Daily mental health insights when the world is (appropriately) losing its mind? Yaaaas please!
Access to mental health resources in the US is severely limited. Not only is it hard to see a professional without sometimes months-long waits, it is not always covered by insurance. Few patients can afford out of pocket mental health costs, nor get time off to see someone during working hours. That’s about to get a whole lot worse as many jobs are facing layoffs and furloughs due to COVID-19. Much like dental care, mental health services remain a major gap in our already insufficient health care system. At the same time, we know that “diseases of despair” (depression, suicide, substance abuse) are a major contributor to the worsening mortality rate in the US. Something has to change.
In the remains of this blog, I want to a fan-girl shout out to someone doing fabulous and innovate work in bringing healing mental support to the masses: Dr. Nicole LePera, AKA the Holistic Psychologist. Dr. LePera posts easy to digest concepts daily to Instagram to help people as she says, “do the work.” She refers here to the inner work of healing and growing. I use her posts as an adjuvant to my in-person therapy sessions. The thing about her method is that it is the repetition of a concepts and themes which really help the lessons stick. They present a quick aha kind of insight for those on the run, and more detailed philosophic notes in the comments.
I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve referred to her page. People who are burning out but are so overworked they can’t find time for a therapist. People who need help right now and can’t access or afford a therapist. People who are afraid of what it signals to seek out mental health support due to internalized stigma or real-world stigma (in DC where I live, people with security clearances or in similar roles fear loss of job for having “a record” in the mental health space).
I’d like to explore a few of the recurrent themes which I’ve found most helpful here. Let’s start with the concept of the ego and the habit self. When most of us hear the word ego, we think of perhaps an inflated, aggrandized sense of self. That’s not what we mean here. The ego can be thought of as the running narrative in your head all day. It’s what (before retraining) you think of as your true self. Rene Descartes said cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am. But instead, the Holistic Psychologist (and many other professionals) instruct us that this is not quite right. You are not necessarily what you think. More radically, when you think something is true- sometimes you make it true by thinking it. If you have recurring negative or worried thought patterns, you would be doomed never to escape them if this were the case.
Instead, the ego can be thought of as the thought patterns you are used to having, or your habit self. They are the reflexive way you react when something happens. Modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy and even meditation ask us to take a step back and be skeptical about the usual whirling thoughts we have. Maybe I am anxious not because the world is going to heck in a handbasket, but because my brain likes to perseverate on fears instead of seek out ways of calming and soothing. Maybe if I take time to relax myself, my brain will follow. There is a concept of the shadow self, the person you may have repressed in childhood (and perhaps in adulthood) because you were afraid of the consequence of expressing your true needs. There is also the notion of a true self, or the self you are capable of becoming through growth and healing practices.
Boundaries are another recurring theme. Many of us grew up not learning how to say no very well. We may have watched one or both of our parents being taken advantage of, or over-committing for others. We bring it into adulthood and we do too much for others at work or at home, perhaps while quietly resenting those around us or burning out. Sometimes it’s a fundamental as personal space. When I was a kid, we had to receive hugs from any adult who was a relative. Now, I am so impressed when I see parents of my generation who tell their very young kids that they get to decide who to hug and what happens to their body. The Holistic Psychologist shares some handy scripting with us as in the examples below to help people who aren’t very used to asserting their needs or preferences speak plainly, sometimes for the first time. My wife of 14 years recently said to me, “I’m still getting use to your expressing yourself, and I’m still surprised every day by learning what you actual like and don’t like over a decade later.”
There’s another component of her work geared towards those who may have had fraught relationships with their parents. We learn first of a concept of generational trauma, which encourages us to have compassion not only for the childhoods our parents may have had, but those of their parents and beyond. Abuse, mental illness, and substance abuse can run deep through family lines. We are taught to see our parents as those doing the best they could for us, given their own challenges along the way. And to begin to re-parent ourselves. If there were things our parents couldn’t give us (affection, time, emotional support), to start to give them to ourselves through taking time to heal and find self-soothing mechanisms.
We are also cautioned that many times we can end up in trauma relationship patterns wherein we seek a partner who demonstrates similar patterns to a difficult parent (ghosting, volatility, on/off moods). If any of these apply to you, again it is seeking freedom from the narratives of inevitability through creating healthier thought patterns and reactions which hold so much promise.
Dr. LePera seeks to de-stigmatize suffering by minimizing reference to mental illness and focusing on symptoms, past trauma, and reactions. She also empowers her readers to know that changing harmful patterns and responses is in their hands and is something they are absolutely able to do through simple awareness and interrogation. The endpoint of the journey she seeks to bring people to is a state of healing and spiritual awakening to find their true purpose. Again, it is the bite-size, daily reiterations on themes that help the lessons stick.
In closing, I’d like to personally thank Dr. LePera for the outstanding work she is doing to make the world a better place. She gives most of her work away for free to those who need it. She was also gracious enough to personally reply to an email I sent asking to highlight some of her work here, and to permit me to share some of the visuals within this piece.
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