Ep. 49 The following story is true. While the tree in the story was embellished, the facts have not been embellished.
Ep. 38 This episode is all about STRESS and how to NOT feel stressed. The goal is to understand that it IS possible to have a lot on your plate and to NOT feel STRESSED about it. Listen to learn POWERFUL thoughts to help you to NOT feel STRESSED.
So often we believe that we have so much to do and not enough time to do it all. We believe ALL the things are so important and we worry that our effort won’t be good enough. Therefore, we end up panicked and stressed, which actually freezes us and limits our ability to finish ALL the things. We end up working frenetically, staying up late, getting sick, but not finishing the tasks.
I promise that life does NOT have to feel STRESSFUL. It is entirely possible to have a lot on your plate and to NOT feel STRESSED about it. You can have an amazing life and be engaged in purposeful work and move forward through accomplishments and success steps and never feel stressed.
If you think this can’t possibly be true, that I’m exaggerating, then this is going to be an excellent episode for you. I’m glad you’re here.
WHY WE FEEL STRESS
Let’s talk about Why We Feel Stress:
Every emotion comes from thoughts. Every. Single. One. It’s not possible to have an emotion that wasn’t triggered, that wasn’t created by a thought in your head.
Now, that thought in your head doesn’t necessarily have to be your own thought. Other people can put thoughts in your head, dark spirits can put thoughts in your head, TV/media/billboards can put thoughts in your head. Sometimes this can be frustrating because we can’t always control what thoughts pop up in our minds, but can control how we think about, how we react to those thoughts. In any case, the emotions we feel always derive from a thought.
I’m not saying this to chastise or belittle anyone for experiencing stress. I feel stress at times, not too often these days, but I used to live in a chronic state of stress. And it’s not fun. Stress is a real kill-joy, it sucks the bliss out of life and makes you not a very pleasurable person to be around. Not to mention that it can make you really sick.
Let’s look at some of the thoughts that lead to us feeling stressed.
“I don’t have enough time.”
You feel the crunch of the deadline. The calendar days are turning, the clock is ticking, and you are running out of time. This is a common thought. I think we’ve all been here, probably several times already today.
“Not good enough.”
This is the thought of either “I’m not good enough” or “What I’m doing isn’t good enough.” This is where perfectionism comes to roost. This thought is a relative of the thought of not having enough time, because usually we are afraid that we don’t have enough time to make our work be good enough. We fear our imperfections and weaknesses and so often we allow our subconscious to make it be about time, when in truth, it’s about fear of not being good enough.
“I should do more”
CHALLENGE THESE THOUGHTS
I’ve practiced noticing when I’m feeling stressed and following that feeling, like a detective hunting for clues, back until I discover the thought triggering the stress. Then, I’ve found it helpful to ask questions: Is this thought true? Or, is this a useful thought?
I discovered this tool of discovering and questioning thought when I was searching for healing from postpartum depression and autoimmune disease. This is when I realized that my thoughts were the roots of so many of my so-called problems and stress and that my sickness stemmed from my toxic thoughts. Most everything that I talk about on this podcast comes down to what’s going on in our heads. If there’s one thing you get out of this podcast, or any of these podcasts, if you learn to question your thoughts, that skill alone will launch your life in powerful ways.
Let’s do it. Let’s question these thoughts.
Thought: “I don’t have enough time.”
There are so many ways your brain can verbalize this. I’m so busy. I can’t do it all. I have too much to do, thus I don’t have enough time.
Challenge: Is it TRUE that I don’t have enough time?
Instead of going into a huge existential discussion about what is TRUTH, let’s skip to the understanding that when it comes to your life, you get to create your truth. It’s a gift called Free Agency. So I would ask, Do I want this to be true for me that I don’t have enough time?
I can choose to believe that it’s true and my brain will be extremely skilled at finding evidence to support why I don’t have enough time. Or, I can choose to say it’s not true. I can choose to think that I have plenty of time. I have SO much time. Time is an unlimited commodity. I can use time today and I will have more tomorrow. I can use tomorrow’s time and I will have more time the next day. It’s amazing!
For so long, self help people have pushed this idea, this “thought” that time is a precious, and limited commodity. Get it done today because there are no guarantees for tomorrow! And it’s true you could die at any moment. But still, I believe that death is not the end of me, that I will go on living and have, get this, even MORE time! More time to learn, progress, experience, etc. When my brain throws up that idea that I don’t have enough time, I challenge it and I argue for all the reason why I have an abundance of time.
I’ve never found a scenario where the thought “I don’t have enough time” is a useful thought. It doesn’t serve me well. The panic of running out of time makes my insides contract, it freezes me up, and it drains my power to take action. Ironically this thought of not having enough time actually leads to procrastination rather than prevents procrastination.
Replace: What to Think Instead
I have plenty of time.
I have exactly enough time.
I have an abundance of time.
I have exactly enough time to accomplish all the things that are important to me
For Full Text Listen to the Podcast
Ep. 31 BABY #3
In the meantime, I got an epidural that nearly paralyzed me for life.
Aaron fled to the furthest corner of the room and hid his face in his hands, peeking occasionally through his fingers to see if I was dead yet. The anesthesiologist inserted, pulled out, and reinserted the epidural needle four times. “You’re so skinny, there’s no fat to stick the needle into.” I didn’t think this was a good time to comment on my boniness.
Suddenly, with a five-inch needle searching its way around my spinal nervous system, I felt my entire abdominal area expand, like someone had opened an umbrella inside my pelvic bones. At that moment, everything on the inside of me urgently wanted to get outside of me.
“Aaahhh. Never…mind…the…epidural,” I said grimacing. “This… baby…is… coming……NOW.”
Tina dropped on top of me, bracing my shoulders in the gentlest tackle ever administered. “DO NOT MOVE.” she said, “You have to hold completely still.”
“Aaahhh. Stop the epidural. I can feel the baby coming.”
“Too late to stop now.” The anesthesiologist was not going to let this bony specimen get the best of him. “I’m almost finished.”
“Call the doctor,” Tina shouted to the hallway. She couldn’t make the call because she was holding me in a half nelson. “Hold still. He’s almost done.”
After an eternity, the anesthesiologist removed the needle and taped the tubing against my back. Tina rolled me gently; I winced as the epidural rubbed against the sheets “Aaahh.” More opening and Ooouuuuccchhh, something hard and round trying to squeeze through a hole ten times too small. “I can feel the baby’s head!”
“Don’t push. We have to wait for the doctor,” Tina ordered.
Seriously? Not with the waiting for the doctor, again.
“Lay on your side,” Tina helped me roll back. “Be strong and keep your legs together.” She should have told me that nine months ago.
“Does no one believe me? I. Really. Have. To. Puuush.”
Everyone in the room (except the anesthesiologist who’d disappeared from the room faster than a cub scout who’d broken the cookie jar), screamed in chorus, “DON’T PUSH.” This included Aaron. Whose side was he on anyway?
Telling a woman who has the burning need to push is like exploding Hoover Dam and telling the water to stay put. “We don’t need the doctor.” I pleaded. “I trust you, Tina. You deliver this baby.” I was thrashing around on the sheets.
“No, no. They don’t like us to do that.” She patted my head gently. “You can hold on. He’s on his way.” Tina put her hand over my ear and screamed, “Did anyone get through to the doctor?”
Was anybody even out in that hall? Finally, a desk clerk or maybe a janitor poked his head in the door, “He says he’s checking out at Walmart and will be here in ten minutes.”
Walmart? No one ever checks out of Walmart in ten minutes.
“Aaron, honey,” I looked up grimacing. I needed to push more than I’ve ever needed to do anything in my entire life. “One push and this baby will be here. You can catch it. I trust you.”
Aaron backed towards the corner again waving his hands in front as he retreated. “No, no. Wait for the doctor.”
Tina rubbed my back, “This will sound strange, but if you curl into a fetal position, it will help relieve the pressure.” I tucked my legs up to my big belly pretending that the lower half of my body was not attached to the upper half. “Remember to breathe,” Tina encouraged.
I inhaled and sighed as the epidural medication kicked in.
“The doctor is on the elevator,” the janitor/clerk stood in the door holding a phone. Tina opened a cupboard and grabbed a surgical gown and gloves. The janitor/clerk helped Tina stretch out the gown like a ribbon across a finish line. “He’s on the floor. Get ready, and in five…four…three…two…”
The door swung open and Dr. Juarez walked into the gown and gloves, crouched down, looked side to side and yelled, “Go.”
That was my signal to snap the ball, but I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen. Did Dr. Juarez bypass the sink? What happened to official scrub-in policy? I didn’t let my own husband touch me if he didn’t wash his hands after shopping at Walmart.
If I weren’t such a lily-livered coward, intimidated by his medical degree, I would have asked him to turn back around and scrub. With soap. Instead, I stared.
“Go ahead. Push,” Dr. Juarez ordered.
I just mastered not pushing and now he wanted me to push! Having a baby can really give a girl schizophrenia. I felt strangely floaty and heavy at the same time, like a concrete cloud. I gave a wimpy push.
“No. Wait for a contraction. Push during the contractions.” Dr. Juarez rolled his eyes like I was the biggest idiot excuse of a delivering mother he had ever seen.
“I can’t feel when I’m having contractions,” I said. My abdomen was as still and peaceful as a glass lake with no wind. The epidural was working and I had found my happy place.
“I’ll tell you when you’re having a contraction.” Dr. Juarez watched the monitor. “Now. PUSH!”
“I am pushing.”
“Push harder. Come on. Put some determination into it.”
My determination skipped town about the time I realized we hadn’t brought any DVDs. Ten minutes earlier I could have sneezed the baby out. Instead, we endured fifty-five minutes of everyone yelling at me to push harder and me shouting back, “I am pushing…I think…I can’t really tell. Will I ever be able to feel my legs, again?”
A head and shoulders appeared just before five o’clock. Dr. Juarez declared the delivery time with unspoken emphasis that he had predicted exactly the time of birth. He was also gloating in the fact that he’d broken his own record for longest episiotomy. He stood up from stitching, and I imagined that I looked like a kindergarten class’s first patchwork quilt project. At this point, when one would expect a hearty “Congratulations!” Dr. Juarez said, “The nurse will give you the information for direct deposit to my bank account. Holidays are double time.” Then he looked in the mirror, wiped blue powder off his mouth, and disappeared into the hall.
The epidural had been stronger than Schwarzenegger on steroids. My legs were cinderblocks. Aaron helped to hold the baby on my chest. “Hello there little man.” I traced the shape of his nose and cheeks while he blinked his eyes. “Welcome to this big, wide world. I’m so happy you made it here.”
Ch. 2 Lies of the Magpie
The story of my journey healing through postpartum depression and chronic illness.
The thing Aaron remembers most about me from college is my fast-paced walk around campus. His tennis class met at three o’clock at the courts across from my off-campus housing. For weeks he watched me leave my apartment, hurry across the road, rush past the tennis courts, short cut across the grass and disappear into the Humanities Building. His tennis partner noticed him staring and said, “Don’t waste your time. That is Maleah Day. She is the Academic Vice President. Ten bucks says you can’t get her to stop to talk to you. She walks that fast everywhere she goes.”
It was my sophomore year. I was ten years older than the straggly nine-year-old girl from Ms. Wickersham’s fourth grade class. My bean-pole figure had filled out in a few key places. Two years of orthodontic work and contact lenses had tamed my profile, but my ambition—if possible—was still as potent. I’d traded my dream of becoming a firefighter and astronaut to becoming an Airforce pilot and a foreign ambassador. I declared a Political Science major and carried an application for the Peace Corps in my backpack.
Still, I’d never forgotten my dream to become Mrs. Murry from A Wrinkle in Time and have my own kitchen/chemistry lab. My scholarship covered full tuition and fees, regardless of number of credit hours, so in addition to my social science courses, I registered for a Biochemistry Series, Anatomy, Microbiology, and Physiology. These would cover all lab science prerequisites, just in case I changed my mind about Foreign Diplomacy and decided to apply to Medical School. It was a good plan, I thought, to keep both options open.
Play button above to hear the full chapter.
Listen to Chapter 1: https://maleahwarner.com/?p=1258&preview=true&_thumbnail_id=1269
Listen to the Introduction of Lies of the Magpie https://maleahwarner.com/new-summer-series/
New Summer Series
I have a confession. I am nervous. My brain is working overtime throwing out all the reasons why I shouldn’t do what I’m planning to do this summer.
What is it?
I am podcasting my book!!!
Some of you are thinking, “Well, it’s about time.” Others, especially you who are new (welcome, by the way, so nice to have you here) are thinking, “What book?”
Over the past eight years I have been writing the story of my journey through postpartum depression, autoimmune disease, and chronic illness. The manuscript has taken many forms and gone through multiple titles. If you’ve been here since my blogging days, you know the title “Prozac and Prayer.” It has a new title (and it’s a very good title, if I do say so myself). In today’s episode I’m giving some background on the writing process and why I am so nervous about reading this story, out loud, in my own voice.
Most importantly, I will be presenting the new title and reading the introduction.
The rest of the summer (through mid-August) I’ll present one (or maybe two) chapters a week. They might be chronological or I might skip around. Likely all 40 chapters won’t fit into one summer. What will you do then? You’ll just have to read the book! (Yes! I’m working to get it published!)
Thanks for joining me on this journey out of my comfort zone. I hope you enjoy selected chapters from the manuscript formerly titled “Prozac and Prayer.”
Ep. 19 Why NOT to Limit Summer Screen Time
Has anybody else out there, like me, been fretting over the question: How am I going to control my kids’ screen time this summer? I know you are because it’s what we’re all talking about in our mom circles: How can I get little Johnnie to stop playing Minecraft? My Jaden is addicted to YouTube. How many hours of TV is too much for a 4 year old? I hear you.
Summer is barely underway and I’m already seeing instagram photos of zombie children glued to ipads with the caption “Help!” Collectively, as mothers, we are posting questions on FB, “How many hours of Minecraft is too much for a 5 year old?” We are scrolling Pinterest for solutions searching everything from printable chore charts, to cheap summer adventures, and (my personal nemesis) ideas for homemade craft projects to keep kids busy and engaged during the LONG summer days. We have lengthy discussions with our sisters and moms friends about managing screen time. And where are we having these conversations? On Marco Polo.
We are in dire straits. We are in desperate need of advice, guidance, directions. Where do we turn for help? In our moments of crisis, when we need to know how to keep our children off their screens, we, their mothers, turn to our screens. In fact, at this very moment I type these words onto one screen while my children downstairs interact with at least two different screens, and my husband in our bedroom looks into yet another . . .you got it . . . screen.
I Dread Having to Be the Screen Police
I’ve been stewing over this media issue for a month now as summertime approaches. What bothers me about this question—How do I control my kids’ screen time?—is the nagging tug of obligation I feel in my gut that if my family is going to have a successful screen-free summer, it’s going to be up to ME. I’m the one that will have to plan the pinterest-worthy summer outings collecting a representation of local flora and insect life to paste on our poster board panorama. It will be ME spending hours on the computer designing personalized chore charts and graphs of practice and reading time and devising a captivating behavior-based award system with coinciding coinage.
Years ago, in an attempt to control the unscheduled hours of summertime, I devised a form of currency called Warner Bucks. This was money I designed and printed myself (the closest I’ve ever come to running a counterfeit cash operation) and featured faces of family members. The kiddos—all under age 7—could earn Warner Bucks for doing chores and demonstrating good behavior. Then they paid a Warner Buck for every 30 minutes of TV time. Brilliant, huh? It was a disaster. Essentially, I had created several full-time jobs for myself. I was running my own little company and I was in charge of payroll, human resources, management, job descriptions, job trainings, employee performance, and employee evaluations. I was spending all my time giving and collecting crinkled cash, all with the goal to limit screen time. Yet the television was blaring as loudly and for as many hours as ever before. It seemed that every conversation, every action, every motive in our house for that summer centered around buying more screen time.
Limits Increase Want
In her book Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers,. Author and clinical psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino says “Forbidden fruit is the tastiest. Completely banning screen time may simply double the desire of your kids to get online.”
Marketers use limitation and limited quantity as methods to increase demand. If screen time becomes a dangling carrot, then I actually WANT MORE SCREEN TIME! But AHA! We’re onto their schemes and trickery and will not fall prey to their tactics. So our objective as parents isn’t to limit screen time, but to help our children discover what they want to do more than they want to stare at a screen.
Instead of Limiting, Create a Family Plan
We most often default to doing something on a screen because we don’t know what else we would rather do instead. In the moment, making a decision or making plans requires too much effort. It’s easier to click on Candy Crush. So the best method to beat over-indulging in screens is to have plans made in advance.
Something we’ve done for a couple of summers that has worked (much better than Warner Bucks) has been to create a summer bucket list. We have a family meeting and everyone gets to say things they want to do for the summer. It’s fun and energizing. Suddenly all kinds of possibilities open. The local aquarium that is so awesome but we haven’t visited yet. The special hike to that awesome waterfall. Trying to relocate that secret swimming hole. Picnics at favorite parks. Puzzles. Board games. Outdoor movie nights. Family video game tournaments.
We don’t exclude screens from our summer bucket list. We plan screen time intentionally.
This year we are creating family and personal summer bucket lists. Our meeting is next Sunday and we prepped our kids a few weeks ago to start brainstorming. Since my kids are older (ranging from age 10 to 19), their personal lists will include 1) Something to practice 2) something new to learn 3) a daily physical activity and 4) a list of books to read. My advice for families with young children is to go easy on goals. With younger children, set yourself up for success by scaling back what you think is possible. It’s better to achieve one goal successfully than fail to achieve five goals. Success breeds success.
On Sunday we will pull out colored markers to decorate our summer lists. Basically, we are creating a vision for our summer. Vision and energy are more powerful than limitation. Instead of focussing on what we can’t do or what we shouldn’t spend too much time doing, we are going to empower ourselves, as a family, with vision, energy, and fun.
You can learn more about the energizing power of desire by listening to Episode 2 “What Do I Want?” It’s one of my most downloaded episodes, I think because so many of us don’t know what we really want or we don’t believe we can have it, so we don’t even try. The best method to get away from screens this summer is to KNOW, ahead of time, what we want more. This helps us to not sacrifice what we want long term for what is easiest right now.
Today we’ve explored the broad principles of why NOT to limit screen time: because limit increases want. And we’ve learned that a more powerful way to embrace summer adventure is to brainstorm, as a family, activities you want to do more than sitting in front of screens.
Next week we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of how to set up this empowered summer. We’ll talk everything from the words you choose in talking about screens to the power of boundaries. Any why boundaries are NOT the same as limits. These tools help kids and parents feel their screen use is abundant and satisfying rather than feeling left wanting more.
Ep. 18 Leaning Into Discomfort
Leaning in is a power principle with multiple applications. Today we’re discussing the power of leaning into discomfort in a specific area. I invite you to stay with me to the end and I have an invitation that I think you’ll accept, even if you never thought you would.
What Does it Mean to "Lean In"?
Have your ever heard the expression, “Lean into the wind?”
Growing up, my brother and I walked to and from school no matter the weather. Which meant that sometimes we would push forward through fierce storms and arrive at the school building to learn that school was cancelled because buses couldn’t get through the snow. Anyone who has walked in strong wind know that in order to stand up straight in high wind, you can’t just stand up straight, you have to lean forward. You have to lean into the wind. Leaning into the wind means pressing forward in the direction opposite the way the wind blows.
Last summer I did a pioneer handcart reenactment in Wyoming. I don’t know if it has something to do with being near the Continental Divide, but that Wyoming prairie gets a LOT of wind—like blow your tent away in the middle of the night with you in it—kind of wind. And when we were walking and pulling our handcarts, if we wanted to move forward, we had to lean into the wind.
Traditionally lean in has been used in the context of sports to mean “to shift one’s body weight forward or toward someone or something.” In water and snow sports, you can lean into a wave, the wind, a slope, or a turn. You can lean in to a pitch or a throw. You can even lean in to a catch.
The first printed use of the term “leaning into” comes from Hartley Burr Alexander’s 1906 Poetry and the Individual, where Alexander uses the phrase “leaning into the future” in reference to the power of poetry deriving from its “leaning into the future.” And Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, used “lean in” as the title of her 2013 book, a call for women to embrace challenge and risk in the work place and leadership. All uses of the term “lean in” point to the act of moving forward against an opposing force.
Leaning Into Discomfort
Why would we talk about leaning into discomfort? Why would a nice person like myself, ask you to lean into discomfort?
Episode 12 The Power of Imbalance, has been the most downloaded episode to date. (If you haven’t listened, go there next.) I think because it strikes a universal instinct in all of us. We don’t like to feel out of balance or out of control or out of our comfort zone. We don’t like to feel uncomfortable. But, as Shawn my personal trainer taught me, growth happens in the zone of imbalance, in the zone of discomfort. If you never lean into discomfort, you can not grow.
In yoga there is an expression, “Breathe into the stretch.” Yoga instructors emphasize that you shouldn’t push your body to the point of pain, but you should take your body to the point of discomfort, then breathe into that discomfort. Yoga teaches that rather than resisting what feels uncomfortable to move towards it, and in this way your muscles grow. This is opposite our instinct. Our knee-jerk reaction is to move away, to back away, to shy away, or to straight out run away from any discomfort. But, someone the act of leaning into the discomfort, of breathing into it, lessens the discomfort. Keep this in mind as we move to our third point today.
Leaning In to End the Stigma of Mental Illness
Earlier I said I had an invitation that I thought you would accept, if you can stay with me to the end. I invite you (and me) to lean into our discomfort about discussing mental illness.
When you hear the term “mental illness,” pause to observe your reaction. Do you feel a jolt of resistance? Maybe you really don’t want to hear about it or discuss it. Maybe you feel a strong urge to change the subject or leave the conversation. That’s okay. Whatever reaction you have is okay. I am NOT asking you to change your reaction. I am NOT judging your reaction or saying it is wrong or saying you need to have a different reaction. Not at all. I am simply inviting you to OBSERVE your reaction, your thoughts and feelings, and instead of resisting them, moving away, 0r running away, I am inviting you sit with your discomfort and see what you can learn about yourself. This is an invitation to lean into your emotions. And remember to breathe.
I am assuming that most, if not all of us, have what I would call an averse reaction to hearing the term mental illness. There might be some extremely enlightened yogis and gurus in the world who have no reaction, but most words aren’t neutral. Any word we come in contact with triggers some kind of thought in our brain, which triggers a related emotion. And most of you grew up in the same society I did, with the same social conditioning about mental illness.
And where did that conditioning come from? Movies, stories, experiences.
Did you know that the month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and has been since 1949. Congratulations. We are celebrating 70 years of Mental Health Awareness, and you didn’t even know it. I didn’t until this year. Now, think about our social relationship with Mental Illness 70 years ago, 40 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, (that’s when I was seeing doctors and getting confusing, conflicting, and unsatisfactory explanations about what was going on in my brain), to this year 2019. Good news. There have been a lot of positive changes in diagnosis, treatment and understanding of mental illness, largely due to development in brain science. I feel optimistic and excited that we will continue to progress forward, AS LONG AS and to the extent that we allow ourselves to LEAN INTO the discomfort of entering conversations and getting educated about Mental Illness.
Misdiagnosed Mental Illness
What if all mental illness was simply misunderstood and misdiagnosed physical illness?
In past years, mental asylums were filled with people merely suffering from asthma, hypoglycemia, or diabetes. One of the most compelling stories to prove the negative consequences of misdiagnosing a physical disease as a mental illness is the story of Susannah Cahalan retold in the book (and Netflix Movie) Brain on Fire.
At age 21, Susannah worked as a writer for The New York Post. Out of the blue she began to experience hallucinations and hypersensitivity to annoying noises. Coworkers notice her strange behavior. Her parent take her to a doctor, who says that Susannah has probably been partying too much, working too hard and not getting enough sleep. Later, Susannah has a seizure and her parents take her to the emergency room where doctors prescribe anti-psychotic medication. While in the hospital, Susannah goes catatonic and doctors want to move her to a more permanent psychiatric unit where she will be treated for mental illness.
Dr. Souhel Najjar is asked to help investigate her case. Najjar has Susannah draw a clock. She draws it with all of the numbers (1–12) on the right side of the clock, leading Dr. Najjar to believe that the right hemisphere of her brain is swollen and inflamed. Najjar has her undergo a brain biopsy in order to take cells from her brain for diagnosis. It is found that Susannah has anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, an autoimmune disease where swelling is caused by antibodies. Dr. Najjar describes it to her parents as her “brain is on fire.” Dr. Najjar prescribes her a treatment, which leads to a slow, but full recovery of her cognitive abilities.
Here is an example of a regular girl nearly locked away for life in a psychiatric ward to be medicated with anti-psychotics that would only make her worse because they wouldn’t treat the root issue. Thankfully, one doctor stepped in. One doctor leaned in and fought for her.
So, what if all cases of “mental illness” are really physical issues we don’t yet understand or haven’t correctly diagnosed?
A person acting strangely does not mean they are mentally ill. What is the WHY? behind the strange behavior? What is happening in the body and brain to cause the unusual behavior? I’m excited for more progress to be made in brain scan technology for these neuro-diagnostic tools to become more available. This is why I want to change the term from mental illness to brain illness in order to emphasize the physical brain issue rather than the stigma of character weakness.
Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and Mental Illness
In coming months, we will have increased opportunities to lean into discussions about mental health. This is why I extend the invitation to resist shying away from these important conversations and to lean into our socially-programmed discomfort. A lot of people and organizations are working to shorten the distance between current misdiagnosis and misunderstanding and future effective diagnosis and treatment. In fact Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry have teamed up to release a docuseries on mental health. In April CNN reported that the multi-part documentary series, which will air on the Apple TV platform in 2020, was co-created and produced by the Duke of Sussex and Winfrey.
Prince Harry said, “I truly believe that good mental health—mental fitness—is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self.”
Winfrey added, “Our hope is that it will have an impact on reducing the stigma and allowing people to know that they are not alone, allowing people to speak up about it and being able to identify it for themselves and in their friends. We want to blow the stigma out of the water.”
What do you think? Are you willing to take on today’s invitation? The invitation is simply this: when you someone mention “mental illness” or “mental health,” pause and observe your initial reaction. Notice if your instinct is to move away, to shut down, to change the channel. Notice if you instinctually want to move away because you feel uncomfortable. Then, instead of moving away, I invite you to LEAN INTO DISCOMFORT. Listen to the conversation, stay on the channel, keep engaged. Breathe. discomfort. Open your heart and mind and be willing to learn and to see a new perspective.
The name depression implies personal weakness.
And people would rather be sick in secret than be perceived as weak in public.
Cure "Depression" by Changing its Name
I have an idea. A theory.
I think that one reason Depression (and resulting suicide) is a rampant problem in society is because we are calling it by the wrong name.
And I propose that we will never successfully eradicate this disease UNTIL we identify and address it by its accurate name.
My thesis for today’s podcast is three-fold.
First: That using the word “Depression” to name a disease is a misnomer.
Second: That calling “Depression” by the wrong name leads to incorrect or insufficient treatment to cure the disease.
Third: I propose that the simple solution of changing the NAME of the diagnosis from “depression” to a term that more accurately fits the physical causes of the disease will result in a decrease of resulting suicide, length of time suffered, and an increase of pro-active treatment.
Why "Depression" is the Wrong NAME for the Disease
Depression is an inaccurate name because:
- Depression is the name of an emotion, not the name of an illness. And not everyone who feels the emotion of depression has the disease the word is attached to.
- Depression is only one of many possible symptoms of the illness.
- Not everyone who has this disease will have the one symptom it is named for.
- Depression can be a Symptom of Many Different Illnesses
Depression is an Emotion, Not a Disease
Have you ever been depressed? Yes! Depression is a human emotion. Feeling depression doesn’t mean you have the disease that society currently calls “Depression.” Why do we have an illness named for an emotion? The name “Depression”
Depression is a Possible Symptom, Not the Cause
The term depression doesn’t go far enough. It stops at a symptom and doesn’t continue to address the root of the issue. Depression is an emotion, not a disease. Depression is a possible SYMPTOM of the illness, but it is not the illness. It’s like saying “Jody has low energy” and stopping there. When, if fact, Jody has anemia. Low energy is a symptom, not the cause. Low iron levels in the blood in the cause. The name “Depression” puts all the focus on a symptom rather than focussing on treating the cause.
I have had doctors explain to me the physical causes for “depression” such as low levels of brain neurotransmitters or malfunction in chemical absorption by the neuron synapses. So there is a physical cause. There is a malfunction in the body, in the brain specifically, yet we continue to call the disease after an emotion rather than for the physical cause. Diabetes is caused by the body not making enough insulin, but we don’t call the disease Shakiness or Exhaustion, we call is Diabetes.
The fact that depression is only one of many possible symptoms of this disease increases the confusion caused by this misnomer. Other symptoms can be insomnia, significant weight loss or weight gain, loss of appetite, muscle pain, moving slowly, difficulty concentrating. Furthermore, it is possible for a person to have this “disease currently known as depression” without experiencing the symptom of depression. I did not treat my illness currently known as Postpartum Depression because I didn’t feel depressed. I didn’t feel well. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I ached everywhere and my body felt heavy as if I were made of concrete. I moved slowly. I lost a lot of weight, not in a good way. My head was always foggy. But I didn’t feel “depressed.” And failing to treat the physical causes of my disease caused my overall health to get worse until I also had auto-immune disease and chronic illness.
The inaccurate label “depression” hindered me from getting correct treatment.
Depression Is a Symptom of Many Illnesses
Another reason that the term “Depression” is a misnomer is that it’s too broad. The feeling of depression can be a symptom for multiple diseases, like head injuries, cancer, or MS. Also we can experience depression without having a physical disease. We can experience depression while grieving a loved-one’s death or after losing a job or because it’s winter and there’s not enough sunlight. Depression is a common and variegated emotion. I can feel depressed in the morning and be happy by afternoon. So to call a real brain illness after such a kaleidoscopic EMOTION, seriously interferes with treating the disease.
Calling it Depression Causes Misdiagnoses and Treatment
The name Depression deters people from seeking treatment and taking steps to heal the disease.
The word “depression” connotes a character flaw. The term “depression” does not separate the person from the illness. Why? Because we identify with our emotions. Our emotional state is linked with our personality. We describe people by their emotions: He’s a jolly person, a happy person, an energetic person, she’s a sluggish person. She’s always “down.” We even have a nickname for this personality type: “Debbie Downer” Calling a disease after an emotional state creates a false perception that a person diagnosed with depression has a bad personality. This is viewed more as a personal weakness than a physical issue.
The equivalent assignation for a person who’s had a stroke would be to say, “He’s a mumbler, you can’t understand when he talks. Mumbling is associated more as a character trait. But we don’t say that. We say, “He had a stroke and it’s affecting his ability to speak.”
In most cases we are good at separating the results of an illness from the character of the person. But not with depression. And the social impact is that many people who have “the illness currently known as depression” don’t say anything, don’t seek treatment because the name Depression insinuates personal weakness. And they would rather be sick in secret than to be perceived as weak in public.
Change its Name
Rumpelstilskin had power to take the Queen’s baby unless she could call him by his true name. Calling a physical disease after one possible emotional symptom is like calling Rumpelstiltskin by the wrong name and then crying as he steals our baby.
I propose we begin by discontinuing the term “Mental Illness” and instead calling it “Brain disease” or “Brain Illness.” The brain is an organ just like the kidneys, lungs, and heart. When the lungs are sick, you can’t breathe well. When the brain is sick, you can’t think right. Thoughts and emotions are processed in the brain through electrical-chemical reactions. If the electric wires malfunction, the thoughts go dark, just like when power lines go down. If the chemical recipes aren’t right, the emotions come out bad, just like using salt instead of sugar when baking cookies. It’s science, not emotion.
So let’s call it by what it is. Let’s name it for the cause, not after one of the numerous possible symptoms. I don’t have authority or the training to come up with the best name, but I propose it be scientific, sound official, and be related to the root cause of the ailment rather than a resulting emotional symptom.
For example, the term diabetes is shortened from Diabetes Mellitus which comes from the Greek word diabetes which means to siphon – to pass through and the Latin word mellitus meaning honeyed or sweet. This is because in diabetes excess sugar is found in blood as well as the urine. Excess sugar is siphoned through or passes through the blood. This name helps us to focus on treating the cause of the illness rather than concentrating on the idea that in the United States we currently have over 100 million people who can digest their food properly.
Recently my son was experiencing lack of focus, bouts of anger or depression, head fogginess, and headaches. I dreaded hearing the diagnosis “Depression.”Rather he was diagnosed with Postconcussive Syndrome. That name empowered us. We know to let his brain rest, to cut back on learning new things like memorizing his violin music. He told his school teachers who were understanding and willing to accommodate if he needed extra time for assignments. It was much easier to tell his teachers that he had a concussion than that he had depression.
Currently, this same care and attention isn’t happening with the disease known as depression. The word Depression holds a lot of judgment and misperception. The stigma surrounding depression interferes with accurate diagnosis and treatment.
To reNAME this disease will empower us to perceive & understand in a different, more enlightened way. It will help us move out of the space of impatience. The attitude of “Snap out of it” and “This needs to be fixed NOW!” and into the place of giving people time and support to heal.
Power of Naming
Have you ever had that feeling? Something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on what it is? Something is wrong with your child. Something is going on at work. Something is bothering your spouse. It’s there, but you feel powerless to fix it until you can name what it is.
Naming is a power principle because naming the problem is the first step to solving the problem. My sister has always said, “I can handle anything as long as I know what it is.” She speaks truth. We are strong, intelligent, resourceful. It’s the unknown that gets us.
Science of Naming
Why is naming so powerful?
Scientists have long studied the power of words on the human brain. The brain receives thousands of data impulses every second. These data impulses are processed as thought words or thought images.
What’s in a Name?
A name is simply a word—a combination of letters—assigned to a specific person or thing. In order to make its job a little easier, the brain names data and groups it together with similar data through categorization. It assigns words to data in order to know where to “file” the information. Anything the brain isn’t able to name ends up in the dark abyss of uncategorized info. The brain can’t do anything with this stuff until it’s identified.
Examples of Naming Found in Literature
We intuitively sense the power of names. There are examples in stories of the power that can come from naming.
- Adam & Eve In the Book of Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve power to name the animals. From the moment they chose the word elephant, the process of naming demonstrated their dominion and stewardship over the earth and all living things.
- Rumpelstiltskin The classic Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tale tells of strange man who convinces a young woman to promise him her first-born child in exchange for spinning her straw into gold. At the birth of the child, the woman begs for a way out of the deal. The strange man agrees that if she can correctly guess him name in 3 days, he will relinquish his claim on the child. The ability to identify his true name is what frees the woman from his hold.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane this Neil Gaiman story recounts the havoc worked by an evil entity disguised as a nanny named Ursula Monkton. The Hempstock women are unable to rid their town of the creature until they can successfully discover its true name. Once Lettie Hemstock learns that Ursula is really Skarthach of the Keep she chases Skarthach to the end of the lane where it cries, shrinks, and disappears. The power to remove the vexing thing came in calling it by its true name.
Naming Our Troubles
Sometimes the only thing we need in order to solve a problem is to be able to name it. This is why talking things is so helpful. The process of talking is the process of putting those ambiguous bothers into words. Meeting with therapists, doctors, coaches, or church leaders is helpful because they can offer words for what is troubling us. I might know I have a head ache and a sore throat, but don’t know how to remedy it. Once I know it is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria, I know to take an antibiotic.
Naming our emotions is powerful. Most of the time we sweep our emotions under the rug without acknowledging what they are trying to tell us. Emotions are messengers. When we take time to say: This is sadness or This is frustration we are more effective at working through the emotions.