New Year Recollection

When it comes to the start of a new year, people tend to focus on new goals for the upcoming year. They’ll decide to start exercising more, quit smoking, spend less money to get out of debt… The list goes on. What people tend not to do is appreciate what they’ve accomplished through the previous year. While it is good to plan for the future, one should not forget about their accomplishments of the past. For the start of a new year, I prefer the method of embracing past accomplishments while planning for a productive future. Reflecting back on the previous year, one may often times see that they’ve accomplished much, even if at a quick glance they feel they haven’t.

For those suffering from a mental illness of some sort, this may be a daunting task, but I have found that it may ease suffering from looking back and reflecting. When I was at my worst, I would remember perceived past failures and dwell upon them, looking only at the negative parts of what happened. Being an anxious person, when I was in this particular state, I felt that what I was dwelling upon would directly impact my future. I felt that experiences and relationships that had failed were a waste of time and that they would continue to be a waste of time. This lead me to believe that future experiences or relationships would be a fruitless endeavor. What I didn’t focus on however was how much I enjoyed the time in each of those experiences and relationships, even though they have since passed.

We tend to focus largely on the negative aspects of experiences while glancing at the positives without fully appreciating what they’ve done for us as individuals – specifically how they made us feel and how they encouraged personal growth. These experiences and relationships, whether they’ve ended in a positive or negative manner, shape who we are as individuals. I feel that reflection upon these allow us to better ourselves as individuals. I encourage everyone to reflect upon their past accomplishments, past experiences, past relationships, whether they are negative or positive, and appreciate them for assisting you in becoming the individual you are today. Don’t focus upon being a “new” person this year – focus on building upon what you’ve accomplished.

In closing, I would like to share with you some advice I’d been given awhile back. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source, but it went something like this: Forgive but remember the past, live and enjoy the present while planning for a fruitful future. This advice has helped me when I could only focus on the negative aspects of life. I hope it provides the same assistance to you all.

What is Ego Death?

While speaking with a friend earlier this week, we came upon a topic that I found very interesting – perhaps a topic that not many have heard before, called “ego death”. When ego death occurs, it is considered the loss of subjective ego, a person’s sense of self-esteem, self-importance and self-identity. In Psychology, ego death may be called a psychic death, a term coined by Carl Jung, the man behind Jungian psychology.

Ego death is often referred to as an enlightening, yet potentially terrifying experience which may be brought forward in many different ways. More often than not, it is considered a spiritual experience, one where you experience the cessation of sense and feeling of control living your life. The feeling of being in control is replaced by feelings of being helpless or powerless as you go about the motions of life, with a sense that the thoughts you’re experiencing are somehow being inserted into your mind. While it sounds like a terrifying experience, many individuals who experience it often regard it as a very humbling transition into the next stage of their life, allowing them to harmonize with things they were unable to harmonize with before.

In Jungian psychology, ego death is often referred to as the death of consciousness, which may be accompanied by panic. Jungian psychology refers to ego death as psychic death, and goes on to explain it as a “shift back to the existential position of the natural self”. It is thought that after one experiences the death of consciousness, the consciousness is then resurrected. Carl Jung called this process the “the transcendent function”, which he believed led to a more “inclusive and synthetic consciousness”. It is believed that this process is a fundamental transformation of the psyche as it allows individuals to develop further understanding and peace of mind with the world and its inhabitants.

While ego death may be experienced through spirituality or rigorous introspection, it may also be experienced through the use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD. Individuals who experience ego death through this method often are looking to experience what lies in the recesses of the human mind or to experience spiritual liberation. The early stages of ego death induced by a psychedelic may be terrifying, but those who experience it say that it is a liberating feeling, one that gives them a feeling of unity with other individuals, nature, the universe and God.

While the experience itself seems quite foreign and terrifying, it is something that I, coming from a mindful perspective, whole-heartedly believe is beneficial for personal development. Putting aside one’s subjective views is an important skill – one that allows individuals to view the themselves and the world around them objectively. We are all characters in this world we inhabit, and as such, we should try and make the world and our characters better each and every day.

If you would like to read more about ego death, I suggest checking out this page for more information.

 

 

The Importance of Sharing

The story of the telling of my story.

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As a lazy college student, I don’t get out too much. I don’t go to extracurricular events,  join clubs, rarely go out with friends…to be honest it’s stretching the limits just going to class. Knowing this, I hope the reader will be impressed that I actually got out and did something. Something that I found very frightening, but that instantly made me feel better after I did it. I told my story.

I have told you all my story before, but, in real life, never have I told anyone outside my family, close friends, and mental health professionals what happened to me over a year ago now. What tortured me for nearly 6 months until I finally got into the right psychiatrist and on the right medication. Last week I got a message about a group on campus called Active Minds, which was having an event in which people who struggled with mental illness talked about their struggles. I knew I had to go.

I can’t quite explain why I needed to go so badly. Perhaps I wanted to see that I wasn’t alone, as I had never met someone that openly had a mental illness before. Perhaps I wanted to inspire other people on the edge to make that push to get help. I’m not sure exactly why I had to go, but next thing I know I was emailing the secretary of Active Minds asking if I could come speak.

The moment I emailed her I instantly became filled with fear. What if they didn’t believe me? What if they didn’t think my story was that big of a deal? What if they laughed at me? What if they thought I was crazy? Still, I knew I at least had to try, besides, I never had cared what people thought of me.

The terror built right up until I walked into the door to the meeting. After meeting the people I was going to be speaking to my fear vanished. I knew instantly that these were good, kind people who would never judge me or think ill of me for telling my story. I knew I had made the right decision.

After a brief icebreaker, we all began telling our stories. It was truly humbling hearing  everyone’s struggles, and as soon as I heard them I knew I was not alone. No one had quite the issues I had, but some symptoms were definitely familiar to me.  Most importantly, I felt safe and supported.

Finally, the turn came for me to speak. I told them everything. About staying in my room for three days straight, about the voices, about wanting to kill myself, about almost getting hospitalized. I told them about the feelings of depersonalization I experienced, and my intense inability to focus that crippled my mind, and how I was originally misdiagnosed, causing me to suffer for even longer. I also told them about the good things, about my great therapist and psychiatrist, about how the voices and other symptoms are gone now, and how I came out of the entire ordeal stronger than ever.

It was a relief to get my story out there, and more of a relief to know I was not alone. I think it’s important for everyone, whether it be struggles with mental illness or just with everyday life, know that they are not alone. We all struggle, and with 7 billion people on this earth, you know someone else is struggling with the exact same thing. If you are struggling, please reach out for help, and know you are not alone. If you have overcome your struggles, please reach out to others who may be struggling with the exact same thing. Let them know they are not alone, let them know you are there for them.

 

Following the Flow

Go with the flow – a phrase we hear often throughout life. More often than not we simply disregard the phrase, regarding it as some “hippie” type saying, but what does it actually mean? How does one “go with the flow?

As we know, in life we are constantly faced with different situations, facing different external stimuli that influence us in various ways. It’s hard to actually figure out what the best course of action is for every situation. If we don’t know what the outcome will be in a given situation, we may simply end up retracting and avoiding the situation. These are the types of situations which now remind me of the phrase “go with the flow”.

When I was younger, I would often become anxious at the thought of a situation with an unpredictable outcome – going to a party, hanging out with new people, going to a location that I hadn’t been before, pretty much anything. I tried to have a calculated decision for every possible situation. I was still figuring out who I was and what I stood for at this time, so I figured if I could predict the outcome of a situation, I would at least have some insight as to how various external stimuli would influence me. If I couldn’t predict an outcome however, I would retract and end up missing potentially exciting opportunities. I lived a lot of my younger life like that until I actually started analyzing and understanding myself.

The key for me came down to knowing what I want in life. I analyzed and analyzed until I found my answers, which were helping people and being happy. Everything started to fall in place after that. I feel as though I started to go with the flow. I suddenly didn’t retract to my usual recluse state. I knew what I wanted in life, all of those situations where I’d have to calculate the outcomes suddenly became a thing of the past. It didn’t matter what situation was thrown in front of me, so long as I knew what I wanted in life, I was able to go with the flow, as they say.

I’ve since taken this philosophy about “going with the flow” a step further, specifically after studying Daoism. I’ve started to adopt this analogy: Our lives are much like rivers, and we are traversing the waters. Our rivers may shoot off into other rivers, streams, etc., but given time, we will end up back into our own river, or, perhaps your river will eventually merge with another river. We don’t know what will happen in our lives and when we worry about the future, we lose the ability the live in the present. I encourage you all to understand yourself. Understand what you stand for, what you want in life, and go with the flow. Don’t sail upstream and make life more difficult than it has to be. Let the river’s flow take you to explore new and exciting opportunities.

Get Mad

Last weekend, I got to go to one of my favorite places, Universal Studios, with one of my favorite people, my dear friend Thomas. We had a great time, we rode all of our favorite rides, ate turkey legs, and drank butterbeer. Well, it was great except for one part.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s Halloween season down here in Orlando, and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is in full swing. Halloween Horror Nights is essentially a nightly event where the entire park is shut down, and zombies, serial killers, and other frightening characters take the street. Not for the faint of hearted.

We were at the park before Horror Nights started, as I’m not much for scary stuff, and we’d just gotten off our favorite rollercoaster, The Mummy (I can recite all the lines to the ride, but I digress). After we got off we started walking towards Diagon Alley when I saw a bus “crashed” on the side of the street.

Of course, it was a decoration for Halloween Horror Nights, but being the intrinsically curious person that I am I went ahead and read the side of the bus. It read “Shadyrooms Sanitorium”.  And that’s the moment that my day took a turn for the south.

I knew I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but it did, and the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t believe that Universal, a company that I had come to adore over the years, would allow a prop (and I assume accompanying strait-jacket costumes) that is so offensive and stigmatizing to so many people.

Last month I wrote this article about how offensive and stigmatizing mental patient costumes really are. Let me be abundantly clear, that article wasn’t just about stopping those costumes because they were offensive, and this article isn’t just about a bus being offensive, it’s more than that. This is about saving lives, and this is about improving the lives of those living with mental illness.

Strait-jacket costumes and buses to mental hospitals being used as Halloween props perpetuates the idea that those with mental illness are violent, “crazy” individuals. That is stigma. The worse stigma gets, the less people who need help want to get it. Think, if you knew you would be viewed as violent and untrustworthy for having a mental illness, would you seek help?

And then there’s the people who have already been diagnosed, but must live in shame and fear because of the label cast on them by society. Afraid to reveal their diagnosis or venture outside the realm of “normalcy”, they are relegated to hiding their illness, and any signs of it, or else be viewed as a violent monster.

The less people get help, the more people end up in crisis, the more people die from their illness. All because we want to use mental illness as part of our horror shows. So don’t let it happen, don’t let stigma be perpetuated in a world where it is already bad enough to begin with. We should be up in arms over stuff like this, things that are so wrong and offensive and stigmatizing. We shouldn’t let the people running the show get away from this. We should get mad.

UPDATE: Mental Health America has started a petition to stop the sale of the children’s “Gone Mental” costume. I encourage you all to sign it here.