Thoughts

The weaknesses of strengths

Has anyone else noticed that we can be a little bit hard on the people we love the most? Sometimes it feels that the closest of friends can spend more time talking about the things that annoy them about those they love than the things that they admire?

More often than not, the failings of our friends and colleagues and our partners will annoy us much more than the failings of anyone else around us. Why are they so slow? Why are they so bad with money? Why does it take them so long to tell an anecdote? Why can’t they figure out how to use their smart phone properly? And we’ll spend so much time looking for answers to why this is the case.

It’s at these moments that it might be worthwhile considering ‘The Weakness of Strength’ theory. This theory dictates that we should strive to see people’s weaknesses as the inevitable downside of certain merits that drew us to them, and from which we will benefit at other times (even if none of these benefits are apparent right now). This theory states that what we’re seeing are not their faults, pure and simple, but rather the shadow side of things that we are genuinely impressed by. We’re picking up on weaknesses derived from strengths.

Every strength at each of has, necessarily brings with it a weakness of which it is an inherent part. This theory suggests that it is impossible to have strengths without weaknesses.

Here’s an example. For a long time I’ve been a person who has always tried to look for the good in other people. For a long time I had assumed this was a strength. It’s allowed me to be reasonably kind and empathetic towards people. But the flip side is that such nicety in certain situations can allow others to take advantage of me at times. In essence, this weakness comes from my own perceived strength. We can choose to look at weaknesses as ugly parts of ourselves, but weaknesses or imperfections are just as innate as our strengths. It may not be possible to have one without another.

Sometimes if I can connect myself with this theory, it offers a new perspective on things. Rather than question how I came to be friends with this person - who is really pissing me off in the moment, with their lack of punctuality and incredible indleness – I can attempt to meet it with a declaration of their strengths – their playfulness, sense of adventure and spontaneity. Sometimes we can get so caught up with a person’s weakness that we forget their strengths, the attributes that drew us to the person in the first place. In the face of weakness, let’s try to keep the strengths in view.

The theory can help us in times of crisis when we just can’t help but see the flaws in the people we’ve chosen to associate with. In times of relational crisis our minds tend to hive off the strengths and see the weaknesses as some weird and freakish add on. But it may just be all part and parcel.

The best part of this theory though is that it undermines that pesky little idea in the back of our minds that somewhere out there, if we maybe just look a little bit harder, there’s a person who can fulfil all our needs. A person who will always be perfect to be around. When, in truth, that person does not exist.

We are imperfect beings, inherently so, and the theory helps us understand this better. We will meet people with a whole new array of strengths but this will inevitably come with a whole new litany of weaknesses. The theory calms us down, reminding us softly that perfect people are like baby unicorns dancing on rainbows; a really nice idea, but something that simply does not exist.

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'Everything happens for a reason' - I say BS

I was eavesdropping whilst I was drinking coffee in a café the other day. I do this a lot FYI. Both, eavesdrop and drink coffee.

 A man is telling a woman a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident. Her life was shattered in an instant. According to the man, she now lives in a state of chronic pain. She can’t use her legs.

He reports that she had been “a mess” before the accident, but the tragedy has resulted in some positive changes in her life. That – according to him – as a result of this devastation, she is living a “wonderful life”.

And then he utters the words. The words that I really, really, really hate to hear. Words that can be responsible for emotional and spiritual and psychological violence.

          ‘Everything happens for a reason’.

Bullshit. Words that can destroy lives. And words that are so very untrue.

These words are pretty much my least favourite thing for anyone to say. To anyone. I reckon its both bad thinking and bad advice. Yet I am certain that I’ve said them at more than one time in the past.

Because I think it’s the thing we say to someone when we don’t know what else to say. Or worse, when we have difficulty sitting with the discomfort of a loved one. Whether our loved one be experiencing a relationship break up. Or the death or a child. Or the diagnosis of a debilitating medical condition. By uttering this phrase it forces us to turn a blind eye to that fact that life is unfair. That it involves suffering. These words try to cover up or push aside very real pain. This phrase makes us feel more comfortable.

But we can’t get to feeling more comfortable or to becoming more helping, generous and brave without navigating through tough emotions like desperation, shame and panic.

When I’ve been in the midst of desperation, shame and panic, I have had people to say to me ‘Everything happens for a reason’. I’ve wanted to kick them in the face. Luckily, I was usually way too depressed. What I thought was “You have no idea what I’m feeling you goose. I can tell because you’re saying all of these things that have nothing to do with what I am going through right now. Many, many things happen for no reason at all. Even if there is a reason this has happened to me, I’m not ready to think about it. I just need to be sad right now. I wish you could just let me”.

And the whole time the goose is smiling at me. To help me feel better. Goose.

At the time I didn’t want to be fixed. And I couldn’t be fixed.

The harsh reality is that some things in life cannot be fixed. As Adversity Strategist Tim Lawrence puts it, some things can only be "carried".

 For some of us we may be able to go through painful experiences and experience growth. For others, devastation may destroy lives. And when we replace grieving with advice and platitudes we run into trouble. Because we become absent from our loved ones. We stop connecting. We stop carrying.

The platitude and fixes and ‘everything happens for a reason’s can be so very dangerous to those we claim to love. We deny them the right to grieve. Or be in pain. And in doing so, we can be denying them the right to be human.

The most powerful thing we can do for each other when we are in pain is to acknowledge and remain. We can literally say the words – I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.

There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And it requires no training or special skills or expertise.

Being there is the harder part. Not leaving when we feel uncomfortable. Or when we feel we are not doing anything. Because it is in these places where the beginnings of healing are usually found. And every bit of healing needs human connection.

Not bullshit advice.

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Battle of the Cards

Today we launch a fun project over on Instagram - @hopestreetmail.

Since we stopped living under the same roof - some 16 years ago - Trudy and I have been engaged in a fierce battle that has crossed suburbs, states and even entire seas. It’s a competitive game that appears to have no real victory in sight, yet it is powerfully compelling and neither of us is giving up. For all this time we’ve been attempting to discover and deliver to the other, the very best greeting card on the planet. This is far and away, the bestest battle of them all.

Personal snail mail is pretty powerful stuff. It demands such tactile interaction: we hold it in our hands, we rip open the seal, we pull apart the envelope. And then there’s the aura of excitement about it – only very important stuff is sent by post these days – so there’s some anticipation as we wonder if something really significant has arrived. And there’s the rare splash of real ink! And real handwriting! How totally intriguing!

The behavioural psychology effects – joy and love and surprise – that this personal card game has engendered is great for us, but we feel it’s time we shared some of this with the rest of the world. For all this time, the unadulterated “ohhs” and “ahhhs” and “OMGs” in response to amazing greeting cards have been kept isolated. It’s time to share these reactions, and their triggers with other greeting card devotees.

And we want to showcase the wonderful work of other greeting card businesses and let them know what their art means to us. Since starting Hope Street Cards, one of the most special things has been receiving feedback from card recipients. So it’s time for us to show that kindness too.

Who knows you may find a card you’d like to send to someone too.

Follow the battle and let the best sister win! - @hopestreetmail.

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Looking at ourselves

There is a saying that is repeatedly shared when people talk about their experiences with substance use disorders – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. 

We don’t need to have a substance use disorder though to know that this can happen. It often takes me about three or four times before I realise that a Diet Coke before bed time is not the brightest idea. Or that exercise makes me feel good. Or that when I try to do something I feel that it is only worthwhile if I do it perfectly. Even if I’m trying something new.

But I wouldn’t say that ‘insanity’ is the cause. It’s usually just a case of lacking self-awareness.

Self-awareness has got to be the most pivotal component to managing our mental health. Yet so many of us overlook its value. In simple terms, self-awareness is about trying to understand who we really are and why we do the things we do, in the way that we do them. By becoming more self-aware, we can gain a greater degree of control over how we are operating in the present - instead of reacting to something conditioned by our past experiences. When we are self-aware we are conscious of our emotions and our thoughts and our behaviours. And only then do we have some control over the results.

In the absence of self-awareness, we can find ourselves exposed to people, situations and environments that seem to drain the energy out of us - physically and mentally - which in turn can have an effect on our mood and stress levels.

Self-awareness is not the same as self-obsession. Or self-absorption. There’s not a lot of naval gazing going on here. Contrarily, self-awareness helps us to become less self-absorbed as it teaches us not to be taken over by obsessive thoughts and feelings. With observation and awareness of our self we develop internal clarity and can become more open to the emotional lives of those around us.

The capacity to observe and listen to our feelings and bodily sensations is essential for optimal mental health. We need to be able to use our feelings but not be used by them. If we are our emotions, rather than an observer of them, we veer into a pretty chaotic place. On the other hand, if we press our feeling altogether, we can swing into total rigidity. There is a massive difference between saying ‘I am angry’ and saying ‘I feel angry’. The first is a description that is closed. No room for movement. The second is an acknowledgment of a feeling, and does not define the self.

In the same way that it is useful to be aware – but separate – from our feelings, it is also necessary to be able to observe, but separate from our thoughts. Then we can notice the different kinds of thoughts we have, and examine them, rather than be them. This allows us to notice which thoughts work well for us, and whether any of our internal mind chatter is not serving us particularly well.

I’ve just started a new day job and for the last week I have had the privilege of working in a very intensive long-term treatment service. The patients in this service are remarkable. Every single day I am amazed and inspired by them. During their treatment they have worked towards becoming self-aware and really seeing their true selves without any blinders or defences. As they hold up their own awareness and present a summary of their behaviour based on their past and current emotions, those around them observe them and offer their own perceptions back. This process requires empathy, patience, strength, humility and love. It’s probably one of the most intense therapeutic processes I have ever been witness to.

One of the hardest things we do is see ourselves as fallible. But we all are. We all make mistakes and we all have our triumphs. 

But it’s something that the majority of us can be really poor at. We rely so heavily on our thoughts and feelings to navigate our way through our daily lives, but repeatedly I see so many around me that are completely unaware of the emotions that are guiding them.

There are so many ways we can improve our capacity for self-observation and awareness. And probably the one that will have the best outcomes for the longest period is therapy. But there are other ways too – grounding exercises, focused attention, journaling, meditation. There really is no limit to the number of ways we can continue to develop our self-awareness. Practicing self-observation can give us more insight into the emotions that play such a huge role in our behaviour. When we become more sensitive towards ourselves and more knowledgeable about our own feelings, we are more able to attune to, and empathise with, the feelings of others. But most importantly, it can help us to see when things might be going a little bit astray.

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Misplacing envy

I’ve moved home into my Mum and Dad’s place. Again. And jeepers I am happy about it.

The last time I moved into the family home I was single, 32, recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital, recovering from an episode of a mental illness, and unemployed. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying. If someone would have told me there and then that I’d be staying for two years, it would have felt like they were pouring salt on my open wounds.

Things are very different this time round. I have a job. And this is a much more temporary arrangement than it was the first-time round. I’ve got some plans.

When I tell people that I currently share a home with my parents, there are two types of responses. One is pity. The other is an assumption that I am entitled princess who is unable to manage life responsibilities on her own.  

There may be some truth to the second response. But please do not pity me. Not at all.

I love getting to live with my parents. They are two of the best housemates I’ve ever come across in my decades of share-housing experience. Mum and Dad probably had a lot to do with my current hygiene tolerance levels and as a result they don’t seem to do anything that hypocritically grosses me out. There’s no massive debacle (ever) about not asking to use any of the contents in the pantry or contributing $6.35 for ingredients. And say I do accidentally commit a housemate crime, well I’ve got two peeps who have loved me unconditionally through much worse things, so I reckon it’ll probably turn out all right. They don’t judge me for binge watching Designated Survivor or for my enthusiasm for such a brilliant television concept. In fact, they get in to it with me. They don’t eat my yoghurts.

And I hope I make their life a little richer too. Last night we learnt about taking a screen shot on the computer (we regularly discuss issues related to information technology capacity building).

But most importantly, I get to live with two people I love. And two people I just really love hanging out with. We have in jokes. My friends all ask after them. I have housemates who know my habits (and are okay with them). And after 34 years, turns out you develop a few.

This is a very different place though to where I was the first time I moved home. The first time, I felt a bit ashamed. And I felt envious. Envious of all the people who were ticking all the right boxes on the ‘life list’. Boxes like ‘relationships’ and ‘mortgages’ and ‘children’ and ‘career’. Of which in comparison I was failing.

“Envy is ever joined with the comparing of a man’s self; and where there is no comparison, no envy.” —Sir Francis Bacon

Like probably a lot us, I’ve lived most of my life comparing myself to others. At first, it was school-related achievements. But as I got older, other metrics come into the fray. And it’s not just occupation and relationship status and current residential arrangements, there’s an infinite number of categories upon which we can compare ourselves and an almost infinite number of people to compare ourselves to. And once we begin the comparisons, where do they end?

When we begin comparing ourselves to anyone against everything, the opportunities for envy grow dangerously large.

Envy can be a really beneficial emotion at times. Whilst uncomfortable, it can be a good call to action about what we might want to do with the rest of our lives. Without a little bit of envy every now and then, we might not know who it is that we want to be. The issue is that sometimes the messages it contains are a bit confused and garbled.

When we compare ourselves to others and envy some of those in the process, a study of why this might be is most warranted. Perhaps we could look at each person that we envy as possessing a piece of the jigsaw puzzle depicting our possible future. Rather than notice that a friend from school has ticked a lot of the things off the ‘life list’ that I haven’t, maybe the questions is ‘What could I learn about here?’

Often though I fall into the comparison trap of envying individuals in their entirety. All the things on their list. When in fact, if I took a moment to analyse their lives calmly, I might realise that it was only a small part of what they had done that I actually resonated with. And that should be my guide. It might not be the whole of my school friend’s life I want, but really just their communication skills and their values that surround their relationship with their partner. I might not actually want to be a corporate lawyer that has to work 60 hour weeks.

What we’re in danger of forgetting, with comparison and envy, is that the qualities we admire don’t just belong to one specific, very attractive life. They can be pursued in lesser, weaker (but still real) doses in countless other places, opening the possibility of creating many smaller, more manageable and more realistic versions of the lives we desire.

Envy can also make us blind to an accurate picture of what the success of others depends upon. It’s entirely possible that these envied figures are not as much like us as they seem to be. When we meet the target of our envy at a party or see them in jeans in a glossy magazine, they do of course seem very ‘normal’ and dangerously like ourselves. But, they may in fact, they may have a highly unusual brain adept at synthesising vast amounts of financial data in ingenious ways. They might have a PhD in mechanical engineering. Or they might be working eighteen hours a day. Usually there are very real differences between oneself and the envied person. We’re not really equals. It isn’t just laziness, bad luck or some kind of persecutory force that explains our situation. We may arrive at the sane realisation that, when viewed dispassionately, certain accomplishments are truly beyond us. And this way we can become appreciative spectators, rather than disappointed rivals, of those who have accomplished great things.

But more importantly comparison and envy has the potential to suck the goodness and joy from our present. Life isn’t graded on a curve. How we measure up against others holds absolutely no importance in our life anyway. It simply makes no difference. Whether I knew of other people living with their parents in their 30s had absolutely no outcome or importance on what was actually going on for me at the time. Comparison was putting my focus on others. And I only had control over what was happening for me. It was preventing me from just possessing and experiencing my own life as it was.

And once I realised this, I figured out I was having a very excellent time. Finally, I allowed myself to enjoy myself where I was. Sharing a home with my Mum and Dad.

Many a contented life has been stolen by the unhealthy habit of comparing ourselves to others. Comparing ourselves to others can rob us of gratitude, joy, and fulfillment.

Comparisons and envy are tendencies as human as any other cognitive or emotional process. But last time I had the privilege of living with my parents, I let comparison and envy steal too much joy from the experience. So, I’m back. And I’m not going to misplace my envy this time. I’m just going to enjoy myself.

So, there’s no need to misplace your pity.

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Care packages for the brain

I love being able to send my people a package of love.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Trudy and I have been playing a fabulous game for over 15 years where on a close to weekly basis we try to outdo each other by seeking out and sending each other the best and most fabulous greeting card available on the market. The joy this creates – in both giving and receiving – is pretty spectacular.

When the wonderful women around me make tiny humans, I love to be able to cook them meals in the hope that it makes their world just a little bit easier as they adjust to what must be a mammoth undertaking in becoming a Mum.

When one of my most smartest doctor friends was studying her butt off to become an even smarter doctor consultant, I revelled in finding and sending her cards and packages to try and support her in discovering her inner nerd and maintaining her chosen path (even though this meant having to bow out of pretty much all things enjoyable for a very, very long time).

I love to do these things. Creating little care packages of love that I hope somehow make a small difference in the lives of my loved ones.

But unfortunately, it’s tough work to find a care package that will make much of a difference for a loved one who has a mental illness.

Sure, home cooked meals will help when someone might be experiencing significantly poor motivation, but a delicious lasagne doesn’t go far in helping them get out of bed of a morning without a feeling of dread. And inspirational messages of positivity to stick up on the wall? Again, probably not excellent things to hear or see when one’s internal voice is loudly screaming messages of self-loathing and destruction.

Care packages for disorders of the brain are not going to be pretty gifts packaged up with ribbons. They’re going to be much less tangible. Much more difficult to create, but so much more rewarding to provide.

Care packages for mental illnesses are going to come packaged in human connection.

And within them you’ll find listening. And empathy. And openness. A non-judgmental mind. Compassion. And patience. Maybe a little bit of kindness. An inquisitive mind. Some positive reinforcement. Practical support. Consistent showing up. Encouragement and hopefulness. And a whole lot of love.

Care packages for the brain, are unique. There’s no “one size fits all”. They can be a difficult package to give. And sometimes an even more difficult package to receive. But a care package like this, has the opportunity to create richer, more human and loving relationships.

If you’d like a card to go with it, maybe choose this one (you can find it right here). 

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Hope Street Cards Book Club - June

Surprise! The Hope Street Cards Book Club has been taken over! It's Trudy here. Huzzah!

This month I finally got my life together and finished reading a very special magazine, that I received after backing it on Kickstarter in October last year (I’m a sucker for merch - and just check out that pin!). Anxy is produced out of the US, but takes global contributions to create a publication for:

'culture makers and the people inspired by them who are tired of feeling ashamed of their emotions and mental health...who crave open discussions about coping with anxiety, depression, fear, anger, trauma, shame, and all those other wildcards that alter the direction of our work and our lives.'

This was the first edition and its theme, Anger, curated such a variety of submissions - stories, photographs, illustrations and poetry. And Anger permeated through the articles in as much diversity - experience with racial stereotyping, gender issues, emotional abuse, family, relationships, work and creative expression.

There was a huge emotive wave throughout the publication, and each of the individual stories felt so considered and different. So much of the content touched on really important topics, however for me I experienced two serious peaks reading the the magazine. And the early stream occurred with 3 solid pieces. The first from Claire Fitzsimmons’ article Lose Her, Recover Me.

Claire Fitzsimmon's story, Lose Her, Recover Me.

Claire’s story recounts an extensive relationship with her mother (who lived with severe mental health issues throughout her life) and her mother’s ongoing recovery - but Claire’s too, as her mother’s key support. Claire’s experience with her mother’s recovery gives the reader a linear journey incorporating how surprises soon turn into familiar developments. The developments are shared - in many ways - but it’s sometimes a blurred boundary on where her mother’s recovery ends and Claire’s own well being is pulled in. Caring is a ride, and sometimes it feels like you’re playing the positive role for two. It sometimes feels like an endless cycle of solutions, and that can be testing to faith in recovery. It feels like a lot of reinforcement, that initially feels like you’re giving to your loved one experiencing the mental health problem, but soon enough you realise you might be saying it for yourself too. Claire’s Anger (and perhaps exhaustion too) can often come from fighting the battle for faith and belief in recovery, and keeping that flame alight for more than yourself.

Similar in relationship definition, You Have Nothing to Worry About is a visual exploration of Melissa Spitz’s portraits of her mother (with short story), that depict a lifetime alongside diagnosis. Melissa’s photos are so beautiful and the words that support them reveal the in-situ anger across the selection. Living with and loving someone dealing with a number of mental health diagnoses, permeates life and relationships, and Melissa’s experience reveals the way in which she lived in a space of anger, whilst trying to protect herself and still love.


Melissa Spitz' visual essay, You have nothing to worry about.

Kate Speer’s When My Fury Set Me Free reveals the deep anger of her own experience with mental illness, with the ongoing presentation of solutions, over and over again, plaguing what seems like a never-ending recovery. Kate’s anger comes from doing as patients do. Following the lead of the experts. Going along for the ride. But then one day losing the faith (and perhaps rightfully so). Calling out that the path hasn’t worked. What to do now? Kate breaks it off with her long-term psychiatric support network, and embarks on an alternative treatment process that is huge, hard and heartbreaking. But she does it. Her anger propels her so much into this new management plan, which is how she now leads her improved life today.

And whilst the magazine provides links into mental health support it does so only after ticking all the right boxes. Because magazines should always end on activities. Anxy has me again.

Now, I’m not the friendliest person in the world (well not in comparison to our MD, Sam), and whilst it is not necessarily anger that propels this, but rather a tasty mix of sarcasm and irritation, so it was as if the activities included here were written just for me.

My irritation, in particular, can be pinned often to my inability to deal with overhearing people eat.. swallow, gulp, chew gum, clear their throat, any weird jaw noise - you get the picture. And I fully grasp it’s me, not them. So hand me a cartoon such as Why The Fuck Does The Samsung Ringtone Piss Me Off And Other Important Life Questions (Words by Kevin Braddock, illustrations by Teddy Hose) and a fancy activity such as The Anger Mismanagement Workbook (Catherine Weiss) and you’ll instantly win a fan. It also makes me feel incredibly happy to know that I’m perhaps not the only one out there. Hear that, Sam? Better get our range of cards tailored to those experiencing misophonia underway!

Catherine Weiss' activities, The Anger Mismanagement Workbook.

You can pick up the first edition of Anxy (or one of the cute pins!), look out for their second (the next theme is Workaholism!) or maybe even subscribe online (because from this review, wouldn’t you?) at anxymag.com (final comment inside brackets. I swear.)

T

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Awareness (again)

It’s another day for awareness today. Are you getting a bit sick of me writing about these yet? Today – the 26th June – is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The United Nations, governments, non-governmental organisations, the media and citizens around the world will use this day to raise awareness about the impact of drug abuse and illicit trafficking of drugs. Apparently.

To be honest, I’m not sure we need any more awareness on this issue.

Because all the peoples that I’ve met and listened to at dinner parties and social events and at random occurrences during the day seem to have heaps of awareness. That is, if ‘awareness’ corresponds to ‘very passionate and unwilling to compromise opinions’ on the matter.

And as someone who has worked in the Drug and Alcohol sector for over a decade, sometimes this awareness and these opinions make me want to cry.

A little while back I had the weekly privilege of spending an evening with a bunch of beautiful souls. I was running a recovery group for people wishing to change their substance use. We’d spent the couple of hours, amongst other things, discussing love and fear and vulnerability and hope. As is often the case, I left the group with a sense of warmth in my being.

As I was driving home in torrential rain, I attempted to find a local radio station for a river/flood update. I came across some talkback radio. I should have changed the station. But I persisted. And I listened to the shock jock and an ill-informed listener from Gundagai discuss how Australia’s ‘War on Drugs’ had failed because the Australian Government had been too lenient on people who use and sell drugs. The alternative strategies they discussed included lifelong gaol sentences and the radio presenter called for “bringing back the guillotine”.

And the sense of warmth in my being died.

This shit makes me really, really sad. Because, believe it or not we are still talking about people. And these comments are dismissive and disdainful. They reflect a moral judgment that is a relic of a bygone era when our understanding of addiction was limited, when we didn’t have access to the evidence and research we do now. Yet, these are the ‘opinions’ of the ‘aware’ that we hear over and over again.

Scientific progress has helped us to understand so much about alcohol and drug use. And it’s complicated. No one ever chooses to become dependent upon a substance. Instead, a unique and complex combination of epigenetics, environmental stimuli, psychological factors and drug components form to create a melting pot of factors that can result in physical changes to the brain’s circuitry, which lead to tolerance, cravings, and the characteristic compulsive and destructive behaviours of addiction.

We also know that people who experience other vulnerabilities – mental illnesses, poverty, social disadvantage, homelessness, unemployment, intergenerational trauma and childhood sexual abuse – are more likely to experience substance use disorders. Yet this never seems to be mentioned in ‘awareness’ raising.

When we talk about drug and alcohol use disorders, without a thorough understanding of the complexity of the issue, or we offer quick-fix solutions or make large-scale generalisations we have the potential to cause wide-spread harm.

If we hold and express negative attitudes towards people who are suffering, we have the potential to increase the suffering infinite fold. Research has shown that when people experiencing substance use disorders feel judged or shamed they will not seek treatment for the disorder. Communities can become less accepting of treatment programs due to popular, but misguided, opinions regarding people using substances.

We might not always realise the effect our judgment might have on others. Judgement and shame can come as a result of the way a non-addict looks at, talks to or otherwise mistreats the individual who is suffering from an addiction or who once suffered from an addiction. This social stigma can deepen suffering. For many, it’s not just the fight of addiction, but also the fight against the stigma associated with it.

If you ask me, that’s the real ‘war on drugs’.

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Experimenting with Worry

For something fun - and to avoid having to write a blog myself – I set some of our Hope Street Volunteers on an adventure. Maybe less adventure, more psychological experiment. An experiment around worry.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life. Most of which has never happened.” Mark Twain.

We all worry from time to time. We generally do not have immediate control over the things we worry about. We typically tend to worry about undesirable future events, or about things that happened in the past that we wish turned out differently. The problem is, some of us have a tendency to worry about things more than is helpful.

Worrying is different to thinking. Thinking is a good thing.  It involves reflection and analysis that leads to greater clarity and purposeful action, when action is necessary. Worrying, on the other hand, is essentially problem solving gone awry. What starts out as concern over an issue, eventually turns into preoccupation; that’s worry.  Worrying is also a common go-to in times of uncertainty.

The unfortunate truth is that we will probably never be able to completely stop worrying. However, we can develop control over how we deal with our worries when we experience them. We can learn to worry more effectively. And this is where the experiment came in – Scheduled ‘Worry Time’.

Scheduled Worry Time is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) technique whereby we are encouraged to set aside time specifically to ‘work through’ the things that we may be worried about. The time is scheduled for the sole purpose of considering what is causing us to feel anxious, nervous or concerned. At first, this technique may seem both difficult and counter-intuitive. However, with persistent practice, it can help us to significantly reduce the level of worrisome thoughts.

The ’Worry Time’ Experiment steps were pretty straightforward:

  1. Schedule ‘worry time’ each day for one week. Put it in your calendar. Start by setting aside 10-30 minutes during the morning or afternoon.  This will be your worry time.  It’s best not to schedule worry time right before you go to bed, for obvious reasons.
  2. During that 10-30 minute window, write down all of your worries that you can think of. Don’t put pressure on yourself to solve them during that window, but if your mind naturally goes there, that’s fine.
  3. Between worry times: if you start to worry, tell yourself to let go of those thoughts until the next designated worry period. This will feel hard at first, and may require a lot of reinforcing self-talk (e.g., telling yourself over and over to let go of thinking about your worries until it’s the appropriate time). Try not to worry about worrying outside of your worry time! You won’t be perfect with this exercise, nobody is.  But, your intention and effort will make a difference.

Simple. To see if it had any psychological benefit whatsoever, let’s hear from our first Human Guinea Pig (and favourite Creative Person) - Trudy!

I come from a short lineage but absolute world-class heritage of worry. Just ask my sister or Dad (but don’t, they don’t like attention and it will stress them out). I’m a different type of worrier - and I’ve even got the incredibly trendy patch on my jacket to prove it.

Maybe 10 or less years ago, I think I developed this idea that I was here to fix shit. Whilst this felt like a practical role at the time, I now realise that it was just like being a character where I saw that people around me were being eaten up with worry, and if I just fixed things, there would be less to worry about. Nowadays, I try really hard to allow people to worry for themselves, which is good, but my worry has morphed into another weird role.

Over the last few years, I thought this had initially developed into behaviour that allowed me to ‘avoid confrontation’ but in actual fact, it’s this fancy prediction trick, where in a situation that requires me to put myself first, and raise an issue that I would like changed, my imagination tells me that in correcting this, the sky will positively fall. Avoid it, and it’ll just simmer down and things will be fine. So I don’t have to tell the person who I think is not being nice to me, because they’ll yell at me. And I don’t have to tell the person who is making me feel uncomfortable, because they’ll tell me I am being sensitive. And I won’t tell the person who is eating with their mouth open that it weirds me out, because they’ll just burst into tears. I’m constantly worried that people will not accept my needs, and this will make things worse. So I just decide that it’s too hard, and I swallow the worry and live through it. I know this is silly. I watched enough of the early seasons of Ally McBeal to know that I’ll eventually implode if I keep this behaviour up. And in most instances, after I implode, people around me will be all like "Whoah, where did Trudy go? Did that just happen coz she didn’t tell me that my behaviour was hurting her? Awkward. She should have just told me."  

I had originally concocted a plan for this experiment, where I was going to share my worries with someone else, and we were to dedicate our allotted 30 minutes to each other. Given that this friend was in a completely different timezone, this didn't work out as well as we’d hoped. But it did make me think I was holding onto worry for another moment for the first week. It was a pretty freeing feeling, as I compartmentalised it for a later moment (I also had decided that she was going to solve everything for me as well, so I really put it off).  

One instance I can recall, during a time when I was still holding off to talk to my friend, I had actually not given the worry the time that I normally would. Concerned about an impending conversation, when it actually came to the time it got forced upon me, I’d not had the chance to entertain the imaginary situation that would have occurred, and so when the band-aid was ripped off, surprisingly, the conversation just happened, like normal. And it went fine. Even without all the worry time alloted to it. The sky didn't fall.

This - to me - was a big worry, and it became your general ‘proof is in the pudding’ example. After this, it felt like my worries paled in comparison, and really, if that went okay, how relevant were my imaginary scenarios?

Using designated worry time then felt practical. It felt like I was using time efficiently. And by efficiently, I mean it gave me more time to aimlessly scroll through instagram.

Would you recommend this practice to a friend who was worrying a lot? Do you think this might be useful as a strategy for someone experiencing anxiety?
Given that my only advice to friends when they worry is to just put their happiest shoes on, because that will instantly make them feel better, I can imagine this might be an option for providing a bit more evidence-based support.

What do you think the purpose of this experiment was?
To reinforce to me that I’m not a psychic (believe it or not).

Remember if you're interested in volunteering to be a part of similar adventures / psychological gifts / human experiments that don't have any ethical clearance, send us an email (hopestreetcards@gmail.com).

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How good is a bath?

I am just so happy there is a day to celebrate the Bath! Because I love to have a bath! Happy International Bath Day everyone!

There is nothing quite like having a really hot, really long, really lovely soak in a bath. That’s why I do it nearly every day. For years having a bath has been my go-to method of psychological self-care, so I wasn’t surprised at all that art of indulging in a long, hot soak gets celebrated with its very own international day.

However, apparently the bath is not really being celebrated today for its restorative properties.

According to legend, and the google, it is on this day that Greek mathematician, scientist and scholar, Archimedes, while taking a bath discovered that an object’s volume could be accurately measured by being submerged in water. Unable to contain his excitement, Archimedes leapt out of the bathtub and yelled, “Eureka, Eureka!” as he ran through the streets of Syracuse, Greece. Apparently, no one knew Archimedes’ exact date of birth, only the year (287BC) so the day chosen to commemorate his existence is the day that he leapt out of the bath tub, June 14th. How was this date determined? The ancient Greek legend says that it was exactly one week before the beginning of summer. The calendar in those days was astronomical and seasons were determined due to the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis in relation to its orbit around the sun. Summer began (then and today) on June 21st so a week before is June 14th and this was the date set – International Bath Day. Fascinating.

Excellent work Archimedes! But I reckon you should have stayed in there longer. Baths are not just for smart things. Baths and bathing have been such a huge part of human health that there's pretty much a bathing tradition on every continent; Scandinavians take plunges in cool water after time in a sauna, while the Roman love for baths gave birth to huge bathing complexes with under-floor heating and a range of temperatures, some of which are still standing today. Nowadays, however, hot baths in one guise or another are largely prescribed for relaxation and getting a bit of time for yourself. If you ask me, which no one did, they are the ultimate form of self-care. Here’s why.

Sam’s list of reasons why baths are the ultimate form of self-care.

  1. Being horizontal in water is good for your mood.
This is a scientific fact. In 2002 a University of Wolverhampton study found that a daily bath, usually at the end of the day, significantly improved the mood and optimism of the participants, which was attributed to a combination of bodily comfort, warmth, isolation, and body positioning.
It turns out that our bodies associate horizontal conditions with relaxation and vulnerability, particularly in the bath, which the researchers reckon is possibly because it mimics the warm, liquid conditions of the womb. One baby-bath manufacturer even makes baths that consciously feel like the womb, to calm any unhappy little ex-occupants. Some scholars think that this particular positioning gives us a sensation of security.
  1. Hot baths before bed help you sleep better.
A good night's sleep is associated with a host of health benefits, from immune system strength to better pain recovery, and a heated bath before bed is apparently a good way to ensure that you drift off to the Land of Nod without too much difficulty. It's a matter of temperature adjustment and hormones.
 
A drop in body temperature at night is one of the classic signals for the body to start producing melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Our bodies get colder at night naturally: apparently the temperature dip starts two hours before bed and lasts till about 4 a.m. Kick-starting that downward shift by heating yourself up artificially is an old trick to get yourself to feel sleepy. Get out of a bath, cool yourself down for a while, then slip into bed. Don't massively overheat yourself, though, or you'll find you're actually revved up instead of chilled out.
  1. Baths can help ward off feelings of loneliness.
Researchers at Yale University claim people who take long, hot showers or baths may do so to ward off feelings of loneliness or social isolation (well this makes sense, Single Sam!), and say their findings could help treat mental illnesses and social phobias.
​They conducted four studies – the first of which concluded that people suffering from chronic loneliness use hot baths or showers as a substitute for emotional warmth.  A second study showed that physical coldness induces feelings of loneliness, whilst a third demonstrated that the need for socialising or emotional wellbeing, triggered by memories of past rejection, could be relieved through physical warmth. The final study showed that all the above behaviours are subconscious, and that most people’s perception of someone who takes long baths or showers is that they are sociable and happy.
In summary, the more isolated we might feel, the more baths we will take. ​Researchers say their findings have potential significance for the treatment of severe mental and social disorders with major public health benefits. Just as elderly people often relocate to warmer climates, the study points out that there may be benefits to people with mental health difficulties in doing so.
  1. It relaxes us. Der.
But it also assists with relaxing people who might have more difficulty relaxing than the rest of us.
American studies have been undertaken on “delinquent” boys who became calmer after regular warm baths, and there is also evidence that Epsom Salts baths can have positive, relaxing effects on children experiencing autism.
  1. It’s a natural high.

As our body and mind relaxes, we release our natural mood-enhancing chemicals. Some serotonin and endorphins to help us feel feelings of pleasure and contentedness.

  1. It is good for physical things too.
Things like our personal hygiene. Which is very, very, very important.
Baths have also been known to help manage headaches, relieve certain skin conditions, lower our blood pressure, calm muscle pain, improve blood circulation, reduce cold symptoms, detoxify our skin and pores and I could probably go on.

So Happy International Bath Day friends! Good for maths, but good for you! Go have one!

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