“Snap a rubber band,” a well-meaning counselor advises.
“Practice mindfulness. Don’t interfere with the intrusive thoughts when they strike,” a well-intentioned doctor counsels.
“If you expose yourself to the screaming thoughts, their intensity will slowly fade,” a seasoned practitioner recommends.
Feeling overwhelmed? That makes two of us.
As mental health consumers, we seek answers for the whirring madness in our minds. We limp to psychologists and psychiatrists, stockpile the latest self-help books, and embrace the latest diet fads. If I just follow the Atkins diet or Paleo diet or the Raw Food diet, the blaring thoughts will subside. Right?
But, I suspect, we are torturing ourselves–and our mental health. In our frenzied search for everlasting relief, we are muddling our already overtaxed minds. Our desperation is our biggest asset–and albatross.
A mental health consumer, my counselors have shepherded me through some of life’s biggest challenges. I am grateful for their friendships and wisdom. They have — and continue to be — mentors. But over my sixteen years of counseling, I have received divergent and, at times, contradictory advice.
My mind rattles; should I embrace mindfulness or challenge the pulverizing thoughts? Should I journal out the distressing thoughts, exposing them as bullying imposters? Maybe I should distract myself, burrowing into a favorite book? And the mind prattles on, brooding over counselors’ tips and tricks.
Information overload right?
As the latest self-help techniques whiplash through your mind, here is where I am supposed to provide sanguine advice for those spinnin’ heads. Yes, I may write a Psych Central column and, yes, I understand the paralyzing thoughts and feelings. But before dispensing any advice, I want to acknowledge your own wisdom and resilience against numbing depression and churning anxiety. You — yes you — are a skilled counselor, navigating your mind’s treacherous terrain with grace, vision, and perspicacity. But, in a cruel twist, that insatiable drive for more–treatment tips, counseling appointments, and medical diagnoses — results in less. As the thoughts flood your synapses, you cling to anything (Paleo diet? Oprah’s latest self-help book?) for mental tranquility. Your doggedness, though, reeks of desperation — not determination.
A serial overanalyzer and endless perfectionist, I understand your drive — and how it is driving you over the edge. Like you, I have questioned whether I am employing the “right strategy” or am really “getting” mindfulness. Second, or even, third-guessing your counselor, you feel besieged, even helpless, as the thoughts batter you into submission. “Mindfulness? But what about meditation? And my counselor keeps mentioning my diet. Well, maybe I will mindfully meditate about my diet,” you grumble — sarcasm dripping down your chin.
Here comes counsel, not another counselor. The advice: focus on what you do best–and sharpen that skill to a razor’s edge. If meditation foils the stomach-churning anxiety, embrace your inner yogi. Over and over again. After years of trial and more error, I now take an active role when the depressive thoughts plunge me into a blue abyss. I challenge their veracity, slowly unlocking the one-time stranglehold on me.
Yes, we all want a life raft when that inevitable blue wave threatens to topple us. But, first, we must build our own.