Wednesday, March 21, 2012

JASON RUSSELL’S MELTDOWN: IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE


Jason Russell stripped naked and ran through the streets of San Diego.
Video footage of his ‘meltdown’ leaked onto the net. Picture: TMZ.


Footage of Kony 2012 filmmaker Jason Russell's recent public---as well as pubic--- 'meltdown' in San Diego has gone viral---just like Russell’s Kony 2012 video itself---and has been entertaining the world for the past few days.
                                                                                          
According to Russell’s family, exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition, criticism of his recently released documentary, and stress are all to blame for Russell's aberrant behaviour, where he stormed around his San Diego neighbourhood, banging on the cement and cars, gesticulating sexually, cursing incoherently, screaming at the devil and clapping his hands. His family insists he was clean and sober at the time of the incident---and he probably was.

Jason Russell describes himself as a radical, rebel soul and dream evangelist. He seems a really nice guy to me---clothed or unclothed---and I think he has done a helluva lot of good from a humanitarian point of view. I wish him well in his recovery. If nothing else, this sad episode reveals the not-so-pleasant reality of mental illness in one of its albeit more bizarre manifestations.

Look, despite the stigma that society wrongly attaches to these things, mental health issues can happen to anyone and are by no means an indictment of a person’s character. What happened to Russell can happen to you or me. We all have a breaking point. We all can ‘snap’ and 'break'---in a moment. And then we may do or say things which we would never do or say ordinarily.

Psychological or emotional 'meltdowns'---a most imprecise term---may be due to a buildup of stress, especially psychosocial and emotional stress. They can occur even in anticipation of a stressful time or situation. In many cases, there are outbursts of bad language, anger and generalized ‘acting out’ behaviour. Memory tends to go offline and it becomes hard or even impossible to concentrate. For some, a meltdown can feel like they’re having an out-of-body experience. There may even be feelings resembling derealization.

Being able to identify the 'triggers' to a meltdown, and learning how to avoid and otherwise manage triggers as well as how to remove oneself from a stressful situation, are all very important. In that regard, here’s something really helpful you can do with respect to triggers, especially at a time when everything seems to be piling up on you at once, and you feel really stressed out---breathe. Deeply. Instead of exploding and venting your anger and frustration, take a moment to consider what is physically happening---in your body and mind. For example, you may be breathing fast, your stomach may feel tense, and you may even be clenching your fists. There will probably be tightness in the jaw and neck, and there may well be a buzzing, whirling feeling in your head---even a pounding, throbbing sensation. This could mean you’re on the verge of an emotional meltdown. This is the important thing to do: step back from whatever is happening---and simply observe, that is, be choicelessly aware. Then take three long, deep, slow breaths to diffuse the physical and emotional tension that has built up. This gives you time---and time is what you need more than anything else---to think rationally about how best to cope with the situation.

Studies on neurocognitive processes indicate that mindfulness meditation increases awareness and the creation of alternatives to mindless, automatic behaviour, thus reducing the stress response by guiding conscious thought away from uncontrollable past or future scenarios and towards a non-attached acceptance of present circumstances, rather than battling unwanted thoughts. Because the brain has less opportunity to scenario build and apply internalized interpretations to forecast social responses, actual or perceived threats have a reduced ability to trigger feelings of anxiety, fear and lack of control.

There is a lot we can do to help ourselves. Of course, there are times when professional help is required. I have spent many years working with mental health workers, and I respect them immensely. I have also known the reality of mental illness in my own life and in the lives of others close to me. There is always help available---if you want to be helped and are prepared to go through what is sometimes referred to as the 'agony of change.' Having said that, much of the so-called 'agony' is due to our resistance to change as opposed to the change itself. The latter can happen very quickly, even instantaneously at times. In other cases---most cases---it takes time.


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