Recovery Blog

Moving On – June 3, 2021

This time of year a lot of people find themselves “moving on.”  High school and college graduates will soon move on to either more schooling or new jobs, leaving behind friends and routines that have been familiar for years.  Parents are likewise moving on to new stages of their lives as children become young adults and leave home for the first time and an empty nest becomes the new reality.  Summer is also the time of year when many people move on to new homes, and will soon re-imagine their lives in a new school district, township or state.  Along with this often comes a moving on to a new job or career.  In all of this, our world is moving on from a global pandemic that has captivated much of our time and attention for the last year and a half.  Needless to say, there is much “moving on” going on in our society right now.

For many people “moving on” is exciting and brings with it new challenges and possibilities.  However, for some people, all of this “moving on” is anxiety producing because it brings change and change is hard.  For people for whom “moving on” is more of a challenge than a thrill, how can you navigate it without dread and fear?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Remember that change is a normal part of life. People change, places change, even memories (how we see what has happened) change over time.  Some of these changes we will see as good and some not so good, but we will not be able to escape change in life.
  • Take change one day at a time. We cannot know today what will happen tomorrow.  We can hope and make plans, but we can’t predict the future.  So be careful not to jump ahead, and live in today.  Dealing with what is in front of us today is enough; we don’t need to borrow tomorrow’s trouble.
  • Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself time to adjust to the “moving on” that you experience.  It’s OK to not be fully comfortable with it immediately and to take some time to process and adapt.  If possible, give yourself a break and do something that you enjoy, that is relaxing and that facilitates your recovery.
  • Talk to someone about what you’re going through. This could be a trusted friend, family member, therapist or faith leader.  Just being able to verbalize what you’re feeling and thinking can help you to adjust to the changes and “moving-on” of life.

Moving on is a normal part of life and will affect us all, to one degree or another, throughout our lives.  However it may affect you this summer, know that you’re not alone in it and that there is opportunity for growth.  Now it’s time for me to “move on” from this blog post.  Have a great weekend!

By Abby Opal

Memorial Day – May 27, 2021

Memorial Day – a time to remember the fallen men and women, heroes, who have given their lives to serve and protect our country.  This weekend, many people will have picnics, barbeques and get-togethers to celebrate the holiday.  It also, for quite a few people, means an extra-long weekend.  However, I hope in the midst of all the fun with friends and family, that you will take the time to consider all of the people who have been other-focused, giving of themselves for the good of others.

I hope that you will also take some time to consider how you can serve or care for someone else.  In recovery, we talk a lot about self-care; and self-care is very much needed.  However, we also need to care for others, to get outside of ourselves and meet others in their need.  As we do, we will find that helping them helps us in our recovery.   It’s true what they say: that when you give of yourself for others you end up learning a lot in return.  We don’t help others for that reason, but it is an unexpected gift.

So as you head into this Memorial Day, take time to remember those who have sacrificed for our country.  Take time also to consider how you may be able to serve others right where you are.  You can be a hero too!

By Abby Opal

New Paint – May 12, 2021

Here at the Mental Health Association we are in Spring cleaning and renewal mode.  Cubicles and offices are getting an overhaul: old papers are being thrown out and the office is getting a good Spring cleaning.  In addition, our administrative offices are getting a new coat of paint as well as a few other much needed updates.  As I’ve watched this happen over the last 2 days, I’m amazed at how fresh, neat and clean a coat of new paint makes things look.  It has refreshed the office, making it look new, bright and inviting.  The staff have commented how nice it looks and it has seemed to brighten everyone up a bit.

Maybe putting a new coat of paint on your house or apartment isn’t possible right now.  However, there are many ways to brighten up our living space, improve our environmental wellness and encourage us in this time.  Maybe you could clean up a room in your house that you’ve been meaning to attend to, or draw a picture to hang in your apartment, or get a new candle to give the place a fresh new scent.  Whatever it is, look for something that makes you feel good about your space and that will encourage you as we begin to emerge from this pandemic, enjoy the warmth of the sun and the fun and excitement of summer.

By Abby Opal

Slow and Steady Wins the Race – May 5, 2021

You’ve probably heard of the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The two animals race, with the reader supposing that the much faster hare will out-run the tortoise with ease.  At the outset the hare jets off, however runs into various obstacles along the way.  The tortoise, on the other hand, making slow but steady progress, avoids the issues that the hare faces because he is not hasty and in a rush.  As a result, the tortoise ends up winning the race, much to everyone’s surprise.  The morale of the story is that it’s not necessarily the fastest one who wins the race, but the one who makes slow and steady progress, taking care to avoid pitfalls along the way.

In recovery, we can sometimes be in a hurry to get to the other side and to move on with life.  It is good to want to do this and to be well.  There is also a lesson that we can learn from the tortoise who, takes one step at a time, one day at a time, and doesn’t rush through the race.  Going at a slower pace, he is able to see obstacles more clearly and avoid them; he doesn’t crash into them full steam ahead.  Moving at a slow but steady pace, we like the tortoise can run our race well, learning as we go and enjoying the process of our recovery.  The goal isn’t to get there the fastest, but to get there; and slowly and steadily we will.

By Abby Opal

April Showers bring May Flowers – April 30, 2021

“April showers bring May flowers”, the saying has been around for years and it conveys the truth that rain showers in April will water the ground so that, come May, the plants will produce beautiful flowers.  Each year we see this come to pass as the tulips, rhododendron and honeysuckle produce their flowers.

While it may not always happen in the months of April and May, the concept that the rain, the trials and pain in our lives, produces growth and a flowering in us is true as well.  So often it is in the most difficult times of our lives that we grow and learn the most.  We can take our difficulties and struggles and use them for good.  When we do so, we end up better people and can use what we’ve learned to help others.  The struggles of today make us the success stories of tomorrow. The rain of today will yield to the sunshine and joy of tomorrow.

If you are caught in a storm today, there is hope; it will not stay this way forever.  Behind the clouds, the sun still shines waiting to bring more growth.  The struggles of the present will, if you allow them, produce growth in you in recovery.  You can learn to dance in the rain.

By Abby Opal

Telling the Truth – April 22, 2021

We are told from the time that we are little kids to always tell the truth.  As adults, we want people to tell us the truth; our justice system places people under oath when they testify to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  Telling the truth has historically been highly valued and being considered an honest person, a virtue.

Unfortunately, we learn from an early age that lying seems to get us out of trouble, at least in the short term.  However, whatever benefits we seem to receive doesn’t last.  In fact, we tell one lie, we often find that we need to tell 3 others to maintain the first lie.  For example, a child who ate all of the cookies from the cookie jar may lie and insist that they didn’t do it.  However, they then have to tell other lies to explain why they have cookie crumbs on their face, why they are standing on a chair by the fridge and why they have a tummy ache.  There are no such things as “little white lies.”  Not telling the truth leads to face larger and more complicated issues than we would have dealt with if we had just told the truth from the beginning.

While people don’t tell the truth for various reasons, some seeming more understandable than others, the result is broken trust and lost relationships.  And in our recovery, we need relationships that are trustworthy and built on honesty.  So when interacting with others, aim to be honest in your relationships.  Think for a moment before you speak or when answering a question.  Sometimes this will involve not giving the easy answer, but the true one.  After all, we want others to be honest with us, and are deeply hurt when we find out that we’ve been lied to.  Should we not be as honest with others, as we want them to be with us?

By Abby Opal

Change – April 14, 2021

Change is hard, and naturally, many people don’t like it and find it uncomfortable; some people even resist change all together.  After all, we like the easy, the familiar, the known, because the unknown seems scary and unpredictable.  When life seems like it’s moving along well, almost running on auto-pilot, we wonder what benefit there can be in change.  For those of us who live in Western PA, we tend do to things the way we do them simply because, “we’ve always done it that way.”  And my own personal favorite example is rubber ducks in a row – I like to have all of my ducks in a row – they look neat, clean and work efficiently.  However, when someone flicks one rubber duck, they all go off course and it gets messy, and who wants that?

However, no matter how much we may not like it, one reality of life is that things change; and we need these changes in order to grow. Sometimes these changes are major, sometimes they are small but, like water that is stagnant draws mosquitos and grows bacteria, so too life needs to ebb and flow so that the growth that we experience doesn’t harm us.

For the MHA, our last year has been one of change.  We’ve made changes for Covid-19 and all of its challenges and restrictions.  We’ve experienced change and loss with the passing of a long-time and dear staff member who impacted many lives in our community for good.  Some staff have retired; new staff have been hired, and through it all we’ve found that change is the one constant that is here to stay.  Sometimes the change has been subtle, at times it’s been really hard, but we have learned, grown and become better people and a better agency for it. We serve the Beaver Valley in new and unique ways and continue to adjust to the ever changing world around us.

As we head into the Spring, you will continue to see new changes here at the MHA.  Our drop-in center is going through exciting changes with new and fun activities and opportunities for connecting, our Representative Payee program is expanding, and our Peer program continues to provide much needed, individualized support in the community.  While there is a learning curve to it all, we are excited about the change, and the life and energy that we see happening in the midst of it all.

By Abby Opal

Form Matters – April 8, 2021

While in school, I had a professor who often talked about the fact that “form matters.”  I wasn’t sure what was meant but this, but soon learned and have come to agree.  “Form matters” means that not only what we do matters, but how we do it.  How we do things can actually improve our mental health and affects what we think and feel about ourselves and what we are doing.

If this all sounds wordy, let me give a personal example that may not apply to you, but will help explain.  When I get dressed for work in the morning, what I wear and how I care for myself affects how I think about myself and my work throughout the day.  If I throw on sweats, don’t shower and forget to brush my teeth, I don’t feel good about myself, don’t appear professional and am less likely to put forth my best effort at work.  However, when I take a shower, brush my teeth, put on clean and (semi) professional looking clothes, I feel better about myself.  It increases my self-esteem and therefore I do my best at work.  Not only that, but others are more likely to take me seriously and see me as a professional.  In this case, form, how I do what I do, matters.

What this looks like in your life might be different.  However, if you consider what you do, I think you will find out that how you do it matters.  If you’re struggling with your work or school, consider how you do it and see if making a change there might improve your outlook.  Something as simple as cleaning up a space or getting a little dressed up may just help your mental health and overall wellness in what you do.

By Abby Opal

Dealing with People when they are Angry – March 31, 2021

Anger is a common emotion, and at times it is quite justified.  We’ve all experienced it and been on the receiving end of it.  When we are angry, we can find constructive things to do with that anger, so that we are not taking it out on others, or doing things that harm our wellness.  But, how do we deal with other people who are angry?  How to we interact with them while also keeping ourselves safe and well?

This question is a difficult one, and the answer often depends on the relationship and situation.  However, there a few things that we can do no matter the relationship or situation:

  • Take a step back: when someone is angry with you, it’s helpful to take a step back before responding or reacting to them.  Giving yourself a moment to think about and access the situation will help you to think clearly in your response.  It may also help to avoid escalating the issue.
  • Do not engage with someone who is yelling and screaming. It is OK to excuse yourself from the conversation/walk away and let the person know that you will come back to talk about this when you’ve both calmed down.  While you wait, go for a walk, listen to music or find another activity that you enjoy to help you calm down and relieve stress.
  • Don’t forget to come back and talk about the issue, as promised. If we don’t work though our relationship issues, they will remain under the surface and arise when the circumstances present themselves again.  We need to work through our differences so that our relationships can be healthier and stronger.

Dealing with people when they are angry isn’t always easy, but we can do it in a way that keeps us safe and promotes wellness in many areas of our lives.

By Abby Opal

You Can’t Always Get What You Want – March 24, 2021

There’s a well-known song in which the chorus proclaims the truth that, “you can’t always get what you want.”  However, we live in a society that gives the allusion that you can.  We have restaurants that tell us that we can have it “your way right away,” or that allow you to “customize” your order, box of candy, and more so that you get exactly what you want when you want it.  While the convenience of these services is great, the illusion that you can get what you want, when you want it often leaves people angry and agitated, blaming others when their expectations aren’t met.

So, how do we cope when we are let down, told “no” or are faced with the truth that, as nice of an idea it is that we can have all that we want, that simply isn’t reality?  How do we overcome our disappointment and anger, and come to terms with it when things don’t work as we plan or hope?

First, we need to remember that disappointment is a fact of life and one that everyone faces at some point.  While it is uncomfortable and can be painful, it is not insurmountable.  We can start by simply admitting that we are disappointed and hurt; this will help to keep us from giving in to anger and taking that anger out on others.

Being patient is also something that will help us when we are disappointed.  After all, what doesn’t seem like it worked out this time, may well work out even better than we hoped if we can just be patient and wait to see what happens.  For example, we may be disappointed that we couldn’t buy the TV that we wanted today because it was out of stock.  However, if we wait a few days, we might find that a better TV is available for even less than the first one would have cost.

Finally, we can be mindful of and focus on the good things that we do have.  While something may not have worked out this time, we can focus on the good things that have worked out in past and what may work out for the future.  Things will not stay the way they are in this moment, even if this moment is hard.   What we are told by the media about what we can or cannot have or do is simply not reality.  They are trying to sell you a product or service and their message is geared to make you believe that what they offer is what you need right now.  However, we do not have to buy into this.  Sometimes we will get what we want, but sometimes we won’t.

By Abby Opal

One Day at a Time – March 17, 2021

We all have plans and enjoy looking forward to tomorrow.  We set plans for vacations, holidays, and get-togethers with family and friends.  There are things we must plan ahead for, such as making reservations for hotels, flights, or weddings and things like buying a home or retirement.  In fact, setting goals and looking ahead are important parts of recovery.  Looking ahead gives us hope and encourages us to keep pressing forward.

It is also important though to remember, even as we look ahead, to take one day at a time.  After all, even as we plan for the future, if we’ve learned anything from this past year, we know that those plans can change in an instant.  Taking each day as it comes is especially important when we get anxious and fearful about what might happen tomorrow, next month or next year.  When we lose sight of today, we lose valuable time and spending a lot of energy on things that may not come to pass.  I find that when I spend time worrying about tomorrow, what I most fear or am concerned about never comes to pass and things end up working out far better than I could have imagined.

It’s important to take one day at a time.  To focus on what we can do and what will be “on our plates” for today.  After all, today is the only day that we can do anything about.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t quite here yet.  We can’t change the past and we can’t create the future, but we can impact today.

By Abby Opal

Let the Sunshine In – March 10, 2021

I may be dating myself with this example but, when I was in elementary school, along with weekly visits to the gym and art room, we went to the school library.  We would go as a class to pick books for the week and to hear a story read by the librarian.  (We also learned to use the outdated card catalog and had awesome book fairs, but those are topics for another day.)  As we prepared to leave the library and go back to our classrooms, we would sing a song about “letting the sunshine in, and facing it with a grin.”  And, as I look outside this AM, and felt the warmth of the sun, this song started to play in the background of my mind.

We sit on the precipice of Spring here in Western PA, and for many, this is the beginning of shorts and t-shirt weather, picnics and vacations.  Today we can “let the sunshine in” by doing things like opening our blinds and windows, taking a walk outside, or going to the park.  We can also “let the sunshine” in our recovery by choosing to focus on the positive things in our lives and in the world around us.  This could things like the warmer weather that allows us to be outside after months indoors; it could be relationships with friends and family, a hobby we enjoy, a hot meal, listening to the birds chirp, watching flowers spring up anew, or a myriad of other things in our lives that remind us that the sun is always shining.

In the midst of the difficulties in life, the sun is still there.  If you’ve ever flown in in airplane, you know this: even when the weather on the ground is rainy and cloudy, the moment you rise above the clouds you once again see blue skies and sunshine.  The sun doesn’t disappear, but is temporarily blocked by clouds or storms.  There will be dark times and storms in our lives, but the sun still does shine.  There is hope and the storm will not last forever.  We can choose to remember this, and even when it’s hard we can, “let the sunshine in.”

By Abby Opal

Seeing Beyond Ourselves – March 3, 2021

Part of working on recovery involves examining ourselves: learning what triggers us, what helps calm or de-escalate us, what gives us hope and what keeps us keeping on for another day.  This is all a part of good self-care and is necessary to have good mental health.  However, recovery also involves caring for others, seeing beyond ourselves and learning how to be a friend, family member or co-worker who not only receives, but also cares for others.

Seeing beyond ourselves and caring for others can seem complex, especially when one wrestles with issues such as codependency or enabling.  However, we can learn to care for others in healthy ways that not only increase our own wellness, but encourage it in others.  Doing so can teach us empathy and increase our socialization; it can help us learn how to be a friend to others, and expand our worldview so that we see that life is bigger than the homes, towns, and even states that we live in.

How do we do this?  What are some ways that we can expand our worldview and begin to see beyond ourselves?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Volunteering at a local food bank or soup kitchen is a way to care for others who may be experiencing need. It is a way to give back to the community, as well as a way to meet and connect with new people.
  • Talk with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a few weeks. Be intentional about asking them how they are doing, and allowing them time to share.  If possible, notice tendencies you may have to make the conversation all about you, and work towards having a more balanced exchange.
  • Read a book about a country or person that isn’t local or familiar to you. Consider both the struggles and victories this person who nation has experienced.  This will help to broaden both your social and your intellectual wellness.
  • Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. This means thinking about how you would feel or what you might be do if you were in someone else’s situation.  This helps to keep us from judging others and develops empathy in us.  It can also make us appreciative of what we have or where we are.  There are many good things in our lives that we take for granted each day, and we don’t often realize it until we consider what life would be like without them.

 These are a few examples, but there are many ways that we can begin to see beyond ourselves and care for others around us.  As we do, we will find that we are not only making progress in recovery, but that we may just get the privilege of helping someone else grow in their recovery too!

By Abby Opal

New Beginnings – Feb. 24, 2021

Spring is almost here!  The snow is melting, the sun is shining, and the weather here in western Pennsylvania is warming up to over 40 degrees – shorts weather!  It won’t be long before the daffodils and tulips start to bloom and the crocuses are popping out of the ground.  In addition, we are slowly, but surely emerging from the effects of the novel coronavirus.  This is a time and a season of new beginnings!

As these new beginnings of 2021 emerge, I’ve personally enjoyed seeing and feeling the warmth of the sun come through the front window in the morning and hearing the birds chirping.  I’m also looking ahead to kayaking in another month and the peace and tranquility that comes from being on the water.  There will a camping trip and, hopefully, a vacation.  There seem to be many possibilities and things to anticipate and look forward to, things to begin again or begin anew.

Consider taking this time, as we approach Spring, to consider what might be in this season of new beginnings for you.  It could be as simple as a little Spring cleaning to remove the build-up things through the winter or some gardening to clean up the yard to plant pretty flowers for the summer.  Maybe it looks like a taking a walk in the park after being inside during the snow and ice, or the opportunity to be (safely) face to face with old friend.  Or maybe it means a renewed commitment to wellness and recovery and working toward better mental health.  The fun of this is that there are endless possibilities and you get to choose!  We all have choices for this season of new beginnings and I hope that yours is healthy, hopeful and productive.

By Abby Opal

Waiting – Feb. 17, 2021

It is cold outside!  However, it’s also February in the Northeast, so it is to be expected to some extent.  Now that we are through the holidays and the long month of January, though, many of us are eager to sprint through February to get the long awaited advent of Spring.  We don’t want to suffer through this cold, and I am no exception to this.  In fact, just the other day, I applied for my launch permit for the season and am eager to begin kayaking again.  I’m so ready for Spring!

Yet we have to wait, and quite frankly, waiting is hard.  It can be long and seem like our hoped for joyful end never comes.  The same can be true in our recovery.  There are times when we are in the midst of an emotional winter and the pain, darkness and struggle seem like they will never end.  We know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, yet it seems far off and we just wish it would hurry up and get here already.  We want to skip ahead, but we have to go through; and sometimes that going through can take a while.

In these times, there are things we can do to help us wait and to encourage us to “keep on keeping on”, on until we come through to the other side.

  • Don’t forget that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and no it is not the headlamp of the oncoming train. Things will not stay the way they are now and there are brighter days ahead.  For a weather analogy: today may feel cold and dark, but Spring is coming!
  • Continue to stay connected through phone calls, text, Zoom, and as you’re comfortable, in person with people you feel safe with. We need one another and cannot do life alone.
  • Find or plan a specific day or event to look forward to. This can be anything: a phone call, a birthday celebration, holiday, get together with friends, or something as simple as a trip to the grocery store.  Whatever it is that keeps you looking forward and encourages you in your waiting.

Waiting is hard, especially when it comes when we’re struggling.  However, as we wait, our struggling will lead us to persevere, and our perseverance will produce character in us, and that character will lead us to hope.  Spring is coming!

The 5 Stages of Grief – Feb. 3, 2021

Winter is a difficult season for many people.  The cold, snow and grey skies can make you feel down and gloomy.  The lack of sun and shorter days can leave you feeling sad and melancholy as you long for the sun and warmth of Spring and Summer (now just around the corner).  With all of the trials this time of year carries, this year has been particularly hard with the added complication of Covid-19 and all of the loss and grief associated with it.

If this is the case for you, I first want to tell you that you’re not alone in your grief.  I also want to let you know that the emotions you may be feeling as your process it all may run quite a gamut, but this is normal.  In fact, there are 5 stages of grief that therapists tell us we go through: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.  You don’t have to go through them in any particular order and may find yourself going through the stages more than once.

Denial – Denial helps us minimize the overwhelming pain of loss. As we process the reality of our loss, we are also trying to survive emotional pain. It can be hard to believe we have lost an important person or event in our lives.  It can take our minds some time to adjust to this new reality and denial attempts to slow this process down and take us through it one step at a time, rather than risk the potential of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions.

Bargaining – When coping with loss, it isn’t unusual to feel so desperate that you are willing to do almost anything to alleviate or minimize the pain. Loss can cause us to consider any way we can avoid the current pain or the pain we are anticipating from loss.  This feeling of helplessness can cause us to react in protest by bargaining, which gives us a perceived sense of control over something that feels so out of control.

Anger – It is common to experience anger after a loss. We are trying to adjust to a new reality and we are likely experiencing extreme emotional discomfort. There is so much to process that anger may feel like it allows us an outlet.  Anger allows us to express our emotions with less fear of judgment or rejection.

Depression – During our experience of processing grief, there comes a time when our we slowly start to look at the reality of our present situation. Bargaining no longer feels like an option and we are faced with what is happening.  We start to feel our loss more abundantly and the loss feels more present and unavoidable.

Acceptance – When we come to a place of acceptance, it is not that we no longer feel the pain of loss. However, we are no longer resisting the reality of our situation. Sadness and regret can still be present in this phase, but the emotional survival tactics of denial, bargaining, and anger are less likely to be present.

No matter where you are in your grief, there is hope and a path through it.  It will take time and the support of loved ones; don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family members in this time.  There are also crisis and warm lines throughout the US and here in Beaver County that are willing to listen as you process.  You may even find it helpful to see a professional therapist as you work through your grief.  Whatever the loss, you don’t have to go through it alone.  There is help, support and a healthy way through.

By Abby Opal

Choices – Jan. 27, 2021

Choices – we all want the freedom to choose for ourselves.  We want to decide where we live, what we eat, who we hang out with, where we work, the career path we follow, where we go to school, and who and what we believe in.  However, we need to remember that our choices come with both responsibility and consequences (both good and bad).  For example: if we choose to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a year, we are going to suffer the consequences of poor nutrition and the responsibility for our struggling health is something we will have to own.  If we choose to eat a more balanced diet and have ice cream occasionally, then we will likely have greater physical and mental health and will be more capable of participating in and enjoying other daily activities.

In our society, it seems that we often want all the choices without the consequences.  However, as adults, we need to remember that there are positive and negative aspects to the choices we make.  Part of being an adult is weighing these positive and negative outcomes of our choices so that we make the most informed and healthy decisions for us and for those around us.  There are many ways that we can discern this; here are a few:

  • Make a list of positives and negatives of a choice that is weighing on you. This can help you put your thoughts in order and give you a visual list of what results of your choice(s) may be.
  • Talk through your choice with a trusted friend, family member or counselor. Try to find someone who will be honest with you and tell you the truth, even if it’s not something you want to hear.  Someone outside of you may be able to see issues that may arise that you cannot.
  • If possible, delay making a choice. Sometimes this simply isn’t possible, for example when you have a legal decision to make.  However, when it is something where it is possible to wait on (like purchasing a new TV) take some time and, as the saying goes, “sleep on it.”  If you’re not sure about something, in many situations, it is OK to take some time to think before making a decision.  Again, this is not possible in all situations, but when it is not time-sensitive, take some time before rushing to judgement.

With choices in life come responsibility; we need to be aware of this and make informed decisions and not rushes to judgement.  When we do, we will help maintain our own mental health and care for others well at the same time.

By Abby Opal

Seize the Day – Jan. 21, 2021

Seize the day – it’s a term that we used to hear more often, but has seemed to wane in usage over the years.  It’s a call to live each day to its fullest and to take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded you.  It’s a reminder that each day is a gift, is important and that it matters, that you matter.

In recovery, we need to remember to seize the day.  Each day that we have, each moment with family and friends, each sunrise and sunset that we witness, each meal that we enjoy are gifts.  We have the opportunity to live each of those moments to their fullest, to be fully present and mindful of all that is going on.  We can allow those things that are life giving to us encourage and spur us on in recovery.

Today, the weather is sunny and mild, and there is much life to be lived.  Consider what opportunity you may take advantage of today – to seize the day and live this day to its fullest.  Tomorrow has enough troubles of its own; let’s not borrow tomorrow’s troubles until we get there.

By Abby Opal

Peace – Jan. 13, 2021

We hear a lot about needing peace in our society today.  People want peace here in the US between political parties, communities, neighbors, in our own families and even within ourselves.  It sounds easy enough to achieve; and yet in many of my circles, the question is repeatedly asked: why can’t we all just get along?  Why can’t we agree to disagree on things?  Why can’t we learn from those who differ from us instead of insisting that they conform to our thoughts, feelings and ideologies?  Why do we find it necessary to shame and ridicule people who are different from us, rather than see them as a valuable person who simply holds different beliefs, experiences, values and ways of thinking?  After all, isn’t it the conglomeration of ideas and the gathering of people who are different than us that make this nation a unique place where people have the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive?

In the midst of so much chaos and turmoil today, where there seems to be such an absence of peace, I think it is still possible to have peace, as far as it depends on us, within ourselves and with those we connect with.  We cannot change society in a day, but we can begin with us.  How?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Consider spending time each day being mindful of your thoughts and your surroundings; utilize deep breathing exercises. Take time to work through intrusive thoughts that threaten your peace.
  • Spend time doing things that help to ground and relax you. This could be a favorite hobby, reading a book, yoga or practicing your faith and/or spirituality.
  • When talking with people who share different views than you, remember that it’s not necessary for you to make them believe as you do. Take time to really listen to them and consider what you may be able to learn from them.  Know that it is OK to agree to disagree; disagreements don’t need to be the end of a relationship.
  • Even our best efforts at peace may, at times, not go so well. Remember that it is OK to create some distance for yourself for a time.  This may help you to gain perspective so that you’re able to come back together again and work towards a better place.

While world peace may not be achieved in our lifetime, there are things that we can do to have peace with those around us and within ourselves.  It will not always go perfectly, after all life is messy, however little by little we can make a difference.

By Abby Opal

Recovery – Jan. 8, 2021

Well, we made it through 2020 and are now into 2021!  Many people are relieved that 2020 is behind us, and are looking forward to good things in this new year.  There are hopes for restored celebrations and holidays, long awaited vacations that had to be postponed, and the eager anticipation of being with family and friends face-to-face once again.  Yes, 2021 is bearing a lot on its shoulders and I hope that it’s able to live up to the expectations we’ve placed on it.

Regardless of what lies ahead in 2021 though, the 8 dimensions of wellness in recovery remain the same.  Pursuing emotional, financial, social, spiritual, intellectual, physical, occupational and environmental wellness look much the same today as they did in 2020.  We need to continue to work our recovery plan, and press forward each day, regardless of what the external circumstances surrounding us may look like.  Every time that we do, each day that we work our recovery, we are pursuing wellness and wholeness that enable us to thrive in our homes and communities.

Take a moment today to look over, and if necessary, update your recovery plan.  Share your changes or updates with a close friend, family member, or your therapist, and make a point to review it periodically.  Consider too some ways that you can challenge yourself this new year, making new goals where appropriate.  Let’s continue to make our recovery and wellness a priority as we move further into 2021!

By Abby Opal

Happy New Year – Dec. 30, 2020

Many people will be glad to say good-bye to 2020 this week.  It’s been a year unlike any that most of us have experienced to date.  I’m probably not too far of the mark to say that it’s one that many hope to never see the likes of again!  As we prepare to close out 2020 and say “Happy New Year” I wanted to take a moment to consider the meaning of our familiar sentiment.  When we say “Happy New Year,” just what is it we are hoping for?

Webster’s online dictionary defines “happy” as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment” or as “fortunate and convenient.”  It is a quickly changing emotion that is often based on one’s circumstances.  For example: if you win a $100 or have your favorite meal brought to you, you would likely feel happy.  However, if that meal upset your stomach, or if the $100 were lost, your happy feelings over those things would change.  While happiness is a good thing and we need and want to feel happy, and we want others to be happy, we also need to keep in mind that life’s circumstances frequently change.  Therefore, people don’t feel happy constantly.  Wellness involves having balanced emotions and knowing that while it’s great to feel happy, it’s also normal to feel things like grief, fear and anger with the ebbs and flows of life.

The same dictionary defines “new” as: “not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time” or” already existing but seen, experienced, or acquired recently or now for the first time.”  By this definition, 2020 certainly was a “new” year.  After all the Covid-19 pandemic is both something that hadn’t existed before and that was discovered for the first time.  And yet it was also something that already existed (coronaviruses have been around for quite some time), yet was being dealt with in a new form.  2021 will be, by definition, a “new” year.  We will experience things that we haven’t before and will experience things we’ve known about previously in new ways.  It’s a good and right thing for things to be “new;” we don’t always have to do or have things “the way we’ve always done them.”  Wellness involves doing and incorporating new things into our lives because, by doing and learning new things, we continue to grow.

As we head into 2021, I do hope that you have a Happy New Year.  I say that knowing that there will be times when it won’t feel happy and when the new that comes may be trying and hard.  What I do wish for you though is that, through it all, you have Well New Year.  That you continue to work your recovery and progress in wellness.  Being well, in all of the 8 dimensions of wellness, I believe, will help to increase the happy times, as well as carry us through the trying new ones.

By Abby Opal

Anticipation – Dec. 16, 2020

Anticipation is a word that is often associated with the holidays this time of year.  Merriam-Webster defines anticipation (in part) as the visualization of a future state or events.  For some of us, this anticipation is one of eagerness – children eagerly anticipating presents and gifts, families and friends looking forward to dinners, gatherings and reconnecting with loved ones not often seen throughout the year, and many enjoy the welcome break from school and work to rest from the year’s toil.  For others the anticipation is one of dread – the dread of loneliness and not having family or friends to celebrate with, the painful memories of holidays past, or the grief of not having a loved one with you this year.

How you anticipate the holidays this year will likely depend on who you are, where you are and what you’ve been through.  For many of us in 2020, even the most eager anticipation may be dimmed by the limitations and grief associated with Covid-19.  It’s true that, the holidays simply won’t be quite the same this year.   While our anticipation, positive and negative, is normal to some degree, it can also prevent us from being present and experiencing the good in the here and now.  We do not have to write off the holidays, or other things in life, because of negative experiences in the past.  Nor should we assume that every good holiday or experience must look exactly the same as it did in the past.  Doing the former will leave us stuck in an endless cycle of depression and hopelessness at the holidays; while expecting the latter will keep us from seeing the blessings of today and being present for the good things here and now.

The older I get, the more I see that, while our anticipations aren’t wrong in and of themselves, allowing ourselves to be governed by them simply isn’t helpful.  Rather, we would do better to acknowledge both the pain as well as the joy of times past, while admitting that we cannot predict the future.  Doing so keeps us from holding so tightly to the past that we cannot see or enjoy the hope and possibility of this year.

We at the MHA wish you the very best of holidays and the joy of anticipating a fulfilling and hopeful New Year!

By Abby Opal

Looking Back To Go Forward – Dec. 9, 2020

As we head into the holidays, many of us are finding it difficult to find things to look forward to.  For example, many large family gathers have been or are being canceled, familiar holiday outings and traditions have been put on hold, and gift giving is more difficult this year because many people have lost reliable income and/or are concerned about what their financial future.  As a result, putting up the lights or trimming the tree this year seems far less than festive and jolly.  The anticipation of the holidays in the midst of Covid-19 can leave us feeling quite gloomy and “Grinch-like” rather than merry and bright.

How are we to deal with this?  Well, we could resign ourselves to the gloom and grief and trudge through the holidays, or we could (like our friend The Grinch) try to keep them from coming.  However, I think there is a better way; it’s one that will grow us, help us to be well and foster good mental health.  What is it?  Well, oddly enough, it’s looking back; looking back in order to go forward.  Many people groups have done this throughout the centuries in order to offer themselves hope in the midst of difficult circumstances.  They’ve chosen to be intentionally mindful of the ways that they have come through trials and griefs in the past and remembered how they’ve grown through them and become better as a result.  Doing so gave them hope that they would preserve once again, and encouraged them that there would be a better day, one beyond the suffering and grief that they were experiencing.   It didn’t change the fact that they were suffering or ignore their grief; but it did reframe it.  It changed them, making it possible for them to go on with hope and, at times dare I say, joy.

If you’re struggling with the holidays this year, you’re not alone.  But rather than try to keep them from coming, consider taking some time to remember the joy of holidays past, to be mindful of challenges that you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them, and begin to look beyond today.  We need to hope for tomorrow and know that what we are experiencing today won’t last forever.  There are better times ahead.  Remember the victories of the past and look with hope toward the future.

By Abby Opal

Snow Globing – December 2, 2020

Yesterday we had our first major snowfall of the year and it snowed from morning until night.  While the snow wasn’t particularly heavy at any one time, the perpetual flakes accumulated 4-6 inches on grassy areas and cars and a mild dusting on roadways.  I am not fond of the snow, actually that’s putting it mildly, I really DO NOT like it.  It’s wet, cold and, for those of us who have to drive in and shovel it, it is quite messy and can be dangerous.  However, I’ve learned over the years that my viewpoint on snow is not the only one. (Imagine that!)  I have friends who love it, particularly the first snow of the year.  Some simply cannot wait for it to snow so that they can partake in winter sports like skiing, snowboarding and hockey.  And of course, there are people like Queen Elsa from the Disney movie “Frozen” for whom the “cold never bothered them anyway.”

Everyone has a different way of seeing and experiencing the snow.  The same flakes, accumulations, and temperatures produce very different emotions and sensations for people.  Yesterday, what I saw as an inconvenience and white mess to be cleaned up, I heard others talk about as “snow globing.”  I’d never heard that term for falling snow before.  Of course I know what a snow globe is and, enclosed in its own bubble, I think snow (globes) can be quite beautiful.  However, I’d never heard some talk about the snow falling outside like that.  To my surprise, when I looked out the window and tried looking at the snow through their eyes, I did indeed see as they saw, that it was “snow globing” outside and, dare I say, it was pretty.

All too often we see things from only one perspective – ours.  We get stuck in thinking that our view is the only one and we end up, not only dividing and distancing ourselves from others, but stuck in ourselves. While that alone is a tragedy, what is even worse is that we also often miss out on seeing something beautiful and noteworthy; something that offers us hope and encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.

This winter may be difficult for many reasons; the season often is without all of the other struggles going on in our world right now.  But, I want to encourage you to try seeing your own difficult circumstances through another’s eyes.  For example: if you’re frustrated that your pantry only has mac n cheese and hamburgers while you’d really like steak, view your pantry through the eyes of a family that has recently lost their home, for whom mac n cheese and hamburgers would be a royal feast.  As you do, you may just get a view of the “snow globing” that is present in your everyday life.  This change of perspective will not only encourage you, but it will help you to reframe and manage today’s challenges.

By Abby Opal

Healthy Holidays – November 18, 2020

No doubt about it, the holidays will look different this year: the price of food has gone up, people are limiting family gatherings, social service organizations can’t hold holiday dinners and parties, and people are struggling to feel that “holiday spirit.”  For many people, the holidays are a difficult time of year without these adjustments; adding in these changes can make the holidays feel, well, overwhelming.

Yet, there is hope in the midst of these changes and we can find ways to care for ourselves and others at this time of year.  There are still things to be thankful for and to celebrate.  We can choose to be mindful of these things and not lose sight of what really matters.  Here are a few tips to help you through this time:

  • Be intentional about connecting in safe ways. Spend time with your family at home, visit with friends and family safely outside when we have warmer weather.  Reach out to others via phone, social media, through face-to-face chat apps like Zoom and WhatsApp, or write a letter or draw a picture and send it via snail mail.  There are many ways to reach out and connect with others this holiday season.
  • When you connect with others, be honest about where you are and what’s going on in your life. Nothing is worse than talking with someone and then feeling alone after.  Going beyond the surface conversations will help you and the person you’re talking with feel connected and heard.  It will build relationship and accountability as you walk through this time.
  • Spend time working on your self-care plan and practice good self-care. Have a written plan so that in difficult times you can quickly reference it.  Include things that you enjoy like drawing, taking a walk, trying a new puzzle or watching an episode of your favorite show.
  • Ask for help when you need it. There are many people who want to help you.  You could call a WarmLine (Beaver County’s number is 724-775-9507 and operates from 6-9 PM, 365 days a year) for an understanding, listening ear, as well as crisis lines (Beaver’ County’s number is 724-371-8060) to help you through a crisis.  It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this time and that others are available to walk with you.
  • Be thankful. Thanksgiving is a great time to consider all that we have to be grateful for.  Consider making a list and putting it in a place you will see it often, to help you be mindful of the gifts in your life.

While this year may be different, the different doesn’t have to be negative.  Look to the positive things in your life and turn your focus on them to help you through.

By Abby Opal

Borrowing Hope – November 12, 2020

“Keep coming back, it works if you work it, cause you’re worth it” is a well-known recovery slogan in many 12 Step programs.  It is encouragement and a call to continue attending meetings because the program and the steps work if you put in the time and effort to honestly and openly work through them.  The reason to do this – because you’re worth it, your life matters; there is a purpose and a plan for you that is more than the addiction you wrestle with.

I first heard this at a 12 Step group for people struggling with eating disorders.  It was said at the close of the group, after the infamous Serenity Prayer.  I wish I could say it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  It didn’t.  In fact, it created tension within me: on the one hand, I wanted to believe that there was hope beyond where I was at that moment, and that the struggle that I faced wouldn’t always be so intense.  However, I was also a bit cynical and thought that no one there could possibly know the struggle that I faced; if they did, they couldn’t possibly believe that a support group was going to be effective or helpful in putting an end to the vicious cycle that engulfed me.

Despite my cynicism, I kept going back, not only to that group, but to others as well.  Even though I struggled to believe that I was worth it at first, I made a choice to trust others who were able to see better than me in the moment.  They allowed me to “borrow” their hope until I had my own.  Over time, I found that the saying was true: the more I came back, working the 12 steps and my own recovery, even though it wasn’t always pretty or easy, the more I found that recovery was possible, a reality and effective in my own life.  I also gained my own hope and was able to lend that hope to others along the road.

If your struggling, in the midst of all that is going on in the world, to think that it matters if you go to a meeting, or that recovery is possible, or that you’re worth it, I want to let you know that you’re not alone in these thoughts and feelings; many have walked this road.  However, many people will also tell you that you’re worth it and that recovery, though not easy, is possible.  Whether your struggle is an addiction or something else, I want to encourage you to keep working it, keep coming back; keep coming back to meetings, to waking up each day, to relationships, to life because you are worth it!  You have a purpose and there’s a plan for your life.  If you need hope, don’t be afraid to borrow a friend’s, family member’s or loved one’s for a while.  If you need, I’m happy to lend you mine.  Recovery works, if you work it!

By Abby Opal

Coping with Anger – November 4, 2020

We’ve all experienced it to one degree or another – anger.  It creeps up on us when we feel like our person or rights have been violated, or when that’s happened to someone we love.  Anger can also be used as a coping mechanism to help us deal with pain.  This is because we often find it more tolerable to be angry (as it offers us a sense of empowerment) than to wrestle through feelings of sadness and grief (which often give us a sense of powerlessness and helplessness).

Anger, in and of itself, is not a bad emotion; it is what you do with your anger that counts.  For example, we may get angry because someone cuts us off in traffic.  This anger at another’s carelessness is well justified, especially if it caused (or almost caused) a wreck and/or your kids were in the car.  The anger may also be a way we temporarily cope with the fear of having been in that situation, or it may have enabled you to react quickly in order to avoid an accident.  However, if in your anger you react with road-rage and become the aggressor, this is not healthy or wise.  It is also unhelpful to turn your anger toward people or things who were not involved in the situation at all; for example, yelling or screaming at your kids or spouse for something inconsequential and unrelated.

A proper response to anger in the above situation would be honking a horn to alert the offending driver to their error, considering that they may not have even been aware of what they did.  It may also involve admitting to yourself and a loved one that you were frightened by what happened, and dealing with all of the emotions, fear and grief as well as the anger, that it evoked.  Finally, depending on the severity of the offense, it may also include involving local law enforcement, and allowing them to wisely mediate the matter in a way that keeps you from saying or doing something that could make you legally liable.

While this is just one example, and admittedly, each situation is different, there are guidelines to help you deescalate and work through your anger:

  • Step back and count to 10; repeat if needed. This may be difficult in the heat of a moment, but giving yourself a few moments respite from the situation can offer you perspective and keep you from saying or doing something that you will later regret.  This is one way to begin to deescalate a situation; as we know – two wrongs do not make a right.
  • Respond rather than react. This builds on the first point: in the heat of a moment, it is tempting to react to a situation out of our emotions, rather than, having considered multiple views and gathered the facts, to make a healthy and informed response.  When we offer a healthy response to something that has brought up feelings of anger we often end up feeling a sense of empowerment.  However, when we impulsively react to a situation in anger, we only add fuel to a fire, making things worse and opening ourselves up to liability for our wrong-doing in the heat of the moment.
  • Talk to someone and listen to their perspective. Share your experience and what your feeling with a loved one, and be open to their input.  They can be a good sounding board and may be able to help you see something that you’re not, helping you to reframe your experience.  Be careful to remember though that your loved one is not your problem (they are not the cause of your anger); be careful not to take your anger out on them.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If your anger is not subsiding, or is turning into rage reach out to a professional for help.  They have experience in helping people work though all of the complexities of anger.

Reach for the Stars – October 28, 2020

“Reach for the stars;” we hear this phrase a lot.  It’s used to encourage kids to aim high, to set goals and to go after them.  Athlete’s use it as a motivation to work and train hard, and to be the best at their sport that they can be.  Essentially, it’s a call to set goals for yourself, to pursue them and to not limit or dismiss your abilities, hopes or dreams.  The saying has been used often over the last decade or so to admonish people to set goals, aim high and to make them believe that anything is possible.

Regardless of where you are in life, it is healthy and wise to “reach for the stars” and to set goals for yourself.  We all need goals to keep us moving forward, to give us a sense of purpose, and to motivate us.  As we achieve our goals, they boost our sense of self-esteem and foster our growth and recovery.

These goals do not have to include climbing Mt. Everest or being a professional hockey player.  They can be things like: getting out of bed at a regular time every day for a week, eating a salad three times a week, or connecting with a friend or family member once each day.  Depending on where you are in life, they can include things like getting and maintaining a new job, moving out into your own apartment, getting a license, or, if that’s your thing, even climbing Mt. Everest!   Your goal(s) can be whatever fits with where you are in life and your life situation.  It’s OK to start small and to work to bigger things.

It’s also important, whether you’ve just set a goal or have accomplished it, to share them with a friend or family member.  Our loved ones can help encourage us in reaching our goals, as well as celebrate with us when we reach it.  No man is an island, and connecting with others, even in setting and reaching our goals, is an important part of the process.

So this week, as we leave October and head into November and daylight savings time, consider what goals you may set for yourself.  Write them down and hang them in a place that you will see often; then share them with a friend or family member.  Begin working toward them, a little each day and, once you’ve achieved those, set new goals and continue to reach for the stars!

By Abby Opal

A Purpose and a Place – October 21, 2020

You have a purpose and a place in this world.  This is not a belief or a wish, but a statement of fact.  No matter who you are or what you do, you fit into this world, your community, and your family in a way that only you can.  You have gifts and abilities that are uniquely yours, and that contribute to each of those circles in way that no one else could.  Without you, each of the places and people you interact with would not be the same.  You are part of a body.

Think for a moment about your own physical body.  If you were missing an eye, or an ear, or an arm, your body would not be the same.  You would feel that loss acutely, even though you may still have another eye, ear or arm.  The way you live and function in the world would change dramatically.  There are things that would not only become difficult, but that may be impossible.  Another body part could not simply just fill in or pick up the slack; no leg, for example, could replace or fill in for a missing eye, ear or arm.  It would look pretty ridiculous for one thing.  Beyond that, your leg just isn’t built to do what your eye does.  It just wouldn’t work, and the loss would impact the whole body.

Furthermore, just because an ear isn’t a leg or a foot doesn’t make it any less a part of your body.  If your whole body were made up of legs, how would you ever hear or see?  Each part is needed to fulfill its unique purpose in order for your body to function as a whole.  This is true, not only for our physical body parts, but it’s also true of our place in the “body” of society as well.

You have a purpose and part that is irreplaceable.  While I know that you have a purpose, what I can’t do is tell you what that is.   We each need to take time to examine our gifts and abilities, to consider the ways in which we connect with the world around us and then to invest ourselves in it.  Maybe you are a good listener and care well for others by just listening to them as they talk.   Or, maybe you are skilled at working with your hands and can build or make things to make their lives easier.  Whatever it is, you have a purpose that is uniquely yours.  You matter and you belong!

By Abby Opal

Got Stress? – October 15, 2020

“Well the day has just begun and I’m already running late; with too many irons in the fire and too much on my plate.  I’d be pulling out my hair if I could just get one hand free, and I’d stop this world if I could find the keys.”

Does this describe you?  It’s the intro to a song that I like, but it all too often describes the stress we all experiences in the day- to-day activities of our lives.  Maybe you identify with this because your kids are now homeschooled and you’re trying to juggle both this and a work schedule, along with after-school sports and maintaining your home.  Or maybe you’re feeling stressed trying to do the job of 3 employees at your office due to cutbacks and Covd-19 restrictions.  Or, it could be stress due to the turmoil in society with the virus, political climate and other hot button issues.  Whatever the reason, stress affects all of us at some point in our lives.

Depending on how we manage it, stress can be positive or negative.  Not all stress is bad.  For example, stress that helps you get to work on time in the morning so that you can keep your job and put food on the table is a good thing.  However, stress can also be debilitating and can cause numerous physical and emotional issues.  Learning how to determine what kind of stress your experiencing, as well as how to manage it, is key.

If the stress in your life is harmful, consider what might be done to lessen it.  For example: consider asking others in your house to pitch in if you are feeling overwhelmed by housework.  This may not fully remove it from your plate, but it may help lighten the load enough to make things more workable.  Making a schedule to help you better organize your time and activities can also help alleviate stress.  It will help ensure that you are attending to necessities, while providing you a structure and routine to your day that includes not only work, but also rest and breaks.  Taking time to rest and to do things that you enjoy is an important part of managing stress.  Finally, if you find that you are involved in too much and are over-committed, consider what you may be able to step away from or let go of in order to make life more manageable.  The truth is that there are many good things that we can be involved in; in fact, the options are endless.  However, we need to be sure that we are involved, not just with good things, but with the best things for who we are and where we are called to serve.

There are many ways to manage stress and make daily life more manageable.  If you feel stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  You are not alone in the struggle and there is much that we can learn from one another.  Sometimes, others can see things in us that we are not able to see.  And those things may hold the key to helping us better manage our stress and moving forward with our lives.

By Abby Opal

Pittsburgh Grey Blues / If Pittsburgh Were A Crayon – October 7, 2020

It has long been said that if Pittsburgh were a crayon it would be the grey color that our sky becomes in late October and that lasts through, at least, the end of February.  If you are live in or are from this area you know this color all too well, and it can be a difficult color to tolerate.  What makes it worse is that it comes just on the heels of summer, which often give us beautiful sunny blue skies.  The change is so drastic that, for people who struggle with seasonal depression, or depression of any kind, it can make the sunny blue skies of summer seem like a faded and distant memory.

This time of year is hard on many people and it, unfortunately, comes with clock-work regularity here in Western PA.  In order to cope, we need to consider tools to help us make the transition a little smoother, as well as to sustain us through the 4-5 months until Spring and Summer come ‘round again.

One thing that can be helpful is staying in contact with others.  Even though face-to-face contact may be more challenging right now, you can still connect with people by phone, social media or by writing letters.  (Yes, people still do that.)  Being in communication with others reminds us that we aren’t alone, can provide encouragement and support when we are in a hard time, and gives us the opportunity to support and care for others in their need as well.  No man is an island, as the saying goes.  We need one another.

It is also important, if you have a therapist or doctor, to maintain contact and keep appointments with them.  They may notice changes in you before you do and may be able to help keep you from spiraling.  They can also monitor your medications and helping you to work and talk through the feelings associated with the changing seasons.

Finally, consider reinvesting in a hobby or do a little cleaning/redecorating of your living space.  This doesn’t have to be a major change – it could be hanging up a photo that makes you smile, doing a new puzzle, reading a new or favorite book, or even taking a hot bubble bath.  Have fun with it and enjoy the process.  While the color of the sky and the changing of the seasons are not things that we can control, how we spend our time and what we are mindful of are our responsibility.

If you have, or are likely to experience the Pittsburgh Grey Blues this year, take heart – you’re not alone in the struggle and there are things that you can do to help you manage the next several months.  These days won’t last forever and the summer sunny blue skies will come back soon enough.

By Abby Opal

Facing Disappointment – October 1, 2020

Fall’s officially here in Western, PA:  the leaves are hues of yellow, red and orange, the temperature has dropped and the air smells of leaves and Fall.  Yet, it seems like only yesterday Spring had sprung and we were looking forward to warm weather, sunshine and summer vacations.   I think many of us imagined that by this point in the year, Covid-19 would be behind us and we’d be moving forward to better things.  Unfortunately, the virus is still active and for some of us, our summers didn’t turn out as we’d hoped.  Maybe we missed out on playing a sport we enjoyed, or had to postpone a trip we’d been looking forward to; or maybe you were a graduate that didn’t get to walk for graduation or a bride/groom who had a wedding cancelled.  Or maybe you lost a loved one this summer and are still grieving the painful loss.

Whatever the cause, it seems that for many of us, Fall is coming a bit too quickly this year and summer had far too many disappointments.  If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone.  While your loss may be unique to you, the reality of disappointment and grief is common to us all.  So how do we deal with the disappointments in life?  How do we recover and move beyond them; how do we keep disappointments from weighing us down?

I wish I had a 7 step program that would work for everyone.  I don’t, or I’d probably be rich.  What I do have is some practical life experience that has served me well and want to share that with you.

  • First, it’s important to acknowledge the disappointment and grief. Burying it under work, family, friends, food, alcohol or drugs isn’t helpful and will only serve to cover the pain, not heal it.  Facing the disappointment and being willing to walk through it is a good first step to recovery.
  • Second, don’t go through it alone. Talk with a trusted friend, family member or therapist who can walk with you.  Burdens are easier to carry when they are shared.  Consider talking the risk to invite someone to walk with you in yours.  In turn, you can then walk with them in theirs.
  • Third, be kind and patient with yourself. Walking through disappointment and grief takes time and it won’t happen overnight. However, little by little and one day at a time, it will happen.  Be careful to not put yourself on a time frame.  Healing has its own schedule.
  • Finally, as a friend of mine frequently says, “keep on keepin’ on.” Each day choose to keep moving forward.  This doesn’t mean pretending like everything is OK, or trying to be somewhere you’re not.  It does mean remembering to live, and doing the little things like eating well, getting exercise and connecting with loved ones.

Disappointment in life is inevitable; but we can get through it.  There is light at the end of the tunnel and exciting opportunities that lay ahead!

Asking the Hard Questions – September 24, 2020

Have you ever had to ask someone a hard question?  It can be scary to ask someone a hard question for many reasons.  Maybe you are afraid of the answer, or afraid that the answer will require something of you.  Or maybe you really want to know and want to help, but you are afraid that just asking the question will cause issues in the relationship.  Whatever the reason, sometimes asking a hard question is unavoidable, especially when someone’s well-being is at stake.  It may even save a life.

One of the hardest questions to ask someone may be: are you thinking of suicide?  Yet it’s an essential question to ask if you think that your loved one may be at risk.  Asking does not increase the risk, it does not put the idea in their head, and it is not intrusive.  It does however let someone know that you care, that you’re there for them, that you see them and that your willing to help.   Your question may be just what the person needs to verbalize their struggle and get the help and support that they need.

So what do you do if someone says yes, they are thinking of suicide?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Listen. I know it sounds simple, but it’s profoundly true. You may be the first person they’ve told, or you may be the tenth. You might be the first to truly listen.
  • Be supportive, not dismissive. It’s easier to think, “I have a lot on my plate right now and I can’t take on a suicidal person” than to sit with a person and their feelings. But, your support is crucially important. Believe anyone who says that they are thinking about suicide and let them know that you care about them.
  • Know your limits. At the same time, if you are not a clinician, don’t try to be a clinician. You don’t need any special knowledge to be supportive, but know when it would be good to connect with someone trained to work more comprehensively with suicidal individuals. If you are talking with someone who has specific ideas about how they would end their life, connect them with a crisis center or clinician.
  • Know your resources. If nothing else, know the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1.800.273.8255). The Lifeline can be a resource for you, or for someone expressing suicidal thoughts. The Lifeline can also connect you to local crisis resources.
  • Get support — don’t do it alone. Clinicians get supervision because the things they hear are extremely difficult, and sometimes talking about it can relieve some of the burden of hearing it. So, if you talk with someone about their suicidal thinking, it’s important for you to talk to someone else. Ideally, that person has some experience dealing with challenging topics, so that they can be supportive of you.

Even though it can be difficult, asking hard questions is worth the risk.  You may just be the encouragement someone needs to get help and support for their struggle.

By Abby Opal

You’re Life Matters – September 17, 2020

Life is valuable; it is precious; it is a gift.  Sometimes, when we are caught in difficult circumstances or are in the midst of a crisis it can be hard to see or remember these truths.  The challenges of life can keep us focused on our feelings, which are not always based in reality, and it can be hard to be mindful of what is really going on.  This is complicated all the more when we feel alone or isolated from friends, family and loved ones; of course here in 2020, the Covid-19 virus has increased these feelings.  However dire circumstances may seem for all of us at times, the truth is that you’re not alone and there is hope and there is help and encourage you to not let your story end.

We all have a story to tell and each story matters and is important.  No one’s story exists in a vacuum; your story connects you to your family, your friends and your community.  If you were not here, the lives of all of those around you would be changed; if you were missing, a part of their lives would be missing.  There is a role that you have in life that no one else can fulfill; you have a purpose, a plan and a calling that is unique to you!  If circumstances seem to be clouding that today, there is help and people who care and want to help you through the difficult times.  Please consider reaching out to a family member or a friend and let them know what you’re thinking and feeling.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are other resources in Beaver County as well as nationwide.  Here in the county we have Beaver County Crisis which can be reached at 724-371-8060.  Nationally, there is the National Suicide Prevention Line which can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.  Everyone who answers those numbers does so because they care and they are trained to help.

No matter where you are today, your life is valuable, and we here at the MHA care.  Please don’t let your story end.  There is hope and help for you!

By Abby

Happy Labor Day – September 2, 2020

We are heading into another holiday weekend here in the US – Labor Day weekend.  For many it means a long weekend however, it also (unfortunately) signals the end of summer.  You may have already noticed that the days are getting shorter – the sun sets earlier and rises later.  The temperature has even begun to cool down, with the night time temperatures, at least here in Western PA, dipping into the low 60’s.  Fall is definitely on the horizon and behind it, winter.  But, I’m getting too far ahead of myself – after all, who wants to think about snow?

Over the last 8 weeks, we have talked a lot about the 8 dimensions of wellness: emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, physical, intellectual and environmental.  Each of them is important in our recovery and wellness and together, they really do provide us with a balanced foundation on which to build.  So as we head into this long weekend, I hope you take the extra day to rest and relax and to enjoy the last few days of summer.  I also hope that you can take some time to consider how to continue to work your recovery and wellness in each of the dimensions.  Maybe this will be expanding your intellectual wellness by picking up a new book, or heading out for a long walk and expanding your physical and environmental wellness.  There are countless options; I hope that you find one that works for you.

Have a Happy Labor Day!

By Abby Opal

Life is Better at the Lake – Environmental Wellness – August 26, 2020

About 4 years ago I purchased my first kayak.  It’s a blue and white, 10.5’ beauty (at least to me) and to this day I think it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.  Every Saturday morning, for the past 4 years, I’ve gone kayaking at the local lake.  For me, being out on the water is space for my soul.  Enjoying the beauty of nature: of the trees, butterflies, ducks, fish, turtles, birds and even the occasional shell does my heart and mind a world of good.  It’s my way to decompress after the week and it is also good physical exercise!  In my opinion, life is definitely better at the lake.  Taking in this pleasant, stimulating, and restful environment helps to facilitate recovery for me and is one example of environmental wellness.

Kayaking, or even being on the water, may not be your cup of tea, but there are many other ways that you can partake in environmental wellness.  In fact, environmental wellness isn’t limited to being outdoors.  You can have environmental wellness, for example, in your living room or bedroom.  Any space that is relaxing for you and that brings you comfort is a place that can support your environmental wellness.

If you don’t have a space like this, consider what it would take to transform a space in your home to an environmentally supportive place.  Would a scented candle or two help, or maybe a new picture for your wall?  Maybe you could rearrange the furniture in a way that feels comfier, or do a little cleaning so that your home feels fresh and clean.  Or, if you’re like me and enjoy the outdoors, where can you go that will encourage and support your environmental wellness?  Is it the lake, the mountains, a park, or maybe a trip to a local coffee shop?  Whatever or wherever it is, I would encourage you to take time this week to create or visit an environment that supports wellness for you.  It can help to re-frame your thinking and gives you a few moments to renew your mind.

As for me . . . I will be at the lake!

By Abby Opal

Intellectual Wellness – Back to School – August 19, 2020

As students go back to campuses and grade schools and high schools prepare to resume education, in various forms, it strikes me that, even when we are finished with formal schooling, we never quit learning.  After all, when we graduate from high school, college or vo-tech, we look for a job and learn how to perform it according to our employer’s standards.  If we become parents, we learn how to care for an infant, and then a preschooler, a grade school child and then, and then, the age that requires the most knowledge, teenagers.

Even in recovery, we are continually learning.  When we are first diagnosed, we learn about our diagnosis – what it is, what it isn’t and what works best in treatment.  We learn how to care for ourselves and to manage our recovery, and we learn daily how to move forward and walk in all that we have learned.   It seems that we never reach a place where we can say, “I’ve arrived,” or that we don’t need to learn more.

In fact, recognizing our cognitive abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills is essential to intellectual wellness.  Not only is it essential, it can be fun!  Learning how to cook a new dish, participate in a new sport, engage in a new art form, reading a book on a new topic, all of these are ways to take part in our intellectual wellness.  So, my challenge to you this week is to find one thing that you can do this week to participate in your intellectual wellness.  Once you have decided on something, please share it on our Facebook post for this week’s blog.

By Abby Opal

Physical Wellness Matters – August 12, 2020

Over the last several weeks we’ve looked at wellness in various forms.  Today we will focus on physical wellness.  During Covid-19 this topic has taken on particular importance as we have all taken extra care using precautions such as social distancing, masks, and practicing good hygiene to protect ourselves and to stay well.  These are all very important aspects of our physical health, but there is so much more to our physical well-being.  We need to be engaged in physical activity, consume a balanced diet that provides us with proper nutrition and develop a regular sleep schedule so that we are getting the rest that our bodies need.  All of these things, when part of our daily life, will moves us toward physical wellness.

The good news today, at least as we engage in physical activity is that, It’s still summer! (Well, for a little while longer.)  The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful and there is plenty to do outside.  You can take a walk, go for a jog, work in the garden, kayak (my personal favorite) or even go swimming.  There is a lot that we can do right now to take care of our physical wellness with physical activities.  In addition, being outside well enable us take in the vitamin D that we so desperately need to help sustain us through the “Pittsburgh grey” of winter.

Another benefit of it being summer is that there are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, ripe and ready for us to eat, that are all part of a healthy and balanced diet.  Many local grocery stores carry fresh produce grown locally and there are a variety of Farmer’s Markets that whose prices are much reduced from those of grocery stores.  It’s a great time to consider trying some new foods, expand your palate and increase your nutritional intake.   Fresh corn, peaches and tomatoes this time of year just can’t be beat!

Finally, after all of the physical activity and good food we need to take time to rest.  It’s recommended that we get 8 hours of sleep each night in order to be well equipped to carry out our day.  Our bodies need this time to re-energize, much like our phones need to be plugged in each night for the battery to recharge if we expect to be able to use them the next day.  If you forget to charge your phone, at some point it will shut down and leave you without the ability to effectively communicate.  Similarly, if you neglect “recharging” your body, you will find yourself unable to make it through the day well.  It’s important to develop a healthy sleep pattern, and this starts with a bedtime routine which will help us prepare to rest.  Consider turning off the TV and reading a book, dimming the lights and turning off noise and distractions.  Also, it’s helpful to make it a priority to go to bed at the same time each night.  This will help train your body to know when it is time for bed.

Physical wellness, like all 8 of the dimensions of wellness, requires some work on our part.  However, those things that are worth doing, are worth doing well.  Being healthy and well, including physically well, is important, especially in this time of Covid-19.  We want to be at our best in every way so that we are able to work through all of the challenges, trials and joys that come our way in life.

By Abby Opal

Occupational Wellness – Wellness when you work – August 5, 2020

We are often defined by our work.  In fact, one of the first questions people often ask when meeting someone new is, “What do you do?”  Our work is very connected with who we are and it does say something about us.  It speaks of where our interests are, what we are passionate about, and what concerns us.  It also gives others insight into our gifts, skills and capabilities.  Our work matters.

Everyone has work to do.  For some of us that might look like going to the office each day; for others it means being on a construction site creating, fixing or building something.  And for others, our work is recovery.  If that is where you are today, then that is the work that you need to do; and it can be the hardest work!  Even if others don’t understand, there is personal satisfaction and enrichment to be gained from working one’s recovery.  Doing the hard work of recovery will bring us to a healthy place so that we can care for ourselves and others well.  Working our recovery may make it possible, at some point, to go out into the world and do additional work.

Unfortunately, so many people dislike their work.  It’s viewed as: a place people go to each day until something better is found, or as a paycheck or a chore.  Sometimes people grow impatient with the work of recovery, thinking it’s taking too long or that it’s too hard or too painful.  Yet, our work, no matter what it is, is part of wellness, and finding a sense of personal satisfaction and enrichment from it is important.  So how do we do this and what might this look like?

  • First, I think we need to find the positive things about our work. No matter what our work, or how frustrating it may seem, there IS something redeeming about it.  For example, maybe it enables you to pay the bills, gives you a reason to get out of bed each morning, helps you keep a schedule or a routine, or provides you the opportunity to connect with people outside of your home in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
  • Once we have found the positive things about our work, then we can look at what we want to change and how we might do that. Is your schedule a challenge?   Then maybe consider talking to your boss about changing shifts.   Are there physical limitations that make it difficult?  Consider ways to make it easier with reasonable accommodations that help relieve some of the burden.

Similarly, if things are challenging in working your recovery, consider talking to your doctor or therapist to see what changes in medication, therapy or groups may help you on your journey.

No matter what your work – it matters!  And finding personal satisfaction and enrichment in it is important for wellness.

By Abby Opal

Spiritual Wellness – July 29, 2020

As I start this blog post, I realize that just using the word “spiritual” today can bring up negative thoughts and feelings for people.  However, SAMHSA believes (and I happen to agree) that expanding our sense of purpose and meaning in life is an essential aspect of our wellness.

A study out of Rutgers School of Health Professions, Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, recently conducted a webinar about spirituality and recovery.  The psychiatrist conducting the training noted that for people with mental health conditions, 70-80% of them find spirituality to be important in their recovery.  With such compelling numbers, I think we need to take seriously the need to expand our sense of purpose and meaning in life.  So what might this look like?

It seems that the specifics of how this is lived out will be different for each person, and this blog post isn’t about what I think may or may not look like.   It is however, about admitting the need for a spiritual dimension of wellness and its result, the expanded send of purpose and meaning in life.  We all need to have a sense of purpose in life, something that drives us, connects us to others and the world around us, and helps us go on when times are tough.  Without it we fall into a pit of discouragement and hopelessness and often have difficulty finding a way through.  During good times, this sense of purpose assists us in creating and meeting goals, gives us the courage to try new things, and enables us to connect with the world and people in it in meaningful ways that encourage growth and wellness.

So how can you expand your sense of purpose and meaning in life?  I think it might be best to start with looking at what it is that currently gives that sense of purpose and meaning.  Maybe it is time spent in your faith, or maybe it is your family, friends, or a hobby.  Just identifying what that is can then help you in the next step, which is evaluating how it is helping you.  Knowing how it helps you can help you draw strength, encouragement and support from it in recovery.  You can also look for ways to grow and build on it; ways to deepen its meaning and support for your life.  However, if you find that what currently gives you purpose and meaning is not healthy, or really isn’t working for you, this is a good opportunity to explore new ways to build your sense of meaning in life and to spend some time getting to know and understand yourself better in order to know what does or will drive you and give you a sense of connection and hope.

This is a big topic and I’ve said, what seems like very little about it.  That is intentional, I’m not here to tell you what I think you should or shouldn’t do, or to promote one thing over another.  However, I do believe that we all need a spiritual dimension to recovery, and would encourage you to explore what that is (or may be) for you and to then pursue that in working toward wellness.

Social Wellness – July 22, 2020

In this day and age, it can be quite difficult to feel like you’re connected to anyone, let alone to have an authentic sense of belonging or maintain a well-developed support system.  Social distancing, face masks and restricted physical contact (albeit protective measures during the Covid-19 crisis) have left many people with the unintended consequences of feeling increased isolation, loneliness and a general lack of connection.  At a time when we most need one another and to know that we are cared for and loved, circumstances beyond our control have created what seems like an ever deepening void.

Add to this the current sense of division in our society whether it be over politics, religion, race, face masks or something else.  We too often seem divided with a “them vs. us” mentality and people take vehement stands on issues that are actually a lot grayer than either side would care to admit.  In the midst of so much turmoil and division, when society seems to be divided along invisible, yet very real lines, how can we have a healthy social wellness that offers us a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed, non-toxic, support system?

I think a good place to begin is to examine the support system that we currently have regardless of how large or small that may seem.   This is because, if we find that we have a solid foundation, there is nothing better on which to build.  After all, if we build a house we want its foundation to be strong, how much more so our social support!  Similarly, if we find that our foundation is not as strong as we want it to be, it’s best to sure up that foundation before attempting to build on it.  A small, yet mighty support system with a few close friends or family members, maybe even a trusted therapist or case worker, is healthier and more helpful than a support system that seems larger, but is fraught with distress.  The important thing is quality, not quantity; numbers cannot substitute for a healthy sense of connection and belonging.

When we have a solid foundation and are ready to build our social dimension of wellness, there are things, even during the current health crisis, that we can do.  First, I think that we can be intentional about reaching out to the people that we are already connected to in order to grow and develop those relationships.  This may look like a phone call, virtual get-together or outdoor meeting at a park or for a walk.  It’s important to take and make time for the people who are already in our lives.

If you want to make new connections, consider attending a virtual group through a local mental health association or a recovery support group.  (The MHA has a virtual drop-in center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example.)  There are also national meetings, particularly for groups like AA and NA.  These meetings can be a great place to find accountability, support in recovery and where you can build new social relationships.   You could also look for a virtual (online) group where people share a similar interest to you.  For example, if you’re in to novels, you may be able to find a group that meets to discuss novels that they’ve read and/or new ones that are coming out.  This is a non-threatening way to meet people with similar interests and to be able to develop social connections with others who share your hobbies and interests.

There are many ways to build social connections and your support system, even in these trying times; these are just a few of my thoughts.  Please feel free to come up with your own and/or message us on Facebook to share.

By Abby Opal

Financial Wellness – July 15, 2020

Whether you have more than you need or not quite enough, finances (money) can be a difficult topic to discuss.  Financial issues have broken marriages, brought people into bankruptcy, and have led to loss of homes and businesses.  Even people who appear rich are not immune to financial issues; in fact, many wealthy people have mismanaged money to such an extent that they ended up homeless and destitute. Then there is the challenge of living on a fixed income, a reality all too common for people facing mental health struggles.   With so much negativity surrounding finances, how can we have financial wellness?  How can we find satisfaction with both our current and future financial situations?

I confess I don’t have all the answers, or even a nifty (yes, I’m showing my age) 5 point “how to” guide on a path to financial wellness.  However, I can share a few things that have helped me along the road.

  • Live within your means. Regardless of whether you make $5,000 a month or $500 a month, it is essential to live within your means.  In fact, making more money, if you haven’t learned how to live within your means, will only create more problems not less.  A helpful way to determine if you’re living within your means is to sit down and make a list of your monthly expenses.  If your monthly expenses add up to more than the money that you bring in each month, you are living outside of your means, and it will catch up with you.  It is helpful to determine which expenses are essential (rent, utilities, food, medication, insurance) and which are non-essential (that Starbucks latte, leather jacket, a night out on the town) and consider what you might be able to cut from your non-essential expenses in order to put your budget in balance.   Living within your means allows us to focus on recovery with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your bills are covered each month.
  • Set some money aside in savings. Savings enable you to have a nest egg for an emergency, a future goal or a rainy day.  They can help you prepare for the future, whether that be a home, car, school or retirement.  While we cannot place our security in money, having a little set aside can help ease anxiety about future financial situations.  It can also encourage us to pursue a goal that we have set.
  • Ask for help. This does not mean go out and ask your friend to borrow $10.  It does mean that if you are having difficulty with your finances, it is OK to ask for help from someone who can help you create and stick to a budget.  This may be a trusted family member or friend.  If you receive SSI, SSDI, or Railroad retirement, then you can also apply for a Representative Payee.  This is someone who creates a budget with you, receives your income and then pays your bills out of that income.  They ensure that your bills get paid on time, help you learn to budget and allow you to focus your attention on recovery.  The MHA has Representative Payee services and serves over 200 clients a year!

These are just a few things that can help us find satisfaction with our current and future financial situation and move us toward financial wellness.  Remember to be patient with yourself in this; it is a process and can take time, but it is worth it!

By Abby Opal

Emotional Wellness – July 9, 2020

In the age of Covid-19, we are being asked to regularly assess our wellness; we are encouraged to take our temperature and monitor ourselves for symptoms such as chills, cough and shortness of breath.  Doing this is important, wise and necessary to maintaining our physical health.  However, physical wellness is only a part of our overall wellness.  So what do we need to do to ensure that we are caring for our emotional well-being?

SAMHSA defines emotional wellness as “coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships.”  To say it another way, this means dealing with the ups and downs of life in constructive and healthy ways that keep us moving forward, and developing healthy relationships that not only further our recovery, but that provide us the opportunity to encourage and support others in their recovery.  So how do we do this, especially in these turbulent times?

Personally, I’ve found that working a recovery plan is integral to maintaining emotional wellness.  Having healthy coping skills written down such as practicing mindfulness, exercise or calling a therapist, friend or family member is important for emotional wellness, especially in the midst of a difficult time.   When is the best time to create a recovery plan? Now, before a crisis hits.  We need to have a plan in place before the crisis so that when the crisis hits we have a plan to work through.   We don’t put a fire escape plan in place in the midst of a fire; if we did we probably wouldn’t survive the fire well.  The same is true with emotional wellness – if we wait until we are in an emotional fire before putting a plan in place, it’s likely not going to go well.

A great website to assist you in creating a recovery plan is:  They offer suggestions and even a template to use as a spring board for you to start from.  Your recovery plan will be unique to you because it includes your interests, hobbies, and relationships.  Have fun with it and keep somewhere that you can easily access it; you may even consider sharing it with a close friend or therapist who can help you remember it when needed.  Your emotional wellness is worth it!

If you do have a recovery plan, that’s great!  Consider taking some time to review it and update it/make changes as needed.  As we grow, it is likely that our recovery plan will grow and change with us.

-Abby Opal

A Long, Relaxing Weekend – July 2, 2020

I want to start by saying that this will be a short post, as this is a short week.  As we come upon, what for many is an extended holiday weekend to celebrate our independence on this 4th of July, I can’t help but think just how much we all need this long, relaxing weekend.  We’ve been inundated the last few months with news of Covid-19, racial injustice and more.  All of it is disturbing and many of us have walked on the proverbial pins and needles just trying to navigate our way through these times.  And let’s be honest – it’s been hard and it’s taken a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually.

So as we come into this weekend, I want to encourage you to take time to relax, to enjoy the beautiful weather that we are having, and the company of family and good friends and neighbors.  There is a time for everything in life; lately we’ve taken time for mourning and loss, let’s now take time for laughing and relaxation.  Happy 4th of July!

By Abby Opal

Eight Dimensions of Wellness – June 24, 2020

What is wellness?  Merriam-Webster defines wellness as “the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal.”  SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) wisely articulates that there are 8 dimensions of wellness.  While each of them are important individually, it is working together that they provide a holistic and well-balanced foundation for wellness.   As we actively seek wellness within these dimensions, the specifics of how they are lived out can look different for each person; for example, for physical activity I enjoy kayaking and hiking, while others may enjoy walking or dancing.  Regardless of the activity, it is simply engaging in physical activity that is key.   Take a moment to consider each of the dimensions (below) looking at both where you excel at wellness as well as the dimensions that are a bit more difficult for you.

  • “Emotional – Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships.” Some examples of this include: managing daily stressors well and/or creating and developing healthy relationships with family, coworkers, neighbors and friends.
  • “Financial – Satisfaction with current and future financial situations.” This can be difficult, especially if one is on a fixed income.  However, living within your means and being actively engaged in creating and maintaining your budget will further wellness and recovery regardless of your ability to work.
  • “Social – Expanding our sense of connection, belonging, a well-developed support system.” We all need people around us that are supportive and who can both walk with us through difficult times; we also need to walk with others when they are struggling.  Even if you’re someone who prefers to keep to yourself, having a few close friends is important to wellness.  We can expand our social circles by joining a support group or simply texting, emailing or calling someone each day.
  • “Spiritual – Expanding our sense of purpose and meaning in life.” Whether you are a proponent of organized religion or not, having a sense of purpose and meaning can be beneficial.  If you do adhere to tenants of faith, spend some time each day or week in spiritual pursuits and/or engaging with others who do likewise.  If not, consider expanding your appreciation for life and connection with something larger than yourself.
  • “Occupational – Personal satisfaction and enrichment derived through one’s work.” It’s good to go to work each day and to enjoy what you do.  It provides a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction, and allows you to consider others needs as well.  If you are unable to work, consider volunteering at an animal shelter, community of faith, library or social service organization.
  • “Physical – Recognizing the need for physical activity, diet, sleep, and nutrition.” We all need daily exercise, a balance diet and sleep in order to be well.  Try to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep, take a walk, go swimming or ride a bike for exercise, and eat meals with a variety of foods each day.
  • “Intellectual – Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills.” You can engage your intellect by learning about something new that is of interest to you, learning a new language, or taking up a new hobby.
  • “Environmental – Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that will support well-being.” Even in the city, just stepping outside you will see nature all around you.  There are birds and other small animals, as well as plants, trees and beautiful flowers.  Take a few moments each day to take in the nature around you.  If you are unable to get outside, try spending some time observing the beauty of nature by looking out a window or at books/magazines with photos of various environments.

Eight dimensions of wellness may seem like a lot, but you do not have to do it all in one day.  Start small and be kind to yourself as you work in and through them, and most importantly:  have fun!

By Abby Opal

You Can’t Do It Alone – June 17, 2020

We live in a very individualistic society.  We want to do what we want, when we want to do it and are told that we have a right to have things our way, right away.  However, the older I get, the more I realize that we can’t walk through life alone, doing it our own way.  We were designed to live in community and to work together to better ourselves and the world that we live in.  This is no less true in recovery, a point that was demonstrated to me more than 22 years ago.  While at a group in a residential facility, one of the MHT’s (Mental Health Technician’s) conducted what she called a “weekend survey.”  During this survey she asked for us to raise our hands if we thought the following statements were true:

  • We thought that we could go home and do recovery on our own.
  • We thought that we had all the tools that we needed and were in control of our lives.
  • We didn’t really need to be in therapy (in the group).

Everyone in the group, myself included, proudly raised our hands to every question.  We all thought that we could handle recovery on our own and were ready to be done with therapy.  And, ironically enough, we were all under the delusion that answering these questions in the affirmative was going to enable us to go home sooner!  You can imagine our surprise when this was not the case!

Rather than discharge us prematurely, the MHT told us that, if we could’ve done it on our own, with the tools that we had, “we would’ve done it already.”  The fact was however, that we needed help.  This included new tools, a better understanding, help working through the past, and a new way forward.  Doing it alone, or at least attempting to, had actually brought us to where we were.  As hard as this was for us to hear, it gave us hope that not only was there a way forward in recovery, but that we would have help along the way and not have to bear the burden alone.   Even though we had tried to do everything ourselves to that point, there were people and services to help us going forward.

While this story is 22 years old, it is no less applicable today.  No matter where you are in recovery, you do not have to walk the road alone.  You may already have friends and/or family or even a therapist who are walking with you.  If so that is great!  Keep on keeping on.  However, if you need assistance, there are resources right here in Beaver County to assist you in your journey.  From housing support, to the Beaver County Warm Line, Crisis Services, Representative Payees, advocacy, Peer Support, counseling and more, there is help and hope in recovery.  If you’re not sure where to start and feel alone in your journey, please give us a call.  We can help point you in the right direction to find the care and support you need.  No one should have to do recovery alone.

By Abby Opal

Mental Health Matters: The Oxygen Connection – June 10, 2020

Oxygen in your brain directly effects your mental health.

There are many factors that are effecting our mental health during this pandemic.  Environmental and situational concerns are often discussed such as financial instability, food insecurity, increased demands at home/work (caring for someone who is ill, home-schooling), and a genuine concern for our overall physical well-being.  Much less discussed is the mental health concerns that are directly related to the disease.  All of these will have long term effects on our mental health.

One of the most commonly occurring symptom of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is the lack of oxygen.  While the causing factors are varied and continued to be studied – from pneumonia, to clotting issues, the consequences are the same – less oxygen for your body and your brain.  What has not yet been widely studied are the long-term effects that this lack of oxygen will have on our mental health.

We have neurotransmitters in our brain that are critical to how our brain communicates with itself and the rest of the body, included in those neurotransmitters are serotonin and dopamine.  Serotonin modulates our mood and dopamine regulates our ability to feel pleasure/enjoy things.   A study out of the University of Utah shows that the amount of oxygen our brain is getting directly relates to the serotonin and dopamine levels in our brain.

If our brains lack oxygen at even a small percentage, it can decrease our critical decision-making skills and directly effect our mood and mental well-being which will predictably increase poor choices, risky behavior, or even suicidality.

We have recent examples of Navy Captain Brett Crozier, who sent unsecured emails, despite having decades of award-winning experience in the military.   Aside from the likely PTSD of a ship full of ill seamen for whom he was ultimately responsible for, he tested positive for Covid-19, which likely effected his ability to make appropriate choices.  Dr. Lorna Breen, a leading Covid-19 doctor in New York took her life after being diagnosed with Covid-19, despite having no history of mental illness.

Understanding and continuing research on how our physical health directly impacts our mental health, especially as we deal with the continued pandemic, will be vital in ensuring the most appropriate supports for those dealing with a Covid-19 diagnosis, or the lasting effects from it.

It is important to maintain relationships.  Please do not assume that everyone in your life is doing well since you may not see the struggle of others.  Simply asking how a person is doing shows concern.  As we do with physical illness and life stressors, which also affect mental health, just listening to a person share their fears, concerns, and thoughts can be helpful.  Reaching out to others also contributes to an overall sense of well-being.  It creates human connectedness that can promote dialogue with a person who may be struggling silently, helping them to feel that they are still a part of something, that they have value, and that they are not alone.

By Jessica Janicki

Tell Your Story – June 3, 2020

We all have a story to tell, no matter who we are or where we’ve been.  For many, telling our story by either writing it down or verbally sharing it is helpful and aids in the healing and recovery process.  It does this by giving us the opportunity to process the events of our lives as we put them down and paper and refuse to keep them locked inside.  It also gives us a voice for the times in our lives when we were not allowed to have one.  Furthermore, when we choose to share our story with others, we offer them the opportunity to not only get to know and understand us a little better, but we offer hope because we are letting others know that they are not alone in what they are going or have gone through.

I’ve found writing and sharing my story immensely helpful in recovery, but I admit that it was not easy at first.  It took time to even give myself permission to write down parts of my life that felt unspeakable.  With time, however, the words came more easily and before I knew it I was able to share my story with others.  Here are just a few tips that might help to help get you started:

  • You can’t get it wrong. This is your story and so there is no right or wrong way to write it.  If you can only write single words to start, that is OK.  Or, if you are the creative type, you could draw pictures to tell your story.  It is YOUR story, so how you write it is up to you.
  • Take your time. There is no hurry and no timetable for telling your story.  You can take as much or as little time as you need.
  • Be kind to yourself. Telling your story can be really hard.  Allow yourself to take breaks of hours, days, weeks or even months if needed.  Make sure you have a few people to talk to (counselor, friend, family member) if something comes up that is upsetting.  While telling your story can be healing, you certainly don’t have to do it alone.
  • Be encouraged. As you write, look at where you have come from and where you are now.  It is helpful to see the growth in us and to know that we are in a different place now, a healthier place, than when we began.
  • The spiral goes forward. This may sound like a strange final point, but let me explain.  Sometimes when we look at our lives it’s easy to focus on the dips/down times; this can be frustrating and leave one feeling as if they’ve not made any progress.  However, when you look at a spiral (for example, the infamous toy Slinky) as it goes through the ups and downs of the loops, it still always goes forward.  The same is true with us – we will have ups and downs in recovery.   Sometimes it may seem like a dip is deep, however, that dip doesn’t last . . . it does rise again and the spiral, we, continue to go forward.

By Abby Opal

“No Man is an Island” – May 6, 2020

The thicker the armor, the more fragile the being inside. – Anonymous

As John Donne wisely notes, in his book with the same title, “no man is an island.”  I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s true, no man is an island; or to put it another way, no one can do it alone.  So why do we find asking for help so difficult?  Although many of us are quick to care for others, we have a tendency to neglect caring for ourselves.  In places where we find ourselves needing help, we are, all too often, unable to ask for support.    Some people believe that because they are seen as “the strong one,” others will see them as weak if outside help is needed.  This is an erroneous belief.  In fact, being able to ask for help is a sign of strength; it is a sign to yourself that you matter and it simply means that you’re human.

An important part of taking care of your mental health is realizing that, at times, you may require outside help or intervention.  Instrumental in this is having a support system to come alongside and to walk with you.  This can include friends, family members, your therapist or others whom you trust to help you maneuver your “ship” in an impending storm. Why would anyone want a support system?  Well, in managing mental health, it is best to not weather the storm alone, and a support system can help re-route us to calmer waters, so to speak.  In fact, many times it is your friends, family, therapist and/or psychiatrist who notice the slight deviation in your metaphorical ship and can see the storm brewing on the horizon.  While it is more than likely you may already suspect and/or know that you need help, it is also unfortunate that, in these moments,  fear starts to take over and you do not want to be seen as weak, inept, or out of control.   Having a support system to provide help that would otherwise be denied is invaluable.

While having a support system is essential, we also need to remember that people are not mind readers – as much as they care about you, they may not know what you are going through.  So it is important for you to do your part and share with them what is going on; by doing so, you invite them to weather the storm with you.  Asking for help in this way shows resourcefulness, not weakness.  It demonstrates a willingness to seek out others and to build an alliance that supports you in managing your mental health.  When we ask for help, we exercise our freedom to make choices about our care and we receive comfort in our distress.  By not asking for support, we choose to continue to live in our discomfort alone.  When you ask for support, you gain varying and different insights, having things presented to you that you may not have thought of own your own, and this can help you thrive.  In addition, you are building a support “team” that will be helpful to you now and in the future.  Most importantly, when you ask for support, you are actively choosing to safeguard your greatest asset – you!

You may already have a support system, and that is great!  Touch base with them from time to time and stay connected.   Even when your mental health is managed, a support system can still be used for everyday life.  If you do not have a support system, don’t worry, you can begin to build one.  It may help to start by looking at what your needs are and considering who might be willing to support you.  If you reach out to someone and they can’t reach back, know too that this is not a reflection on you – the person may simply not be in a place to offer help at that moment.  It’s important to not give up; try reaching out to another friend instead.  Remember, no man is an island; asking for and having support will further our growth, enhance our self-care and help us to embrace other possibilities that will propel us to be the very best that we can be.

Have a great week and stay safe.

by Brooke Elliott

Cognitive Distortions Part II – April 29, 2020

This week we will finish this two part series on cognitive distortions.  As a reminder from last week, cognitive distortions are errors in thinking that lead to depression and anxiety; they prevent the mind from escaping the distortions of erroneous thinking.  Cognitive distortions can erode your sense of self, deny your sense of accomplishment, and increase feelings of alienation, hopelessness, and helplessness.  Here are 4 additional cognitive distortions (with examples) that can hinder growth and lead to personal difficulties.

  1. “Should” statements.  This involves holding preconceived and unrealistic beliefs on how you or other people “should” be or be treated that cause judgmental and unforgiving expectations and create anxiety.  Examples of this would be believing that: you “should” be working more often than you do when you are sick, you “should” be doing more than is really possible, or that you “should” do something you’re not comfortable with because you’re worried about what others may think.
  2. Personalization.  This is when someone personalizes a situation or interaction, interpreting it as being about them when it is not.  An example of this would be believing that if someone is angry, it must be about you and so you take that blame on yourself.  To put it another way: Sue had a bad morning.  She arrives to pick up her friend Jane, and is short with her.  Jane personalizes this and begins to believe that she did something to make Sue angry.  In reality however, Sue simply had a bad morning and her tone had nothing to do with Jane at all.
  3. Projecting into the future.  Projecting into the future occurs when someone thinks that they can predict the future and convinces themselves that bad things will happen.  Often this happens in response to bad things that have happened in the past and results in thoughts like, “I will always have these problems,” “nothing ever goes right for me, ” or “this is the way it will always be.”
  4. Emotional reasoning /jumping to conclusions.  Rather than enabling us to remain objective, emotions often attempt to control our interpretations.  For example, if you text someone and they do not text you back immediately this cognitive distortion can lead you to believe that he/she must hate or be angry with me.  In reality, the reason the person didn’t text you back is more likely that they are busy with work, may have simply forgotten, or is exercising self-care by taking a break from media and does not have their phone on them.

While these are some of the most common cognitive distortions, it is not a complete list.   However, it does give us the opportunity to begin to examine some of our own thought processes with questions like: how did that make me feel, are my feelings grounded in reality, was the situation actually as I interpreted it, and was I relying own my own feelings more than the facts?  Remember, our feelings and thoughts are not always based in facts or truth. By focusing on the facts of a situation, we can challenge our own thinking patterns and break free of our cognitive distortions.  This can help us learn new ways of interpreting the world around us and decrease mental health symptoms.

Have a great week and stay safe.

By Brooke Elliott

Cognitive Distortions Part I – April 22, 2020

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

The world does not change for us; it is up to us to change so that we can see the world in a light that will positively influence own sense of well-being.  When we understand that change is a good thing, it helps us to grow, gives us hope and offers us a way to decrease and challenge the cognitive distortions that may hold us back.

What is a cognitive distortion you may ask?  A cognitive distortion is an error in thinking that leads to depression, anxiety and holds the mind hostage from escaping the distortions of such erroneous thinking.  A cognitive distortion will erode your sense of self, deny your sense of accomplishment and increase your feelings of alienation, hopelessness, and helplessness.  Here are 4 examples of cognitive distortions that can hinder one’s growth and lead to a variety of issues.

  1. All or nothing thinking.  This distortion views all things as black or white, good or bad, wrong or right.  It is an inflexible and rigid thinking pattern that distorts things in such a way that it makes it impossible to see and/or appreciate the grey in a situation, the middle ground, or understand that life is more than one’s own internal rules.  This thinking process often involves using words that convey absolutes such as: “always” or “never,” and views a negative event as a never-ending pattern.
  2. Over-generalization.  This type of cognitive distortion occurs when a person makes a generalized application from a specific event.  For example: you fail a test in school (specific event) and generalize it to mean that you are a failure in all of life.
  3. Mental Filter.  When a person picks out a single, negative event and dwells on it.  An example of this could be a person, who is highly successful at their job, has their boss tell them that he/she wanted a report done differently.  Rather than seeing this as a learning opportunity, the person focuses only on the “mistake,” ignoring all of the other ways that they are successful at their job.
  4. Magnification or minimization.  This is a cognitive distortion that occurs when a person either blows things out of proportion, or denies that something is a problem when it really is.  Examples of this would be saying that “I am the worst person ever” (magnification) or “it is not a big deal” (minimization) when, in fact, it is to you.

All of these cognitive distortions reinforce negative self-talk, limit one’s ability to see the positive in their life and disregard personal achievements.  If you or a loved one have been using these distortions, it may be time to challenge your thinking and look for ways to work toward changing these harmful beliefs.

Next week, I will share another 4 types of cognitive distortions, along with a few more examples.  Have a great week and stay safe.

By Brooke Elliott

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness – April 15, 2020

As we remain in what feels like an adult detention, through no fault of our own, I have been thinking about the stigma surrounding mental illness.  My thoughts have focused on questions like: what creates stigma, what creates ignorance, and why it is that differences seem to foster labels for thoughts and/or behaviors that do not fit with the approved status quo?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the stigma of mental health is defined as someone “viewing you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that is thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype).”  Stigma is a mark of disgrace.  Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs towards people with mental health struggles are all too common in our society.  What is worse, our societal ignorance and lack of understanding, not only result in stigmatization, but often lead to discrimination. Sometimes, it leads us to create a connection between two totally different things and call it mental illness.

A few weeks ago, I was reading the New York Times on my Twitter feed.  A story caught my eye about drag queens reading books to children in public libraries.  Many of the comments associated with the article attributed this public service to mental illness or criminal activity.  To me, this shows the societal tendency to label anything that is different as either bad or as a mental illness.  As outspoken American singer and song-writer, Marilyn Manson once said, “people tend to associate anyone who looks and behaves differently with illegal or immoral activity.”  However, living an alternative lifestyle, for example, a non-cookie cutter life, or having a different normal than other people, is not a mental illness.

A second example is the portrayal of people with mental illness in the media and movies.  “Split”, a recent film, absurdly portrays a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D) as a murderer, who first held captive a small family.  In addition, the media is often quick to pounce on a mental health diagnosis in any kind of tragedy in order to provide an answer to why an event occurred.  In the mind of many, mental illness is at the heart of all the ills of the world.

And these are just a few examples of the many stories that show the outright obliviousness of the populace.  As Bill Gates once said, “everyone comes into the world ignorant, but you don’t have to leave the world that way.”  There are many ways that we can help fight the stigma of mental illness.  However, it will require that we step out of our box of misconceived notions, labeling, blaming, and judging.  I think this begins with each of us doing our own self-inventory; and with the current quarantine, we have some time to do so.  We can ask ourselves the hard questions like: Why are we so uncomfortable with even the thought of mental illness?  Are we able to have an open dialogue about mental illness?   Why are we quick to call out what is not understood as “crazy” “nuts” or “insane” (which, by the way, is not a mental health term but a legal term)?

The hope is that, as we examine our own thoughts and attitudes, that we, as a society will become open minded and more fluid with regards to how our own judgments have been formed and challenge these thoughts with logic, rationality and compassion.  We need to accept, come alongside and meet people where they are, not where we wish them to be.  Creating divisions when people do not live up to our expectations that we thoughtlessly cast upon them only fosters and creates further stigma and shame.  People with mental illness have been flogged enough by the ignorance of societal norms and fears.  Rather, we need to follow the golden rule and treat others as you want to be treated.

When someone shares their mental health issues, don’t deflect your own uncomfortableness by labeling, but take it as an opportunity to learn and understand what that person is going through.  Ask questions to seek clarity and let that person know that they are heard and understood.  Accept that the fact that people with mental illness are going to go through days where they may be more symptomatic.  Accept that medication is helpful but does not render the person incapable of sadness, anger, or frustration.  Do not heap guilt and shame on them; the truth is that they likely already feel that way.  Be a positive influence and realize that you can learn from them; knowledge is always a two-way street. Desire to know more about your loved one’s mental illness, and become an informed consumer and advocate.

As more people are accepting of mental illness, we will be able to engage people who are struggling and offer the care and support so desperately needed.  We can help to erase the shame, guilt, and stigma while creating a path forward for acceptance.  Hopefully, in time, we will no longer see mental illness as a deficit, but as another way that we can help make the world a more knowledgeable, understanding place.

Have a great week.  Stay safe.

By Brooke Elliott

Forgiveness – April 8, 2020

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela 

After being imprisoned for 27 years by an apartheid (a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race) government in South Africa that brutally enforced racial segregation, Nelson Mandela took a moment to search his own soul to regain an inner sense of peace. In doing so, he found that he needed to forgive  his captors, country and political opponents who had treated him with such contempt.  It was only through forgiveness that Nelson Mandela found that he was able to move forward in his own personal growth.

Why do people have such difficulty with forgiveness?  As Mandela understood it, when people hold on to bitterness, hate, hurt and anger, they reinforce the bars of their own emotional prison and end up thwarting personal growth, their life journey, and ultimately, their freedom.  People tend to find it difficult to forgive because of an overwhelming urge to be right and to punish the person who inflicted pain.  However, refusing to forgive is more like drinking the poison and expecting someone else to die.  Another example would be that someone betrays you and, in turn, you decide to set your house on fire.  Not only do you no longer have a place to live, but burning down your house has done little to alleviate your feelings of hurt and betrayal.

What is forgiveness, you may ask?  Forgiveness is not about condoning the behaviors of others or giving them a pass.  It does not make what they did right or OK, but it can make you OK.  Forgiveness is about no longer living with bitterness, hate, hurt and/or anger and restoring your peace of mind. The gift of forgiveness is your gift, not the other person’s.

How long will it take?  Forgiveness is a process and not an event. I am sure that Nelson Mandela was not able to forgive the first day of his imprisonment any more than we are able to forgive immediately.  If you are considering forgiving, it may help to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you want to be right or do you want free of the pain?
  • Do you want to be right or do you want to be kind to yourself?
  • Do you want to be right or do you want peace of mind and the ability to move forward in your life?

Holding on to the old, emotional baggage that someone else gave you does not help you.  Let people bear their own responsibility; doing so will lighten your load.  In order to forgive, you have to truly be ready to release the offense and, being at peace with it, choose not to revisit it over and over again.

Remember, forgiveness is a process, not an event.  If you are not ready to forgive another yet, that is OK; but it is something for you to consider doing and continue to work towards.  Forgiveness is one of the keys to better mental health, mental fitness, and it decreases the chances of falling into patterns that promote mental illness. When you are able to forgive, you are giving yourself the gift of compassion, respect, freedom, personal growth and peace of mind.

If you pay for anything with your peace of mind, it is too expensive.

By Brook Elliot

Lessons from The Breakfast Club – April 1, 2020

Saturday, March 24, 1984. In the popular film, The Breakfast Club, an athlete (Andrew Clarke), a genius (Brian Johnson), a “princess” (Claire Standish), a criminal (John Bender), and a basket case (Allison Reynolds) spend their day in detention at the library. From the opening of this film, one would assume that these 5 teenagers lack commonality.  However, as these teenagers spend more time together, they start to see that their differences change as they are able to face their own personal vulnerability and come to accept others in the group. As the film progresses, the audience witnesses the struggle of this group both to open up and come to terms with the fact that they are more alike then different. As painful as it is, each teenager has to reflect upon and face the external expectations that have been placed upon them by their parents, teachers, friends and society. One of the many themes addressed in this film revolves around the uncomfortable effects of bullying, child abuse, stigma of mental illness, the struggle of perfection and suicide. The major message of the movie is that stereotypes limit society by creating an unreasonable fear which fosters judgment of others who are perceived as different, uncool, unworthy, or unlovable.

The sad truth about these five teenagers is their ownership of Monday morning at school, each going back to their perspective cliche and being inauthentic to themselves because of fear of judgment. More than likely, they are not engaging others who do not have a space within their group.

While society now sits in its own detention created a mandatory quarantine, the opportunity to face our own vulnerability, our own pain, and our own fears can foster understanding that we as a society are not really different at all. People who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness can gain an understanding from those persons who have a mental health diagnosis.  Currently both groups have commonality – the reality of not being able to go outside when we want to. People who struggle with depression live this. They may want to leave their home, but the mental illness is preventing them from doing so.  Whether the reason is mental illness or the current mandatory quarantine is irrelevant; both groups are not leaving the house. There is a commonality in circumstance and in the pain that comes with the limitation.

What about increased stress and being so overwhelmed that you shut down? People without a diagnosis may be going through this during the quarantine. It could be that they are not working and have upcoming financial concerns, or they are working at home and find it difficult to stay focused while also running a household.  They may find it difficult to compete daily tasks and keep telling themselves that they will compete the task tomorrow because there is too much to think about presently.  Similarly, people with a diagnosis do shut down emotionally at times when overwhelmed, and have a tendency to embrace the same tomorrow – the one that never transpires. Both groups demand of themselves expectations that may set them up for future failure which can lead to feeling like a failure and not understanding that the unrealistic expectation was indicative in the creation of the negative feeling.  These are just a few of the  multitude of other comparisons that could be made.

As we come to see that there are many similarities between people who do not have a mental illness and who do, a time of recognizing the lessons learned from The Breakfast Club can help society understand that both groups are not incompatible with regards to feelings, emotions and thoughts.  The hope is that, with society’s detention, people who do not have a diagnosis can relate to their own feelings, thoughts and emotions and see that people are the same in regard to such things.

Mental health runs on a spectrum. When society is released from detention and we have our first  “normal” Monday morning, are we going to return to our perspective cliches? Will we continue to live inauthentic lives that hide our feelings, thoughts and emotions for fear of judgment? Will we refuse to speak to others who do not have a place within our group, denying the insights gained while in detention?  Should this tragedy happen, society will continue to contribute to the stigma of mental illness.

In terms of The Breakfast Club, we are all an athlete, a genius, a “princess”, a criminal and a basket case.

Have a great week and stay safe!

by Brooke Elliot

Shelter in Place – March 26, 2020

As with everyone else, I’ve been at home in self-quarantine. Here are some things that may be helpful for you during this time.

  1. Comcast on Demand has included free Great Courses, the signature series, until 4/19/20. These courses include subjects such as culinary arts, science, languages, and understanding addiction. Learning something new helps with routine, stepping out of our comfort zone and encourages positive self esteem.
  2. Also free on Comcast on Demand is History Vault until 4/19/20. Select episodes include medicine, nature, space and US history.
  3. With the above mentioned freebies, it may be tempting to binge watch, but DON’T.
  4. Keep your same sleep schedule. By establishing/maintaining healthy sleep habits, mental health can be better managed.
  5. Keep a journal of your day, thoughts, feelings etc.  No one is expecting you to write multiple pages a day, so don’t increase your anxiety by having that expectation. A simple sentence or paragraph regarding your day is great. If you are not a journaling type of person, then draw, doodle or write a word that you feel represents your day.
  6. Maintain a daily routine. If you find difficulty maintaining a routine, that’s ok; keep working at it.
  7. Continue to be involved in things that you can control. It can be overwhelming to focus on the world around us and feel powerless. Maintaining focus on things that we can control encourages our personal accomplishments, fosters hope and helps decrease symptomology.

You can only control one thing and that is you.  Have a great week and be safe!

by Brook Elliot

COVID-19 Words of Wisdom – March 17, 2020

As it has been reported, there is now 1 confirmed case of the Corona Virus in Beaver County and Governor Wolf has also issued a state of emergency.  This means that bars and restaurants, will be closed for 2 weeks, except for take-out.  Schools throughout the state will be closed as well for 2 weeks as well and no one should be in a gathering of more than 50 people.   While this is important, we don’t need to panic.  According to the Centers for Disease Control the best things to do are:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Don’t touch your face
  3. Stay away from crowds.

Staying away from crowds, especially in small areas, is known as social distancing.  Many have asked, “how does this social distancing affect those struggling with mental health challenges?”  Decreased social interactions could be more difficult for us since there will be more time to think or get stuck in a never ending spiral of negative self-talk, guilt, shame, and self-deprecation which decrease motivation and self-care.  In this time, remembering these few things may be helpful:

First, remember that this is temporary.  Your feelings do not define who you are.  They are a sensation and not always based in fact.

Second, keep a routine.  It is important to keep ourselves on task.  Write out a schedule for yourself that includes breaks and meal times.

Third, get creative.  Start drawing, writing or painting.  Make cookies or a favored entree.  Start tackling that home project that you have been putting off.

Fourth, do not binge watch TV.  Should you want to watch television, schedule some time in your routine and stick to it.

Fifth, exercise.  It may be tempting to stay in bed, but staying physically active can help you face daily challenges.

Sixth, be mindful of the thoughts that enter your mind.  Negative thoughts can keep you from being your authentic self.

Seventh, practice self care.  Take a bubble bath, meditate, read something that ignites your passion, etc.

Eighth, for those of you that will have children home from school, play board games, card games, draw, and/or paint with your children.

Ninth, keep taking your medications.

Tenth, talk to family and friends on the phone, via FaceTime or Skype. Remember to make that part of your routine and make a list of phone numbers of those who are part of your support network.

The Corona Virus appears frightening due to an innate fear of the unknown.  This fear is perfectly normal and understandable.  However, you have the ability to manage your mental health by having a routine, asking for assistance when/if needed and being mindful.

by Brook Elliot

Self-Care – March 16, 2020

With daily obligations, jobs, friends and family we consistently attempt to push ourselves to get more and more done and still find that there are never enough hours in the day.  However when one pushes aside the thought of taking care of ourselves, we tend to think that we don’t have the time, promise that we will do so when we get caught up with our obligations or we believe that it is selfish.  When one does not practice self care, you tend to hit a wall.  At which point you are no good to yourself and daily obligations get pushed to the side.

So, what is self care? It is taking time for ourselves in order to be at our best emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.  Here are some suggestions that may help you start good self-care that you can do daily:

  1.  Make your bed when you get up in the morning. This will help create a routine, and when the day is over it will feel wonderful getting into an already made bed.
  2.  Take your medications daily.
  3.  Watch your sugar intake.  Increased sugar intake has shown to increase depression in some individuals.
  4.  Exercise.  A brisk 20 minute walk releases natural endorphins in the brain which helps support mood.
  5.  Continue to attend all outpatient appointments … even when you don’t feel like it.
  6.  Listen to music.  Like exercise, music activates certain parts of the brain that can support mood.
  7.  Spend time with good friends (on the phone for the time being). Their positivity will be infectious and help support mood.

 by Brooke Elliott