Monthly Archives: January 2011

south asian mental health conference

first live blogging in a long time!

sitting here with 12 others to discuss putting together a mental health conference with a focus on the south asian community in british columbia. for those of you not familiar with the term “south asian” – it refers to people of mostly indian background, e.g. people with ethnic backgrounds in india, fiji, pakistan, etc. the idea for this conference started quite a while ago, shortly after we had our first mental health camp.

the topics that have come up already are stigma (“everyone wants you to hide it”), the lack of services, and the lack of involvement on the part of the community.

the idea so far is to create a one-day educational forum on mental health for the south asian community. the intention is to have workshops, perhaps meet with professionals, etc. the overarching goal is to reduce stigma and create acceptance. obviously you can’t do that with just one event but it might just be a start. it’s also important to give the community a voice – important to hear personal stories and anecdotes. there is a broken link between the people who require help and those who offer help.

there is an idea to have high school students volunteering. this would allow them to openly attend without immediately having a stigma attached to them (“why are YOU going to this???”)

let’s have some depression screening and ADHD screening there!

there should be some way of reaching seniors whose english is not very good.

let’s make it fun and interactive! “wow, i didn’t think about mental health in this way!” maybe adding some art into the forum would help with that. let’s have something that people can laugh at!

we could also look into “what is mental health?”

we want to work with people who have a balanced view of mental health; inviting pharma to be significant sponsors probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

an aside: it’s interesting to live blog something like this. so far i have only live blogged big events; this is a smallish gathering. it’s intimate and it feels a bit intrusive to try and live blog it. good learning!

one of the biggest challenges will be to assist the south asian community to make it easier to talk about mental health in general and to talk about mental health to each other. an interesting comment by someone: “when i went to my first event with my community, i thought, ‘oh god, they know everything about me!'” this is a very close-knit community, with all the pros and cons that come with it.

the wisdom to know the difference

the good people at TLC book tours asked me to write a review of eileen flanagan’s book the wisdom to know the difference – when to make a change, and when to let go. let’s start with a tidbit that resonated with me

“often when we accept something we shouldn’t, we feel resignation, rather than serenity.”

the book, as you might have guessed, takes as its root the serenity prayer

grant me the serenity
to accept the things i cannot change
courage to change the things i can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

the quote above goes right to that difference. how do you know when to accept something and when to change it? the answer is often quite muddled, and so we need wisdom. one of the ways the wisdom can come to us is through feeling into a possible decision. acceptance, ideally, brings with it a feeling of relaxation, of a burden lifted. and no, resignation and serenity are absolutely not the same.

a propos differences, let’s talk about how eileen flanagan’s oeuvre is different from other self help books. flanagan, among other things, is active in the quaker community, and you can see the quiet friendliness that we tend to associate with quakers all over the book. she does not wield the heavy stick that i often find in self help books; rather, she tells stories and gives gentle suggestions. each chapter of the book ends with a few queries (another quaker tradition). i liked this one:

“if you were to translate the proverb, ‘trust in god, but tie up your camels’ for your own life, what would it say?”

good question. i like the idea of translating proverbs.

the book is also well-researched. for example, she cites another of my favourites, andrew greeley (a roman catholic super priest who churns out not only one bestselling novel after the other but is also a well-respected journalist and sociologist), who “has developed a tool he calls the ‘grace scale’ that measures a respondent’s image of god … how we conceive of and describe god has profound implications for how we live.” flanagan talks about this in a chapter entitled “the courage to question”.

the serenity prayer is most often associated with 12-step programs (alcoholics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, narcotics anonymous, etc.) interestingly enough, 12-step programs encourage their members to work on their image of god, even to manufacture one according to one’s needs. however, this is by no means a 12-step book; while it occasionally mentions concepts associated with “the program” and also tells the tale of someone in AA, these instances are just one among many. this is another thing i liked about “the wisdom to know the difference” – flanagan takes great care to present a diversity of experiences. the stories that populate self-help books often have a canned feel to it. there is always the 36-year old single female executive who is disillusioned with her career, right? flanagan uses those cliché sparingly; her illustrations seem a little more alive, for example when she traces the life of a middle class african american woman who is both bewildered and inspired by the history of her ancestors. this historical and cultural context is also something that sets flanagan apart.

i noticed that most of the sections i underlined where ones where flanagan cites others. a few more examples:

“we live in a culture [that encourages] people to pursue perfection and control. the result is inevitably frustration and angst.” in quoting another book i find quite helpful, the spirituality of imperfection, flanagan points out the “anxious determination to take control, to be in charge” engrained in our culture. replace that wilfulness with willingness, is the suggestion.

quoting st. teresa of avila:

“one day of humble self knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer.”

and a quote from thomas keating’s invitation to love:

“the regular practice of contemplative prayer initiates a healing process that might be called ‘the divine therapy’.”

miscellaneous thoughts – addiction, books, and new years resolutions

oh boy, i haven’t posted in ages! let’s have some random stuff here then:

stuff #1 – we are on vacation in arizona right now – on our last leg, in a tiny place called congress, which is close to wickenburg with the huge population count of 5,000. supposedly, wickenburg is known for its fancy addiction treatment centres. i had a quick look at the websites of four of them but so far nothing looks like something i would recommend. as much as i think the 12 steps are great, i have a problem with them being a required part of a treatment centre. that’s not how the 12 steps work. and i have a problem with a treatment centre where the only books you’re allowed to read are AA’s big book and the bible. but i guess it works for some people.

stuff #2 – been thinking a lot lately about how to keep blogging and partaking in social media. to what degree do i want to contribute to the overwhelming symphony (cacophony?) of virtual voices out there? how will i help make the world a better place if i do that?

stuff #3 – the second edition of my poetry book is out. should i have a l(a)unch party? oh, that’s so much work. i totally don’t feel like organizing ANYTHING right now. but you know what, that book is darn good. it was fun to look at it four years later and to spruce it up a bit.

stuff #4 – i am reading – i am reading – i am reading – ok, i’m gonna say it, i am reading eat pray love right now. yup. i finally did it, grabbed the book off my sister-in-law’s shelf and went to it. it’s actually not that bad – there are a few neat ideas in there so far. for example the petition to god. will it make my “best books of 2011” list? no.

stuff #5 – oh, but HERE is a book that will make the list – alistair mchoag’s rollercoaster memoir invisible driving about his life with bipolar disorder. holy razmatazz! no need to be interested in mental illness to read that book, all you need is a love of reading. a review is coming up, and i’ll have to gather all my half and quarter wits to come up with something interesting after all the rave reviews he already has.

sleepingstuff #6 – resolutions. resolutions? i don’t know. i engaged in a bit of a rant against the typical approach to them in an interview with CBC parenting columnist michelle eliot the other day. more and more, i prefer themes rather than resolutions – ideas or actions i wouldn’t mind pursuing in the coming year, without going crazy about it for three weeks and then slacking off (“i will exercise of 60 minutes every day!”, “i’ll stop smoking forever!”). so two themes i’m proposing for this year is to slow down, and then to slow down some more. and extermination. of guilt.

aaah. slowing down. maybe i should stop now and go to bed.

and you?