Lifestyle, Mental health

Ugly Truth 55: Nature is Nurture & 5 Ways to Reset a Troubled Mind

“A higher level of consciousness can not support a pattern of fear.” -Alyssa Malehorn 

Good Afternoon Readers,

Over the past week I have dedicated a great deal of effort toward altering patterns of behavior that no longer serve me. Interested in the way spiritual practices influence mental health, the Deskraven blog offers you 5 ways to tap into and improve your relationship to yourself:

Practice Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting (IF) has innumerable health benefits. If you’re unfamiliar with Intermittent Fasting, it is the notion that you fast for a period of time followed by opening an eating window for a period of time. The key to success is selecting an IF schedule that best suits your lifestyle, and allows you to build slowly on your success.

Many people begin with 12 hours of fasting (often while you are asleep) followed by a 12 hour eating window. As this form of self-discipline becomes easier, you will graduate to 16:8, 18:6, 20:4, or 23:1 fasting schedules. There are other IF schedules available as well such as eating normally for 5 days while restricting 2 days to 600 calories (5:2), and One-Meal-A-Day (OMAD) that I have also found to be successful.

Currently, I am fasting for at least 20 hours a day and eating in the evening. During my fasting window, I consume only large amounts of water, black coffee, and tea. Over time, your appetite will diminish and adjust accordingly. This is the best schedule for me as I am often busy through out the day, and calorie consumption makes me drowsy, so it offers up the promise of a good night’s sleep.

The health benefits of Intermittent Fasting consist of changes in the function of cells, gene expression, and hormone levels. IF helps you lose weight, burn belly fat, reduce insulin resistance, reduce oxidative stress, and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Moreover, it is beneficial to heart health, cellular repair, and longevity. Lastly, fasting practices offer marked improvement in cognitive functions such as memory, clarity, execution, and unheard of levels of energy.

Not surprisingly, this physical process lends itself well to elevating your level of consciousness as you begin to heal from the inside out. The early days can be extremely challenging as you push though detoxing processes that may produce headaches or irritability, however, this will pass and soon fasting will become as mindless as breathing.

Please note you should never feel unwell while fasting, so be sure to listen to your body and consult with your doctor before prompting any changes in lifestyle. Intermittent Fasting is not suitable for children, or fragile populations enduring health concerns or pregnancy.

Seek Out Nature

After spending a few of my formative years in the Colorado wilderness, returning to Houston, Texas, USA was no easy task. While I returned to improve my access to economy and reduce isolation, I’m afraid the expense came in the form of limiting my access to natural resources. These often consisted of the soul shaking views of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the winding fields of colorful and seemingly endless treetops, and the naturally occurring Colorado River with the power to enlighten. Despite my better angels, I took these for granted and quickly lost touch with my higher level of consciousness by returning to the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

Once I became aware of this, it took nothing more than a quick Google search to find a local walking park near my office. I was surprised to learn that such a small gesture had the power to return me to my old sense of self. Even though the natural sources in my community remain largely artificial, it was enough to feel like visiting an old friend. I found that my intellectual stirring quieted and I wanted more, so I started implementing daily walks into my routine. I have come up against waves of discomfort and discouragement as someone living with chronic pain, however, I found that the stress relief and peace of mind that followed was well worth the pain of getting stronger.

Meditate

Meditation remains the best and fastest way to grow your level of consciousness. While you may find this task weird or daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Meditation is a practice that takes time and repetition to find what works for you. It can be as sophisticated as a lengthy past life regression, or as simple as taking five conscious breaths per day while driving or putting away the dishes. Like Intermittent Fasting, and exercise, you will find meditation works the muscles of the mind and will become easier over time.

Recognize and Release Your Limiting Beliefs

Any form of self development will often prompt our inner voices of criticism. It is paramount then to observe, acknowledge, and release these feelings of inadequacy. Essentially, this is the message of meditation at its core. The goal is not to silent, dissolve, or judge your thoughts, but to tap into the greater intuition behind your intentions. This insight will serve you in all areas of your life from professional goals to interpersonal relationships.

Experience a Shift in Consciousness

As you combine positive practice with the results they bring such as an overall improvement in your physical health, a strengthened sense of emotional stability, and a state of mind that promotes more love, connection, compassion, and peace – you will find that a higher level of consciousness can not support a pattern of fear. As someone living with significant mental illness, this realization has been invaluable. As I continue my practices, I continue to observe a reduction in anxiety, a slowness to anger, and a noticable increase in calm confidence.

If you’re like me, these revelations may encourage you to explore deeper themes of your own spirituality, whatever they may be, such as prayer, the afterlife, near death experiences, and alternate planes of existence. The underlying message here is capitalizing on your own human capacity to think and feel with the deep seated knowledge that love and fear can not exist in the same space. Even at it’s most logical, it is clear there is much more to learn beneath the surface of the physical world.

Discuss: What is your favorite mindfulness exercise? What will you do today to nourish your soul?

If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, please email me at contact@deskraven.com. I would be honored to provide you a platform with all due credit.

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC!

Lifestyle, Mental health

Ugly Truth 54: Personal Development is Work

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”
― Alan Watts

Good Morning Readers,

You know, it’s not every day you catch the rain the moment it falls. I shouldn’t be awake and 5am, but sometimes I’m so glad I am. I love those tiny moments of peace and clarity just before the world begins to stir. Nature has so much to offer, if only we would pay attention. So, it got me thinking: What can I do today to strengthen my personal development?

There has been something of what feels like a torrential madness swirling through me lately. It is difficult to articulate, but I always try to maintain my transparency for my readers. The best piece of advice I ever read was to encourage others when you are struggling. While this platform does serve as a vehicle for my own meandering, I also seek to produce meaningful content for you, my readers. As a mental health writer, it is imperative to give something tangible to your audience, something useful.

Unable to sleep, I went down a spiritual rabbit hole this morning. I found some interesting insight I’d love to share with you because I believe whole heartedly a shift in perspective, however temporary, is useful for us all.

Have you ever considered the possibility that mental illness is a natural response to an unnatural world?

The above lecture by MindValley Talks offers a Crash Course on Spirituality (4 Levels of Consciousness and the Big Questions by Alan Watts.) It touches on the social constructs we build, and how they confine us to a certain way of thinking. Imagine, for a moment, if you could rebuild your inner world to serve you rather than torment you? The good news is you can, and like all good things – it requires practice.

At the halfway point in this lecture, the speaker offers up a meaningful exercise by Alan Watts, a British writer and speaker responsible for the interpretation and popularization of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism for a Western audience (Wiki.) If you have an hour of your day to do some soul work, I’d love to see your responses in the comments below.

The Two Lists

Make a list of everything that you know because you experienced it.

-and-

Make a list of everything that you know because someone told it to you.

Discuss: Who are you? What do you desire? What do you know? Do you have a meditation practice, or are you sleeping on your intuition?

If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, please email me at contact@deskraven.com. I would be honored to provide you a platform with all due credit.

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC!

Mental health

Ugly Truth 53: I Took a Mental Health Day This Week

“Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.” – Joubert Botha

Good Morning Forum,

Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog, where I aim to lay bare 100 ugly truths about my mental health journey.

If you’ve read this far, then you know I live with Mixed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia on a consistent basis. Of these, the Bipolar Disorder appears to be the most pervasive and problematic lately. Bipolar Disorder is a progressive life-long illness. That is, it never goes away and in fact, the longer you go without treatment – the worse your episodes become over time.

Episodes of Bipolar Mania and Depression have the potential to cause lasting damage to the learning and memory systems found in the brain. For some of us, Bipolar Disorder also has the potential to become the source of PTSD as a secondary diagnosis, as the episodic nature of Bipolar Disorder can provoke traumatizing psychological experiences and catastrophic social consequences. For me personally, PTSD stems from multiple traumatizing events related to mental illness, abuse, abandonment, suicide, and medical trauma.

The stress of Bipolar Disorder often triggers my underlying anxiety into full blown Panic Disorder, a mental health condition characterized by reoccurring panic attacks. A Panic Attack is a surge of intense fear with severe physical symptoms resulting from perceived danger in the absence of an actual threat, and the fear of their imminent return. It is not uncommon to feel as though you are having a heart attack or dying, often resulting in a visit to the ER. The fear perpetuates the physical response, and the physical response feeds into the fear. I am fortunate to say I haven’t had a significant panic attack in sometime, although last week I could feel those old familiar pains bubbling underneath.

Paired with my deeply introverted nature, it suddenly became blatantly obvious how these things are connected, and why I feel no need to leave the house due to a general fear of people, the inability to escape, and/or wide open spaces that leave me susceptible to harm or humiliation, better known as Agoraphobia.

I could see the crash coming, but there was little I could do to stop it. I could see myself soaring high above my normal energy and productivity levels in the weeks prior. I found myself sleeping and eating less, talking, reading, and writing with frenetic energy, boasting long term goals in the grand scheme of things, and just generally acting outside my character. I was in a Mixed episode.

If you’ve ever been in a Mixed episode yourself, then you know how quickly euphoria can turn to dangerous agitation, motivation to listlessness, and paranoia to psychosis. In the worst case scenario, you may ultimately be faced with suicidal ideation while you try to exist in a psychological space that shares symptoms of both Mania and Depression simultaneously. Most people associate Bipolar Disorder with swinging between the two mood states, but the truth is everyone with this disorder is different, and patterns of mood and behavior tend to be more cyclic than previously thought.

In the aftermath of a Mixed Episode, it is not unusual for people with Bipolar Disorder to describe the sensation of a Depression crash. That is, the emotional fallout that takes place after an episode of Mixed Bipolar or Bipolar Mania. Indeed, what goes up must come down. You may see changes in you or your loved ones. This can last days or weeks, and generally consists of feelings of disconnection, stress, worthlessness, complete exhaustion, and changes in behavior or routines as you come to grips with what you may have just experienced. Suddenly, you may find yourself rooted back in a reality that doesn’t seem to glow as bright. Perhaps you’re even pushing through denial to understand that your mind works differently.

As I continued to soar, I knew the landing would be anything but gentle. Being that I am currently unmedicated, I had no choice but to ride the wave, and pray my insight would keep me as grounded as possible.

By the second week I found myself unable to breathe or sleep effectively, and was toppling into relentless crying spells. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. I was juggling mental health symptoms, chronic pain, work, school, motherhood, cold-like symptoms in the era of Covid, and had started my menstrual cycle (which is uniquely debilitating for me, but that’s a story for another day.) I felt increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of what it means to function, and soon the day came where I couldn’t get out of bed at all. With the support of my incredible girlfriend, I called into work and took a mental health day. Once the feelings of guilt and insecurity passed, I was instantly humbled by the notion that sometimes mental illness demands self-care take precedence over earthly obligation.

That evening, my sweet girl returned to me and poured into me the healing of good company, validation, and heartfelt conversation. She was so lovingly reassuring, always seeking to provide whatever it is I need, and the blessing was not lost on me. The next day, I began the task of pulling myself out of the clinical Depression that followed. Through it all, the most important thing to me will always be my family, and the due diligence I feel to spare them pain, treat them well, and lift them up – especially when I am drowning. One of my greatest challenges throughout my mental health treatment has been asking for help when I need it. Don’t let it be yours.

If you don’t make your mental health a priority – it has the potential to do it for you. You may feel deeply concerned about the repercussions of taking a mental health day. However, if you don’t listen to the limitations of your mind and body, you may find there is no ambition, family, or hobby to return to. In some cases, the risk may outweigh the benefit of pushing through.

My day of rest allowed me to relax and regroup, although it would be a few more days before I was able to fully regain my footing and move forward. I am slowly beginning to return to myself after the fallout, and putting things in place to return to my psychiatrist just as soon as I am able. Despite my uncertainty, the world went on spinning, and my job was there waiting for me the next day. The truth is, we must make time for our wellness free from shame and stigma, primarily when the consequences of not doing so become so much greater.

Discuss: Have you ever taken a mental health day? Did it help or hurt your circumstances? Did you receive support? Share what you learned in the comments below!

If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, please email me at contact@deskraven.com. I would be honored to provide you a platform with all due credit.

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC!

Mental health, News

Ugly Truth 52: Suicide Rates Are Rising Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic

“We need to change the culture of this topic and make it okay to talk about mental health and suicide.” -Luke Richardson

Dear Readers,

It is no secret we are living in unprecedented times.

Our nation’s capital would rather use their election platform to throw temper tantrums and popularity contests than serve those in need. A gruesome pandemic has swept across the globe, robbing us of our wellness, and leaving lasting dents in our populations. Our health care system (which was already atrocious) is now inundated as a result. Unemployment rates sky rocketed while our economy plummeted. Travel industries and non-essential workers were suddenly faced with unique challenges. Schools closed early – if not completely. Grocery stores struggled to supply our panicked demands, and it wasn’t long before meaningful assets were lost and family owned businesses were forced to shut down for good.

Furthermore, consider the cultural crisis of the Blake Lives Matter Movement, the ever pressing women’s rights and LGBTQ+ issues, a lack of access to spiritual services, and the civil war that seeks to divide us all within our already government issued isolation – and it begs the question: What will our mental health response consist of when faced with what it means to be alive in this specific time and place in history? Drawn in this light, we can easily see how dynamic our challenges are from a socio-economic psycho-social perspective.

In some weird way it is no longer special interest groups being targeted, but humanity as a whole. Indeed, it has become frighteningly easy to lose our bearings given the state of things. I do not envy our city leaders who are now tasked with equipping their populations to adapt or die. Is it any wonder why so few of us are sleeping at night? Perhaps the year of 2020 has the potential to be our great equalizer. Perhaps we can choose to come together to find solutions, or be driven further apart by the media and those in positions of power.

The truth is it’s too early to tell. Numbers for suicide rates typically run two years behind, but many clinicians suspect an increase as a direct result of the generational opposition we are currently facing. Interestingly enough, I haven’t done suicide prevention advocacy field work myself since 2018. As both a suicide attempt and suicide loss survivor, this work seems more important than ever. In an interesting article by Townhall, the CDC Control Director, Robert Redfield, attempts to compare the rate of suicide to Covid-19 deaths. In short, he suspects a rise in suicide rates, as well as deaths resulting from substance abuse in the coming reports. Likewise, he cites a disproportionate decline in the mental health of our youth specifically.

Even though things are very loud right now, we must not let the silent epidemic slip under our radar. The truth is our children are in trouble having made more attempts on their life than in years prior. Even more scary, we are seeing more successful completions of suicide by young people than ever before. At first it seems incomprehensible, but then we remember we’re living in an age of information with more platforms than ever before. While many count these as valuable resources to be utilized for good, they also make us more vulnerable to invasion. Let this be a gentle reminder to check in with your kids, especially if they appear to be unaffected, and monitor their cell phone activity.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is a major public health concern. More than 48,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States; it is the 10th leading cause of death overall. Suicide is complicated and tragic, but it is often preventable. See below to learn the signs, action steps, and locate shareable images to spread awareness on your own social media.

If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, please email me at contact@deskraven.com. I would be honored to provide you a platform with all due credit.

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC!

Blogging, Mental health

Provider Tales: Deskraven Welcomes Special Guest Randy Withers, LCMHC!

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view.”
– Henry Ford

Dear Readers,

Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog where I tackle the ugly truths of mental health as it relates to parenting and relationships – and what you can do about them. If you’ve been a reader for some time, then you know my writing style consists of pairing comprehensive mental health articles with personal insight and resources. Having held the spotlight for two years to find my own healing, I am now more eager then ever to offer up the Deskraven platform to hear your stories, as well as those of mental health providers. My hope is that we can continue to serve each other and our mental health community by sharing our stories and normalizing mental health language.

In this new series I will be sharing Reader Tales and Provider Tales on behalf of anyone who wants to participate. If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, or know someone who is, please email me at contact@deskraven.com to find out how it works! As we move forward together, you will notice an interview template with the intention of readability. These questions may change or evolve over time.

Without further adieu, I give you Randy Withers, LCMHC! Earlier this year my good friend and colleague reached out to tell me the Deskraven Blog wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. He gave me the opportunity to write for his project, Blunt-Therapy, a blog about mental health, addiction, counseling, and relationships – edited by a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. I could think of no greater advisor in the same vein of mental health writing so I jumped at the offer. You can check out our first collaboration, “5 Ways You Can Help the LGBTQ+ Community Fight Stigma”, available on Blunt-Therapy.com.

This time, the tables have turned and Mr. Withers has graced the Deskraven audience with his invaluable wisdom! In addition to being the Managing Editor for Blunt-Therapy.com, Randy boasts a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Education. He is recognized as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). Furthermore, he is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) who has done extensive work with LGBTQ+ clients and survivors of various types of abuse.

THE INTERVIEW

Provide a little backstory. Who are you? Where are you from? What inspired you to enter the mental health profession?

My name is Randy Withers, LCMHC. I’m a licensed therapist in North Carolina, where I work at a state psychiatric facility and see clients in private practice. I am also the managing editor of Blunt Therapy, a blog about mental health. I am originally from Florida, where I worked as an educator for over a decade. For most of that career, I was an academic advisor and counselor, which is where I learned that mental health counseling was my true passion. I went back to school in 2011 and have been in the field ever since. I went to Florida State and I have a dog named Daisy, who is smarter than I am.

Have you ever experienced mental health struggles in your personal life?

I have battled depression and anxiety for more than 25 years. If I’m honest, probably since I was a small child. I’ve never felt comfortable around other people. I’ve always felt different. The problem grew worse as I got older. It led to a severe case of depression about 12 years ago, which almost killed me. So yes, you could say that I have experienced mental health struggles.

As a provider, what do you consider to be the most important aspect of mental health treatment?

I’m a big advocate of a holistic approach to mental health. I don’t really believe that any one thing is most important. Having said that, for obvious reasons I’m a huge proponent of good therapy. Often, people have no idea where to start the process of managing their mental illness. A good therapist provides direction, accountability, and most importantly – hope.

Mental health treatment usually requires a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Most importantly, it requires that the client accept responsibility for their situation and for them to be willing to do whatever it takes to tackle it.

As a provider, what challenges have you faced?

Graduate school was intense. It was a three-year program and quite demanding. But I was well-trained, so it was worth it. My biggest challenge personally has been working at various agencies with people in charge who have no business making clinical decisions. In North Carolina, you don’t have to be a doctor or a therapist to own a mental health agency. Most of these places are profit-driven and run by incompetent fools. Thankfully, I work at a hospital now that is well-run and well-managed by talented clinicians. And so is my private practice. It is, quite simply, the difference between night and day.

Many therapists struggle with issues related to boundaries. They get too emotionally invested in their clients, or they work too much, or they get burnt out. Thankfully, I’ve never really struggled with that. At least, not for a while. Good boundaries are essential for mental health.

As a provider, what would you consider your greatest accomplishment?

This is a hard question. Often, you don’t really know how effective you are. Therapy is like pouring wet concrete. It takes a long time to dry, and often you’re not there to see the finished product. I suppose if I had to focus on specific accomplishments – I have prevented a handful of suicides and even homicides by talking some clients off the proverbial ledge. One time I even took a handgun from someone. I used to work at agencies that liaised with Child Protective Services, so I can also say that I was able to protect a number of children from abuse and neglect.

Have you ever experienced stigma as a direct result of being a mental health provider? How did you react?

I wouldn’t say stigma. It’s not exactly that. But being a therapist is an inherently isolating field. You are a keeper of secrets and a witness to extreme trauma. It’s hard to shut that off sometimes. Truthfully, the biggest problem I’ve faced is in the dating world. I’d say about half of the women I’ve dated simply could not separate my career from me as a person. In fact, several months ago while on a first date, my date spent the better part of 90 minutes telling me all about her childhood trauma and her awful mother. Not exactly first date material. I have a policy of politeness and compliance, so I listened and tried to be helpful. But you can’t really move forward after something like that.

Fortunately, my current girlfriend is a psychiatric nurse and couldn’t care less about what I do for a living. It’s really nice.

What piece of advice would give to those suffering from a dual diagnosis?

That you can’t treat one without the other. Does an alcoholic drink because they are depressed or are they depressed because they drink? Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to stop drinking and treat the depression. You have to conceptualize the problem as an actual medical illness, because it is. It is chronic, unforgiving, and requires a lifetime of support and management. But I’d also say that you can have hope. I’m dually diagnosed and my quality of life is pretty high.

What piece of advice would you give to friends and family who want to support someone with a mental health condition?

The problem with friends and family is that they want to fix things that they don’t understand. I remember, for example, my mom telling me to look on the bright side of things when I was clinically depressed. That’s just not helpful. My advice? If you want to be helpful, start by learning all you can about whatever disorder it is that your loved one struggles with.

What are your favorite mental health resources?

I’m a huge proponent of two seemingly different things. The first is CBT. The second is 12-Step programs. Both of which share the same goal, which is to help people change the way they think about things. So, for me, the recovery community is a huge resource. For the CBT, I really like worksheets. You can get these on sites like TherapistAid.com or you can order workbooks off Amazon. However, these really should be done under the supervision of a mental health professional.

I also believe in online counseling, but it depends on the issue. Severe mental illness? No. Relationships, self-esteem, goal setting, etc. Absolutely, yes.

I would encourage you all to visit Blunt Therapy, which is my blog. I and about two dozen other writers focus on topics related to mental health, therapy, addictions, and parenting. We’ve got some good stuff.

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium.

Did Randy’s words resonate with you? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, please email me at contact@deskraven.com. I would be honored to provide you a platform with all due credit.

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC!