“Year’s End”

Recently, a relative of mine wrote:

To my mind, Christmas runs from the end of Thanksgiving dinner through the end of Christmas Day. The beginning of December 26 up to the end of December 31 basically comprise what I think of as “Year’s End,” six days of retrospection and introspection concerning what has happened over the past 359 days (360 if it’s a leap year.) These days inhabit a position in space-time that sets them apart from the rest of the year, as if these days exist as a separate entity of sorts. So take this time to determine whether you put your 2013 in the win or loss column. I know where mine goes.

His concept of “Year’s End” gave terminology to a previously undefined phenomenon nearly universal to those living by the Gregorian calendar.  The greater majority of us spend that six day period pensively inspecting the events of the year, the course our lives are currently on, and finally, ourselves. We go into a state of deep reflection, reviewing the previous year in hindsight.

But contrary to popular belief, hindsight is not 20/20. It’s entirely subjective and relative to our mindsets, creating certain attitudes toward ourselves and those around us. This allows us to render potentially inaccurate judgments that may snowball into generalizations. This can be noted by the two final sentences in that quote. While it is a positive suggestion to encourage others to examine the previous year, it could be dangerous to make black-and-white determinations and wrap it up into an overall summation.

I immediately jumped to reply, knowing his critical nature. As I wrote to him, I realized that he isn’t likely to be standing alone in his line of thinking. Even in past years, I could see my own Year’s End Reflections as a means of rendering an evaluation of every aspect of myself and my life. And in most cases, despite all of the wonderful events that happened, I still had the tendency to zero in on all of the negative. Instead of fondly reminiscing, I would obsess about all of my “failures” and “shortcomings”. It occurred to me that this could be an incredibly common practice!

I agree that reflection and introspection are both positive practices when executed with great care. A wise person once asked me, “How can we truly live in the present moment when our minds are focused on the past?” It occurred to me that we do not have the capacity to live our lives that happening right now when we fixate on the past. The same goes for when we are hyper focused on our internal selves. If we are preoccupied with our internal world, then we prevent ourselves from interacting with our external world. In truth, that is where life takes place. To truly live our own lives, we must be completely present in the current moment in all ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Yet, there are moments, such as those considered in Years End, where we have license to permit ourselves some moments dedicated to thought. Introspection and reflection aren’t necessarily distractions from living. Those focuses can be about dedicating our mental energies toward our current wellness and making considerations for overall progress. For example, many of us perceive particular traits as character flaws. In other posts, we’ve explored concepts of adjusting perceptions to support more positive insights. The same principles apply; character flaws can be alternatively viewed as advantageous traits when applied appropriately.

Often, we recall painful events in the previous year. It’s perfectly natural to be immediately drawn to those memories, as they are fresh and ripe with emotion. While we can’t choose how we feel, we can make the choice to be receptive when it comes to considering alternative perceptions. Not many situations exist that merit an entirely negative regard. In my case, I lost my grandmother this year. While I experience the grief, I am also experiencing the positive side. She had suffered so much in her final years, so I am relieved that she is resting at peace.

Many “bad” events can be reconsidered upon further review. They may have provided opportunities and experiences that weren’t previously available due to the circumstances. Or perhaps these experiences are yet to occur, laying in wait for us to reach out and grab them. The memories of the past work best when they have become one of the pieces of our solid foundations. They are solid and sound, eager for us to continue building on them.

When we attempt to tally up the events of 2013 in terms of “good” of “bad”, we are attempting to qualify them in order to determine the overall outcome. But, the conclusions can be considered to be incomplete, as the logic itself is inherently flawed. “Good” and “bad” are two definitive concepts that don’t allow for anything else. Life isn’t so neat that we can categorize our experiences in such a black-and-white mindset. So, it becomes quite a challenge to determine progress, or lack thereof.

However, there is no yard stick in which to measure our progress! Therefore, a scoreboard with which we make our tally is nonexistent!

How liberating!

We are freed from the anxieties that arise from the notion that we have somehow “failed” or “lost”. Those are two terms the are often thought of as the final word in most matters. But, as long as we continue to live purposefully, those two words are not applicable. We are always progressing in one way or another. What we often forget is to place our own value on our accomplishments, rather than allowing others to appraise us in our words, actions, and most importantly, character.

So, just take a glance back, smile nostalgically, and look straight into the present moment. We can’t predict what will happen in 2014. All we can do is live the life we are currently living.

Happy New Year!

Sponser Lulu for Charity!

As many of my wonderful readers may already be aware, I am a martial artist. Aside from my family and being a writer that advocates for mental health and wellness, it is one of the most important parts of my life.

Martial arts changed my life. Just a year ago, I was in an awful place with myself and bipolar disorder. That’s when I walked into my first class, where I began my path as a martial artist. It started to heal me in ways that medicine and therapy just couldn’t.

Martial arts gave me a new lease on life.

Now, it’s my turn to give back.

My dojang, in affiliation with other local dojangs, is participating in the annual St. Jude’s Break-a-thon. For every $15 raised, one board is donated to the participant to break.

We break as a symbol of the strength we are hoping to provide these children in need.  I want to give these children their own new lease on life by providing them with funds so they may be able to live on.

Please, support this noble cause by sponsoring me in this event.

No donation is too small.  Every dollar that is donated goes directly to St. Jude and to the children that they treat.

And in advance, thanks for your donation.  It not only means the world to me, but it may open up a whole new world for many children in their hour of need.

Tiff Myler’s Drive Page.

Yes, that is my real name.  This is the first connection that I’ve made between my real life and my life here.  I’m proud of who I am, and I’m ready to make a difference in all areas of my life.

If you’d like to learn more about martial arts and St. Jude, visit their website.

Celebrating Our Gifts

Celebrating Our Gifts

A fellow blogger, Cymbria Wood who writes “Blank Canvas Living”, brought my previous article, “Weaknesses Equal Strengths” into a whole new context for me with an example of her own personal application.  She cited an “extreme” trait, once considered a hindrance, as being a blessing on the flipside.  She was then able to generalize the concept to another “extreme”, which provided her with an additional strength.  It is proof positive that throughout the execution of altering one thought, the practice generalizes and builds upon itself into a whole new skill set.

What she related also had a significant tone of acceptance.  There was an understanding that some of her traits could be considered to be “extremes”.  The value, “Everything in moderation” cited in “Brave New Mind” is applicable to actions, not to personality in general.  We are who we are, with both deficits and abundances.  In “Weaknesses Equal Strengths”, we explored the flipside of both.  In this article, we seek to celebrate that flipside!

Terming something as an “extreme” brings many negative connotations to mind.  “Extremism” is seemingly synonymous with fanatical, immoderate, uncompromising, excessive, or even violent.  It begs the question, “Extreme, so why can’t you dial it back?”  That’s the same as saying, “You’re extremely tall, so why can’t you shrink a little?” or even, “You’re extremely short, so why can’t you grow a little?”  Again, we are who we are, short, tall, big, small, pale, dark, etc, etc.  We have long since stopped discriminating against those who are physically different.  Why should we continue to discriminate “extremes” of a mental nature?

Instead, we could think of the extremes as abundances, even if others have defined some as “deficits”For instance, I am not great at advanced mathematical concepts, such as algebra and statistics.  We can flip the same “math” coin to see the advantages I have with simpler and more tangible math.  My husband can churn out equations at a genius level.  But, I have the advantage over him in computation of simple percentages and geometric measurements.  The difference between us is his grasp of complex, interdependent relationships and my grasp of more concrete concepts.

There exists a common societal ideal that we cannot be well-rounded individuals unless we shift our efforts from refining our abundances toward “improving” on our shortcomings.  It’s a rigid principle that encourages us to classify traits and abilities into strict bins of “successes” and “failures”.  It’s not that black and white.  I’ve written it before, and I’ll reiterate, “As long as I’m trying, I’m succeeding.”  With that value, we can move toward redefining our own self-image so we can celebrate ourselves and our abundances!

A great launching point is in the primary philosophy of education strategies with developmentally delayed children.  Instead of zeroing in on the delay, professionals and parents are encouraged to identify their abundances, usually termed as “gifts”.  Then, those gifts are nurtured until they can be applied to other developmental areas.  Once generalized, we can begin to see a globalized growth across all domains.  Truly, it’s a brilliant strategy that I feel is underutilized.

Just as each child has a gift, we all have our own aptitudes.  Personally, I excel in artistic areas.  Creative pursuits have always come naturally to me.  A little effort really went a long way.  I went on to develop skill sets in music, writing, crafting, and graphic arts.  However, because my “shortcomings” had been defined for me in other areas, I was discouraged from attempting to develop them through my own means.

It was only when I started to notice my own aptitude in martial arts that my own ideas changed.  At one time, I really only viewed it as being dependent on a physical skill, of which I was under the impression that I was sorely lacking.  However, it is so much more.  It requires a certain amount of creativity to translate technical skill into practical application.  For instance, I’m small, so some of the techniques learned in the curriculum wouldn’t be effective in a real situation.  Therefore, I have to get creative on how to modify them for my own body type.

If an abundance of one skill / trait can generalize to develop a skillset considered to be belonging to an opposing activity / trait, what else can it be applied to?

Let’s celebrate our gifts!

I am determined, and I’m proud!

I feel deeply, and I’m proud!

I think abstractly, and I’m proud!

I am detailed, and I’m proud!

I am involved, and I’m proud!

I try hard, and I’m proud!

I care abundantly, and I’m proud!

I am generous, and I’m proud!

I am very aware of my physical existence, and I’m proud!

I freely express ideas, and I’m proud!

What are you proud of today?

Weaknesses Equal Strengths

In the past, I have had a problem with “black and white” thinking.  If something was good, it was good.  If something was bad, it was bad.  Opposites had two entirely different bins.  Because they were opposites, how could they possibly be one in the same?  How could they possibly share properties?  Wasn’t that the very definition of opposite?

One person was really responsible for setting this idea into motion.  I was coming up on my orange belt test, and I found that I was suddenly having difficulty executing basic techniques.  I had practiced these same techniques over months with much progress.  It seemed as if I became leaden and weighted.  I became extremely frustrated and distracted, making practice much more difficult.

My instructor asked, “Are you nervous?”

I hadn’t even considered it.  Anxiety had become automatic for me.  I took a moment and replied, “Yes.”

“Good,” she said.  I was taken aback.  How was anxiety a positive thing?  It was hindering me, and preventing me from progressing.  I thought that it might even be my doom, by causing me to fail my test.  She suggested, “Turn your mind off and focus that abundant energy into your techniques.  You don’t need to think about it anymore.  It’s all stored into your muscle memory.”

I took a moment to compose myself.  I threw all of that energy into firing off techniques.  Suddenly, I unweighted and pivoted with ease.  The forms were coming back together and my strength and agility were returning to me.  It seemed that by translating that nervous energy into a physical outlet, I had actually gained a significant asset.

There are two sides to every coin.  The point is, the two sides share a coin.  The coin itself allows the two sides to share properties, butt up against each other.  While one represents something, and the other side seems to be opposite, they are really one in the same.  All we have to do is flip the coin.

In my last article, “I Am the Best Me”, I touched upon gaining a different perspective on our own weaknesses.  Many of us are painfully aware of our own “flaws”.  They are probably something that has become a primary focus at one point or another.  , In the search for answers and solutions, we’ve invested an abundance of time and energy into putting them under the microscope and dissecting them.  There is a certain idea that if we deconstruct them, then we may be able to reassemble them into a strength.  It pushes us to put an exhausting, but fruitless effort into transforming an aspect of ourselves that is just simply a part of our nature.

There are the obvious things we can’t change.  I’m 5’1” and 28 years old.  There is no hope that I will ever grow taller.  I can wobble around in heels all day, but it doesn’t adequately compensate for my natural size.  I have a naturally larger frame, so I can’t ever realistically expect to be thin like the models.  My feet are awkwardly large for a woman of my size.  Knowing that I can’t be anything different is a little discouraging in a certain light.

But, experience has taught me that those perceived flaws are actually advantages.  In martial arts, I can use certain physical qualities to my advantage.  Many taller people are long range fighters, due to their long limbs.  By moving in close, I can jam up their attacks and land quite a few blows.  A wider frame provides a natural opportunity for a greater muscle mass.  In combination with larger feet, I can have a stronger stance, making it more difficult for me to get knocked down.  And being small in general gives me speed and agility that other opponents may not have.

When we examine the more intangible things, such as character traits and personality, it’s a little less obvious.  This is especially so when we’re incorporating symptoms of disorder into the mix.  I’ve spent a lot of time splitting hairs between the two, in the attempt to discern what I could “fix” and what I couldn’t.  Although it initially provided relief by eliminating the idea that I was “irreparably damaged”, that microanalysis eventually ended up doing me more harm than providing benefits.  It sought to put everything under the microscope under a lens of negativity.

Personality from disorder isn’t a cut and dry as we initially perceive.  In time, I discovered that my personality and disorder had a complex relationship.  They shared many things, but there was one thing they both had in common.  My personality and disorder were both directly influenced by my value system.  It made me realize that they are really rooted in the same entity, my core self.

Perceived Flaws Translated Strength
Stubborn Willful
Anxious High Energy
Indecisive Flexible
Moody Sensitive
Worrisome Cautious
Temperamental Passionate
Aggressive Forceful
Dramatic Expressive
Withdrawn Reserved
Inconsistent Complex

That’s just to name a few.

When we redefine our weaknesses as strengths, we can begin to see how they benefit us.  All of these traits have developed my creative nature.  That creativity isn’t just applicable to writing and other artistic outlets.  It benefits my problem solving skills and personal relationships.  By understanding our true natures, we can start to redefine ourselves.  This aids in identifying personal dysfunctions as something beneficially functional.  This is the root of the development of adaptive strategies.

So, drag out the thesaurus and tell me – what are your strengths?

I Am the Best Me

 “It all begins and ends with me.”

It could be the heaviest and most empowering thought that ever came into my mind.  In Brave New Mind, I described a life-altering course I began with that very statement.  It began with reshaping my body, which led to the idea that I could reshape my mind.  Once I developed a realistic, healthy value system the functioned well for me, I noticed a change in myself that I couldn’t immediately explain.

I began to regard myself positively.  At first, I had a great concern that I was sliding over to the manic side with delusions of grandeur.  In truth, those states were the only time I ever thought highly of myself.  But, I realized that those thoughts were reasonable.  They reflected a new sense of self as my emotions started resonating with my behaviors.

What is this new feeling of confidence? , I asked myself.

Healthy self-esteem!  The one thing that has eluded me throughout my entire life!

It begins with the new definition of values in our own cognitive systems.  When these values begin to impact our behaviors positively, we start to generate positive emotions.  It revalidates the values, reinforces the behavior, and continues to produce positive emotion.  Eventually, it will impact our own image of ourselves.  The concept of self is core to our identity.  And our identity shapes our thoughts and behaviors.  Those thoughts and behaviors affect how we feel about ourselves, or our self-esteem.

Our levels of self-esteem are determined on how we are reflected back to ourselves.  Unfortunately, if we look toward external sources to provide that image, we are essentially looking into a funhouse mirror.  That is allowing others to define, qualify, and quantify us.  By doing that, we are surrendering our own personal leadership.  It is up to us to provide our own reflections based on a healthy perceived self versus our actual selves.  The closer the images become, the more complete we will begin to feel.  Having a stable identity as defined by ourselves through our value systems is a solid foundation for building healthy self-esteem.

I am a person, just like everyone else.

By asserting the right to exist, we are asserting that we are people with value no more or no less than anyone else.  There is no measurement of the value a person carries.  A life is a life, despite how it is being lived.  And all lives are valuable and sacred.

My thoughts and feelings are real to me and have significant value.

As previously mentioned, I grew up with societal attitudes that devalued certain thoughts and emotions, especially when they were expressed by children.  I recall a number of dismissive phrases such as, “Stop being so dramatic”, “You’re just going through a phase”, “Grow up”, “You’ll get over it”, “You’re too young to understand”, “Nobody wants to hear you complain”, “You have no idea what you’re talking about”.

It was at that point that I started to allow people to dictate my thoughts and regard for myself.  My self-esteem hinged on how others regarded me, and the tangible achievements I had made.  I became a work-horse, eager to plow on until it became the death of me.  It was all so I could feel good about myself.  Truthfully, I rarely had positive feelings about myself.  And when I did, it was so short lived because hoards of people existed whose sole mission was to take me down.

Self-esteem comes from self-respect.  When we respect ourselves, we automatically instill worth into our existence.  Asserting our own independent validation of our expressions is our way of staking our claim to ourselves.  It is the very place that we take the reins of our identity and our self-esteem.

My needs come first.

I remember when my son, Beast, was a newborn.  I would go weeks at a time without showering.  I found myself skipping meals, because I didn’t have enough time or energy to prepare them.  Sometimes, I would be too afraid to sleep.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to wake up when he needed me.  Every moment of every single day revolved around my son.

I thought that compromising my own needs was the definition of a good mother.  Societal and familial values place so much emphasis on self-sacrifice as a requirement to be a “good” person.  If we didn’t constantly put others ahead of ourselves, then we were selfish and “bad” people.

Eventually, I developed a martyr complex and found myself extremely resentful toward the people around that were supposed to be helping and supporting me.  Why weren’t they putting me before themselves?  And I started to demonize them in my own images of them.

On an airplane, the emergency procedures instructor a person to secure their own mask before securing others.  The same principle is applicable in our lives.  Before we can be expected to assist and care for others, we must first take care of ourselves.  We cannot expect another passenger to assist us, when we aren’t assisting ourselves.

During my period of hibernation, I became what I would have normally considered to be shamefully indulgent.  But, I felt no guilt.  I just couldn’t, because I had been running on empty for so long.  Eventually, I started to regenerate all of the strength and energy that I had depleted over many years as a “good” wife and a mother.

I came to the best conclusion – I am actually a more productive, helpful, and kind person when my needs are fulfilled.  Maslow was right after all.  And the only person I should ever count on to fulfill my needs is me.

Every day, I make accomplishments.

My son has autism spectrum disorder.  He has delays in many developmental domains.  As a parent, watching him struggle to develop new skills is overwhelming difficult, especially when I witness his peers completing the same tasks with ease.  Worse, I can see that he sees it too.

It has made me appreciate his achievements even more.  Even the smallest accomplishment is monumental!  Because, I have come to realize that there is no standard of measurement of “success” or “failure”.  There is only progress.

I generalized it even farther to myself.  Disorder or not, everyone is unique.  Every perceived “setback” I’ve encountered was actually progress in an unexpected direction.  “Failure”, as Thomas Edison would put it, is finding another way that something won’t work (paraphrased).  And that is accomplishment in itself.

So, at the end of every day, I take a minute to celebrate my completion of another day of my life.  It’s not about taking stock of how well I did, or “survival”.  It’s the celebration of my life and everything and everyone in it, just as it is.

My weaknesses are not flaws and don’t have to hinder me.

Everyone learns in their own way at their own pace.  While some people might find significant progress in one aspect of their lives, they are likely lacking in another.  No one is highly skilled at everything.  Everyone had their weaknesses and their strengths.

And sometimes, as martial arts have taught me, a weakness might actually turn out to have an advantage.  I am a lot smaller than the greater majority of the class.  I am also not quite as strong.  In some respects, it could put me in a significant disadvantage in a sparring match.

But, that’s not necessarily true.  Being smaller makes me quicker and more agile.  My balance is a little better, so it’s harder for me to get knocked down.  Even if I do, it’s easier for me to get back up.  Once I started to develop a more positive spin, I realized how to refine those talents into advantages.  I might never be bigger and stronger, but I can still put a 6 foot, 180lb man on the floor.

I am not a perfect person.  Today, I am the best me.

The values “As long as I’m trying, I’m succeeding”, “Regular and constant practice are the keys to mastering anything”, and “As long as I’m acting purposefully, I cannot be acting recklessly” in combination instill the sense that we are constantly and deliberately practicing being the best us as individuals.  It eliminates unrealistic goals and enforces individuality.  Through that process, we are encouraged to improve ourselves based on our own value system.

There are no such things as “perfection”, “failure”, or being a “good” or “bad” person.  We cannot be “better” or “worse” than anyone else.  Those are all illusions, faulty concepts designed to deceive us into resigning our personal leadership to another.  It is up to us to take ourselves back!

Got ‘Mad Pride’?

MadPrideLogoDesign1-300x279Got ‘Mad Pride‘?

A movement called ‘Mad Pride’ is sweeping the world.  Several news outlets, such as ABC News,  have been covering this incredible phenomenon of a world wide advocacy movement, involving grassroots organizations that openly support mental health awareness.  According to a report from ABC News, this movement is over 8,000 members strong.

ABC News and the blogosphere in general, you can make that 8,000 and one.  I, Lulu Stark, author of Sunny with a Chance of Armageddon and co-creator of A Canvas of the Minds fully support this movement.  This is exactly the type of movement that those of us cloaked in anonymity in the blogosphere have been attempting to develop over a period of years.  This is what A Canvas of the Minds was created for, to give a voice to the mental health community.  Now, it finally has a banner that we can become a worldwide collective under!

This is our time!

So what is ‘Mad Pride’?

Mad Pride is a terminology that celebrates a community of those labeled with mental health disorders.  It’s akin to Black Pride or Gay Pride in the sense that we are affirming our identities as people with mental health disorders.  We are asserting our rights under the law and advocating for awareness and acceptance, by standing up to discrimination and bullying.  It’s about challenging stereotypes and clarifying misconceptions in society about mental health.

A History of Cruelty and Injustice

Throughout history, society has stigmatized mental health disorders in a variety of ways.  Prior to the development of psychology, those with mental health disorders were often mocked, shamed, beaten, locked up, and / or executed.  Some were even accused to being witches, and were burned at the stake for crimes they did not commit.

Later in history, the affected were locked in attics or basements.  Sometimes, they were committed to insane asylums for their entire lives.  In those places, they were subjected to cruel, inhumane treatment.  They were strapped to beds, electrocuted, and lobotomized.

It has only been in recent years that those inhumane treatments were outlawed, and majority of the institutions were shut down.  However, there was no placement for the lifelong residents.  Most were cast out into the streets.  And with such a terrible stigma attached to them, they were unable to secure jobs and build new lives for themselves.  They were met with a cruel fate, because no one gave them a chance.

Popularized media has only added to the stigma.  Movies such as Psycho, Momento, The Silence of the Lambs, Single White Female, Fight Club, The Number 23, Fatal Attraction, Taxi Driver, and a variety of others depict people who experience mental health problems as violent criminals.  News media outlets were eager to report stories about violence and murder, perpetrated by “crazy people”, “psychos”, and “lunatics”.  And worse, public opinion pieces, such as the one written by Daniel Greenfield, entitled “America Doesn’t Need Gun Control, It Needs Lunatic Control”, imply that 50% of those suffering with “mental illness” are murderers and advocate that all the “lunatics” be imprisoned in institutions.

My message to you, Daniel Greenfield:  Institutions are unlawful imprisonment of innocent people who just happen to struggle with a disorder.

It has been through these media outlets that new kinds of discrimination and injustices were born. Even after psychology and psychiatry were recognized as legitimate medical practices, it has remained something that is rejected by those outside of the mental health community.

Why Pride?

We are survivors.

Some of us are trauma survivors. Some of us are substance abuse survivors.  But there is one thing we all have in common.  We are all survivors of the external and internal events that we have experienced.

We have endured ridicule.  We have been denied jobs.  We have been rejected by our peers and even our own families.  Many of us are oppressed by the isolation that hiding in the shadows creates.  We are met with opposition at every turn about the legitimacy of our mental health disorders and the symptoms we endure.  We continue on while constantly being disrespected and dismissed.

We are all survivors of our broken health system.  Many of us have suffered the awful consequences of misdiagnosis.  And some of us spent an overabundance of time needlessly suffering because we were too scared to be labeled with a disorder.  We have all played the game of medication roulette, and spent years being guinea pigs for new medications.  And worse, we all dealt with the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of inevitable side effects.  Some have been unfortunate victims of overmedicating by doctors that felt it necessary to “restrain” a person’s symptoms.

We have more than earned the right to be proud of who we are and all that we have gone through!

Mad Pride is about asserting our rights to be made uniquely by our illness. It’s about the social freedom to express ourselves in our own way, on our own terms.  Fitting society’s mould to escape persecution is exhausting and damaging.  I encourage all of us to break out, and claim our God given freedom!

I have the right to be me!

I am not my disorder, but it is a part of me.  I am moody.  I am temperamental and sometimes inpatient.  I am sensitive, and get my feelings hurt easily.  I feel very deeply.  I’m creative.  I think outside the box.  Sometimes, I’m hyperactive.  And sometimes, I’m gloomy.  I am the life of the party, but also the wet blanket.  I’m impulsive and adventurous.  But, I’m cautious and reserved.

I am a lot of things.  But I am me.

We are the order of disorder.  Get on board!


Watch Your Language!

Camera 360

Recently, I was inspired by a number of readers, namely Antony W, hcfbutton, and Cymbria Wood, to explore the direct relationship between language and cognition.

In Brave New Mind, I concluded with a number of phrases that are general summations of my newly evolving value system.  Note the tone.  Each word was carefully and purposefully chosen to not only relate an idea, but to convey a greater subliminal message.  In each mantra, I attempted to specifically use positive and definitive language.  While there is still room for interpretation, so it can be generalized to the individual, it excludes negative connotations.

Too often in our world, we are faced with the word “no” “No running”.  “No talking”.  There are two important faults with those statements.  The word “no” attaches an absolute negative generalization to the following action.  Is it never appropriate to run?  Is talking completely forbidden?  That kind of negativity has the potential to generate negative emotion, ranging from anxiety to anger.

In turn, it may prompt undesired behavior.  Those kinds of statements fail to provide any instruction for the appropriate behavior.  So, it becomes subject to any interpretation.  For me, I become anxious to do pretty much anything.  I freeze with indecision and fear.

Me:  What if it’s the wrong thing?  Will I face some sort of punishment because I didn’t fully understand the rule?  What if I don’t do the right thing and I mess up?

Conversely, I had a clever student who had a knack for finding his way around rules.  Through his creative interpretation, the rule “no talking” allowed for other forms of communication.  He would whisper, gestures, and write signs.

In fact, he held up a sign from across the room toward me that read, “This isn’t talking.” (Later, I giggled in private.)

Though brilliant, the message wasn’t clear enough for him.  Any form of communication wasn’t permitted in that situation.  Though he knew that, his actions weren’t technically against the rule, and were not actually punishable.

When faced with negative emotions, some may be prompted to act out.  Personally, if I’m feeling as if I’m being too restricted, I may challenge authority by doing the exact opposite of the rule.  It’s my way of attempting to assert my own authority and regain control over myself and a situation.  I invite the power struggle.

“Don’t take that tone with me.”

Me:  (raising my voice)  “I’ll take any tone I like!”

Needless to say, that last portion is not exactly healthy in terms of developing positive behaviors that defuse unnecessary confrontation and promote functional attitudes.

These scenarios are applicable to our own value systems.  By setting up vague restrictions, we unintentionally invite distressing emotion that incites maladaptive behavior.  Simply put, when we say “no” to ourselves, we can become upset, and that allows us to make poor decisions in how we act.  And because they are so vague, we can’t get sense of what we should be doing instead.  It makes it that much harder to find a positive behavior that works for us.  Then, we become stuck in a cycle of dysfunction.

In the past when I used to crash diet, I would set up stifling rules right down to the letter.  No fast food.  No sweets.  No lazy days, off days, or cheat days.  If I strayed from the rules, I would punish myself by wearing myself to the bone with painful exercise.  Eventually, it became so oppressive that I would reinterpret the rules to suit me.  Finally, I would quit, because it just became too hard and inconsistent.

That cycle of dysfunction starts to prompt thoughts like, “I can’t” or “I’ll never”, which can make a person feel helpless and hopeless.  It hinders any further action toward a goal, because we convince ourselves that we tried, we failed, and we can never make it work / happen.

By using positive language with ourselves, we can alter our own cognition to automatically generate positive thoughts, beliefs, and statements.  Here a few “rules” I use to develop more positive language:

Attempt to avoid commands.

I can say without any doubt that there isn’t a single person who enjoys being constantly ordered to do things.  It makes me angry.  I see commands as demands for actions, like a person would do to a doll or puppet.  If I don’t demand things from myself, I am certainly not going to allow others to do it.

Instead of using the word “no”, find the antonym to the following action and use a description as an alternative.

In my classroom, I developed a set of expectations (not rules) that excluded the word “no”.  Instead of “No running”, I used the phrase, “We use walking feet in the classroom”.  It spelled out the expectation exactly without being restrictive.

Use language that eliminates unnecessary apologies and uses statements of fact that relate.

Have you ever found yourself constantly apologizing for things that aren’t your fault?  For instance, someone tells you of their own misfortune and you reply, “I’m so sorry.”  Why are we being apologetic when it’s clearly not our fault?

The problem is the message that it conveys.  In being apologetic, we are unintentionally sending the message that we will accept blame for things that aren’t our fault.  It’s pretty much the same as saying, “Please, I want to be your doormat.”

Instead, a person could say, “That’s very unfortunate” or “What incredible pain you must be in”.

Use statements of intention rather than requests for permission (when applicable).

The problem is how we are conditioned as children.  Our whole world revolves around consent.  When we become adults, we have a certain difficulty with asserting our own personal authority.

I recently learned that I do not need permission to live my life.  In fact, I don’t require anyone’s consent to say or do most things.  I am an adult, and I have authority over myself and my actions.  By using questions, I am willfully passing my own authority over to someone else.

For example, instead of asking, “May I use the restroom?”, it can be rephrased as, “I need to use the restroom” or “I’m going to use the restroom”.  In that language, a person asserts their right to perform a bodily function.

Again, when applicable.

Rephrase accusatory statements, even if they can be substantiated

Most statements that begin with “you” and end in a negative phrase are typically accusatory.  “You did…” and “You are…”  Offer a suggestion instead.  “You can…” is far more empowering and avoids passing blame.  Most people will avoid blame at all costs.

Through practicing positive language, functional attitudes begin to form.  Constructive progress becomes evident, and that promotes personal growth.  As growth advances, we can begin to make additional improvements to our value systems to generalize to other aspects of our lives.  That way, we can be better prepared to face future challenges, and feel empowered to succeed in our pursuits.

From mind to mouth, we can make a difference, one word at a time.

Brave New Mind

There’s something completely mind-altering about looking into a mirror and seeing someone still familiar, and yet entirely different.  It’s a lot different from an impulsive cut and color.  Those kinds of changes are so sudden and purely aesthetic.  Underneath all of the paint, it’s still the same structure.

With changes in diet and exercise, the structure begins to gradually shift.  The roundness came away, revealing angles and shapes I had never known.  But, it wasn’t just about the weight that had come off.  I had tone in my muscles that made me look strong and sturdy.  For the first time in my life, I felt strong, inside and out, like I could take on the world.

I started to realize that sometimes, change comes from outside in.


With a new found confidence from feeling comfortable in a new skin, I reexamined my own internal world with a sense of confidence that was once sorely lacking.  It wasn’t the same as the critical introspection that I was so used to engaging in.  For once, it was a realistic, objective perspective.

The Voice, as I’ve referred to intense intrusive thoughts and vaguely psychotic entities in the past, had suddenly taken my side.  I’d find myself launching into once typical degrading monologues, only to be stopped short.

Why are you so eager to hurt yourself?

There are people in your life who believe in you.  Why don’t you believe in you?

Why are good things not allowed to happen to you?

These challenging questions came slowly at first.  I was so inclined to revisit places I had already been to before.  My abusive past.  The mechanisms of growing up with early onset bipolar disorder.  I rubbed my hands up and down my self-injured scars, searching for answers.  Who did this to me?  What did this to me?

It occurred to me.  It was probably the most difficult realization I’ve ever come to in my entire life.

It all begins and ends with me.

I am the alpha and the omega in my life.  The beginning and the end of all things.

And for awhile, I sank into a depression.  By that logic, I was responsible for all of my misery and a failure at taking control of my own life.  My greatest fear had been realized.  Everything was my fault, just as everyone had been telling me for my entire life.

There was a point where I realized that the self-loathing was just counterproductive.  It didn’t inspire me to try harder or make any improvements.  It was defeating, and bred a sense of hopelessness that rendered me helpless.  In fact, I didn’t hate myself at all.  I actually liked myself and was proud of my accomplishments throughout my life.  That wasn’t me talking.  It was something else altogether.

When breaking these intrusive and abusive monologues down, I came to a startling conclusion.  The value system, of which I completely governed my life and behavior, were not mine at all.  These self-defeating values were inherited from extraordinarily flawed and rigid familial and societal governments.  They had become so deeply ingrained that responses were automatic.  The truth is, I hadn’t even been living my own life by my own rules.

Some examples include:

“Many times in life, you’ll have to do a lot of things you don’t want to do.  You just have to get it over with.”

I subjected myself to a immeasurable amount of misery that was completely unnecessary.  At certain points, I found myself only surviving my life.  I endured so many awful situations that I could have avoided if it weren’t for the idea that misery was just a part of life.  It built a certain amount of resentment for those around me who I was sacrificing myself for.

“Get a grip.”

I attempted to live my in stoicism, because I was under the impression that emotional displays were distasteful and unacceptable.  It was absolutely conflicting to my nature, being a person with bipolar disorder.  Sometimes, there is no handle on things.  And yet, I attempted to rein in my emotions and behavior, causing an explosive temper and repeated meltdowns.  It translated to me expressing every negative emotion as anger, because anger was the only acceptable thing.

“Crying means that you are weak.  You can’t show people that you are weak.”

I stopped crying (at least in front of people), because I would be mercilessly mocked.  This was more reinforcement for angry outbursts.  I hid my vulnerabilities and became viciously defensive.  I instinctively pushed people away, because I was convinced that the closer I allowed someone to be, I more likely they would be to damage me.

“There are no excuses.”

Any explanation that I could provide for my shortcomings was considered to be an excuse or a rationalization.  There was no answer that I could provide that would be good enough.  All of my limitations and inexperience were of no consideration.

“What other people think is the only thing that matters.”

I got the idea that the only way to measure my self-worth was through achievement.  External approval was the singular source for validation of my actions.  Combined with all of the above, this value became the source of my own self-loathing whenever I would fail to meet an expectation.  And when all of the expectations were generally unrealistic due to overambition, it was an automatic setup for failure.

In reality, it wasn’t that I was actually responsible for my misery.  I was responsible for making changes to a rigid and dysfunctional value system that served to oppress me throughout an entire lifetime.  The great epiphany wasn’t placing blame.  It was to empower me, and help me realize that I am the main character in my own life.  I am the source.  And in the end, I had the final say in my happiness and lifestyle.  I govern myself.

Immediately, I started to view the world as a blank page.  I was liberated from all of the bonds that caged me in such a bleak and oppressive world.  I had the authority to rewrite all of the rules by taking on values that I believed in, and living a functional, productive life.

Everything in moderation.

As long as I’m still trying, I’m succeeding.

Eliminate limitations.  There is no such thing can’t.

This one requires some explanation.  In this line of thinking, there are no limitations in the sense that there are always adaptive strategies through creative problem solving that can make something a possibility.

True respect begins with respecting myself.

I have a whole article I want to write about this.

Regular and constant practice are the keys to mastering anything.

Energy is neither positive nor negative.  It’s the expression and application that determines the nature.

Meditation is necessary for a calm mind and a calm spirit.

As long as I’m acting purposefully, I cannot be acting recklessly.

Control is an illusion.  Guidance through leadership is a fact.

Humanity is not a condition.  It is a natural state of existence.

Truthfully, many aspects of my new value system have roots in the tenets, codes, and practices of martial arts.  However, martial arts is only a template.  It’s a starting point from which we are encouraged to develop ourselves mentally and spiritually in our own individual ways.  And through my knowledge of psychology, I began to mold a whole new mindset for myself to start a brand new life.