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The Enchanted Outlook

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Depression

Enchantment in Light and Darkness

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I have been studying the concept of magic and its connection to the concept of happiness for about four years now.  It has been an incredible journey so far and has lead me down all sorts of paths I never thought I would travel. I would like to revisit one aspect of the subject today and clarify an opinion that has… not so much changed, but has lately been easier to put into words.

I have defined enchantment in relation to how the term is used in fantasy literature. In fantasy, an enchantment is a type of magic that alters the perception of the individual, rather than altering the world around them. When a person is enchanted, they see things differently. In this way, The Enchanted Outlook is a term I made up for the concept of learning how to alter our perspectives to see things in a more imaginative and positive way. In other words, it’s about cognitive re-framing.

However, because  I have spent my career working in settings where I see social injustice on a daily basis, one concept that I have personally grappled with is where cognitive re-framing fits in with inequality and injustice. Certainly, to suggest that any person suffering from an external cause would have their problems disappear by simply shifting their perspective is irresponsible and blames the wrong source. Trust me: I’ve been given this advice myself during times of grief and loss and it wasn’t comforting. Changing how we view the world does not make the world change, and it does not make the monsters go away.

I turn, instead, to one of my favorite passages, from G. K. Chesterson about the power of fairy tales for children:

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

You may have seen this condensed as the quote, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”

I don’t present the concept of an Enchanted Outlook because I don’t know the world can be ugly or because I want to blame those who suffer at its expense. Rather, I present this concept because I DO know that it can be an ugly place. I hope that the Enchanted Outlook serves as inspiration to defeat whatever monsters may be out there through offering hope.

And so, with this blog, I offer a shift in perspective that I hope will provide courage to face the world with a renewed spirit, regardless of your circumstances or your beliefs. For, whether you are trying to make small changes in your life, or you are going through a terrible darkness that feels completely out of your control, we all need a spark of hope and happiness in order to fight our own dragons.

 

I Was Blamed for Having Depression

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It’s Christmas time and my husband and I are eating Pho. We are having an interesting debate: What level of crisis allows the off-topic discussion of politics on a non-political blog, and how much or how often?

We agreed that one in twenty posts sounded fair for the time being. So this is my ONE, and I will make it count.

I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year in college. I was grieving from the loss of my mother, aunt, and grandmother, who had all passed away when I was in high school. My dog had been hit by a car and my boyfriend and I had broken up a few weeks prior to my first counseling appointment. I was also having family issues and was struggling with the changes of a new school, new friends, and harder classes. I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I was physically ill, and I had lost 30 pounds in less than two months.

Instead of empathizing with me, my therapist told me after maybe two sessions that I needed to re-frame my thinking; “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are,” she said. She then gave me a sheet of paper outlining all the different ways a person can think irrationally.

Now, if you have read my blog, you know I am a big fan of optimism and cognitive re-framing. And no offense to the wonderfully effective cognitive behavioral therapy, (or therapists in general, because in my time working in the field I have known far, far more lovely ones than bad ones) but I didn’t take her particular approach very well for my particular situation.

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Me at the beginning of my recovery from depression; I weighed less than 90 pounds.
This was my first experience with victim blaming, but it wasn’t my last. I realized that yes, depression can be accompanied by irrational thinking, but it was easier for her to think I was depressed as a result of thinking irrationally than to realize that a bunch of losses in close succession might hurt, and that, more importantly, such unfortunate events could happen to anyone, even her. I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, the world wouldn’t be fair.

Despite that unfortunate speed-bump, I recovered quickly on the basic combination of another counselor and medication. I found new meaning in helping others in need. I thought I had put that part of my life behind me.

That was, until I graduated college and applied for health insurance. I received a piece of paper that said that the insurance company could not accept anyone who had been diagnosed with depression within the past five years. I was confused. To a 23 year old, 19 seemed like a lifetime ago. I was healthy and had been healthy for nearly four years. I had already been dropped from my family’s plan, I was living completely independently, the recession had recently hit and I was lucky to even have a part-time job without benefits. I didn’t have many options.

But more than that, the darkest, most painful part of my life was reduced to a simple risk factor. Despite knowing how insurance worked, when I stared at that piece of paper, it felt like I was being punished for something that happened to me that I had no control over. I was angry. This was wrong. But it was also perfectly normal. And I heard that voice again, saying, “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are.”

I went on to work in the mental health field at the time when mental health funding for my state had just been cut in half. This had a wonderful trickle-down effect of impairing not only the public mental health centers, but also local nonprofits who saw less grant money and more desperate clients who had been denied treatment by other centers that could no longer accept them. All those extra people ultimately ended up in the emergency rooms, so the state didn’t save any money, and yet when anyone complained, the general attitude from the state politicians was, “Things aren’t as bad as you think they are.”

There have been many, many things happening in the world lately that I have been very upset about, but the recent healthcare bill in the United States hit a nerve. To be clear: I value empathy and compassion above all else. I used to believe that anything could be talked out. That with the right caring, the right understanding, learning enough about how the world works, learning about the people who think differently than me, finding middle ground, then consensus could be reached. And yeah, I DO value conservative values like building up families, financial stability, spiritual growth, and being proud of my country. And I AM concerned about the thinning of the middle class, the national debt, and healthcare costs for Americans. I DO care very much and I DO want to work with people. After all, it’s my job to learn to work with people and listen to what they are going through.

Lately, the assumptions people make are that I am NOT that type of person. I have been called brainwashed, ignorant, accused of not trying, of being hormonal, irrational, too young to understand, and repeatedly talked over with an eye-roll, all because I draw the line at victim blaming, blatant hatred, admitted elitism, willing closed-mindedness, and misogyny committed with a smile. I WANT to be a person who reaches a consensus. I WANT to be a person who reaches out to learn about someone else’s point of view. I WANT to be diplomatic, kind, and empathetic. I WANT to learn and grow and change my mind and not be partisan or polarized in my views.

And heck, I WANT to have a blog where I talk about how finding life’s magic leads to happiness all day instead of talking about this.

But if I am forced to choose between putting my foot down or being complicit in letting people be stomped down, discriminated against, silenced, blamed for their depression, chronic illness, pregnancy, and treatment resulting from rape, and allowed to die, well, I will choose to be the kind of person who puts my foot down.

And if you are bothered by that, that says a whole lot more about you than it does about me.

Because YES, things ARE as bad as I think they are.

 

 

 

Chatting with Fear

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I once wrote a poem that started with, “What is fear but the unnamed, unexplained, unappreciated monster, the bump outside our fortress in the dank, dark night, the tickling, prickling of our feet as we dog-paddle across the deep, dragon-infested waters of the unknown?”

It was a silly poem, but fear is arguably the most vulnerable emotion, is it not? At the least, it is hand-in-hand with love. We would much rather shove it in a corner, cover it up, push it down, than admit to it. However, it is only in admitting to it that we can accept our fear for what it is.  So many other more complex emotions are largely a mask to cover up that scary emotion called fear.

What is hatred or bigotry but fear of the unknown, the different, the “other?”

What is anger but fear of losing the ones we love or fear of being unloved ourselves?

What is complacency but fear of change?

What is arrogance but fear of rejection or failure?

What is anxiety but fear of what could go wrong?

Today, I invite you to invite your greatest fear into your home, sit it down, and serve it some metaphorical tea and cookies. Listen to what it has to tell you. Don’t try to hide it, change it, or move past it. Not today. Just let it be, and accept it for what it is. In listening to it, you may find a beautiful truth, something you never knew about yourself because you were too afraid to find out.

Creatures and Happiness: Dementors

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The dementor is a creature of J.K. Rowling’s invention. Cloaked in a dark hood, the dementor feeds off happy thoughts and leaves victims with a sense of hopelessness. The dementor also has the ability to give a “kiss” that sucks the soul out of the body.

How did such creatures come to be imagined?  In an interview with Oprah, Rowling explained that she based dementors off of her own experience with depression. She said, “It’s not sadness; sadness is- I know sadness; sadness is not a bad thing, you know, to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling, that really hollowed out feeling; that’s what the dementors are.”

Interestingly, the more horrors in a person’s past, the greater the effect the dementors have. How, then, does one fight a dementor? By focusing on a positive, happy memory. This memory creates a light force, called a patronus, which chases off the dementor.

Now, it may be a vast oversimplification to say that depression can be fought with “happy thoughts” and it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that as the only solution; in fact, there are times when we need to acknowledge and validate our “negative” feelings. However, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a popular method of treating depression, does focus on correcting unhealthy thought patterns, such as the distorted negative thoughts that depression, like a dementor, can bring about. Harry Potter’s “patronus training” in book three of the series reminds me in a way of the structured nature of CBT therapy.

I think the important thing to note about fighting dementors is that the wizard has a toolbox of happy memories prepared in his arsenal ahead of time and has trained and prepared for the dementor’s appearance.  They are able to recognize why they are feeling hopeless and they know what helps to put themselves in a better frame of mind. In that way, they regain control over their feelings of hopelessness.

Whether you have full-blown Major Depressive Disorder, dysthymia, or just get into a funk from time to time, I do think it is a good idea to have a toolbox of coping mechanisms available to help during your worst days in addition to traditional treatments. Maybe you have a happy memory, or a Pinterest board of things that make you smile, or a favorite go-to chocolate, someone you call on the phone, or a “comfort” box of your favorite things. Be proactive: think of this ahead of time, because you certainly won’t feel like it in a dark moment. Let this toolbox be your own real-life patronus. It may make a difficult day just a little bit better.

Is there a creature you would like to see me cover in the Creatures and Happiness series? Let me know in the comments below.

source: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Creatures and Happiness: Dragons

img_1152In anticipation of the premier of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am excited to reveal my new series, Creatures and Happiness, where I will examine the symbolism of magical creatures and what they can teach us about our own wellbeing. First up: Dragons!

I love dragons and could talk all day about the different things they symbolize. Today I will talk about one of their less-thought-of attributes: the attainment of wisdom. Dragons are often portrayed as particularly cunning. They love riddles and tricks. They are also, of course, very dangerous. To meet with a dragon is a great risk, but it is also an opportunity. Defeating a dragon takes a lot of courage and a lot of brainpower. In short, it is a chance to find one’s inner strength and see the full extent of what a person is made of.

The dragon, thus, can be seen as a trial. On the other side of that trial is a stronger, wiser person: the kind of person who has had the courage to face their greatest fears. To best a dragon is to grow as an individual into a stronger self, to shed one’s old skin, so to speak, and step into a new self.

Is there a dragon in your life that you have been avoiding because it is scary or involves taking a risk? Think of it this way: the stronger, wiser “you” is waiting on the other side of that dragon. And let’s face it: that person is pretty awesome. So, perhaps this is the week to strap on your sword and get to it. Your dragon awaits, as does the hero you will become by facing it.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Dragons

 

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