What to expect from therapy/counseling

Your counselor/therapist is not your friend.He/She is a professional who is there to help you. He/She is not a magician. He/She cannot ‘transform’ your life overnight. He/She doesn’t have all the answers. His/her word is not the last word. He/She is a human being with flaws and limitations. It takes effort from both parties to build a healthy relationship and like any relationship, it requires time, patience, understanding and adjustments. Be practical and set realistic goals with your therapist/counselor. Not all counselors are empathetic, though. There are some insensitive therapists  who invalidate your feelings.

I have mental health issues and I see a therapist

Yes, you read that right! I suffer from social anxiety disorder but that’s not the focus of this post (I will write about it in detail in future). The whole point of this post is: Why are we ashamed of talking about mental health? We don’t feel this kind of shame when it comes to physical health but there is something about mental health which makes us talk in hushed tones. I hope someone reads this post and decides to talk about his/her mental health issues.

So here’s the thing: I’m an adult and I have mental health issues. I have started visiting a therapist and I’m NOT ashamed of talking about this. Dr. Brene Brown says that shame thrives in secrecy. So if you have mental health issues. please seek help. Don’t be afraid of feeling vulnerable. If you are an Indian then you will find it really difficult to afford and find good mental health care providers but don’t lose hope. If you are an Indian then you will be discouraged from visiting a therapist but I urge you to trust your instincts. Don’t compare your life with your parents and brush off your issues. You live in a different world and your issues are different. They lived in simpler times but you don’t. Don’t let the older generation gaslight you. Try to challenge their views on psychology/psychiatry/psychotherapy. Stop using words like “mental” and “pagal” in a demeaning way because it creates a culture of shame. Accompany a friend to a therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist because it’s tough to find support when you are facing mental health issues. Last but not the least: Love yourself. It’s a cliche but don’t ever underestimate the power of self-love. Society has conditioned you to hate yourself. Rise above the conditioning. Use your intellect and do what’s best for you.

Dealing with shame

Shameful things are so embarrassing that even thinking about them makes us feel ashamed. So we push all the shameful things to the corner of our mind. These accumulated things affect our self esteem and make us feel less confident. One way of dealing with shame is writing down the embarrassing things. Thoughts move at the speed of light but when we write, we instruct our brain to find the right words and this makes us feel in control. By expressing our shame through language we are making it a little “normal” ( as language is a socially acceptable thing). 

In defence of psychiatry

​Medication prescribed by Psychiatrists has been criticized by many. People believe that medicines only treat the symptoms and not the root cause of the mental disorders. This argument is valid but we can look at medication in a different way. If you have opted for the psychiatric path to get better, then you can find long term solutions while you are taking medicines for the short term. If you are under medication for anxiety then you could slowly challenge yourself by putting yourself in situations out of your comfort zone (the medicines might make you feel less anxious). By the time you are off the meds, you might gain enough confidence to challenge your anxiety. This might not work for everyone but for those who don’t like counseling or therapy, psychiatry could be the best option. Ideally, people with chronic mental illness should opt for a combination of psychology and psychiatry (my personal opinion) but if you are confident, then you can choose one of them.

Thoughts on some blog posts

Some posts on this blog are about mental illness and in many places, there are suggestions. A lot of these posts are about anxiety and depression and I write about them because I have personally experienced them. Each human being experiences mental illness differently so I apologize if any of my posts are insensitive or patronizing. What works for me may not work for others as my experiences are not always universal.  I have grown up in a culture which shames mentally ill people so I still have unconscious prejudices. If you are suffering from mental illness and feel that I’m wrong about something then please correct me. Thank you.

5 tips to relieve anxiety

1. Write down your thoughts

An anxious person knows that beyond a point, anxiety is irrational and even counter-productive. And yet, he/she is unable to stop the influx of negative thoughts. By writing down our thoughts, we activate those parts of our brain which are responsible for language. Since language is organised and logical, our focus slowly shifts from emotions to rationality. Through writing, we force ourselves to think about our thinking; a job that requires us to be more objective.
2. Power poses 
There is a lot of talk about how thinking influences our bodily functions but we tend to forget that the body influences the mind as well. In her famous TED talk, Amy Cuddy talks about the power of body language and the way it can make us more confident. Cuddy recommends power poses like putting your hands on your hips, putting your hands at the back of your head and putting your legs up on the table.
3. Make small choices
The most dreadful aspect of anxiety is its ability to make us powerless. An anxious person feels out of control, overwhelmed and helpless. The best way to beat this feeling is by making small choices. Change the wallpaper of your phone or decorate your room in a different way. These are not life-changing choices but the act of choosing has the power to make us feel as if we are in control.
4. Carry something 
Our brain is not satisfied with mere intellectual understanding. If we want to change something, we need our senses to be involved in the transition. An anxious person feels unsafe and vulnerable in the world. To feel safe, he/she can carry something that makes him/her feel at home. For example, I always have a book in my bag…even on those days when I know that I won’t have the time to read. That’s because books make me feel secure.
5. Count backward numbers
This famous technique is used by those who are unable to sleep but it can be an effective way to cope with anxiety too. While counting backward diverts our mind, the process of counting can bring calmness to our mind. When it comes to numbers, we believe that everything is certain. We don’t know whether we will crack the interview but we know that 6 always precedes 7. Knowing something with certainty can be a boon in moments of stress.

Note to self: Taking care of mental health

1. Have goals. Short term or long term.
2. Have a passion (If your job is your passion then have some other passion/hobby too)
3. Respect your mind. It is not just a means to an end.
4. Physical exercise and mental health have a deep connection. Walking can sometimes bring clarity.
5. Don’t hesitate in taking help from mental health professionals and/or friends. Read up on mental health issues.
6. Be careful while sharing your problems with others. Sharing your pain with insensitive people can make things worse.
7. Try one-minute meditation for challenging rumination.
8. Challenge your brain and mind but make sure that they are not overwhelmed.
9. Share the things that you are ashamed of (with a sensitive and compassionate person). Talk about mental health to reduce the stigma around it.
10. Focus on things you can control.
11. Learn to say no. Have emotional boundaries.

Reading, television and mental health

There is a tendency among people suffering from depression/other mental health issues to watch a lot of television (or web shows). While some TV/Web shows are enlightening and inspiring, television as a medium might not be the best choice for those who have mental health issues. When we watch a film, we are not actively involved in the creation process. Since it’s a visual medium, the filmmaker has already made choices: he/she decides what you will watch on screen. Reading, on the other hand, requires us to imagine. The author has described the characters but there is a room for our own creativity. This process of imagining makes us feel as if we are in control…which is (often) the last thing we feel when we are depressed. The process of imagining is like an exercise for the brain…it’s taxing but in the end, there is a sense of accomplishment.

Challenging anxiety through discipline

In anxiety, we feel out of control. When we are disciplined, we feel as if we have total control of our lives. Anxiety is often about big events. Discipline, on the other hand, is about the small things that we do everyday. An effective way of dealing with anxiety could be to have familiar rituals. Since anxiety has its roots in unpredictability, a routine can be a source of relief for the anxious person. Of course, life will undergo changes. Sometimes, we cannot carry forward the same routine but there will be always some little things that we can continue doing.

The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

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Photo: Amazon

Verbal abuse is not taken as seriously as physical abuse even though it has the potential to permanently change the way we look at ourselves, our loved ones and the society. In this book, Patricia Evans takes up the herculean task of understanding and explaining an invisible form of abuse and challenges us to respect ourselves. So much of the communication that goes on around us is verbally abusive. Body-shaming, misogyny, classism, and racism disguised under jokes are “normal” things today but a “casual” comment has the power to damage a youngster’s self-esteem. Since physical abuse is punishable in a lot of countries, many have resorted to other forms of abuse and verbal abuse is a refuge for many helpless men and women who turn their most intimate relationships into a one-upmanship.

Unlike many self-help authors, Patricia doesn’t sell illusions to the victims of abuse. A victim of abuse didn’t “attract” and doesn’t deserve an abusive partner. A victim of abuse cannot magically change his/her partner…most of the times, the abuser doesn’t even admit that he/she is abusive. You cannot always change the other person by giving love. Some people are beyond emotions and logic and sometimes, the only thing you can do is protect yourself. Love is beyond boundaries but in an abusive relationship, you need to create boundaries. However, Patricia also gives you hope: self-love may compel you to cut some people off but it can also be a beginning of a healthy, peaceful and drama-free life.