Believe in Yesterday

Psychologists have been re-discovering nostalgia. They claim it can have therapeutic mind-opening benefits.

As the Beatles sang long ago, “Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away … Oh I believe in yesterday …”

I’d met a married couple years ago who were both threatening suicide. Due to the pains they’re experiencing in their marriage.

How could they be lifted out of that?

We used nostalgia, among others, during sessions. Visioning. Revisiting their past.

I asked them to think of their love theme song, the times they first met, the long-ago dates they had when they felt most loving and romantic towards each other.

Both also reminisced about the many wacky, fun times they had with their children when they were growing up.

Fortunately, their nostalgia trip remedied enough their joint suicidality!

We’re then able to work together on the deeper issues of their relationship.

Psychologist Tim Wildschut once observed that nostalgia can foster “feelings of connection” between people.

Even if they’re just confined to one person’s mind.

He told Psychology Today, “You revisit old relationships, bring people closer, and for a moment, it’s as if they’re there with you.”

I once emceed a high school reunion with my batch mates where all we talked about were our after-school hang outs, parties, favorite songs, and crushes.

How energized and vitalized the reunion was through nostalgia!

Everyone felt young again in the mind!

Memory can affect the mind to heal.

Those stuck in the negative effects of their present lives can focus on memories that cast the present in positive light.

“Nostalgia seems to stabilize people, to be a source of comfort and reassurance,” says University of North Dakota State psychologist Clay Routledge.

Is Brain Drug the Cure to Depression?

Depression is a worldwide problem. In the medical field, it’s much easier for doctors (largely controlled by the moneyed pharmaceutical industry!) to write out a drug prescription and talk to a patient in just a few minutes. People want the quick fix of pharmacy.

But are brain drugs really the answer to the growing epidemic of depression?

An editorial that appeared in the medical journal “Biological Psychiatry” says this:

“The overall influence of the (pharmaceutical) industry is to emphasize drug treatment at the expense of other modalities: psychotherapy, social approaches, nutritional, herbal and natural remedies, rehabilitation, general hygienic measures, non-patentable drugs, or other alternative approaches. It focuses attention on disorders that are treatable by drugs, and may promote over diagnosis. It reinforces the practice of dealing with disease by treatment of symptoms, and diverts interest from prevention.”

Brain drug is not an answer to depression. An effective treatment of psychological, emotional, and even spiritual condition should be focused on addressing the cause rather than the symptom. Depression, and even other mental health conditions, can be eliminated safely and effectively without taking drugs, such as Prozac. With Prozac and other brain drugs, the side effects are dangerous and life-threatening.

Thomas Edison once wrote, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

When a Loved One Dies

I once heard the reminiscences of a 70+ year old man who lost his wife to cancer.

He certainly did not take his wife’s disappearance lightly. It hurt him a lot. He loved her so much.

In the number of times we met, he’d always reminisce on his past memories and moments with his wife. It’s as if he was still walking along with her like it was yesterday.

He wanted to move forward through the remaining precious fragment of his life on earth. Yet he remained never without her.

We need both recollection and relinquishment. Hoarding loving memories is no better than shunning them.

When a loved one departs, a need for disengagement is inevitable. Yet such does not have to be without heart.

We may still do the proper leave-taking while not detaching our self off from beautiful sentiments.

As writer Rainer Rilke put it, “We live our lives, for ever taking leave.”

It seems that we thrive with some fuel coming from a flexible relationship with our past.

Sooner, this man shared that he had to relinquish at some level to live a different sort of life after his wife’s death. He chose to have adventures!

He opened an international business with his adult children, put up a new foundation, and went to gym to do boxing (he’s as strong as one in his 40’s!). He joined groups and met regularly with other men for bible studies.

So now, after his loss, every day, he has such a full life that he won’t run out of things to recollect in his memory!

Somehow, as we age, we tend to be more predisposed to do increasing doses of recollecting amidst relinquishing.

Recollecting in our memory seems to seek continuity, no matter how long we live.

As Sharon Kaufman observes, we seek continuity in our recollections “so that a familiar and unified sense of self emerges in old age.”

We all need a theme in our lives, in our recollecting and relinquishing, to account for what is happening to us.

Understanding Suicide

Suicide is a uniquely human problem.

In the world as a whole, statistics indicate an increasing suicide rate. According to the handbook of psychiatry by authors Philip Solomon and Vernon Patch – a suicide death occurs about every 20 minutes.

Firstly, the one who did it could not see things realistically. He or she could not realize that the problems he or she is experiencing are just temporary and solvable.

Second, the trauma inflicted on the family and loved ones is devastating. Aside from emotional damage, it sets a negative example to children who will later find themselves in painful life conditions.

And most importantly, just as murder is sin, suicide is sin.

One of God’s ten commandments plainly states, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). To kill one’s self is murder and never God’s will.

In the whole of Scriptures, only 7 suicides are recorded:

Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Samson (Judges 16:30), Saul (1 Samuel 31:14), Saul’s armor bearer (1 Samuel 31: 5), Ahithopel II (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (the Gospels).

Not even one among these who committed suicide was at the center of doing God’s will.

Clinically, in therapy, psychiatrist J. Motto cites 10 warning signs of individuals most likely to commit suicide:

1. Those with severe depression accompanied by intense emotional pain (depression is known to be a leading cause of suicide).
2. Those with intense hopeless feelings.
3. Singles … over 45.
4. Those with prior history of suicide attempt.
5. Those with severe health problems.
6. Those who experienced great losses – death of spouse, loss of job etc
7. Those who made a specific suicide plan, from fleeting thoughts of suicide to
actual attempt.
8. Those with chronic self-destructive behavior, such as alcoholism, drug
addiction etc
9. Those with intense need to achieve.
10. Those with excess disturbing life events within the last 6 months.

How are you feeling?

Feelings and psychological wellness are closely intertwined.

Sophia began her therapy session extremely raging and throwing tantrums at her husband, Tim. When I asked about the nature of her rage and upset, she reported her husband’s infidelity and sexual addiction. The cause was reasonable, of course.

But we decided to work on Sophia’s out of control emotions first because it was unhealthy, and causing her inability to function and cope with the stress needed to appropriately move forward with her husband.

Observe clearly the difference between “healthy negative feelings” and “unhealthy negative feelings.” Healthy negative feelings are those of sorrow, regret, sadness, annoyance, or disappointment when you don’t get what’s important to you.

Unhealthy negative feelings, on the other hand, make you feel unduly depressed, panicky, self-pitying, angry, or even violent.

Realize that you are capable of changing your “unhealthy negative feelings” into “healthy negative feelings.” In my therapy and counseling sessions, I work with counselees to take their depressed feelings, for example, until they only feel sorry and regretful.

I encourage them to take their panicky, self-downing feelings into the session until they only feel concerned and apprehensive.

Don’t give up until you actually change your feelings into healthy ones. It’s a key to pressing on in your overall recovery.

The Love of Money

“Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money.” – Voltaire

Today, lots of people get wounded by “money.” Psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We live in a world where people are measured by their net worth. As a result, individuals often get intimidated by the cultural consciousness and deception that says they are what they earn. They appraise their self-worth with monetary worth.

Men sacrifice inner fulfillment and joy for higher salaries. Women marry for money or “convenient meal ticket.” Young people cheat or commit crimes to get what they want. Parents and children alienate each other due to money issues. Government officials turn corrupt for money.

Real-life examples of “money disorder” are endless.

We have no quarrel with “earning” money. We all need it to live and have means to provide for ourselves and those who depend upon us.

But its entirely different from basing our self-esteem on it. That’s already “serving” or loving money. When such is the case, ethics, morality, or integrity matters less than the fact that we get rich or the money.

Too many people bring unnecessary pain (even tragedy) upon themselves because the love and focus of their lives are wrongly placed.

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, in their eagerness to get rich, have wandered away from the faith and caused themselves a lot of pain.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

The Great Inescapable Anxiety

Working as a therapist, “hints” of death and its accompanying anxiety are never absent. I hardly get through my sessions without sensing a cry for help from individuals hurt by dire consequences and relationships.

It’s not private bias or indulgence on my part. It’s a universal concern we all have as human beings.

This “death anxiety” though is often invisible. A male patient in his early 40s told me about his much younger cousin who died recently of cancer. After learning it, he suddenly felt a rushing in his panic attacks.

Once while inside an airplane, everything was well when he took his seat. Then suddenly, he became so uneasy and felt, “This plane is where I am and it’s about to crash!” No amount of care from his wife or plane assistants could calm his anxiety and fear.

We have two choices to deal with “invisible death anxiety.” We either face the truth directly or we try to flee the anxious feelings and not attempt to come to terms with it. I think the latter response appears more common in modern times.

In the “Hour of Death,” author Philippe Aries writes, “Except for the death of statesmen, society has banished death. In the towns, there is no way of knowing that something has happened … Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects it’s continuity.”

Ernest Becker, in his “The Denial of Death,” describes the reality of the human condition. He says, “Man is a worm and food for the worms. This is the paradox; he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual … Literally split in two… He sticks out of nature with a towering majesty and yet goes back into the ground a few feet … to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and have to live with.”

Thus to make invisible our inherent death anxiety makes little sense. Our society focuses us more on the “economic” or “making a living.” Such conditions us to deny or be unprepared to dying. Yet we all need to face the reality of it to live well.

Free from the non-essentials of life or unnecessary personal disabilities. Free from “denying the problem,” “immature defenses,” “distortion of our reactions,” or projecting fears to things or persons.

Death anxiety is not beyond human control. If it’s made visible and faced head-on, it can bring much quality of life. Especially in light of our limited supply of years. I believe the measure of a good life is how we view and transcend our own death.