Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Maybe It's The Discipline

Mindfulness works as a therapy to increase impulse control.  While the results of practice are well-researched, the neurological mechanisms are indeterminate.   Something about mindfulness practice actually changes the cortical make-up of the brain.  Why this happens is not yet known.  It could be the focused attention or the release of judgmental thoughts.  Or, it could be the discipline.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Meditating with Purpose

If mindfulness is the sharpening of one’s ability to notice, then perhaps this noticing can be applied to the subtle changes in thoughts, behavior, and emotions that precede or come concurrently with the onset of a mood change or a psychotic episode.  One changes as one enters any psychiatric episode.  Noticing these changes can enable the individual to take whatever steps are necessary, and effective, to head off a debilitating psychiatric break.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Simple Practice

Here's a simple meditation technique that anyone can fit into their schedule.  It’s called the Twenty Breaths Practice.  It only takes a few minutes, can be performed almost anywhere, and can yield great stress relief.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ACA Open Enrollment

The Health Insurance Marketplace of the Affordable Care Act is open for enrollment.  Despite much back and forth in politics and the press, all plans in the marketplace still include full coverage for mental healthcare.  Don't be left without coverage.

From NAMI:

November 1, 2017 was the first day to enroll, re-enroll, or change a 2018 insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

*Important Notice:  The 2018 open enrollment period is shorter than in previous years, so it's important to act quickly. The last day to enroll in or change a plan for 2018 coverage is December 15, 2017. Coverage will begin January 1, 2018. Those who do not purchase a plan may be subject to a penalty, as well as being uninsured for the year.
To preview plans and enroll, visit HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-25961-855-889-4325 (TTY) for more information.
For free assistance with applications or related questions, call a Health Insurance Marketplace Navigator at 1-855-274-5626



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How To Begin Meditating

Meditation is quite different from sitting there doing nothing, thinking nothing.  It is instead a focused attention on one’s present experience.  A chance to minimize the distractions that pull one away from the present. Pleasant events are often spoiled by comparison to other good experiences or worry that this wonder may soon end.  Difficult experiences are often tempered by a desire for escape and the fantasy of being somewhere else doing something else.  The mind will wander all over the place and our present experience, good or bad, may be missed.

So meditation becomes a practice.  A practice to remain here, in the present moment, fully aware.  It is something that must be practiced to achieve benefit, and the practice, though simple, can be extremely challenging.  But the benefits, as described in other posts and in countless others’ experience, are worth it.

So how does one begin?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New Meditation Class

I'll be teaching a mindfulness meditation class at Mama's Wellness Joint (11th and Pine in Philadelphia) on Tuesday evenings in November.  For information or to sign-up, click on this link:

http://www.mamaswellnessjoint.com/events/meditation-for-beginners-with-george-hofmann-4-week-course/

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Our Fear of Silence

The cultivation of mindfulness requires periods of focused attention.  Many proponents of mindfulness maintain that this is best developed through seated, silent meditation.  So, while I’d like to investigate how to focus the attention, we must first consider our relationship with silence.

Whether in the center of a city or deep in a forest, the cacophony of sounds around us makes it apparent that true silence is impossible.  Composer John Cage wrote music that included long periods of silence.  When the musicians stopped playing, concertgoers were quickly confronted with the shuffling, shifting, and coughing sounds in the concert hall.  So what is silence?  I like to think of it as the absence of intentional sound.  Intentional sounds are the things we turn on such as TVs and iPods, the words spoken or heard in a conversation we are engaged in, music we make such as humming or tapping, and the noise of tools, keyboards, or other objects we are interacting with.  Sounds that remain are unavoidable.  So silence is when we are purposefully quiet.  For many of us, this can be unsettling.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Calling Donald Trump Crazy is an Insult to Those with Mental Illness

I've had an op-ed piece published on PsychCentral that concerns the impact on the stigma against those with mental illness that can result from the political actions of mental health professionals.  The group in question is called Duty to Warn and has collected a large number of signatures on a petition calling for the ouster of the president.  As the editors of PsychCentral note, there is some debate over who has actually signed this petition.  John Gartner, PhD, the organizer of Duty to Warn, maintains that the signatories are people practicing in the field of mental health.  A look at the petition on Duty to Warn's website reveals that, although the form asks for credentials, ultimately, anyone can sign it.

Despite the debated number of doctors and therapists on the petition, the fact remains that by taking the position that, "acting like that he must be crazy; so he has to go," when commenting on a person with no assessed diagnosis can only set back the efforts of people who are diagnosed and seek to do well in their jobs.

Please have a look at the article and let me know what you think.  You can find it here:

Pathologizing the President

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Be in Touch

If you'd like to contact me with comments, suggestions, or just to reach out, find me at:

contact@practicingmentalillness.com

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness and Violence by Stepping Up

It’s impossible to write a blog about mental illness without confronting the violence that has descended on this country all too often.  Too many innocent victims have fallen at the hands of too many offenders to set the issue aside.  My heart bleeds for the victims lost and the loved ones remaining.  Nothing written can take away the pain of the survivors.  But a call to action may help to prevent such crimes from continuing.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Anger and the Limits of Acceptance

One of the doctrines of meditation, especially Buddhist inspired meditation, is radical acceptance.  Often misunderstood, at its root lies the need to experience things as they are, not bound by judgment, opinion, or our desire to change things to better suit our expectations.  Also informing many people’s meditation practice is the Buddhist idea that an attachment to anger is one of the causes of suffering, again colored by judgment, opinion, and a desire to change.  Desire itself, or an attachment to desire, is cited as another cause of suffering.   Not accepting things as they are, wanting them to be different, can cause us great emotional distress.

But what if our experience itself is unacceptable?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Moving Toward Creativity

Much of the recent focus on mindfulness and meditation has been on stress management.  Few things help one deal better with the stressors of everyday life.  About 20 minutes of meditation each day can reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, and mitigate the severity of episodes and symptoms of mental illnesses.  But there is more.  Meditation can quiet the mind, and a quieter mind is more likely to have room for new and better ideas about the challenges one faces in life, business, and art.

Researchers at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition of Leiden University in the Netherlands found a tremendous impact of focused-attention (mindfulness) and open-monitoring meditation (observing without judging) on creativity.  “First, open-monitoring meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated (sic).  Second, Focused Attention meditation does not sustain convergent thinking, the process of generating only one possible solution to a particular problem.”  Meditation can promote more ideas.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I'd Rather Be Fishing

I’m not the fishing type. Sure, the idea of standing in running water in the mountains casting flies sounds wonderful.  But I live in the city and like it.  And I don’t like fish.

However, for the last week I’ve been obsessed with fly-fishing.  My wife, daughter, and I spent a weekend in the Berkshires, and we’ve all been caught up in the idea of leaving the city and retiring to a rural area.  At least I have.  My wife is more partial to beaches.  My daughter is three.  She wants to be wherever she is.  I’ve always been drawn to the imagined solitude of rural life:  Farms, pastures, groves of trees, rivers, lakes, and fly-fishing.  Yes, I’m hypomanic right now.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bored to Tears

Just a few days ago I realized I was bored with the internet and my mobile devices.  Together they have contributed to my font of trivial knowledge.  But it has been a very long time since I delved deeply enough into a topic to fully understand it, or to contribute to it with original ideas.  And perhaps most important, I have been losing my sense of nuance.  All discourse seems to fall on one side or the other.  Intellectually I have been anything but mindful.  In fact, the constant barrage of information, updates, and check-ins, and the 24-hour availability of me and everyone I know have turned me into a cognitive fight or flight machine.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mindfulness and Anxiety

Anxiety disorder is much more than being very nervous or edgy.  In anxiety, a person will report an unreasonable exaggeration of threats, repetitive negative thinking, hyperarousal, and a strong identification with fear.  The fight or flight response is kicked into overdrive and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and digestive problems often join with the cognitive challenges that anxiety disorder presents.  In General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) the symptoms become so severe that normal daily functioning becomes impossible.

What to Do With All of These Thoughts

It’s easy to say that when meditating one should focus on the breath and release thoughts as they arise, but it’s incredibly difficult to do.  I’ve been a bit hypomanic lately, and ideas are flying through my head.  Concentration and attention are very difficult.  Acknowledging thoughts and letting them go is hard enough on a good day.  What do I do now?

During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment.  So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment.  When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.  But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all.  Don’t ignore your thoughts, work with them.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Compassion - A Look Back at the Failed AHCA

The current political climate is not good for people with mental illness.  Many receive benefits under the ACA’s parity for mental and physical health clause and Medicaid expansion.  For many of those, especially people struggling with substance abuse, the treatment made available has been very successful.  I’ve heard scores of stories, and have seen lots of data, illustrating how people for whom care was unattainable have been able to turn their lives around just because of the availability of treatment.  That, and their own hard work at getting well.  Now, with the attitudes spurred by the failed American Health Care Act, those newly granted benefits are being viewed by some as up for review.

Monday, March 13, 2017

State Your Intention

Mindfulness Meditation, or working with the breath and releasing thoughts as they arise, has been very helpful to me for many years.  The health, cognitive, and emotional benefits of this practice are well documented.  But sometimes, to the horror of my teachers, I pull out a notepad and start paying closer attention to the thoughts skipping through my mind during meditation periods, turning each meditation into a period of contemplation on goals and intentions.  Meditation has demonstrated that it makes us more open to more ideas, and more noticing of novel thoughts.  So why not put this to use every once in a while?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Inertia and Failure

I have a lot of ideas.  Some of them good ones.  I’ll get started down the path to developing one, maybe even turning it into a thriving business, and somewhere get derailed and left in a gully beside the path sure that some competing idea is better, or the original idea had some philosophical flaw making it of little positive benefit to the people I wished to serve.  I’m experiencing that right now.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mindfulness & Happiness: Not So Fast

Meditation has a deep history in all spiritual traditions as a path toward compassion and insight.  It has also been practiced in many as a means to get to the root of suffering, and, possibly, overcome suffering’s wounds and causes.  Today, however, the often simplified practice of mindfulness sets stress relief and individual happiness as goals of meditative practice.  The move toward a practice that is a panacea to all that ills and a path toward self-actualization has led many critics to point out the flaws in this thinking (or non-thinking, as it were), especially in light of meditation’s long history.  So much personal benefit is promised by mindfulness acolytes that I’m finding the practice described as snake oil with increasing frequency.  Happiness, while a noble goal, is a luxury in a world filled with so much suffering.  It’s also a state that many who meditate deeply never experience.  Pain is just as likely to surface during meditative practice as pleasure is.  Yet the way mindfulness is sold today leaves one who is not achieving less stress and more bliss feeling like they’re doing it all wrong.  They may be, in fact, closer to meditation’s true purpose than any who promise happiness.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Requirement is Self-Discipline

I’ve written of the discipline it takes to maintain both a meditation practice and wellness in the face of mental illness as a keystone of my success in the face of the challenges of bipolar disorder.  In a world that seems designed to limit our impulse control and our attention, for everything is available right now, it almost becomes a struggle to make the sacrifices required to stick to one thing and realize a positive accomplishment of a reasonable goal.  This isn’t just a challenge facing those with mental illness, it’s a challenge facing everyone.