Monthly Archives: February 2009

eating disorders week

interviewi have an amazing talent for missing national eating disorders week in canada, which was february 1-7.  and i was even reminded by a number of people!  fortunately, clinically clueless, who has been posting about national eating disorders week in the US, has also sent me a reminder – so i’m getting in here under the wire.  phew!

here’s my idea:

i’d like to do some email (or perhaps chat/phone) interviews with people who have experience with eating disorders and issues around body image.

  • do you have anorexia?
  • have you overcome bulimia?
  • are you a yoyo dieter?
  • have you gone through periods in your life when you loathed your body?
  • have you ever had a strange relationship with food?
  • are you recovering from exercise anorexia?
  • do you have a relative who is struggling, or has struggled, with an eating disorder?
  • are you a professional who helps people with eating disorders?

if you’d like to be interviewed, please let me know.  you can leave a message here, use my contact form, or email me at moritherapy (at) shaw [dot] ca.  the interview will be treated as anonymously as you would like.

no-bully pink on a wordless wednesday

(update: the mosaic has, unfortunately, disappeared – but maybe you’ll find time to click on the individual pictures, below)

a plethora of pink today, to celebrate anti-bullying day.

to find the photographers of the images, click on the links:

1. pink club door, 2. something pink this way comes, 3. soudeh is well now!, 4. untitled, 5. greenlake petals ortonized, 6. hibiscus, 7. swirly pink driving gloves, 8. spidey jump, 9. everything was tasty, 10. day 274: please remember…, 11. men love fuchsia, 12. me gone global, 13. bangle seller, 14. tourists

MentalHealthCamp – a whole conference about mental health and blogging

northern voice 2009 logo by bascocoping digitally, a session at the 2009 northern voice blogging conference that talked about the intersection of blogging and mental health and how social media can help derease the stigma of mental health was a real success.  raul did a live blog of the session. thanks, raul!

the overwhelming feedback, during and after the session, face-to-face and digitally, was that the conversation needs to be continued.

so – we are thinking of putting together MentalHealthCamp, an (un)conference that will deal specifically with the topic.  raul (@hummingbird604 on twitter) already did a post on it!

right now the idea is to put together such a conference in vancouver some time in april, with sessions that are at least 90 minutes – these are topics that we can’t just plow through, there needs to be time for reflection and conversation.  we could run concurrent sessions if we have a lot of proposals.

in the meantime, feel free to continue the discussion digitally here on my blog. i’m thinking about writing specific blog posts about the issues that have arisen so far.  anything you’re burning to talk about, let me know!

and once again, here are airdrie’s blog and tod’s, the two other people on the panel.  a huge thanks to airdrie once again for getting this ball rolling so well!

questions to you, my good readers and commenters:

would you be interested in participating in MentalHealthCamp?

“participating” means anything from attending the conference to volunteering to put it together to giving presentations.

right now my thought is that we might even be able to do a mixed online/face-to-face session where people who cannot make it to vancouver could perhaps participate via a combination of live-blogging and twitter.

UPDATE: here is the wiki for MentalHealthCamp – for those of you who want to participate.

(the northern voice logo shown here was created by “teh ossum” street artist basco)

mental health and blogging: a summary of questions

this is a summary of the discussion we had on monday about mental health and blogging. thanks for all the great comments! i will use this as my guideline (guidepost?) for my participation at coping digitally, a panel discussion about mental illness and social media that i’ll be part of at the northern voice blogging conference here in vancouver today.

the motto for my participation:

“therapists don’t have a holy batphone or the latest insider trading tips from god but i think their inclusion in events like this panel is both important and helpful”

here are the questions people proposed to be discussed at the panel:

  • how is blogging an adjunct to therapy?
  • is blogging a more or less helpful medium compared to private journaling?
  • online communities forming among people dealing with mental health issues
  • what are the psychological aspects of blogging and social media in general, and over the long term? specifically,
  • does the flood of information we receive alter the way we think about ourselves/others? how does the inclusiveness of social media break through psychological barriers?
  • how might the increasing integration of mind, real life and technology affect our emotional lives?
  • what about the danger of ‘designing a world’ online in which we feel comforted and stimulated – it may be empowering and useful but can also isolate
  • blogging and language; i.e. the language of “mental illness” vs. “mental health” or “personal growth”; how does language stigmatize?
  • what problems has “being out” caused in personal and professional life?
  • how to deal with commenters/bloggers making “antipsychiatry” suggestions (“don’t take medication” or “you don’t need to see a professional”)
  • how can the blogging culture subvert the dominant therapeutic paradigm?
  • how to deal with trolls on mental health blogs
  • how long to blog about mental health? when you reach the point of truly getting over your problems, what happens next?
  • what happens when a person’s distress increases due to blogging (as in peer-reinforced delusions, one-upmanship in “i’m more depressed than you are” virtual community interactions, internet addiction etc)
  • does a feeling of exposure sometimes arise which can go beyond discomfort and become crippling?
  • many famous people have been bipolar or unipolarly depressives. i would like blogs to mention more about the amazing visions of people like edgar allen poe and the long list of others who have given without focusing on their disorder.

here is what commenters saif about how blogging works with mental health issues:

mental health bloggers as a therapeutic community

  • in the process of researching our global family, identifying issues/crises, and finding spiritual quotes to induce a higher perspective, i work through my own spiritual challenges, issues, and crises-“as above, so below”-as is in my global family, so is it in me…
  • “here’s the problem, what am i going to do about it?” or, “here’s some psychological info that could be helpful for you.” … blogging has a dynamic, moving-forward spin. this, for me, is the therapeutic twist that goes beyond simply stating & restating the problem.
  • i know i often get a feeling of relief when i read someone else describe a struggle that i am privately experiencing. this validation is priceless, and one piece of professional therapy that patients find so helpful. “oh good. it isn’t just me.”
  • my mental health is enhanced by the presence of blogs; blogs to read and blogs to comment on, like this one, and blogs to post to;
  • sometimes i need support. sometimes my need for support seems overwhelming. at those times, the telephone, email and social media such as blogs on the internet fill in the gap and give me a reality check while i wait for a specialized resource (like therapy) to be available.
    my blog gives me a place to vent once in awhile. it gives me a place to pass along my thoughts to those who might benefit.

stigma / privacy

  • when starting, i took great pains to protect my identity, including getting email accounts with false names, locking out viewers from whois info, etc.
  • my blog is not anonymous because my purpose is to fight stigma and i believe the only way to do that is to come out of the shadows.

other comments:

  • the proliferation of blogs cataloging the lives and suffering of those with mental illness is uncharted territory. the same can be true regarding the many sites offering solutions to any of life’s problems. these range from traditional “snake oil” to ones that may be very helpful to a number of people.
  • the more educated we become, the more accepting of the reality of mental illness we also become.
  • the stigma of mental illness in my opinion is as damaging as the disease itself. as we continue to educate ourselves and others to remove some of these stigmas, i hope people will seek help sooner leading to more effective treatment.
  • there are two (broad) sides to this discussion, i assume: (1) writing the blog and (2) reading blogs, websites, discussion forums, and the like.
  • i don’t mind investigating alternative therapies or researching different angles, but anything that says it has a 100% success rate needs to get out of my sight. unfortunately, it is not just spam, but well meaning real people doing this, often in response to extremely painful personal posts.
  • we need to acknowledge vulnerability. the mentally ill are statistically more likely to be victims of crime than your average american. add to that the effects of mental illness on income (and the reverse, so it becomes a vicious circle) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster if it’s not factored into the equation. it’s important to recognize though, that they’re factors; they’re not the whole equation.
  • the problem i see with the label “mentally ill” is that it misses the fact that all of us suffer from mental and emotional pain.
  • recently “a man” commented on my blog about his addiction to online pornography. he is so desperate about keeping this secret that he won’t even buy a book on the subject or take one out of the library for fear of this getting back to his family. he certainly won’t go to a therapist for the same reason. that means he’s cut himself off from all resources and was asking me for help.
  • my blog has become a place where i can try to educate and where i can support those who have a faith in god but feel rejected by fellow christians. i can turn my anger into something useful by communicating the truth to those who don’t understand.

vancouver’s shootings and restorative justice

mural in canadaon tuesday, there was a shooting in my neighbourhood, on vancouver’s fraser street. pretty scary – it was less than three blocks from my grandson’s daycare. there has been a rash of gang activity and violence in vancouver in the last few weeks.

like anyone else, i’m asking myself, what’s going on? what happened to vancouver? and what can we do about it?

this led me to interview a friend of mine who is very passionate about restorative justice. what is restorative justice?

restorative justice is one way to respond to a criminal act. restorative justice puts the emphasis on the wrong done to a person as well as on the wrong done to the community. it recognizes that crime is both a violation of relationships between specific people and an offence against everyone – the state.

restorative justice programs involve the voluntary participation of the victim of the crime and the offender and ideally members of the community, in discussions. the goal is to “restore” the relationship, fix the damage that has been done and prevent further crimes from occurring.

restorative justice requires wrongdoers to recognize the harm they have caused, to accept responsibility for their actions and to be actively involved in improving the situation. wrongdoers must make reparation to victims, themselves and the community. (thanks to the government of canada department of justice)

here is the interview:

was there a specific moment in your life that made you become interested in restorative justice?

a combination of things. i saw a movie about it, a woman whose son had been killed falling off the truck that was being driven by someone under the influence. now she’s going around with the young man who drove that truck, speaking to high schools. at the same time, the reena virk trial happened. the way the virks handled the whole thing really impressed me. also, the truth and reconciliation commission happened during the same time. so i saw a different way of dealing with crime and very serious issues of life and death.

you’re so passionate about many things but i’ve never seen you delve so deeply into an issue. why this?

the future of the world depends on it. it’s a civilizing force. what we’re doing isn’t working. i see that humanity makes these quantum leaps at different points in history. i think this is the leap forward we need. instead of guilt and punishment and retribution and anger, we need something else – although you do need the anger, it’s an important part of the restorative process.

plus i’m always impressed by the people who do it. i saw bishop desmond tutu when he was in vancouver and had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes. there was something about him, there was so much peace about him, there was a joy and a peace about him, i want something of this. he had this deep inner sense that there was a way out. and he was involved in this way out, he was living it.

people who do this work seem so steady and on course.

what are your thoughts on the current wave of violent crimes in vancouver?

i think it’s scary. i confess i have a little bit of trouble seeing how restorative just can be applied to it. these people that are shooting each other, i suspect it’s to do with gangs. they seem different from the rest of us. i have trouble thinking of these people going to their jobs, worrying about their mortgage. i’m having trouble having empathy for them. that would be a huge step, if restorative justice would work for them but i can’t imagine it, that needs a bigger mind than mine. there’s a part of me that wants to say, go at it, just leave the innocent people out. of course that doesn’t sound very restorative.

what’s needed is a willingness to participate in the process. are gang members ever going to be willing to sit down and see the other side?

restorative justice doesn’t work for sociopaths. these people in my mind are sociopaths. but on the other hand i wouldn’t want to write anyone off.

it’s the willingness. you have to sit down and be willing to hear the truth. sadam hussein for example still thought he was right right when he was executed. not a candidate for restorative justice!

what do you say to the idea that we need harsher punishments?

that’s just what hasn’t worked. which of course puts in a different light what i just said. the highest crime rates exist in the places where the harshest punishments are given. i totally get that people who have lost someone would want harsh punishment. but it just doesn’t make the person who carries out the punishment feel better, it’s costly, it doesn’t work – but i understand it!

i know if anyone did something to someone who i love, i would want blood, that’s my first reaction. but eventually i hope i would come around because it doesn’t work.

can you tell us about a restorative justice case that really impressed you?

the art project on the side of a store here in vancouver, my sister’s closet. my sister’s closet has an alley right on the side of it and had been a target for graffiti for a long time. the owner of the property is an elderly asian man who constantly had to clean it up. he couldn’t understand why he was a target all the time. the restorative justice program restart approached him to do a mural there and he agreed.

the restart project took a group of teen grafitti artists through a number of workshops. they sat down with the property owner and the store, they had to hear what it cost them, how unsafe it made them feel. they had to reflect on how it affected them to hear this. ultimately they all designed and made the mural. the property owner even participated a bit. he was quite impressed by one of the young men and decided to sponsor him through art school. now we have this beautiful mural. the kids have vowed not to do any more graffiti. a lot of them have ghone on to do much better. the property owner shows the building proudly. some of the police took some kids under their wing.

a lot of the kids that are doing this are feeling disenfranchised, they have a home that’s not so good, they don’t have a mentor. this is what they got from the program.

it’s possible that these people who do violent crime started out like this, too, and they never found a way to really connect to a mentor.

in the grand scheme of things, graffiti is not a big crime. some of the grafitti is art, but some of it is marking. grafitti leads to a lack of respect. they also found that most of the graffiti people were with horrible attitudes towards women, with non-existent respect. this seems to carry over. they didn’t seem to have a lot of respect for themselves either.

photograph of mural by emrld_cicada

panel discussion on mental health and blogging

northern voice blogging conference in vancouveryesterday i told you about coping digitally, a panel discussion about mental illness and social media that i’ll be part of at this year’s northern voice blogging conference here in vancouver this coming friday and saturday (february 20 and 21, 2009). it was airdrie’s idea to begin with; the other person who will participate is tod maffin.

tod maffin is a national CBC radio broadcaster and a busy international keynote speaker. in 2005 he suffered a debilitating depression and addiction and is working to recover through his writings online.

airdrie miller will be the moderator. she is a vancouver public school teacher,
blogger and podcaster who shares openly abut her own battle with unipolar depression. she is passionate about breaking the stigma of mental illness.

the conference is just about the best bang for anyone’s buck – high quality and fabulous food for a ridiculously low price – so it sold out in two days.  a full list of speakers and presentations is listed here.

i’ve already asked a few people what they think might be good topics to discuss at the panel. here are a few:

sandra from psych central made a few suggestions already, via twitter:

  • commenters/bloggers making “antipsychiatry” suggestions (“don’t take medication” or “you don’t need to see a professional”)
  • trolls on mental health blogs
  • online communities forming among people dealing with depression

blueberrio asked:

  • what problems has being out caused in personal and professional life?
  • blogging for enhance mental health, or blogging about mental health issues?

finally, a post from my blogging friend revellian:

i have a lot of blogging friends who suffer depression, ptsd, addiction recovery and a myriad of other problems-many far worse than anything i’ve ever been through. many have built their entire sites around depression and so forth. my question to them is how long must it go on? when you reach the point of truly getting over your problems and the healing is done, what happens next? some people may never find solace in their minds and struggle for the rest of their lives. i decided that will not be me. i will be free of this hell. i will be healed. there is only so much catharsis a person should have to experience before an apex occurs . . . right? there came a point where empathy of others and writing about my own problems made me feel like a cry baby . . . it’s a weird realization, but that’s what happened.

here’s my question to you:

blogging and mental health (and that includes addiction and eating disorders) – what would YOU like to see discussed at the panel?

northern voice collage by injenuity

february buddhist carnival – on mental health (part 2)

this is part 2 of this month’s buddhist carnival. part 1 is here.

the wild mind and the wise body

i like this article by the wild moods that takes the actual here-and-now feelings and sensations of mental illness and uses them to get in touch with mental health

… take a second to think about how the wild moods sign themselves on your body. glurky stomach? acid stomach? headache? flushing heat in the chest? but it may actually take some concentrated focusing to see what the body is doing when depressed or anxious, because we can get so used to experiencing these signatures as depression and anxiety that we are not really aware of them as distinct and repeating physical sensations.

so why is this important, to become aware of these sensations? because when we are able to be aware of the sensations as physical events, then there is the opportunity to break the cycling whirlpool of mood, where negative thought causes unpleasant sensation, which generates another negative thought, reinforcing another negative sensation, and around and around, deeper and deeper.

the empty bowl

joanna poppink is a counsellor who helps people with eating disorders. she offers the buddhist ritual of the empty bowl as an active meditation tool, inspired by a thanksgiving post about how people struggling with eating disorders might get as well as give benefits by helping to provide food for hungry people. joanna poppink suggests entertaining an “unseen guest with an empty bowl” as if they were sitting at your table with you.

the idea is to make an extra place setting with an empty bowl at your eating place. before you eat, look at the empty bowl. pray or meditate or think about or send kind thoughts to people who face this empty bowl every day.

put money, as you can, small even tiny amounts are okay, in the empty bowl in appreciation for what food you have available today.

i propose that this is useful for anyone, with any problem. for example, when i went through my last fear-of-flying adventure (something yet to blog about), what helped me the most was imagining that i was connected to other people who were in pain as well, and imagining sharing with them whatever small goodness came my way (e.g. a drink of water, putting on warm socks). this is, by the way, also a 12-step principle. the suggestion there is that one of the best ways of dealing with the affliction of addiction is to help others with the same problem.

speaking of which …

buddhism and addiction

darren’s blog is about the intersection of buddhism and the 12 steps. here he talks about attachment and realization:

for us [addicts], teachings on attachment are a no brainer. tell us we’re attached to our betting, babes, booze or benzos and we’ll give you an eyebrow raise and an, “and your point is?”

… this process, looking at the condition of our minds, returning to the present moment, noticing our attachment, is kind of like digestion. the teacher echoed my thoughts in saying that zen practice is like adding the right enzymes. as we engage in observing, not reacting and being present to our lives, we become more familiar with what we really are underneath all the concepts, grasping, attachment and addiction. we take a bite of zen, digest samsara and shit out realization. clean like a whistle.

more addiction: hoarding

one city has a lovely entry on extending good wishes to a neighbour whose life is burdened by hoarding, an addiction perhaps, or an obsessive-compulsive behaviour (i tend to see a lot of connections between the two)

the real fruits of my internet search for information about compulsive hoarding turned into an extension of my meditation practice in cultivating compassion for someone i don’t even really know. i can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to live as a hoarder, but i can imagine the suffering and the courage that it takes to start the real, hard work on improving your life; sorting through things, throwing things away, decided what is worth keeping, how do you start over? and having to think about all the things that led up to the hoarding that could have been a trigger or a lingering cause. i think it really does take courage.

i would like to close this blog post by sending along some metta (e-metta?) to my neighbour across the way.

may she be healthy, may she have happiness.


finally, a post on stigma. echo pen touches on an aspect of stigma that, i believe, is not talked about enough – self stigma. i believe that one of the best ways to deal with mental health stigma in the world “out there” is to strengthen our own feelings towards our mental health. if i believe that i am deficient, it will usually come through in my communication with others. when i believe in my own strength and worthiness, i can deal with societal stigma from a place of strength.

recently, while meditating, irrational thoughts and memories of the stigmas issues i’ve dealt with [came up]. i have experientially recognized them as irrational self judging and self defeating. when these thoughts come during zazen… i explore them including feelings of apprehension, worry, guilt, resentment…the bodily feelings of anxiety… all in the context of the here and now..become aware of them accept them and then i let them go, and continue sitting with clarity and peace.

that’s it for this month’s buddhist carnival.  if you have any submissions for next month’s carnival (march 15, 2009), please send them to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.