I'm simultaneously proud and nervous about it. I feel like I must be missing something. If you'd take a moment to look at it (and share any thoughts on it). I'd be very grateful!


The Mind Body Connection

The other day I was talking with a client about his anxiety. I always like to give as much information (when appropriate) as I have in my brain when it comes to mental illness. (After all, what is this education good for if I don't share it with my clients when needed? Right?) And just as I geared up (mini white board and all) he asked me the most simple and astute question of all:

"What causes it?"

For all my knowledge, I had to sadly say, "We don't exactly know."

You see, until very recently our discipline relied heavily on cause and effect types of research. Science knows very little still about the human mind, and therefore we were left with our own observations of behavior... but very little information about what actually was occurring on a neurological level. Part of what makes this tragic (in my opinion) is that mental illness was often dismissed as "all in your head".

Well yes, it is "in your head". But you get my point!

Only through recent advancements (about the last 10 years) in science have we had the technology to actually WATCH a live brain working. This has blown open the field and the data has started pouring in. Suddenly, we are able to actually see the difference between a depressed and non depressed person's brain. We are able to see things like schizophrenia. We may not know exactly what it all means yet- but it's thrilling none the less.

But to get back to my client's question, matters like depression and anxiety are very caught up in the "chicken or the egg" paradox. Is a depressed person's brain biologically different and therefore they experience depression? Or does a thought process like depression change your brain chemistry over time? And of course: are we born with this or is it our environment or both?

These questions are not simple and will take time to answer. They are part science and part philosophy- two fields that never come to answers quickly.

Additionally, we are just beginning to discover a whole body connection with things like depression. For example- inflammation and depression have a strong link. So can we treat things like depression or anxiety by improving the body's health on a molecular level?

All I know is, I am optimistic about the future of my profession. And even more importantly, I am thrilled that those who suffer in silence with serious mental illness might finally be shown proof that they have nothing to be ashamed of. And better yet, that what they suffer with may definitively be cured or even prevented! Wouldn't that be amazing?

In the meantime, we're slogging through the mess of conjecture and a long history of trying to treat illness without all the facts. Sometimes that is difficult to accept for me- because I want to know the "answers" darn it! But imperfect help will have to suffice. I can only anticipate the day when finally we will know "what causes it" once and for all- and people will have definitive answers.


Like Learning To Walk

One of my clients said something that stuck with me. She was comparing her counseling process to learning to walk. Having a small child, this image really connected with me.

In any process of change, there comes a point in time where we've prepared in every way possible- and all that's left is to take that step, to act. The problem is, taking that first step requires us to let go of our support. It requires us to step out into the open air, with nothing to lean on.

You can't have both. You have to pick. There is no way to learn to walk while you still hold on to the familiar. There is no way to learn to walk if you are still leaning on a support.

But the familiar supports keep us back from our next step, prevent us from growing- if we clutch them too tightly.

So in many ways, I think she's right. Personal growth and mental health is just like an infant learning to walk. And just like the infant, we cannot imagine the freedom that waits on the other side. It's all just abstract faith, until we actually act. But the reward is better than we could ever imagine!

It leads me to introspection- what things am I afraid to let go of in my journey? What fear is holding me back from the amazing?

Physical Fitness and Mental Health

I am not naturally thin. It was a sad realization for me as a young teen. I will never look like a supermodel. I will never be "thin" easily or without effort. I will never be one of those who complains "I eat, I just can't gain weight!" (I've been told this is a frustrating and painful experience, but I must say it looks so appealing from my position).

Much of my young adulthood my weight has varied slightly, depending on my motivation level. And of course, every time I hit the gym, it was with great irritation at myself. My only physical activity was motivated by a sense of shame and self-loathing. I do not say this proudly. I wished to be one of those people who craved physical activity- one of those who had experienced the elusive "runner's high". But that just didn't seem to be in my physiology. And so it was with a great (self-punitive) effort that I ever brought myself to a sweat.

That is, until I was pregnant with my son. Pregnancy was very hard for me. I will spare the details, but among other things I had a condition known as SPD (pelvic separation). Walking became excruciating, and I quickly learned that exercise only exacerbated the condition. I spent most of my pregnancy sitting and/or lying down (luckily my job easily accommodates this- I even have a sofa in my office- ha!)

You know how it is often said "Youth is wasted on the young"? Well, I think its true because the young have no perspective. They only know vitality. For me, pregnancy made me instantly much, much older. Almost overnight I went from a (somewhat) young woman to a hobbled, ill one.

Why do I share this (you might be thinking I lost my point here)? Because that experience (lasting well over a year when all was said and done) forever changed my perspective on my body. Health and fitness was no longer totally about being physically attractive. Suddenly, I experienced joy in the movement! The fact that my body could move, walk, run, jump, lift weights, swim, throw a ball, roll around on the floor and sleep without pain- was like a sudden return to youth.

The euphoria by no means stayed as strong... time has a way of dampening these things. But I still carry a part of that lesson with me now. I am not naturally thin... but I can move. And as I move more and more now, I am aware of its impact on my mental health. My mood, my energy, my emotional output is better on days when my body gets out and moves! Research backs these findings- even mild to moderate depression in women can be helped or cured by activity!

And I wonder how many of you approach exercise in that punitive, "I-hate-my-#$%-body" way that I am all too familiar with. What would it take to shift your thinking to health as a whole body concept, instead of just one more way to see yourself as lacking?