To solve a complex maze, start at the end… Life is a complex maze

A simple maze can be solved from the beginning. You move through a few simple turns and find yourself at the exit. If the maze is more complex, it makes more sense to start at the end and track your way back to the beginning. Life is much the same.

When a problem is easy to solve, we can easily move forwards without having to have a clear idea of what the exit looks like. We make a few moves, a couple of turns in the maze of life, and we easily find the exit to our problem.We have solved it.

When life is more complex, sometimes we don’t really know where we are heading, what our exit looks like, what it is we hope to achieve. At this point, we don’t know anymore which turns are good, which decisions are beneficial and what to do. So, stop trying to make your way from the beginning and cheat. Look at the end you want and work backwards.

Math proofs do this too. You progress the left hand side of the equation to look more like the right, you progress the right to look more like the left. If you manage to get them meeting in the middle, you win.

Some mazes are so complex, much like life, that you need to set goal points in between the start and end. These are great steps to help you get to the end.

If you do not look at what where you want your life to go, then you may find that you are running away instead of heading towards. This can sometimes look similar. The difference is that running away means all of your present decisions are made in fear, while heading towards means your present decisions are made in hope. This can significantly shape the feel and end result of your life. Thus I recommend you consider your destination.

Loss leads to grief

Loss leads to grief, grief leads to the … sorry, wrong blog.

This is by no means a compete guide to loss and grief.

Ok, loss is something that everyone experiences. Whenever something that we feel a connection to is gone, we experience a loss. Loss can be as simple as misplacing your car keys, to being consuming like the death of a loved one, ambiguous like the loss of a bet where you were counting on that win, or complicated like the death of a sick relative.

The common link is that something has gone that you had an emotional tie to. Without that emotional tie, you do not feel loss. This emotional tie can be quite complex. It can be a sense of belonging, love, hope and so on. The breaking of this tie can create follow on emotions, such as anger, shame/guilt or grief.

Anger is the emotion we often feel when we feel powerless or hopeless. It regains our sense of power and ability to create change around us. When we don’t know how we feel, and we feel lost, we humans feel anger and we can become aggressive towards ourselves and others. That aggression often has damaging aspects of social, psychological or physical aspect. Aggression is not the only solution to anger. There are other ways of expressing your feelings of anger and better ways to regain your power.

Guilt is the emotion we feel when we think we should have acted differently and we feel responsible for the outcome. Often this subjective feeling of responsibility is inflated compared to objective reality. It is that skerric of possible truth that lays us down. We exaggerate any possible truth in our action that can mean we are responsible for the loss we have experienced. To minimise this, take a fresh look at the loss and the actions you feel lead to the loss. Did your actions alone lead to this loss? Or were others involved? Are you sharing the responsibility, or are you taking a god like credit?

Shame is the emotion we feel when we think that others consider we have done the wrong thing. In this instance, we can feel shame if we think others are judging us responsible for the loss we are experiencing. So long as we place an exaggerated emphasis on other people’s possible or actual opinions of us, we are going to feel trapped by shame. To combat this, realise that people are entitled to their opinion, whether true or false. It doesn’t matter what people think about you in this instance – this is a time for you to be more concerned with how you are feeling, not with how other people are feeling.

Guilt and shame can blind us to feeling the emotions we need to feel to deal with the loss. This emotion is grief. Grief comes in several flavours. The most well known is the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the “five stages of grief”, also there is the flavour of simple grief and the bitterest flavour is complex grief.

I will spend a blog post on each of these.

Shopping for Therapists

There are many good therapists out there in the wide world, the tricky thing is how to identify them.

First, let’s get you into the right mind frame. If you take your car to a mechanic and you don’t like the way they treat you or your car, you don’t go back to that mechanic, you find a new one. If you don’t like the way the shop feels, the language of the mechanic, the attitude, you don’t even leave your car there, you leave. Finding a therapist is a similar process. If you don’t like what they do to your mind and body, find a new one. If you don’t like the feel of their shop, find a new one.

There are circumstances where you have little choice, such as locked ward, community treatment order and other government sanctioned loss of freedom. Even still, you can go through the following questions to help you determine if the person you are working with is receptive to your benefit.

These questions have mostly been developed by Thomas Proud, a Peer worker.

1) What are your qualifications for helping me?

2) What experience have you got for helping me?

3) How many of your patients/clients have recovered their lives back?

4) Do you believe I can thrive?

5) What methods are you likely to employ in supporting my recovery?

6) Are you happy? If not, what are you doing about it? If nothing, what makes you qualified to help me?

If you like the sound of the answers you get, then this therapist may be able to help you. If you don’t, it is time to move on. If you can’t, perhaps you may have triggered the therapist to think about what they can and will do more so than usual.

If everyone begins to ask their therapists these questions, perhaps therapy will return to the old ways – that of a midwife of health.

Who am I?

As I write this, I find myself currently unemployed. This prompts a lot of questions about self, which launches many questions about the past, present and future.

While I was employed, there were many things I put up with because, well, that’s a job, right? I grew and changed, and that growing and changing did not reflect where the organisation I was with went. I attempted to confine myself within the bounds of my job, but that can only last so long.

Don’t mis-read me here – I didn’t leave the job because they aren’t doing cool stuff, nor simply because I changed. There were many factors. What I am referring to here is what can also be found in relationships, which, in effect, is what a job is. We grew, we changed, and it is rare for that growth and change to be in the same direction. This means compromise with change and goals. It is rare for a work place to compromise and change if you aren’t in charge, which means all the compromise needs to be with you. I am reviewing my compromises and wondering what that tells me about myself.

So my questions about the past become questions about my compromises and my growth. Thanks to where I was working, I have developed a more comprehensive understanding of recovery and thriving. I saw quite early that recovery was an early stepping stone to something else – wellbeing, completeness, EleMental… I wasn’t sure. I have developed my thoughts and have decided that Thriving Is It, although not as Mike Smith defines it. I’ll define it more later, in another post. This post is about me.

I compromised more than I feel comfortable with. The specifics of what I compromised aren’t specifically important here. What is important is that I did compromise, which is human, and it has affected me, because I try to be better than human. Compromise is a natural part of being human in a world of social interaction and difference of opinion. If none of us compromised, we would either all be exact clones, or we would kill each other on site. The world is full of people killing people due to a lack of compromise.

Yet somehow I want to hold myself better than that. I want to go beyond human, creating a dichotomy of “This is right” and “This is wrong” rather than accepting that my “This is” is allowed to be different to someone else’s “This is” and we can both be right. I appreciate that this is kind of vague and hard to grasp. Perhaps an example will help. “Thou shalt not steal” is an example I gave to my daughter. An easy principle to understand, if it isn’t yours, don’t take it. If you do, you are wrong. Yet if my daughter is starving and my only option to feed her is to steal food, then bugger the principle, I am going to steal some food. I hold the principle of “You will care for your child” higher than my moral principle of “Thou shalt not steal”. In effect, I allow that my principles can be compromised by other principles. Therefore, I must look at the context of other peoples actions rather than just judging them wrong. Even when I have looked at their context, even when I feel I can justifiably judge them wrong, I must also accept that I may not understand and could be just as wrong to judge them as I think they are wrong. Still very muddled, sorry.

In short, I want to be uncompromisable, but have to accept that I am human, I live in society with other humans, and therefore I can’t be better. That shouldn’t stop me from aiming to be better, but I shouldn’t kick myself for not being better.

This leads to my future. Where do I want to go? Clearly compromise is a big issue and I want to work somewhere that is more closely aligned to where I have grown and evolved in my present self. I fear that this place does not exist. This is one of the reasons I stayed as long as I did where I was – my fear of not finding it this good. Better the devil you know, isn’t it? Not always.

Some of my wilder futures can be ruled out at this present moment. I will stay in the state that I am in because that is where my daughter is. I will not start my own practice because I do not feel I know enough to do so and I am not sure who I would want as partners, or even if I could find viable partners, to fill up my short comings. I am not going to drive off into the sunset. Mostly because the sunset here is straight into an ocean. By the same token, although for slightly different reasons, I am not going to drive off into the sunrise either as I fear following my fathers foot steps, running away from his life rather than working with what he has.

That still leaves me with a number of uncertainties though. Will I work for a non-government organisation, or a government organisation, or a private practice? Will I be working with children, adolescents or adults? Will I stay exclusive to mental health, or dabble in substance abuse or justice? Where will I look and what will I aim for?

Which leads to the present. To know what to do now, I need to have a fair idea of what I am aiming for. Without having some level of definition of this, I find myself frozen in action as I fear shutting down an option of what is to come. Knowing who I am and where I am heading is so very important.


I’ve never been to good with friends. Understanding them, that is. What makes a good friendship?

When I was in my first primary school, the person I thought was my best friend was the guy who let me hang around him and didn’t know how to tell me to leave him alone. Of course, this is my perception of my past and he may tell a different story. The guy I put up with turned out to be the guy I knew for the longest time – and also the person who helped save my sanity.

In my second primary school, I made a new best friend, who again wasn’t really a friend, but rather someone who again didn’t know what to do with my attentions. We got on fairly well for a year I think, but then it just proved that neither of us knew what to do with the other. We drifted apart.

High school wasn’t too much better. I was a loaner for the best part of my early years. I finally started to get the hang of friends in my tenth year of school when I change to a high school full of people who I had escaped from primary school. Not a good combination. I left that high school confused and hurt.

I knew it was time to leave when I couldn’t tell the difference between what I had dreamed and what had happened. Not a good thing.

I went back to the first high school and all the friends I had made in my tenth year were gone (that’s what happens when you repeat year 12). I started making better inroads to friendship in this year, but it wasn’t ones that lasted.

University was … more mature? Again, I didn’t keep any friends I made from this setting.

So, to me, I guess, friends are people who last beyond the setting you met them in. Otherwise they are companions of convenience you don’t mind hanging around. I’ll add more to this later I guess.

Social contracts and sanity

Humans are social animals. To be social animals means being part of a cooperative crowd, relying on the group for safety, sustenance and providing back to the society in some meaningful way.

Our sense of identify is both tied up with defining ourselves comparatively with the crowd and individually as not the crowd. Adolescence sees this in it’s strongest form – the urge to not be defined as our parents, yet trying to find a group that we feel we belong to.

Part of this belonging to a group involves give and take. We give to the group and we take from the group. This is the reciprocation contract. If I give to you, then you will give back to me. There is the more altruistic contract which has become the pay it forward contract. When I give to you, you will give back to someone king of like me in a situation kind of like this one. The closeness of this “kind of” is quite variable and can more easily be seen as passing on good deeds. It is a rare individual who receives nothing but bad deeds and passes on nothing but good deeds.

We fall down miserably when we are removed from those who we feel we belong to. This can happen for a number of reasons: we realise we don’t belong to them, we move geographically or philosophically away from them, they don’t feel we belong to them and the group becomes dangerous, in someway, to our wellbeing.

Groups do more than hold us up when we fall down, they do more than provide the bits of sustenance that we  can not provide ourselves – they help us stay sane. Sanity, in this definition, is knowing how our own personal view of the world compares to the consensus of the group we most commonly interact with. A groups view of the world can significantly deviate from groups around them, and then the lack of “sanity” applies to the group, rather than the individual. 

Consider a member of some kind of subculture who believes any radical thought – lets say invisible fairies are running the world. Because the individual belongs to a group of people who believe the same thing, they are just all deluded. If an individual thinks this outside of a group, the person is called insane.

This suggests that a way of finding sanity is to find others who see the world you do.

Now the thought that invisible fairies are running the world seems pretty ridiculous to most people. Lets substitute the words “invisible fairies” to “supreme being” and it becomes less odd. Call that “supreme being” the devil and it goes to more odd. Call it “God” and it becomes less odd. The idea is the same, but the group you align to when you change the invisible something somehow changes the sanity level of the group. More insane if there are less numbers, more insane if there are more numbers.

Groups can be seen as islands in a sea of people. As you depart your views from the group you are most closely aligned with, you enter a “no mans land” between the groups, leaving islands and sailing on the sea. This is your most perilous time as you are quite lost without fixed points to steer yourself with. If you sail far enough away from the islands of groups such that you can no longer navigate by their beliefs, you can be lost in the sea of insanity, until you but up against a new island of people who see the world as you do.

You can lead a horse to water…

You know the old saw about the horse?

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”

It is a good saying when thinking about aiding someone else in their personal evolution.

We often think we know the best water, the best source and the best way to drink. That may be true for us, and it may even be true for someone else, but if you push them to do it your way, then they don’t own that process and have a fair chance of rebelling against your rules, your system and your truth. So instead, consider this new variant of the saw:

“You can lead a horse to water, but trying to make it drink is a foolish waste of energy”

This reminds you to let the horse drink if it is thirsty, in it’s way, at it’s time. It also reminds you not to be foolish or waste your strength trying to make the horse do it your way.

Now consider this variant:

“You can’t make the horse drink, but you can lead it to water”

This variant takes out your own powerlessness, which decreases your frustration in the circumstance where the horse doesn’t want to drink. You don’t have to make it drink, but you can lead it to the water.

“The horse can drink when it wants to, and you can point out where there is water”

The power in this variant is two fold. You acknowledge that the horse has choice to do or not, as it sees fit. It also demonstrates that you are only showing a way, but acknowledging there are other sources, and thus different ways.

See what works for you.

Diagnosis vs Formulation

I went to an autoelectrician the other day to get the headlights for my car fixed. He suggested that it was probably the headlight switch in the colum, but wasn’t going to commit to that without checking it out. He also said it could be a fuse, the relay, wiring, a problem with the Earth and a few other possibilities. After looking at it, he gave a positive diagnosis of a damaged switch. He said I might be able to get a second hand one, or I might be able to purchase it first hand from the manufacturer (I have an old car, kind of like me).

I asked him how he knew and he said he tested the inputs and outputs of the switch and could definately say that the switch was not relaying the proper information. This was his test that validated his diagnosis, which was one of the probable expected diagnosies he had formulated in our initial discussion.

Similarly I went to a doctor (general practitioner) with a really sore throught a few years ago. He listened to my symptoms, took a look at my throat and told me I had tonsillitis. He proscribed some antibiotics specific to this kind of infection as my treatment. I asked him how he knew I had tonsillitis and he described the way to tell inflamed tonsils and the low likelihood of it being anything else. I asked him if there was any actual test he could perform to be certain and he offered to take a sample and have a lab test it. This would prove, conclusively, that I had tonsillitis. 

I went to see a psychiatrist many years ago. He listened to my list of symptoms and told me I had cyclothymia. I asked how he knew and he said I fitted enough of the profile of cyclothymia for him to diagnose it as such. I asked if there as any test he could perform to make sure and he said there was not and pointed out that mental health diagnoses do not work that way. He prescribed medication to fix it. I looked up the medication and it’s primary side effect is that if you don’t have cyclothymia before taking the medication, you probably will after taking it. Not a good selling point. I went back to the psychiatrist and asked for another option.

What gets me is, how can they call it a diagnosis when there is no test to actually prove conclusively that their opinion is correct? Isn’t that a formulation, not a diagnosis?

For example, schizophrenia has an interesting diagnostic criteria. The combinations that this “diagnosis” can demonstrate are huge, the causes are varied. You only have to display two of five major categories, each major category has multiple sub categories which you only need one in to make that category count. What conclusive test is there? No blood test, no scan, no reflex or pain test. Nothing.

Schizophrenia is not an isolated mental illness in this respect. Consider borderline personality disorder. It’s diagnostic criteria are also quite strange. One must demonstrate five of a possible nine symptoms for an extended period of time. Again, there is no actual test. 

This blog does not preclude the possibility that either of these, or many other labels, actually exist. The formulation of these theories for a person quite often give added insight for the practitioner to look for specific indicators, history factors and give guidance for proposed treatment and recovery plans. What I object to is the use of the word “diagnosis” without an actual test. Giving such authoritative chronic diagnoses limits people to believing that they are stuck with this illness for the remainder of their lives and thus cannot get better, lessen their symptoms and get back to leading a worthwhile life.

You can change your behaviours. You can thrive.

Dynamic Focus

When facilitating a person towards recovery, the dynamic created between yourself and the person you are assisting has some important components. It is well known that the quality of the dynamic between people is incredibly important in building trust. With trust, one can be a support, a source of worth while information and someone to confide in. If this dynamic is not built well, there is no point in having any answers, methods, skills or knowledge about health. Without trust, it counts for naught.

It is also important to note that once you have trust, you have to have the rest of the skills too, otherwise you are like someone selling the front of the microwave, without the oven part.

To begin building trust, you must prove your ability to listen to another.

Basic listening skills are well documented, and it is redundant for me to go into this here (unless people request it of course – and you can request things for me to explore in the comment section below).

So here is a more advanced concept. The focus of where you listen shifts as the relationship develops. If you imagine yourself and the person you are facilitating facing each other. If the focus is only on the other person, way over there, then you are much like an impartial scientist, observing their experiment. There is no warmth, no care, not you. If the focus is all on you, then who are you there for?

To begin with, the focus should be closer to the other person than yourself. This shows that you have great interest in the other person, and you recognise their higher level of need. However the focus is not just on them, else the other person will only feel scrutinised and you will seem cold.

To build a level of warmth and humanity into your discussion, include some aspects of your life in the conversation. There are somethings that are not appropriate to discuss, and some things you may not want to discuss. Know these boundaries before you begin the conversation, and go by feel as your conversations become more complex. For example, I often tell people I have a child, a partner, have difficulties with my life and so on. Ensure your focus does not shift to being on you. You are telling the person you are facilitating towards recovery this information for a reason. You must develop the meta mind such that you can observe the conversation and ensure you keep that focus more over there than here.

As the relationship develops and the other person needs less help, the focus can shift closer to the mid-point between you. As the focus approaches the middle, it is now important to recognise that your role as facilitator is nearing an end. What you do next depends on if you are in a paid position, a peer or a friend.

Moving through anger

Emotions can exist in three states. Basic, secondary and complex.

When anger is basic, it simply states that your boundaries have been crossed. When it is secondary, it usually means you don’t know how to respond to other emotions, so you feel out of control. Anger is then used to regain your perceived loss of power such that you can feel in control again.

When anger is complex, it’s source is hard to grasp, often leaving you guilty/shamed that you feel angry or you find yourself trapped in your anger. For example, you may be angry that a loved one has passed on, leaving you in a mess. You feel guilty that you are angry at the deceased, which complicates your ability to do anything about your situation. In this scenario, what you are really angry about is that you feel trapped in your situation, not that your loved one escaped, or created the situation you are in. In effect, you are transferring your anger at something intangible to something tangible. You can’t affect the state of life/death of your loved one – thus you feel powerless and your anger emotion you raised to rebalance your power is misdirected and thus can’t help.

Complex anger is often mixed up with other complex emotions, such as complex guilt, leaving quite a maze of emotions and perceived causation of events for you to navigate before you can find a path to happiness.