Using Anger to Avoid Grief

“All too often, anger becomes an alluring substitute for grieving, promising agency and control when one’s real situation does not offer control . . . Anger is often well-grounded, but it is too easy for it to hijack the necessary mourning process.”

Brain Pickings is a fantastic site, full of articles about emotional development, literature, philosophy and a number of other topics which can inspire and help us to imagine greater things. The post referenced below and found here, provides an insightful reflection on anger and grieving, by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum.

Buddhist Geeks Podcasts

I started listening to the Buddist Geeks podcasts some years ago, as I looked for further inspiration for my mediation practice. Not only was I drawn to these podcasts because of meditation, but I was also attracted to their practical approach to the topics they cover. If you are looking for something to listen to in the car, on the train, while tramping (I prefer to listen to the birds, but to each their own), then I would recommend that you check out Buddhist Geeks.

Modifying Moods Through Exercise

It can be difficult to deal with the gloom, at times. The worst thing to do for your moods can seem the most natural – to stay in bed and brood over the things working through your mind. One of the things that can most help with moods can seem the most difficult to do. To get out of bed and exercise can produce chemicals to help with your moods and being able to focus on the things around you, as you walk, can be incredibly therapeutic.

exercise for mental health

I went on a walk today with my son. The wind on my face, the warmth of the sun, the sound of his voice, the feeling of the gravel shifting beneath my feet. All of these things helped to ground me in a place outside of my head. We walked a path behind our home and stopped to take this photo. If you need someone to help you get outside and exercise, try sharing this page with a friend and ask them to help you get outside (and outside of your own head).

Walk, talk, take time to be with others and nature. It might seem difficult, at first, but the rewards can be significant – for you and those who love you.

“Ten Days in a Madhouse” by Nellie Bly

The following embedded resource is a link from my personal Twiter account to a reading (audio version) of the work “Ten Days in a Madhouse”by the early and influential female journalist, Nellie Bly. Her compassion and empathy for those suffering, as well as her insights into whether some even belonged in such places helped to shape the future of long-term psychiatric care.

Narrative Therapy

We all have “narratives” or stories that we construct about our lives. The events around us are not quite as objective as we often like to imagine. We take information, feelings, reactions, instincts and we filter events, creating our own stories of what has happened. This active construction of “reality” is understood, analysed and utilised in Narrative Therapy.

Unlike in some therapeutic approaches where the therapist is an “expert”, the Narrative therapist realises that the client is the expert in his or her own life. By working through the narratives of a client’s life – most specifically those that are problematic for current functioning – the client and therapist are able to develop “richer” narratives, which aid the individual with conflict resolution and creating a perspective of self and the world which assist in sounder mental health. In this context, the therapist is a collaborator with the client, helping construct revised meaning.

There are a number of techniques employed in Narrative Therapy, including:

  • Helping the client to “separate” from problems, seeing that they are not the same as their problems. (This externalisation process also includes “strengths” and other more positive aspects of self, so that the client can author a more preferred narrative of self.)
  • Encouraging the client to consider life events which are not dominant in current narratives (e.g. looking for exceptions).

Narrative Therapy developed in the family therapy practices of Australian Michael White and New Zealander David Epston and is still used in relationship counselling. For some practitioners, including Epston, it is common to use not only verbal narratives, but also things such as letters, documents and other supporting objects.

Family Scripts

Family scripts are a conceptualisation which can aid therapists in working with families. The idea is that families have accustomed ways of interacting with each other and these shared stories can be woven not only into the fabric of the nuclear family, but can also take place in trans-generational contexts.

Thus, various family members take upon themselves (or have thrust upon them) certain “parts” in the play that is the life of the family. An abusive father may have himself been brutalised and then treats his son in the same way, who then takes the position of his father in this script, when he becomes a father himself.

The idea is that these scripts are unspoken and family members do not consciously know that they are acting a given part in the family drama. Attempts to change the script can cause hostile reactions from other family members, who do not want someone affecting their own roles.

Part of applying family script techniques to family counselling involves the therapist helping the family members understand their roles and coming up with improved ways of understanding and relating to each other.

Inner Space – The Final Frontier

When I was a small child, I thought nothing could be better than to explore a new world. I was fascinated by science fiction – to see a new world, to explore the stars, to encounter new beings, to imagine new (and generally more noble) ways of existing. All of these things filled me with wonder and desire for things which I knew I would never experience. I have always loved sci-fi for this gift. This ability to be and imagine more.

When I entered my 40s, I had an experience which shook me to my core. I was lost – lost in my head, lost in the world. The only thing which kept me tethered to this world was a very dear four year old who called me “Daddy”. I felt adrift emotionally and the mood shifts, from grief to hostility, were almost more than I could bear. A place that I felt I knew intimately – my mind – suddenly became a strange and frightening landscape.

It was then that I realised that our greatest journeys will never be to other celestial landscapes, our bravest explorations will not be propelled by the thrust required to break orbit of our pale blue dot. Our greatest and most noble paths will not be to the stars, but will be to the infinite abyss within ourselves. To stand at the edge and look into the darkness, to be willing to stare into the darkness – such is a brave and noble act.

You will receive no ticker tape parade, no slaps on the back, no heroes’ welcome. Most will not be able to understand either your motivation or the changes which this journey has brought to you. You will be able to discuss your voyage of discovery only with kindred spirits, who have also sailed by the stars.

Return to Counselling

I lived in Christchurch in 2010, when the earthquakes came. I had a counselling office and was just finishing my Master of Counselling, when the quakes started. We tried to “ride it out”, like so many others in the city. When the February 2011 quake struck, which took so many lives, we decided it was time to take our child out of the area.

I was offered a university lecturer position two days after the February quake had damaged our home and office, so we packed up and headed to Australia. After teaching that year in Darwin, we wanted to return to New Zealand. Since then, I have taken a government job and not a day passes, that I don’t miss my love and “calling” of counselling.

My family now lives in Wellington and we are here to stay. So, I will be restarting my counselling practice here in the capital of wee, lovely Aotearoa. It will take awhile, but I will have my shingle out soon.

Here’s to the best of mental health!

Jerry

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