This morning I remind myself to point my eyes forward. I tend to want to re-do the past and try to make bad things “never have happened”. I know how well this doesn’t work. Some days, I wish the Pandora’s box of pills had not been opened. I want to go back in time and slam the lid closed.
I wish I had known the direction of this train and yanked the emergency brake and stopped it, back when it first began. I imagine that I could have thrown myself under the wheels to make it stop.
Then, I remind myself that martyrs are dead people. Being alive means I’m here to help design and build a new future. I can’t un-ring this bell.
My studies and recollections of history help me gain a more balanced understanding of where I am and how I got here. However, constant focus on the past impairs my ability to correct my forward direction. Focusing on where I went wrong and what’s wrong now, doesn’t give me new destinations.
In my search for direction, there’s a “quirk” in the human cognitive operating system I must remember. I was taught about this by my hypnotherapy teachers of long ago. During information processing, our big brain ignores negative modifiers such as “not” and “un”. What this means is, that when a doctor tells me “this won’t hurt”, my brain immediately goes on the hunt for “hurt”. It bypasses the negative modifier and finds “hurt”, even when this is not what I meant to say.
Imagine when you first drove a car on a twisty mountain road and looked down over the edge of a frightening cliff. You thought, “I don’t want to go over that cliff”. These thoughts tugged your hands on the wheel in the direction of the precipice and the car swerved closer to the edge.
Pointing my attention to the path I want to be on, helps keep me on it. Obviously, I need to know the cliffs are there. Not knowing about the danger is dangerous.
Even the word “free” is tricky to use in goals and plans. It seems like it should be a good word for these purposes. Except “fat-free” has me studying the label to look for the fat.
The word “free”, implies imprisonment, struggle and fights. I was taught a song in public school during the second grade that begins with the words “freedom isn’t free”. The next lines are “you have to pay the price, you have to sacrifice, for your liberty”. In my mind the word “free” is associated with unavoidable wars.
Visualize a battle and it will come. If a fight is what I want to have, this is easy to make happen. Incautious use of words can bring about wars I do not mean to have.
Whenever I catch myself focused on what I don’t want, I redirect my attention to make lists of what I do want. I make clear, specific, written goals. I read them every morning while I eat oatmeal.
“I don’t want to be fat” may be a good place to begin a search for a goal. Unless the focus is shifted to specific positive goals like “I want to be able to bend over to tie my shoes” or “I want to comfortably walk around the block”, my powerful mind will paddle away to look for fat and find it for me.
I know pharmaceuticals are dangerous, profit-driven commercial products. I don’t want to prescribe them. But I learned from our country’s “war on drugs” that the policy of “just say ‘no’ to drugs” backfires. Saying “no to drugs” drags our focus back to drugs every time we say it. If my goal is to “just say ‘no’ to fat” then I will always find fat around my middle to say ‘no’ to.
When I tell a colleague that I don’t want to prescribe psychiatric drugs, the conversation invariably shifts to “What about in this situation?” or “How about for a patient like that?” and “What if there’s a really, really good reason?”
How I set my goals is very, very important. The words I use matter. A lot.
If I want a war on psychiatry and psychiatric drugs, I’m certain to find one. If I want to break free of domination by behemoth multinational profiteering corporations then I’d better go straight over there and chain myself up to one.
A social worker in Portland Oregon wrote to me last week. He said that maybe someday, “over the rainbow”, we can put together a pro-education, pro-psychotherapy, pro-case management, pro-socialization, pro-creativity, community-based clinic. Wow. This is a guy that understands how the mind works in the process of goal-setting. And he has great ideas.
I’ve heard lots of great ideas since Robert Whitaker invited me to write for his “Mad in America” webzine. I love the reply section at the end of each article. I didn’t notice it before I agreed to write. I wondered, at first, if I was supposed to reply to those comments.
What the heck. I found the click button and wrote back.
Through these conversations, I discovered a thriving and diverse community of thoughtful individuals. I’ve met people from around the country and around the globe that I’m unlikely to have known otherwise. I’m impressed by the energy, the ideas, the warmth (and heat) in our conversations. Some people focus on the things we must avoid. We need these voices so we can know where the cliffs are. Many have already found and created better options for some who have been labeled as “mentally ill” and categorized as requiring a lifetime of medication.
These complex discussions include those that make us aware of the dangers and also those with a broad range of ideas for the future. They give me hope that all of us can find directions to move in for a better future. There is room at this table for everyone. All our voices together can be one voice for hope.
Hope was the spirit found in Pandora’s box after all the troubles were released upon the world. I hear a lot of hope in the conversations which happen here.
Thanks for reading.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.