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Hallucinations Across Cultures

Photo by KieferPix

Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford professor of anthropology, studied some cultural factors that seemed to influence the way people diagnosed with psychotic disorders experienced auditory hallucinations. She concluded that the way people relate to these voices may alter what the voices say.

In America, the voices were generally harsher, persecutory, and considered intrusive. In Africa and India, the voices were usually more benign, sometimes even perceived as playful, familial or spiritual.

Researchers believe this difference has to do with an individualistic versus a collectivist culture: “The Chennai (India) and Accra (Ghana) participants were more comfortable interpreting their voices as relationships and not as signs of a violated mind.”

These studies only address one subset of a very complex illness as it shows up in a few parts of the world, but the findings suggest that by helping people discover different ways of relating to their symptoms of psychosis, the pain and disruption produced by these symptoms can reduce. 

A man named Dick Russell wrote a beautiful article for the Washington Post about his son Frank, who suffers from schizophrenia and was helped by a West African shaman. Dick writes, “In the culture of his Dagara people, schizophrenics are not viewed pathologically, but often as mediums bringing messages to the community from the spirit world.”

In conjunction with taking psychiatric medication and living in a group home, connecting with a shaman and integrating meditative rituals into his life helped Frank to become more grounded, creative, and enthusiastic about life.

I’m glad for stories of hope like this one. Lives can be transformed despite such frightening setbacks when people have access to the right support and resources (often people don’t know they need help, or where to get it…here are some laws and statistics). Healing (in whatever form that takes) happens through acceptance and community rather than by treating something within ourselves or others as problems to fix in isolation.

Click here for a list of mental health crisis and addiction helplines in Washington State.

Click here to find a support group.

Photo by STILLFX

Suicide Prevention and The Nine of Wands

Before I get into the heartbreaking topic of suicide—the tenth leading cause of death in the US—I want to talk about Tarot cards. Whatever your beliefs are, Tarot can be a fun way to gain insight and new perspectives.

I was shuffling my deck (the Rider-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, an artist, stage designer and suffragist who was given little credit for her work), and this card dropped out: The Nine of Wands.

nine of wands

This card shows a person who is weary, barely hanging on to fight one more of many battles. It’s a card that says you’re fatigued, you’ve gone through too much, you’re feeling done. But you’re not done. You’re hanging on. There’s some part of you that wants to keep going. Underneath all of the pain, you are still there. And you’re about to push through.

Of course, when someone feels suicidal, they’re in too much pain to want to push through. They might feel isolated, mired in shame, believing they’re a burden. They might be coping with institutional prejudice. They might be clinically depressed or lacking the resources they need.

Often, they’re surviving trauma. “Psychological” trauma is a physical condition—it’s the result of anything which overwhelms our ability to cope and causes lasting dysregulation to the nervous system—which is why we can’t just “get over it,” and why we need a body-mind approach to get through it.

We’re all vulnerable to feeling this way. If you’re ever suicidal, you’re not alone. There are people who want to help. Social support soothes the nervous system, dissolves shame. There are people who have some knowledge and experience about what you’re going through. You are a part of this world.

Here are some helpful insights from people I’ve worked with, who are some of my best teachers and sources of inspiration.

        • Just because you were not shown love, does not make you unlovable (even when you feel that way, it simply isn’t true).
        • You’re not broken because you suffered. You now have that much more capacity for love and compassion.
        • It’s ok to acknowledge that you really don’t want to be here anymore, but no emotions are permanent. They all pass eventually.
        • You are not defined by what happened to you.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line, available to anyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 1-800-273-TALK (8255). All calls are confidential.

For information on trauma and recovery, I recommend these books:

The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine

Why Hiking is Good Therapy

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“For me, hope arises from outdoor activities that empower people to incorporate Nature’s wisdom into their lives….They help us unashamedly love wildness, Earth and each other because balanced life feels good.” -Michael Cohen

I was on a hike with my parents, in Sedona. My dad has cerebral palsy, affecting the way he walks, and this was the first time I’d ever hiked with him.

When we began the hike, a nice guy patted him on the back, saying, “Good for you.” That was annoying and patronizing, I thought. But later, when I asked my dad how he felt about the numerous people who stopped to congratulate him, he said he felt loving-kindness; that back in the day, he would have felt shame, and contempt toward anyone who brought attention to his disability. Now, he felt supported and encouraged. Years of practicing and teaching mindfulness meditation helped him to accept praise and make this little trek through Fay Canyon.

And while I normally would have blazed down the trail to get a workout and arrive at the majestic red rock formations at the end as fast as I could, I was forced to slow down and notice the trees, which my mom helped me to identify—the silvery-green cypress, and the blue juniper berries sprinkled over red earth.

Later that evening, I learned about a person named Michael Cohen who developed an ecopsychology program close to where I live. Ecopsychology promotes the idea that we live in relationship with nature, and that deviation from this natural order causes disruption–a view held by many indigenous cultures and largely overlooked in our own.

Cohen writes, “For me, hope arises from outdoor activities that empower people to incorporate Nature’s wisdom into their lives. These activities act as responsible rituals and therapy. They mandate that our honed sense of reason and language awaken, enjoy, trust, celebrate, integrate and act off our many natural senses. They catalyze lasting bonds to the global community. They help us unashamedly love wildness, Earth and each other because balanced life feels good.”

Being in nature always helps me feel grounded. I hope you can make time to find peace in nature as well, if that resonates. ❤

References:

The Soul Unearthed: Celebrating Wildness and Spiritual Renewal Through Nature, Cass Adams – Sentient Publications – 2002

https://www.apadivisions.org/division-34/publications/newsletters/epc/2011/10/ecopsychology.aspx

From Shame to Self-Compassion

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When I talk about self-compassion, people often want to know where to start. Self-compassion might seem hard to attain, almost a platitude.

And I get it—I used to have a lot of anger and shame and the idea of accepting myself seemed counter-productive. How could I accept such bad feelings? I wanted to pretend they weren’t there and just…be better. But they showed up in vivid dreams and destructive patterns in relationships. I had strong physical sensations (that always had me going to the doctor, until I realized they were caused by anxiety) and pretty unhealthy coping behaviors. I did some good things with my life, but underneath it all I felt like a fraud.

I can look back on all of that now and see how distorted my thinking was, how “unreal” that sense of inadequacy is—but it can sure feel real. That’s why pushing it under and ignoring it doesn’t help.

Because the thing with deep, entrenched shame—and I’m talking about the kind of feeling that makes you believe you can’t be happy, or loved, or even want to exist—is you can’t just talk yourself out of it. Until you’ve transformed it by walking through its fire and learning different ways of responding to that pain, then it will continue to disrupt your life.

All things happen in cycles. I’ve had profound moments of forgiveness and inspiration. Months later, I would experience an upwelling of the same old anger and hurts. Because I had the experience of compassion for myself, I had a softer way of responding to the pain. I became a little less reactive and the shame was quicker to dissipate. I felt more empowered by my choice in how to respond to what I felt, and I could accept the struggle. I tried difference techniques and perspectives, and went with the practices that resonated with me, discovered things I loved in the process.

Many people despair that they continue to feel their shame despite the work they’ve done for themselves. And because they continue to feel this, they compound the shame with more shame over not being over it already, or messages they get from others about what their healing should look like.

Just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you’ll feel 100 percent better. You are using those tools to build your new way of being from the ground up. While there might be some setbacks and getting stuck, there will also be joy and empowerment as you find your way. You’re courageously looking at your “dark” or “unwanted” personality traits, and this isn’t easy to do. The process lies in finding the support you need to figure out the original source and function of these feelings, and learning to change your relationship with yourself and the world around you.

When I was in art school for painting, a teacher told me that my process was too inefficient because I made a big old mess in the beginning, then created something beautiful in the end. But that just was my process!

I don’t mind any of the chaos behind me, because that’s what it took to get me where I am now. That’s a feeling I want for everyone, on their own timeline, not anyone else’s. It’s powerful when you learn to give yourself grace, to treat yourself well in some of your darkest moments. We don’t have to rush or beat ourselves up to get it done. ❤