News / Dangerous Blogs

Mental health – when we fall off the trapeze we need a safety net


Mental health across Australian society is in crisis, yet government funding for the community services that support mental wellbeing has been reduced, partly due to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Simultaneously, philanthropy has reduced for both general and special interest community groups, the assumption being that the NDIS will pay for everything that Medicare doesn’t.

Sadly, this isn’t the case, with the groups most affected being the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in our society: Indigenous Australians and people suffering mental illness.

I have experienced the issues relating to mental health from multiple perspectives. I watched my mother struggle with bipolar through her life, her suffering was accentuated by the medicalisation of her condition that didn't allow her to have a life that walked alongside her mental illness.

The stigma associated with mental didn’t allow her condition to be discussed or even acknowledge that we might also be suffering. There was little safety net or support structure for her or us and the shame was palpable.

I have experienced clinical depression in a more enlightened time. I was funded to have talking therapy. My children and husband -as carers, were supported by community organisations specifically funded by government and philanthropy, to provide this safety net.

I even received funding which enabled me to engage with yoga and meditation teacher training, which was ultimately my saviour physically, emotionally and spiritually.  In the last nine years alone this has saved thousands of dollars in care, pharmaceuticals and medical consultations. My suffering and the suffering of my family has been drastically reduced, while massively contributing to society through my teaching and and writing.

I now teach therapeutic yoga and meditation, and give private yoga therapy for people experiencing mental illness, PTSD and chronic conditions, in the community sector.

My fear is that the current user pays, evidence-based environment being created by the NDIS is the beginning of a return to the bad old days of the medicalisation of mental health. Medicalisation works with equipment, medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, but doesn't provide the safety net of community. Treatment without community is a problem.

We need a vital community sector that offers a whole range of services. People from marginalised communities are the least likely to enter into the rigorous and protracted process of NDIS application. They are also most likely to understate the impact of their illness, and therefore most likely to be rejected by NDIS criteria.

And then, even if they are accepted there needs to be the services available that enable them to walk with their illness, and possibly even overcome its dominance over their lives.

The community service sector plays the role of mother, nurturer and carer in our society. It provides the safety net that family and society used to play, unconditional support when the proverbial faeces hit the fan, regardless of your status in society. This is as important for working Australians as it is for people who qualify for a disability pension or a disability parking ticket.

For people suffering mental illness these services include crisis accommodation, access to rehabilitation programs, counselling, financial planning, telephone support, support groups, hang out locations, access to technology, sport & recreation, arts, massage, volunteering opportunities, education and information services, carer nurturing and respite, and most importantly, community services at their best provide an understanding ear for people experiencing crisis, a place for people to land in the midst of their storm.

These services are both therapeutic and preventative and are not offered by the NDIS or Medicare. They are essential for maintaining mental health, preventing mental illness and responding to crisis that can affect any stratum of our society. They provide the care that balances with treatment and equipment – contentment is not just about having the right medical equipment and drugs.

We need to provide a vital and comprehensive safety net for people if and when they fall off the trapeze of modern life. Research shows that mental health is supported by holistically engaging in life; connection with other humans, purpose, nutrition, physical exercise, creative expression, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness. The evidence suggests that these ‘lifestyle’ factors are not luxuries but essential in recovering and maintaining good mental health.

Yet our peak funding bodies are funding and advocating awareness campaigns, pharmaceutical and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)solutions, whilst reducing funding for small community sector organisations that provide lifestyle support, on the basis they are not evidence based.

I know from my own experience that pharmaceuticals can be part of the solution for anxiety and depression. Zoloft opened a space in my dark and cloudy mind for the sun to shine through, enabling me to find more sustainable solutions for my mental health. I could see and then engage in the possibilities of my life when the medication had calmed the dogs breakfast that was my mind; and medication is essential for the management of mental illnesses.

Similarly, (CBT) is very effective for some people, but only one of several evidence based talking therapies that can help people reframe their mental landscape. And even in this current wave of domestic violence, relationship counselling or therapy is not funded by any publicly accessible pathway. The psychologist who helped me to see the light in 2006 would no longer be funded under the current arrangements and I would have needed to travel an hour into Canberra in a wheelchair and find $150-200 a session – not very likely.

I have been servicing this sector since 2009, and have watched the funding for the safety net services dwindle, staff become burnt out and clients suffer as “luxury” services they depended on to maintain wellbeing, disappeared.

Many of my students claim that the classes I deliver are the most effective solutions for improving and maintain both physical and mental health but if they have to make money they become unsustainable. I have already lost one class and others are threatened because students are unable to pay for a service that used to be free. Many are either not registered for the NDIS, have applied and been rejected or are still waiting for their package.

Recovering and maintaining mental health in a modern society requires all the resources we have available to us and to enable this requires honest and open collaboration between all the stakeholders and a vital and viable community safety net. We are a like a huge and complicated family and a family needs a mother that loves unconditionally and is always available to catch the falling trapeze artists.

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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I am not dumb

I’ve held a shameful secret for my life – a secret that if disclosed might get me in trouble and reveal I really am ‘less than’, perhaps even that I am dumb. And as is the nature of secrets, the necessity of concealment spawned management strategies that in themselves formed an addiction, feeding the shame, anxiety and fear of being discovered.

I became an addict and like all addicts I dreaded being found out and I became such an expert at deception that I even convinced myself. The whole fear/anxiety/shame show had spread like a cancer through my identity but it was invisible to me … almost.

I had completed a science degree, been a science journalist, become a mother of three children, completed a secondary science graduate diploma, been a science/maths tutor and teacher, experienced the physical and mental decline of Multiple Sclerosis, yoga-ed and meditated my way out of an electrical wheelchair, wrote and published a book about my journey, established a business teaching yoga and meditation to adults and children with special needs and spoken about my journey…all flying off the seat of my pants.

I had achieved all this with a Loch Ness Fear lurking in the depths of my consciousness.  ‘What if I get discovered?’

The Loch Ness Fear not only spawned behaviours that resulted in chronic under achieving but also prevented me from acknowledging what I was doing, the talents I did/do have. I couldn’t live my achievements because underneath I thought I was dumb and I was afraid I would be exposed as a fraud. I was constantly being undermined not only by my secret but also the meaning I had attached to my secret and the behaviour that it had generated.

Then a few months ago (only a few?), an innocent sharing about Irlens Syndrome from one of my students triggered a recognition within me and I Googled, Irlens Syndrome and saw myself on the screen. A deep recognition dawned that I have experienced reading and concentration difficulties, seemingly forever, and worsened by MS.

As I reflected on my secret, I journeyed through the forest of my strategies, strategies that included but were not restricted to: avoidance of reading; feigned disinterest and laziness; feigned slackness – including but not restricted to not reading emails, procrastination of filling in forms; skimming and flicking to the end of chapters and whole books; boasting about cramming or not studying; and preferring “intuition” rather than research.

The results of my forest of survival strategies was a set of beliefs about my capacity as a learner, procrastination, chronic underachieving and frustration. Oh, not to mention anxiety and shame. I had been so successful that I had come to believe my own publicity, publicity that I created to protect myself from getting in trouble.

So after spending some time quietly reflecting then researching (yep, you read correctly, I researched), I disclosed my secret to my partner. It was the first time I had verbalised my reading difficulties aloud to anyone, including myself and I felt completely liberated. My concealment had been so successful that he had had no idea but as I explained he could see and made comments like, “so that’s why you hate filling out forms”, and many other similar comments as he reconciled seemingly odd behaviours with the underlying reasons.

This surprise followed by realisation has been repeated several times since this first disclosure and each time I have felt a little more liberated. Why? Because I was becoming known, to myself and the people around me… and I wasn’t getting into trouble.

Irlens Syndrome, has been confirmed and I have my blue glasses, but that is almost irrelevant now. The value has been in the double Ds - discovery and disclosure.

I have been walking around with fear, shame and anxiety, and now light has been shed into the darkness. It was not the difficulties that were the problem but the meaning I made of them and the stories I created from that meaning. The difficulties themselves may or may not be fixable but there are other ways to learn and now that I am willing to acknowledge them I can explore these other learning strategies and the gifts I already have.

You see, because I have acknowledging my fears, I can also acknowledge my gifts; the talents I used to use to compensate for what I perceived were my deficits.

It is what I teach my yoga students, what I give in yoga therapy and what I have written in my book – you find peace in your circumstances and live your life to maximum of your capacity. Alternatively, “take life by the balls and run with it, with everything you have”.

Yes, there remains a lifetime of behavioural habits to untangle and messes to clean up but fear has been enveloped in love and understanding, and this compassion has released me - I can speak my truth and I am not in trouble…and I am not dumb. 

 

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8pNE2Qpul0 for Part 1 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SatGo9hV6I for Part 2, and be inspired.

 

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Burn-out and the art of having it all … or not

To paraphrase Ghandi, if I wake up to a busy day, I don’t meditate for one hour … I meditate for three hours.

What happens when we place ourselves, bodies and minds, under too much pressure for too long without taking a break? We burn out. And what does burn out look like? Fatigue, anxiety, depression, injury, chronic or acute illness and/relationship breakdown, and at the extreme end full breakdown possibly tipping into violence.

In our society it seems that maximising stress and busy-ness is every man, woman and child’s extreme sport of choice. We work longer hours, play competitive sport from increasingly young ages, party into the small hours, combine parenthood and career, while striving for the success and/or income, body weight, car, house, the number of zeros on our income that will make us feel like we’ve made it.

So how do we do it? How do we have it all and not burn-out? Is one holiday a year enough? Maybe an 8-week course in mindfulness will solve all the stress we carry around in our body/mind complex. Maybe a weekly yoga class or a round of golf or a dance class. Maybe we could cycle to work, or walk on a treadmill while on a conference call or reading our emails?

Isn’t that enough?

Well, maybe all of those things are great places to start, improving your state of mind and body but are they really where the daily stresses of life occur?

Stress, anxiety and fatigue occur in the moment life is being lived and ignoring the levels of mental, emotional and physical exertion we are experiencing puts us at great risk of tipping us and our loved ones over the brink. And sometimes the aforementioned tools can deceive us into ignoring our signs because we can feel so much better when we come out of the activity and convince ourselves that once class a week is enough.

I have seen yoga teachers who teach encourage students to relax or meditate while ignoring their own practice because they are too busy and consequently suffer burn-out; or cyclists/sports enthusiasts who become so competitive that it creates as much road-rage and stress as sitting in a traffic jam.

And then what’s the first thing to go when we get busy? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “I can’t come to class, I’m too busy”. When coming to class would be the best thing to do for their own wellbeing and productivity.

So, how do we do it? How do we reduce the stress we experience in everyday life and prevent our systems giving up and going for a long lie down?

One possibility is to practice mindfulness, relaxation and meditation in your everyday life – in the car, while you eat, before a meeting, after a meeting (sometimes even during a meeting – toilets), every hour (set an alarm), stretch at your desk, wriggle your fingers and toes at traffic lights, take some to breathe at the end of a task, break between projects and slow your breath which will slow your heart-beat and enable you to increase your productivity.

Let me give you an example. Recently I moved house. No biggie you might think, except that I have recently started postgraduate studies in yoga therapy, continued teaching my full class and therapy schedule, participated in a leadership program, had a two-week gap between moving out and moving in during which we had nowhere to stay, and with my partner made the somewhat questionable decision of doing all the cleaning and moving out of the ‘old house’ with a difficult landlord. Oh, and did I mention I have Multiple Sclerosis?

How did I do it and maintain my sanity, health and good humour? I meditated, yoga-ed and breathed, not just in the morning or night, but all through the day. Every time I finished packing a box I took a few moments to breathe, each time I carried something heavy I took the time to breathe and contract my pelvic floor. I stretched my body at every opportunity. Nearly a week of 13 hour days of hard, dirty work interspersed with yoga, enabled by yoga.

My partner and I kept talking and laughing, we looked for creative solutions, like camping and AirBnB for accommodation options. Eventually, I let go of thinking I had to continue studying and writing and being superwoman, and simply focussed on what was in front of me.

The result was that even when we found ourselves in a camping ground on the south coast in the rain without tent poles or gas bottle or light, I didn’t stress or shout. We innovated – camping gazebo with tent lining tied to the frame of the gazebo, firewood had made it into the car so that took care of cooking and, well, who needs light when you have stars?

My mind was spacious and relaxed, and I had looked after my body by my practice in the moment, and my meditation had allowed me to let go of what couldn’t do and focus on what I could. I had survived more physical work than I had done for nearly ten years and thrived.

Two months after moving in and we are happily settling in. I have expanded my idea of what’s possible by increasing my personal practice, a potentially very stressful few months has had no impact on my MS condition and reduced my need to be superwoman, while reminding me of the importance of living my practice.

You can do this too, with the smallest of adjustments and the simplest practices. Eventually you will look at your lifestyle choices and become more discriminating – you might be able to have it all but do you really need to?

 

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8pNE2Qpul0 for Part 1 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SatGo9hV6I for Part 2, and be inspired.

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If they could see me now…

In 2006, following an MS exacerbation that left in a wheelchair and being bathed every day, my doctor gave me the prognosis, “nursing home within five years”. Twelve months later, after another exacerbation following a general anaesthetic another neurologist left gauge marks in the soles of my feet trying to get a plantar reflex response – he could not accept that there simply wasn’t one. In another similar Incident, a doctor put a stick down my throat trying to illicit a vomit response but again, there wasn't one – I could neither swallow, vomit or cough.

That was then and this is now. I teach yoga and meditation, I have written and published a book, recorded relaxations and meditations, learned to ski, this year I plan to learn how to scull and run, and launch an online studio for people in crisis or wanting to engage in a non-pretzel yoga practice. If those doctors could see me now, I wonder what they would think.

So what enabled this seemingly miraculous recovery and what set me on this seemingly impossible path?  

Well, to answer the second question first – madness set me on this path, or at least the alleviation of madness. I had experienced life as feeling bullied, disempowered and illness – in short, I had become addicted to suffering. Then one day in a hospital bed in 2004, in the midst of this addiction, I experienced bliss … peace and a meditation practice was borne, which led me back to a spasmodic yoga practice

Then three years later in an electric wheelchair, again I felt peace. After a lifetime of felt madness, experiencing peace in the midst of suffering was extraordinary and very magnetic. That was a decision in a moment, a decision that was to change the path of my life – “I am done with suffering and I want to learn how to live in this state, and teach other people in crisis how to live in peace, regardless of circumstance.”

According to Eckhardt Tolle, any individual experiencing pain (pain in the general sense of suffering, not just physical pain), has to reach a tipping point where they are ‘over’ living in pain before they can really set upon the path of transformation. For me this was that point, “Enough now”.

Decision made I headed off to a yoga teacher training course … in my electric wheelchair and learned how to develop a personal yoga and meditation practice that has seen me through a marriage breakdown, multiple surgeries, MS exacerbations and the growing of a new life, with increasingly less mental and physical suffering.

There have have been so many times during my recovery when I have thought of people in my past (peers from school, doctors, family) and thought, “if only they could see me now”, or its partners in crime, “I’ll show them,” and “if I do [fill in the blank] maybe ill be good enough”. Yet despite the initial lift to my ego, these thoughts were always ultimately diminishing to my actual self-esteem, and disturbed my equanimity.

And then recently I had an MRI scan on my brain and spine to check the status of disease progression. The images were available immediately following the scan, so of course as soon as I arrived home I opened the envelope and pored over each scan.

 The number, size and spread of the scars on my beautiful brain were much worse than I remembered. My disease had progressed. I was shocked! Once again I felt the grief of having chronic degenerative disease.

My physical condition had been continuing to improve over time, I was more resilient and more confident than at any other time of my life. Beware of hubris. Somewhere in my consciousness I had beaten the progressive aspect of MS. I was different”, “I was going to show them”, “if only they could see me now”, all came crashing down in an exposed and tangled mess.

Time for reflection. I had never thought I had cured MS but I had imperceptibly slid into the hubris of victory over progression but there it was, undressed in my shock. I wasn’t superwoman after all.   I was still proving myself, only worthy to the people I was ‘showing’ while I was superwoman.

Then I started to reframe, with the help of my partner. Yes, I have MS. Yes, I have damage to my central nervous system. How amazing that I was able to do all these things with the scarring in my brain. How amazing that my brain was able to find so many alternative routes. How amazing that my practice had brought me to a place of such resilience.

I have spent so much time proving my ‘success’ to others in order to gain legitimacy for my thoughts and teachings that I had forgotten the most important of my lessons: “I am not just my body, I am not just my emotions, I am not just my mind”.

Maybe it was time to show myself. Maybe it was time to see myself. I had given so much power away by wanting other people to see me, I hadn’t seen myself. Each time I thought “if only they could see me now”, or “I’ll show them”, I was giving the external world with all its judgements and insecurities, legitimacy over my own sense of self.

I started this journey of recovery to learn how to live in the peace I found in meditation, now it is time to question why I feel such peace in meditation. It's a work in progress but I think we experience peace in meditation because there is no reference point of comparison, all of our layers are peeled back and we are invited to sit with our true self and the scars of our consciousness are no longer relevant. When I sit in meditation I am not thinking “if only they could see me now”, I am basking in seeing and being in my Self.

 

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8pNE2Qpul0 for Part 1 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SatGo9hV6I for Part 2, and be inspired.

 

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