Episode #210 - Resolutions & The Suicide Peak

December 31, 2023 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 210
Episode #210 - Resolutions & The Suicide Peak
Show Notes Transcript

Keeping yearly resolutions can be tough for anyone but when you suffer from an illness that effects your desires, motivations and intent, it can be nearly impossible.  However, even with a mental health challenge there are ways to set goals that can keep us on track.

Episode #210 – The Suicide Peak & Resolutions.  I am your host Damon Socha.  Welcome to the end of the year episode.  We have reached that time of year where we look back to the past and then forward to the future.  Looking back can be healthy if done in the right way and so can looking forward.  The problem is that we rarely look back to our past, and forward to our future with the appropriate perspective.  Our natural tendency is to review our past from the point of failure and pain as though we had our full capacity to accomplish our goals.  We don’t relive past moments based on how we felt or what our capacity to act at the time really was.  We project a more perfect capacity and ability to act upon our past which provides little if any true value.  Judging a decision or moment in time without the proper emotional awareness, is truly fruitless and for the most part only leads to guilt.  We also tend to gloss over important details, events, feelings, thoughts and a host of environmental pressures and then generalize that we should have been more faithful, devoted, and disciplined.  In addition, we tend to discount our efforts to accomplish our goals if we have failed to complete the task.  Rather than perceive our efforts as 80 percent accomplished, we tend to give pass-fail grades upon our goals and accomplishments.  When we said we would read the entire standard works of the church, all of the conference talks and the monthly Liahona and we only got through the New Testament, Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and part of the Old Testament. And yet because we did not finish everything we give ourselves a fail grade and we feel guilty that we did not accomplish our goals.  We do not factor into the equation that we had several episodes of mental health challenges, and several other important intervening difficulties.  And yet we will still feel guilty, when in reality we should not.  

We then take this guilt and project it onto our future and state that we will be more diligent, more committed, more dedicated to our goals and spiritual development.  We essentially set ourselves up for another failure because of the way we grade our goals.  We can certainly set the same goal but if nothing has changed with our mental health, then we are likely to obtain a similar result.  The problem is that we will consistently do this.  It becomes somewhat of a perfectionist mindset.  This type of pass-fail goal can become an ever-increasing stress upon our illness and our emotional balance.  When we grade ourselves with pass-fail check marks, we will increase our emotional illness issues.  Focusing on failure and the pain that comes with it is natural to the brain. Our mind discounts accomplishments and success and the positive emotions that follow and weights failure, pain and guilt with a much heavier scale.  That is because our brain is naturally attuned to avoid pain rather than seek happiness.  The brain does not perceive the reward of happiness in the same way that it avoids pain.  For instance, if you knew that a certain activity would provide happiness, but you had to suffer through an equal amount of pain, the mind would discount the happiness and concentrate on the pain you might endure.   Most people would not endure the pain for the happiness.  It takes consistent and specific training and discipline to alter the mind in such a manner.  That is why gyms are full in January and empty in February.  With exercise comes pain first and then greater health and happiness. When it is time to go to the gym, our mind seeks avenues to avoid the pain it knows will follow the exercise.  It discounts the eventual health and happiness only viewing the current pain and suffering.  Even though the brain knows rationally that our health would improve, it attempts to sabotage our current efforts to avoid the pain.  We are emotional beings and our brain full well knows it.  And so we say, I don’t feel like it today, I’ll go tomorrow and emotionally our brain has its reward, the avoidance of physical pain.  This is why our diets don’t work, our talents are left unexplored and our new years resolutions tend to disappear by February.  No pain isn’t the only reason this happens but it is one of the main reasons this occurs.  The other is the formation of habits, which is also an emotional process of creating a bypass around the thinking portion of our brain.  The problem we face is quite simple.  These processes are emotional processes not rational ones.  Being self-disciplined is an emotional process not a rational one.  We too often view it in that way.  Rational decisions do not stick unless we are emotionally committed.

This is one of the main reasons we who suffer find it so difficult to make changes in our lives.  Change requires emotional commitment and fortitude and our mental health episodes tend to teach us that we have little to no control over our emotional state.  These illness also cause our emotional progression towards any goal to be erased during the time we are battling the emotional demons.  But once we come out of our battle, scarred and wounded, we cannot recall the emotional state we have just left.  That is because our emotional state is our reality.  To remember that previous emotional state we would have to return to it again.  So what do we do?  We feel guilty for not having made any progress to our goals and we chastise ourselves for not being strong enough to accomplish our personal commitments.

The truth is very simple.  We must be very careful when reviewing our past.  That is true for everyone but more especially true for someone who struggles with an illness that alters commitment, motivation, desire, personality and reality.  I have spent far too much time in that doom loop reviewing what I could have done better.  Analyzing, focusing on minutia, condemning my failures, and chastising my failed efforts. The problem with this type of chastisement is that is serves no valuable function.  It will not change the past and is unlikely to change the future.   It is simply added stress that complicates our illness even further.  I have found that rigidly setting goals and measuring to a standard without considering the weakness and difficulty of mental illness, only causes increased symptoms and future failure.  So when you suffer with mental illness your goal setting needs to be different.  It needs to follow a pattern that better suits your emotional illness.

But before we get into the setting of goals and the challenge of a new year.  We need to talk about the next six months and the peak of the suicide season.  Setting resolutions and then failing is certainly not a suicide problem, but it does contribute.  Suicide is not typically a one time event.  It is a cascading failure more akin to the final snowflake of an avalanche.  Even when that snowflake lands it might only be a partial cause to the cascading failure.  Outside forces such as temperature, wind, sunlight can also be causes.  Was it the snowflake, the wind, the warmer temperature, the sunlight that caused the failure.  Truth is that it could be a combination of all the external and internal elements together causing the failure.  While we like to point to one thing, one conclusion, one reason, one flake the truth is not that simple.  Yes we could pick on the final snowflake that landed, because certainly it contributed but without the external elements the avalanche would never have occurred.  The truth is that we cannot focus on just one thing, one driving issue, one problem or concern.  Mental health tends to be as complex as our emotions and mind.

That is why we find that the peak suicide months really don’t fit into a distinguishable pattern or have a reasonable answer.  The peak months tend to be January, April, May and June.  Now January might make some sense being after the holidays and during the darkest time of the year.  But the other months simply have no rime or reason to why.  Even science is baffled as to the reason.  No one understands the reason because suicide does not have an easy answer.  Like the avalanche it takes several cascading events in often the right sequence for suicide to occur. 

We have to quit looking for answers in the snowflake and see it from a larger perspective.  When we approach mental health management, we can’t just take a pill and call it good.  Although that is our natural tendency.  We need to look at all the factors that could be contributing to our problems.  No we do not need to look at them all at once.  But every factor is important.  And this leads us back to our discussion of goals and how we need to approach setting those goals for improvement.  Now I don’t want anyone to think that setting goals and resolutions is bad or evil in some way and cannot be done when you struggle with mental health.  That isn’t true.  However, we need to approach those resolutions with a different mindset.  Over the years of torturing myself with goals and a more traditional approach, I have learned to adjust how I accomplish it, when I know that my mental health will likely be part of my future.

Number 1: Consider the purpose of the goal.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Over the last several years I have always had reading the standard works as my goal.  I didn’t complete the goal last year but it doesn’t concern me all that much.  The purpose of my goal is not to say that I read the books.  My purpose was learning and study about the Savior.  My overall goal is to come closer to the Savior by studying the scriptures.  Did I accomplish my purpose?  Yes I did.  I may not have accomplished the goal but I did accomplish the purpose and in this case the purpose is greater than the goal.  The purpose of the goal is to make sure that I pick up the scriptures everyday and read or listen to them and to learn from them.  The purpose is not to simply reach the end of the book.  Understanding the true purpose of the goal gives opportunity for effort to be measured appropriately.  When we suffer, we need to measure our efforts based upon the conditions of the moment in time.  When we are deep in an episode our desire, energy and efforts will be severely diminished, such as the capacity of the widow to give the two mites.  She gave what she had and that was more than enough for the Lord.  And so by measuring our efforts through a defined purpose we can view ourselves as successful in our efforts and accomplishing our purpose.

Number 2:  Focus on what you can do today even if it seems insignificant.  When my personal capacity is limited because of mental health or my physical autoimmune problems, I do what I can even if it is small.  For instance, if I can only read a chapter or a passage or even just listen to sacred music, which is considered scripture then I consider my day a success.  Now my rational mind is likely to disagree as it knows and relies upon the numbers.  To attain my goal, I might need to read five chapters that day.  And I could force myself to do it but at what cost and what value.  Adding stress to an illness that feeds upon stress is not wise in any sense.  I might read those chapters but the cost might be too high for my illness and I may not learn or remember anything because I am focused upon the numbers not the learning.  I try to look for a revelatory moment even a small one.  If I get one of those moments or I am reminded of one of those moments or if I can simply feel just a small portion of the spirit, then I consider my goal accomplished for that day.  Now other days when my capacity is greater, I can do more and perhaps have a larger moment.  However, focus on the day and the present is incredibly important.

Number 3:  The Past is the Past.  This one can be difficult and I admit that I have to continually work on this one.  I have a good memory for failure and the past and I tend to allow it to affect my future.  Over the last several years one of my goals has been to forget the past, stay in the present and plan for the future.  I don’t succeed all of the time but I never consider my efforts wasted in this resolve.  Learning to forget the past, learn from it and move on is one of the greatest messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Savior himself tells us to forget it or remember it no more.  If the Savior is willing to do just that then so should we.  When we find ourselves wallowing in the muck and mud of the past, we need to get out of the mud, wash ourselves of its guilt and think about something else.  Yes I know how difficult that can be with anxiety and depression.  Our feelings naturally draw us into that terrible void.  For me, I have used good movies, games, reading and other mind occupying strategies to avoid the past.  And yes it can create an addiction to those mind occupying strategies, especially during episodes of illness.  However, I have found that some types of addictions are not always bad for the mind and body, especially when the alternative is a dark and difficult emotional place and the addiction provides a good benefit.  Yes these strategies can also detract from the present and so one must be careful to avoid using them all the time but they can help focus our mind away from our emotional struggles.  There are a variety of ways to refocus the mind during emotionally difficult moments and each person must find their path but the ultimate key is to work to retrain the mind to avoid rummaging around in cellars and attics.  I admit that it is a process and takes time to accomplish but every moment you work on it is extremely important to your mental health.

Number 4: Measure efforts not outcomes.  Remember the widows mites and how the Lord praised the small sacrifice of the widow.  She gave what she could.  She made the effort even though it was small and insignificant to other’s efforts and sacrifices.  Our efforts towards the purposes of our goal are incredibly important.  One of my motos is I do what I can and then call it good enough.  I know that my efforts are not going to measure to others and so I do not try.  I do what I can giving the ability, desire, strength, and capacity I possess on that particular day.  I do not compare days or efforts.  Each day is measured alone and by itself based on what I can do.  I have never had the Lord reprimand me for my efforts even if they are small.  When I make an effort towards my goals each day, I am grateful to be able to make the effort and to learn what I can.

Number 5:  Never make a goal without the Lord’s advice.  Goals and resolutions should never be made without a consultation with the Lord or perhaps several consultations.  I even continue to evaluate my goals after I set them.  Setting goals should be a revelatory experience.  This doesn’t mean that I lay out my goals to the Lord and wait for some divine manifestation.  I review what I would like to accomplish and then begin the process of working with the Lord to refine those goals and adding any goals he feels I should add.  The process may take a short amount of time or several weeks as new insights and new understanding comes.  When we ask the Lord about our goals, we should expect some delay in the answer and that we will receive the answer in portions or line upon line and from various sources.  I generally involve the Lord in goal setting and then ponder and consider what he would have me do.  My answers come in time and when I most need them.  Until then I set my goals and move forward.

What is most important in all this goal setting is that you remember to manage your illness.  Management of your illness is the key to successfully navigating your resolutions.  When you don’t manage your mental health, your goals are very unlikely to be fulfilled.  This means that some of your goals need to be the management of your mental health.  You should consider things like consistent patterns of sleep, avoiding extra stress, what and how much you eat, the music and programs you listen to, exercise, consistent medication management, daily spiritual nourishment and anything that really affects you and your personal mental health challenges.  My goals may not look anything like yours even if we suffer from the same illness.  That is because mental health issues are often unique to the individual.  What causes you anxiety may not affect me.  External events that might trigger my depressive episodes may not even concern you.  We each must approach our illness in the ways that best suits our management.  One of the most important things you can do is to involve the Savior as much as possible in your life.  He can help and inspire in ways you have not considered.  He can provide needed energy and strength.  He can lift you when life is trying so hard to pull you down.  Most of all you should know just how much he cares and rejoices in even your small efforts.  May the Lord bless you in all your goal setting efforts this year great and small.  Until next week do your part so that the Lord can do his.