Apr 12

Resilience: How to Cultivate This Trait

When we began our study, we assumed that resilience was rare and resilient people were somehow special, perhaps genetically gifted. It turns out, we were wrong. Resilience is common and can be witnessed all around us. Even better, we learned that everyone can learn and train to be more resilient. The key involves knowing how to harness stress and use it to our advantage. After all, stress is necessary for growth. Without it the mind and body weaken and atrophy. Steven M. Southwick, psychiatrist, in The Huffington Post

Trauma experts Steven M. Southwick and Dr. Dennis S. Charney, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, are the brains behind Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. In other words: how to bend, not break.

The authors conducted their own research, reviewed other related research, and interviewed many survivors of severe trauma. From this they came up with 10 factors that help people recover most effectively:

  •  Optimism
  •  Flexibility
  •  Core value system
  •  Faith
  •  Positive role models
  •  Social support
  •  Physical fitness
  •  Cognitive strength
  •  Facing fears
  •  Finding meaning in struggles

Southwick states that a couple of these—social support and optimism—are particularly powerful.

In an interview in Time, Southwick says of the former: “It looks like social isolation has as powerful an effect on longevity as smoking and [heavy drinking] and lack of exercise. It’s very bad for you. There’s lots of neat connections between social connectedness and ability to handle stress.”

And of the latter, states Charney: “It’s important to note that it’s realistic optimism we’re talking about. You need to have a very clear eyed view of the challenges you’re facing.”

Another resource is Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success by David B. Feldman, a psychologist, and Lee Daniel Kravetz.

Amazingly, even in midst of trauma, people continue to smile, to love, to celebrate, to create, and to renew. In making this observation, we absolutely do not mean to belittle the impact of traumatic times or the suffering many have endured and continue to endure. Suffering is real, but resilience is also real. It is an incredible and encouraging fact about human nature that, contrary to popular belief, after a period of emotional turmoil, most trauma survivors eventually recover and return to their lives. They bounce back.

As defined by the authors, supersurvivors “are those rare individuals who, in the aftermath of great tragedy and turmoil, reassess their priorities, redirect their focus, and accomplish extraordinary feats—they break records, win awards, and meet the seemingly unattainable goals they set for themselves.”

According to the publisher, this book will help readers “discover why certain delusions can be healthy, why forgiveness is good for the body, and why reflecting on death can lead to a better life. And, perhaps counterintuitively, we learn how positive thinking is not always a strategy toward the good.”

What are the five factors that most serve to help trauma survivors experience “post-traumatic growth”?

  • hope
  • personal control
  • social support
  • forgiveness
  • spirituality

Note that hope and social support are also highlighted by Charney and Southwick.

Some reviews have emphasized that whereas this book may be short on analysis, it’s long on true-life inspiration. Kirkus Reviews: Supersurvivors is(h)ope for the endurance of the human spirit in the face of tragedy. Artfully described…intensely powerful…riveting…uplifting.”

Apr 05

“How Not to Kill Yourself” by Clancy Martin

Philosophy professor Clancy Martin, author of the new book How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind, has said the following about suicide (Yakimaherald.com): “Suicide, for most people, is a process. Sometimes that process starts at a very young age. The writer David M. Perry talks about his own suicidal ideation beginning at age 9. I have a former student who first attempted suicide by riding his tricycle through a window as a toddler. My own desire to kill myself is among my first memories.”

Indeed, Martin has tried and failed over 10 times to take his own life. How does he feel about this? Via Emily Gould, Vulture: “’I’ve lived all my life with two incompatible ideas in my head: I wish I were dead and I’m glad my suicides failed.’ This sets the tone for the book, which encompasses philosophical and literary musings about the history and meaning of suicide as well as detailed autobiographical accounts of Martin’s own struggles with his mental health, addiction, and suicidality.”

Several years ago Martin’s viral essay “I’m Still Here” detailed much of the background that led to writing How Not to Kill Yourself. An excerpt:

I was already thinking about suicide in a daily way when I was 3 or 4 years old, and this didn’t stop until I was in my early thirties. Every day, for as long as I could remember, I fantasized about suicide. When I was young, I imagined that I might even get to watch the funeral and the aftermath. As I grew older, I accepted that it was not because I wanted to see what would happen, but because I was sure I wouldn’t have to live any longer. Essentially, I started with the ‘Fame’ version of suicide and transitioned to the ‘Consolation’ version…

On “the only really persuasive reason I’ve ever heard for not killing myself”: “A psychiatrist once told me: ‘Don’t not kill yourself because your children need you. They do need you, but they’ll be fine without you. Everyone’s parents die sooner or later. Here’s the real reason you shouldn’t kill yourself. Think of the example you’re setting for them.’”

A Publishers Weekly review snippet:

In three sections, Martin addresses societal conceptions of self-slaughter, his own struggles with alcohol and the times he hit rock bottom, and how to chart a path toward recovery. Along the way, he touches on famous suicides from Seneca to Anne Sexton, and historical and philosophical cases considering or even justifying the act, from philosophies as distinct as Bushido, pessimism, and stoicism. Funny but never flippant, Martin takes into account throughout the weight of his subject, even when describing his own grisly attempts, or those of his friends, without platitude or sentiment…

More from Kirkus Reviews on How Not to Kill Yourself:

Married three times and the father to five children, Martin harbors a deep understanding of others who suffer with the same dark feelings of despair, including several suicidal relatives in his deeply dysfunctional family…While experts impart captivating psychological explanations, Martin’s perspective inspires the most incisive and disquieting passages. Sections on his murky descent into alcoholism smoothly dovetail with accounts of the author’s candid, heartfelt work toward making peace with life and pages of proactive ‘tools for crisis’ for anyone considering suicide…

David Shields, author of The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead: “The most honest, complicit, searing, and discomfiting book I’ve ever read about suicide (and I’ve read quite a few—out of purely scholarly interest, of course).”

Mar 30

Global Mental Health: “Hidden Pictures”

In the words of Ethan Watters in his book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche (2010), “We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.” And this is not a good thing.

An excerpt from the opening of Crazy Like Us shows some of the significant ways, in addition to the American-bred DSM‘s far-ranging influence, in which the U.S. has been inappropriately viewed or has functioned as “the world’s therapist”:

American researchers and organizations run the premier scholarly journals and host top conferences in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Western universities train the world’s most influential clinicians and academics. Western drug companies dole out the funds for research and spend billions marketing medications for mental illnesses. Western-trained traumatologists rush in wherever war or natural disasters strike to deliver ‘psychological first aid,’ bringing with them their assumptions about how the mind becomes broken and how it is best healed.

Publishers Weekly notes the author’s argument that Americans’ way of doing psych business often doesn’t translate well to other cultures in various different lands: “…Western treatments, from experimental, unproven drugs to talk therapy, have clashed with local customs, understandings and religions.”

The documentary Hidden Pictures: A Personal Journey Into Global Mental Health, created by physician and mental health advocate Delaney Ruston, apparently was the first of its type to address global mental health.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) indicates that Hidden Pictures “looks at individuals and families affected by mental illness in Africa, China, France, India and the United States. Stigma and the need for greater access to treatment and care are major themes, framed against colorful, emotionally powerful backgrounds.”

And NAMI offers some pertinent statistics: “Approximately 450 million people live with mental illness worldwide. About 800,000 die from suicide, mostly in low and middle income countries—where as many as 85 percent of people living with severe mental illness receive no treatment. In high income countries, the figure is as high as 65 percent. Global spending on mental health is less than two dollars per year.”

In an interview with Real Change News, Ruston addresses such global issues as the lack of options for receiving adequate mental health care, the lack of mental health advocacy organizations, the importance of housing availability, and the need for mental health education in schools.

Her closing words: “Indeed, one of my key take-home points from making ‘Hidden Pictures’ is that, unlike the myth that our experiences globally are too diverse to understand and help, in fact, our experiences at the very core are much more similar than different, and global solutions are possible.”

A preview is available below:

Marvin Swartz, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine: “The written word often fails to convey the particular poignancy of people’s lives. Delaney Ruston’s masterfully told stories of individuals and families struggling with mental illness across the world, conveys a profound and visceral appreciation of the myriad effects of such illnesses. Hidden Pictures makes the story of the global burden of mental illness deeply personal and hauntingly memorable.”

Mar 14

ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

At least two books, described below, highlight the effects that ACES (adverse childhood experiences) can have on your life.

Another resource that can be utilized right now is the ACES quiz, which will give you an idea of where you stand. Click on the link.

I. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal (2015) by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

For detailed info see my previous post regarding this book. Below are selected quotes.

Simply living with a parent who puts you down and humiliates you, or who is alcoholic or depressed, can leave you with a profoundly hurtful ACE footprint and alter your brain and immunologic functioning for life.

Recognizing that chronic childhood stress leads to chronic adult illness and relationship challenges can be enormously freeing. If you have been wondering why you’ve been struggling a little too hard for a little too long with your emotional and physical well-being—feeling as if you’ve been swimming against some invisible current that never ceases—this aha can come as a welcome relief. Finally, you can see the current. And you see how it’s been working steadily against you all of your life.

…(A)s Bernie Siegel, MD, puts it, quite simply, after half a century of practicing medicine, “I have become convinced that our number-one public health problem is our childhood.”

II. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (2018) by Nadine Burke Harris

Some ACEs statistics courtesy of interviews with Harris:

Two-thirds of Americans have been exposed to one significant adverse childhood experience, and between 13 and 17 percent have been exposed to four or more. We know that being exposed to high doses of childhood adversity dramatically increases the risk for seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. (New York Times)

An individual with four or more ACEs is 10 times more likely to be an IV drug user as someone with no ACEs. (New York Times)

…For depression, it was 4.5 times. For suicidality, it was 12 times. (NPR)

As explained in her NPR interview, how you might envision the physiological effects of toxic stress:

Well, imagine you’re walking in the forest, and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, release stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol. And so your heart starts to pound. Your pupils dilate. Your airways open up. And you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest, and there’s a bear. But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night. And this system is activated over and over and over again.

What can help to offset ACEs? New York Times interview excerpt:

One of the key ingredients for keeping the body’s stress response out of the toxic stress zone is the presence of a healthy buffering caregiver…We also know that if a caregiver is able to self-regulate, their kids have much better outcomes. Good old-fashioned mental health care really does help. In research studies, certain types of interventions, including child-parent psychotherapy, can help to normalize cortisol levels and get the body’s stress response back on track.

Regular physical exercise, a healthy dose of sleep, and meditation are suggested, among other things, for adults dealing with the effects of their ACES.

Feb 22

Newest ADHD Info from Hallowell and Ratey

Interested in the newest ADHD info from experts Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey? See ADHD 2.0: New Science and Essential Strategies for Thriving with Distraction–from Childhood through Adulthood. Among other goals, in this update the authors aim to depathologize ADHD. They express a preference, for example, to rename this diagnosis VAST, or Variable Attention Stimulus Trait.

From the Publishers Weekly review of ADHD 2.0:

Despite the disorder’s reputation as a condition that occurs in childhood, the authors write, ADHD can often appear in adulthood, when ‘the demands of life exceed the person’s ability to deal with them.’ ADHD can be channeled in healthy ways once it’s understood, they posit: because people with ADHD feel ‘an omnipresent itch to create,’ the authors encourage readers who have the condition to find a job that highlights creative strengths.

As Dr. Lloyd Sederer states in his review (Psychology Today), “Both Hallowell and Ratey take ADHD personally and seriously: Because they too have this condition, and clearly are exemplars for making a big and rewarding life with ADHD.”

Management of ADHD is of course a major focus of this book. Hallowell, says Dr. Sederer, believes that interpersonal “connection” is the top treatment. In addition to other suggestions for effective management of ADHD, the authors note that medications can also be of great benefit.

Featured below are quotes from ADHD 2.0 as well as two of the previous Hallowell/Ratey books, Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder, and Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder.

ADHD 2.0

A person with ADHD has the power of a Ferrari engine but with bicycle-strength brakes. It’s the mismatch of engine power to braking capability that causes the problems. Strengthening one’s brakes is the name of the game.

The great mathematician Alan Turing summed us up when he said, “Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” That sums us up perfectly.

ADHD is worse than the top 5 killers in the U.S. combined. Having ADHD costs a person nearly thirteen years of life, on average….And that’s on top of all the findings of a greater risk for accidental injury and suicide….About two-thirds of people with ADHD have a life expectancy reduced by up to 21 years.

Driven to Distraction

...You don’t mean to do the things you do do, and you don’t do the things you mean to do.

To tell a person who has ADD to try harder is about as helpful as telling someone who is nearsighted to squint harder.

While we all need external structure in our lives—some degree of predictability, routine, organization—those with ADD need it much more than most people. They need external structure so much because they so lack internal structure.

Delivered from Distraction

It is not a deficit of attention that we ADD-ers have, it is that our attention likes to go where it wants to and we can’t always control it.

You can superfocus sometimes, but also space out when you least mean to. You can radiate confidence and also feel as insecure as a cat in a kennel. You can perform at the highest level, feeling incompetent as you do so. You can be loved by many, but feel as if no one really likes you. You can absolutely, totally, intend to do something, then forget to do it. You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but feel as if you can’t accomplish a thing.

THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ADD ADULTS 1. Do what you’re good at. Don’t spend too much time trying to get good at what you’re bad at. (You did enough of that in school.) 2. Delegate what you’re bad at to others, as often as possible. 3. Connect your energy to a creative outlet. 4. Get well enough organized to achieve your goals. The key here is “well enough.” That doesn’t mean you have to be very well organized at all—just well enough organized to achieve your goals. 5. Ask for and heed advice from people you trust—and ignore, as best you can, the dream-breakers and finger-waggers. 6. Make sure you keep up regular contact with a few close friends. 7. Go with your positive side. Even though you have a negative side, make decisions and run your life with your positive side.