Who Are You, Anyway?

December 1, 2011 · Comments Off
Category: Geoff Laughton, Syndicated 

One of the most common complaints or issues that people share with me that they are struggling with is along the lines of “I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” followed closely by “I have no idea what my purpose is, and I feel like I’m just drifting through my life.” The economic times seem to be adding to the distress of that kind of question. People who are getting clear that they are not living a life that is congruent with who they really are often describe feeling trapped, particularly in their careers (and often in unhappy relationships where financial stability is seemingly at stake).

This gets so tricky, because we believe what our minds tell us. For generations, men have been conditioned to believe that the sure-fire way to “success” is to strategize, plan, and think their way into their destiny. It’s become clear that more and more women are trying to adapt to this same fashion of self-actualization.  To me, it’s a human condition or dilemma that causes so much suffering, confusion, and inertia…particularly to the degree we’re fanatical about preserving our control of how our lives are going.

I recently heard someone share how they’ve been feeling more and more (though they’ve actually been thinking, and confusing it with feeling) like their life may be over, because they’ve had such a hard time finding a job in the field that they’ve worked in for many years. In listening to this person, it was clear that they’ve actually considered that this could be a reality. I’ve even been there myself in my past.

When faced with so much seeming instability, uncertainty, or even “real” circumstances like unemployment, the knee-jerk reaction for so many is to go to into raw, primal survival, followed by intense thinking and mental strategizing for solutions, followed by much more disappointment, dejection, and internal terror. When this is going on, one of the key doorways to finding an opening, some relief, or openings to possibilities and transformation is to start with doing whatever it takes to remember who you really are. (By the way, it also helps to be sure you’re checking in with what’s really real and what’s a fear-based projection of what you think is going to happen).

More and more people have forgotten something so basic, the forgetting of which creates so much needless suffering and blocked creativity and generatively: we are not what we do or how much money we have in the bank. Those things are only outward expressions of who we are. They’re important, to be sure…we do need money to eat and have shelter.  Yet, who we are is what sources the clarity and direction we are starving for when we, ironically, get disconnected from who we really are at times like losing a job.  Who you are is not your circumstances, be they terrific or seemingly in the toilet.  Who you are is your Spirit, your soul that gets the opportunity to grow and expand its depth and wisdom through having human experiences.

Our connection to our Spirit-self, if you will, is only (at least in my experience, thus far) able to be experienced in our hearts…which requires being connected to our bodies.  When you’re lost in the hall of mirrors between your ears, trying to figure your way out of your survival panics, you’re not likely connected to your body…at least not below the neck. So, much of what you’re “figuring out” is likely to be your mind turning in on itself, relying on decades of conditioning to come up with an answer.  Yet, without connection to who you really are, any solutions have a real chance of being the equivalent of a house of cards.

So, what do you do when you’ve forgotten yourself, find yourself losing sleep, overeating, feeling like three rungs below plankton on the self-worthiness scale, and isolating in your man- or woman-cave staring at the boob tube for your main source of connection, inspiration, and human contact?  Here are a few suggestions to start with, all of which will take high intention on your part, most likely…so be forewarned:

Call 3 of your best friends - you know, the ones that will tell you the unvarnished truth, with love, whether you’re going to like it or not – and ask them to tell you 3 things that they admire and love about you.  One critical thing, though – ask them to give you three examples of you being what they admire and love from actual experiences you’ve had together.  That way, your mind won’t tell you they’re just being nice. Do your best to let it in.

Take 15 minutes, right now, to make a list of the things that – had you all the money you could possibly ever need or want – you’d want to be able leave behind as a legacy you’d feel proud of on your deathbed, focusing especially on those things that have nothing to do with Do-ing and everything to do with Be-ing. Keep that where you can see it each day, and when chips get down, read it religiously every day to remind yourself of how your Spirit longs to express itself.

When you’re struggling – particularly with money issues, employment, or feeling good enough for your partner and yourself – rally your community around you…friends, former co-workers you’ve stayed friends with, your Spiritual community, your partner, your men’s or woman’s group…and ask for their support.  Your ego is going to SCREAM at you not to do any such thing. But, believe me, failing to do this is one of the more sure-fire ways to ensure you’re going to just stay miserable, start believing your Ego’s own PR, and delay your growth and joy beyond reasonable limits. We cannot do this life alone, and all that American ethic of self-determination failed to take into account it’s just plain easier to allow yourself to be raised and lifted by that there village…no matter how old you are.

Lastly, when you find yourself sitting there thinking your life is over because your old picture of reality and who you are (from the ego’s position, anyway) seem to be shattered, see what happens to how you feel when you begin to exercise your right to choose how you relate to anything, and start relating to your seemingly s**tty circumstances as the opportunity your Spirit’s been waiting for to come back to itself and help you hear that out-of-the-box idea that will create a life beyond what you’ve yet experienced. I promise it’s possible…I did it when it became clear that my corporate career was going to kill me if I didn’t get out, and this E-zine – and the lives I’ve been privileged to contribute to expanding for the last 15 years – is testimony to what happens when you listen to your heart, and allow your head to follow.

FIGHT BACK THE DARKNESS – World Suicide Prevention Day

August 16, 2011 · 3 Comments
Category: Announcements, Men and Health, Men’s News 

To the men of The ManKind Project, our families, our communities:

The Mental Health Resource Team invites and urges you to participate in World Suicide Prevention Day. On September 10, groups, communities, and organizations all over the world will be meeting and supporting each other in learning about suicide, learning how to prevent it, and learning how to deal with its aftermath.

How can we join them in this vital initiative? That’s the good news- much of the preparatory work has already been done for us. The home page of World Suicide Prevention Day is found at The International Association for Suicide Prevention Visit this site and you will find links that will help you:

Find World Suicide Prevention Day banners in over 40 languages.

Download the World Suicide Prevention Day brochure.

Download the World Suicide Prevention Day Suggested Activities sheet.

Read about World Suicide Prevention Day activities throughout the world.

Download the World Suicide Prevention Day Toolkit, a single-page PDF that contains links to World Suicide Prevention Day resources and related Web sites.

Use the WSPD Activities Online Submission Form to let us know about your World Suicide Prevention Day activities.

Let us know where to send your Certificate of Appreciation for participating in World Suicide Prevention Day.

Visit the Official World Suicide Prevention Day Facebook Event Page. Over 1,500 people from around the world have indicated they are participating in a World Suicide Prevention Day activity.

How can you participate?

• If you’re a Center Director, find your best facilitators and ask them to convene
a Community Circle and use the World Suicide Prevention Day resources to start a discussion-and encourage men to go out and share what they’ve learned.

• If you’re an I-Group Council member or I-Group Facilitator, take these resources out
to the I-Groups, new and old. Many of these activities can be adapted to an I-Group evening format. An I-Group is a ManKind Project sponsored peer facilitated support group. The ManKind Project supports nearly one thousand I-Groups worldwide.

• If you’re a certified Leader or Co-Leader, share these resources with your mentees
and make use of them in NWTA staff meetings.

• If you’re involved in Boys To Men, there are materials and activities suitable
for that age group, and no, it’s not too early- that population is especially vulnerable!

• If you’re a man in an I-Group, bring these resources to your group and use them
to encourage sharing and mutual support.

Our vision for World Suicide Prevention Day (and after) is that:

• EVERY Center and Community will convene a Community Circle to share
these resources and begin an ongoing, informed Community conversation about suicide.

• EVERY Certified Leader and Co-Leader and senior I-Group facilitator will be familiar
with these resources.

• EVERY I-Group will know about the resources and activities that are available,
and know who to call for support in using them.

• And what can you do now? RIGHT now? Go to the website and just start looking around. This site brings together information that mental health professionals have been accumulating for decades in a very user-friendly format. This is a website that can teach us things we need to know, that can help us give men hope, that can help us give men breathing space to find new alternatives.

This is a website that can help us save lives.

Join us on World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s time to fight back the darkness.

You can read The ManKind Project Position on Mental Health by going to:The MKP Declaration on Mental Health

If your therapist would like more information about MKP, he or she can get touch with us by emailing the MKP Mental Health Resource Team (MHRT)

The MKP Mental Health Resource Team: History, Process and Mission

June 20, 2010 · Leave a Comment
Category: 2010 June - Mental Health, MKP News 

by David Rose

One of the ongoing narratives of The ManKind Project has been the tension between keeping the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) a fierce and powerful experiential training while at the same time keeping a consciousness around safety — whether physical, spiritual, cultural, or psychological.

There have been several major advances in our consciousness around safety.  In the mid-1990’s, a new emphasis on pre-training medical screening emerged. A comprehensive Confidential Medical Questionnaire was created and put into use in 1997.  In that same year, the Safety Committee was formed to bring men together who would give input into how to create “best practices” for physical safety on the training.

In 2002, the Process Safety Committee was formed to focus on the psychological impact of processes in the training.  Soon thereafter, the need for assessing the psychological readiness of a man before his participating in the NWTA became clear. In August of 2008, a group of men began meeting by email and phone bridge, and from these meetings emerged the Mental Health Resource Team (MHRT).

There are two qualifications for being on the MHRT.

First, a man must be a qualified and licensed mental health professional (in nearly all cases a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychiatric social worker), trained to assess such disorders and conditions as PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Major Depression, homicidality/assaultiveness, suicidality, disorders of impulse, and substance abuse or dependence.

Second, each man must have a reasonable degree of experience in staffing the NWTA.  This is defined as five or more NWTA staffings and the vouch of a certified leader or co-leader with whom the man has staffed.  This ensures that the MHRT man can assess a potential initiate in the context of the experience he is signing up to do.

The MHRT is typically contacted by the local Reviewing Physician following his review of the Confidential Medical Questionnaire.  The Psychosocial section, revised and expanded by the MHRT in 2008, alerts the Physician to the potential presence of one of the conditions mentioned above.  The MHRT man reviews the form and — depending on what information emerges along the way — contacts the potential initiate or staff man, and (with permission) may contact the treating therapists and physicians, as well.

The main question addressed is whether there is sufficient concern to advise that the man not participate in the NWTA, given his situation and condition at the time of the referral.  Secondary input may be made about what the man may need on the training for optimal benefit, cautions about possible traumatic triggers or impaired cognitive functioning, and such like.  Regardless of the issue, the MHRT functions in an advisory capacity, making recommendations to the reviewing physician and to the training leader, who has the final call

Since the MHRT went operational in late 2009, more than a dozen referrals have been made. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from Reviewing Physicians, leaders and co-leaders of the NWTA, and even from family members of men who we have (indirectly) served.

David S. Rose is a Co-Leader in the Greater Washington MKP Community.  He has been a practicing psychologist for more than 22 years with extensive training in diagnosing and treating early and recent trauma, disorders of mood, impulse, and process addiction, plus suicide intervention. For more information about the MHRT, please contact David at mhrt@mkp.org

Can people with bipolar disorder recover?

June 20, 2010 · 9 Comments
Category: 2010 June - Mental Health 

by Peter Dorsen, MD

Why do those of us with bipolar disorder have to carry the stigma that we will always be sick? Can’t we ever “recover” enough from our disorder to return to the place we started before we were diagnosed with a chronic mental illness? Does the tail wag the dog? Are psychiatrists motivated by the pharmaceutical industry to push medications rather than provide holistic, collaborative care?

My blogmate at Bipolar Visions, Tim Kuss, recently emphasized accepting one’s mental illness — in our case, this is bipolar disorder — just as much as building and maintaining sobriety.  This has worked for Tim, and I daresay for me, since we both have been clean and sober for an impressive amount of time, we both take our medications deliberatively, and we both “take an active role in the design and delivery” of our care.

Mathew Mattson and Sue Bergeson from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) say that “the ultimate goal of treatment should be to engender hope.” However, sometimes I wonder how that can happen if we realize that we will continue to  have a chronic illness that will always haunt us, especially if we do not walk the straight and narrow. Mattson and Bergeson emphasize that “the ultimate goal of treatment must be recovery” and that “consumers should take an active role in the design and delivery of their own care”

Dr. Jeffrey L. Sussman, in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, waxes profound when he notes, ” The goal of treatment [for bipolar disorder] has changed in recent years from one of symptom abatement to one of recovery; that is, returning patients to their level of functioning prior to the onset of illness.”

Mover and shaker psychiatrist, Dr. Nada Stotland, alludes to “moving beyond symptomatic recovery to also encompass functional recovery.” She advocates four ways to make this happen: (1) She wants ” policy and system changes to facilitate recovery.” (2) She asks for ” improved funding for recovery-oriented care.” (3) She wants “implementation of recovery-oriented, collaborative care models that bring together psychiatrists and primary care providers.” Lastly, (4) she wants the “dissemination of improved tools for monitoring changes in symptoms and level of functioning.”

I want to dig deeper because I am not convinced the majority of practicing clinicians buy into this view that recovery should be the goal of bipolar treatment. Many behavioralists, I suspect, focus on the “flavors” of one or the other presentations of bipolar disorder: are you manic and depressed, just a little off the wall, or rapidly cycling between ups and downs? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) has a diagnosis that fits you.

Plenty of naysayers would suggest there is a greater tendency to define and treat in this new Aage of twenty-minute psychiatric visits. This raises some tough questions:

Is there a fiscal relationship between the plethora of psychotropic drugs on the market and how many pills or capsules the average bipolar patient now takes? Does the tail wag the dog? Has “pushing” psychotropics to whatever extent supplanted interactive psychiatry? Is there a financial impropriety based on the incredible profits engendered by so many medications? Have psychiatrists literally been “bought out” by the megapharmaceutical companies?

So, what is the incentive that anyone with bipolar illness will actually ever “get better”?

I am not advocating that bipolar patients stop taking their medications as soon as they feel good again. Sussman advocates utilizing an effective treatment team. I heartily agree with him and feel — to the bottom of my soul — that collaboration between the patient and physician is crucial. Such an approach demands mutual communication between the physician and the person with bipolar disorder. Also, collaboration between primary care providers and specialists (psychiatrists and psychotherapists) is proven to produce better outcomes.

Those bipolar patients lucky enough to have been treated collaboratively report having a better attitude about taking their medications and admitting just how bad they actually felt. They also functioned better in daily life. Here again, these innovative psychiatrists I have cited are directing our attention toward a goal of returning to a level playing field; that is, back to where we may have been mentally before we began our struggle. Is that possible?

We inevitably return to the question of whether someone like myself, with known bipolar disorder, can ever function normally again? They may tell us that we “demonstrate compromise of executive and cognitive function on psychometric testing.”  However, I am suspicious that these psychologists may have performed testing under less than ideal emotional circumstances or under stressful conditions that possibly contaminate the results.

In summary, my opinion is that a bipolar patient — if treated collaboratively with appropriate medications from a perceptive yet vigilant psychiatrist working hand-in-hand with a knowledgeable therapist when co-occurring issues stay in check (anxiety, alcohol and drugs)  — can return to a level playing field.

Peter Dorsen, a retired MD, LADC, currently teaches Western medicine at the Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Roseville, Minnesota. He is the author of Dr D’s Handbook For Men Over 40: Living, Loving in the Prime of Life, a contributor with Patch Adams to Being a Father (Mothering Magazine), The Vikings Change the Play Against Alcohol and Other Dangerous Drugs (Fairview Press), and more than 100 freelance articles on diverse human interest topics.