Introduction by Annamarie Fernyak
In the following blog post, Erin talks about the stigma of mental health and common biases toward people who may be suffering from mental illness. Before Erin’s thoughtful essay, I never considered that I might have biases. After reflecting on Erin’s words, I came to realize that some biases were just below the surface.
So, what can we do once you know those subconscious inclinations exist? What do I do?
Be mindful, of course! We each have the beautiful ability to tune the dial of awareness onto our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By paying careful attention, we gain information and uncover unwanted habits and beliefs. The pause taken to tune into awareness provides the opportunity for you to weigh what is happening at any moment against your values; then an action may be chosen. It allows purposeful actions instead of reactions.
Take time to self-reflect. Listen to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Discover if you have habitual ways of thinking or hidden prejudices, and invite yourself to think, act, and exist in a way that positively serves yourself and the world.
Sending a virtual hug!!!
“I heard you were sick the other day. How are you feeling?”
“You had surgery recently, right? How are you recovering?”
“Oh no, you have the flu?? Stay home and take care of yourself!”
All of the above statements are commonly heard among friends and co-workers on a daily basis. We are often able to discuss health issues and illnesses, checking on one another, and making sure physical health issues are addressed. Imagine if the following was overheard:
“I heard you had a manic episode last week. How are you feeling?”
“You had a psychiatric hospitalization recently, right? How are you doing?”
“Oh no, you had a panic attack? Please stay home and take care of yourself!”
If any of the above statements make you uncomfortable, you are not alone.
Except for those who work in the mental health field, the statements above do not roll off the tongue. We are completely comfortable talking about the health ailments of ourselves and our friends, family, and co-workers; however, the stigma around mental health often leaves us speechless and silent, rendering those with mental health symptoms isolated and ostracized.
So why does this occur?
There are a variety of reasons and theories. In the Middle Ages, those with mental health symptoms were thought to be punished by God or possessed by the devil, so they were often imprisoned, burned, or killed. Perhaps the discomfort around mental health stems from the colonial and industrial periods; at this time, women were commonly viewed as property of the fathers and husbands in their lives, and these men could have them “committed” to a sanitarium at any time, with very little evidence. In the days of Nazi Germany, horrible experiments were conducted on those deemed mentally ill because some believed the mentally ill were a disposable population.
In the 1960s and 1970s, deinstitutionalization resulted in the influx of those diagnosed as severely mentally ill as these individuals re-entered local communities to receive treatment. However, this also led to homelessness, and it doubled the number of people identified as mentally ill in the criminal justice system in the following years. Additionally, the media sensationalize acts of violence and attribute them to mental illness, even if there is no evidence of a connection.
In this historical context, all episodes of mental illness get lumped together. Whether the person is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety, the individual is often viewed from the same lens, both internally (view of self) and externally (how others view the person). If one grows up hearing about “crazy” people, who commit acts of violence or who live on the street, and then experiences mental health symptoms, it can be alarming and unsettling. Often, people will not admit to themselves or others what symptoms they experience for fear of being hospitalized, losing their job, or not being able to see or care for their children.
What can the average person do then, to reduce this stigma for oneself and significant others?
Mental health issues are isolating, and lack of connection with others exacerbates these issues. Human connection is the balm that heals. Sometimes, just having someone who is willing to sit with you, even in silence, is the most healing thing of all. Be that connection for someone. There are several things we can do :
1. Educate yourself.
The more you know, the less scary and strange something will be. And then, you can help educate others with facts.
2. Recognize what biases you have.
Examine from where these biases stem, whether from how you were brought up or societal influences.
3. Talk about your own mental health struggles.
Each of us has ups and downs in our moods and emotions; that is very normal. Each of us also has times in our lives when we struggle with difficult situations and circumstances. Talking about these struggles openly makes room and space for others to do so as well.
4. Be aware of language.
Instead of saying words like “crazy” or “nuts” or “cuckoo”, or even saying things like “he’s bipolar” or “she’s depressed”, say things like “he has symptoms of bipolar disorder” or “those who have schizophrenic symptoms”. This begins to identify the person as separate and distinct from the condition.
5. Support people who are struggling.
Reach out to someone you know is having difficulty with anxiety, depression, or even a psychotic episode. Let them know you are there.
*May is Mental Health Month and in support of our community, Mind Body Align is offering several FREE resources! Check it out here!
Erin Schaefer, LPCC-S, IMFT-S, is the Executive Vice President/Executive Director at Catalyst Life Services. She received a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Lutheran University in 1997 and a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling in 2002 from the University of Akron. Erin has worked in community mental health for over 20 years. She was also director of Ashland Parenting Plus, a small nonprofit agency focused on teen pregnancy prevention, juvenile diversion, and parent education. She served on the board and as president of the Ohio Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and also on the board of directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from 2011-2013; she currently Treasurer-Elect, starting her term in Jan. 2020. She has been a member of AAMFT since 1997 and is a Clinical Fellow.
Erin has been married to Michael for over 20 years. They have two teenage children. Erin is also a certified running coach with Road Runner Clubs of America. She is an avid marathoner and loves running long distances. Erin believes in the power of exercise to help maintain good mental health!
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, we all have a “love tank” inside of us. When the love tank is full, we feel connected, supported, and secure. When the love tank is empty, we feel disconnected, alone, and insecure. But how do you fill someone else’s love tank? You learn what their love language is and you use it to communicate how much they mean to you. It’s equally important that you understand your own love language. This way, you will know how to communicate to your loved ones what it is that you need to feel appreciated and secure.
But what if their language is different from yours? Or perhaps you don’t exactly know what to do with the information? These concerns can create unnecessary stress when it comes time to acknowledge them with a gift or expression of love. No one needs MORE stress in their life. That’s why we’ve used the 5 Love Languages to curate a gift guide that is intentional and reflects each of the languages uniquely.
Words of Affirmation
People with this as their top love language need words to help them feel loved. Choose gifts that make statements and show that you recognize an important aspect of them.
ThoughtFull Pop-Open Cards- Each of these themed boxes come with 30 unique quotes. Stash them throughout their belongings to create a fun and unexpected surprise. Popping open the card is super satisfying and their small size makes them perfect to carry in your pocket or bag.
Write Now Journals- These journals have beautiful and inspirational quotes on the cover and throughout the pages. A lover of words will surely appreciate the ability to keep their own words close by while being inspired by iconic quotes and poems.
The Touch love language is about the physical sensation that comes from a meaningful connection. Pick textural gifts that evoke a strong touch memory of you.
Shawls/ Wraps/Blankets/Pillows- The key here is to find items that have a distinct texture and relate to something they already love. If they love to read in their favorite chair, perhaps a cozy shawl or wrap would be nice. If they love to Netflix and relax – a breathable blanket with some weight can help them unwind, if they’ve recently experienced a significant transition in their life, a weighted heart pillow can provide comfort in times of need.
Sacred Heart Stones – These little trinkets are perfect for a pocket and can easily be retrieved and rubbed with their thumb when they miss you or need to feel comforted.
QT people need you to make time for them. Gift them items that come with a follow-up event or date.
Yoga/meditation supplies + classes: a new yoga mat or bag, perhaps an eye pillow. Commit to attending a class with them by purchasing a class pass in advance.
Books + discussion- Books are great for self-care but you can show your loved ones that you care by reading the same book and making time for discussion. Think about books that reflect their interests or will strengthen your relationship: The Mindful Couple, Awakened Relating, or The Untethered Soul.
Acts of Service
Acts of Service speakers feel loved when you do something nice for them that makes their life easier or better. Think about gifts that will enhance their goals or free up their schedule so that they can pursue the things they really enjoy.
Wellness Kits: Has your loved one been sick? Are they hoping to get healthy in the new year? Gift them a hand-curated wellness kit, complete with bath bombs, handmade soaps, reusable water bottles, wellness patches, etc.
Prompted Journaling- Journaling is incredibly rewarding but busy people may find it to be a chore. Help them reap the benefits of journaling by gifting them a prompted journal such as Calm the Chaos, I am here now, or 52 Weeks of Gratitude.
This language may seem like the easiest one but in fact, can be the most stressful. Gifters are usually excellent at gifting meaningful items to their loved ones so you may feel pressure to make the same kind of effort. The key here is to take note of what brings them joy. Big or small, a meaningful gift will go a long way with this love language.
Unique Finds: trendsetters love a unique find. Think jewelry with a story such as a Mala prayer necklace or a stone bracelet charged in a Sedona energy vortex.
Conscious Living- Think about items that do good in the world: reusable paper towels, glass water bottles, or fair-trade items such as bags and rugs.
Holistic and Mindful Living: gift items that will help them with their practice such as a singing bowl, meditation chime, or a crystal grid.
Take the FREE Love Language Quiz here.
All of the above-mentioned gift ideas can be found at the Butterfly House retail shop. Visit us on Tu-Friday from 10 am – 5 pm or email email@example.com to have a custom gift package put together for you.
Girls Night In:
The Power of Self-Compassion
Mary Kennard is the Director of Creative Services for Mind Body Align, LLC. A Richland County, Ohio native, Mary earned a degree in Art History from Bowling Green State University in 2008, and focused on the development and support of non-profits prior to joining MBA. Always working to break down barriers, Mary strives to elevate wellness for individuals and companies, making it a part of their personal and professional cultures. Kennard oversees all opportunities for creatively engaging clients and designing fantastic educational materials for clients.
“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” -John O’Donohue
We were four days into a week-long backpacking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when Aurelio busted his ankle descending Tuckerman’s Ravine, a craggy glacier cirque just south of the summit of Mt. Washington. Before us was a mile of talus deposits, like staircases for giants, that we would have to negotiate before Lion’s Head trail merged into the more pedestrian section of Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail. It’d be another two miles before we reached Hermit Lake Shelter, where we would stay for the evening.
There was no way for help to reach us, so Aurelio ground out the last few miles by leaning heavily into his hiking poles. He didn’t utter a word of complaint so that Cameron and I were surprised when we reached camp and he removed his boot, revealing an ankle twice the size it should have been and a dark purple bruise spreading across the bottom edge of his foot.
With Aurelio unable to hike, we decided to set up a more permanent camp for the remainder of our trip. The next morning, we abandoned the established trail and headed deeper into the forest, until we found a secluded spot along Peabody River. There we slung our hammocks and fell into an unspoken rhythm of camp chores: scrubbing pots, filtering water, washing clothes, and building fire.
We spent the afternoon relaxing on boulders in the middle of the river, listening to the immense volume of water rushing by, ever so slowly bending those enormous stones to its will. Aurelio submerged his bum ankle in the cool water. We each kept a journal at our side and would stare into the eddies of water like soothsayers for hours before finally jotting down a line, an insight, a revelation.
That evening, as we sat together in the chiaroscuro of firelight, it occurred to me that we had hardly spoken a word to each other all day, yet I had never felt closer to my friends. I suggested that we read a few poems, as is the tradition for us on the trail. As I read my poem, the words seemed foreign. All form and no content. Usually, we relied on the poetry to draw us deeper into the moment, deeper into connection with one another, and to remind us of the holiness at work in all of this dirt and sweat, but now the words only seemed to efface the profound silence that had already settled over us. As the words faded away, becoming but felt memories in the tiny bones of our ears, we settled back into the fertile silence of nature like deer, having awakened to the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.
“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.” – John O’Donohue
In the West, we have the tendency to prioritize our minds over our emotions and physical bodies. We tend to see the brain as the primary organ, and the thoughts that the brain secretes become the dubious foundation for our sense of self. But what about the ancient rhythms of the human heart; the way joy and sorrow precipitate one another? What about our forgetfulness, which allows for the beauty of the world to be continuously rediscovered? What about the landscape of the human body: its pleasure and pain, the secrets held in its musculature, the way it always tells the truth? The body is a universe of sensations that precedes any labeling done by the mind.
There is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism called Dzogchen, in which the practitioner breaks through or sees through to their natural, primordial state of awareness. In Dzogchen the symbolic and imaginary layers of human perception drop away and there is direct knowledge of the ground of Being. Dzogchen is the clarity and wakefulness of the senses left to their natural state. It is faith in the flow, ease, and spontaneity that naturally arises when we surrender our hypervigilance and obsessive mental reflection. In Dzogchen the individual’s way of being-in-the-world is as simple as a tree producing fruit.
I believe the concept of the soul, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, can bring us into a way of being that is similar to Dzogchen. If we become silent enough to listen from the soul, the delusions of ego fall away and we can become directly connected to that deepest part of ourselves, to our true and authentic core. Whatever actions arise out of this mode of listening-from-one’s-soul will necessarily be of the spirit of love, will be of God. This is not the surface level mentation about morality and ethics, but the spontaneous compassion and wisdom that arises from the soul’s natural goodness.
In the west, we tend to fear this spontaneous action. We distrust our instinct and view the unconscious as a realm full of shadows that must be contained, tamped down, and repressed by our ever-vigilant mental activity. Nature, therefore, is important because it teaches us to accept the epistemic limitations of the mind. Nature insists that we stop identifying with our capricious mental arisings and enter into a deep engagement with the truth of our heart and body. Nature insists we fall in love with the mystery of Being.
When we nurture a consistent connection to nature, we are reminded that we too possess the same simplicity of being that is present in the birds and the trees, the same uncomplicated is-ness of the natural world. We begin to feel intimately woven into the emerging pattern of all existence, connected to all things in this present moment as if by an umbilical cord stretching back to the singularity.
We all have access to the fertile silence and stillness that nature inspires. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require that you spend weeks in the wilderness, I just happen to be a tough case when it comes to awakening. An occasional overnighter in your nearest state park or evening strolls in your local nature preserve might be all that you need. Perhaps tending to a small garden is enough for you. As the Buddha taught in his Flower Sermon, when we enter nature, listening attentively at this soul level, a single flower is enough to awaken us to our natural great perfection.
Jason Kaufman is a poet and visual artist living in Bellville, Ohio. The major influences on his work are fatherhood, backpacking, post-structuralism, Buddhism, theopoetics, and mental health advocacy.
Jason has won various awards for his sculptural work. His poetry has been published in Awakened Voices and Wordpeace Literary Journal. His poetry chapbook “A Song Greater than I Am” is forthcoming from Full/Crescent Press.
Jason is the theatrical set designer at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield, Ohio and is a contributing editor for Voices from the Borderlands. He is also a member of the Living Lotus Zen Sangha, which meets regularly at Mind Body Align to practice meditation. You can follow his work on Instagram @jasonkaufman_artist.
I remember walking into gym class, returning to the school that I had attended through 4th grade. Over the summer I had moved and I started 5th grade in another school in the district. But a custody change between my parents led me back to the school I had known all my life. After my dad enrolled me, the principal told me I could go join my class in the gym.
I walked into the gymnasium just as they were beginning to pick teams for kickball when my friend Robin spotted me and yelled “Lori’s back! Suddenly, I was surrounded by a mob of pre-teen girls screaming at the top of their lungs as they hugged me and welcomed me home. The reunion was cut short by the shrill of the gym coach’s whistle and his stern instructions to get lined up. He announced, that in honor of my return, I would be the captain of team A, and I proudly took my place in front of all my classmates ready to pick my team. (This was an honor generally reserved for the most athletic persons in the class, a drastic contrast to my being the last one standing; finally going to a team by default, not because I was picked.)
Looking back, I think that was the moment that defined the friendships I would take with me through Jr. High. I remember how wonderful it felt to be back in the comfortable surroundings of people I knew. How, for that one moment, I felt like a rock star. How quickly the moment changed when suddenly I was faced with the dilemma of: do I choose a team to win, or do I choose a team of my friends, who, (after all these years I’m sure I can say this without offending), suck at physical fitness.
The gym coach, beginning to lose patience, yelled at me to make my pick, and I was stuck. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to pick to win or pick my friends. I could look at the line, and see that the true athletes were hoping that I wouldn’t choose them, and my friends – my true blue, ride or die, friends – were anxiously waving at me to pick them. Of course, I did. I picked Robin, Teresa, Jenny, and Kelly. I don’t know who else I chose, but I know that these classmates were the right choice because today, 45 years later, Robin, Teresa, Jenny, and Kelly are still my friends.
Moving forward 40 years I have surrounded myself with many Robin’s, Teresa’s, Jenny’s, and Kelly’s. Some have been in my circle for a long time, others have already broken away and a beautiful few are entering. I pride myself on the tribe that I am part of. For many, being part of a tribe is necessary, for me, it’s an honor and a blessing.
Being part of a tribe, however, is not always easy. Maintaining deep relationships is more than clicking on a little icon to let someone know you like their photo or meme, sending a group text to announce your birthday party location, or a Snapchat to share what you’re having for dinner. Social media is a great venue to keep in touch with casual friends, however, I wouldn’t invite all my electronic friends to a pow-wow in my blanket teepee. In fact, there would be very few. And I would choose them today, in much the same way I picked my kickball team all those years ago.
As the years have evolved, I’ve gotten to know myself better, and love myself for who I am. While this step is an entire blog in itself, it’s probably the most important step in building an amazing tribe. This doesn’t mean that when I was 10, I knew myself in depth, but I did know that I had nothing in common with the kids who could pass the annual physical fitness test on the first try every year. I was much better suited to the kids who would much rather tie-dye scarves in art class or belt out the chorus of every song on Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdowns.
Get to know your potential tribe
I belong to a networking group, and for two years, I met these people every Tuesday for breakfast. Every week, I sat at a different table until I found myself gravitating to one table more often than others. There was something about the people who regularly sat at this table. Just recently, one of the persons at the table told me about his excitement that Jesus Christ Superstar was going to be on, and he couldn’t wait to watch it. When I told him that my son was going to be “Roman Soldier #1”, he was even more excited. This was all the confirmation I needed that I was at the right table. I could lead this table into any kickball game, and know that we would have a great time! This doesn’t mean that the other people in the group are not tribe worthy, it just means that this table is MY tribe.
Jenny was my first friend in life. I met her in kindergarten when I had transferred from another school. She was in the office and showed me how to get to our classroom. Once we got there she introduced me to Kelly and other girls who were friends of hers. Quickly we all became friends. Today’s connections may not be as organic or simple, but we build community when we help others make connections. Dig in. Get personal. Find like-minded people and skip the small talk. Expose your inner self.
When I think about how the best members of my tribe came about, I realize that everyone is there because of a connection. It’s been a wonderful discovery to grow together, and even if Kindergarten is the biggest connection we have, Jenny, Robin, Teresa, Kelly and I, are a tribe to be reckoned as together, we continue to expand our tribe, and yet we know that there is a grand peace pipe waiting in the Chief’s teepee when we all get together again.
A few things about me. A mother of two beautifully successful children and 3 grandchildren. Member of Slow Roll Mansfield planning team. I enjoy the Performing Arts, cycling, cooking and sports. I am a caretaker of my space in the universe and, like my grandma who named me, loving people is the reason I am here.