Fixing the World; but beware: Thoughts are Noise (Mental Health Work)

It’s a beautiful day here, and I’m up my own rear end again with a new book to read, called Thrive, it’s a sturdy social studies book about “The power of evidence-based psychological therapies”, and so far, I’m 2 chapters in (and yet I’m still not a sponsored book reviewer, wtf?).

thriveIt’s essentially so far setting itself out to be about persuading funding authorities of the power of psychological therapy, as the tool to fight the so-far ignored sixth giant of Churchill’s five (Want, Idleness, Ignorance, Squalor, and Disease); Mental Illness. Which lines up pretty well with my own beliefs, that mental illness is really one of the biggest things holding society back right now. Their book of course focuses on CBT and similar hard-evidence based treatments, which is fine, and makes sense from a funding perspective and will be interesting for my job to find out about.

Personally, my own ultimate goal would be to change the cultural value of mental health entirely, to a culture and world where looking after society’s mental health led the way. I believe that people can’t live happily for long without a percieved meaning; I mean, even places where the standard of living is high suffer epidemic levels of unhappiness and social dysfunction, as anyone who has worked in retail could tell you. Perhaps in the absence of feudalism and oppression, it’s time to find a new goal beyond getting the shiniest hair and the highest heels; or beyond getting the girl who has both of those if you happen to be a male assigned person.

wealth

I think most people really are searching to be happy, and capitalism is only too willing to tell them what the answer will be; this new perfume, this sexy woman, this new sexy car etc. But in my own mental health journey, I have at last let go of worrying about this epidemic (what a great word, what an all-encompassing word!) as my own problem. I’ve always “over-analysed” and people have always been falling over themselves to let me know this, but damningly, they’ve never been able to really pinpoint what the actual problem with that is, or where to draw the line, leaving me buzzing away with problem after problem and “solution” after “solution” (that I’m also damningly unable to exercise, what with not being president of the world and all.)

I went into mental health support work with a skeevy cheeky ulterior motive, to find out about my own mental health, to measure it up against the people with real problems and their solutions, to find out what the answer was that all these seemingly sane people couldn’t or wouldn’t find the words to properly spell out for me. What was that missing piece that made me feel so unhinged and wild and brain-racing whilst everyone else was fine to be alive? Over recent years as I became a young adult with my own responsibility for my health and the freedom to be my own hypochrondriac, I found endlesss possibilities; OCD, ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, “maybe i’m just really really smart”, “”maybe i’m just really really stupid”, “what about is it my parents fault”, “ah no it must be capitalism’s fault”, “ah no i could be an Empath”, Sociopath, Schizotypical, Unique personality, you name it and I was probably it? Maybe~?

Amazingly, incredibly, this dodgy little tactic of mine actually bore fruit, as most of my ~zany~ schemes actually tend to do. A few months into the job (a surprisingly day-to-day business involving cooking, cleaning, dispensing medication by reading the prescribed boxes, and reminding people most of the time), we were bundled off to do a course in personality disorders including a piece about schema therapy. Now, I don’t think I have personality disorder, but more importantly, I don’t think it’s important anymore now, and the other part of the course explains why.

 

bonsai lake
Bonsai fir tree growing on a log in a lake; your environment as you grow shapes how you develop. Photo: Ireena Worthy

Schema therapy, as it was outlined to us, is about looking at your childhood, and how it causes distorted world views i.e Schemas, e.g a child who is hit and hurt a lot believes that the world is a frightening and cruel place, because their childhood world was. They act accordingly; very anxious, or very cruel, or very detached, to try and cope with the world that they feel. My schemas weren’t clear; I don’t think they ever really will be to me, but I finally understood the concept, that the black and white thinking examples are caused by something that was genuinely real, but no longer is, and that in the new “real” (adult) world, tones in between could now become genuinely real. Distorted and panicked thoughts were genuinely the bedrock of my childhood world, but now, I could start to leave them behind, I didn’t need to continue breathing that brand of reality.

black and white thinking
For me, the witchy-unrealness of this depicts the black-and-white split pretty well. This is not the real world. (Source)

I’ve not had a hard childhood, no harder than most people’s is, and I’m not more sensitive or more brash that other human beings, in fact, working with a variety of mentally ill and recovering individuals is helping me to see that we’re all prone to the same kind of demons. One person’s hyperactive mania is pretty recognisably similar to someone else’s obvious mania session, anxiety and suicidal ideation and social isolation look the same on all the different faces that I have seen wearing them. The difference is about how long we wear them, how easily we recognise them and have the power to intervene and stand up to the tidal wave of emotions and thoughts that they generate before they snowball (yay for mixing metaphors, woop woop!).

There is a woman at work who lives in her own world of paranoid ideas and delusions of grandeur, proclaiming facts about the hideous gender bias in the world. I used to agree with her, and almost envy her in her insane insight, almost wishing that more people could hear her wisdom, garbled and peppered as it was with strangeness, only making the parts anchored in reality feel even more tangible and unjust. But now, a few months later, and she is still on the same hymn sheet as before, and my envy has disappeared. All the energy, the light and the noise, is on loop, trapped in herself over and over. She’s been ill for several years now, and all that mental noise is both a reflection of and a symptom of her unwellness. Creative, wild and beautiful, it’s still just noise until one day she’ll (hopefully) get well enough to do something about it again.

overthinking_by_namtia-d930yfl.png
Source: http://namtia.deviantart.com/art/Overthinking-549279057

This lady’s unwellness demonstrated to me the pointlessness and unhealthiness in my own ruminations, my over-analysing, my fascinations with finally working it all out. The wide eyed man with the infectious humour and earnest serious pleas in his manic episode for the mental health system to completely change, in the same way, saw me learn about myself. The important thing is not in your head, your head and mind are not a reliable place for change and work to happen, but merely a vessel that hopefully, if you are lucky enough and well enough and sane enough, you can turn into a reality. Until we can do that, it’s all just static noise that’s bogging us down.


This is Day off Blog Post 2.

Further reference: Black and White thinking
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140721191055-23732165-coaching-through-paradoxes-the-paradox-of-an-acceptance
http://www.theemotionmachine.com/the-problem-with-black-and-white-thinking/

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