Mental Health
(Marta's Collection)

Marta, including the intro she wrote when she gathered these. I thought I should keep it as a set, for others to share. Before Marta was a mom, she was a psychologist in practice in Lisbon, but parenting and unschooling distracted her from that profession and she had not gone back to it, last I knew. Her child isn't grown yet, though, as of 2022.

So, as you know, this is a topic that interests me in particular... 😉 I've been reading what people have been writing about it and decided to go look for some more info that I was sure I had read before. I have them all here, so you can take a look to see if it's worthy of notice and worthing of existing on your website (by worthy, I mean if it'll be helpful to other parents). 😉

1) I was rereading the thread you started when you shared this page on the Radical Unschooling Info group and thought it might be a good way to introduce the page. You said, at some point:

It has been clear for years that unschooling can help the kids grow up mentally healthier, but increasingly we're seeing reports of improvements in marriages (first clue) and in other personal relationships, and more stories of personal growth.

2) I believe you wanted to be cautious about not confusing "plain old neediness" (I think those were your words) and mental health, but I believe that what has been written lately about this topic (and namely about depression and how to handle it) is worth having on your site on a page other than the "Issues" page.

3) I was going to say that you also have a bunch of links mentioned on these posts that you could add to the mental health page, but I see that you already have them there.

4) I just had another idea. Based on your notes for the chat on this topic, what do you think of having some headlines like this:

I can even go through the chat and try to cut out some of the parts where we addressed those very questions. What do you think?

5) The writings I collected:

Always Learning list, Feb 2 2014 -- Thread "More sparkle and more perspective needed"

Others will give you ideas about the children, no doubt. I want to talk about depression.

-=-I have recently come through a months-long depression where I was neglectful of my kids. I was physically present and did my best to continue making small better choices, but as I am coming back to my more normal self, I can see some big problems that my limited participation created. -=-

If your cycle comes with an associated up/energetic/"manic" phase, USE IT! Be out, go to the zoo, run around, climb, laugh, buy comdey DVDs. Stockpile memories and happy materials for the next down phase.

To avoid a debilitating depression, stop watching the news. Don't hang out so much with friend or relatives who complain all the time, or who gossip negatively and spitefully. Distance yourself from politics that distress you. Store up joy and hope and optimism. Have so much that you can produce enough for you AND your family. In the season when you can't buoy them up, they will last a while longer, and if you have avoided negativity, you might find that with practice (and desire and intent and awareness) that you will be able to feel the depression slow you down, but it won't necessarily take you under the surface.

Do not depend on anti-depressants by themselves. Every doctor who has EVER given anti-depressents without requiring, insisting that it be accompanied by therapy is an irresponsible money-maker. They don't do diddly if the person hasn't learned to watch her thoughts and emotions, and to see it for the temporary, manageable state it is.

Have a backup plan now, before depression has a chance to return. Find friends or relatives who might be able to take your kids one day a week for an outing or a sleepover or something, so you can sleep. Sleep helps.

DO NOT, seriously, don't, listen to depressing music. Don't watch tearjerker movies. Put those away as though they would harm you, because they will.

When you get older and your kids are big enough to take care of themselves, then if you want to wallow and sink every year or two, go for it. But you probably won't want to if you can find tools to use to keep you functional and bearable to be around. There are advantages to that. 🙂


Always Learning list, Feb 2 2014 -- Thread "More sparkle and more perspective needed"

Years ago on a forum I wrote something about happy music instead of sad, comedies instead of dramas. A mom (someone I know and like) jumped in REALLY angry and said that depression was all biochemical and NOTHING could cheer someone up or stave off that depression.

I knew better from personal experience, and from helping friends. I could induce depression in friends [if I wanted to, which I do NOT] with just the right messages I know would break their hearts and spirits, and with some well-chosen (or random) local news broadcasts, and being negative everytime I saw them, and ... I'll stop there lest someone picture it all too clearly and get on the downhill. If they were smart, they would run me off.

Here's something on my site (which I will link on the new page)

Many of the things we routinely recommend to help unschooling families are also helpful to anyone's mental health and wellbeing. Gratitude, recognizing and appreciating abundance, avoiding negativity…




No matter where a person is, a step up is a step up. Happier is happier.


Always Learning list, Feb 2 2014 -- Thread "More sparkle and more perspective needed"

-=-I even pretended I was on a 'how to be a fantastic mother' tv show once...guess what? I spent the whole day being a fantastic mother and loved every minute of it.-=-
I don't know whether I commented on this before, but I want to, even if I already did. 😊

This is part of the role that religion plays in people's lives. The idea that someone knows what you're doing even when you're unwitnessed by other adults is valuable. The idea that someone knows what you're thinking is part of some people's conscience (the part that makes us think again, and to reconsider, before doing something that we will regret).

Sometimes when an unschooler (or any parent) is in the throes of temper-losing, it can help to think of a person or two she/he respects and would like to impress, or someone who would be critical of some impending bad action, and think "what would... [Pam Sorooshian, sometimes, for me, or my sister] think"?

It's not crazy. It's probably part of primate behavior, to want to be accepted by the group we will wake up with tomorrow, to be valued, to be groomed, not to be ostracized. So in a complicated culture, and with the human psyche being as it is, sometimes some of that is internalized.

So if Clare thought to herself that there was a TV show audience watching what she did, that was her "witness."

Sometimes people report that their writing or thinking about unschooling uses the Always Learning list as a witness. It's a two-step process, but it is "I should ask this question..." and then the question is written down, or maybe not. Then the questioner thinks "probably Joyce would say this, and Meredith would say that..." and they answer their own question that way.

Similar to thinking the Virgin Mary knows that you had impure thoughts, or something, in a way.

If anyone knows formal terminology for this, bring it. 😊


Always Learning list, Feb 2 2014 -- Thread "More sparkle and more perspective needed"

-=-I haven't struggled with deep depression in a very long time. All the therapy advise is invaluable. Before having kids, I went to a cognitive therapist, did homework, found out that I really am responsible for my own feelings, and got a handle on depression. It really changed my outlook. I still get low, still can fall into guilty thoughts about mothering, still need feedback from friends and support. But I can self talk my way out of lows.-=-
People can get so depressed that they're incapacitated, and might need anti-depressants to help them de-fog. One model or explanation for what depression can do is that because it's hurting, brains avoid certain connections. It hurts less to think less, and eventually there is less of the biochemical that happily makes connnections. When the connections quiet down, the person is less capable of responding quickly or creatively, and that doesn't help. But though Prozac or something might help lubricate connections (or whatever it does), it's not magic, and the same thoughts that are saying "no, don't, stupid, sucks, hate" inside the person can continue to sludge it all up.

So de-sludging one's thoughts can be helped by noticing every little good thing one does, that others do, that happens by chance. Gathering little sticks might not be as good as chopping big firewood, but until the ability to do big projects returns, gather the little sticks of hope and remember to be grateful and to find abundance, even if it's abundant Ramen soup, or abundant paper and pencils for drawing or making lists or playing games.

Put on happy music. 😊

For anyone who reads this when its time stamp is new, there will be a chat about mental health in two hours, from where I'm sitting as I write this. If you find this much later, there will be a transcript at some point.
Mental Health chat transcript


Another discussion.
Always Learning list, Feb 14 2014 -- Thread "My daughter says she's stupid"

-=-A friend once said to me, "My kids are pretty much always just fine - not ecstatically happy or miserably sad - just fine. But yours have such big ups and downs - such extremes of joy and despair. For yours everything that happens is the BEST ever or the WORST ever."-=-
If you think of a baseline with graphic capability on either side, and a sine wave on it, however high a person's emotions go is going to have a corresponding low point. Some people are right near the line all the time. "Even keeled," people call it. And very unfairly they say "self-restrained."

I have three male friends I've known for many years, all of them absolutely "self-restrained." The only thing is that this is through no force of will or "control" on their own parts. It's a limitation, a constraint, of their biochemistry. It does look good on a man, to always be logical and rational, and never giddy or silly, and never despairing. On a woman, it can look cold and "emotionless."

Marty (my middle of three) is a bit like that, and his dad is, too. Marty is like his dad in many physical ways, and this is one of them.

Kirby and Holly are more like me, and my mom, and my paternal grandmother (the person I'm most like physically). Sometimes we are just ecstatically happy! REALLY optimistic and full of energy and ideas and joy. But huh-oh... that curve will drop, and not because we lose our "will" or "self restraint."

Sometimes the enthusiasm is gone for a while, but it's good to learn to live in oneself with that personality, and to remember it's going to come back.

If a person with marked highs and lows gets too involved with depressing politics or scary or sad this'n'that, or doesn't gather a tool box of self-soothing thoughts and behaviors (breathing, walking, sending birthday cards and thank you cards to other people, singing, playing sports—different sets for different people, but some positive, uplifting habits), the low can turn to a depression that isn't easy to rise out of, and can be nearly impossible to function from.

Those around them sometimes forget that they need to be kept "in the light" (sometimes physically, in Minnesota and points north; sometimes emotionally, in good news rather than sad stories that cause them to empathize with people they don't even know, if they're empathetic types).

People who live near the baseline call those others "manic depressive" or "bi-polar," when the sine wave goes WAY up and down. When it's closer to the line, it's not "a disease." But even when people have an extreme fluctuation, others around them can help them learn how to live with more peace and less disruption.

It seems to me (after a long life of being that way and seeing others who are "worse"—beause a greater range of emotion is not the praised "centered" place), that people around can make it worse by criticizing the person as though it's all an act, all the person's idea, rather than accepting that the world isn't as consistently comfortable for them as it is for some others.

One of my friends was a judge for a while (temporary appointment by the governor; he's young to be a judge), and will very likely be a judge again when he's older. He is always solid, always reliable and calming and soothing. He told me once, though, that it would be worth the lows if he could ever experience some of the highs he sees in me and other friends of his. As an attorney, though, his ability to be calm and soothing in criminal cases is a huge asset. He worked in violent crimes for the district attorney's office for many years. That would have ruined my life to see crime scenes and hear all the details, and people in grief, and people lying, and being sent to prison (or not). He was as calm as ever, and didn't have bad dreams. He's not cold-hearted at all. He's very sweet and has three little girls, one of whom is deaf, and he is gentle and generous with them and all his friends.

To someone who has high-energy phases, the low can feel like stupidity, like the machine that was working is broken.

And people's baselines are not consistent. Some people, like Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore, live at a lower point in general than some others. Some (I'm one) have a high-energy base line, so the "low" is still pretty high compared to some people's emotional "speed" and expectation. And that can be very tiring.

It's not so important to talk to a child about those things as to respond to the child with the awareness that eventually he or she (and you) might understand better what his patterns and ranges are, and to accept that is IS normal for that child, and it does no good to advise him to be like you if he's not naturally like you.

SandraDodd.com/intelligences/zenthing has a quote that might be worth printing out and thinking about, in lots of circumstances, until it makes sense. And it might make more sense again if you review it every few years.


Another thread
Always Learning list, January 31 2013 -- Thread "Peace of Unschooling"/intelligences/zenthing Your writings /intelligences/zenthing

-=- I've dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life, and have done a great deal of work on that, both with professionals and with self-help books. But *nothing* has calmed me, and deeply improved my relationship with myself and my family, like learning about Radical Unschooling and putting it into action in our lives.-=-

Therapy helps people get one step away from suicidal depression, or one step away from being so frustrated that their lives are being ruined.

If you have a broken leg, the first time you can walk without crutches, the orthopedic guys will say "cured."

There's a book called Slowing Down to the Speed of Life that's comforting and encouraging. Because there are two authors, I can't say who says... but they're talking about mental health as being MUCH bigger and more important than just the lack of mental illness or of depression. HEALTHY! Walking painstakingly without crutches isn't "healthy." It's still gimpy. :-)

I've had three big depressions in my life. I would have had more, if I hadn't figured out (with self-help and help from a therapist when Kirby was a year old) what it was, so in retrospect I saw that it was the second time I had been in such a state. A third one came (situationally triggered, and got worse) when Holly was two. I went to the same counsellor, then.

Prozac was employed, for a while. I did not want to live there. I wanted to find natural, honest ways to maintain my upbeat and joyful self.

Since then I've felt depression coming, and a couple of times I took prozac pre-emptively, to bouy myself up so that the other tools I had gained over the years would work more easily, and I was afraid to slip down again.

The past few times that I've had the feelings (which have become easier to recognize and deal with as I've gotten older and more experienced) I didn't even consider prozac. I used the maintenance tools I had.

Many years ago, in an unschooling discussion (either on unschooling.com or in the early days of the discussions at radical unschooling.info, neither of which message board survived), I had said if someone was feeling depression coming, to listen to happy music watch comedies, eat comfort food, don't watch the news. Someone else (someone I knew, who also had personal experience with depression) attempted to shush me, and shame me, but I was untouched, because I knew I was right. She said nobody can do anything about depression because it's chemical and one MUST go to a therapist or die, pretty much. And that if I advised people that they had any control whatsoever over such things I was giving dangerous advice.

Listen: I know how to make myself unhappy. I bet I could, with a few well-chosen stories artfully presented, make hundreds of you feel so horrible you wouldn't sleep tonight. Maybe not for a week. If I repeated the application of depressing ideas twice a day, and you weren't bright enough to get the hell away from me and stop reading it, we could just start counting the sorrow and violence that was likely to result from that.

I WILL NOT DO THAT! I don't want to. But I know how. And if you think about it, you probably know how to. So whatever stories or moods or thoughts just came to your mind. THOSE are the ones you should avoid, at least while you're responsible for the happiness of your children. And probably you could go the rest of your life without wallowing in sorrow and grief and woe.

So If you know that you can make yourself unhappy, then you must know that making choices in the other direction could make you happy. So that's the deal. Each choice you make takes you nearer to one or the other—dark hole or happy light. YES, absolutely, some people are "even keeled" (and were from birth) and won't be depressed, ever, nor will they (because of the same biohemical realities) ever experience giddy elation and the squealing giggles. Those whose sine wave is small can watch the news and listen to John Prine and Joni Mitchell anytime. Those with a more extreme range need to find their own personal ways to avoid the pit, and to remember, if they are IN the pit, that the curve will rise again, and they can help themselves up and out (or a therapist and some drugs can).


Another thread
Always Learning list, Feb 3 2013 -- Thread "Help supporting daughter with letting go

Rippy Dusseldorp:

-=- I struggle with anxiety. My grandmother and mom both always jump to the worst case scenario and worry about it. I do the same. A headache could be a brain tumor. Sirens in the distance must mean a loved one got into an accident. -=-
I am like this too :-/

I am an INFJ according to the Myers-Briggs personality type. In Janet Penley's book, MotherStyles, the author writes that the INFJ mom has a "tendency to take an isolated fact and extrapolate a catastrophic outcome". It helped me when I read that. Accepting that this is part of who I am - a person who is at times flooded with irrational thoughts - helps me move past anxiety and helps me calm myself.

One of the ways that helps me be calm is to try to recognize the absurdity of some of my thoughts. A few years ago we saw an episode of Little House on the Prairie where three year old Carrie falls into an abandoned mineshaft and everyone thinks she died. With tears streaming down my face, I had a panic attack when I realized I had not even thought of checking our neighbourhood and playgrounds for old mineshafts that could possibly trap and kill both my children. It probably took a good five minutes for me to properly calm down and assess the situation realistically. Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh at myself when thoughts go to the extreme helps.

Much like Sandra, I have tools that I use when I sense I am slipping into a pattern of depressing thoughts. I have a playlist of happy, high energy, cannot help but dance and jump around songs on my iPod. I save youtube links of favourite stand up comedians on my computer. I always make sure there are some funny shows or movies that I have easy access to. I declare war on Gianluca and Gisele and have a pillow/water gun/tickle fight with them. I play Wii Just Dance or Glee Karaoke Revolution with the children or go on long bike rides with them to the beach. I take a long bath at night with candles. I breathe deeply. I count my blessings. Sometimes when I really cannot seem to get past it, I lie down on the floor and melodramatically moan 'why me?'. Other times, I talk to Graham about all the ways I am sure that our beautiful world is about to come to a crushing end and he listens patiently, makes me tea and gives me a foot rub. I have also taken the homeopathic Bach Rescue Remedy when I have felt really anxious. All of these things have helped me at one time or another with anxiety.

What helps comfort me personally is my faith. I read scriptures and poetry. I pray. I listen to kirtan (Sikh hymns). I watch/read/listen to inspiring stories about people who do extraordinarily beautiful and kind things. When I was 14 years old, I asked the leader of the Sikh ashram I was visiting what to do when I am feeling blue and he told me the scriptures advised meditation, service and giving gratitude. He told me that it is also the same advice for when you are happy.

This all helps me keep my cup full. That is what works best for me - keeping my cup full of positive, inspired, happy energy as much as possible. Life has its ups and downs, but I like to focus more on the ups and put myself in the best possible position to help myself out when I am down. I am more sensitive than most people, and I feel very deeply. If I had not learned early in life how to deal with my lows, life might not have been as wonderful as it has been.

Often I need to reevaluate my life to see if there is anything that is unnecessarily stressful. Sometimes for me this has meant distancing myself from friendships that are leaving me more drained than replenished. It means staying away from negative people, news, and energy. I avoid sad movies and if I do decide to watch one, I read the ending and prepare myself for all the bad stuff that is going to happen. I read up on the actors and their real life relationships and assure myself that the movie is all pretend and that they are happy and healthy people in real life. I always make sure I have a funny movie or show lined up that I can watch immediately after. If I do not do these things, I tend to soak up the world's sorrow.

I have learned to be at peace with my tendency to catastrophize. I have some family and friends that know me really well that can recognize when I am having a spell of anxiety. They ask kindly (and jokingly) if I am mentally busy going through my imaginary doomsday list and I nod and smile. It usually takes a minute or two to pass. It does not stop me from living an adventurous life. I have lived on 5 continents and have gone scuba diving, white water rafting, skiing, gone on safari, and so much more. I can be anxious in one moment and carefree and confident in many other moments.

I am really proactive, and generally make sure I am doing lots of positive, helpful energy nurturing activities, especially when I know I am likely to be in a situation that makes me more anxious (i.e. going for a children's medical check up). It is rare for me to have an anxiety episode that lasts a few hours. It is usually over within a minute or five. Even if I have an episode that lasts longer than a few hours, I have always been able to find my way back. This knowledge gives me a lot of strength too. Most often I have positive, happy thoughts and I am calm and peaceful. The one time in my life that I felt I was really struggling, I went to a therapist for a few weeks and it was immensely helpful.

Another thing that has helped me was learning from Jill Bolte Taylor's book, My Stroke of Insight, that anxiety (or anger, or fear, etc.) triggers a physical reaction that lasts only about 90 seconds. After the 90 seconds, it is my thoughts that power the anxiety and keep it alive in my mind and body. If I choose to redirect my thoughts, I can move past the anxiety easier. There are lots of helpful exercises for this. One is to ask myself if there is a clear and present danger right now - not with my mind, but with my senses. Do I see/hear/taste/smell/feel a danger? No? Then in all likelihood I am safe. Another exercise is using my senses to focus on the present. Listening to the sound of the wind blowing. Looking at the book in front of me and feeling the texture and noticing the colour and how the pages sit together. Feeling the warmness of the water as I am washing dishes. Holding my children close and smelling their hair.

It might help you to write down the things that help keep you happy and positive, so that you will do more of those things regularly. You can put it on the fridge, so you see the list several times a day. Maybe practice breathing deeply and do exercises that help you focus on the present moment, such as the ones above where you use your senses. If you do these sorts of things while you are happy and get into the habit of doing them, it is easier to do when you are feeling anxious.

-=- Does anyone have any good resources on overcoming anxiety? I know there are lots of books out there, but I'm finding the things I read on this list help more with inner growth than anything else I have read. I have felt more peace in the six months or so that I've been learning about unschooling than I have my entire life. -=-

This list is the best resource I know. For me it is because I sense so much love, kindness and thoughtfulness in people's personal stories and advice. The list is a celebration of love and connection and life. It keeps my cup full :-) When I am focused on living the kind of life that is encouraged here, there is less and less space for my anxious thoughts.

Before I learned about unschooling, the book that helped me most was Sarah Napthali's Buddhism for Mothers. But I think reading this list and following Sandra's advice of 'read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch' will work better. You make incremental steps in becoming a better parent and ultimately a better person.

(Gianluca 8, Gisele 6)


Radical Unschooling Info, Feb 15 2014 ( here)


Some years ago Pam Sorooshian and I had a quiet secret little conversation and I asked whether it didn't seem that perhaps maybe what we were doing had a spiritual aspect and she said (more loudly than I asked) that of course it did.

I was afraid to talk about that for a lot of years, but I'm not anymore.

And by "spiritual" I mean in the Buddhist sense, not in the Christian sense (if that makes ANY sense)—in the biochemical realm of uplifting emotions. In the moral realm of virtuous thought and living. In the interpersonal realm of selflessness and service to others. In the intrapersonal realm of humility.

End of Marta's collection.

Sandra, now.

I have added some links to the original writing above, as the Always Learning discussion was moved and stabilized. One could read full discussions now, for greated unschooling context.

Mental Health, main page, with MANY links to the things mentioned and praised above. Somewhat lighter and more bouyant.