Diversity – Part 1

Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Robert Darwin worked very hard to converge scientific knowledge and their own explorations and data into a Theory called Evolution, published in Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” in 1859. It proposed that over time species would diverge and that the divergence that best suited the environment would potentially become a new species. Diversity is a natural part of species.

Found in every animal species was a variety of that animal or plant, which would collectively be well suited to an environment. If the environment changes, some of that variety of animal or plant would prosper, pushing the direction of the species towards a greater representation of that variety. If there was no variety that could prosper, that species would suffer and potentially die out. This natural push for change was called “natural selection”, that is, the environment would change, so the species would change and the selection for the survivors was natural.

Video version of this article

Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, thought this idea was excellent. He wanted to fix humans and manually select the survivors to choose the direction of humanity. This led to an idea he called Eugenics in 1883, which translates to “well born”. On the surface this seems like quite a smart idea, but when we examine the details, it is not.

Galton’s idea has a fundamental flaw that gives rise to two fundamental errors (there are many more, but we’ll focus on the big two for this talk). This fundamental flaw is the “god’s blueprint” idea. This idea stems from the belief that humans are created in god’s image (a mosstly Abrahamic idea), and as god is perfect, then it follows that there must be perfect humans, and perfect humans means that there are also imperfect humans – the devils work. 

The Flaw in Eugenics – God’s Blueprint

We need to pause at this point and look at some background politics that were going on at the time. The British Empire was trying to justify their subjugation of other peoples around the world, and with that subjugation many atrocities. There was much rhetoric trying to justify that these subjugated people were not, in fact, people as they failed god’s blueprint. 

Wallace and Darwin’s Evolution and natural selection was corrupted into the idea, from Herbert Spencer who simplified the complex ideas of Evolution, into the trite phrase “Survival of the Fittest”. As the British forces were winning the conquests, it made sense that White was Right because they were the fittest.

Error 1 – Deviation from god’s blueprint is bad

The first fundamental error is that diversity is a deviation from god’s blueprint and that deviation is bad. This is almost completely the opposite of what Evolution says is a winning strategy. If there is insufficient variety in a species, then a single disease can kill the entire species. Disease resistance actually relies on diversity. In fact, survival of any local condition relies on diversity to adapt that species to those local conditions. Human diversity has allowed humans to live on every continent and even in space.

Error 2 – We can make better humans

The next fundamental error is that we can shape humans to be better. This sounds like an innocuous idea at first, perhaps even a good idea. After all, there are some variations that are not fun. If we could get rid of those bits, it would be awesome.

How do we get rid of those bits? The technology of the time of Wallace, Darwin and Galton was with selective breeding. We humans have been doing this for some time with plants and animals. We allow the specimens that we like to breed, and weed out the ones that we don’t. This kind of genetic engineering has existed for about 10,000 or so years which accounts for most of our modern food and farm animals.

In case you missed it, weeding out is a sanitised way of saying killing. It started with forced sterilisations in the late 1800’s of those deemed “too genetically compromised” and ended with genocide. The most famous mass genocidal act of our recent history was during World War 2, sometimes referred to as The Holocaust. Most famous here means you heard about it. Since this so-called war to end all wars, there have been 22 recorded genocides or attempted genocides of humans. 

Surely, though, there are some negative genetic traits that we could fix? After all, we can now directly manipulate the genes, can’t we?

Yes, yes and it is complicated.

Yes, we could fix so called negative traits; Yes, we we can do some direct genetic editing; But should we? It’s complicated.

Firstly, we need to be careful to not mistake the negative genetic trait for the person. For example, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, often shortened to ALS, is a motor neurone disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. If we can find the root cause or genes responsible for this, that would be great and perhaps we could prevent it. It is hard to find a reason why this trait might be good for humans. Our ancestors would probably have removed it from the gene pool by killing the person and defining them as “less than human” to justify this action. The most famous person in my circles with ALS was Stephen Hawking. Delete the negative genetic trait by deleting the person and you’ve made a big mistake because you’ve deleted what they give to humanity.

Don’t mistake the “negative trait” for the person

Secondly, how are defining “negative genetic traits”?

Defining a trait as negative is tricky, it may just be a trait that some in society don’t like

We know that the human condition called Autism is a genetic trait. It is a heritable trait, much like eye colour, or skin colour, or height, or intelligence. You are likely reading or watching this on a screen, powered by computers. Who do you think created and pushed this technology forwards? Delete the trait, you delete what people with the trait have made. Many people who have the autism genes do not think the trait is “negative”, but most would agree that society has made it feel negative.

Delete the “negative trait”, you delete, you delete what that trait gives to humanity

Our science and medicine had embraced the idea of eugenics in the late 1800s right through to the mid 1950’s. Eugenics scared us as a species and medicine and science had to adapt. We, as humans, had to grow up.

Unfortunately not all of us grew up and some still harbour this ill informed and unscientific idea.

Those who follow the myth of god’s blueprint, that select humans are better or more perfect than others, strive against diversity – which directly contradicts what we need for humans to be robust in a changing world. We need to embrace diversity, not try to delete or undermine it. We need to discard the myth of inferior genetics or superior humans. We are all people first.

One of the fundamental reasons that humans can be found on every continent and even in space is because we are diverse. No one is better or worse by their genetics than any other person. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped policies from being made that disadvantage some groups or advantage others in a very unbalanced way. These policies need to be addressed so that everyone has similar equity. 

Equality is a great idea, if all peoples were the same. Give all people the same thing, and everything is fair, right? Not so, because not all peoples have the same needs or have been raised in the same environment.

For example, not everyone has diabetes. Many people do not need insulin from the pharmacist to survive. Only those with diabetes need access to additional insulin. Equity would allow those people to access it to gain an even footing to those who do not have diabetes, while equality would dish out insulin to every person.

Equality thinking can form the basis of the “I’ve not experienced it, so it you can’t experience it” error.

In a similar way, history and terrible government policies have significantly disadvantaged certain populations. Policy needs to change to bring equity and justice to these populations, to balance the evils of the past. On the surface this can look unequal, but closer inspection will show that it is just.

Next time, we will look at how Eugenics has created the myth of “we are all the same” and what that has cost us.

Calming Down

We have previously talked about what can elevate our emotional state and why in some situations that can create problems, and in others be perfect for the situation. When it is not useful, it is important to reclaim a calmer state of mind. We have discussed the theory of how to do so. In the video below, I have given an example of calming down.

Calming Down Exercise – Breathing and a waterfall

Elements to consider in this are breath control to disrupt the sympathetic nervous response that elevates our mood, counting to give our brains a thing to do, and a waterfall as a distraction from our situation.

While I appreciate it is difficult to bring a waterfall with you, there is often something that you can watch or notice to bring your mind back to This present moment, such as a brance dancing in the wind, a cloud whipsing by, the feel of air on your cheek or the texture of the fabric of your clothes between your fingers or forearm.

The Life Cycle of Abusive Relationships

1) The con – pretending to be what you are looking for using charm, and lies
2) Grooming – teaching you that you aren’t any good and you need them
3) Isolation – cutting you off from anyone who can help and using marriage, a new country or children to bind you to them “their’s no way out”
4) Abuse – the Cycle of Domestic Violence
5) Escape – Getting out completely, or finding ways to manage common unseparatable things such as children
6) Therapy – Finding out what the heck happened, PTSD, anxiety, unlearning the grooming, learning the red and green flags for relationships
7) Moving on to better relationships

Image version of the text

Emotions Part 2 – Calming Down

In our last artical [link], we covered how we can have an emotional experience of a situation, like fear, and how at low levels, that is useful, informative and often exhilarating – that is, we enjoy it. 

Video version of this artical

At higher levels, the fear can push us to consider only three possibilities – Freeze, Flight and Fight, generally in that order.

In an emergency, those choices could save our life – and that is a good thing.

However the job of fear and our ability to predict the future is to avoid that kind of emergency. This involves having a plan to deal with the expected threat.

We will do another video on threat planning.

The purpose of this video is to look at what happens when our fear system mis-detects a threat – either by over-representing the threat – which could be anxiety or phobia; or when there is no threat present and we have either general anxiety at milder levels, an anxiety attack at middle levels or a full on panic attack.

In the last video we talked about how our ramp up system is a sympathetic nervous system response to fear, and to counter it we need to implement a parasympathetic nervous system mechanism. Manually using this built in ramp down mechanism is a body hack. 

There are many methods to implement the parasympathetic body hack, but they rely on some fairly specific components. We are going to look at those in this next section.

In brief, there are 5 main steps:

  1. Assessment – is there really something dangerous here. If not
  2. Disrupt the panic mechanism
  3. Quiet the mind with a distraction
  4. Solve the problem
  5. Learn from the experience

Step 1 Assessment

Imagine that our hind-brains have detected a potential threat. Is it real? The hind-brain doesn’t care, it just hits the panic button, which ramps us up for disaster.

The ramp up process has a whole bunch of things that occur that we have no real conscious control over – redirected blood flow, the size of our pupils, biochemicals in our blood stream, accelerated blood flow and pressure, intestinal disruption and accelerated breathing.

Once our body has reached panic mode, it has some expectations – that we will have to act with strong exertion to overcome an enemy, that we are going to be hurt, that everything will be rushed because the disaster is here.

At 10 out of 10 fear, we are in panic mode, while at around 7 we might just be at highly anxious. Either way, our goal is to drop that by a few points.

Step 1 – Is there actually a disaster here? If there is a strong sign of clear and present danger, then go with your instincts for now, because you don’t have time to solve it if the danger is that big. If it is not that big, then this is a false alarm.

Step 2 Disruption

Once we have worked out that this is a false alarm, we need to disrupt this automatic mechanism. While we don’t have much control over that big list, we do have some control over our breath – so we will start there.

Humans at rest normally breathe an “in and out” cycle between 12 to 20 times each minute. That is a breath every 3 to 5 seconds – a nice average for most people is 4 seconds, so that is the number we will work on in this video. If you find the exercises in this are a bit fast or slow for you, by all means adjust the numbers for your own comfort.

Two main components of disruptive breathing is that we breathe slowly instead of fast, and that when we can, we breathe deeply into our stomachs.

A few quick breath control methods

  • The four breath cycle

Breathe in slowly for a count of 4 seconds, now hold it for 4 seconds, now slowly breathe out for four seconds, now hold that for four seconds, now repeat – breathe in for four seconds. It is important to count the seconds in our heads, or when safe, out loud. 

  • Sipping cold water

Get a glass or bottle of cool non-alcoholic drink. The point of this is that you can’t swallow liquid and breath air at the same time. Now, slowly sip the liquid until you have a nice mouth full. Slowly swallow a bit. Now another bit. Now another bit. How many swallows can you get to before it is done? Now take a slow breath cycle and sip some more.

  • Hot drink exercise

Get a cup of hot drink. Take a deep breath and blow across the top to cool it. Take another deep breath and repeat a few more times. Now sip the hot drink and slowly swallow it. Repeat.

Breath control works because it disrupts our sympathetic nervous system response by doing something different, and that something is not a thing we would do if we were under attack. It is a clear signal to our hind-brain that it was wrong.

Step 3 – Quieting the Mind

I’m going to take the time to talk about time for a moment. Either something is clear and present and very “now”, such as a direct physical attack, or it is “soon” in the next few minutes – definitely less than 30 minutes. If the threat is more than half an hour away, in this panic response plan, it should be considered “forever”. Doing a calm down routine only takes minutes. The benefit of being calm when solving the threat is much higher than being panicked – so do the calm down exercises.

There is a risk of re-triggering panic prematurely when you try to solve the unsolvable with inadequate brain cells. We need to claim back a few more of those points out of 10 and lower the threat arousal system. The previous step was disruption, this step is about distraction.

You probably know some of these from social media. Unfortunately they don’t explain when to use them – which is after you’ve taken the edge off panic with breath control.

So here are a few:

Colours – in your mind, remember the sequence of the rainbow – ROY G BIV. 

  • R is red, look for something that is reddish. 
  • O is orange, look for something orange ish.
  • Y is yellow, look for something yellow ish
  • G is green, you know what to do
  • B is blue.
  • I is indigo – a dark purple
  • V is violet – a light purple

Senses – in primary school we are taught that we have 5 primary senses. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.

  • Touch – feel the texture of part of your clothes or an object that you can touch that is near you. Look for sharp, blunt, rough and smooth
  • Taste – what is the taste in your mouth right now? Is it sour, bitter, sweet, salty or umami (greasy)?
  • Smell – can you smell something? What is it?
  • Hearing – what is the loudest sound you can hear? What about the softest? The highest pitch? The lowest pitch?
  • Sight – do the colour exercise we just did, or look for the thing that is furthest away from you and then something close up.

Mind

  • From 30, count backwards in 3’s until you get to 0. 30, 27, 24…
  • Think of two movies or stories that you really like. Who are the two characters you like the most? Now what if they met each other?
  • What are you going to eat for your next meal?
  • What are all the cards in your wallet – can you remember them? Now pull out your wallet and verify them.

There are quite a few other exercises that can be done, but they all have the common features of being able to be done in public without drawing much attention to yourself and each of these distracts you from the potential threat that isn’t here.

Step 4) Solve the Problem

Some threats (including false alarms and retreating threats) can be ignored which means there is nothing to do.

Some need to be monitored calmly to see if they increase, decrease or just stay irritating.

Some need active attention and a management plan. We will cover management plans in another video.

The question to ask yourself is this – which threat is this? And now that you know, what action plan do you pick?

Step 5) Learn from the Experience

Part of the anxiety cycle is not learning from our surviving and facing our fears. We got to the end – we survived! Now, what did we learn?

Sometimes we learn that the alarm was false – either because there was no nothing to fear, or the thing we feared was not accurate. By sticking around and facing the possibility of the threat coming, and it didn’t, we learned that false alarms can’t hurt you, and staying is powerful.

Sometimes we learn that we did need to act, but the action wasn’t panic. It was a calmer response with more thought. It is important to acknowledge that this worked, and that this was better than the panic response.

Sometimes we learn that the threat was real, and that we had a truly close encounter. But we survived, so our response was good enough. Good enough is nice, but what is nicer is a calm review of what actions we could do next time that would give us even better outcomes. These are things to practice.

Sometimes we learn that there is nothing we can do and we are just damn lucky that we survived. It is important to recognise that we survived because of dumb luck, and that no one else could have done better, because we had no part to play in this.

Sometimes we learn that our choices were wrong. How were they wrong? How could they be better? What do we need to practice for next time? Did one of the exercises not work well? 

Many people don’t review their experience and learn from it. This is that opportunity.

Many people get stuck on reviewing all of their past mistakes and never implement a change. This is the time to break that cycle – figure out 1 to 3 things to change, to practice and do that. Now stop reviewing this experience because you have learned from it.

Knowledge

This is one of a series of videos of background concepts that are very important to mental health.

Knoweldge – a video of this post

Today’s topic is Knowledge.

I am confident that you have probably heard the phrase “Knowledge is Power” – But how?

In Physics, the science of understanding the raw nature of the world, Power is defined as Work over Time. 

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to delve too deeply into physics at this point.

Work for humans is Effort – physical, mental, emotional, social and so on – if it takes you effort, you are doing work.

When we know th e outcome we are after, we can make a few choices and pick one that seems like the most efficient method to get the task done. With efficiency, we expend less effort and we are more effective. That is, we gain power through choice. How did we get that choice? Through knowing what our choices are – that is, knowledge.

It is more accurate to say that Knowledge gives you options, options allows for choices, smart choices give you greater efficiency and greater efficiency gives you greater power.

That’s a bit cumbersome though.

Knowledge gives you power, because knowledge gives you better choices.

We often know when we are powerless – we feel like we have failed.

We often don’t recognise when we are powerful – because that is normal.

Experiment time: Look around and notice a small object on a thing. Pick it up…. Did you succeed? If so, did you recognise the application of power? You had a goal, you put in some effort and you got a success.

Now imagine a scenario where you failed. Perhaps the item is glued to the surface, or you have a physical condition where you can’t move. Or someone is stopping you. Perhaps that someone is yourself – depression is not fun.

This failure to do what should be easy prompts you to feel powerless.

It is an odd thing, in humans, that the two outcomes create such different levels of feelings. On the one hand, we barely notice success, on the other hand, we really notice failure.

Back to knowledge – if you know why you failed to do the thing, then you can start to make a plan to succeed where before you failed. That understanding brings knowledge, and knowledge gives options, options gives choice and that brings you back to a position of power – that is, you can get things done.

A good deal of mental health is knowledge. 

Thought experiment time.

There is a boulder. You are told by The Boss that it needs to be somewhere else and that you need to move it. So you put work into moving the boulder, which will take time. It’s too heavy to lift, so you roll it some distance away. You have exercised your power. Physics completed.

You are told by The Boss that this is the wrong place, so you need to move it again. The effort you put into moving the boulder has been wasted.

How many times will you move the boulder hoping that it you move it to the right place before The Boss nods approval?

In Mental Health, we often know when something is wrong, but we don’t know what right looks like. We are moving that boulder around randomly, hoping to stumble on success. A more efficient way is to gain a bit of knowledge.

You ask, and The Boss tells you where they want it.

Now you know where to move it.

In this series of videos, we want to cut down the trial and error. 

If you understand the nature of the problem, you can start to use an efficient solution.

Back to the boulder.

What is the best way to move the boulder? So far, in this thought experiment we have rolled it. Perhaps with enough people we could lift it. Or if we are going to have to move it many times, it is time to get some tools involved.

There is more than one way to move a boulder, and more than one place to put that boulder. 

What I am trying to say here is that there are many ways to get mentally healthy and many ways that mental health can look. One solution doesn’t fit all circumstances.

So while we want to cut down the trial and error of mental health, we need to acknowledge that each situation requires its own good solution.

Knowledge of mental health does not require one outcome, but it can reduce randomly looking for your solution.

What is Mental Health – a “whole-istic” interpretation

Health is one of those vague concepts that is hard to pin down, until you no longer have it. For humans, health comes is several components that work together to create a total picture – a picture of health.

Video version of this page

Biological Health

Physical health is defined as how well your body manages day to day tasks, such as eating, sleeping and exercise. You generally don’t notice that your bones are working fine, but you quickly notice when a bone is fractured. The subcategories that we look for in therapy are looking at blood work, diet, exercise, body mass, sleep and medication. When all of these factors are in balance, your physical health is good. If your iron levels are low, you might find yourself not sleeping well, lacking in motivation and becoming tired quickly. No amount of talking therapy is going to fix a low blood iron level or diabetes – this needs to be treated by a medical doctor.

The biological aspect of people’s health is where medical doctors excel. For some things a general practitioner will refer to a specialist.

It is not uncommon for me to suggest lines of investigation for a GP or a specialist.

Social and Cultural Health 

Humans are social animals. Our beginning definition of self begins by defining ourselves as part of our group. If your group is abusive, you will either become abusive, or be abused. Abused people often become introverted, defensive, over pleasing, reactionary or aggressive.

If your group inspires you, you become more extroverted, more exploratory, and grow to fill that inspiration.

People who have come from abuse may find it hard to build trust in others, or change their habits from self sabotage to growth.

It is not uncommon that the people who have come to see me for therapy match the category of “surrounded by assholes”. That is, it often isn’t an intrinsic “mental health” issue of theirs, it is their reaction to bad people.

Existential Health 

An important aspect of health is to feel wanted by others, to feel that we have a positive effect on the world and that our life matters. While some of that can be addressed at the social level, most of this is a statement of how you feel about your position and purpose in the world. What are you here for? Does your existence matter? How are you connected to people and the world?

Each person will find a variant of this that works for them.

Economic Health

Humans have a baseline of needs that need to be met, such as food, shelter and safety.

If your income does not match your expenses, then you will become very stressed and potentially homeless. It is hard to feel safe and secure if you are homeless. 

Many people who come to see me have income problems, or are at risk of homelessness if they seek safety, which can seem less safe than staying in abuse. Our Australian government can impose costs to getting basic economic health. A great deal of our sense of identity is made up of our paid employment, which is frequently seen as our contribution to society.

Frequently chronic health conditions are accompanied by poverty. If you didn’t start in poverty, the odds are you will find yourself there. While we have an excellent health system here in Australia, that system only works well for you if your ill health is brief. Ongoing health will lead to unemployment, which often means you can no longer meet your cost of living.

Identity Health

Losing your job can be a method of damaging your identity health. Another is to have society condemn your inherent nature, such as sexual preference, gender identity, chronic health conditions, cultural identity, ethnicity, religious views and so on.

Society is ironically becoming far more tolerant of difference, such as our recent passing of “Same sex marriage”, while at the same time becoming more marginalising due to recent politics. If you are in a category that is being, or has been, marginalised, the very nature of you is being attacked.

Society has a bad way of trying to categorise everything, and idealising each of those categories as binary rather than recognising both spectrums of identity, and when people do not fit the spectrum.

The irony of creating these categories of health does not escape me.

Cognitive Health

We are our brains. While I may miss that bit of finger I lost, or the appendix that stopped working properly, I have not really changed – I am still me. When we lose a part of our brain, we change. There are a number of ways that our brain can be damaged, which can interfere with how our cognition works and how we feel we are, or how those who love us perceive us when we can’t see it ourselves.

Significant trauma, either brief or ongoing, can also radically change us. Many spouses commented that the person who came back from war is not the person they married; people who have a near death experience can radically change their outlook on life; and people who have been raised in abuse can experience the world quite differently to other people.

Psychological Health

The way we think, the way we react, the things we perceive, the things we value and the way we behave is all the basis for our mental health. It is a complex interaction of unconscious perception, subconscious thought and conscious decision making that help us navigate the objective world we live in through a perception that we construct. There are many factors that can lead to a faulty construction of the world within our minds, that will then lead to poor interactions with the objective world.

Conclusion:

I have separated health here into a number of categories to help highlight some of the less considered sources of ill health. It is important to note that they all affect our overall health and interact with each other. For example, poor social health can lead to poor identity health, which can lead to poor mental health, which can lead to poor physical health… and so on. Often the challenge is to work out what the priority aspect to triage is, and then find the underlying cause or causes once the person is roughly stable.

This is not an exhaustive list of causes. It is just  a place to start the search. We know when people are healthy because things are working out well. When things stop working, or become difficult, this list helps to narrow down what may have occurred that has affected you, which begins the journey to addressing them.