Category Archives: Lonlieness

Wilson

By Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC

So much of the world appears to be caught up in the belief that any behavior that is not considered usual or normal is the result of a mental illness . . . that there is some sort of chemical imbalance in some people’s brains.  I am often challenged in my group sessions about the behavior of those who have been labeled schizophrenics, when I state that most of what we are calling mental illness is no more than the behavior of unhappy people. Even those who have received this diagnosis have challenged me on this statement.  They seem to want to wear their badge of mental illness to let others know they are helpless and that there is nothing they can do to improve their happiness. I often hear, “Normal people don’t talk to themselves; see things that aren’t there.  So there HAS to be something wrong with their brain.”

Those who have received mental illness diagnoses have been told that they have some abnormality within their brain and that there is nothing they can do about it . . . that they will have to learn to live with it for the rest of their lives while taking medications that drug their brains to cause them to not hear voices and stop seeing invisible people.  These drugs also stop the person from functioning normally by shutting down all of their emotions; having a flat affect; losing interest in the things that they used to enjoy, and losing their ability to be creative.  Ironically, many of these medications prevent the person from overcoming their unhappiness or to discover other creative ways to deal with their unhappiness.

It is one’s creative ability that leads them to choose the behaviors they discovered to deal with their unhappiness and frustration in the first place.

castawayI saw the movie, “Cast Away,” starring Tom Hanks, when it first came out in 2000.  Since then, I recently saw it again on my local cable network and was able to make the connection of how some behaviors would be considered mental illness by some in certain circumstances but not mental illness in other circumstances.  Allow me to explain:

In the movie, after being marooned on a small island in the South Pacific, Chuck (Tom Hanks) found himself without his basic genetic needs.  He had to be creative to survive and began to improvise ways to provide shelter, food, and to hydrate.  He soon found himself without the power to do much about his situation but maintained enough power from within to continue to survive.  Even when he considered suicide, his tested method failed and renewed his internal power for survival.

Chuck’s freedom was now very limited.  He had only a small portion of the island in which he could navigate as most of it was mountainous and surrounded by pounding waves.  He was held in solitary confinement.  He certainly was not having any fun.  All of his basic needs for happiness were not being met to the degree that he wanted.

The first thing he did when he reached the island after his plane crash was to yell out to connect to someone . . . anyone.  Even the sound of dropping coconuts led him to think that someone might be near and he would yell out towards the area where he heard the sounds.  He was missing the genetic need for connecting with others and belonging to the social world he had recently lost.  He still had the image of Love in his Quality World from his deeply satisfying relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt), back in Memphis.

From what I have described so far, and for you who have seen the movie, you would not think any of Chuck’s behaviors were the result of a mental illness.  In fact, you would probably think that it was his creativity and improvisation that was able to allow him the ability to meet his needs of survival: shelter, food, and drink.

But it wasn’t long after his initial awareness that he was, indeed, stranded in the middle of nowhere and the odds of being rescued were minimal.  He still had the strong genetic need for love and belonging and after injuring his hand while attempting to make fire, his frustration led to him choosing to throw objects that had washed up from the plane crash, kick the sand, swear, and destroy whatever was near him.  His bloody hand from the injury he incurred left a palm print on a volley ball that had been part of the cargo in the plane.

He eventually created fire and was so elated that he proclaimed to the sky and the sea of his accomplishment in boisterous pronouncements.  “Look what I have created!  I have made fire!”  His power needs were beginning to be met giving him a better sense of worth and success.

After he had calmed down and successfully created the fire, he began staring at the volley ball and saw the potential for something in the bloody hand print . . . a human face.  Since no one was around to offer a need satisfying relationship in the form of connecting with others, he would create his own person to meet this need.

wilson

He made the air hole the nose and erased some of the blood to make the eyes and mouth. The company who made the volley ball was Wilson and their name was boldly printed on the ball. This became Chuck’s compensation for connecting with someone whom he named, “Wilson.”  So far, you may be saying to yourself,  “So . . .  ?  What’s your point?”

Chuck then began talking to Wilson and even answering on Wilson’s behalf to satisfy his need for love and belonging and connecting.  And I would be willing to wager that you would still be thinking, “Well, sure.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  He did it to keep his sanity . . . to keep him from going crazy on a deserted island. . . . to connect with something or someone when no one else was there to connect with”

AHA!

If Chuck behaved like that back in Memphis where he lived, would you still say his behavior was an acceptable way to behave?  One might be inclined to get as far away from him as possible because, “who knows what a crazy person who talks to himself or to inanimate objects might do?” One might also believe he is seriously mentally ill and should be placed on brain meds and in dire need of a psychiatrist.

In an isolating experience, you are more likely to accept Chuck’s unusual or unnatural behavior as typical, rational, and understandable.  But if not deserted on a lonely island, the same behaviors are seen as symptoms of mental illness and chemical imbalances.  The unusual behavior one may create and perform serves the purpose of easing their unhappiness and frustration, at the time . . . just like Chuck on the island.  If he didn’t have Wilson to talk to, and imagine that Wilson was talking to him, he would have felt much more unhappy and frustrated than if he hadn’t created Wilson.

The person who sees things, hears things, and talks to people who are not present, or to inanimate objects, is no different than Chuck.  While they are not physically on a deserted island, they are in a deserted world based upon their choice to isolate or detach from others because of unsatisfying relationships with the important people in their life.  They have detached from others and can be alone while around others.  Their creativity to deal with their frustration and unhappiness is no different than Chuck’s creativity in producing and talking to Wilson, a volley ball.

Often, their frustration is the result of wanting to do one thing with their life while others who are important to them want them to do something else.  They may attempt to take both routes and find it impossible to do.  Consequently, they may become so frustrated that they then choose to take neither route and isolate even more, which further destroys their need for love and belonging.  And since love and belonging are basic genetic needs, they create their own people in their mind and imagination like Chuck did.

The only difference is the circumstances.  You could see Chuck’s dilemma and rationalize Chuck’s behavior because you could relate to being in his situation.  Since you could relate, you deem it normal, acceptable, and not a mental illness at all.  You were living in his world on the screen and silently thinking, “I’d probably do the same thing.”

If Chuck behaved in this manner back in Memphis, you would not see the situation he would be experiencing in his world.  His unsatisfying situation and internal frustration would be very real to him but invisible to you.  Since you have most of your needs met, on a somewhat regular basis, in a world where they are more easily attainable than a desert island, you might be inclined to think and believe Chuck’s behavior is a mental illness.

When Chuck was rescued and came back home, he didn’t talk to things or people who weren’t there anymore.  First of all, Wilson was lost at sea before he was rescued.  When Chuck got home, he was back in a world with people with whom he could connect . . . and it didn’t take brain meds to get him to stop talking to imaginary things or hearing imaginary voices.  He only had to connect with others and those who are important to him.  After five years of living in isolation, his rescue not only saved his life, it restored most of his basic genetic needs for happiness:  Survival, Love and Belonging, Freedom, Power, and Fun.  The love of his life had given up hope for his return and had married someone else.  There would obviously be some emotional pain from that loss because he had maintained the picture of her in his Quality World all those years.  But even losing Kelly didn’t cause Chuck to return to his island surviving behaviors.

Would you say a child who has an imaginary playmate is mentally ill?  Or would you say they are being really creative?  When you dream at night . . . are some of your dreams really “out there?”  Does that mean that you are crazy when you are dreaming or is your mind simply being creative?  If your brain can do that when you are asleep, it is also capable of doing it when you are awake.

In our world, it appears it is much easier to convince others that a person is mentally ill than to convince them that they are sane and only frustrated and unhappy due to unsatisfying relationships with the important people in their life.

 

Lonely Holidays

By Dr. Ken Larsen

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray  1751.  

For me this verse struck me with sadness from the very first time I heard it.  As life has unfolded I see evidence of the many unseen flowers trapped in the loneliness of our culture.

We all know those who are lonely, most of us have been there ourselves.  When I’m in that place I find mental health and happiness more elusive.

kid_catI think the holiday season afflicts many of us as we look to the fabricated images of people enjoying the holiday season and then realizing that our own lives don’t often match those fabrications.

I recently had some major surgery and was feeling lonely and a bit sad because of the forced inactivity of recovery.   Then the phone rang.  It was a call from a friend who is a media personality in her part of the world.  What touched me and actually sent a jolt of joy through me is that she took the time to call and tell me she was thinking of me.  This simple act of friendship and kindness changed the color of my day from blue to rosy red.

helpinghands2A call, a note, a smile,  a friendly touch are all very welcome to us when we are feeling unseen and out of touch.  Let’s reach out and brighten the day of someone we know or someone we don’t know to give them the boost they may need to reconnect with their mental health and happiness.

 

“But I got an emptiness deep inside and I’ve tried but it won’t let me go…”

Dr. Ken Larsen

I believe that happiness is not something we can seek for itself.  Dr. Glasser and Mike Rice (a friend who is a Choice Theory Addiction Counselor)  have told us that we can seek pleasure for itself, because pleasure can be a solitary pursuit.  Happiness is more of a byproduct of a life lived in caring relationships with others.  Within those relationships we are getting a large portion of our needs met for love and belonging, for fun, for freedom and for a sense of self efficacy or power.  For most of us, even if our lives are reasonably happy, there is still a level of the imperfect in our happiness.  There is often a small emptiness somewhere inside that is hungry for something that we may not even be able to name or identify.

questionThis hole in us may be a hunger for more intimacy in a relationship, a spiritual hunger, or that unexplained existential loneliness that haunts us, even when we are with those we love.

I think the Serenity Prayer offers an appropriate response to this hole inside us.  “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have found that if I strive and strain to fill the hole, to find the answer to the question raised by that empty space, it becomes more elusive and slippery.  Struggling to meet an unmet need that is beyond our grasp simply drives it further away.  For example, if I am striving to earn the affection and approval from someone who has withheld it, this will just widen the gap, and increase the distance between us.

It is far better for mental health to “accept the things I cannot change” and move on to pursue the other good things in life.  Many have found that in the process of letting go, the frustration and anxiety that are associated with that unmet need subsides and may even go away.   The interesting and paradoxical experience of many is that sometimes letting it go is what allows what is wanted and needed to gently come in to fill the hole without any strident effort. 

I believe that a perfect state of mental health and happiness is beyond our grasp.  I also believe that we can all make progress in this pursuit, even though the price for perfection is prohibitive.

https://youtu.be/sxDyXK93o6g

 

“But I’ve never cared for the sound of being alone.”

Dr. Ken Larsen

I recently saw a post on Facebook suggesting an unpopular response to the senseless acts of violence that punch their way into our world.  The clamor of “someone should do something”, can be turned into “what can I do?” 

When we see someone alone and friendless, what can we do to reach out with kindness and compassion?  Neil Diamond’s lament seems relevant to the loneliness and isolation experienced by so many in our world today.

“I am, I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair.

I am, I cried

I am, said I

And I am lost, and I can’t even say why

Leavin’ me lonely still.” *

indifferenceI think many of us can recognize the emptiness expressed in these words because we’ve felt it ourselves.  I know I have.  Finding our way to mental health and happiness is enhanced when we find a way to reach out to the other when we see this loneliness.  This requires us to look at the misery in our fellow humans rather than look away.  And then, once seen, we can respond with something as simple as a smile, a kind word…anything that gives the other the gift and experience of being seen with kindness rather than indifference.

https://youtu.be/sxDyXK93o6g

 

Hope

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness                                                                        Desmond Tutu

“I wish I didn’t have hope,” she complained to her therapist. “I feel as though I am continually inflicting pain on myself by believing that what is happening is for the best, or that everything is going to work out. All that seems to do is keep me hoping. Then my hopes are dashed with more disappointment and more pain. Can you help me learn how to stop hoping?”

She was seeing a good, caring, skilled therapist. The best help her therapist offered was providing a safe and supportive holding environment.  Here she was able to express all of her feelings, fears, and upsets, including her unhappiness with HOPE. 

If it were not for hopes, the heart would break. Thomas Fuller

pensivewoman_blueThat was her problem. Her heart was breaking. An essential relationship of more than 25 years was ending, not by her choice. Hoping that it would all get better or that they could end their marriage without inflicting pain on each other and their children seemed to be failing time and time again. Her heart was breaking.

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better we can bear a hardship today. Thich Nhat Hanh

“Don’t you see? Every night I go to bed following Scarlet O’Hara’s message that, ‘Tomorrow is another day,’ meaning  my world might get better, my relationships might mend and the pain might subside. And every tomorrow I wake up and nothing is better, no relationships have mended, and the pain is not subsiding.”

She was not proud that there were times when she considered suicide. She wanted relief from the relentless pain. There were people who cared, who wanted and did help and yet the pain and despair were relentless.

Having worked as the manager in an emergency service of a mental health center, she was knowledgable of strategies for suicide prevention. During those times when she was dangerously close to acting on her self-destructive thoughts she did her own suicide assessment. She also tapped into all that she knew, including the fact children of parents who suicide are much more likely to suicide themselves. To kill herself was not horrifying to her. But knowing that her action and absence gave her sons a kind of permission for suicide was completely UNACCEPTABLE. It was this knowledge that kept her from taking any irreversible action.

She knew it was vital to use whatever it takes to keep a suicidal person alive.  This included herself. During those dark and painful days she used this as her reminder and strategy. This enabled her to hang on for a little longer. She was beginning to realize that HOPE, including the HOPE that she would get through this time and arrive at a place where thoughts of suicide were a memory, was her ally and savior. She was beginning to be grateful that her therapist did not teach her how to give up HOPE.

It is a good thing when all you have is hope and not expectations. Danny Boyle

She was beginning to realize that things may be happening for the best, that things would work out. But that might mean that her expectation for her saved marriage could be replaced by the hope of a genuine and mutual love with another. She was learning how to embrace her hope, release her expectations, and to even give thanks for this tragedy as the start for greater hopes and fulfillments.

I share this personal story with you, dear reader, for those of you who may be feeling self-destructive presently. Please wait. If the world turning into more and more tomorrows doesn’t change your perspective, you can always choose suicide later. But if you choose it now, you will never know when a moment of glimmering hope might expand into love, light and laughter again.

Grief, Sadness & Sorrow

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

At this present moment a very dear friend of mine is experiencing the decline and impending death of both of her parents. For her in this moment it seems that these inevitable events are getting closer. Her immediate family, that includes her husband and daughters, are an incredible sources of love, strength and support. But sadly, as is true for too many people, there are other family members who are blaming, shaming and pointing accusatory fingers of guilt as a means of dealing with their own fear and pain.

Although not geographically close, a couple of us who are heart and soul sisters, not blood relatives, are able to be immediately present, comforting and supportive through texting. Who would have guessed that technical advances would lead to this extraordinary gift of presence.

We heart and soul sisters are able to offer the needed compassion not just because we love Annie, but because of our own personal experiences with the death of our own parents. For us the pain of losing our parents is still present, just not so immediate.

What place does grief and sorrow play in Mental Health & Happiness? Can you consider yourself Mentally Healthy & Happy even when feeling sad?

For me being Mentally Healthy & Happy means experiencing a full range of emotions: sadness AND joy, contentment AND dissatisfaction, fear AND faith, peace AND discontent, anger AND pleasure. Being Mentally Healthy & Happy means experiencing the negative emotions, and not staying stuck in them.

canstockphoto6156088

If developing and maintaining important, caring and connecting relationships with at least one person is a major contributor to our Mental Health & Happiness, then we are bound to experience profound feelings of loss when these relationships end or change. I still miss both my mother and father every day. At the same time I know that “death ends a life, not a relationship” as Mitch Albom writes in his book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I continue to maintain a strong relationship with my parents many years after their deaths.

For me, Mental Health & Happiness means I have strategies to deal with my intense negative feelings. I do not fear these negative emotions pretending I don’t experience them. Nor do I need to stay stuck or lost.

Some of these strategies we are sharing with Annie right now are:

Planting both feet solidly on the ground
Taking 4 deep breaths, with eyes closed, arms open wide, expanding heart and gut space with deep inhalation and  blowing out fears, frustrations or just air as you exhale
As you open your eyes repeat your meaningful affirmation All is well, I am well, You are well and so it is that All is well. (Or whatever mantra you create that is meaningful and helpful for you.)

Remember that being Mentally Healthy & Happy does not mean that you are always cheerful, happy and full of sunshine. Being Mentally Health & Happy means that you know, create or learn effective strategies so that when the hard, challenging and stormy life experiences are part of your days, weeks or present moments, you take the time to learn and grow. This too shall pass is true. But imagine seizing even these moments to celebrate the full experience of your life?

For some, the holidays are the loneliest time of the year

By Dr. Ken Larsen

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray  1751.  

For me this verse struck me with sadness from the very first time I heard it.  As life has unfolded I see evidence of the many unseen flowers trapped in the loneliness of our culture.

We all know those who are lonely, most of us have been there ourselves.  When I’m in that place I find mental health and happiness more elusive.

kid_catI think the holiday season afflicts many of us as we look to the fabricated images of people enjoying the holiday season and then realizing that our own lives don’t often match those fabrications.

I recently had some major surgery and was feeling lonely and a bit sad because of the forced inactivity of recovery.   Then the phone rang.  It was a call from a friend who is a media personality in her part of the world.  What touched me and actually sent a jolt of joy through me is that she took the time to call and tell me she was thinking of me.  This simple act of friendship and kindness changed the color of my day from blue to rosy red.

helpinghands2A call, a note, a smile,  a friendly touch are all very welcome to us when we are feeling unseen and out of touch.  Let’s reach out and brighten the day of someone we know or someone we don’t know to give them the boost they may need to reconnect with their mental health and happiness.

 

Another romance ended

By Dr. Nancy Buck

Another romance ended. I was sad and lonely . . . again. I missed my guy. Unfortunately he was no longer my guy.

I had given him my newly mended heart. He told me he wanted his freedom more than he loved me. At least he had been honest and upfront. Still it was a sad and lonely time.

Since I was spending a lot more time alone I had more time to lick my wounds and think. I replayed all the fun we had enjoyed, trips we had taken, moments of quiet, shared joy. I would never have those times again. Yes, I would miss this fellow and I would miss all of these fun times.

Wait. What?

Maybe I wouldn’t take these trips and enjoy the same fun with the same guy. But why was I writing off the possibility that I wouldn’t have fun again?

After spending enough quiet contemplation alone I realized that a BIG part of what I was sorry to lose was the me that I was when I was with this man.

Everything shifted. I needed to learn how to be that same me with having him in the equation!

Fabulous! Glad I met him. Glad we had our relationship. And even more glad that he introduced me to the best of myself!

Falling Apart

By Dr. Nancy Buck

My life was falling apart. My husband of 24 years left, saying he wasn’t sure he wanted to be married to me anymore. He needed time on his own to figures things out. My twin sons had left for college. The family dog ran away.

I was alone in our home, but there was no more “our” or “we.” Was there even a home anymore?

I didn’t know what to do. Crying didn’t help. Talking with my sisters and friends gave me only temporary relief.

Day after heart breaking day, the sadness, isolation, failure and oppression was unbearable.

My lifeline, it turned out, was my journal. Every morning I wrote my three morning pages. Every evening I listed five things I was grateful for. Most days my gratitudes consisted of:

1.    I am breathing in

2.    I am breathing out

3.    I am breathing in

4.    I am breathing out

5.    I am breathing in and out

The lessons I learned during that time were many. The most important lesson was to keep breathing no matter what.

You never know what might happen next, what internal strength will be discovered, and what gifts will be revealed in the next moment.

And if you don’t keep breathing you never will know.

So keep breathing, in and out, in and out, in and out.