Mar 20

Mark Twain Prize: Humorists and Mental Health

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor has been awarded annually since 1998 to individuals who’ve made us laugh. First was Richard Pryor, followed in chronological order by Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Burnett, Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, David Letterman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart, and Adam Sandler. On March 24th Kevin Hart will be the proud recipient.

Now, please indulge me as I make the Mark Twain Prize pertinent to Minding Therapy….

EllenDeGeneres, David Letterman, and Neil Simon (1927-2018) have had depression. Jon Stewart has referenced depression, though I don’t know if this was a clinical or looser definition he had in mind.

Both Will Ferrell and Tina Fey have struggled with shyness. Really.

Steve Martin on his history of panic attacks: “(F)or those who have them or had them – I don’t get them anymore, thank God – but it’s a terrifying experience of disassociation from your own self, and it’s a morbid sense of doom and you feel like you’re dying.”

Whoopi Goldberg famously feared flying, apparently because of witnessing a mid-air collision many years ago. It’s been reported that she’s overcome this with the use of a technique called Thought Field Therapy, or TFT.

Jonathan Winters (1925-2013) admitted to having bipolar disorder.

Richard Pryor‘s (1940-2005) substance abuse issues were well known.

As forever-producer of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels has overseen the work of many comedians in trouble with alcohol, drugs, and various mental health issues.

Carol Burnett had alcoholic parents; at least two of her daughters battled serious substance abuse.

The decidedly unfunny real-life predation of Bill Cosby, sexual assaulter, was determined by a psychologist representing a Sexual Offenders Assessment Board to be linked to a personality disorder—but this does not excuse his behavior.

Several of the Mark Twain Prize humorists are known for their portrayals of shrinks or their potential or actual clients:

Bob Newhart not only played Dr. Bob Hartley on popular sitcom The Bob Newhart Show in the 70’s, but a MADtv skit featuring his character’s special brand of brief therapy is probably the most-watched video on this site.

Billy Crystal is the reluctant psychiatrist-to-the-Mob-boss in the movies Analyze This and Analyze That.

Lily Tomlin as Trudy the Bag Lady in Jane Wagner‘s play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: “I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.” On TV’s Web Therapy, Tomlin played the mom of shrink Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow), who admits her to a mental hospital.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus played a therapist in an episode of Web Therapy.

In the film Reign Over Me (2007), Adam Sandler plays Charlie, who suffers from PTSD and severe grief following the deaths of his family members on 9/11.

Bill Murray was the unstable client in What About Bob?

On her sitcom Ellen, DeGeneres addressed her coming out process with the help of a therapist.

Tina Fey portrayed an alcoholic therapist in the series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

It’s very likely I’ve missed some things. Any readers have anything to add?

Dec 27

“Dry January” Versus “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace

Dry January can be extremely positive or can actually reinforce the stronghold alcohol has on someone. Here’s why. When we give up something we feel is benefiting us, we feel deprived. While you might be able to get through the 31 days of January without drinking, there is a good chance that…you have actually created more of a desire for it. As soon as we tell ourselves we can’t have something we tend to want it even more. Annie Grace to Jess Cording, Forbes

If you’re concerned about your drinking and not sure about Dry January as a strategy, consider Annie Grace‘s book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life. Grace has not only successfully worked on changing her own alcohol use but has also helped many individuals in similar circumstances.

Notably, Grace’s strategies are not for those who may be physically dependent on alcohol,  which can require a different kind of detox under a professional’s care. From Grace’s website: “It is strongly recommended that you seek professional advice regarding your health before attempting to incorporate any advice…Withdrawal symptoms due to a physical dependence on alcohol have the potential to be severe, and in some cases life-threatening.”

If you’re dealing with psychological dependence, though, Grace declares, “I can put you back in control by removing your desire to drink, but be forewarned, getting rid of your desire for alcohol is the easy part. The hard part is going against groupthink, the herd mentality of our alcohol-saturated culture. After all, alcohol is the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.”

Want to broaden your horizons? Consider reading her blog or listening to her podcast. Join her support community. Or all of the above.

Instead of Dry January, try her 30-day Alcohol Experiment. Click on this link if the following five possible benefits, per Grace, interest you:

  1. clarity and focus
  2. your time becomes freed up
  3. better health and sleep, increased libido, reduced anxiety, no hangovers, etc.
  4. whereas failing is not possible, learning is inevitable
  5. mindful relationship with alcohol

Selected Quotes from This Naked Mind

Let me ask you, from a purely physiological perspective, how could alcohol possibly make you happy? The effect of alcohol is to deaden all of your senses, to numb you, to inebriate you. If you are numb, how can you feel anything, happiness included?

We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

Ask yourself if you are happier than before. Ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life dumber, with your senses deadened, experiencing tunnel vision, and unable to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

The problem with alcohol is that once you start drinking you can’t judge the point where a little is good and a lot becomes a disaster. When you are making a fool of yourself, or when your conversation skills wane, you remain unaware. Even if you could gauge the exact amount to drink, booze doesn’t make you cleverer, funnier, more creative, or more interesting. There is nothing inherent in alcohol that can do this. 

But when you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink. This is the mystery of spontaneous sobriety…

Aug 02

“We Are the Luckiest” Followed by “Push Off from Here”

In the world of “quit lit” two books by Laura McKowen are in vogue: memoir We Are the Luckiest:The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life and the newly released Push Off from Here: Nine Essential Truths to Get You Through Sobriety (and Everything Else). 

McKowen is the CEO and founder of The Luckiest Club, a supportive online community for those seeking recovery from alcohol addiction.

I. We Are the Luckiest

Fear of losing her preschooler daughter provided McKowen the main impetus to seek help for her alcoholism. Publishers Weekly: “McKowen makes the case that her addiction, while incredibly painful and difficult, ultimately made her lucky by allowing her to experience an alcohol-free life. Even as she encourages others to follow her path, she acknowledges it is excruciating…but promises it’s worth it. McKowen’s moving story will be a boon to those seeking help with addiction.”

Selected Quotes from We Are the Luckiest

One of the students raised his had and said, matter-of-factly, ‘I’m afraid I can’t stop drinking.’

The room went silent. All eyes went to our teacher, David.

Without missing a beat, he smiled, looked at him, and said, ‘Of course you can. Are you drinking now?’

‘No.’

‘And now?’

He smiled, and said softly, ‘No.’

‘…and how about right now?’

We all smiled this time.

‘No.’

Loneliness started to abate only when I began to really let people in and tell them the truth, and that took a long, long time. The antidote to loneliness wasn’t just being around others or sharing common ground. It was intimacy.

If something is keeping you from being fully present and showing up in your life the way you want, then deciding to change that thing is a matter of life and death. It’s the difference between existing and actually living.

II. Push Off from Here: Nine Essential Truths to Get You Through Sobriety (and Everything Else)

From the publisher: “When Laura McKowen was two years sober, she received an email from a woman whose sister was struggling with alcohol addiction. McKowen had barely climbed out from the dark place the woman’s sister was in, but she made a list of the things she most needed to hear when she was deep in her own battle.”

Here is that list on which Push Off from Here is based:

1. It is not your fault.
2. It is your responsibility.
3. It is unfair that this is your thing.
4. This is your thing.
5. This will never stop being your thing until you face it.
6. You cannot do it alone.
7. Only you can do it.
8. You are loved.
9. We will never stop reminding you of these things.

Hello Someday Coaching offers a brief description of each of the above. Scroll down the page (on the link provided) to find it.

Readers of Push Off from Here emphasize that people dealing with challenges other than alcohol addiction can also benefit from this book.

May 10

How to Change Habits: Five Books

The following five nonfiction books about how to change habits, listed from newest to oldest, are recommended reading.

I. Wendy Wood, Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick (2019)

Author Adam Grant calls Wood, a long-time researcher on this subject, “the world’s leading expert” on this subject.

A key quote from Wood: “On average, it takes us sixty-six days of repeating a simple health behavior until it becomes automatic. In other words, identify a new behavior, do it repeatedly for two months and a week, and it will become a habit.”

The Kirkus Reviews summary states, Wood “notes that the same learning mechanisms responsible for bad habits also control good ones.” An example given: exercising and cigarette smoking. How one winds up choosing either activity and how one engages in either repeatedly is also the key to how to produce change.

II. BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything (2019)

Fogg professes that only 3 things will change your behavior in the long term”:

Option A:  Have an epiphany
Option B:  Change your environment
Option C:  Take baby steps

However. Spoiler Alert! Epiphanies are extremely hard to come by, so B and C are really your options. It’s all spelled out in Tiny Habits, but he also offers a free five-day program on how to change habits; click on https://tinyhabits.com/join.

III. Sean D. Young, Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–for Good (2017)

Young states, “Fortunately, you don’t need to change who you are as a person to make change last. You just need to understand the science behind lasting change and how to create a process that fits who you are.”

The Stages of Change Model developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by James O. Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente began with studying smokers’ attempts to give up their habit. The end result was the development of a tool to assess one’s readiness to work on change of any kind as well as one’s readiness to stick with it, or to persevere.

IV. Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (2015)

According to her Four Tendencies framework, people generally fall into one of four groups. The key to these characterizations is how we respond to expectations. Per Rubin, a brief description of each:

  • Upholders want to know what should be done.
  • Questioners want justifications.
  • Obligers need accountability.
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

Selected quotes:

Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

V. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012)

According to Duhigg, any “habit loop” consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Taking alcoholism as an example of a habit/addiction, he states that groups like AA (or NA or GA, and so on) often provide a way to form new but similar habit loops.

Duhigg’s ideas about keystone habits, or “habits we develop that lead us to make better choices in other parts of our life,” are particularly important. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, states, “His chapter on ‘keystone habits’ alone would justify the book.”

Apr 19

Intuitive Eating, Not Dieting: Health at Every Size

The concepts of not dieting vs. dieting and/or intuitive eating and/or mindful eating are not new; nevertheless, because of the pervasive dieting culture, many find these hard to grasp.

Geneen Roth‘s Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating was groundbreaking in 1984. Her list of then-revolutionary Eating Guidelines designed to replace dieting:

1. Eat when you are hungry.
2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.
4. Eat what your body wants.
5. Eat until you are satisfied.
6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.

Then there’s intuitive eating. As defined by expert Evelyn Tribole, author of multiple books, this approach is related but somewhat different. It “is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought.”

The philosophy of the Health at Every Size (HAES) community is another variation on a theme. In short, when it comes to changing your eating habits, do what makes you feel okay. Also, being in a larger body is not always unhealthy. (Conversely, being in a smaller one sometimes is.)

In addition to the resources noted above, the following books may be of help:

How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss by Michael Greger (2019)

Dr. Michael Greger founded the Nutrition Facts website. His main emphasis: plant-based eating.

Ending the Diet Mindset by Becca Clegg (2018)

Clegg is a therapist with expertise in women’s issues and eating disorders. Check out her blog.

States the publisher: “By identifying the ten destructive Diet Mindsets, you can change your perspective on dieting and embrace a newfound respect for your body. Live a life free of obsession, and instead gain the courage to love yourself and find peace within.”

Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller (2016)

The title says it all. But you can also read an article at Refinery 29 that gives some backstory to the author’s creation of her Anti-Diet Project.

Kirkus Reviews: “Miller does take a look at some of the deeper reasons behind her compulsive eating, and it’s in these passages that her vulnerability comes through and her story becomes truly compelling. Readers will cheer for Miller to succeed on her ‘anti-diet’ diet of intuitive eating, her quest to eat according to her mindfully mined needs and desires, not according to a rulebook. It takes a lot of work to change a mindset that radically, and it’s slow going for Miller, who tends to trade one obsession for another…”

Mindful Emotional Eating: Mindfulness Skills to Control Cravings, Eat in Moderation and Optimize Coping by Dr. Pavel Somov (2015)

This book expands on his previous writings to focus specifically on “legalizing” and/or depathologizing the inevitable bouts of emotional eating—as long as they’re mindful, that is. What he helps readers reduce is “emotional overeating” and “mindless emotional eating.”

Smart People Don’t Diet: How the Latest Science Can Help You Lose Weight Permanently by Charlotte N. Markey, Ph.D. (2014)

Psychologist Charlotte N. Markey synthesizes tons of pertinent research. Included is info about what doesn’t work. You can ignore tips, for instance, that advise skipping dessert, no eating after 8 PM, and no between-meal snacking, to name a few.

What about dieting? Markey advises the following, as told to A. Pawlowski, Today.com:

‘Dieting makes you miserable, it makes you cranky. It actually makes you more likely to overeat and to binge and fast,’ she said.
‘Don’t feel guilty about having good stuff in moderation. Don’t feel deprived, but don’t be over-indulgent either. There’s got to be some middle ground.’