Sunday, November 5, 2017

Higher Ground: A Path to Healing and Wholeness

This past week I had the opportunity to serve as a mental health resource for a program called Higher Ground. Based in Idaho. Higher Ground programs use innovative sports and recreation therapies to enhance the quality of life for our injured military community as well as children, teens, and adults with disabilities.

I was involved with the veterans program that was conducted at the Beaver Hollow Conference Center which is located in Java, New York, about 45 minutes Southeast of Buffalo. The center also serves a site for one of the four Biggest Loser camps, which pattern themselves after the long-running TV program of the same name. The participants all live with a variety of physical and mental concerns including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Multi-trauma. There was also, professional staff on hand, including Higher Ground’s Director of Operations, Rich Cardillo, Military Program Specialist Chris Dooley, Recreational Therapist Natasha Rosenbloom and Northeast Regional Coordinator Patrick Welch.

Going in to the week I knew instinctively that it would be a great experience. Personally, I was looking forward to getting away and slowing down. Frankly, I was pretty fried. The two days of the work week leading up to the event I conducted three presentations and facilitated a panel discussion for my day job at the Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo. While the programs all went well, I was ready for a break. But I digress.

The five primary days of the program each revolved around a theme: Day 1 was Building Bonds, Day 2 was Healing Tools, Day 3 was Live Your Passions, Day 4 was I Am Enough and Day 5 was Taking the Next Step.

Each day was comprised of a number of activities that served to establish camaraderie and shared experiences designed to support the participants. The men in the program live with a variety of physical and mental wounds of combat. These concerns significantly impacted their daily lives in some form or fashion. Along with the six veterans there were two companions that accompanied their family member and friend.

The start of each day included an hour of ‘gentle stretching,” led by Michael, a yoga instructor and one of the center’s staff. The other activities included kayaking (done in an indoor pool due to the inclement weather), a “catapult challenge” where the group was divided into two teams and each one had to fashion a device to launch three potatoes in an attempt to get as close as possible to a buoy in the lake on the property, and a trip to the center’s fitness facility which once again included more friendly competition utilizing the gym’s equipment.

There were also several opportunities to fish at the lake which proved to be exciting considering there were a number of successful catches over the last two days. Amidst the physical activities, there were also several learning opportunities centering around nutrition, wellness and goal setting.

Wednesday was devoted to a field trip to Letchworth State Park. This particular day I was away at a state conference in Lake George, New York presenting a 3-hour workshop on the theme of wellbeing.

Each day included an hour of “processing” at the conclusion of the day’s programming which allowed the folks to participate in a discussion about the theme of the day as well as any other topics that were relevant to the program. This included exercises to build self-esteem and bolster self-confidence.

To go along with the activities there were high quality, nutritious meals. They mirrored the meal plan that the other Biggest Loser camp was utilizing with the exception that the portion sizes were larger and there were some sugary beverages.

Now to the real thing. On the first evening, there was the sense that some of the participants were not exactly keen on being there. This was much due to their life situation and the sense of being uncomfortable with the idea of being away from the comforts and security of their homes.

But on the first full day, there was a miraculous transformation that took place. Almost immediately, the men began to bond with each other. They shared their common experiences of being in combat situations as well as the challenges of acclimating to civilian life. The level of sharing and intimacy was remarkable. As the week progressed, the men (and one family member) all opened themselves up to experience things they never had done before, not to mention sharing very personal feelings about military life.

I am not a veteran. So, I do not have the perspective that these men have. But being a witness to their courage and strength is something that I got so much from. I’ve always respected our military but this week’s experience greatly increased the amount of respect I have for our men and women in uniform. I learned that a soldier’s word truly is his/her bond and that there is a special connection between those who have served.

I also learned that there is healing in recreation and play. It’s a simple concept but Higher Ground’s approach to helping veterans work through their various combat-related issues is highly effective. I observed an incredible change in demeanor, attitude and behavior in all of the participants.

So, what does this mean to the vast majority of the U.S. population that has not been in service to our country like our warriors. Basically, it demonstrates that we need to be more sensitive to the needs to those who have selflessly given their lives for our country. According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Programs like Higher Ground serve to preserve the dignity of our veterans and provide them with an opportunity to find healing in what to the outside observer may seem like “fun and games.” But it’s much more than that. And I can state that based on what I observed. I know that I was personally affected by the various activities (and I did participate in all of them).

I feel fortunate to have been “on the inside” to get a glimpse of the life that most have never seen. PTSD, TBI and trauma are all life altering in so many ways. The unique means of introducing recreational activities to assist veterans in finding a path to wholeness is unique and powerful. This is yet another example that follows my mantra of “Recovery is Possible.”

Monday, October 9, 2017

Join the Conversation by Just Telling One

There are two great media awareness campaigns in Western New York that focus on fighting stigma and helping youth dealing with depression, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and suicide - Join the Conversation and Just Tell One. This video highlights these two initiatives.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Be the Change in Mental Health

In this week's vlog I discuss the broken mental health system and ways you can take action to be the change that can make a difference.

Feel free to leave a comment below describing how you are being the change.

Be well!

photo credit: compassionate

Friday, September 1, 2017

Gameplan - Mental Health Resource Guide

My friend and colleague, Katie Dale,  and I are  excited to announce the publication of a great new mental health resource guide called "Gameplan." 

This manual is a great tool for those who are managing their mental health or for those who may be caregivers. It is a pdf file that you can download and keep on hand. It can be especially helpful to have all of your health-related information in one place.

We are offering Gameplan for free (a $5 value) for a limited time so get it while you can. 

We hope that you can use it to be healthier and happier.

Here is the link to the pdf file on Dropbox:


Be well!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


If there is one thing I absolutely love is music. And if you know me, you know that my musical taste is wide ranging. Music is my lifeline. I have said more than once, “Music is my salvation.”

When I look back at my early life with bipolar disorder I would experience delusional thoughts associated with the music I listened to. In the clinical world, this is called “ideas of reference,” thinking that a song is about me. This isn’t something I openly talk about. But hey, it’s part of my journey and I cannot deny what I’ve experienced.

Over the years, I’ve prided myself with staying on top of musical trends. When hip hop emerged, I followed such artists as The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy, among others. Now, rap is an integral part of the musical world.

And with that, art can imitate life. There have been many hip hop artists that have written about mental health, Kendrick Lamar, DMX, and Lil Wayne who says in the song, I FeelLike Dying:

I am a prisoner, locked up behind Xanax bars...
I feel like buying
And if my dealer don’t have no more, then I feel like dying."

This is real.

Most recently, rapper Logic penned a track called 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). This is the telephone number for the National SuicidePrevention Lifeline. The song is on the concept album “Everybody” where he confronts the issues of race, suicide, and mental Illness. He stole the show on this past weekend's MTV Video Music Awards with his soul stirring performance. It culminates with the stage lined with individuals who proudly stand together to declare that they do, in fact, want to live.

The simple fact that Logic takes on such a stigmatizing topic as suicide is a credit to his desire to claim his independence and not be afraid to talk about something that is often perceived by society as a moral weakness.

Logic’s life was riddled with many barriers: a crack addicted father who was not in his life, a mother who lived with bipolar disorder, siblings who were engaged in drug dealing and he lacks a high school diploma.

These are all potential risk factors for mental illness and/or suicide. Literally thousands of youth in the United States face similar obstacles. The way that Logic shares his message of “Peace, Love and Positivity” is a prime example of how one can develop protective factors and withstand all the pressures that society places on us and not fall prey to those same risk factors that so many have succumbed to.

In 1-800-273-8255, Logic expresses his despair:

All this other shit I’m talkin’ ’bout they think they know it
I’ve been praying for somebody to save me, no one’s heroic
And my life don’t even matter
I know it I know it I know I’m hurting deep down but can’t show it
I never had a place to call my own
I never had a home
Ain’t nobody callin’ my phone
Where you been? Where you at? What’s on your mind?
They say every life precious but nobody care about mine

How many of us have felt this way before? I know I have. But help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255, is there to help. No matter where you call from in the United States, you will be directed to the crisis center in your area where you can get help. You’re not alone.

But Logic sums up his feelings in a positive way by concluding:

I finally wanna be alive
I finally wanna be alive
I don’t wanna die today
I finally wanna be alive
I finally wanna be alive
I don’t wanna die
I don’t wanna die

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. There is hope for the hurting and no matter how bad you may be feeling, it will get better.

Be well.

You can watch Logic's performance featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid here:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Under My Helmet - Book Review

This vlog is devoted to a review of the book, Under My Helmet: A Football Player's Lifelong Battle with Bipolar Disorder by Keith O'neil. This remarkable story is born out of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Correction - The book is only currently available on Amazon. You can obtain a copy here:

Also, stay tuned for a free giveaway that I've worked on with Katie R. Dale from Bipolar Brave.

Be well