Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let’s learn from Robin Williams: Pain doesn’t have to be our legacy

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” August Wilson

Robin Williams, a celebrity described as “kind” and “funny” and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, took his life recently, at 63. How does someone so devoted to creating joy and laughter for others get to such a point where he feels his life is no longer worth living?

In a recent Facebook post, Author Anne Lamott, indicates she and Robin Williams were raised within close proximity, in a troubled environment filled with pain and insecurity, in addition to suggesting they both had a genetic predisposition to mental health problems.

However, whether you have a genetic predisposition or a painful past—there’s always hope.

Contrary to what many people believe, experts indicate that a genetic disposition to any illness is a vulnerability—not a life sentence. It’s a good indicator of the necessity to have preventative measures in place, in support of a productive and healthy life.

Painful past experiences don’t have to be a precursor to a dark future either, or all-encompassing of who we are. Instead, it can be an incentive to inspire personal growth—signaling the importance of seeking opportunities that can help support greater emotional development and coping skills.

Instead of becoming victims of life’s challenges and running from one extreme to the next—be it abusing alcohol, drugs or each other—we can create a middle ground where things are neither hopeless or perfect, but rather okay and manageable. 

In spite of how we feel in any given situation, it’s important to remember that we always have choices. Understanding our options ahead of time is a significant way to manage life’s challenges, so we can feel in control and have a sense of hope—regardless of what our ailments are.

The following some tips for coping with distressing situations:

  • Know your triggers—situations that cause you to feel the most distress. Pay attention to your thinking, feeling and what happens in your body. When you know what your stressors are, you can reduce or eliminate them, or create a plan for managing them.

  • Draw from strengths that got you through difficult experiences in the past, and realign what’s out of balance or dragging you down.
  • Be willing to reach out and ask for help. People don’t know your situation until you communicate to them. And having supportive connections—loved ones or professionals you can talk to—can be a great way to get your feelings and frustrations out, and can be helpful with solutions or resources. (And regular medical checkups can be a helpful tool for monitoring and having support for your state of well-being.)

    Studies have demonstrated an association between increased levels of social support and reduced risk for physical disease, mental illness, and mortality.
  • Get physical. Exercise reduces tension, and burns off adrenaline, hormones, sugars, and fats that are released into your system when you’re stressed. It increases energy, endorphins, strengthens your heart, and improves sleep quality.  When we feel better, we do better.
  • Be realistic about your expectations. Consider your limits, what’s most important, and how much you can comfortably take on. Don't pressure yourself for not being able to do something, for saying "no" or when things don’t always turn out the way you’d like them to.

  • Challenge your perception. Pay attention to your thoughts about a situation, and whether it’s based on truth or fear. Instead of viewing it as a threat, think of it as a challenge - getting your creative juices flowing and propelling you forward, toward a constructive outcome.

  • Change your focus. We have a choice about what we want to ruminate about, and research suggests that focusing on things that are meaningful to us, such as our goals, is empowering and has a positive impact on our emotional state.

  • Determine your needs. What requires attention in your life right now? Make a list of what’s being met and what’s not. This can include physical and emotional aspects, such as sleep, support or fun.

  • Be assertive. Expressing your needs and concerns can help you feel more in control of your circumstances. It’s the middle ground between being passive and aggressive—extreme ends of the communicative spectrum—which contribute to stress. Determine what you want, communicate it (without blame—“I feel or want…”), and create an action plan, clearly defining your solution. Be specific. Telling someone you want more time with them is clearer than requesting them to be more considerate.
  • Add more meaning to your life. Dr. Doug Saunders of the University of Toronto links the additional stress we face as a society to a loss of things that are meaningful to us, in addition to increasing demands. Joyful experiences create more balance to the distressing ones.
Ways you can help others:
  • Support acceptance and inclusion (versus exclusion) - especially to those that may seem on the sidelines or isolated.
  • Encourage social networks between loved ones, neighbors, co-workers, communities and other groups.
  • Participate in neighborhood outreach programs.
  • Learn more about warning signs to watch out for with loved ones and friends.
We all have strengths and resources we can utilize to successfully deal with our situations. And together, we need to draw upon our strengths to help each other and to contribute to the health of our society.

“As we evolve as individuals, so do we cause society to evolve. The culture that nurtures us in childhood is nurtured by our leadership in adulthood. Those who achieve growth not only enjoy the fruits of growth but give the same fruits to the world. Evolving as individuals, we carry humanity on our backs. And so humanity evolves” (M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Travelled, 1993).

Resources for needing or lending support:

Canadian Mental Health Association – A resource for needing and lending support, for those dealing with various aspects of mental health. It provides a large variety of helpful information and supportive network services.
Phone 613-745-7750

Mayo Clinic, Adult Health – provides a detailed list of websites for specific needs.

World Health Organization (WHO), Mental Health Gap Action program (mhGAP) – provides resources for mental health intervention.

Community Health Centres – Works with other agencies to contribute to the development of individuals, families, and healthy communities through outreach initiatives, such as providing resources and linking support, to encourage people to take responsibility for their health and well being.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Resources for family/relationship support.