Self talk

I’ve done it for years, and I have noticed others too. Self talk, the gentle encouragement, or the talking of oneself off a ledge, so important a coping tool for depression sufferers and those with anxiety.

It’s usually done silently for fear of being discovered by those around us. We fear being judged or avoided for being a nutbag. Today I view self talk as a sign of great strength. I was asked on social media, “What’s something you miss from childhood?” and I was surprised to learn by reading the first few responses that there were people who had nothing good to say about their formative years. One person had been adopted, another abused, both potentially severe traumas for young people. I miss most the encouraging words I received from my folks, my sisters, my teachers, and friends. I think that gift of encouragement in the form of talking me through challenges, led me to the practice of tapping into my inner messages. These are the most private messages sent to yourself when stressed or faced with some important task.

“What the hell have you done?”

“What gave you the idea you could do this?”

“Nobody knows how really scared I am right now..”

All of these types of messages, the self talk in our own heads, have to pass through your ear gate. In his book “Attitude is Everything,” Keith Harrell defines your ear gate as the source of entry of power or the lack of self esteem that people encounter throughout their waking life. I had the great pleasure of seeing Harrell speak at a seminar for professional skills trainers sponsored by AchieveGlobal. Harrell was one of the most dynamic motivational speakers I have ever encountered. He took his audience through a range of emotions, at times bringing us to tears with the power and truth of his message. I’ve hyperlinked his Vimeo story in case you need a lift in your day. It’s about 17 minutes long, but worth every second of your time investment, and it explains the importance of guarding your psyche from negative messages that we may let past our ear gates.

Self talk has helped me to dig myself out of a very deep and lasting depressive episode in my last 4 years. I’m now getting ready to re-enter the workforce and I am using self talk to help me regain the great confidence and love for public speaking I once enjoyed. Please give your impression of the value of self talk, and also your thoughts about one of my favorite people, Keith Douglas Harrell.

Thoughts, prayers, good intentions are not enough

In this post, perhaps the most potentially powerful and personal of all, I want you to know that your good intentions will only go as far as assuaging your own guilt. If someone you know is suffering severe depression, and you don’t reach out to them, get ready to encounter some deep and lasting guilt. Reaching out can feel extremely dangerous, like crossing over an imaginary line to ask “are you okay?” “Is there something I can do, like just listen?” “I think there’s something troubling you.”

Then wait quietly for your answer.

Practice the waiting if you have to, in front of a mirror. Tell someone else whom you trust what it is that you suspect, and if they have knowledge of the person, they may even participate in this kindness with you. Strength in numbers, the possibility that you may be right, and to perform a mitzvah, a good deed that both you and your subject may long remember are worth the risk. When is the last time that you stuck your neck out, really went out on a limb for someone, risking the embarrassment they might reject you?

I included the link above to the word mitzvah because the very idea captured my attention and stuck with me years after I learned about it. Twenty years ago, I met a very important person in my life, someone who has since often helped me to regain my perspective and shorten a dark depressive episode. Mel was a neighbor who walked into my newly purchased home to introduce herself, and she did it by saying “I almost bought this house, and you stole it out from under me!” The smile on her face and her calming laugh was my introduction to my most cherished neighbor and friend, someone who lived only a block away because I’d in fact been quicker to the draw when placing an offer on my home. Grandma Mel is a blessing. She knows the importance and value of being a good neighbor and I quickly became a member of her extended family. As such I was invited to family gatherings and learned that many of her family members lived all around me. We danced at weddings, we celebrated births and holidays together, and shared a deep love of good food. She was someone who had endured many losses in her life. She and I shared much about our individual lives, serious bouts of depression and lasting darkness, all discussed over her potato latkes, brisket, my Mojitos, or arroz con pollo. There was endless acceptance and love in her heart, and we have remained close friends years after I sold my beloved home. Mel explained the concept of a mitzvah to me. “It’s not supposed to be known that you did it,” she explained, “that would make you a fame seeker.” In her heart were many treasured memories of the people who have touched her life and helped to shape the giving, selfless woman that became my friend so many years ago. She often calls me to ask me, “what’s doing?” as though the mother of six, and grandmother to many didn’t have enough folks to look out for in her full and rich life. She is a shining example for my own approach to helping other people.

Another close friend had called it “putting myself in other people’s circles.” Aunt Bettie was another godsend in my life. She was generous with her time like a mother would be, but she spoke to me like a peer, a friend in whom she trusted and believed to be worthy of her time. Once after a few glasses of wine, she told me “I don’t like everybody; some are just a horse’s ass, and I have to be selective with my time.” I miss Bettie’s warmth and kindnesses almost daily. My best memory of her “circles” comment was getting a few phone calls after some promotion or achievement of mine that had circulated her way, and she’d sing Mister Roger’s “I’m Proud of You” song, all the way to the end. If you got one of those calls it was intended to let you know that you and your achievement meant something to her. The day of her celebration of life ceremony, the venue was packed, and many people stood in the back to share in her family’s loss. Both of Bettie’s daughters took the podium to eulogize their bigger-than-life mother, composed, eloquent, and exhausted from the thought of losing their cherished relationships with Bettie. Kate said “you always knew where you stood with Mom, and she wasn’t shy about telling you.” She continued through the beginning of tears, saying “those of you who knew her also know the I’m Proud of You tradition…” “Come on, let’s all sing it…”. In that room of greater than 200 people, so many joined Kate singing and laughing through their tears.

Why do some of us have the time, the energy, and the chutzpah to risk caring for others? What’s really in it for us?

Until it happens to you

The best idea of why humans extend themselves, why they bother to care about other people is because they receive something in return. In the movie “I Am,” Tom Shadyac set out to learn why we live in such a screwed up world. Why can we live in a modern age, yet still see ancient problems like hunger, ignorance, and apathy still alive and holding strongly? Shadyac instead learned what is right with the world. He proved Einstein’s theory of Quantum Mechanics and entanglement by using yogurt to demonstrate how strong human emotions influenced another living organism, a living culture of yogurt. The energy field within the yogurt detected Shadyac’s mood, and a meter that measured electromagnetic changes detected his feelings when Shadyac thought of his divorce. Further he concluded that humans are genetically wired to care about others, to offer others empathy.

I’m asking you to think about a time in your life when you put yourself out for someone else, and it mattered. Then think about those times in your life when you really felt a need for someone, a friend, or even an acquaintance who could be a sympathetic ear. There is great importance to realize that humans are interconnected, or entangled. There’s a special reward for those who get into the circles of others for good reasons. For Aunt Bettie it meant that she could right a terrible wrong, or tip the scales back toward the middle. She was one in a million, and that crowded room of mourning relatives knew who and what she was. It is my sincere hope to be just a little bit like her always. Her memory will never fade or die as long as I pay forward her empathy and generous spirit.

Good intentions are not enough

Actions matter, more important than books full of promises, or idle words from a well meaning procrastinator. Do it now. Take the risk. Pay forward a kindness that you remember. I hope we’ve all known a Grandma Mel or Aunt Bettie because those are the people who would tell you the truth, even if the truth hurt a little to hear. These kinds of friends can talk you off a ledge. They balance the dark times with a distraction, or a well timed piece of advice. They’ll drive you to the doctor appointment you’ve been dreading without having to be asked. Be one of those people just once and see how you feel afterwards.

What dreams may come?

This topic shares the name of a favorite movie starring Robin Williams. In the movie, shot in fantasy genre, Williams’ beloved wife Annie commits suicide, and his character Chris suffers tremendous feelings of guilt that drive him to believe he can save her soul by rescuing her from the pits of hell.  Drastic and unpleasant subject matter I acknowledge, but if ever there was a picture with award winning imagery of what hell might look like, this is it.  For the severely depressed, it demonstrates the vivid dreams that seem to plague us during the dark times. I recommend that you watch the movie “What Dreams May Come” if you’ve never seen it.  It has its happy moments, but more importantly I think it is a clue, like another Williams movie “The Fisher King,” to Robin Williams’ personal battles with major depressive episodes. The hyperlink is the main character’s journey into hell, and the picture at top of this topic is borrowed from the cinematographer’s depiction of purgatory.

Dream studies suggest that when our bodies relax enough to let go of the conscious world we experience freedom that allows our subconscious mind to empty itself of unfinished thoughts, sometimes those troubling aspects of our waking life.

If my own dreams are an indication, there’s plenty of reasons for the vivid and terrifying dreams I’ve experienced for over five years as of this writing. Who knew that someone of average imagination and writing talents could fabricate elaborate landscapes, linked somehow to stimuli from the conscious, waking life? Medications for sleep also warn of vivid nightmares, so please consider reading the micro font printed warnings that come with medications related to sleep and depression if you are troubled by night terrors.

Dreams motivate us to understand what events or conditions might be troubling our souls; dreams can be whimsical fantasies that give our heavily burdened brains a good laugh.  I far prefer the latter, though sometimes I am troubled by nightmares long after they’ve occurred.  Before the depression and in my happier dreams I once wrote beautiful poetry, and poignant stories penning them with my finger on the bedsheet.  Some very creative people value dreams so much that they keep paper and pen next to their sleep space so they can free their minds of waking thoughts to be dealt with later, and to facilitate unfettered dreaming. If a dream provides the basis for needed action, they write ideas and the actions on paper upon waking and before they are forgotten. During the night terrors when I wake and try to go back to sleep, I’m pushed right back to the same scary place that my nightmare had paused just before my body woke up. Self study has taught me the recurring, re-entry at the place of paused nightmares is the definition of obsessive behavior associated with anxiety. Many times I would get out of bed, watch late night, bad TV shows until sufficiently bored enough to give sleep another try.

I’ve read some interesting materials about dreams over my lifetime. There has been much scientific thought given to whether people have dreams in color.  One study concluded that older people, those born during the age of black and white television, tended not to remember color in dreams. Young people claiming their dreams were color-filled remembered pastel shades. Further discussion about dreams revealed that nightmares occur during pre-REM sleep when the brain is less busy, which might explain my tendencies to dream about scary situations or people. Insomnia prevents me from achieving REM (rapid eye movement sleep stage) most nights.

What has been on your mind?

Do you remember your dreams?  Dream researchers in the past ten years theorized that we do not remember dreams, but instead, the waking mind tries to make sense of random pieces of the dream using reason.  Since the real life events in the dream seldom occur exactly as they did in waking time, our logical left brain struggles to relate the imagery to something real, the conscious mind making some sense of a dream in order to move past it.

To those who are reading this blog, when have you taken action based on a dream? Do you value dreaming?  Do your dreams reveal a need to make a change, or provide an outlet for funny thoughts to be expressed?  Please leave your thoughts for others to consider your perspective on dreams.