World Mental Health Day 2018

It is almost the end of the day here in Aotearoa New Zealand. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have given a day highlighting mental health a second thought. I was one of those persons who spent the first four decades of his life without any significant mental health concerns. Sure, I felt a bit anxious on that sixth cup of coffee and sure I had dealt with bullies in primary school, but that was it. I didn’t realise how easy I had it. I also didn’t have much empathy or compassion for the suffering of others.

Ten years ago, my world collapsed. I experienced PTSD as my marriage ended. In the depths of despair, I decided to become a counsellor to help others.

Mental Health Day is now front and centre in my thoughts. I can imagine the suffering of others, because I have felt it myself. I have also counselled others in person and from a distance. The burdens others carry can be unimaginable and when we try to understand, we tend to pull back in fear. One of the first things I learned as a counsellor was not to be a problem-solver. People in distress get more than enough of those interactions. Sure, help, but don’t feel a need to fill every second with speaking and don’t tell them “all you need to do is . . . ” That rubbish is generally unwelcome.

How can you help? Learn about mental health issues. Volunteer to just be with those suffering. Do things to make their struggles a bit easier – be it offering them a cuppa, listening without advising, making a meal, bringing their wash from the clothesline. There are so many ways to help others in need.

If we are lucky enough not to be struggling ourselves right now, we certainly will, given enough life. Help someone up, asking nothing in return. When you someday get the same, you will savour it that much more.

For those struggling – you are not alone.

Jerry's signature

My 48th Birthday

May, 2015

It was my 48th birthday and I went to pick up my son from after school care. Once he was in the car, I mentioned my birthday and below was the wonderful gift he gave me.

Don’t get so caught up in your work, your worries or other relatively unimportant things. Raise your head and look around. You might just see those you love.

Van Gogh – The Spiritual Guide

I was with my son in Paris in July. It was a great trip. I wanted him to see the world. When he was young, he had wanted to be an artist and I decided way back then that I would take him to the art galleries of Europe and beyond.

Art and therapy from Van Gogh
I was standing in front of this self-portrait of Van Gogh

Standing in front of Vincent at Musée d’Orsay was a highlight of the trip. As we looked at Vincent, I said something to my son like, “You will see this photo and others here the rest of your life, in books and online. At this moment, you are standing in front of beauty. Cherish this moment.” I was speaking to him. I was speaking to myself.

Artist as therapist
Lost in the moment, while viewing the stars

I stood before the stars Vincent had seen and captured and was lost to the world. While the room was crowded, there was no one else there but Vincent and me. Eventually, my son broke through and I took this photo. There are things and moments that transcend time, when we stop questioning – when we are at peace.

Van Gogh and Jack
Van Gogh and my son Jack

I wanted to remember this moment forever. I asked my son to stand in front of this work and I attempted to capture just enough of him.

Van Gogh perspective
Van Gogh perspective with my son

A teenage girl next to Jack exclaimed in English that she had seen this painting on “Doctor Who” and she and my son shared a moment together. I then watched him, as he took a photo and took one of my own.

Some would consider the life of Vincent Van Gogh as a sad one. I see the beauty that he gave us and take joy in knowing that he was here and joy in his gifts to us. Some people feel deeply and suffer for it. Vincent was able to reach out through his pain and communicate in a way few others have rarely approached. I celebrate his life!

There is a beautiful moment from “Doctor Who”, when The Doctor and companion take Vincent to the future – (2010) to see how his works were received. A man who would die alone with no idea that he had a positive effect on the world was able to see how very much he gave us. Do you ever try to project into the future and imagine the ripples in time of your existence? Do you ever try to live in such a way that you can be remembered fondly?

Psychology and interaction with nature

This psychology podcast discusses the influence of “greenery” – nature – on psychological outcomes, reduction in crime and other psycho-social factors.

“If you live in a big city, you may have noticed new buildings popping up — a high-rise here, a skyscraper there. The concrete jungles that we’ve built over the past century have allowed millions of us to live in close proximity, and modern economies to flourish. But what have we given up by moving away from the forest environments in which humans first evolved? This week, we discuss this topic with psychologist Ming Kuo, who has studied the effects of nature for more than 30 years.” (Accessed 14 Sept 2018, https://player.fm/series/series-1324366/our-better-nature)

https://player.fm/series/series-1324366/our-better-nature

OM

I began meditating before my son was born, because I wanted to be relaxed for him. I was 36 and had normal stresses, but wanted to be as positive an influence as possible on our baby. I wasn’t interested in religion (I had put religion behind me more than a decade before). I have found many benefits in mediation – clearer thinking, settled mind, a deeper perspective on life generally and troubles specifically, as well as many physiological benefits.

While I spent a number of years with om mani padme hum, lately I have found “OM” alone preferred. While meditating can be on one’s breath, visualisations and other stimuli, I find the pattern of chanting helps to settle my racing mind quickly and has effects that can last days (depending on how much I listen to the chanting).

If you are anxious and need out of your head, I would recommend the following: