March Madness Revisited

by Ron Cook

My friends and family know that I am a big Michigan State basketball fan. I love Tom Izzo’s 25 years of passion and love for the game and his players. His best teams have been the ones who live to share the ball, work hard on defense, are humble in glory, and accepting in defeat … that feels like healthy competition and real sportsmanship to me. This month is where the final race is run for the year … the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet, like last year, I’m really wanting to talk, again, about our mental health. How are we running our own “race of life?” How are we competing on the stage of our daily struggles?

This time of year, for many of us, especially in the northern states, is a time of long winter. The beauty of snow may be giving way to the bleakness of no color in nature. The days have become shorter, and night has become longer. Less sunshine and vitamin D in our days can start to breed cabin fever as well as seasonal affect disorder (SAD). Some of us suffer from deeper disorders that seem to sweep in and out of our lives throughout the year. Our mental health can be like the tides that wane in and out as the year ambles along.

For most of my life I have had various issues with depression. When I was younger, my mother just thought I was overly sensitive. As I aged I started to recognize these “moods” were starting to last longer. I think I was in my early thirties when I started to seek some help with the darkness that kept returning in my life. I sought counseling, joined antidepressant studies on medications, and also tried to make changes in my livingness. This seemed to help in varying degrees. I thought I might just be, like my mother implied, too sensitive. As the years went on I went in and out of counseling, marriages, and different medications. You name it, I’ve tried them all. Of course my career as a Special Educator of the Emotionally Disturbed and Socially Maladjusted didn’t lend itself to good mental health either, but it was what I was trained to do and loved doing. Eventually I even finished a masters of science degree in Psychology in my early sixties. That was amazingly helpful for me to understand so many things about my career as well as myself…but I still suffered from depression. It got so bad in my mid-sixties that I checked myself into a psych ward once … twice … three times! Depression was starting to really challenge my “will to live.” I learned that perhaps alcohol was not a good drug to take for symptom alleviation. I tried to stay on a consistent routine of medication. I found that aggressive therapists, that didn’t just repeat what I told them, but challenged me to work harder at sanity, were most helpful. Now I was documenting that my cycles were about three months long; three months down in that dark hole, and three months up in my better, happy, useful, confident, productive, self.

About two weeks ago I came out of the darkness and back into the light. So, for the last four years, it seems as though I get about six months of light, and six months of darkness flipping every three months. I’m still me in the darkness, I’m just tying my knot during that time, knowing (hoping and having faith) that I will come out again.

If you struggle with what can be all the way from moody times to long periods of sadness, or even that other madness which is mania, here’s what has been helpful for me.

Learn to stand in your truth.

If you are ill, do not pretend that you are not. Accept it as your truth. Embrace what this truth requires you to do.

Search for ways to become well or better.

There is so much help today for every kind of mental/emotional struggle. Take a chance and try something that seems to make sense.

Stay physically active.

Walk, ride bicycle, swim, play. Everything we do that gets us off the couch gi vfc es uh s back great emotional and mental benefits.

Do puzzles.

The mind craves exercise as well. Sudoku, crosswords and word searches are all great examples of mental calisthenics we can fit into each day.

Be kind.

It is true that when we share our joy it is doubled.

Talk to a friend.

It is also true that when we share our pain, it is cut in half.

Examine what you believe.

Richard Rohr’s book, The Return of Adam, lists five concerns we can have in life, please find this book and read these valuable tips … basically, they are about getting on with your life.

I hope this has been helpful for you. It has helped me to share it with you … and by the way…Michigan State Basketball will do just fine in the NCAA tournament this year … I hope!


Ronald Cook

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