Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘mental health

Greatest Accomplishment

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I’ve been contemplating a life well-lived after remotely participating in a funeral online last week and then learning of an anticipated death in our friends’ family. Being in the phase of life when I’m closer to my death than I am to my birth, it occurs to me that my greatest accomplishments are quite possibly behind me as opposed to yet to come.

Most days, I feel that my greatest achievement happened when I took action to get treatment for depression. After many years of self-denial about what I was battling, receiving the confirmation of a professional diagnosis was the key that opened the door for my journey toward healthy thinking. Initially relying on medication and talk therapy to interrupt a life-long pattern of dysfunctional thinking, I eventually gained enough command of my faculties to cope on my own, medication-free.

One book I found helpful is “Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You” by Richard O’Connor.

I still need to treat my natural inclination toward depression every day with healthy thinking, a reasonable diet, regular exercise, and good-quality sleep habits, but reaching the point where I don’t require support from the medical health industry is something I am proud to have achieved.

Last November and December brought a fresh challenge for me in managing the chemicals bathing my brain in the face of grief and fatigue. The combination of needing to first put down our cat, Pequenita, and then our dog, Delilah, mixed with striving to cope with Cyndie’s unexpected injury pushed me to my limits. I was the sole person tending to the horses (during which two highly stressful horse-health challenges arose), cleared snow after two significant snowfall events, and took over all tasks caring for Cyndie and the house while she is laid up.

The physical fatigue left me susceptible to allowing my old familiar depressive behaviors to return. I don’t find that worrisome because years of good mental health have provided a fresh setting for “normal” that I use for reference, allowing me to notice when intervention is warranted. I have a variety of options to employ but the key to being able to self-treat my depression is the “noticing” and consciously changing something in response.

Mostly, I change my thinking. My thoughts are a major trigger to the chemical reactions going on in my brain and body. Sometimes I just need a nap. Often times I just need more time. Especially when the trigger is grief.

Speaking of grief, the horses were giving me some grief recently. This is a case where it would have been nice to have a camera recording what goes on under the overhang when we are not around.

Somehow they picked up the grate in one of the slow feeder boxes and turned it sideways. I guess they’ve got some great accomplishments of their own to neigh about.



Welcome Distraction

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Despite how it feels to me lately, my role as the only fully ambulatory person on the ranch is not without occasional opportunities to pause and reset my attitude. Last week we were treated to a visit from my sister, Judy, and her husband, Scott. They came bearing a range of gifts, not the least of which was lunch for the day.

They also picked up, much to my surprise, a couple of bags of my new favorite guilty pleasure snack treat [thank you, Carlos], PopCorners (BFY Brands). Cyndie had surreptitiously texted a special request to Judy after our latest grocery order wasn’t able to fulfill that line item on our order. Snack-errific!

It was refreshing to have Judy’s company on my noon trip to feed the horses where she tolerated extra time out in the elements while I made a few trips back and forth to the hay shed to restock the barn stash of bales.

The one treat that is lasting longer than the chocolate-covered pretzels Judy made is the hand-me-over jigsaw puzzles they left for us. A jigsaw puzzle is a gift that keeps on giving. They brought us three options and while eating dinner the other night, Cyndie and I debated which one to do first.

After we finished eating, I decided to just dump out the pieces of the puzzle we settled on. Without getting up from the table, we spread out and flipped up all 2000 pieces and started working on the outer border. Jigsaw puzzling soothes my brain like a Zen meditation. It is bringing order to chaos. There is a specific place for each piece and finding and placing those pieces is a series of mini-rewards set on repeat.

I woke up the next day and all I wanted to do was work on the puzzle some more.

It’s funny, the whole goal is to finish, except I don’t really want to. Going through the steps of finding and placing pieces ends up being more fun than actually completing the entire puzzle.

It’s a mental distraction that is very good for what ails me these days.



Written by johnwhays

December 5, 2022 at 7:00 am

What Priorities

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Looking at the topic of mass shootings from this perspective really struck me this morning.

Sorry. We’re all out of mental health care.


Back up from the point a person is in need of professional health care and consider the years that led up to it. Every little action and experience contributes to our future selves. Day after day after day. We make our future by how we choose to behave today. Parents, you are molding your children’s future health.

What are our priorities?

Imagine a world where we focused our resources on education and family health, working to reduce poverty and inequalities for all people.

Sending love to all who are struggling or in crisis. There is no quick fix but if a person spends whatever limited energy they can muster on choosing a healthy option instead of an unhealthy one this day and then does so every day after that, improvement is made possible.

Maybe that will buy the 90-week wait time for access to talking with a professional.

Or not. Where are your priorities?

I vote we seek to enable a better world.

Prioritize HEALth! Love yourself enough to show yourself love. Loving ourselves is the first step to loving all others.



Written by johnwhays

July 10, 2022 at 9:00 am

Clay Bennett

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I have no words. The artwork and message of Clay Bennett speak for me today.



Written by johnwhays

April 14, 2022 at 6:00 am

Great Distraction

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Last night, despite the hefty drama of flashing lightning and booming thunder, Cyndie and I tuned out the horrors of war on the other side of the world and the wild weather locally to immerse ourselves in the opening episodes of a two-year-old streaming television series. It is both intelligent and funny and oh so refreshing.

We have missed another real-time popularity spike of a series that everyone was talking about. It doesn’t matter which one. Our rural connection limitations leave us out of the loop with current events. We have our moments of excited fanaticism after the fact, on our own. The world has already said everything there is to be said about the shows by the time we get around to watching.

We laughed and binged our way through four episodes and only stopped because real life couldn’t be put off any longer. I feel profoundly grateful that artists produce shows like this for our entertainment and enlightenment.

As much as it pains me to know the victims of the ongoing war in the real world don’t have the luxury of taking a break from it all, my health requires I clear my head of the atrocities as often as possible.

We experienced a new tree down across one of our trails yesterday before the big storms had even arrived.

I walked around to get a different angle and discovered the hole created by the toppled trunk was completely full of standing water.

It’s no surprise the dead tree no longer had a firm enough grip on the earth to remain standing.

Feels a little like a metaphor for a lot of aspects of life these days. Too bad our trees can’t take a break and watch a popular streaming television series every so often to escape the hazards of surviving everything the universe dishes up day after day.

I’m on my own today while Cyndie is visiting in the Cities, so I will have to delay further binging until she returns home. I hope to delve into more great distraction as soon as I can talk her into it after she gets back.

It will fuel my reserves of love so I have all the more to beam toward Ukrainians wherever they are in the world or at home under military assault.

It’s a mystery, even as I do it. Thinking of all the people of Ukraine and escaping from endless news about them, both at the same time.

Imagining peace…



Written by johnwhays

April 13, 2022 at 6:00 am

Complex Threads

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When headspace is getting cluttered by whatever the catastrophe of the day is, it becomes a struggle to maintain a healthy effort toward cultivating daily awareness of the goodness that surrounds me. The innocent joy visible in Delilah’s eyes reveals she isn’t thinking about the ills of war currently happening in Ukraine. I’m not so lucky.

I wish I didn’t have to know about the complexities of what Russia’s Putin will do if he doesn’t get what he wants.

My present concerns about the challenges faced by the people of Ukraine bring up complicated questions I find myself asking about why this deserves any more attention than similar traumas in all the other regions of the world where large populations of civilians have been displaced by lethal conflicts.

Meanwhile, the calamities unfolding every day from the impact of human-driven climate change rage undiminished by any other distractions that succeed in grabbing my attention. How many billion dollars of damage occurred somewhere in the world from flooding rains, wildfires, or wind storms this week?

That doesn’t take anything away from a blissful moment of interaction I was able to experience with Mia yesterday. While a very spring-like snow shower made it look like we were in a snow-globe scene, I wandered up to one of the paddock gates to visit the horses. Mia came up to meet me.

In a rare instance where she didn’t choose to make it a short visit, I found myself looking for ways to give her whatever attention she might desire. After she satisfied herself with facing me and breathing in my smell, she turned around and very obviously waited to see if I would scratch her butt.

How could I resist? While it is true that presenting their butt can be a way a horse shows disrespect or harmful intent, given the circumstances, I read Mia’s behavior as totally benign.

It was snowing and she was wet, plus my reach was limited through the gate, so she received a rather rudimentary scratching. Regardless, she definitely seemed receptive to the attention and followed it up by turning around again to present her mane, which I spotted had quite a dreadlocked snarl.

To my great surprise, she stood patiently while I feebly struggled to make meaningful progress toward detangling the incredibly tight twists of several sections of hair. I did what I could, trying to take advantage of her willingness, but this was a project that needed more than I could provide through a gate amid wet, falling snowflakes.

She decided to present her butt for more attention one last time before I departed from my little impromptu visit.

Before bedtime last night, as I stood at the mirror in the luxury of my bathroom to brush my teeth, I thought about the complexity of my joys and comforts as they contrast with the simultaneous hostility others are suffering.

Somehow, it seems I shouldn’t allow the ills of the world to squelch the goodness I enjoy, but it would be easier to reconcile the dichotomy of the two if my happiness had influence toward easing the difficulties others are forced to endure.

Complex threads, indeed.



Written by johnwhays

March 15, 2022 at 6:00 am

Painful Loss

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I knew Jennifer to be a precious, congenial, and amiable person, despite the experiences she lived through that drove her to multiple treatments for mental health concerns. Every time I saw her again after long absences, that remarkable dose of her true spark and desire to gain full command of her wellness glowed anew.

My idealistic goal of loving everyone on this earth is not always effortlessly achieved. Jenny was not one of the difficult ones. I loved her as easily as anyone.

It is devastating to have learned that she took her own life this week.

Those of us who knew and loved Jenny are experiencing the pain of losing the sound of her laughter, for good this time. It is we who must now reconcile the mental turmoil of the various roles we played in her life, of opportunities now vanished, hopes tarnished, with the burdens of sudden grief pressing down upon us.

As a person who has enjoyed great success in breaking free of the oppressive mental weight of depression, with all of its distortions of perception and its focus on imagined perils, I suffer deep heartbreak over instances where the interruption and amelioration of the affliction are unsuccessful.

There is debate about whether depression is curable or not, but there is general agreement that it is treatable. Good health requires maintenance, and being treated by professionals for depression can be a project of a lifetime.

In a way, good health habits are a self-directed form of treatment that keeps my depression at bay. It doesn’t feel focused on depression prevention for me because my healthy practices bring so many other rewards beyond just keeping my mind free from the dark dysfunctions that define the affliction.

Put simply, living healthy serves as a vaccination against the ills of depression for me.

It feels important to me to accentuate the time component of dealing with depression and frankly, all other aspects of a journey toward optimal health. I am profoundly moved by the length of time and variety of avenues Jenny navigated in her efforts toward health and well-being.

Good health does not happen in an instant as a result of a momentary desire to be healthy. It is a process that requires firm determination to stay on task for days that become weeks, then months, and ultimately, years. I often point out that a goal of getting healthy should be referenced against the number of months or years we allowed bad habits to weaken our muscles, add excess fat, compromise our livers, overtax our hearts, rob us of needed sleep, and ignore or misinterpret our full range of emotions.

May we always remember the best about loved ones who are no longer with us and seek inspiration from those fond memories for a determination to strive for our own optimal health in a journey that we renew every morning for the rest of our days.



For any occasion involving thoughts of suicide, free 24/7, confidential services are available:

call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).



One Thing

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Or another. I was thinking about writing “The Thing” for the title of this post in a riff off the idiom, “Here’s the thing.” My software indicated I’d already used that title once before on Relative Something. I try not to reuse titles if possible. Seriously, though, I was thinking, “Here’s the thing…”

Did you know Alec Baldwin hosted a public radio show and podcast interview series by the title, “Here’s the Thing?” I didn’t.

Makes sense though. That’s a great title. I tried a couple other pairs of words and found I’d already used them, too.

I prefer the pattern of holding my titles to two words, but after more than ten years of blogging, it gets hard to come up with a unique pair.

Whether it’s one thing or another, here’s the thing… I never expected that one day, I would live in Wisconsin.

Maybe I should have titled this post, “Never Expected.”

There are innumerable things I never expected to experience in my lifetime. I never expected I would witness stupidity being proudly espoused as publicly as is common in this day and age.

I never expected the burgeoning of private military companies into global powerhouses offering services to nation-states.

I never expected that I would be alive during a years-long global pandemic that would cause the amount of death COVID-19 has, even though I had read books and watched movies about similar biohazardous calamities.

I never expected private companies would create space crafts with reusable propulsion modules that make pinpoint landings on floating platforms in the ocean, especially modules with video capture abilities allowing public viewing of the feat from multiple angles.

I never expected to find out microplastics are everywhere, including inside both animals and humans.

I didn’t expect that so many things imagined for science fiction stories would become realities, ala Star Trek communicators and today’s smartphones. I never imagined that mobile phones would be able to rival cameras to the level of making professional-quality movies.

I remember thinking touch screens would never work. Folding screens? Not possible.

I don’t want to think of how many other things I deem not possible will become reality in my lifetime.

During my technical career in industry, I was on a development team that designed a custom machine for making coated optical discs that the customer boasted would be able to fit an entire volume of encyclopedia for viewing on a computer screen. Even as I worked on the electronics and vacuum chambers of the machine that would make this possible, I struggled to fathom the enormity of digitizing all the information in those books.

I never expected to come to the realization about how much human suffering results from religious conflict when simply loving others solves conflicts, heals wounded souls, and sows peace for all.

I never expected so many of you to read the words I write.

Here’s the thing, overcoming depression opens a world of possibilities.

This I know: It’s always one thing or another, whether you expect it or not.



Depth Perception

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Whether it’s a movie or a particular song, or sometimes a tragedy reported on the news, messages with impact can hit us in the gut. I watched a program last night that touched a personal nerve in its depiction of a powerful memory I have about my experience of depression. It involves the illogical behavior of pushing someone away when what you actually want is just the opposite.

I would shun connection when all I wanted was to be connected. It’s dysfunctional, to say the least.

The healthy alternative to that involves reaching an authenticity that brings behavior and desires into renewed alignment. Say what you mean, mean what you say, then act that way.

It is a function of becoming perceptive to the full depth of what we are truly feeling. Learning to be entirely honest with ourselves and observant enough to direct our thoughts toward a healthy interpretation of reality.

There is also a valuable component of becoming aware to avoid fabricating perceptions that lack any evidence of truth. Don’t make shit up.

I am happy to proclaim the incalculable reward of profound joy and blessed peace of mind available to a person who learns how to treat their depression and do away with dysfunctional thinking. I owe a debt of gratitude to the medical community that contributed to my recovery over two decades ago.

Yesterday, Cyndie discovered the depth of our chickens’ disdain for carrots after tossing them some mixed vegetable leftovers.

A little while later there wasn’t a single scrap of anything other than carrots remaining. I suppose the overnight scrounging critters will be happy to clean up after them.

We’ve noticed that the processed chicken feed we put out gets passed over by pretty much all the wild birds along with our chickens in favor of anything else we make available. The chickens LOVE the cracked corn and mealworm snacks, so there is never any of that left lying around, but leftover or spilled chicken feed even gets passed over by the overnight scavengers like raccoons, stray cats, possums, and a fox that have shown up on the trail cam.

I had no idea they would have such a discerning palate.

I should give them more credit for the depth of their perceptions.



Coping Mechanisms

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A speedy recovery from a day of dramatic events involves more than time alone. Humans can be very inventive about devising ways of coping with stress. Health professionals might commonly recommend meditation, exercise, or soothing music. Non-professionals might lobby for mind-altering substances, shopping sprees, or aggressive video games.

I am never shy about flaunting the marvels of forest bathing.

Most people agree that caring for pets brings on a wealth of mental health benefits. We have a fair share of creatures relying on us for sustenance, with chickens being greatest in number. Cyndie has figured out the trick to renewing their interest in venturing from the coop during the days.

While I pushed to let them figure out for themselves that they can walk the packed snow pathways to get to the dry earth under the barn overhang, Cyndie preferred to provide them a straw surface on which to tread.

They liked Cyndie’s plan much better than mine.

We’ve figured out a way to help the chickens cope with snow. The wimps.

As for my interest in controlling the amount of sugar in my diet, it is forever challenged by my passion for other carbs. Yesterday, Cyndie decided to cope with her residual stress by baking seven loaves of bread

There goes my diet.

Four of those loaves are breakfast bread. Enough said.

I’ll cope just fine.



Written by johnwhays

January 8, 2021 at 7:00 am