A celebration — and a break!

Yesterday marked the 10,000th visitor to www.katedaiglecounseling.com!  I am overjoyed with this milestone and encouraged by the lives that I have been able to touch.  I am inspired to reflect upon what this might symbolize for the mental health community:  people care about mental health issues!  Whether it is interest in ADHD, body dysmorphic disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, what it means to be lonely, how to respond to bullies, or numerous other topics, my blog posts have been fodder for many searches and I hope that they have provided some insight, some information, or at the very least, something interesting to read 🙂

Thank you for choosing to read my writing; it means the world to me.  It is my goal to continue researching and reflecting upon relevant mental health issues in the community — ideas are welcomed!

I am going to take a two week vacation from my blog and will be back to writing the week of August 1st.  In the meantime, feel free to peruse the topics on this site and leave feedback.  I look forward to conversing with you again in August!

No discrimination here: eating disorders are spreading across nations and ethnicities

Author’s Note:  This is the final part of a four-part series on how eating disorders affect varying populations.

If you search for information on eating disorders, you will most likely find lots of information on the symptoms and demographics of these mental illnesses.  And you will probably find most of the research pointing to the desire to adhere to the “Western ideal” as one of the underlying factors causing them.  This is true.  However, what might not be the focus of most research is the fact that eating disorders are not only a “Caucasian, upper-middle class women’s” affliction:  they affect people of all socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and genders.  I have written posts in this series about other populations who are under-represented in the information gathered on eating disorders but who suffer all the same.  I would like to finish up the series with a reflection on the spread of eating disorders through numerous ethnic groups — both in Western countries and in non-Western countries.

The Western body ideal seems to be spreading across the world — and its unrelenting and often un-natural demands are coming with it.  To be “skinny, petite, and proportionally perfect” seems to mean that you are successful, wealthy, and in control (so says the ideal, which can often lead to the development of eating disorders).  Anorexia nervosa, most commonly, has been described as a “culture-bound” disorder whose roots are found in Western cultural values and conflicts.  Western values are spreading to even the most remote Fijian village, meaning that there are no boundaries with cultural standards anymore.  Where many non-Western cultural groups historically have found rounder, more plump bodies to be socially beautiful and acceptable, the Western ideal of thinness is taking over.

Some research that has been conducted on how eating disorders affect varying ethnic groups has found that advertisements are sending body-image messages to cultures which specifically target the bodily concerns that the group is most vulnerable to.  An interesting study that I came across was conducted by Dr. Ruth Striegel-Moore and focused on the myth that “black women are more immune to eating disorders because they’re less worried about having a larger body; that the large body is more socially acceptable in their culture.”  Through her study, Dr. Striegel-Moore found that black and white women tend to binge eat at the same rate – about 8% for each group.  Further, her study concluded that black and white women tend to develop full-blown eating disorders at the same rate, however it seems to be more socially acceptable for white women to seek treatment for it.

Latino cultures are also affected by the Western ideal.  Not only are they influenced by the “wealthy and thin” ideal that is often presented to them in the media, but Latina women are increasingly being featured on television shows and in movies.  This is a positive trend for promoting cultural variability in the media.  However, the Latina and black role models on television are often thin and beautiful as well – thus promoting the “need to be thin and beautiful like them” that spreads across cultures.

People who immigrate to the United States from other countries are often faced with the challenge (and often intense desire) to assimilate to the dominant culture’s standards.  They want to be accepted and successful and to live their dreams.  This often comes with the price tag of needing to be attractive in order to be successful (so the American dream tells us).  Women and men can begin to try to change how they look, especially in their bodies, to fit in to this ideal and compete with their Western counterparts.  In non-Western countries, American television shows, music, and advertisements are spreading.  This media overload can introduce concepts that these cultures had not been exposed to before, and the newness and excitement of Western culture can influence people of all backgrounds to conform to its standards.

There are many wonderful things about Western culture and the opportunities it can offer.  But it also can create a standard for appearance and an expectation of how we should act, think, and look that can be incredibly confining and damaging.  This is a topic that deserves much more research and attention, and as eating disorders continue to grow and spread, I hope that multicultural populations are offered the same intervention and treatment as all other groups.  This is one area where there appears to be litle discrimination – eating disorders affect all types of people and we must be aware of the messages that contribute to their development and the havoc they can wreak on lives.

It is slightly ironic how eating disorders tend to thrive on “black and white, or dualistic thinking”, however they are spreading into the grey area and affecting populations of all skin colors….

Being lonely and loving it: how feeling alone can benefit your mental health

We have all experienced the feeling of loneliness.  We have all been alone at some point in our lives – it is part of being human.  Some of us fear it; some of us crave it.  What is the difference between being lonely and being alone?  How did we come to label these feelings as “good” or “bad”, and why do we place judgment on their roles in our lives?

Feelings and emotions have immense power over the way we see ourselves and our world.  What might be painful for some of us can be a welcomed emotion by others, due to the way our experiences and perceptions have shaped our lenses.  For you, being by yourself at night is a relaxing and rejuvenating solo activity that allows you the time and space to wind down from your day.  For another person, being alone at night may be the most low and sad place to be, as it can elicit feelings of depression and anxiety.  The differences between these two interpretations of “being alone” can be due to our personalities (extravert or introvert?) or perhaps linked to an experience we have previously had when we were alone (maybe we tend to reminisce over a broken relationship when we are alone and that causes us to feel despair and decrease our self-esteem).  Also, the state of being alone can provoke emotions that are dependent on other factors, such as if we had a good day at work or if we got into an argument with a loved one.

So how can loneliness and being alone be healthy for our mental health?  I want to try to shift your perception of these states of being.  We tend to label loneliness as a negative thing, something that we want to avoid.  Why?  Because it forces us to be with ourselves and to be present with the emotions we feel inside.  If we are mean to ourselves or have a harsh self-perception, being alone can feel terrifying and miserable.  When alone and without distraction, people who suffer from addiction or other types of mental health issues like eating disorders can feel out of control.  Those who have survived a trauma can fear being alone because they might engage in self-harming behaviors or have a flashback to a horrible memory.  Behaviors we use to cope with pain can be intensified when we are by ourselves because there is no one to judge us (except for ourselves).

Because of these reasons, and the fear we have of our pain only getting worse when there is no one else around, being lonely is a state we fervently avoid.  Some people avoid this state by constantly surrounding themselves with others, even if it is not healthy.  I think that being lonely is an opportunity for us.  An opportunity to look inside and direct relate to what we are feeling.  There is no one else around, and only yourself can keep you company.  Why not make friends with that person?  Sure, we may have judgments about ourselves or negative perceptions and it can be uncomfortable to “sit” with these feelings.  However, if we do not connect with them directly, the negative self-image will only intensify.  When we are alone we have the chance to change that.  We can look within and commit to loving the person we are, and we can promise ourselves to change some parts of ourselves that are self-harming.

Have you ever been lonely in a crowd?  I think that this can be a more intense feeling of loneliness because we feel we “shouldn’t” feel alone when surrounded with so many people.  It can make us wonder what is “wrong” with us.  However, I think that if you have this feeling it is something to really take a look at.  Why do you feel lonely?  Perhaps you are with a group of people that you do not connect with, and your emotions are telling you this.  Perhaps you are sad about something, such as a troubled relationship, and are not feeling ready to connect to others — listen to what your soul is telling you and try not to judge yourself for whatever it says.

A friend reflected to me that “if you don’t know yourself, then loneliness is a dreadful place to be.”  When you know — truly know — yourself, you might feel lonely but it does not stop you in your tracks and take over your entire day.  You might notice it, even welcome it, and ask what it is trying to tell you.  Perhaps it’s saying that you need MORE time by yourself so that you can replenish the reserves of your spirit that have been depleted.  If it is telling you that you are very sad, listen to that as well.  Don’t let yourself stay there too long — ask for help.  Communicate your loneliness to a loved one or to a journal, acknowledge what its message is, and believe that it will pass.  Embrace the state of being alone!

The verdict is in: the (omitted) role of mental health issues in America’s fascination with justice

It’s a hot button.  Everyone has their opinion about the Casey Anthony trial and the not-guilty verdict that was handed down yesterday.  Most people I have spoken with and articles I’ve come across are outraged that “a murderer was let loose”.  There were so many details and intricacies in this story that were sensationalized, taunting America to become obsessed with the horrible reality of a little girl’s unwarranted death.  My job is not to analyze these details or the way that the trial played out.  My own personal opinion is that the jury  was not allowed to weigh certain factors in this case that may have swayed their opinion (or maybe not – but still, they were not given the opportunity to consider them).

There are many links to the OJ Simpson trial and the manner in which the media pounced over every small event in that trial — most details of which had no business being publicly exposed.  Both trials were about terrible deaths that should and could have been prevented — I think we can all agree to that.  But, when the defendant is given freedom from being convicted, as OJ and Casey both have been due to tampered evidence and faulty story-lines, how do you know what to believe?  Will this case “allow” others to commit crimes, get national attention, and not worry about getting convicted?  If there is a lucrative book and movie deal waiting for Casey as soon as she is out of prison as news reports are already saying, I am fearful of the messages that this trial and others like it are sending to society.

What about Casey’s emotional health?  There are those who think she is a self-absorbed psychopath who has no remorse for killing her daughter.  There are other reports that speak to the abuse she states she endured at the hand of her father when she was a child.  Further, some mental health clinicians are pointing to the possibility that she was “pushed over the edge”, feeling as if she did not have enough resources and support to feel mentally stable.  She may suffer from borderline personality disorder, thinks Dr. Barbara Kirwin, PhD, due to the pattern of intense romantic relationships and the possibility that her daughter might have gotten in the way.

An interesting and dismaying fact of this trial concerns me:  the defense was set to have two mental health experts testify, but pulled them from the trial at the last minute.  Why?  The mental health experts could ask Casey questions that would reveal a side to her that is not publicly known and may severely impact the trial:  either that she is a heartless psychopath, or a hurting victim of abuse and mental illness.  It seems that to America, both personalities would be ostracized in some way.  Sure, we could identify and perhaps sympathize with Casey if we were let in on her inner turmoil.  It does not justify a murder — but sadly, mental illness has impacted violence and homicide in numerous ways, tragedies that are preventable.

Were there signs that Casey was mentally ill?  America is outraged at the ways in which she lied to authorities and partied into the night while her daughter was missing.  It is easy to condemn this behavior; it also could be looked at through a mental health lens:  could these be signs of narcissistic personality disorder?  A disorder whose very nature makes it challenging to connect to the intense pain and insecurity that  lies beneath the bravado, people with narcissistic personality disorder (and many other types of personality disorders) often do not get the help they need due to their outlandish behavior.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – that is one of the freedoms we enjoy in the USA.  I am sad for Casey Anthony in that she has issues that were not addressed and may have caused her to victimize an innocent child (as she was herself at one time).  She will lead a difficult life from now on, and America will never let her forget this event.  It is a tragedy in so many forms, and unfortunately it will not be the last tragedy of its kind.

I hope that, if nothing else, this experience can help us to remember to seek out mental health resources, social support, or any type of assistance if we are struggling to make it from day to day.  Early intervention is the key to saving the lives of those that we love as well as our own.

The symbolic power of Independence Day: how freedom can liberate us from everyday struggles

Monday is Independence Day in the United States.  As we think back to the reasons that we celebrate this holiday each year, I wanted to reflect on the fragility and sacredness of freedom, the effort required to obtain it, and how freedom can be taken away in a second.  The United States has claimed victory over being controlled by another country and there are countless stories of people’s struggles for freedom all over the world.

What in your everyday life would you like to free yourself from?  Have you freed yourself from something that you feel like celebrating?  I personally have recovered from an eating disorder that was so controlling, so damaging, and so hate-filled that I try to celebrate everyday the freedom I have attained.  Trying to notice this consciously takes effort.  We can forget to create rituals or patterns in our lives that memorialize or highlight victories we have accomplished – however small or large they are.  Many of us continue to struggle with feeling trapped and powerless against a greater force:  an addiction, a traumatic memory, an abusive relationship, an out-of-control situation.  We can spend lots of our money, time, and energy focusing on these things — for good reason, as no one deserves to live in pain and it takes tremendous effort to absolve ourselves of it.  But what else could happen if we focused on what independence we have already achieved?  And what more we can obtain?

I was consulting with a friend over this idea of asserting freedom and independence over our everyday struggles.  My friend told me that she carries with her a mantra:  “I release myself of guilt and worry”.  She hears this affirmation repeatedly throughout her days as she encounters challenges and tries to release herself of the absorbing feelings of guilt, shame, and worry.  This friend has recovered from multiple losses and traumas and has empowered herself to create boundaries between herself and others in a way that is enlightened and confident.  On the subject of freedom she related to me: “Freedom is something we must strive for and create for ourselves; often times due to life’s complicated struggles, freedom is not automatic and we must tend to it like a budding flower or else it will wilt.”

This concept really struck a chord with me.  On my own journey, I must continually remain aware of stressors and triggers that once contributed to the development of my eating disorder.  I now celebrate freedom from this disorder, but the independence is not absolute — it has a strength within its core but needs nurturance and attention to maintain this power.  Can you relate to this?  How have you obtained independence and freedom in your life, and what do you do daily to maintain that breath of fresh air?  What else can you do?

To finish off the metaphor, I must comment on the concept of fireworks.  Fireworks represent celebration and joy.  They also are a bit dangerous and we must be careful with how and where we use them.  If not used correctly, they could set off a huge, deadly fire and trigger more pain and hardship.  This aligns with my vision of freedom and independence in daily struggles:  we should and we do celebrate our victories from devastating addictions or traumas.  We have overcome and we deserve to acknowledge the joy in this feat.  We also must be careful to remain aware of our recovery and not let our grasp of freedom slip away unawares.  Do not allow one addiction to slip into another.  Maintenance of freedom is hard work; it can often be a life-long task in some form.  However, the sweet taste of release and peace is worth all of the effort.  It is what makes us human.

Happy Independence Day to all!!