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The City of Brains Project

Over at the CivicTechTO meetups, I’ve started up a project with a bunch of awesome volunteers to tackle a simple question:

How do you find effective, accessible mental health services in Toronto?

The answers, however, have been anything but simple. Each answer typically comes in the form of a story. And we’re finding that these are stories full of hope, frustration, tragedy, failure, success, challenges, kindness, inequality, complexity, barriers, and perseverance.

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So you think you can’t recover from mental illness… (video)

Ruminating on reasons you can’t recover because your symptoms are different or you have very unique circumstances that prevent you from moving forward… is one of the most common symptoms. You’ll always be able to think of reasons why you can’t cut out compulsions, why you need to keep doing unhealthy things right now, why some other time in the future is going to be a much better time for recovery–our brains are so imaginative!

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Beliefs, judgments, desires, compulsions…

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When we’re struggling with mental illness, it’s often the compulsions that get all of the focus, both when we’re trying to figure out what’s going on and when we’re getting treatment. Many disorders are defined only by the superficial characteristics of the compulsions they’re engaging in when they show up to get a diagnosis.

But the coping, checking, and controlling compulsions we engage in are a tiny part of a much bigger system. If you don’t learn address the beliefs you hold onto, the judgments you make about your internal and external experiences, and the desires triggered by those judgments to avoid or control uncertainty, anxiety, and other feelings you don’t like, then you’re going to be constantly pushed back into old compulsions or developing new ones.

If you want to maintain recovery and you want to build better mental health, you have to go beyond the superficial compulsions that are bothering you. Mental illnesses don’t have to be chronic, but getting over them requires big holistic changes throughout the systems of your life.

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Don’t make unhappiness a prerequisite for happiness

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When we’re struggling with mental health issues, they can come become a filter that defines how we see the world. We can’t imagine seeing it any other way. Everything revolves around the mental health challenges and we begin to rely on them. We can start to believe that not feeling anxiety means we don’t care about our loved ones, or not feeling jealous rage means we’re not actually in the “right” relationship, or not feeling the discomfort of craving means we’ll never truly be satisfied, or not feeling stress means we’ll never get any work done. There are so many different ways that we begin to see our challenges as a necessary step to getting what we want in life.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so helpful to not focus on getting rid of a mental illness and instead focus on building great mental health and doing the things you value in life. If you only measure success by getting rid of a particular barrier, you need to keep that barrier in your life so you can try to be successful.

Anxiety is like pain–it’s a symptom, a consequence of other actions that we choose to do or are forced into by our environment. Waiting for anxiety as a motivator puts illness first. It puts pain first. If anxiety is something you don’t enjoy, then it’s not helpful to make it the fuel for your actions in life, because then you need anxiety to get anything done.

What helped me with this issue was identifying what I valued in life and acting in line with those values. It’s the complete opposite of waiting for anxiety and then reacting to try to prevent fears from coming true. Instead, acting according to my values is all about creating and building the things I want. I can feel whatever I’m feeling as I do that. I don’t have to get rid of those feelings.

Einstein (a very smart guy) once said: “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” That’s a useful quote to keep in mind when dealing with anxiety issues. You don’t need fear and anxiety to create what you value. Create amazing, healthy things because they’re what you want to see in the world.

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How to Deal with Intrusive Thoughts (video)

When it comes to dealing with horrible, weird, upsetting, terrifying intrusive thoughts or whatever else your brain is throwing up when you’re struggling with mental illness, learning to practice accepting the stuff in your head and shifting your focus to doing the things that will actually make you healthy, can stop the struggle in your head.

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Mental Health Service Collaboration Across Sectors and Agencies

I recently attended a workshop discussing cross-sectoral collaboration amongst mental health service providers in Ontario. As a former Executive Director of a mental health services agency, and as a consumer of mental health services, I think it’s very necessary that we improve our collaboration skills. And when it comes to improving collaboration, I suggest we look to restaurants as our guide. I wrote about this on Medium:

 

COLLABORATE LIKE A RESTAURANT

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