American Idol and Your Mental Health
/ Author: Quentin Steen
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American Idol and Your Mental Health

Are ANT distortions impacting your life? Maybe its time deal with them in a safe environment with the Lionel Richies of the therapeutic world

By Quentin Steen, Representative

I was watching an episode of this year’s American Idol, a show that I’ve always enjoyed watching, sometimes for the train wreck voices but mostly for the stories of the contestants. Confession time: there are too many times where the human stories I’ve heard left me teary-eyed.

In this specific episode, one of the contestants had just finished performing an original song based on his life’s narrative. It was powerful.

You could tell from his voice and body language that he was struggling with being exposed to the millions watching, wondering if he had just made the biggest mistake of his life. It was almost as though he would rather crawl under a rock than remain on stage under the lights, waiting for the opinion of the judges.

As they were about to give their critique, Lionel Richie jumped in, looked the contestant in the eye, and said, “You were born enough. Now it’s up to you to believe that.”

It was a touching moment, and his words were a source of affirmation and healing that pierced my soul.

As the judges unanimously sent him through to the next round, I was left wondering what this young man’s story was. Where did his struggle to believe in himself begin? What have the voices in his head, or those of others, been telling him up to that point?

His song was a gift as much as his voice was to those listening. But somewhere, somehow, there was a disconnect in his mind until Lionel came along and, in a singular moment, propelled him forward.

Everyone has distorted thoughts about themselves at some time. Our current pandemic environment is a breeding ground for these thoughts.

Some have lived under their self-imposed tyranny for years now, and their battle has only intensified because of COVID-19. Still, others may only now have noticed their ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) for the first time. Efforts to flatten the curve, self-isolation, the loss of or stress of a job, and stressed family dynamics are more than enough to grow a colony of ANTs within anyone’s mind.

The question is, how are your ANTs impacting your life? As a person who has lived with depression for much of my life, I know that distorted thoughts or unrealistic thinking only amplifies my struggle.

As a mental health instructor, I cover the top 10 distortions in thinking that therapists help people like myself work through, to grow from, and work toward a healthier version of ourselves.

For those living with depression, diagnosed or not, maybe its time to take back your life by dealing with your ANT distortions in a safe environment with the Lionel Richies of the therapeutic world.

10 Top ANTs

  1. Black and white thinking – Everything is viewed with an all-or-nothing approach. I applied for a job, and I didn’t get it. I will never get a job, and I am a complete failure.
  2. Setting unrealistic expectations – When you set expectations that no one, or very few people, could ever realistically achieve, you experience a sense of failure when they are not met. I need to be a perfect student. I should get straight A’s. I must be a perfect mother. I must lose 50 pounds.
  3. Selective thinking – Lots of good things happen in a day, but often we choose to only remember the bad, like the guy who cuts in front of you in line at the store or a negative comment. 
  4. Converting positives into negatives – Like selective thinking, sometimes we change a good experience into something negative or are unable to accept a compliment. “Save your thank you.” “It was nothing, really.” “I’m nothing special; anyone could have done that.”
  5. Over generalizing – We use words like always or never when talking about situations. “You never support me or see things my way.” “I always get shafted by life.”
  6. Exaggerating unpleasantness – We like to make mountains out of mole hills. “You just wrecked my whole week. Thanks!”
  7. Catastrophizing – If consequences for something are going to be negative, then the situation would be unmanageable. I have to go to court for a speeding ticket. My life is over.
  8. Personalizing – Everything is about you. It’s all your fault. My spouse is in a bad mood, so I must have done something to upset her.
  9. Mistaking feelings for facts – We believe that our feelings are actually facts. I feel worthless, therefore I am worthless. I feel useless, therefore I am useless.
  10. Jumping to negative conclusions – We assume the worst, like when a friend has not called. She must be mad at me.

Let me introduce you to one of my ANTs that is trying to take advantage of my mind during this pandemic: my adoption and the distorted thinking patterns it created. The name given to me at birth was Ronald Wayne Diebert.

My adopted parents decided I looked more like Quentin James Steen. I think they were right.

My mental health journey with depression is deeply embedded in the attachment issues stemming from my adoption and the bullying, physically and emotionally, that I endured during the formative years of my life.

If you were adopted or spent your formative years in foster care, you’re probably very familiar with my story, or at least a portion of it. It was through the love of family and excellent therapists (a couple of my best friends and wife, Tracy, notwithstanding) along my path that gave me a hand up in learning who I really am, not the distorted thoughts that plagued my mind, which held me captive for so long.

Along the way, I’ve learned that, in fact, as Lionel Richie said, I was born enough. It just took me a while to believe it for myself. I’ve recently learned that there’s more to my adoption story, but I’m not quite ready to hear it just yet.

As I’ve said before, some days are better than others, but all things considered, every day is a good day. Every so often, I need help from those sources to remind me of that truth.

The reason I mention this is two-fold. First, for those who find themselves struggling with their distorted thoughts during this pandemic, you don’t have to stay there. My sincerest hope is that you come to believe that the work ahead of you is worth it.

Don’t get lulled into believing it’s safer to stay emotionally locked down by your fears during this time, or any other time, than it is to walk into them with the hands of the appropriate professional help and face them head on.

Second, in the off chance my birth mother is reading this in her daily dose of COVID social media, I want you to know, in case you’ve ever questioned yourself, you didn’t make a mistake. You made the right choice. A hard one but the right one, which is a testament to your maternal heart and wisdom. I’m grateful to you for the sacrifice you made to give me a chance.

Mom, I’m doing well, even now in the middle of the COVID chaos!

Quentin Steen is a certified mental health first aid instructor for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Get your BRAIN right and your MIND will follow!

3 Mental Health Resources to Help You During the Pandemic

  1. Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
  2. WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.
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