Welcome to August, the month of mindfulness
For the month of August, I am practicing mindfulness daily while raising awareness and funds for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
There is a huge body of evidence showing that meditation and mindfulness are effective for managing a variety of mental health issues as well as improving day-to-day wellbeing. As someone who struggles with routine at the best of times, I have once again fallen off the wagon. I'm hoping this month will help me kick-start my mindfulness practice once again.
Why raise money for the Mental Health Foundation? Here in Aotearoa, our mental health system is hugely broken. Our mental health statistics are appalling. The Mental Health Foundation is an NGO that "believes that together, we can work towards creating a society free from discrimination, where we can all enjoy positive mental health and wellbeing." They advocate for mental health system reform but also focus holistically on determinants of mental wellbeing.
My goal is to raise $500 from sponsorships to support this work. Any amount you can give helps. "Your donations will support the Mental Health Foundation to:
- Push to transform our mental health system to one which prevents problems developing, responds earlier and more effectively and empowers communities and individuals to learn the behaviours that will protect and enhance their mental resilience and wellbeing.
- Advocate for systemic change to improve social, economic and cultural determinants of mental health and wellbeing. This includes advocating for secure and safe housing and opposing discriminatory systems.
- Ensure our work is informed by tāngata whaiora (people with lived experience of mental distress) through active engagement with these communities.
- Action our commitment as a Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner by engaging with and being led by Māori, uplifting and amplifying Māori voices, incorporating mātauranga Māori into our work and seeking improved outcomes for Māori. "
During the month I will make blog posts sharing statistics, stories, and information highlighting the importance of systemic change to improve our mental wellbeing.
Ngā mihi nui,
MAURI TU, MAURI ORA.
Updates from Lenore
Day 31: Well, it's been a monthWednesday 31st Aug It's the last day of #mindfulnessmonthNZ.
I have been intending to write an eloquent blog about why I have been raising money for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand but honestly, I do not have the spoons. This month has come with unexpected twists and turns. Practicing mindfulness has helped me through but I haven't had the energy to post about it nearly as much as I had planned.
Mental health system reform is desperately needed in New Zealand. The last mental health inquiry outlines why https://mentalhealth.inquiry.govt.nz/inquiry-report/he-ara-oranga/ The government has agreed to making many of the desperately needed changes (https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/mental-health-and-addiction/he-ara-oranga-response) but we need to keep the pressure on.
Governments tackle things that are in front of them, that they think are important to voters, in a piecemeal fashion. To achieve change we need to continually remind the Government that mental health services need attention - even in the face of other challenges like COVID-19, economic recession, and the housing crisis. The OECD acknowledges that these challenges make mental health services even more important: https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/tackling-the-mental-health-impact-of-the-covid-19-crisis-an-integrated-whole-of-society-response-0ccafa0b/
Keeping the pressure on is one of the functions of the Mental Health Foundation. You can see examples of this here: https://mentalhealth.org.nz/our-work/policy-and-advocacy
Basically, I'm raising money to help the Mental Health Foundation keep yelling at the Government, on our behalf. On behalf of every friend who has been turned away or failed by the system. On behalf of those who can't afford the therapy they need, because the system doesn't provide affordable accessible therapy. On behalf of those whose distress is minimised as 'not bad enough' for a disturbingly underfunded system. Because it's not ok that our mental health system only steps in when it's already too late.
Day 1: I'm not feeling wellMonday 1st Aug
CW: discussion of dissociation, touches on trauma & dysphoria
Today I am very dysphoric and I have a cold. I also have a stressful phone call to make. In many ways, this is a perfect scenario in which to start Mindfulness Month.
When I am dysphoric or having unpleasant experiences, my mind often automatically goes to an unhelpful coping mechanism: dissociation. Basically, it takes a holiday and I become detached. This prevents me from engaging with the problem so I can take steps to look after myself and feel better. Sometimes when I dissociate I lose time, fail to notice physical sensations such as hunger, and forget to look after myself. So I thought today, let’s talk about dissociation and how mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help manage it.
Dissociation is a coping strategy that the brain sometimes uses to deal with difficult experiences. For many of us who experience dissociation our brains learned it to cope with childhood trauma, during which we could not run or fight back. There are more specific experiences included in what we call dissociation: depersonalisation, in which we feel detached from ourselves or our bodies and derealisation, in which we perceive the external world as unreal. Extreme detachment from oneself can also result in alexithymia: the inability to identify and describe one’s own emotions. In all its forms, dissociation is trying to protect us from experiencing something painful.
Long after it has served its original purpose, dissociation can prevent us from engaging with our day-to-day lives, experiencing emotions, coping, and healing.
Mindfulness, as it is with rumination, is antithetical to dissociation. You cannot be mindful and remain dissociated at the same time. One is an extreme lack of awareness; the other is gentle, open attentiveness. For people with extreme dissociation, practicing mindfulness might seem abhorrent or impossible because mindfulness requires us to observe what our body and mind are doing. For some, the idea of confronting their feelings and sensations is utterly terrifying. If this sounds like you, you might try less intensive types of mindfulness (e.g. mindful eating or exercise) rather than jumping into meditation. Alternatively, perhaps therapy is the right place to start. It was for me.
To practice mindfulness, we bring our attention to the present moment and simply notice, without judgement and with curiosity. Today’s prompt in the mindfulness journal was “I can see…” which encourages us to notice what we see. This noticing ‘grounds’ us – connecting us to the present moment and in our current experience. Meditation often asks us to notice what we feel in our bodies, which can ground us in our bodies. Sometimes noticing physical sensations can be a valuable step on the road to becoming more aware of emotions for people struggling to identify them.
Having a complicated relationship with my body, I find noticing physical sensations difficult but also incredibly beneficial to work on. During my practice today I completed the day one meditation, guided by Kristina Cavit of the Kindness Institute. I was able to ground myself in my body and experience my mind existing in my body, behind my eyes – an uncommon experience for me. After the meditation I felt calmer and more in tune with my body. I was able to make that phone call.
With mindfulness we can become more aware of what is going on for us, rather than mentally running away from it. And noticing allows us to choose more proactive and healthier coping tools.
“Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.” ― Bessel A. van der Kolk
Noho ora mai,
Thank you to my supporters