Posted in mental illness

ADD and Mental Illness

Today’s blog explores the topic of ADD and some non-professional, personal thoughts on this “condition” and tools that I have found to be supportive in relieving adults of some of the symptoms associated with ADD. 

A Collective Growl

On May 13th, when I posted the blog, Mental Health Week – Let’s Get Started I’m pretty sure I heard a collective growl of frustration and disgust when ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) was included on the list of diagnosable mental illnesses.  When we keep in mind  NAMI‘s  broad definition of mental illness: a medical condition that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning, we can better understand how ADD is included on the list of mental illness diagnoses.

Addressing ADD

Because I heard the collective groan over ADD being included in the list of mental illnesses, I felt the topic of ADD as it relates to mental illness might deserve some special treatment.  In offering special treatment regarding the topic of ADD, I will be treading very lightly because I am NOT a medical doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor.  That being said, I have worked with many adults who present symptoms consistent with ADD and I have observed some similarities in their temperments and backgrounds that may prove to be useful in developing an integrated approach to treatment.  (Please note that this discussion is ONLY regarding adults who are presenting symptoms consistent with ADD and are only my observations.  I do not typically work with children so I cannot speak with any level of experience in this area.)

Symptoms of ADD

According to NAMI, there are actually thought to be three different types of ADHD, each with different symptoms: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive and combined.

Those living with the predominantly inattentive type often:

  • fail to pay close attention to details or make careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities;
  • have difficulty sustaining attention to tasks or leisure activities;
  • do not seem to listen when spoken to directly;
  • do not follow through on instructions and fail to finish schoolwork, chores or duties in the workplace;
  • have difficulty organizing tasks and activities;
  • avoid, dislike or are reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort;
  • lose things necessary for tasks or activities;
  • are easily distracted by extraneous stimuli; and are forgetful in daily activities.

Those living with the predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type often:

  • fidget with their hands or feet or squirm in their seat;
  • leave their seat in situations in which remaining seated is expected;
  • move excessively or feel restless during situations in which such behavior is inappropriate;
  • have difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly;
  • are “on the go” or act as if “driven by a motor;”
  • talk excessively;
  • blurt out answers before questions have been completed;
  • have difficulty awaiting their turn; and
  • interrupt or intrude on others.

I have worked with adults who have presented many of these symptoms and  every one of them has shared with me one common experience.

Trauma

Every single adult that I have worked with who presents symptoms of ADD experienced their childhood as traumatic in some way.  (Before going into further discussion on this, it is important to note that what is perceived as traumatic for one person might not be traumatic to another.  We each perceive our human experiences through a unique lens based on our temperments, upbringing and coping skills.)  These traumatic experiences may have come in the form of physical, mental, emotional, sexual or spiritual abuse.  Others may have experienced their parents’ divorce, a job change or an illness as traumatic.  Some grew up in home environments that to them felt unsafe, unpredictable or simply inconsistent with the needs of their unique temperment.  To those born as a highly sensitive person, sometimes life itself can be perceived as traumatic.  Whatever the experience or event, it was perceived in their body as traumatic.  As a result of the perceived trauma, they developed certain coping mechanisms that allowed them to survive an environment that on some level did not feel safe.

Defense Mechanisms and Adaptive Strategies

In adults that I have worked with who struggle with symptoms consistent with ADD, I have observed certain behaviors that I have come to call adaptive strategies or coping mechanisms.  It was through the application of these strategies that these individuals attempted to create a sense of safety in an otherwise “unsafe” environment.  While these behaviors may have given them a temporary sense of safety and a temporary sense of having control over their environment, all they really did was create more anxiety within them.  The behaviors I have seen look something like this:

  • Compulsive planning or (what I call) anticipatory thinking.  Through this strategy, the brain is occupied with the constant anticipating of “what comes next” or “what might happen” or “the list of all the things I have to accomplish today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.”  It is the mind’s way of trying to gain control by planning and predicting all the possible events of our lives.  It is also the brain’s way of staying in high-alert, on-guard for the next possible trauma or unsafe event. While planning and to-do lists are not bad on their own, when indulged to this extent, they become an obstacle rather than a help on our path.  This kind of thinking puts the body always on alert by stirring up the adrenaline we will need to fight or flee the next perceived trauma.  The irony is that instead of calming us and helping us to feel safe, this stirring up of adrenaline puts the body and the mind under additional stress and when stressed enough either the body, the mind or both will shut down.  This manifests as depression, emotional and mental paralysis, the inability to concentrate on or complete tasks.
  • High Sensitivity.  High Sensitivity might be a case of what came first, high sensitivity or ADD?  The specific experience of high sensitivity I am referring to here is, the ability to “read a room” or “being able to read people.”  Through this strategy, we can walk into a room and FEEL if it is safe or meet a person and determine if they FEEL safe.  This high sensitivity may be an inborn trait which pre-disposes us to experience our environments as traumatic, it might also be an adaptive strategy we developed to create an illusion of safety in an otherwise “unsafe” environment.  If we can determine ahead of time that someone or someplace is not safe, then we can protect ourselves or leave.
  • Self-Stimulating behaviors.  These “adaptive strategies” work in a similar way to the “anticipatory thinking” above. Those that feel unsafe in their environment have to create a system that will help to create the illusion of safety.  Self-stimulating behaviors stir up the adrenaline we need to maintain a posture of “high-alert.”  Some of these self-stimulating behaviors include:  self-destructive behaviors, creating chaos or conflict, stirring up problems where problems don’t exist, use and sometimes abuse of stimulating substances: energy drinks, caffeine, amphetamines, etc.

What happens in the brain and integrative treatment

When we grew up in environments that we perceived as unsafe and when we developed adaptive strategies to create the temporary illusion of safety, we created new thought and behavior patterns in our brain.  One of the traditional methods of treatment for adults diagnosed with ADD is medications to either stimulate those states of high-alert or to re-wire those deeply imbedded neuro-pathways.  As NAMI points out, an integrated approach to the treatment of mental illnesses has proven to be the most successful and this is equally true in the treatment of symptoms of ADD.  The goal with those experiencing symptoms of ADD is to help them to feel safe in their environment without having to use adaptive strategies that in the end prove to be counterproductive.   There are two tools in particular that I have found to be helpful in supporting the reduction of stress and increasing a sense of safety in those suffering with ADD.

Trauma Release and Meditation

For those suffering with symptoms of ADD who perceived their environment as traumatic or unsafe, the first goal would be to eliminate the trauma that is trapped in the body.  (Two fabulous books on trauma release:  Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine and The Instinct to Heal by David Servan-Schreiber)  There are countless protocols that assist us in the release of trauma:  EMDR, Quantum Bio-Feedback, Reiki, Meditation, Creative Visualization, Guided Meditation, Physical movement, etc.  Once the trauma has been released (which may prove to be an on-going process), the next step is to create a foundation of safety.  Traditional talk-therapy and behavior modification therapy can assist with this process.  In addition to this, the tool I have found to be most helpful to creating the sense of safety that effectively lowers our anxiety and stress while giving us the clear thinking channels we need to create new patterns of behavior is good old fashioned meditation.  Disciplined attention to a daily spiritual practice  – specifically, ones that engage the creative centers of the brain (ie:  Lectio-Divina, Imagination-Contemplation, mantra, chant, creative projects, etc.)  goes a long way in creating the foundation of inner peace and safety that we need to avoid the stress-inducing adaptive behaviors and create new patterns of behavior rooted in clear thinking and focused attention that will prove to be productive in way that is free from stress.  NOTE:  to those with ADD, trying to step immediately into silent meditation, centering prayer or zen practice might cause nothing but frustration.  Choose a practice that engages the mind and helps it naturally move to a quieter place.  🙂

Summary

In closing, ADD is a complex condition the causes of which are not completely known and neither is the sure path to effective treatment.  I am simply sharing with you a few things I have observed along with tools that some have found to be helpful in their journey of healing.  As is the case in the treatment of all mental illnesses, an integrative approach is helpful.  Consult your doctor, your therapist, local support groups and explore stress-relieving practices that may assist you in creating a better quality of life.

Posted in Being Human, Healing, Lessons

Transformation through Pain

Today’s blog explores the spiritual practice of presence – specifically how the simple act of being present to our pain can bring profound healing, growth and transformation.  In this case, “No pain, no gain” is a true statement.

 

Avoid the Pain

I recently had a really interesting experience where I found myself simply being observer to my journey, instead of my normal role of victim.  It was a situation where something very innocent was said to me  – something that in and of itself was harmless enough, but of course, my inner victim wanted to make it a threat, a source of danger, another incident where I got to be the victim and someone else the enemy.  It was so strange to watch, like a slow motion replay, how my inner self responded to this “innocent something.”  As the words left the other person’s lips, I clearly saw a daggar coming through the air and stabbing me in the heart.  I felt my being recoil in pain and then sink into the pit of martyrdom and depression.  I withdrew.  I became silent.  I shut down.  This chosen response remained until later in that same day when I suddenly decided that the “other” had to be the enemy.  I quickly made up in my mind all kinds of scenarios where I was convinced this person was bad, didn’t like me, was rejecting me and how I would decide to not like them in return.  Then I went into fear.  I went into that place in my mind where I make up stories about what my future needs to look like, might look like, is supposed to look like.  And then again, depression, rejection, anger and pain.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted from being battered about by my inner thought demons.  My typical response to this kind of reaction is to push away the pain, the hurt, the perceived rejection and I usually do this by harboring resentment, anger, rage.  I was surprised, however, to find that something else all together began to unfold.

Pull the Plank from your own eye…sister!

Instead of gathering around myself the cloak of protective anger and resentment, I found myself simply being present.  I let myself feel the hurt of perceived rejection.  I allowed myself to be present to the impatience and frustration of not having “my plans fulfilled.”  Instead, I simply sat with the question – what does this mean?  And when I allowed myself to be present to this question, several answers began to be revealed.  First I saw the “innocent words” and had to admit that I had entertained these thoughts myself on some level and that all they were doing were reflecting my own fears around the particular subject.  Then I saw the way that I cling to perceived surety, concrete plans, a “secure” and “predictable” future…..of my own making, of course.  Following the clinging, I saw my intuitive knowledge around this subject and the sudden fear, “What if I was wrong?”  Then I was acutely aware of two pretty big fears that I have struggled with for as long as I could remember:  ok….actually it was three fears:

  • The fear of rejection (of not being loved, accepted, understood, etc.)
  • The fear of not being right
  • The fear of not knowing my future (ie: the need for security, surety, concrete plans)

When I identified these three fears, something amazing began to happen.  Instead of running from these fears, pushing them away, ignoring them or bargaining with them, I decided to sit with these fears and see what happened.

Making Friends with our Fears

After turning the finger of blame that I was waving toward the innocent “other” back toward myself, I was able to identify the fears that caused me to hear a simply innocent comment as something potentially hurtful.  Instead of stomping away in anger or retreating into the dark coccoon of depression, I decided to sit with my fears.  Instead of pushing them away, bargaining with them or denying them, I allowed myself to be present.  I allowed myself to FEEL the fear of rejection.  I allowed myself to EXPERIENCE the fear of being wrong.  I sat with the little girl inside of me that wants everything to be safe, predictable, planned out and HER WAY.  And then, I breathed!  I breathed these fears into myself and allowed myself to be present to them.  Then here was the miracle…….they all went away.  I saw the fear of rejection evaporate into thin air.  I heard the voice of my truth reminding me of what I know to be true  for now.  And the little girl stopped clinging to the illusion of perceived surety while she sank into the arms of God and let God carry her to where she needed to be….trusting that all would be well.

How might you become more aware of your own defensive reactions to perceived hurts, etc.?

How do you run from or avoid the pain of loss, disappointment, not being in control, etc?

How might you be present to the pain and allow the possibility of healing and transformation?

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries

http://yourspiritualtruth.com

Posted in Forgiveness, Jesus, Spiritual Practices

“Father Forgive Them”

Today’s blog revisits the topic of forgiveness and offers tools when even the desire to forgive feels outside of our grasp.

 

 

Revisiting Grief

This weekend, grief decided to make a reappearance.  The grief that paid me a visit is the grief of loss as is related to perceived betrayal.  On the highest and most profound level, I know that betrayal is not really possible.  Another person does not have the power to betray me, hurt me or deprive me of love.  But, since I have not yet achieved the fullness of enlightenment, Buddhahood, or Christhood, it often feels as if they do.  So when I was reminded of what I might perceive as betrayal or harm to me at the hands of another, I found myself wrapped in the cloak of my inner victim, seething with hurt, rage, even hatred.  I wanted to lash out in revenge.  Scream my rage.  “Make them pay.”  Fortunately I think I know better…..maybe.

Setting Aside Old Behaviors

In the past, if I felt hurt or betrayed by another, I simply wrapped a cloak of resentment and hatred around me so that I would not have to feel the pain of loss.  My first inclination when grief decided to pay me a visit this weekend was to indulge this impulse.  But now after 20+ years of inner work, I have come to understand how unproductive and potentially hurtful these defense mechanisms of hatred and resentment have been to me and to my ability to be open to healthy intimate relationships.  I knew I needed to set aside my defense mechanisms of hatred and resentment, be present to the pain, grieve the loss and be open to another layer of forgiveness.  Ha….my defense mechanisms had other plans it seems.

Calling in Reinforcements

I tried, I really did.  I tried to be understanding.  I tried to be hospitable.  I tried to stand in compassion.  I tried to allow myself to grieve.  I tried to be forgiving and let go.  But when Tuesday came around and I was still being chased by my demons of resentment and hatred I knew I needed to call in some reinforcements.  So while being attentive to my yoga practice Tuesday night, seething in anger, I prayed.  First I tried a mantra.  Then I tried to engage the practice of Tonglen.  Then I tried breathing.  Then I tried visualization.  I tried everything in my arsenal of spiritual practices, but instead of relief, all I felt was more rage.  Then somewhere between the in and out breath, in the middle of Sun Salutation A, I heard a tiny voice in my head that said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”  I immediately recognized this as Jesus’ words on the cross.  While Jesus was hanging on the cross, being spit at, harassed, tortured, these were his words for his tormentors.  Did Jesus feel betrayed, angry, hurt, disappointed, despairing….YOU BET…..and in the face of this, when he was perhaps incapable of offering forgiveness himself, he asked it of God.  I heard these words and realized the powerful healing balm inherent in these words.  I immediately embraced these words as my mantra and in doing so, I felt an enormous amount of relief.  My hatred and anger subsided and I began to find peace.

Outside our Reach

What I realized is that sometimes (ok, maybe often), forgiveness is totally out of our reach.  I wanted to be compassionate, loving, forgiving….but found I could not.  I guess I’m still human.  And, when forgiveness is outside of my reach, there is a source that I can turn to that can accomplish the forgiveness for me.  And, in turning that which needs forgiveness over to this loving Source that I call “God” and Jesus called “Abwoon”, there is relief.  So today, I continue to offer these words in regards to the perceived betrayal,  “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing,” and enjoy the relief of knowing that God is taking care of it.

What hurts, losses, betrayals are you still grieving?

Where are you struggling to forgive these losses?

How might Jesus’ words help you to surrender this forgiveness to God, inviting God to help you through that pain?

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries

http://yourspiritualtruth.com

Posted in Freedom, Healing

Tumbling into Softness

Exploring the invitation to set aside the defense mechanisms of our youth to embrace our truer, higher self.


An Invitation from my Teachers

In the past several months, I have had the same question posed to me by three distinctly separate and unrelated sources:  “Lauri, do you think it might be time to set aside the battle-ready warrior and let the softer, more gentle you emerge?”  When you get the same question from three separate teachers, perhaps it is time to pay attention. 

 

Defense Mechanisms

As there is truly no such thing as the perfect family, each and every human being grows up in some sort of dysfunction.  Dysfunction in this case is anything in our childhood that does not tenderly and passionately honor the fragile and vulnerable truths within us.  In fact, it might be quite impossible for parents to simply stand in observation as the tender budding flower of their children unfolds, unencumbered by the parent’s own projections and unlived dreams.  As such, our deepest, most authentic truth is usually stunted until we are in a position to do something about it ourselves.  It is out of these projections that our defense mechanisms arise as a way to protect the fragile seed that really wants to take root and grow, but that knows in this environment it cannot.  For me, the defense mechanism that arose was the Battle-ready Warrior. 

 

Who is the Warrior?

The warrior in me is the fierce, fiery, accomplishment-driven, road weary, battle hardened part of me.  She is the one that has viciously defended my “turf”, has driven me to do, to accomplish, and to be in control.  She is tough, she does not feel, she is driven primarily through anger, resentment and suppressed creativity.  Her heart is hardened to the feelings of others, most importantly- her own.  She does not cry.  She deflects insults and criticism with retaliations of judgment and rejection.  In her world, if someone hurts her, they are simply cut from her life in one felt swoop of her sword.  She stands in battle armor, sword in hand, ready to fight and to those who challenge her – BEWARE!  In the past 45 years, the warrior has served me well.  She has kept me “safe” and has swiftly removed from my life all enemies and threats to my dreams……or so I thought.

 

The Truth About the Warrior

The truth is that while the warrior may have served me at some point in my journey, I have discovered that she has been more and more of a hurdle than a help.  While the warrior provides the illusion of safety, what she is really doing is encircling me in a metal straight-jacket where I will eventually end up alone and without fulfilling creative expression.  In order to be creative, one has to be able to feel.  To offer inspiration to the world, one has to experience both the pleasure and pain of the human condition.  As the warrior, none of this is possible.  The only way for me to fully embrace my creative gifts and creative call is to peel off the armor of the warrior, lay down my sword and allow the soft, vulnerable fairy princess in me to step forth.  I know, scary, right?

 

Tumbling into Softness

Ok, so the good news is that the warrior does not have to be shed in one violent act as if one is tearing off a bandaid.  Instead, I have been able to set her aside, little by little to allow room for the soft, vulnerable me to gently emerge.  What I have discovered is that laying underneath the warrior’s armor is a softness that allows for feelings, emotions, creativity, joy, play, time to simply be (instead of do) and has paved the way for true intimacy to take place.  Tumbling into this softness feels foreign, unknown, strange, but at the same time, there is a deep sense of relief as I surrender into the space of simply allowing and set aside the constant doing and standing on guard that was required in the warrior’s shell.  I am finding contentment in simple acts of creativity, in frivolous play and in contemplative silence – and the best part is somehow “the work” is still getting done.  AMAZING!

 

Questions for your own consideration

  • What is the mask that you assumed to survive the “dysfunction” of your childhood?
  • How has that mask served you?
  • How has that mask hampered you?
  • How are you being invited to set aside the armor, the mask, etc. so that you can more fully embrace the deeper truth within?

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries/YourSpiritualTruth

http://yourspiritualtruth.com