A central feature of the Green Zone Book Series has been people sharing their stories about their journey from their Red Zone existence to a Green Zone lifestyle. Individuals who have read the books have often spontaneously shared their journey with us in letters and e-mails, during social functions and therapy sessions. So when we began to work on designing a website, we felt it would be valuable and appropriate to provide readers with the opportunity to share their Green Zone Stories. Sohail and I also felt it would be fitting to begin with our own stories as an invitation and the beginning for others to share theirs.
So please share with us how using the Green Zone Model in your everyday life, in your romantic life or in your workplace has affected you. If you send it to me at email@example.com I will make sure it gets on the website.
Yours in the Green,
I feel very fortunate that I have not only been able to discover my Green Zone but also be able to live in it. I still remember those days when I lived in my Yellow Zone and visited the Red Zone frequently. Those were the days when I felt quite frustrated, angry and unhappy even resentful and bitter.
I used to be angry with
I was resentful that I was born at the wrong place and at the wrong time. I was bitter that I had no choice but to live in my traditional, conservative and religious suffocating environment for more than twenty years. I was unhappy because I saw no hope of resolving my conflicts with my community and my country.
The only option I saw was to leave my home and homeland and discover a new homeland where I could feel free to create a new lifestyle of my own liking. So I moved to Canada, studied psychiatry and became a psychotherapist and a writer.
Over the years my anger and resentment have subsided and my bitterness has dissolved. I discovered my Green Zone Philosophy and by practicing it started living a healthy, happy and peaceful lifestyle. But that transition was a slow process. I was like the turtle of the mythological folktale, which was slow and steady but finally won the race. I remember the times when I used to visit my Green Zone for short periods of time and go back to my Yellow Zone. But then I started spending more and more time and then finally started living in my Green Zone. Now when I am pushed to the Red Zone by stressful environments, I have learned to drive through and come back to my Green Zone rather than parking in the Red Zone.
I am well aware that it is not humanly possible for all of us to be always living in the Green Zone, as we can be surrounded by Red Zone People and situations from time to time, but we all need to learn ways to cope with them to the best of our abilities. I feel fortunate that I have been able to create a Green Island in the Red Sea of the twentieth century world that we all live in. If I have to meet a Red Zone Person or enter a Red Zone System in my professional or social lives, I have learned to wear an Emotional Raincoat so that I am least affected by the toxicity of the environment.
Every morning when I wake up, I look in the mirror, kiss myself and say, “I will try my best to create a happy, healthy and peaceful Green Zone Day. Maybe this is the last day of my life.” Then I plan my day which usually include,
…going to work
…socializing with family and friends
…doing some creative work by reading and writing.
At the end of the day when I go to bed, I ask myself, “Did I spend a Green Zone Day?” and when I find the answer “Yes”, I feel relaxed and happy. I am glad to be able to
…serve a few people and help them with their emotional problems
…have fun with my dear ones
…create a few lines.
Before I go to sleep, I say to myself, “If I die tonight I don’t want to be angry with anyone. I forgive the people who have wronged me. They have to deal with their own conscience. As far as my own life is concerned I feel proud that I did the best I could.” After saying that it does not take me long to fall asleep hoping that if I die I will have a peaceful death.
The next day when I wake up I feel pleased that life has offered me another opportunity to:
…live a little more
…learn a little more
…love a little more
…dream a little more
…create a little more
…serve a little more
make this world a better place to live. Living in the Green Zone has been a wonderful experience for me.
In the last few years I have tried to resolve and dissolve my conflicts with my dear ones, so that my significant relationships are in the Green Zone. I love socializing with them as we bring out the best in each other and I can be my natural self in their company. I am also lucky to be able to create my Green Zone family, work and social environments and enjoy working and socializing with people I respect. If any problem arises I feel confident that I would be able to resolve or dissolve the conflicts.
So at the age of fifty-two, I am able to have a Green Zone Lifestyle in which I am able to live, learn, love, dream, create and serve everyday and lead a happy, healthy and peaceful lifestyle. I create my Green Zone Day everyday and I hope I keep on creating it till the day I die.
Dr. K. Sohail
When Dr. Sohail introduced me to the Green Zone model in 2001, I was personally intrigued and instantly aware of the potential for use in therapy. So for several months after I read the book, I discussed the concept with Sohail as well as other friends and colleagues and began using it in my own life. “It’s simple, like many brilliant concepts, just think of the traffic lights,” I thought, “Green means go forward, yellow means caution, slow down and red means stop.”
One of the first elements that stood out was the concept that while I could be feeling really good in the Green Zone the person next to me may be in distress in the Yellow or Red Zone. I became aware that checking for which Zone I was in first and then which Zone others were in was a wise first step in deciding when and how I would talk to a friend, family or colleague about a troubling or even a pleasant issue. I began more and more to use the Zones as a way of measuring the emotional temperature of a relationship or situation.
As I became more tuned into what Zone I or another person was in, I began to appreciate that a relationship can be in one of those Zones and as well, a system can be in either of the three Zones. The main systems that affect our lives are family, work and social. I was already aware that systems are often more powerful than the individual because, of course, there is power in numbers. This new awareness helped me be more realistic in approaching or working with Yellow or Red Zone systems. I also became more thorough in my planning to interact in those systems. It became my catchphrase that it is wise, not weak, to delay addressing a concern with a person or system that is temporarily in the Red Zone until the storm has passed. With a person or system that seemed to be permanently in the Yellow or Red, I was aware that it took some planning to decide how I would deal with them. I also began asking myself whether it was really necessary to deal with some of these persistently Red Zone situations, and if it wasn’t, I didn’t. I became increasingly more convinced that healthy communication is only possible only in the Green Zone.
As part of integrating it into my personal life I introduced it to my daughter Adriana one day while we were waiting at the traffic lights. Although she was only eleven years old at the time, her passion for driving anything with wheels and a motor had been developed a couple of years previously when she first sat on a ride-on lawn mower. So she was listening carefully when I started talking about the traffic lights and her interest did not wane when I introduced the concept of emotional zones. We both liked the respectful language of the model. Several days later at the end of a very long but Green day, we found ourselves talking about an unpleasant issue and realized that we were both tired. Adriana quickly took advantage of her newfound knowledge and said with a grin, “Mom, I think you’re going into the Yellow!” We both laughed and changed the subject but realized that we had discovered a non-escalating way to give each other feedback about the emotional temperature of our relationship.
Using the model made us more aware when a situation was becoming tense, and on those occasions we no longer wasted emotional energy, trying to find a sensitive way of saying that our interaction was off track. I believe that healthy families find ways of communicating in shorthand, ways of conveying a message quickly which can be discussed later when there is more time and I was realizing that the Green Zone Model was a type of shorthand. For example, when my daughter received a phone call from her friend, Kristen, when I called her to the phone, she said, “Mom, Kristen and I are in the Yellow. I’m not ready to talk to her yet.” Announcing that you’re in the Yellow or Red is a good way to put your loved ones on alert so that they can be more sensitive.
So as I became excited about the impact of the Green Zone philosophy on my daughter’s and my life, I was eager to introduce it to my clients. Their response was as enthusiastic as ours. I found many embraced the concept and were quickly able to apply it to their lives.
A while ago I had the privilege of offering a seminar over a six week period to senior high school students and was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which they began using the language and integrating it into their day-to-day experiences. Along with learning about their feelings they were able to have fun with it as well. I had made a comment and that some people are so familiar with living in the Red Zone that they often became permanent residents there and have a condominium, even a subdivision in the Red Zone. When I asked one student who had a good sense of humor, what Zone he felt he lived in, he smiled mischievously and said that he had a house in the Green Zone but that he had a summer cottage in the Yellow!
Individuals who were dealing with boundary issues, such as survivors of childhood abuse or those from enmeshed families, embraced it quickly. Gradually they could see how certain situations, issues or people pushed them into the Yellow or Red. For them building their awareness of boundaries was significantly strengthened by the Green Zone model. Their awareness increased over time as they worked on becoming attentive to the boundaries between the Green Zone and the Yellow Zone as well as between the Yellow Zone and the Red Zone.
Around that time my daughter and I had an experience while on vacation which would become a metaphor for emphasizing those invisible boundaries that are important in all of our lives. When we arrived at the airport at the end of our vacation, Adriana, eager to get a cart for our luggage said her goodbyes quickly. After loading the cart she headed toward the door to the airport while I did my final goodbyes with our friends at the curb. She stopped about 10-15 feet from the door of the airport to wait for me. As she stood waiting, looking back in my direction she moved the luggage cart back and forth similar to the way one would rock a baby carriage. Unbeknownst to Adriana each time she moved the cart forward she would cross an invisible barrier which caused the door of the airport to open, when she wheeled it back the door would close. Of course, therapists love moments like this because they are familiar to many people and can be used to convey a psychological concept. So I now use this story to make the invisible boundaries between each of the emotional zones more visible.
Initially the boundary between Zones moves from an invisible boundary that is unknowingly crossed to a speed bump that gets a little more of our attention. And from a speed bump to a wall that increasingly gets higher so that crossing into the next Zone is more in our awareness and more in our control. As one of my clients said, “I know now when my little toe is in the Yellow and I’m choosing not to go there!”
After a couple of months using the Green Zone Model I was really excited about the awareness that I and others were developing. Then the question was, “what to do with all that awareness?” The natural answer was to use it to address the issues that are pushing you out of the Green Zone. Obviously, awareness of the issues, people or situations that cause you distress is very valuable but real emotional strength comes from addressing these challenges.
As a therapist I find that people mainly need to learn awareness of their emotional zones and usually they need to gain clarity about challenging issues but they can often identify the challenges well. As the analogy goes they may have swept some of these issues under the rug and need prompting to drag them out but usually the awareness of the issue is there. Most people sweep troublesome issues under the rug because they have difficulty resolving them and it can be very stressful to keep reviewing unfinished problems. But what people don’t realize is that it requires emotional energy to keep these unresolved issues hidden or to repeatedly put them back in their place, when others push our buttons. As well when these things that are unresolved rear their ugly heads, it is often to our embarrassment.
One of my favorite concepts in The Art of Living in Your Green Zone is the discussion around our choices in dealing with stressful, pushing-us-into-the-Red-Zone issues. We can either 1) resolve or 2) dissolve; that is we either address the issue so that it is no longer a problem or if that is not possible, you can dissolve the problem, in other words, end the relationship, change jobs, etc. I find that one of the biggest sources of ongoing stress for people is that they neither resolve nor dissolve problems but continue, some times for years, sitting on the fence between these two options. I jokingly say that sitting on the fence is very uncomfortable because we sit on those sharp pickets day after day. We work really hard in therapy to help people down off the fence and, of course, our first choice is always resolution of an issue rather than dissolving it by ending the relationship or job.
Let me give you a personal example of how I got down off the fence in one of the most important relationships in my life – with my mother. If you saw my Mom and me together these days you would think we had a relationship that was bright Green and yet we didn’t always look that way. It had occurred to me that we had issues that were in all three Zones. When we discussed those that were in the Green we were happy and enjoyed each other’s company but when we focused on Yellow Zone issues we quickly moved to the Red and felt frustrated and distressed. I began to look at all of these issues and realized that if we had 15 issues we regularly discussed, 7 of them were in the Red. 3 were in the Yellow and 5 in the Green. I approached my Mom and explained this. She had met Sohail many years ago and was very fond of his sense of humor and pleasant nature, so she was quite open to reading The Art of Living in Your Green Zone. I said that clearly the issues in the Green Zone were good, and asked her if we could resolve the Yellow Zone issues to bring them to the Green. We were able to do that and even found a couple of Red Zone issues we could resolve. So now we have a number of issues that we feel really good about. If either of us gets into a Red Zone issue, we have three choices: 1) be quiet for a while to let the other person clue into what Zone they are in; 2) make a brief comment to correct the course such as “Let’s not get into that. I think that’s going to get us in to the Yellow.” or 3) if all else fails, gracefully end the conversation and reconnect when both are in the Green again.
I have derived so many benefits from using the Green Zone concept and I know a number of friends, family and clients have as well. It is a well rounded concept that we use in our clinic in our professional interactions with each other as colleagues, and also it with our clients and in our personal lives. At home we are a Green Zone family and at work we are a Green Zone clinic. It has had a significant impact on my emotional growth enhancing my relationships and the ease with which I handle even difficult (Red Zone) situations.
FROM REDS AND WRONGS TO GREENS AND RIGHTS
Anxiety is something I've had since I was about two years old, feeling pressure all my life. Raised by parents that thought they were doing the right thing, but weren't. My father served 4 years in WW2 which destroyed his life. I think the stress he suffered in the war rubbed off on me as a kid. My mother's mother was a neurotic worrier, which I think was also passed on to me. As a kid in the 50s with emotional problems, was something that was not well understood, and therefore not well treated. So what did we do, we suffered!
I had fun too as a kid, but with a blind eye as to what life really was all about. I guess I hid from it most of my life. The 60s was a bad time for me; I quit school, got involved with drugs and the wrong people. When I should have been getting an education and preparing for adult life, I was having fun with hot cars and poor jobs. Every now and then I would have anxiety, but not know what it was. It cost me jobs, girlfriend, and life in general. All of the 70s and 80s were like that.
It all came to a head when I had my first daughter in 1990. It was like a pressure cooker in my life, building up pressure all my life and finally blowing its top. I was the birth of my daughter, and the birth of reality! This was the start of my panic attacks and a wake up to the real world.
A few years later, I met Dr. Sohail and that was the second wake up call. As many before, my relationship with my girlfriend was on the rocks, and going down hill fast. She had her own problems, which didn't help the relationship at all. We had a second daughter, but things did not improve between us. I thought this was normal, people not getting along. I had no concept of boundaries because I had never been taught. At first, with Sohail, I didn't take it seriously, it took a long time before I started to listen and learn. And so, the work began. I went from laughing to crying. It took many years of hard work in private sessions and group therapy. What an amazing journey. The light in my life slowly went from RED to AMBER, and finally to GREEN, the whole time, fighting with anxiety and panic attacks. But as time went on, the attacks got fewer. There were always a few people in my life that knew what buttons to push to get me in the Red Zone. I slowly filtered them out of my life, including the mother of my children and a friend of 30 years.
I am free of that haunting Red Zone, and although the Amber does appear once in a while, I am quickly under full control and back to the Green. I live better now in almost every way. My approach to boundaries is very good now, however, I do cross the odd one, but just the harmless ones, and just for fun. Now I work, sleep, and live in my Green Zone. My decision-making has become much easer for me. Where I used to stand and argue, I now walk away. Life has been hard for me, but the good part is that I now have two wonderful daughters, a home and most of all, THE GREEN ZONE to control it all. Thanks to Dr. Sohail and Anne without whom I could not have done what I have. Thanks for sticking with me. I still have work to do, it's like building a car that I've done, and I now have to polish it.
THE OLD MAN, THE GREEN ISLAND AND THE RED SEA
Hello my name is David Harrington, and this is my journey to living in my Green Zone. As I reflect back on my life and my life experiences I have come to a key question, ‘where do I start?’ To go through my life’s journey from birth would be rather extensive, however also pertinent to how I developed an Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks and periods of Depression. To keep this particular story condensed I will start with when my disorder became debilitating to my activities of daily living.
Around 2000 I started to develop symptoms that were both bizarre and foreign to me. Although at the time I did not know what it was, however I now know it was an anxiety disorder associated with panic attacks and predisposing me to a mild form of depression.
The mental symptoms that I first felt as I reflect back were feelings of fear, scared all of the time for no reason, rapid thought process, an inability to concentrate, periods of disorientation, “what if” thinking, thoughts that I might be going crazy or was suffering from schizophrenia, bad thoughts like “what if I died or if someone around me died, or what if I did some awful thing?” (Please note I never acted out these thoughts, they are part of the disorder). These were some of the mental symptoms that I experienced.
The physical symptoms that I felt included, nausea, not eating, perfuse sweating, decreased energy level to the point that all I wanted to do was go home, home was the only place I felt safe.
The above symptoms came on gradually, but after several months of denial - running to the washroom at work to hide, running straight home after work so I was in a safe environment - I knew. Finally I built up enough courage to see my family doctor. He suggested at that time that I start medication and seek the help of psychiatry. I refused both options, because to me doing either one of these things would confirm to me that I was a ‘nut case’ and the social world would label me as such. After one month I could no longer take the symptoms as they were getting worse and I was now unable to work due to this disorder. Finally, I agreed to take medication, however instead of psychiatry I found a nurse who specialized in therapy.
After three to four months on medication I felt like my normal self again, therefore I gradually stopped my medication and no longer saw my nurse therapist. Later I would find this decision to be a big mistake.
After approximately one year of no symptoms slowly they came back. Again I denied treatment to myself because again to me treatment meant I was ‘crazy’. This time I told nobody how I was feeling because I was a tough guy and could do it on my own. Let me tell you that being the tough guy is really being the loser. When you play this role of denial you lose focus of what is really important in life. I ended up leaving my wife, moved in with friends, partied hard and drank a lot of rye and beer. I was short tempered, got into fights in hockey and at the bar, basically I was an ignorant asshole, and slowly but surely the tough guy became the loser. After 6 months of this behavior I finally swallowed my pride and went in to see my family doctor, again I started back on medication and again I went to see my nurse therapist, and this time I even built up enough courage to see a psychiatrist.
I had seen this psychiatrist only once; in this one meeting he had his head down the entire time writing notes. At the end of our one hour session he told me there was nothing wrong with me and that I should take some time to figure out if I really wanted to be married or not. Then he said, “Just in case though I want to write a prescription for medication”. I never did fill that prescription and I never saw that psychiatrist again. After this meeting I was worse off because I was certain I never wanted to see any psychiatrist again.
The therapy I received from my nurse therapist was at best OK. She was just too nice, and supplied supportive counseling rather than cognitive development. She would rather talk about my past than help me develop skills on how to live today. Although I felt this way I continued see her, although no progress was made. It also felt belittled that after every session I had to pay write then, instead of receiving a bill in the mail, I found this practice belittling of any progress we may have made.
Again, I believe the medication had worked for me, and after about six months to one year I was back to my normal self. Now I was in a real hole because I was feeling better, however I did not have my wife or other important things in my life. I went back to my wife, and lucky for me she is a good-hearted woman who sincerely loves me and took me back after all of the hurt I had caused her.
There is an important point readers should identify in the last paragraph which is that denial and tough guy roles can seriously effect others in your life that truly love you.
I lived a symptom free year and a half. I was again free of counseling and medication. However this would again come to an end. All of the symptoms were coming back gradually and this time worse than ever before. At work I could not concentrate for longer than one hour without going to the washroom to hide, or without calling my wife for reassurance. While at work the only comfort I had was going home in 8 hrs, this counting down method can make for one long day. By this time I had become a master at hiding my disorder; finally the day came that I recognized as the turning point in my disorder. I was sitting at the triage desk assessing a lady with a heart rate of 180 beats per minute, as a trained professional I asked her several pertinent questions, however I was repeating myself without even knowing it, I was truly confused. This lady said to me “Son, are you ok?” I turned to a co-worker and asked them to complete the assessment of this patient. I went outside for a breather when it dawned on me that I was no longer safe to work. I walked back into the department, my co-worker was very concerned, therefore I saw a doctor whom I trusted, and he sent me home that day. I hit the bottom that day; I could no longer hide it. I would not return to work.
I hid in my house for several days, scared, confused, depressed, angry, with a ‘why me’ attitude. After several days at home I finally went out with my mom and my wife to the mall, a place that I have gone to all of my life. While I was there I lost site of them, the fear and panic that I felt that day was unbearable and I am unable to put it into words. The next day I contacted the Employee Assistance Program offered by my employer, and in one week I had an appointment to see a counsellor. She was excellent at what she did, which was cognitive therapy while I waited to see psychiatry. There were times I could not sit through an entire session because I would become panicked, scared, and confused. I started my medication again and hoped it would work quickly.
I called the psychiatrist office that I was referred to. A lady answered the phone by the name of Anne, I drilled her with questions about Dr. Sohail and she answered every question, then she talked to me about what I was looking for in a psychiatrist. By the end of this discussion with Anne I think the healing process already began because I felt like the philosophies of the Creative Psychotherapy Clinic was exactly what I needed. I did not want another psychiatrist like the last one, nor did I want another nurse therapist like the last one. Still skeptical I bought and read Dr. Sohail’s book, The Art of Living in Your Green Zone, after reading this book; along with five years of bad psychotherapy I was happy because that I felt I was on the right path.
My first meeting with Dr. Sohail and Anne was about one to two months after the original referral from my family doctor. Although the wait time was long I personally did not care how long the wait was because, after talking with Anne and reading Dr. Sohail’s, book I knew I was on the right track. The wait time can be a testing time for a patient. At times you feel like you will never get in, or that it is just a waste of time waiting to see a psychiatrist whom you do not know. During this wait time I continued to follow up with my family doctor, continued my medications, continued seeing EAP counseling, and continued hiding in my house waiting. This wait time although unfortunate can be a positive thing, because it gives time for the medication to take effect, and once you get the call for an appointment you are ready and willing to do the work to achieve a healthy life style.
My first encounter with Anne and Dr. Sohail was a positive experience, I told my story of why I felt that I needed psychiatry, and I could not believe it, but both Anne and Dr.Sohail both listened. Unlike counselors I had seen in the past they really did listen, and at the end of our first meeting neither counselor gave any quick solution to my problems. I did not walk out of the office that day with any new prescriptions and I was never told that nothing was wrong with me. Instead I left with a positive experience and the following understandings:
I was told there is no quick fix and that we would take a road of recovery that is Dr. Sohail’s philosophy of the “turtle approach” slow but steady. As a type A person this was not sitting to well, however slow allowed me to identify and rectify problems as they arouse.
I walked out with an appointment for every Friday at the same time, unlimited, please note that this is an extremely important part, because I do not know of any other psychiatrist that is willing to give one hour of his time every week to the same patient for psychotherapy.
Something I found bizarre was that when I left my first meeting I left with no official diagnosis. Because I work in health care I found this really difficult to understand, however I can now see the importance of this. The importance is I am unique and every person is unique, so how can you place a generalized mental health diagnosis on a person. Instead of labeling, we identified areas in which I needed help and that is what we focused on.
The last thing I walked out with was homework; I needed to start a journal. Journal writing was foreign to me and almost sounded silly, however let me tell you that this is not silly, it is a valuable tool. Though journal writing you will identify areas that require immediate attention and area’s that need attention but can wait.
On the second meeting I began to understand the Green Zone theory in depth so I could apply it in my life. Here I would like to share a story that Dr. Sohail told me, one that put the Green Zone theory together for me
There is a peaceful and wise man, this man is extremely intelligent and lives a Green Zone life style. One day a younger man came up to him and asked to be his student. The wise man said no, because students ask too many questions. The young man was determined so he promised not to ask any questions. The wise man said all students ask question, however the wise man made a deal with this young man. The wise man said I will teach you, and I know you will ask questions, once you have asked three questions we will shake hands and go our separate ways. The young man agreed so off they went.
They were at a bar one night, the wise man saw a very happy man sitting at the bar drinking whisky. The wise man said to his student, “I want you to go over there and slap that man in the face.” The student said to him, but why? The wise man said that was your first question. So the student went over to this man at the bar and slapped him in the face. From that a big fistfight broke out.
Several months later the wise man and his student were at a political debate. While the politician was speaking the wise man asked his student to go up on stage and slap the man in the face. The student asked, but why? The wise man told the student that was his second question. So the student went on stage and slapped this man across the face. The politician was outrage, he started swearing and yelling at the student.
Weeks later the wise man and his student were walking past a village where there was an old man teaching several young children. The wise man said to his student, “I want you to go over there and slap that man across the face.” The student asked, but why? The wise man told the student that was his third and final question. So the student went over and slapped the old man across the face. The old man just ignored the incident and went on teaching, so again the student slapped him across the face; this time the old man said, “Could you please leave us alone I am trying to teach the children”. The student then walked away, confused.
The wise man said to his student you have asked your three questions we must now shake hands and go our own ways. The student said, “Could you please explain to me why you had me slap these people?” The wise man agreed and stated the following:
The guy at the bar had received a promotion at work; he was out celebrating, he was happy and in the Green Zone. When you slapped him, he was outrage and started a fistfight; he spent the night in jail. Your slap took him from Green Zone to Red Zone.
The politician was leading the poles, and that was his final speech. When you slapped him he did not hit you back; however he did retaliate by yelling and swearing. He lost the election once people seen that. Your slap took him from Green Zone to the Yellow Zone.
When you slapped the old man teaching the student he had no retaliation, when you slapped him a second time he remained calm and politely asked you to leave him and his students alone. You were unable to take this man out of his Green Zone, because he is at peace with himself, and you cannot break that.
This story really hit me. After hearing this story I realized I was the man at the bar. I could easily be taken from my Green Zone due to exterior factors that I really have no control over. I had a new goal now, and that goal was to become the old man who was teaching his students. This man was so emotionally stable, so focused that it would be impossible to harm this man.
After our second or third meeting, Dr. Sohail suggested that I join group therapy lead by him and his co-therapist, Bette. I had never taken part in group therapy and the only real vision I had of it was from the movie One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest. I was skeptical about how this would help me, but I was willing to do anything that would assist me in achieving my Green Zone. So I agreed. Group has proven to be a valuable experience. It teaches you many things, first you are not alone, you learn to listen, when it is your turn to speak you learn to take your own advise, and when you are in focus you receive supportive feedback from different individuals with different life experiences. It is your own confidential place to talk to others about your emotional state.
Another dynamic part of therapy with Dr. Sohail was that he invited my wife to come in and to be a part of my care plan. I found this to be beneficial to my healing. It was beneficial because my wife was directly affected by my mental health disorder. It was important for me to have her by my side and understand some of the issues that I was dealing with.
After about the fourth or fifth session I said to Dr. Sohail, “Do you not want to talk about my past?” I had found it bizarre that I had seen him for five weeks and we did not focus extensively on my past. His answer was simple; he said we could talk about it if I wanted to, or if there are parts of the past that really bothered me. However as I thought about it, it was today, the here and now that I was struggling with, the past was yesterday and there really is not much that I could do to change it. So we never did talk much about the past, I liked this approach because every other counselor seemed to focus on yesterday. Dr. Sohail and I focus more on the today and tomorrow.
At about week six I could really start to notice a difference. Part of my problem was that I could never slow down. I would work 12 hrs shifts, run a small business, and did not believe in hiring anybody to do any job because they could never do it as well as I could. By this time though I was still off work, I noticed I was taking more of a positive approach to life. I started to change my eating habits and selected healthier foods; I started to go to the gym, made an effort to walk my dogs in a ravine everyday, and most of all I tried to look at life in a positive manner.
As I started to look at life in a positive manner I was starting to notice more changes. I noticed that the positivity that I had would radiate from me to my wife, or to my friends, or to my work. This is very important; positivity is addicting and it is bringing me one step closer to becoming the old man in the Green Zone story.
After six months off work, with the assistance of Dr. Sohail, I was able to return to work on a modified program. I felt this would be my ultimate challenge. I would have to learn how to deal with Red Zone issues on a continuous basis and stay on my Green Island in the middle of the Red Sea. One of the strategies I use is that I do not go into work emotionally weak, by this I mean I no longer work 12 hr shifts and I no longer work night shifts. I try to take time to talk to my patients; I try to be a polite positive person with my co-workers (although I still joke around a lot, it is just my nature).
I still have an anxiety and panic disorder; the difference is that I know how to deal with it, how to cope and how to be emotionally strong. I still work very hard everyday to get one step closer to the “Old Man”. An important point is that the Creative Psychotherapy Clinic combined with my eagerness to get healthier, changed my life. Many therapists try to get their patients back to work and they consider this a success; however in my experience those patients will ultimately relapse in their illness. It was important for me to have a life changing experience, and I believe that is the true road to recovery.
I owe a big thank-you to Dr. Sohail, Anne, and Bette as they helped me find the road to my emotional recovery.
Thank you, for listening to my story.
MY INTRODUCTION TO THE GREEN ZONE
In early 2004 I met Dr. Sohail, a psychiatrist who works in his Creative Psychotherapy Clinic. My family doctor referred me to him for his consultation as I had been suffering with depression for a number of years. After meeting Dr. Sohail I had the opportunity to read his book “The Art of Living in Your Green Zone” and receive therapy. Through weekly sessions with Dr. Sohail and attending group therapy in time I learned to live my life in my Green Zone, one of contentment, peace of mind and happiness. Certainly these traits were far removed from the depressed person I had been for many years and before benefiting from Dr. Sohail’s book and sessions.
MY GREEN ZONE STORY
My wife Jill and I planned a wonderful trip to Newfoundland in 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were impressed by the unique culture and genuine hospitality. Newfoundland was the only province we had not visited. Our trip was enjoyable and memorable. Such a peaceful trip was significantly different than the trip we had a year ago. We had travelled with some friends to Europe. During our travels in France, Italy and Austria, I was so angry and full of rage that it became the trip from hell. I am so embarrassed thinking about that trip. Later on I realized that my anger was a reflection of my low self-esteem and idealistic personality. But our trip to Newfoundland highlights how much I have changed, and changed for the better. And it is because I received therapy and transformed my Red Zone lifestyle to a Green Zone lifestyle.
If it was only the vacations that brought about my less than desirable qualities, then maybe avoiding long holidays could lead to a cessation of such undesirable actions. But, vacations were only one sampling of my problems. This year Jill travelled out of town for a number of days for her work and stayed in luxury accommodations. Upon Jill leaving I wished her a super time and all that goes with a paid corporate outing. In contrast, prior years saw me in full- fledged resentment and questioning Jill’s love for me and her faithfulness especially when she was out of town attending seminars. It resulted in avoiding her phone calls while she was away, staying late at work the day she returned and giving the cold shoulder when arriving back at our home. How can it be that a similar situation could generate such varied actions?
Golf is my favourite hobby and retirement has allowed much more time for play. In 1999, 3 friends and I spent a weekend at a cottage and played a nearby resort course. Poor shots on my part especially the 13th hole where each day saw my golf balls go into the water resulting in the throwing of clubs and profanity laced yelling .It was very awkward and uncomfortable for my friends. We returned in 2004 and yes; the 13th holes water again swallowed my ball each day we played. However, my friends saw a golfer who said nothing and proceeded to hit a second ball into the water. They must have wondered if this is the same individual who 5 years earlier and on many other occasions became an embarrassment after poor shots. What had changed?
These are issues of low self- esteem and anger to the point of rage had frequent airings. It was the husband and the father where our 2 children and Jill were always on their guard, when would there be another eruption? How could they avoid it? These actions were in contrast to an individual very successful in his career, having many friends and possessing a fun personality with a bent for humour. A person committed to helping others, involvement in his church and working hard to provide for the family.
Could this split person be a reflection of his upbringing? Did his father’s impatience, his frequent hitting him or three distinct moves to foreign areas of the Province be the root of the problem? But while these negatives were experienced, there were the superb family times of sports involvement, camping trips and help with education. Or was it my post secondary education beginning in 1967,which saw an immature person mixed with adults in a new college while living at home and under a curfew for time and parties. I may have been the only student in this situation. Very much it was a concern kept to myself! But then my parents moved 500 miles away creating new found freedom of independent living, partying and determining my own schedule overcoming the prior negative restrictions and a low confidence level Then again marriage may have played a role. Jill’s upbringing saw a very dominant father, an insistence on daily farm chores, a very limited family income and no support for a post secondary education. Myself by comparison lived with a sounder financial environment (though making ends meet at times was difficult) and had at minimum a tough love environment.
In meeting Jill, her self-confidence was lacking while I acquired this ingredient boosted by Jill’s lack of it. Then as Jill became successful and matured, self-confidence gained in rapid and large amounts. Where there had been a shy, quiet bride there was now a woman firmly planted and knowing where she wanted to go. Volunteer activities with Brownies, VON and the Church plus her success at work were illustrations of Jill’s growth and expanding her horizons This growth affected me as I questioned her love for me, I started to think that I was just a handy provider for Jill and the children but flings were “there” for Jill. This led to bizarre behaviour on my part from her independence which included excessive drinking and leaving the home when upset. In carrying out these negative thoughts leading to action, the real issue was not touched upon and it is only through this exercise that I have gained a true understanding of my thought processes during these unhealthy times These were issues that I know now that affected my self esteem with rage waiting to be vented. To the outsider, we were a happily married couple fooling those who took notice of us. If these people were to become aware, they would have been mystified that there were troubles in our relationship.
As situations of conflict, resentment, rage with the children and unpredictable behaviour on my part increased in frequency, Jill very strongly asked me to see our family doctor. I felt if I did not see our doctor that the future of our family was very much in question. As such, I was open with our doctor describing different situations that had occurred over a number of years from the present (1991) back to approximately 1977. It was comforting talking to the doctor and it was the first time that I had talked to anyone about some of my actions and thoughts. The doctor diagnosed me as having Depression and prescribed Prozac. In the beginning it was euphoria. Everything was as it should be. All my previous doubts about our relationship magically disappeared. Similarly a calmness enveloped me with the children and other matters that had previously led to anger and strong judgements. But the euphoria did not last and the negative reactions returned over a period of 8 years. This was after increased prescription strength resulting from my visits to the doctor advising that my “blues” were returning and that it now included my work environment. Often I would lay awake at night thinking of suicide and how it could be done to look like an accident. I could not overcome a malaise of unhappiness and in retrospect became to believe that this was normal. While books on depression were read, they just did not register. I could not link the message, the analysis to me. These remedies were for other people.
Today I know that this is living in the Red Zone! Your mind is pre-occupied with all things bad and you “ will” yourself to think in a negative way. It is a spirit of thinking. You must always return to this outlook to be normal. While I suffered, those around me suffered equally. Imagine that Jill is asking the children if their dad has hit them (not once) and if things do not improve that Jill and the children would be leaving the home. We only go through life once, the unfairness of a troubled home brought about by a depressed and raging father is not the quality of life that my wife and children deserve. If that meant being without a father to enjoy life, then that would be the route. These 1991 timeframes reflected past and current thoughts of Jill and were very troubling to me but until seeing the family doctor I did not realize the depth of the problem or realize that my actions were of such a concern as to see the parting of our family.
Following our 2003 European vacation, Jill confidentially consulted a friend working in the mental health profession. A psychologist was recommended and Jill took the courageous step of telling me and asking if I would go for help. I agreed. After 3 sessions 1 solely for Jill, an assessment was provided. While I did not agree with some of the findings, the recommendation to obtain help from a psychiatrist was something I was amenable to. With the help of our family doctor, I found myself meeting Dr Sohail of the Whitby Creative Psychotherapy Clinic.
Two things happened in early 2004 that had a tremendous impact on me. First there was the book written by Dr. Sohail” The Art of Living in Your Green Zone” which I read many times and still treasure. The second occurrence was Dr. Sohail’s remark almost off hand where he stated that I have an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Both the book (which I still have) and this disorder analysis hit me! I cannot say if it was a matter of timing, my sub conscious working with my awake mind or the realization of the depths of Jill’s concern however there was an impact. The book made sense! The personality difficulties were easy to see after talks with Dr. Sohail pertaining to a number of social issues such as abortion, homosexuality and capital punishment were talked about He saw my pre-occupation with time, money, cleanliness and morality, the make-ups of obsessive compulsive personality disorder. In particular, morality and my judgement were most obvious to the Doctor. Combine the disorder with depression and the results are qualities that I exhibited for many years.
Basically I was living in the Red Zone. This was reflected by my unhappiness, frequent bursts of anger, strong opinions on morale issues, attitudes to my pre-retirement work place and not having true belief in myself but masked by working successes. My mind would encourage bad thoughts and interpretation of remarks and actions in a negative way. The frequent discussions with Jill and now including my work environment leading to shouting and walking from the room were prime examples. For the work environment it was me against them! I was right and had to get the last word, the last right analogy otherwise things went downhill in a hurry. A look from Jill or words that I saw as condescending was a sure fired trip to the Red Zone Early work mornings similarly had led to easy interpretations of a lack of love from Jill as she would head to a room away from the breakfast table and more pointedly in my mind away from me. Later through a normal conversation I learned it was simply a quiet time for Jill. But in the beginning, the Red Zone of my mind was quite happy to expand and put more negative perspectives for me.
With the first visit to Dr. Sohail and receiving his “The Art of Living in Your Green Zone” it became my bible, my consultation source. There was an instant recognition of my actions and thoughts in the book. This was so reassuring to see myself being described in the book! How else can I explain a complete understanding of the book, that my mind would say yes that occurred many times with Jill, the children, friends and in the work place.
The thrust of the book, the message as I took it, was to become “aware” of words, actions, thoughts and situations that would send you to unhappiness, the world of negativity. This is the “Red Zone.” The beginnings of the trip are in the “Yellow Zone” where unbalanced actions can be caught if you are “aware” of them. For me, the identifying of contentment as being the “Green Zone” and the classifications of Yellow and Red were areas that I could readily identify with. No matter how great a book’s message may be, if it does not register with the reader, it is not going to be the remedy! In the Green Zone you look forward to events and every day living. In itself the book became a Green Zone experience for me. In the frequent readings an uplifting would occur. This led to me wanting more! Like the Newfoundland trip, I wanted contentment, easy expressions of my love for Jill and the children for today and the future.
In the middle is the Yellow Zone. It is the territory where things are starting to look bad. In some ways maybe it is the most important Zone to know. I say this as with my newfound awareness you can catch those negative infiltrations and dispatch them by positive thoughts thus travelling to the Green Zone filled with positive views that are energizing and contented.
For me, the single biggest factor has been awareness. In the past, I would let fly with aggressive words, use undesirable body language, throw objects to the point of breaking a golf club or a fishing rod, endangering others and myself. This would be accompanied by condescending remarks and threatening words and actions. Now I enjoy the knowledge that these actions can be overcome by counselling, group therapy, medication and applying what I have learned from this book. These are the ingredients for me to live in the Green Zone representing contentment and happiness.
In Jill’s words, it is amazing! While before Newfoundland her husband was displaying positive results from his sessions and group therapy, the Newfoundland trip would be a superior measurement of my level of improvement. What a pleasure for Jill to be able to realize that there was a more peaceful, calm and rationale hubby on the trip. Imagine that he did not get upset with wrong turns, that he was content to miss a mill tour for a logging exhibition and that he was so interested in the Province and not demanding specific items. For my part, I was “aware” of this where in the past things could explode and was able to concentrate and apply mental strength to prevent past actions. As the trip progressed it became less required and our enjoyment and love for each other was enhanced. As I stated earlier, this writing exercise in itself is a medicine for my mind. I now see that that Jill’s growth was an area that I did not adjust too. Somehow I was battling her confidence, her ability to work with many varied situations and perform at high levels of leadership and thought processes. This was as it applied to work, her many volunteer activities and responses to myself now based upon a self- reliant wife! I now realize that Jill’s growth is one to thoroughly enjoy and to benefit from. It is a strengthening of our relationship and one that I now recognize and am eager to equally participate in and knowing that we are healthy for it.
There are times when the Yellow flag waves in my mind and recently did sink to the Red zone. Again it was my hobby of golf. This time the water was not the culprit but sand. After 2 attempts to hit the ball from the sand and failing, a violent swing followed and connected with the ball. Uncomfortable moments followed. Where in the past this Red Zone exhibition and feeling would have led to more of the same, a kiss was planted on 2 of the golfers, (these being female) and later an apology to the male golfer. After the golf, there was a subdued feeling and a feeling of failure but at the same time there was the knowledge that I had been a Green Zone type and had to get back there. Most assuredly this was very different from the past. Later a kiss from Jill and a hug were so reassuring as previously such a situation would have at minimum resulted in a silence for both of us. What a relief that I have achieved this awareness. Being an extrovert and a high-energy person there will be challenges tomorrow and in the future.
The continuation of the weekly sessions and group therapy are the medium to maintain and increase my awareness. Together with the knowledge from the book I have turned a corner. One friend now describes with tongue in cheek that I am boring to play golf with. Where Jill in the past was reluctant to discuss in-depth matters, it has now become a time of enjoyment and a time of sharing thoughts and ideas to help each other. So I have again experienced euphoria but the difference being that it is through understanding and awareness and helped by my current medication. As referenced I believe that I have turned a big corner but must be vigilant to keep travelling around the corner and not turning back. This is the maintenance aspect. For me turning the corner is critical and in discussions with Dr. Sohail not something to be under estimated. There should be and is an exhilaration that I have climbed from a Red Zone of despair and unhappiness to a Green Zone of contentment and happiness. It is interesting to describe this as a climb. Because of the rise to experience a Green Zone regularly there is a mental push or a want to climb more. To find out what makes you tick! Also, to be able to see things in more depth and able to understand day to day living from self help books and benefit from their wisdom. This comes from an individual whose first love is the sport’s pages of the daily newspaper and the philosophy of John Grisham is as far as it goes!
In summary to write this outline in itself is of terrific help. It further concentrates yourself on you in an analytical way and forcing you to look into the mirror with all it’s warts and smiles. It can become another bible for myself and reinforcing where I have travelled from and that a return trip is to be avoided at all costs because the costs to me and Jill, my children and friends is too high!
After reading” The Art of Living in Your Green Zone”, I was motivated to write about my understanding of the Green Zone concept and how I would incorporate this concept into my own life. I have designed this summary of the most important self reflections and ideas which I have found useful for me. I thought your readers might find these helpful also, so I am sending them to you to share.
When in the Red Zone, people can become overly sensitive to the thoughts and opinions of others. Often, when in the Red Zone the individual feels isolated, trapped and immobilized. There can be a tendency to forget that you can control how you react to your circumstances. Recognizing the control you have over your own emotions, one can then move in a positive direction from the Red Zone to the Yellow or Green Zones.
The Yellow Zone symbolizes caution and is the place where individuals feel sad, anxious or distressed. When individual recognizes the state of mind or circumstances which maintains a Yellow Zone, they can through a change in thinking, behavior or even perhaps counselling move towards the peace and fulfillment of the Green Zone.
Self reflection is required to avoid habits, activities, people or ways of thinking which can then drag one down into the Yellow and Red Zones. Once you have attained a Green Zone way of thinking, you can work through conflicts and difficult situations by learning to avoid thoughts or negative situations which you know bring you down rather than lift you up.
Pursuing activities to build self-esteem and a positive self-image can assist you to build yourself up from a Red or Yellow Zone to a Green Zone life. Using an “Emotional Raincoat”, a metaphor for recognizing ways to shield yourself from unpleasant circumstances or others negativity, can assist in this process.
1) identifying those events which can begin a negative spiral by labeling them as “yellow flags” or “red flags”,
2) Developing of a “Return to the Green Zone Strategies – 10 ways to move yourself back to a sense of contentment and positiveness”. These 10 things can be used anytime anywhere, i.e.,
1) singing your favorite song
2) taking five minutes to plan your life dream trip
3) fantasying about something pleasant
4) remembering the happiest moment in your life, etc.
Personally, I have found the concept of Green Zone Living very empowering. I needed to be shown that I can move myself from one state of mind to the next. If you have a guiding hand, please take it, it is a small risk for the enjoyment of life.
I was experiencing some problems with my daughter Nadine, with regards to temper tantrums, arguments, and talking down to me, which brought not only her, but me into the Red Zone. It was getting out of control around last March, at which point I discussed how it was affecting my mental state. You and I had discussed introducing the Green, Yellow and Red concept into Nadine’s life.
Nadine is not the type of child who would go to her room when told, for a time out. It would become a physical struggle, which was not good for either of us. You had suggested that I walk away and let her sit on her own until she was ready to come and be a part of the family routine again.
It was hard for me, but, the first thing I had to learn was to walk out of the room when Nadine would start pushing the buttons that would ultimately lead into a temper tantrum or screaming match. I eventually mastered the art of leaving the room without saying a word. I would stay away for a while and eventually Nadine would come to me. If I did re-enter the area, or Nadine came to me and started pushing again, I would simply walk away again. Nadine eventually realized that I was not going to let her drag me into her Red Zone.
Shortly after learning this skill, I sat down with Nadine and explained the philosophy of the Red, Yellow and Green Zones. We decided to color a circle on the calendar at the end of each day. We followed the following criteria:
This would be a happy day with no tantrums, talking back or talking down to me.
This would be a day where things started to slide down hill but would turn around before flaring into a tantrum or sending me into the Red Zone.
This would be a full blown temper tantrum or an argument.
At the end of each day, Nadine would go and color a circle on the calendar to reflect the type of day it had been. The calendar was displayed on the fridge, so it was a reminder each day of our progress during that month.
In the first month, we had more red circles than green and yellow together. After the first month, Nadine and I sat down to discuss the findings. I think she was surprised with herself. I feel that it helped her understand how disruptive her behavior was becoming to our family.
This was when we made an agreement to try and lessen the amount of red circles on the calendar. In order to reach that goal, we chose a treat that was mutually agreed upon as well as a goal that would help reduce the number of yellow or red circles for that month. Of course, the goal was to lessen the number of red and yellow circles each month. If Nadine reached the monthly goal, she would get the treat.
In order to help Nadine, I agreed to inform/warn her when I saw Yellow Zones starting. Eventually, with the warnings, Nadine learned to stop the behavior and cool down before allowing herself to go into a full blown Red Zone.
As the months went on we had less and less red circles on the calendar until eventually we had none. I am happy to say that we got into a period that there were only green circles on that calendar. After about 3 months, we had a much more peaceful family life and were able to deal with issues much easier.
Nadine and I also had to learn when to talk about upsetting events or frustrations. We have to be able to sit down and talk face to face. We have learned that we have to make sure the other person is ready to listen, has the time to listen and is also able to give full concentration to the subject. All too often in the past, Nadine would be trying to talk to me about a problem when I was either cooking dinner, busy with Steve, putting Adam to bed or I had 4 or 5 kids running around. She would become irate when she thought I didn’t understand or wasn’t listening. She had to learn to wait until I could give her my full attention.
I found this method worked quickly for us however, I also feel that Nadine’s age had something to do with it. I think the older they are the more conscious they are of that calendar. I do feel that using this method with a younger child would take a lot longer but would likely be as effective.
Now in saying all of this, I have to inform you that I have had to reintroduce the method again. I am optimistic that this will work even quicker this time. I have also caught myself not walking out of the room as well as conversations not taking place at appropriate times. This just proves that it is a concept that you have to practice over and over again.
Thank you for helping me to introduce the concept of the Green, Yellow and Red Zones into my children’s lives.
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