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.

Sacrifice and Societal Struggles

gary varvel college
Source: Gary Varvel @ http://www.indystar.com/opinion/varvel/

Having talked about stress in my previous article, I would like to continue on with the topic, this time with a focus on the stress involved in achieving one’s dreams. Whether you want to be an actor, engineer, scientist or teacher in today’s society, achieving success in any profession can be very daunting and rather difficult – seeming almost impossible at times. Often to achieve what we want to do in life, we have to get an education at a post-secondary institute, such as a university or college. That itself can be rather stressful. Questions arise such as, “is this truly what I want to do?” or, “what if I end up not enjoying it?” or even, “can I afford to risk this type of investment?” All of these questions can be very stressful when it comes to chasing one’s dreams.

In the current state of society, it’s almost always required to have a degree in a related field to even apply for a career of one’s choice, but, even with a degree in the field one wants to work in, a degree isn’t always a guarantee that one can get the career they want. For a year of study in an art related program in Canada, the costs range from $2,500 on the low-end of the spectrum, up to $12,000 on the high-end, with $6,000 being roughly the median. Unless one is well off, or has financial backing from other means, such as scholarships, bursaries, family, etc., this means that for a total of 4 years of study, on average, in Canada, we’re looking at a cost of around $24,000, not including room and board. In the United States, costs are even higher, with the average being $15,000 per year of study at a public institution, going up to $15,000-$30,000 at private institutions. Students often have to take upon a part-time or full-time position outside of their chosen field in order to afford the cost of living during this time, all while needing to study for exams and finish the homework associated with each course of study. For individuals who are predisposed to experiencing mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, it seems like quite the impossible challenge at times to get a chance to achieve what one wants to do in life. It’s a type of risky investment that is very taxing to mental health – one that yields a “conform to the system or fail” type mentality.

Speaking as an anxious individual, it makes even attempting to further educate oneself through post-secondary seem like a fruitless endeavor – you get in a thought pattern where the ends don’t justify the means, especially with most recent societal developments; an undergraduate degree often isn’t enough to get to where you want to be in life anymore. More and more businesses are requiring that aspiring employees have a master degree or higher in a related field, which means more of a financial burden, more potential time wasted and more self-doubt among individuals who are mentally ill. Even if one does succeed, there is a chance that one may not obtain their dream career without sacrificing more of their own time and money. The whole scope of the situation is very taxing to mental well-being. It may exacerbate underlying conditions, causing an individual to experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms related to stress, or even bring forth mental illness that one wasn’t aware of, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or addictions (such as drug dependence).

After speaking with an actor from the province of Manitoba about this subject, she has agreed to share with us her pursuit in achieving her dream of becoming a successful, full-time working actor, one that she has held onto dearly since she was a child. Her story that will follow sheds light on how difficult it can be to achieve what you want to in life, as well as how mentally taxing the pursuit of your dreams can be.


Not many people can say they’ve known since the age of four what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was then that I, somehow, knew I wanted to be an actor, and I have spent my entire life vigorously pursuing it as a career. I am proud to say that, from 2010 up until now, I’ve been working professionally as an actor, booking pretty consistent work in television, theatre and musical theatre.

However, like most actors in our society, there are periods between gigs where I am doing nothing but auditioning, occasionally picking up a shift at my survival job, hoping I book at least something. It’s during these periods where the money I’ve made from previous gigs trickles from my bank account—nay, pours—and I am left hoping and praying to the Universe that something comes of the projects I’ve recently auditioned for.

An actor may not book a role for reasons completely out of their control; they look too young, they look too old, they’re too sexy, they’re not sexy enough, their nose is too big, their voice is too high, they look too much like the director’s ex-wife…it rarely has anything to do with the actor’s talent. To add to the stress, an actor never really knows when their next audition(s) will be, so they must keep their schedule flexible enough to not only accommodate last-minute auditions, but to make sure they have enough time to prepare for them as well.

I spend approximately $8,000 a year on my career and work somewhere between 20 and 70+ hours a week. I am always working, even when I’m “not working”. Acting is more than a full-time job. If I am performing in and producing a project, I work 70-100+ hours a week. I recently performed in/produced a show that toured in 3 different cities. It took me a solid 5 months to organize, prepare, and rehearse; in the end, it didn’t sell very well, and my production company partner/castmate and I lost thousands of dollars on a show not many people came to see.

I’ve, so far, barely scratched the surface of the trails and tribulations of being a professional actor. I could continue for days, talking about headshots, demo reels, finding an agent, getting into ACTRA or CAEA (Canadian actor’s unions), or SAG (actor’s union in the US), and so forth, but hopefully this gives you an idea on the amount of stress that accompanies pursuing a career in the performing arts. The craft itself is incredibly demanding mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, but the industry, on the other hand, is a whole other rival.

And it’s a tough battle.

A really, really tough battle.

So tough, in fact, that I developed depersonalization disorder.

Now, performing arts and panic attacks yield a perfect recipe for a juicy dramatic tale on stage or screen, but in real life, it’s the perfect recipe for disaster.

Making money, having direction and being successful is a constant stress for an actor. The pressure relentlessly weighs heavily over their heads. So heavily, that three years ago, on a closing night of a nine-month long tour, I experienced my very first panic attack, which soon turned into a solid case of depersonalization disorder.

One of the most terrifying things I have endured since was having panic attacks, with heavy depersonalization, on stage during performances. Luckily, I’ve been able to pull through each time it has happened; I was able to continue on with the show, and no one on or off stage knew what I was experiencing. But silently, in the confines of my mind, I was deteriorating. Not only was it beyond exhausting to fight through that each time the lights came up, I dreaded having to go on stage in the first place. The fact that the stage became a place of fear, as opposed to a place of comfort and pleasure, destroyed me. I am now in the process of putting the pieces back together, taking every step possible to slay the wily beast once and for all.

In the aforementioned time between gigs is when my panic, depersonalization, anxiety and depression often becomes exacerbated. The stress of my unknown financial future inhibits my craft if I am not careful; desperation can subconsciously ooze out during auditions, unintentionally self-sabotaging my chances of booking a role. Many actors, unknowingly, do this, as well as unintentionally psych themselves out, resulting in sub par auditions and lost opportunities.

Recently, my mental health has been compromised a lot more than usual, as my supportive parents have been more concerned about my financial future than ever before. They’re often bringing up the fact that I’m 26 (“almost 30”, as my parents put it), and I do not have a solid plan B that would “guarantee” me income.

First, I’ve never had a plan B. There has only been plan A, because I am going to do whatever it takes to bring plan A to fruition. Second, no plan in our society “guarantees” income. Just ask the Starbucks barista with the master’s degree. Third, everything else I have even remotely considered as a “plan B” (a secondary career I would go to school for/pursue while still attempting to pursue acting) is artistic.

And society isn’t built for artists.

Artists, especially actors, generally push against the “conform to the system or fail” precept, straying off the pre-paved path and creating their own way. That’s because, regardless of if an actor or artist has a degree, diploma or certificate in their respective creative field, finding employment after graduation is even more difficult than it already is in our society. Jobs are scarce, and wildly competitive. It’s who you know. And for actors, it’s also who you are and what you offer. This means that a vast majority of actors/artists have to create their own employment opportunities—i.e. spend their own hard-earned money trying to further their career. Never mind paying off their student loans.

After finishing high school, I was pressured into going to University, because “once you take a year off, you’ll never go back”. I hated it. I didn’t agree with the system; to get your degree, it was mandatory to take a bunch of courses outside of your chosen field. It was also mandatory to purchase books and textbooks that we would barely—or never—use. I felt like just a number. Not only that, but I studied acting once a week for 3 hours. That was it. It wasn’t enough. I wanted something full-time, focused completely on that I was there to learn. So, I dropped out of University and attended a post-secondary acting conservatory. The tuition was $15,000 plus books for the one-year program. The only reason I was able to pay it off in one go was because I was in a near-death car accident two years before hand and received a hefty cheque from the provincial insurance company. Otherwise, I’d probably still be paying it off. Since graduating, I’ve taken classes and workshops whenever I can, all completely ranging in price. Bottom line: being an actor, or an artist for that matter, is far from cheap.

At my survival job, I work with one of the most talented, hard-working, humble musicians I have ever known. He books his own daily gigs, travels the world to play his music and puts thousands and thousands of dollars into his career. He sacrifices everything for the sheer love of his art. Another group of friends from my survival job are in a band, and it’s the same thing with them, too. My survival job is filled with artists; a painter who specializes in murals, and she’ll only get a job only a few times a year. There’s also a photographer, who spends the money he makes taking photos on equipment and studio space, a painter, who had to turn to a career in massage therapy because he wasn’t able to support himself solely off of his art (his work is so incredible that I purchased a piece, which now hangs proudly on my bedroom wall), and an incredible actress who just spent $12,000 out of her own pocket producing a show that barely sold. These are just the artists at my workplace. I haven’t even begun to mention every other artist I know.

We’re all struggling just as much as the other.

This dose of reality does nothing for my mental health but exacerbate my symptoms. Anyone suffering from mental health issues will probably say the same thing. As an artist, I push through the “conform to the system or fail” mentality each and every day, and it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s tough. But it’s also incredibly invigorating, because it gives me even more drive to overcome the impossible.

If society were better built for success, there would be a lot less suffering. I know I am not the only one suffocating under the conditions.

So, what can we do?


She raises an interesting question at the end – what can we do? Is it right that we have to take upon such great sacrifices in order to achieve our dreams? Could we lessen the burden by making education more affordable? These types of issues are becoming more prevalent in society as time passes, especially in the United States, where costs of education are at an all time high. There needs to be change, and that change starts on an individual level. Vote for who you believe will better your country. With elections coming up in 2016 in the United States, and in October of 2015 for Canadians, it is more important than ever to vote if you want to see change in your country. Your vote does matterTake the time to read about the candidates for the elections. See who your views align with. Make change in your country. We need it now more than ever.

Stress: A Situation of Symptoms

First and foremost, I must apologize for my recent disappearance. I’ve been experiencing some unpleasant symptoms related to stress, but, having said and experienced the aforementioned, I would like to take the time today to elaborate about the physical, mental, cognitive and behavioral symptoms of stress in addition to the causes.

With having talked about stress in a previous article, we can understand that certain stress can be labeled as good stress (eustressors) or bad stress (distressors). Both types of stress stem from an external stimulus of sorts. The type of stimulus that is triggering the stress response is key to identifying whether or not a stress is good or bad. If one is being stressed by a job to do well, that type of stress can potentially motivate an individual. Stress of this nature may be considered as eustressors. When a stress is negative in nature, such as the stress of job loss, debt, personal conflict with an individual, we may classify that stress as distress.

Stress, depending on the nature of it, may present itself with a series of physical, mental or cognitive symptoms. Typically stress is temporary, but it is occasionally left to stew in our subconscious. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to suppress it, it lingers, waiting until another stressful event happens to “attack” in full force. The symptoms of stress vary per individual, but are generally put into four categories: physical, mental, cognitive and behavioral.

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or general pain through the body
  • Chest pain ranging from a dull ache to a sharp pain
  • Changes to an individual’s sex drive
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, nausea and constipation
  • Sleeping issues (such as insomnia)
  • Frequent colds or infections

Mental Symptoms

  • Anxiety, depression
  • Radical changes in mood
  • Feeling like you’re losing control of life
  • Low self-esteem
  • Recluse-like behavior

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Excessive worrying
  • Intrusive/racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disorganisation
  • Extreme pessimism
  • Inability to focus

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Appetite changes – either excessive eating or not eating at all
  • Extreme procrastination or avoiding general responsibilities
  • Increased use of drugs
  • Demonstrating more nervous behaviors, such as fidgeting, biting nails, pacing around, etc.

All of these symptoms may seem very intense for something that most people brush off easily in day-to-day life, but there is a lot of medical evidence backing the symptoms of stress. With the advent of the internet and ease of access to resources for all, it’s very easy to become anxious when trying to figure out what is wrong. I know this from personal experience – I’ve tried to scour the myriad of resources available to figure out the cause(s) of my symptoms. I would drive myself to the brink of insanity trying to figure out what fits.

There are many causes of stress, but they are generally put into two categories: personal issues and social issues. Some personal issues that could lead to stress are: one’s health, emotional problems, major life changes (such as the birth of a new child, moving to a different city, or death in the family) and relationship problems (issues with friends, family or lovers).

Social issues that may lead to stress are: Environmental issues (such as crime in one’s city, state of one’s country, a noisy neighborhood), social situation (living in poverty, being unable to make ends meet, loneliness, being discriminated against), unemployment, or one’s job (such as being unhappy with work, or finding that work is too demanding).

In closing, stress can be very taxing to the well-being of individuals. It is important to be able to identify and manage stress before it is allowed to linger in the subconscious for too long and become something unmanageable. There are many ways to combat stress, such as exercising, living within one’s means, adjust one’s standards in relation to the stressor, express emotions instead of keeping them inside, strengthen relationships with friends and family… the list goes on and on. Managing, and if possible, removing stress is key to a healthy body and mind. Prolonged stress does nothing for an individual; it causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms, as previously mentioned. If you find yourself struggling with stress, please take a look here for tips on how to manage stress in relation to your life.

For more information (and publications used for referenced information), see the links below:

http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-causes-of-stress

http://www.webmd.boots.com/stress-management/physical-stress-symptoms

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

Understanding Psychosis

The word “psychotic” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood words in the mental health repertoire. To the public, who are used to hearing it in movies and other media to refer to a violent, remorseless, person, attribute it’s meaning to just that. Someone who is psychotic, by this definition, may be violent, violently “crazy”, or simply lacking empathy and remorse, capable of any wrong and evil doing. But, as so often is the case, Hollywood and the media have gotten it wrong, and in the case of psychosis, they’ve gotten it completely and dangerously wrong. This incorrect usage has led to irreparable stigma for those suffering from actual psychosis, the sufferers of which are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime. In this article I will tell you, dear reader, about the real story of psychosis.

According to NAMI, psychosis occurs in about 3% of the population. Psychosis is a debilitating mental condition that affects the way we perceive reality. In a way, people undergoing a psychotic episode live in an “alternate reality”, different from what healthy people experience. They may believe, perceive, and understand things that are not actually in existence, to the sufferer however, this “alternate reality” is as real as the ground beneath our feet.

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is often called a “break from reality” due to the reasons I described above. There are hallmark symptoms of psychosis that healthcare providers look for when diagnosing a person, such as…

Hallucinations: Seeing, feeling, tasting, and especially hearing things that are not actually there. The most common hallucination is auditory hallucinations, or “voices”. The voices may tell a person to harm themselves and say other negative things.

Delusions: Strong beliefs that do not change despite opposing evidence. For example, a person may believe that someone is stealing their thoughts, that they are being watched or followed, or that they are God.

Causes

Psychosis, like so many things having to do with the mind, is  hard to pin down to a single cause. There are several, intermingling factors that affect someone’s likelihood of developing psychosis.

Drugs: Psychedelic drugs, or even lighter drugs like marijuana, have been shown to trigger or worsen psychotic episodes.

Genetics: Many studies have been carried out that link psychosis and other mental illnesses to genetics. If your parents, family, or siblings have experienced psychosis, you are more likely to experience it.

Illness: Some illnesses and diseases, such as brain cancer, can cause psychosis, or what appears to be psychosis, in a person.

Stress: Stress and trauma can bring on or worsen psychosis.

Warning Signs

There are several early warning signs for psychosis which can be noticed by others, they include the following…

  • Difficulty in school or work
  • Isolation from others
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Lack of clear or coherent thoughts

Psychosis and Mental Illness

Psychosis itself is not a mental illness. It is, however, a component, or possible component, of many mental illnesses. It should then, be seen as a symptom rather than an illness. Many illnesses can include psychosis, including post traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, the last of which has psychosis as a hallmark symptom.

Treatments

Treatment is paramount for those suffering from an acute psychotic episode. There are a variety of treatments for psychosis, some of which I shall list  below.

Hospitalization: For someone undergoing an acute psychotic episode, the hospital may be the best option. The goal of any psychiatric hospital is to stabilize and rehabilitate enough so that a person may undergo further treatment after discharge.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is used in a variety of disorders to identify and change thought patterns. In psychosis, CBT can help a person identify triggers, manage symptoms, and identify strategies for getting through it all.

Medication: Medication for psychosis is referred to as antipsychotics, these drugs work by reducing dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in psychosis) in the brain. While often effective, they can have detrimental side effects. Newer antipsychotics however, called atypical, have less side effects and are more tolerable to take than older drugs.

To Wrap it Up…

Psychosis is a serious mental condition that requires care as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood mental conditions in our society today. This makes reaching out for help difficult for those who suffer, the stigma is real and is felt by sufferers every time they turn on the TV to a headline of “psychotic killer”. As someone who has experienced psychosis first-hand, I can tell you that getting help is possible, and it does help…it saved my life.

If you believe you or someone you know is undergoing a psychotic episode, please reach out for professional help, it will improve your life tenfold, and may just save it. Some crisis numbers can be found here.

Guest Post: Carousel Conversations

“Today I would like to present to you all a poem from a spoken word artist born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan. The following poem sheds light on their experience with mental illness after having received a diagnosis and starting dialectic behavioral therapy – a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. This poem is a great representation of how difficult life can be for those combating mental illness.”

Forney_Marbles_MoodCarousel

Carousel Conversations

By: Cat Abenstein

(The following is inspired after achieving a diagnosis and starting Dialectic Behavioural Therapy.)

How can you hide from your thoughts?

The kind that probe and dig and break and demand and maim…

Thoughts like a leaky faucet,

drip, drip, drip,

steadily.

Some small and quick and mostly painless.

Gone before they’re even registered.

Others are big fat globs of water droplets that splash

down into the sink,

sending water flying up and around in

equally spaced,

equally wet,

runway lines of water.

“Remember your self soothing techniques we worked on.”

My therapist’s voice pops in my head.

She’s soft spoken,

and trained so well.

She nods and validates and leaves space for my words and doesn’t judge my actions,

but empathizes with how they make me feel.

She says things like,

“That must be hard.”

And,

“Do you think these rules you create are fair to you?”

And,

“You described your anger as feeling hot and tight. What else can make you feel hot and tight. Arousal? Exactly. Arousals not bad, is it?”

No, doc.

Arousal isn’t bad.

Turning my all too familiar rage into a watered down versions of itself,

is helpful when I realize my body reacts in just a few ways to so many different emotions.

My body feels the same when it’s angry

as it does when I’m horny,

as it does when I’m stressed,

as it does when I’m excited…

And knowledge is power.

Knowing is half the battle.

But now these answers:

Major depressive disorder

Borderline personality disorder

Leave me with so many questions.

Overwhelming

Grief inducing

Lip quivering

Shoulder heaving

Bargaining types of questions.

Like:

“Please. Not again. Why again?”

And,

“Make it stop. Will anything make this stop?”

And,

A splitting calm of dried tears tie these words to a bitter acceptance:

It won’t stop.

“It’s never going to end. I can literally never see a life without this pain. Even though I have more good days than bad, the bad far outweigh the good. This will keep happening. All the progress I’ve made will crumble under the weight of my expectation. I will constantly flip back and forth between enthusiasm for life and crawling on my living room floor, watering the floor boards with my pathetic tears. Begging like a stray for love scraps.”

Stop those thoughts.

Stop those thoughts.                            Stop those thoughts.

Stop those thoughts.

At what point do your suicidal and self harming thoughts become too much?

After the first thought? The first cut?

Even though you’re (pretty) sure you actually wouldn’t…

I used to hide from my thoughts

With cocaine

Speed

MDMA

…uppers that pulled me out of delusion into drug induced fantasies of superiority

Success

Friendships.

If not that,

Then sex

Shoplifting

Red line driving

Going bankrupt

Severing ties

Feeling alone.

So alone.

Now I embrace these thoughts.

Give faces to the impulses,

Call out the delusions…

But it doesn’t necessarily make it easier

every time I find myself back here.

I forget how hard the trip is.

How confusing this carousel ride is.

I hate how my seat stayed warm.

I hate my old shadow friends and how eager they are  to pick up where we left off, regardless if I can name them now, or not.

Spinning

Take me out

Spinning

Get me off

Spinning

Get me out

Spinning

And take me away.