Backing Away from Psychiatry

Ronda Richardson
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In a recent dream, I was pulled to the doors of a hospital emergency room. I didn’t move my feet; I was compelled by some other force until I was standing directly in front of the large glass doors. But I didn’t go inside. I just stood and thought, feeling cold and exposed, with a deep dread in the pit of my stomach.

Then I made a new decision, and for the first time I started backing away, this time using my own feet and my own effort. I cautiously backed up the same way you would back away from the barrel of a gun. As I got further away, the fear in my stomach lifted and was replaced with a deep contentment and a feeling of safety. Finally I was standing on a hill far from the doors, looking at the glass entrance and the yellow glow inside, knowing that I’d rather be out here in the darkness alone than face what is inside that hospital.

This year is the first time I have made a choice to back away from the mental health system. I never felt I had a choice before. I felt compelled to seek help from a system that had bullied me for years. I was conditioned to run back to them to protect me from the monster I carried on my back.

When I turned to face this monster, I learned that it isn’t a monster at all. In fact, some of the most creative and authentic pieces of me are housed in this so-called monster that they have named Bipolar.

I was first hospitalized at age sixteen after the death of my grandmother. She was a genius with a photographic memory and she understood me. When I sat with her I didn’t feel like a freak or a misfit. I was just me, and she made space for all my quirks. Once she was gone, my safe space was gone and I never fully recovered. Looking back now I believe I was hospitalized for grief, but labeled with disorder.

My stay in hospital at age sixteen included being told that they had tested my IQ and I was smart, therefore making it all up. I was given ECT as a treatment for making it all up, and then was discharged with ten words laced heavily with contempt. These words still echo in my head: “Get her out of here, she will never get well.” I was discharged without the meds I had been on in the hospital, and I went through withdrawal at home with no idea what withdrawal was. I now understand that the nightmare I went through was from the sudden discontinuation of medications such as Ativan and Prozac.

Twenty years later, I finally realized that death was better than here, but I didn’t want to die. ‘Here’ was medication-induced Lupus. ‘Here’ was a medication-induced tic. ‘Here’ was my life unraveling despite following all the orders and taking all the medications. I still had regular hospital stays, and when I did I would be blamed outright. “We all know this is what you do. You mess with your meds!” my therapist told me after my last hospital stay. In her mind the answer was clear and simple, but she was building a puzzle without having all the pieces. The doctor told me that the rash I had all over my body was from anxiety or the sun, not the new medication. The fact that I was concerned about it was a sign of my obsessions.

I couldn’t win. They were fighting dirty. A Bipolar 1 diagnosis made me an easy target to blame. I couldn’t convince them that I was compliant even by being compliant, and this compliance almost killed me. I couldn’t prove that I had insight because they had already made their minds up. I was in a very dangerous position.

The most dangerous weapon that has been used against me is this idea that I am incapable of insight because of my diagnosis. There will be occasions when my insight is faulty, like there is with any person, but this is the exception and not an everyday occurrence. I’m tired of rules being written for me based on exceptions to the rule.

Learning over a lifetime in the system that I couldn’t trust my own insight did more damage to my intellect and ability than this illness ever has. I stopped trying. I was terrified of me, but I was even more afraid of what the doctors could do to me. Even portions of my experience that are very human were scrutinized and then pathologized. I was no longer allowed to just grieve or vent. I felt envious of the people around me who did not have a diagnosis. I watched them scream at traffic or stomp their feet or cry, all without fear of lock up.

I imposed on myself an emotional prison. I thought that if I kept myself locked up mentally, they wouldn’t lock me up physically. When I asked for a referral to a new psychiatrist, my doctor was offended and I was blamed again. When did my ability to decide if a relationship is working or not shut down? I stayed with the same doctor for fifteen years.

The sicker my medication made me, the harder the doctors pushed back. They could only see my psychiatric diagnosis despite me having a very visible physical reaction to the medications I had been taking.

I believe now that fifteen years is more than a fair try. Fifteen years of getting treatment without returning to function is actually insanity. I should have given up after year two. Instead of trusting my intuition and insight, I pushed it down and down… until it finally fought its way back to the surface. I could no longer ignore the obvious. My body was screaming the truth at me and finally I had no choice but to listen.

What scared me the most in my quest to gain distance from psychiatry was the anger and resistance I encountered from my team. Mental Health closed my file. The medical doctor threatened to give the medication by injection. Community Treatment Order was brought up on three occasions by three different team members and I panicked. I was thinking about how when an ordinary-appearing family man kills his family, no one jumps onto the idea that we need legislation protecting the community from all ordinary-appearing family men. What if the crimes committed by people with mental illness are not connected to the illness at all? Maybe it is poverty or anger or just one of the sad aspects of being human. Maybe blaming mental illness is a red herring.

When I was finally off all maintenance medication, I went in to tell the GP how well I was doing… and was told I was mistaken. My wellness was impossible. I had been diagnosed based on my own words – how come my words only count when I have a symptom to share? Any accounts of my recovery and the joy that is tied to it were disregarded. At every appointment, I was reminded of my diagnosis and why I can’t be functional. Waiting to die was the best they had to offer.

If I am afraid of what the imbalance of power can do to me it is because I have lived it, only I was on the side without any power.

But this year is different. I’ve taken back my power. It has been a journey of several years of gently weaning my treatment team a little at a time, in order to prevent a tantrum that could do harm to me. This year I finished the weaning process and am now a free agent. I had believed that I would have to do this alone, and was even considering going into hiding, but there are supports and advocates out there. I just wasn’t looking in the right places. I don’t want to hide because if I hide, then my experience can’t help others. If someone had told me this story when I was sixteen, things might have been different.

Now I am working on becoming friends with my quirks again. Self-compassion has been a more effective treatment than the medication straitjacket ever accomplished. I am as guilty as the medical system, though, because when they told me how dangerous these parts of me were, I jumped on board and began a twenty-year fight against myself. After all, that ‘monster’ was me.

I will never be able to make up for the abuse I inflicted upon myself in the name of mental health. But this year I realized how cruel I have been. This year I apologized to myself and began grieving everything I have lost.

Now my life is reconfigured to include helpers, advocates and friends who have my best interests at heart and who see potential in me. Best of all, I am now relearning to trust my insight and become one of my own supports.

I am still backing away from the psychiatric system. I am not yet at the safety of the hill I saw in my dream, but I’m getting closer, and with each step I feel happier and more secure. I’m sure that when I get to the hill and look around, I will see that I’m not outside in the dark and all alone. There is a crowd of us, and the sun is coming up.

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Ronda Richardson
Ronda Richardson is a consultant, coach and advocate looking to bring awareness to the stories of people often made invisible by diagnosis and trauma. Between forced treatment as a teenager and diagnosis at 26, she worked in long-term care and with Emergency Medical Services. She was training to become a paramedic and worked with children who needed extra support to succeed in a world that was not built for their gifts and challenges.

33 COMMENTS

  1. A beautifully expressed narrative that exposes psychiatry as the real “monster”. yes, fifteen years of that kind of ignorance and abuse is surely enough…

    You were given ECT for what? You were a teenager at that time?? How was this action justified? How many “treatments” were you given and what impact did they have?
    Wishing you more of the freedom and joy you have been experiencing since “backing away”.

  2. Your article was well written and I’m not sure I could have put it quite the way you did. Thank you.
    My knowledge about psychiatry is that it is a profession created by the pharmaceutical industry to train alleged doctors to market their psychotropic drugs. They have been extremely successful for their shareholders but a complete disaster for humans.

  3. Lovely piece. Thank you for sharing you excellent dream and freedom.

    I too have noticed how carefully you have to wean them They get REALLY upset and try to drag you back. Whether it’s ego or dependence or something else, it really is very weird, almost cult-like how they’ll come after you and try to force you to stay.

    Even years down the track each trip to the primary care physician will include a plea to return to your mental illness and its associated “carers”, with offers of drugs and total denial that you are, in fact, doing far better without them and that remnants of grief relate to trauma they inflicted. It is totally beyond their desire and/or ability to comprehend that their and/or their colleagues’ “care” may have been problematic.

    Very glad you have escaped. Live well!

  4. Beautifully written. You nailed everything perfectly in the description of what the system did to you, all in the name of “good treatment” and all “for your own good.” It’s interesting how the system has created everything so that we are always in a Catch 22 situation no matter how correct and right we are about what is being done to us.

    Thank you for sharing your story and good luck as you continue the Journey into health and healing.

  5. When I was 34, I suddenly lost one of my dearest friends and suffered tremendous grief. This started my round of three hospitalizations and poison drugging (medication madness). I was never once counseled about my grief. Never once. Free and sober from the poison since January 10, 2016, after almost 22 years. I give you my greatest praise for your strength and courage. You will make it.

    • Diane it’s amazing how they consistently miss the point, isn’t it? I hear so many stories like that. You’d think they were doing it deliberately!

      I find it interesting that you know your end date for the drugs. Do others? I don’t know my quit date for cigarettes, either, but that was a long time ago. I find it funny when doctors want you to write your start and quit dates on forms.

      “So when did you stop psychiatric drugs?” And how soon will they be asking that one? Will we ever see that on medical forms?

  6. Yep, that’s about what they did to me, made everything I said into a disorder. Told me I was incompetent, therefore, anything I said was wrong by default. A lose-lose situation. Of course, designed that way, the longer you stay in, the worse it gets.

    You leave, or you die. Pretty much.

    Thank you so, so much for validating every single moment for me. Yes, that’s what happens. No, I didn’t make it up, nor did any of us, and no, we are not some “exceptions” who had unusually bad care, either. It’s all that way.

    Julie

  7. My story is so similar to yours. I walked away from psychiatry after 17 years of being told I would never be a productive citizen again, that I was profoundly and persistently mentally ill. I was zombified from the poly drugging and the horrific toxic side effects they caused. When I told my therapist I was tapering off the drugs she told me my clarity of mind wouldn’t last very long and she fired me as a client. Words cannot describe the transformation from being drugged to becoming a drug free. Numerous people who had never seen me drug free were astounded at the clarity I presented. I’ve been drug-free for over years but I still am afraid somebody will stumble across my psychiatric diagnosis in a medical file. Once you have a diagnosis it’s stamped on your forehead like a scarlet letter. I was able to eradicate a lot of my psychiatric history by hand delivering what I call corrected medical files to new non psychiatric doctors.

    I wish you the very best and I want you to know you are a phenomenally strong woman to become drug-free. It’s still a work in process after many years to forgive myself for innocently entering a psychiatrist office and what transpired. From this side doesn’t psychiatry look absolutely absurd? There are so many of us drug free who are just fine but there’s no way psychiatry what will admit their mistakes.

    • It’s far more important to be diagnosis-free than it is to be drug-free. What’s a drug? Most psych drugs, by definition, are psych drugs because they are prescribed via prescription and the prescribed person is automatically given a DSM diagnosis by the prescriber, who now has total control over the slave.

      A drug alone does not have that much power. The exact same drugs are marketed on the streets. They are sold diagnosis-free, doctor-free, appointment-free, and pusher aside, you aren’t tied to a medical institution for life. That plus, think about it. It’s a pill. Without the power of the presciber saying, “You need this drug,” what kind of power does a pill have? Nothing.

      Ditch the diagnosis. As far as pills are concerned, they’re pretty, so maybe make them into artwork and then sell it on Etsy. After all, didn’t they teach us how to make bracelets out of beads in those prisons? Most of us are experts if we didn’t get totally disgusted. Better yet, now that most of us are still stuck on disability due to damages done by these docs, why not sell the leftover pills and make a killing? Just don’t report the profits on your tax return or you might see lockup yet one more time.

      On the other hand, isn’t marketing drugs to suckers what our doctors did? They sure set a great example.

  8. My story is so similar to yours. I walked away from psychiatry after 17 years of being told I would never be a productive citizen again, that I was profoundly and persistently mentally ill. I was zombified from the poly drugging and the horrific toxic side effects they caused. When I told my therapist I was tapering off the drugs she told me my clarity of mind wouldn’t last very long and she fired me as a client. Words cannot describe the transformation from being drugged to becoming a drug free. Numerous people who had never seen me drug free were astounded at the clarity I presented. I’ve been drug-free for over 10 years but I still am afraid somebody will stumble across my psychiatric diagnosis in a medical file. Once you have a diagnosis it’s stamped on your forehead like a scarlet letter. I was able to eradicate a lot of my psychiatric history by hand delivering what I call corrected medical files to new non psychiatric doctors.

    I wish you the very best and I want you to know you are a phenomenally strong woman to become drug-free. It’s still a work in process after many years to forgive myself for innocently entering a psychiatrist office and what transpired. From this side doesn’t psychiatry look absolutely absurd? There are so many of us drug free who are just fine but there’s no way psychiatry will admit their mistakes.

  9. That was beautifully written. I got caught in the system when I was too young to know anything (starting at 3!). It wasn’t until my 20s that I could finally live. It’s not the same experience as most here whose first encounter was in their teens or twenties, but with mandates to increase “early intervention” stories like mine will only be more and more common.

    Like all forms of slavery, it is unsustainable and some day it will be legally abolished.

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you. I too found my way forward beyond the mental health system. Friends, exercise, mindfulness meditation, the Serenity Poem/Prayer and taking one day, sometimes one breath at a time has helped. Know that you are not alone. Your story is touching and inspiring. Wishing you all the best…

  11. Ronda,

    Whilst reading your piece I repeatedly found myself saying “Yes, exactly” and “Damn right”, there is so much of resonance in there. Your point about your own words getting you a diagnosis but unable to get you free of diagnosis is one that psychiatry should consider deeply.

    It is essential for those of us still trying to escape, or trying to help others to escape, that we read of other successful escapees, (even if you don’t consider you have reached the top of the hill, you appear to be on the climb, and perhaps more importantly, have lost the search party)

    Thank you for posting this.

  12. I agree with all the comments, this is an exquisite essay, thank you. Yep, rings true to me, too–the mental health world is double-binding hell. Congratulations for waking up and taking steps to your freedom. I see it, too, the sun rising, bringing much needed light to the darkness which has engulfed us for way too long. Thanks for sharing the light of your heart, your truth. It illuminates everything.

    And to me, the lesson is: don’t trust anyone with the inclination to use your own words against you. That is the red flag of all time. Gaslighting is not far behind, this is how it begins.

    • Come to think of it, that IS gaslighting. Best to stay away from people like this, from my experience. Really clears things up, the further away we get from that. I liken it to having my brain put through an egg beater. That’s what needs to heal, and it will in time, as we learn to hear and trust our own voice and process.

  13. I was also misdiagnosed (according to the DSM-IV-TR) as bipolar. And I spent quite a few years researching medicine so I could medically explain how doctors made me sick. And what I learned is that the reason the ‘bipolar’ drug cocktails don’t cure anyone is because combining the antipsychotics and / or antidepressants is actually medically known to make people ‘psychotic,’ via something known as anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning.

    I’m not certain how long you’ve been off the drugs, but after I was weaned off the drugs, I did later suffer from what’s known as a drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic psychosis. And if you end up hospitalized for this, the doctors will misdiagnose it as a return of bipolar. This happened to me twice, before I was completely free of my psychiatric gas lighters. I just want to forewarn you of what could happen, so you may enlighten your caretakers to this possible issue. In my case, I suffered the first one 6 months after being weaned from the drugs, and the second one was actually about three years after I’d been weaned off the drugs, which is much later than the medical community believes this can happen. But I’ve been drug free and had no other issues for seven years now.

    Congratulations on getting off the drugs and best wishes in your healing journey. And I absolutely agree, compassion and love helps people heal, coercion and disrespect harms people. It’s amazing to me that an industry that claims to understand the brain doesn’t know this.

  14. That’s great, getting away from the mental health system. But watch out because Psychotherapy, the Recovery Movement, and Religion are also traps. Far too often people see these as the remedy for Psychiatry and drugs. They aren’t, they are just more abuse and victimization.

    Thing are not going to change until we who have survived the mental health system and have survived the middle-class family start organizing and acting to obtain justice. Otherwise it is all still just more denial and self abuse.

    Nomadic
    http://freedomtoexpress.freeforums.org/index.php

  15. I am a schizophrenic and I hear things that should not be there. It gets very scary sometimes and I live alone. It makes it worse. But I’ve had this for 36 years and I keep going. Some days are better than others. I do work and that helps. although it is not what I am trained for. I wash dishes and deliver pizzas. Anyway my doctors have always said take these pills they will help. Guess what they never have helped. I am very mad in America. I mean no harm to anyone and I am educated but I still go to doctors appointments and every time they say take these pills they will help. I am very tired and embarrassed going to these incompetent doctors. I am beginning to fear for my life. I have been a faithful pill taker now when the doctors cant help I began to rely on myself instead of my pills. I do still take them but it is to help me sleep and not for my voices. Because they don’t work. My small town has been there when I thought I was doomed to die of embarrassment. I have been smart and I rely on myself now and I feel so much better. But what of these doctors ? Why do they just keep pushing the pills. I am tired and afraid of what they might do to me if I follow any more of their advice. I might die and I don’t want to die. I am very healthy and suicide is not an option. I have gotten back to my roots and go to church regular now. This has helped me immensely. I am surprised it has helped as much as it has. I have always loved Christ and my own personal God since I was 5 years old. I have never lost him. I am there every Sunday and video taping the service for the public access station.
    I didn’t ask to be this way and I am looking forward to someday to be cured totally. It isn’t yet and I would love to talk as much as I can to help it work out to be that way. I am 51 years old and needing some peace of mind. I trust myself enough to do this very well now. It used to be very difficult to find the right words. Now I can find myself and I am happy. Thank you Rhonda for saying exactly the way I feel. I enjoyed the article and will save it to read again soon. Thank you. Rhonda.

    Joel

    • You are very special Joel in the eyes of many and that is what you need to remember. The cure from what is always the question. How did the chicken cross the road…he walked, right? Just be very cautious taking any pills/medications and be way more cautious quitting them. Find your spirit center and pray or meditate for strength every day at least once a day. You will increase your happiness as you cure the unknown. Use faith as your guide like your favorite music soothes the soul.

  16. First off it chocked me up because looking back it seems clear you understood why and how you got to where you are. Great story that many will learn from. You walked us down a road that seems very dark and yet familiar. You light it up with your talent for words so that many may find their way out. Nice!

  17. We don’t expect our institutions to be corrupt. We are not raised that way or educated that way. On the contrary from early in our lives we are told to respect these authority figures and experts; and it is an uncomfortable move to begin doubting. How can it be the case that the whole respectable world seems based on lies? That most wars were fought for reasons kept secret by those that arrange wars. Of course the average doctor or civil servant is also in the dark. Most psychiatrists probably think they are doing good work as they prescribe dangerous and useless drugs. The fact that 41 vaccinations by the age of two might be unwise treatment is too dangerous a thought for most doctors who wish to keep their licenses. So even when people do awaken to new facts they may find themselves trapped and unable to do anything at all but go along with the lies. Of course a person can give up on psychiatry without becoming a full scale rebel . . . but still one has to be careful to whom one reveals his or her story! And it is also the thoughts that have to be dismissed, the thoughts may even be the worst effect. I think so.

  18. The most dangerous weapon that has been used against me is this idea that I am incapable of insight because of my diagnosis.

    This is the Big Lie inherent in the concept of “anosognosia” that rejecting the “diagnosis” is a “symptom of the disease” — known in other circles as “Catch-22.”

    It shouldn’t be hard to show the public the absurdity of this self-serving circular logic, in all sorts of creative and theatrical ways if necessary. We should all speak up to expose this fraudulent “condition” any time it is mentioned.

  19. People seem to be accusing one another a lot these days of black and white thinking. When really they have a firm belief and wish to state that belief in no uncertain terms. I state that as a hasty prologue really in anticipation of people doing the italian nail-flick of their front teeth at me, in prose…

    But

    My experiences of madness, which are many, are a lot more nuanced than ‘lacked insight’ versus ‘did not lack insight’.

    You might argue as I’ve seen many argue that anosognosia is a politically motivated act of oppression. But it can also be argued that it is an actual act of psychiatric kindness in that it attempts to make real what for many people is decided as an act of deliberate fraud.

    Even mad people often accuse other mad people of having more insight than they actually have. It’s the violence that is rarely addressed and to be honest, while I have a lot of time for psychologists (even though it would seem that they have very little time for me) I think they are also prone to attributing far more insightfuless to people than is actually available in the moment. Often because they have some kind of burning intellectual need to be right when all the evidence points to them being wrong.

    There are many many examples from my own life when I have fallen foul to more severe bouts of madness and not been insightful as much as I would prefer. If I was able to be as insightful as I prefer then I would not be suffering ongoing difficulties. Particularly relational difficulties. Even at times difficulties in the text box which are often attributed as deliberate instances of this, that and the other, as a way of harsh judgement, as opposed to what is really going on — I’m losing or have lost insight.

    But moreso one of my methods of coping is to compartmentalise my madder periods, and give them clear-cut beginnings that in all truth are not particularly honest. If I don’t do this my self-esteem takes a worse hit.

    Anosognosia may not be an actual disease entity but having a fancy psychiatric word for something that really does happen, and which people commonly refuse to accept as happening and being real, is actually a very helpful and humane phenomena to be able to appeal to, to try and understand, for people to be told is real and for it to be acknowledged.

    Of course, like any concept (like say the concept of “the quantum”, or the concept of “natural”, or the concept of “freedom”, or the concept of “success”, of the conceot of “recovery”and so on) it’s prone to be abused. And is sometimes abused but not as often as people seem to imply.

    We can have a laugh and a giggle about the logical inconsistencies but below the giggles and the back-pats is the harsh reality of some people’s struggles that involve actual lapses into anosognosia.

    I get the impression sometimes that people think that if they wish away all the psychiatric language they will also wish away the madness and somehow all will be sane with the world again.

    • Hey Rassulus thanks for your input on that topic. I agree it’s oppression. I also notice that the profession seriously lacks insight into the human condition. I also note that any claim to know the patient’s inner world is completely bogus. Now there’s where they seriously lack insight, since they have no insight into anything going on inside a person’s mind, certainly no more “expertise,” than, say, the patient’s best friend, or the patient’s mom, or sister, or by all means the patient her/himself. if only these mental health “professionals” listened, but they tend not to. Oh, for a few seconds, but that’s the extent of it and then they cut you off mid-sentence, roll their eyes, make some dismissive gesture, and claim they listened. As we know.

      • I think psychiatry reflects the bullshit of whatever culture they are operating in, with added LED mood lighting. They would be redundant as a discipline if people wanted honesty, and poetic probing, and expert-analysis.

        What is expert-analysis of a person and their life and their mind? I agree with the experts that no-one is sure. And that the need is sometimes so intense, so necessary, that any old hat floating down the river will do for a true fit,for most of the people, most of the time.

        I don’t mind when people including psychiatrists don’t listen to me because I’m not much motivated to listen to them either. So maybe try not to take the culture too seriously?

        And often I would rather not listen to myself which is why I went to Budapest in 1996 and invented loud music.

  20. I forgot to add this again. Why do I keep forgetting to add things?

    The best and most rewarding bit in the theatrics is when psychiatry backs away from you. They generally won’t back away from you until convinced they have broken your spine. And it isn’t the broken spine that makes them back away. It’s when you can actually look them in the eye and mimic their dispassion and tell them they have broken your spine.

    That’s the very point they back away.

    It is because now they are repulsed by you. The disfigured person before them. It mustn’t happen often but every psychiatrist at least once in their career experiences this unbearable collision between the monster they have made and the unmentionable monster inside of them.

    That is when and why they back away.

  21. THANK-YOU!, Ronda! Sorry it took me so long to comment. Yes, there are many detail differences between your story and mine. But the heart of the matter is the same. Much of what you thought and feel is what I’ve gone through, also. I’m glad to read your story and confirm that you’re on the right track, if you’re moving away from the pseudoscience drug racket known as psychiatry! So-called “mental illnesses” are exactly as real as presents from Santa Claus, but not more real. Psychiatry is nothing more than 21st Century Phrenology, with toxic drugs. And you and I now have the exact same “diagnosis”. I used to call it, “Iatrogenic Neuroleptic Psychotropic Pharmaceutical Cerebral Cognitive Impairment Malfunction”, but now I just call it “Iatrogenic Neurolepsis”. I actually once had a nurse write “Iatrogenic Neurolepsis” in my medical record, before she realized what she’d actually written! Psychiatry, and the greed of PhRMA, creates a special kind of delusional mindfog in some medical folks….
    I hope to see more of your writing here, and I wish you all the best. Writing here is itself both a type of “recovery treatment”, and evidence of recovery. And, I can also personally recommend Yoga, Tai Chi, mindfulness meditation, (“Vipassana”), walking, bicycling, swimming, good food, good friends, good thoughts, good feeling, good health…. You get the idea! Happy NEW YEAR!