It’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Except what most people seem to mean by this is the exact opposite of the term.
It should be called “Mental Ill-Health Week”, judging by my social media feed – which is full of posts brimming with sad stories of suffering and struggle.
I think it’s brilliant that there’s less social stigma – and this means that people feel they can reach out, ask for help where they couldn’t before.
I also realise that the many people on social media this week who are offering strategies and techniques to ‘stay mentally healthy’, and/or to provide coping strategies to those who are suffering are sincere and well-meaning. (Before 2010 you would have found me doing the same)
These strategies range from going for a walk in nature during your lunch-break, to making sure you’re carving out enough time to meditate, or do yoga, or use the app on your phone to remain calm and mindful.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of these strategies. They’ll certainly ‘work’ some of the time for some people. It’s just an innocent misunderstanding about where our experience is coming from.
It assumes that mental health is fragile. It assumes that mental ill-health is a dangerous threat lurking round the corner that we need to guard against constantly. Like making sure we’re getting enough vitamins to stave off scurvy.
The understanding I teach and share points to the complete opposite, and more and more people (including mental health professionals) are starting to wake up to the truth of how the human experience works. A completely fresh understanding, which means there is much less to do than most people think.
We don’t need to “build resilience”. Our default, our factory-setting is mental health, well-being, clarity and peace of mind. The only thing that ever takes us away from the factory-setting is our thinking. Or more accurately, thinking that doesn’t look like thinking – it looks like reality.
I’m not saying “Get over it – it’s all in your head”. Although it is all in your head.
And I’m not saying that the suffering isn’t real. It’s very real.
And the way to get over it, and come back to your natural peace of mind is to understand how the system works, and the nature of the human mind.
Thoughts and feelings are transient by nature. You have a natural and inbuilt capacity for resilience and well-being that never, ever leaves you (even when it feels like it’s nowhere to be found).
In a nutshell, the two most important things to see for yourself are:
• Your mind only works one way – inside out, rather than outside-in. We are not directly experiencing life ‘out there’, our circumstances or life events. We are only ever experiencing THOUGHT about those things. Consciousness then brings that thinking to life, and we experience it in our mind and body. And it looks, sounds and feels 100% true. This is our REALITY.
• We all have an innate capacity for well-being, mental health, success, peace of mind, happiness, creativity, and fresh insights. It’s built into the system. The only thing that EVER takes us away from this is THOUGHT in the moment.
The more deeply we see these two things, the more we tend to thrive – both professionally and personally.
You ALREADY have an app – except it’s not in your smartphone. It’s in YOU. Built in.
Whether the “monsters” we think we face in our lives seem to be made of money, health challenges, relationships, work issues, or things that happened to us in the past – the underlying principles of the human experience always work the same way. The more we understand how our experience of life is being created moment by moment, the more freedom and creativity we will have in how we operate in the world.
And this is a game-changer.
In contrast to most approaches to self-improvement, performance improvement or well-being, when we insightfully understand how it works, there is no need to change, fix or control our thoughts or feelings. They are shadows created by thought, and are, by definition, transient.
Have you ever had the experience of really feeling stressed ‘about’ a situation in your life, and then find that half an hour later, or the next day, you feel completely differently about it – even though nothing about your circumstances has changed? All that’s happened is that your thinking about it has shifted, and it just doesn’t look the same to you now as it did before.
To function at our absolute best, all we need to do is allow the system to operate as designed. Thought takes form as fresh ideas, creative possibilities, and we move forward with common sense and a sort of ‘wisdom within.’ It’s a great design.
But most of us also develop lots of habits and conditioned thinking over time. Repetitive habitual thinking rather than fresh thinking Since our experience of life is really an experience of Thought, the more we have on our mind, the more complicated everything seems, and the more the aperture of our consciousness tends to contract.
We create ‘stories’ – about the past, present and future. About ourselves. And the trouble is, these stories don’t look like harmless thought, they look TRUE and REAL.
So, when we look out into the world, all we can see is our distorted thinking reflected back to us.
And then we go to a well-meaning mental health professional, and they give us a diagnosis. A label. That can sometimes feel comforting in the short-term. But it’s misguided, and it doesn’t really serve us long-term because now we have even more evidence from people who seem to know what they’re doing. They’re experts after all. Now, somebody else has confirmed that we are broken, even temporarily.
Imagine a snow globe. When you shake it up, it’s cloudy, and really difficult to see what’s going on inside with any clarity. Your thoughts are like the ‘snow’ in the snow globe. When we’re overthinking, it’s hard to see with clarity what’s actually going on in our lives. When we put the snow globe down, the snowflakes settle fairly quickly – because that’s the nature of gravity.
When we understand that the ‘factory-setting’ of our mind is also clarity, we stop identifying with our revved-up thinking, and the mind also quickly returns to its natural state.
Just like we have a physical immune system, it turns out we also have a psychological immune system. Our wisdom is constantly guiding us back towards health and well-being.
All we need to do is to see our thoughts for what they are, and know that another one will be along in a minute. That is enough to dissolve the illusion of needing to do something to fix it.
“If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world” Sydney Banks
No matter how much we’re suffering right now, and no matter how many ‘bad’ things have happened in our lives, we are only ever one thought away from a whole new experience of being alive! I’ve seen this over and over again with 100’s of clients over the past 9 years.
So what does this all mean?
• It means that just because you have thinking about things (and you always will – we’re thinking creatures!), doesn’t mean that it’s true, significant, or needs to be taken seriously.
• It means that there is enormous potential to reduce or eradicate unnecessary suffering in all its forms.
• It means that there is an extraordinary creative potential that lies largely dormant inside human beings that can make a real difference in every area of our lives.
And it means that we really don’t need more and more classifications and sub-classifications to describe all the ways we are broken. Nobody is broken.
What’s needed is more compassion, more love, more understanding and more wisdom.
I don’t want to go back to the bad old days where you dare not speak out if you’re suffering because you might lose your job.
I want to leap forward to the day (and it’s coming) when we all know that it’s OK to be human, and we don’t need to be scared of our feelings. When we know that all our feelings are telling us about is our thinking in the moment. That feelings aren’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. That we can feel the feelings, but drop the story. To know that our feelings aren’t telling us anything about the world out there.
Neither to do they mean there’s something wrong with you.
So, I stand up today for really making this Mental HEALTHAwareness Week.
Katie E Stokes, a fellow teacher in this understanding has just made a brilliant series of virtual reality films exploring the human experience. (You can watch them without wearing VR goggles if you don’t have any) You can find all of them at www.wonderlandx.com
Pertinent here is the second film called “The Caterpillar’s Advice”, starts with “Has it ever occurred to you that there might be nothing wrong with you?”. Watch here:
You may be interested in a little history of how we came to be where we are:
In 1952 the first edition of the DSM (DSM-I) was released.
Way before the first edition of this was published, there were already many attempts to classify people with different types of mental disorder. (Interesting sidenote: the original idea came from statisticians who were organising the US census population, and wanted to know the percentage of the population who were ‘insane’).
The Freudian model was still predominant in psychiatry during this period, and the diagnoses showed this influence.
DSM-II created further labels for disorder, and multiple subdivisions of existing categories. The number of diagnostic categories was increased to 182.
The publication was criticised for the total lack of clear boundaries between mental health, normal behaviour, and illness, and the low reliability of the psychiatric categories.
The DSM-III was released in 1980. The number of diagnostic categories increased to 265. Several disorders were divided into a number of distinct categories (e.g., the old “feeding disturbance” category was replaced by four types of “eating disorders”). A number of diagnoses that contained labels that were obviously Freudian in nature were also renamed; the most common change was using the term disorder in place of the former term neurosis.
Many new disorders were also included in this edition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, etc.
Interestingly, until the DSM-III homosexuality was listed as a disorder.
DSM-III-R: In 1987, there was a revised edition of the DSM-III. The DSM-III-R contained 292 diagnostic categories. This was much longer than the previous manual at 567 pages.
DSM-IV: In 1994. 297 disorders. 886 pages.
DSM-5: In 2013, the DSM-5 was released. 947 pages. More disorders. More syndromes. More ways to label people. A number of these changes were very controversial, such as the designation of a bereavement disorder.
At this point, we have completely pathologised the human experience.
Grief is normal. It’s a part (often a very rich part) of the human experience. It’s not a disorder!
I look forward to the day when the only copies of the DSM are in the museum, with a little note underneath saying “of historical interest only”.
Learn more at one of my upcoming events, retreats or workshops. Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free conversation with me about how this understanding might benefit you or somebody you know.