Friday, October 31, 2008

TO WRITE: Alternatives to Discrimination
I've been listening closely to advertisements for haunted houses this Halloween season. Last year an organization whose name I've gladly forgotten got national attention for creating a scary experience in what they called a mental hospital or psych ward, and for using numerous terms derogatory to the mentally ill, as well as trying to frighten people with the ideas of straight-jackets and unanesthetized electroshock treatments. Probably without thinking about what they were doing (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here), they were painting mentally ill people as frightening, violent and dangerous. We are none of those things. Fortunately, after many letters and much protest, the group changed their theme entirely.

We've all probably felt some stigma around mental illness -- the comments from others that you should pull yourself out of your depression, or the dismissal of one's symptoms and oneself as "psycho." Very sadly, the worst result of the stigma around mental illness is that it causes many people to NOT seek treatment that could help them.

Play with this. . .
There are three sections to this exercise. First, write continuously for 10 minutes about any stigma you've been the object of for any reason -- your gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, height, weight, age, etc. Then write for 10 more minutes on stigma you've experienced or observed pertaining to mental conditions. Finally, write for five more minutes on what you could tell yourself or that stigmatizer that would make you feel better about the situation -- perhaps pointing out to your boss or relative that you are coping with an actual illness and you are working hard to get well, or perhaps giving yourself a positive affirmation or self-talk to counter an uninformed or unkind comment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

TO WRITE: Are you "bogged down"?
An email crossed my screen recently with a question that was attributed to, or arose from, Oprah's discussion of Eckhart Tolle's ideas: What makes you feel less bogged down?

That phrase "bogged down" makes me think of swampy muck tugging at my rubber boots; it makes me think of the poem Picture of Depression by Jo Bobbie in my book (p. 89). Both evoke good heavy images and feelings of depression -- ones that could help non-depressed people ("neurotypicals," as one student calls them) get a clue about how a real depression really feels.

Play with this. . .
Consider that weighty feeling of being bogged down, then consider its opposite -- feeling buoyant and agile and free to move and be yourself. Now write continuously (without stopping to think a lot about what word or idea is coming next) for 20 minutes on what lifts you from one state to the other; what makes you feel less bogged down? It might be a healthy meal, a chance to sit in nature and just think, a new part-time job, running a marathon, talking to a friend, counting your blessings or writing in your journal. You might be able to generate a list you can turn to later when you really need it. After you write, determine what one thing you can do for yourself right now to feel less bogged down, and do it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

TO WRITE: What would you love to buy?
Economically, times are looking very grim for most of us right now. And, whether we want to face it yet or not, the holiday season -- with all it's frenzied buying and extra expenses -- is fast approaching. Does all this money talk sound overwhelming? Today I invite you to set aside those stressful issues and think about you.

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes on the question: What would you love to buy if you could? For me, an eagerly awaited new book is a favorite treat, so I might simply purchase more books if I had unlimited shopping resources. Your tastes may run to larger items -- a new house? car? a tropical island? Or perhaps you'd like to buy a gift for a loved one?

After you write, reflect on why this item is important to you. Is it something you really could go out and acquire today? If so, go for it, and see how wonderful you feel. If it's unattainable until you win the lottery, consider why you'd like it and brainstorm on whether there's a smaller alternative that could provide the same pleasure.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

TO WRITE: Are Women and Men REALLY Different?
Gender differences have been discussed, and sometimes enforced, for eons, continuing in this election season, including tonight's VP debate. How real are these differences? More crucially, how important are they?

I'm observing all sorts of interesting things in this arena now that I have an 11-month-old daughter. Friends tell me they couldn't affect their girls' love of princess dresses even though they tried; men seem less likely to ask to hold the baby even when they beam contentedly when the offer is made and they reach out; strangers with a kind comment for the little one are unsure how to deliver it if s/he's wearing gender-neutral clothing below her short baby hair.

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes starting with: The real difference between men and women is... Or start with the differences between girls and boys. What differences have you observed recently? What conclusions have you drawn? Do you treat women and men differently? Do others role-cast you, and how does that feel? Is it advantageous or problematic to have differences? And do gender roles have any influence on your depression?