Self-Care for Community Care

Shelly Tygielski – activist, author and mindfulness teacher – was recently interviewed by Fleet Maull as co-host of the Self-Care Summit.  Shelly’s lifetime focus is on self-care with an emphasis on transforming self-care into care for the community.  She is a living example of her beliefs and has worked with trauma sufferers including refugees from Ukraine and provided trauma-informed counselling and healing to victims of the Buffalo supermarket shootings

Shelly is accredited as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) facilitator.  The creator of this intervention process, Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes her as “the real deal” – she genuinely and uniquely practices what she preaches.  Her commitment to community action is also reflected in her creation of the Pandemic of Love – a global, mutual aid community that connects people in need with people who can provide help and resources.  It has grown from one person, Shelly, posting a simple matching process online to more than 3,000 volunteers.  Shelly was inspired by the fear and traumatising needs arising from the pandemic, such as the fear of one’s young family running out of food.

Shelly provides a range of resources to assist people with self-care, including a weekly guided meditation that is conducted with thousands of people.  Her podcasts and webinars also provide insight into her philosophy and approach and the inspiration to engage in self-care for community care.  Shelly’s experiences, insights and practices are also capture in her online course, The Power of Showing Up: Learn how to best support yourself and others.  

Shelly acknowledges that she herself suffers from intergenerational trauma which involved, in part, the way women were treated in her own family line.  She readily shares that she herself has had to deal with a lot of issues but has found that this makes her more empathetic to others and helps to build rapport and authenticity with the people she is attempting to help in whatever context she is working in.

Principles and practices

Underpinning Shelly’s approach and dedicated community service is a set of principles and practices that she shares generously with others in her writings, workshops and speaking engagements.  In the limited space provided in this post, I can only hope to scratch the surface of what she provides elsewhere as a source of inspiration for others:

  • Self-care is self-preservation: self-care is not self-indulgent.  We all need to care for ourselves so that we can manage the ups and downs of the waves of life, including the “dumpers” that leave us floundering.  Without self-care, we can “go under” – drowned in the misfortunes, setbacks and failures we experience in everyday life.  Carers and people in the helping professions tend to ignore self-care at the expense of their own physical and mental health – they identify with their role of care giver, not care taker.  They see self-care as self-indulgence and in their view can ill afford the time to attend to their own needs. 
  • Self-care is community dependent: we cannot survive without the support of others. One of the main causes of depression and addiction is disconnection from others – being isolated from the “helping hand”, the thoughtful word and the kind action.  GROW, a peer-led mental health program, reminds us that “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”.  We need the support of others – we may be “down” and de-motivated when they are “up” and providing energy and inspiration by their example, enthusiasm, commitment or encouragement.  Shelly recommends having a personal self-care plan that we share with a “community of care” that can keep us accountable for our planned actions.  She suggests that this is the way to achieve “sustainable self-care”.
  • Self-care is for community care: we are all interconnected and interdependent.   The pandemic has highlighted our dependence on doctors and nurses, transport workers, farmers and farm workers, shop assistants and anyone who provides products and services.  It deepened our sense of the pain and grief of others who experienced illness and/or loss of friends and family.  Shelly’s Pandemic of Love provides a constructive way to help those in pandemic-driven need. She leads by example and asserts that self-care in isolation does not recognise our connection to others in all walks of life.  Shelly argues that self-care for the community is what is ultimately important.  She maintains that if we are depleted, cynical or depressed we cannot show up for others in need.  Self-care re-energises and re-builds us to provide the help and support that members of our community need.  This lesson was particularly brought home to Shelly after leaving behind the devastation of the lives of refugees from Ukraine whom she had been helping – besides experiencing emotional and physical exhaustion, she felt shame and guilt on returning home to peace, access to the healing power of nature and support of family and friends.  She found that her self-care, micro-practices helped her to restore her perspective and energy.

Reflection

Kelly’s message is not only to engage in self-care but to transform this into community care through caring for others within our capacity and in accord with our knowledge and skills – the theme of her course, The Power of Showing Up.  She acknowledges that many of us are “time-poor” and often feel guilty for taking time for ourselves, particularly if we are in a carer role.  With this in mind, she highly recommends micro-practices which she utilizes extensively herself.  Shelly shares her insights and practices in her podcasts and her recent book, Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World.

Shelly contends that we have a moral obligation to show up for others in need.  We can create “ripples of influence” by joining with others to create social movements.  The recent example of the success of TEAL candidates during the Australian Federal election shows how community activism around a shared set of values can cross the divide of location, socio-economic status and prior conditioning.  TEAL is a loose connection of independent political candidates (not bound to any political party) who share a commitment to the common values of climate change, political accountability and gender equity.  This solidarity led to unseating previously-elected members of the ruling political party who failed to demonstrate true commitment to these values, and, in some instances, had actively worked against them.

My takeaway from listening to Shelly and observing her vast array of actions and activism is my need to join or develop a community of care.  To this end, I have purchased her course, The Power of Showing Up, so that I can engage more actively in community care. I also need to maintain my self-care activities in the form of Tai Chi, mindfulness activities, micro-practices and the reflective writing of this blog.  As we grow in mindfulness through these kinds of activities, we can gain the necessary self-awareness, emotional regulation, self-care and courage to show up in the world and use our gifts to support others in their daily lives.  

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Image by Angela Huang from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

A Compassionate Approach to Addiction

Gabor Maté argues for a compassionate approach to addiction in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.   He points out that Portugal has successfully decriminalised the personal use of drugs that were previously illicit with the result that they have seen “a reduction in drug habits, less criminality, and more people in treatment”.

However, he maintains that a key success factor in this decriminalised approach is the development of effective rehabilitation processes and comprehensive resources to support them.   Such rehabilitation approaches need to be viewed as ongoing and long-term as well as “patiently pursued and compassionately conducted”.  Gabor claims too that Portugal’s success in decriminalisation of personal drug use is influencing the development  of a more compassionate approach in Norway and Canada.

Gabor contends that addictions. no matter what their form or manifestation, in very many cases have their origins in the pain resulting from adverse childhood experiences.   For example, in his book he explains that the self-harm (lacerations) employed by “Arlene” creates pain that obliterates, however briefly, “the pain of a larger hurt deep in the psyche” – a deep pain resulting from sexual exploitation when she was young.

Parents reaction to addiction suffered by their adult child or children often involves hurt or anger, instead of understanding and compassion.  This censorious stance is underpinned by self-blame and a lack of self-awareness.

Gabor maintains that parents should not be blamed for their children’s addictive behaviour – they have most likely experienced intergenerational trauma and “unwittingly bequeathed” to their children their “own unresolved or unconscious trauma”.  They have tried to cope with their own pain by what Johann Hari describes as “disconnection from childhood trauma” in his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression.  

Adopting a holistic approach

Gabor also argues that a holistic approach to addiction in all its forms requires teaching people ways of self-care including meditation and other mindfulness practices as well as what he describes as “body-work” which covers practices such as yoga and Tai Chi and other forms of martial arts.  Included in self-care approaches would be training in nutrition and overall stress management approaches such as reconnection to nature.

While Gabor acknowledges the benefits of 12-step approaches like that adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and GROW, he asserts that these approaches are not for everyone and other methods may be more appropriate for some people.  He argues for an approach that he calls “compassionate inquiry” which is based on trauma-informed understanding and a depth of inquiry that pursues causal factors rather than just seeks alleviation of symptoms. 

The aim of compassionate inquiry is to help the person suffering addiction to identify the trauma/traumas that they have experienced early in life, to isolate the resultant negative self-messaging and to ultimately confront and name the underlying pain they are seeking to alleviate through their ineffectual addictive behaviour.

Reflection

Underpinning Gabor’s compassionate approach is his unshakeable belief, informed by research and decades of field work, that addiction “arises from thwarted love” and that it is “one of the commonest and most human manifestations of torment”.  He maintains that the addicted person is constantly seeking external solutions for their internal “insatiable yearning for relief and fulfillment” – a state he describes as the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and body-work practices such as Tai Chi we can enhance our self-awareness, reduce self-blame and increase our understanding and compassion towards ourselves and others who are addicted.

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Image by Gisela Merkuur from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Supporting Recovery – Peer to Peer Support for Mental Illness

Increasingly, there is recognition that peer to peer support for people experiencing mental health issues is an important catalyst for recovery.  The support can be provided as a stand-alone service or as an adjunct to traditional mental health support services provided by doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Fundamentally, the approach involves people with lived experience of recovery from mental ill-health (or as a carer of someone in recovery) providing structured, support services for others who are experiencing varying levels of mental illness.

Professor Phyllis Solomon suggests that the dynamics underpinning the effectiveness of peer to peer support for mental health include the perceived value of experiential learning of the peer worker, the recognition by the program participant that they have something in common with the peer worker, inspiration and hope afforded by the recovery status of the peer worker, and the sense of mutual sharing and accrued benefits. 

Phyllis cautions, however, that there are several key factors that are critical to the success of a peer to peer support system for mental health.  These encompass ensuring inclusiveness, accessibility, and cultural representativeness; embedding an experiential learning approach; highlighting mutuality (benefit for both participant and peer worker); maintaining the voluntary nature of the service while enabling control by participants who are experiencing mental health disorders; and focusing on social support while providing professional support for the peer worker to ensure their stability and ongoing recovery.

The Queensland Department of Health in discussing their Mental Health Framework and attendant mechanisms for supporting peer workers, propose a set of underpinning values that align with Phyllis’ research and writing.  These include mutuality and personal responsibility, valuing the expertise of lived experience, facilitating self-determination and connection, and behaving authentically and transparently. 

The Framework highlights the support mechanisms required to ensure that peers workers can operate effectively and in a way that does not damage their own mental health.  These support mechanism for peer workers include quality supervision (incorporating professional supervision), education and training in core competencies and “navigating boundaries”, role clarity and clear reporting arrangements, and a career structure conducive to continued growth and personal advancement.

The GROW organisation

The GROW organisation is community-based and offers peer to peer support to enable participants (Growers) to overcome mental ill-health and achieve personal development.  GROW was started in Sydney, Australia, in 1957 by Con Keogh who drew on the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) approach and program to develop the core 12-step Grow Program. 

The Grow journey is illustrated diagrammatically by Grow Ireland along with video interviews with people in recovery who each talk passionately and appreciatively about the relevance of one of the 12 steps to their personal recovery.   

The core Program provides the structure and method for Grow Group meetings which are at the heart of the Program.  GROW itself is non-denominational and inclusive and embeds the values for peer workers discussed above (Queensland Health Framework).  The organisation has provided peer support for people with mental health issues for more than 60 years – sustainability that can be attributed to the focus on recovery and pursuit of the key success factors identified by Professor Solomon and, in particular, emphasis on volunteering for the group leadership roles of Organiser and Recorder which place control in the hands of the Growers.  GROW has a track record of personal recovery by thousands of people who have participated in the Grow Program locally and  internationally.

A key catalyst for the Program’s sustainability is the testimonies of recovery of participants, including the podcast interview with Dave McLoughlin who, at the time of the interview, was a Senior Manager in GROW Australia.  Dave stated in the interview that when he was ill he identified with the shared testimonials and was encouraged to join a Grow group early on in his illness because he thought that the Grow community “understood where I’d been and what I needed to do to get well”.  His story is inspiring others, just as he was inspired by the recovery story of people who participated in the Grow Program before him.

GROW offers a range of programs in addition to the core one, including the free Growing Resilience online program and Get Growing for school-aged participants.  Grow also provides online groups for the core Program, known as eGrow, for people who cannot attend the normal face-to-face meetings.

The emphasis on people with lived experience of mental ill-health sharing their experience and their steps to recovery is epitomised by Con Keogh, co-founder of GROW,  when he talked humorously and insightfully about his experience with mental ill-health and the institutionalised medical response he experienced in the 1950’s (which included electric shock treatment that blocked memory and learning).  He decided to attend an AA meeting through the encouragement of a friend and found that the people attending the meeting were incredibly helpful, frank, humble and able to achieve recovery despite their “messed-up lives”.  He discovered that the AA process was incredibly powerful for helping him move towards recovery from his mental illness, even though he was not an alcoholic.

Con’s experience with AA inspired him to form a specialised group meeting along similar lines but devoted to recovery for people who were experiencing mental ill-health in all its complexity and variability – he actually initially called them Recovery Meetings to keep the focus on what they were about.  He also introduced a system of reflection and recording on a monthly basis to capture the learning from the group meetings.  Con’s contribution to GROW which itself grew to 800 groups in 5 countries by 2005 was acknowledged in 2004 through the award of the Medal of the Order of Australia for his community contribution

Reflection

We are all growers in terms of our journey to wellness – seeking to overcome the mental stress of the pandemic, adverse childhood experiences, trauma, divorce, grief, work loss and disappointment, family conflict, abuse and bullying, loneliness, aging, physical ill-health, drug and alcohol addiction, isolation, financial difficulties or homelessness .  Our individual journeys with their distinctive combination of challenges are unique and this uniqueness is captured by Evonne Madden who shares the grief journey and recovery of more than 60 people in her book, Life After.

Con’s experience and that of thousands of Growers working through the Grow Program, confirms the recovery effectiveness of “mutual help for the mentally ill”.  The recorded testimonials reinforce the view that mutual help and reflection is one pathway for people suffering ill-health to grow in mindfulness through increased self-awareness and insight, enhanced consciousness of the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others, creative strategies to overcome negative thoughts, and increased capacity for self-regulation.  Grow groups, or their equivalent, can act as a mirror to stimulate awareness, cultivate hope and transform self-image.

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Image by Lars_Nissen from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

The Courage of Simone Biles

Simone Biles, considered one of the greatest female gymnasts of all time, had a rocky road at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (23 July to 8 August 2021) that had been delayed because of the pandemic.  Simone, who has won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals, experienced mental health issues at the Olympics and opted to withdraw from the US team event after completing only one of the four components in the artistic gymnastics competition.  She also withdrew from individual events including the all-round gymnastic competition. 

However, Simone returned for one event, the balanced beam, to win a bronze medal in a tight finish.  Her courage and resilience in the face of her mental health issues is a source of inspiration for many others, including elite athletes who suffer from the burden of expectations.  Her courage is immortalised in the Binge© movie about her life – the 2018 movie, The Simone Biles Story – Courage to Soar, which among other things depicts her adverse childhood experiences which included foster care.

Mental health issue – the Twisties

During the final of her first event, the vault, as part of the US Gymnastic team, Simone experienced the “twisties” which can be very dangerous because it involves disorientation through loss of spatial awareness while twisting and turning in the air and attempting to land.  It can cause serious injury such as that experienced by British gymnast, Claudia Fragapane, during the 2016 Olympics.  Claudia explained that Simone would have experienced the “twisties” as a mental block resulting from too much pressure – unrealistic expectations that fail to acknowledge that world-class gymnasts, while being able to perform “superhuman” feats, are in fact human and vulnerable. 

As Simone herself commented, “At the end of the day, we’re not just entertainment, we’re human” and gymnasts not only have to manage the intricacies and demands of the sport but also “things behind the scenes”. In her case, one of the sad and disturbing things that happened during the Olympics was the unexpected death of her aunt, which occurred two days before her return to compete on the balance beam.

The courage to return

Simone returned to the Olympic competition to compete in the individual balance beam final where she won a bronze medal.  She displayed incredible courage to return and risk injury but had clearly developed a balanced perspective through her mental health crisis.  She said of her Olympic Bronze Medal, that it “means more than all the golds” because of the courage and resilience she had to draw on over the previous five years and the week of the Olympics. She also indicated that she valued her “physical and mental health” above all the medals.

During her break from the pressure of the 2020 Olympic competition, Simone spent time utilising the training facilities of Juntendo University which is located just outside Tokyo.  There she was able to regain her balance and confidence to enable her to return for the individual balanced beam event. She publicly expressed her deep gratitude for their support and technical assistance.  To acknowledge their support publicly when she herself was in the limelight demonstrated her humility, appreciation and healthy confidence.   

Simone is globally acknowledged for achieving “gravity-defying” feats that no one else has been able to achieve.  After this Olympics, her personal achievement in dealing with her mental health issue will rank up there with her physical achievements and inspire many others to seek help and grow through their challenges.

Reflection

When we are confronted with unrealistic expectations we can become both disturbed and distracted and lose perspective.  Sometimes, it requires “time out” (as in basketball and beach volleyball) to assess what is going on and to regain our perspective.  Simone showed us that she had the courage to declare her difficult mental state and to take time out to find her balance (physically and emotionally) and restore her perspective.

It took even more courage to return to the Olympic competition despite the sometimes vitriolic media commentary that saw her as “deserting her teammates”.  She had to face not only her inner demons but also the external, unthinking critics who lacked understanding and compassion.  Simone also demonstrated courage in bringing “the topic of conversation on mental health to light” which she stated “meant the world” to her.

Simone was willing to disclose what action she had taken to be able to return to the competition and she did so to express her gratitude to people who helped her in the intervening period.  As I discussed previously, gratitude is one thing that Naomi Osaka uses to help her become grounded in challenging situations.  Ash Barty, too, has gratitude as a foundational value.

We can develop our own resilience and courage by using meditation, reflection and other practices to grow in mindfulness.  This will help us to explore our inner landscape and our habituated responses and enable us to develop healthy confidence and a balanced perspective.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Mindfulness and Positive Mental Health in the Digital Age

In the previous post I focused on the challenge of the digital age with respect to developing mindfulness.  This earlier post was stimulated by a presentation of Jon Kabat-Zinn during the Mindfulness & Compassion Week (June 6- 13, 2021).  In his workshop, Jon also mentioned the benefits of the digital age for developing mindfulness and positive mental health, particularly during the time of the pandemic when people were becoming isolated through lockdowns and border closures.

There are many facets of the digital age that facilitate the development of mindfulness and positive mental health – the growth of global online, mindfulness conferences and seminars, access to online meditations, digital music and nature imagery, e-groups, and podcasts.   Many of these aspects have been enhanced by the emergence of streaming platforms and flexible technologies such as Google Chromecast and Bose portable speakers. 

Global online mindfulness conferences

The emergence of sophisticated web conferencing has enabled the growth in global, online mindfulness conferences, and the Nature Summit is just one example of this.  In this web conference, conducted from May 11-17 2021, more than 30 world experts discussed ways to connect with nature, access its wonder and wisdom and develop improved mental health and mindfulness.  The Science & Wisdom of Emotions Summit highlighted ways to cultivate mindfulness to gain an understanding of our emotions, deal with emotions in daily living and develop self-regulation to effectively channel our emotional energy. 

Online Meditations

During the pandemic, we saw increased access to online meditations, often conducted on a global basis.  The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), for example, converted their weekly, face-to-face guided meditations to the Zoom platform to enable global online participation.  Often, lifetime access to digital meditations were also provided for paid subscribers of web conference resources which included videos, audios, and transcripts.  Many organisations now provide online meditations and some, such as Headspace, provide guided meditations via an app. 

Emergence of e-groups

Some organisations providing mental health services via face-to-face meetings had to develop e-groups – moving their group support services online via platforms such as Zoom.  One such organisation is GROW which provides supported, peer-led groups for people experiencing mental illness (Growers).  This organisation was able to transition their face-to-face meetings to eGROW Groups enabling online access nationally as well as on a State/regional basis.

Access to digital music and nature imagery

Developing mindfulness and healing through music and nature imagery has been facilitated by the emergence of online media such as that provided by Louie Schwartzberg’s Moving Art website.  His films and photography are enhanced by his Wonder and Awe podcast series.   Digital music platforms such as Spotify have provided ready access to a world of different genres of music and podcasts, some incorporating guided meditations and mantra meditations.  YouTube enhances access to mantra meditations by enabling visual imagery to support the meditative singing as in Lulu & Mischka’s Stillness in Motion video.

Another aspect of connection through music in the digital age is the growth of virtual choirs and the associated logistical, singing, and instrumental collaboration on a global and local scale.  On a global level, for example, 300 people from 15 countries participated in the singing/ orchestration of the highly pertinent song You’ll Never Walk Alone.  In another example,  people from 50 countries combined to sing Amazing Grace in their own language.  On a local level, the Morningsong community choir was able to provide warm-ups, practice pieces and group online singing during pandemic lockdowns.  YouTube provides access to multiple virtual choirs.

Reflection

Digital media has provided the means to connect with each other and with nature at a time when people are physically isolated.  The spin-off from the periods of lockdowns and border closures is that many people have come to appreciate more what they have in life, to savour their access to nature and increase their motivation to improve their physical and mental health. 

There are now increased mechanisms and avenues available to develop our mindfulness practice through the growth in digital media and flexibility of access.  It is important to savour and utilise these facilities to enrich our mindfulness practice and enhance positive mental health.

As we grow in mindfulness with the aid of digital media, we can increase our self-awareness and connection with others, develop gratitude and creativity and build the resilience and compassion we need to manage effectively in difficult times.

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Image by Inga Klas from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.