Are you part of a book club? Make Beyond the Label your next book selection and invite Dr. Chris as a guest author! This is what one of Dr. Chris’s friends did and there were some wonderful and enlightening questions that come out of the book club meeting that she attended. It was very exciting for the book club members to meet the author. If you are local, reach out to Dr. Chris – she’d be happy to come speak to your group.
1. How do you help someone who doesn’t know what is happening to them, or someone who doesn’t want help?
This is a great question. If you’re ever connected with someone who is entering an altered state (be it depression, mania, hypomania, psychosis, panic, or even a bad trip on recreational drugs or medication), you can support them best by knowing where their head is at. What I mean is, know what kind of state they are in, and meet them where they are with an empathetic, compassionate and open heart. Connect with their family, their friends, and other people who have been in contact with them and gather information about how they’ve been behaving to help you assess their state.
From there, the most important thing is safety. Make sure you are safe to help them before you go any further. If there is any risk to you or risk to them, do not hesitate to call for help. Know the emergency mental health numbers for your city or country, be aware of crisis centres for suicide and drug use, or the 24-hr psychiatric emergency locations. If you need even more immediate help, do not hesitate to call the police and an ambulance. Using the lowest level of intervention is a good intention, but if there is risk, do not put yourself or anyone else in danger by thinking you can handle it yourself; call for help.
If someone is struggling with their mental state but there is no immediate risk of harm or violence, making them feel safe is the best thing to do. Ask them directly: “what will make you feel safe?” and remind them “you are safe here”. Or you can ask “what do you feel you need in this moment. Is there anything I can do or get for you ?” Do your best to not disagree with what they are saying or believing. Resisting their beliefs can be hard to take when in an altered state, so the best thing is to accept their reality, while helping them to stay safe, until you can get more help.
For example, if someone is seeing or hearing something that you are not, or they are convinced of something, do not oppose them, but rather say “that may be so, but right now let’s get you safe”. What I found extremely helpful for me during one episode was when my friend would get me to look at him, and then he would redirect me out of my mind and into my body by getting me to feel my feet on the ground, wiggle my pinky toe or tune into my breathing. This would help slow down the racing thoughts, albeit momentarily
Margot Kidder is a famous actress with bipolar disorder who spoke widely about her experience. She talks about one of the most supportive and helpful things anyone said to her about her manic episodes: She asked her doctor once, “is none of this real?” and he responded, “it is real to you right now”. She said that was helpful to not reject her reality and make herself feel even worse for feeling “crazy”, but it also helped her see that it was not a lasting reality.
In conclusion, the first thing you can do is assess their state, and second, assess the safety of the situation. Do your best to help people manage their experience without resisting what they are going through, while finding more help. It can be incredibly healing to have a loved one at your side when going through an altered state experience, but you do not have to do it all alone, you can ask for help.
2. How can you encourage someone who has a conventional mindset to be open to natural or alternative remedies?
The most important thing to know is that people who don’t approve of natural and integrative medicine typically don’t understand what it is. Using diet, stress management, sleep, exercise, and exposure to nature simply cannot be bad. If someone is suffering from a mental or physical illness, and they clean up their diet, get better sleep, and manage their lives in a more balanced way, this can’t make things worse.
When people are afraid of natural medicine, they think that natural practitioners are against conventional medicine, and that they will use dangerous interventions with no research that could harm them, or keep them from better treatments. This simply isn’t the case. You can share with them instead that licensed naturopathic doctors are trained to recognize important red flags in health conditions and refer them to other specialists as needed. Treatments used are always researched for interactions and safety. Make sure they are researching the work of licensed naturopathic doctors, and not confusing them with unlicensed practitioners that call themselves “naturopaths” or “natural practitioners” (if they don’t have an ND degree from an accredited school), “energy workers”, “health coach” or “diet coach”.
But much better than convincing with words is modelling the value of natural and integrative medicine. If you’ve benefitted from it, you can share that with them. They’ll see the proof in your life being more full, more engaged, more balanced. They may or may not become curious and investigate themselves. At the end of the day, anyone stuck in a fixed and rigid mindset is operating from an egoic perspective and it may not be worth your energy to convince them of anything. I like what Michelle Obama says “When they go low, we go high” – we all have to keep our ego in check when we are attached to an outcome and want to change someone to “our side” – some won’t change and all we can do is hope for the best for them.
3. How can we support each other better? How do we “break the mask” and encourage others to break the mask as well?
I love talking about this topic, because doing so is powerful. “Breaking the mask” refers to stopping the perpetual cycle of putting on the face that says everything is fine when inside you’re struggling, needing help, and needing a break. We all push harder and harder to keep up with the rest of the world, when the truth is, everyone feels just as tired and just as in need of a break. Breaking the mask lets us put down our constantly-busy, constantly-happy persona and admit to ourselves that we need deep rest and deep acceptance most of all. And this act allows others to put down their mask as well.
In this way we can support others to get what they most need. We can drop the judgment and the comparison, when people are struggling. We can let ourselves be vulnerable first and show that taking a break and being in touch with how you really feel is a healthy way to move through life.
Starting a meditation practice is one way to break the mask that we wear even for ourselves. We may not be as “in touch” with our deepest unconscious feelings as we think. Giving yourself space to sit and practice being with the breath, or with the sensation of breathing deeply, is a practice of being with yourself in a deliberate, intimate way. It signifies self-love and self-acknowledgment in a simple way.
Another way is journaling your feelings, and perhaps even talking about your feelings with a practitioner, counsellor, or friend. Being open to exploring your own deepest feelings, needs, and desires is the single most powerful way to build compassion for yourself, and ultimately, for others.
Click here for part 4 of the Q&A series
Contact Dr. Chris for inquiries on speaking and book club events.
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