The Stigma of Mental Illness

“The challenge we all face is how to integrate after loss or conflict and return to a greater wholeness of self. This is accomplished through social supports, coping, and other resources. This we call the process of emotional healing…” – from People Can Recover From Mental Illness, an article by Daniel Fisher, M.D., Ph.D. and Laurie Ahern

When it comes to mental illness what can I say that has not already been said? Not that it matters. Maybe it does. I don’t know. All I know is that I have it and so do others – others like me, who are stigmatized by the ignorance of those who don’t have it; by those who have it but don’t know it; by those who have it but act like they don’t.

How can one understand an experience if they can’t experience it first hand? I don’t believe they can. Intellectually they may be able to comprehend the phenomenon, but bodily, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, they cannot.

In my experience, except for three people in my life (one being my therapist), others do not even want to understand. It is so far beyond their comprehension that they don’t even ask questions, research, or read about mental illness. Only one other in addition to the above three shows sincere concern for my symptoms and experiences with mental illness. I am grateful that I at least have four people who care. I probably have more but they either don’t know how to show it or don’t know enough to know they should show it.

I don’t think the stigma of mental illness will ever go away outside of those who actually have it. If people could only open their minds and their hearts to see beyond the craziness, the depression, the manic behaviors, the anger, the insecurities, the social anxiety, and the dissociation – all of which most people have to some degree or another, though they’d never admit it – then maybe they would see a soul; souls who just like them are doing the best they can within the physical limitations of their bodies and minds. Maybe then they would learn how to validate rather than ignore or worse, shun or even worse, judge. Maybe then they could become allies to our healing journeys rather than obstacles.

Writing Moment by Moment #23 and #24

#23 – A beautiful person gave me permission to accept help without feeling guilty and to take extra-special care of myself because I am “going through a healing period” which I need not minimize.  A weight lifted from me in that moment.

 

#24 – I think that I finally get what “mindfulness” means versus distraction.  Here’s a fun fact:

“Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density…in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”  ~Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43. Epub  2010 Nov 10

Now, to practice it…

What moment are you grateful for today?  I had three wonderful “in the moment” moments today – the above two and a third which I posted here.

For more on “Writing Moment by Moment” click here.

Writing Moment by Moment #1

Each day for the month of January, I am going to write about one small moment for which I am grateful. If possible, I will also include photos. I am calling these posts, “Writing Moment by Moment.”

The objectives for this exercise are to increase my attention to the little things in life that I normally take for granted or might not notice otherwise. Some examples include, a small bird chirping outside of my window, my dog’s lazy yawn-and-stretch routine, the way my daughter’s hair sticks up in the morning, the smells from the kitchen when my husband is cooking a yummy dinner, and the list could go on ad infintum.

Would you like to join me and record one moment that you are grateful for each day? If a daily committment seems too overwhelming, how about once a week or month? I’ll be honest with you…I will probably miss a day here and there but I am going to do the best I can. Each day I write for a moment is better than not doing it at all.

Leave a comment and let me know what moment you are grateful for today or if you prefer, post it on your blog and then come back and leave the link to your post in the comment section so I can stop by and witness you “Writing Moment by Moment.”

 

Today, I spotted my journal (see photos above and below) on top of my bedside table and in that moment, I felt extremely grateful for the role writing has played in my healing process over the years.

 

What moment are you grateful for today?

Codependent No More – Book Review

Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More, How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself, defines a “codependent” as:

one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior

She details specific examples from her personal experiences and those of others to connect with her readers and offers practical solutions to those whose lives are affected by a loved one’s negative, often destructive behaviors.

The dominant theme across Beattie’s solutions is a therapeutic tool called detachment, which she describes as a separation of ourselves from a person or a problem in a loving way.  To disengage mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically from unhealthy people, from problems we cannot solve or ones that are not our responsibility to solve.  She goes on to say:

Detachment is based on the premises that each person is responsible for himself, that we can’t solve problems that aren’t ours to solve and that worrying doesn’t help.  We adopt a policy of keeping our hands off other people’s responsibilities and tend to our own instead.  If people have created some disasters for themselves, we allow them to face their own proverbial music.

Sounds like a tall order for a world that has its nose in everyone else’s business or a country, whose attitude is often one of pass the buck, point the finger at the other guy, and cover up or, worse, buy a way out of facing the consequences of one’s own actions.

So, does this mean we are to stop caring, helping, and loving?  Is this a barbaric, every-man-for-himself type of detachment?  Beattie says not:

(Detaching) means we learn to love, care, and be involved without going crazy.  We stop creating all this chaos in our minds and environments.  When we are not anxiously and compulsively thrashing about, we become able to make good decisions about how to love people, and how to solve our problems.  We become free to care and to love in ways that help others and don’t hurt ourselves.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? 
I thought so and my next thought was, “Where do I sign up?” 
Or better yet, “Where do I get a prescription for this detachment stuff?”
If only it was that easy…

Have you read this book?  If so, what did you think about it?

 

How to Meditate – Book Review

         How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery by Lawrence LeShan is a best-selling classic with more than one million copies in print.  Although, LeShan wrote this book over thirty-five years ago (in 1974), the benefits of meditation are needed now more than ever in our fast-paced, multi-multi-multi-tasking, high stress, latte-consuming society. 

        There are many ways you can meditate.  LeShan divides these ways into four different “paths,” as he calls them, which can each help you to achieve the same goals – less anxiety, better health, and a greater joy in living to name a few.  The paths are as follows:

1.  intellect
2.  emotions
3.  body
4.  action

        How to Meditate is a “practical instruction for anyone seeking inner peace, relief from stress, and increased self-knowledge.” I became interested in meditation several years ago when stress and anxiety started to negatively affect many areas of my life, including my sleep, my relationships, and my work.       

        Now, I meditate almost everyday for periods of five to thirty minutes. Even that little bit makes a huge difference in my anxiety levels and ability to calmly handle life’s normal stressors and even some of the big ones. 

        Do you use meditation as a way to cope with anxiety and/or depression?  How does it work or not work for you?

        Do we do things we don’t want to in order to please others? When we say “no” do we often feel guilty? Martyrdom is for saints. We are not saints. We are also not bad. We are sick and we are trying to get well.

        Unless we are doing for others for “fun and for free” we are harming ourselves as well as lying to ourselves and others about our motives for helping them.

        Today, I will give freely that which I can afford to give. I will not risk my physical, emotional, or mental health by saying yes when I want to say no or by feeling guilty for making my health my top priority.

Mental illness often runs in families.  Our parent or grandparent or other relative may have had or does have a mental illness.  Some of our family members may have been diagnosed and may be getting the treatment they need to recover while others may not.

When dealing with our family, whether they have a mental illness or not, they may hinder more than help our progress because of our deep emotional ties to them and theirs to us.  While they may love us, they may not know how or be unable to help us.

         Today, I will evaluate my support system.  I will call someone who is outside of my family; someone who can offer objective, unconditional support to me and I will know peace.