You remember the chilling Kitty Genovese case? As Kitty hysterically shrieked for help — her voice echoing through the New York night, 38 neighbors ignored her hysterical pleas. The neighbors’ blurry thought process, “Well, maybe someone else will help” or “I am not able to assist her.” Collectively, there was a diffusion of responsibility.
“What does this have to do with mind happiness?” you wonder. Let me explain.
Mind happiness is a habit — one that demands your attention. Right now. As the whirring thoughts torment, we can lament our circumstances — beseeching others to help — or even save — us. But just like in Kitty’s case, others may not be physically or emotionally available.
Here’s the unequivocal truth: You have the power to help yourself.
Let’s take exercise. Many Americans — myself included — are in a battle with our expanding bulge. Sure exercise can be more of a chore than mowing the lawn. But as I establish an exercise routine — and attempt to maintain my overly optimistic New Year’s resolution, I empower myself to eat healthier, meet with a personal trainer, and substitute football Saturdays for, you know, actually playing football on Saturdays. The theme: take action. Decisive action. Because when you wait for others, your pleas may go unheard.
Let’s apply this to mind health treatment. In my case, the OCD thoughts have lobbed verbal grenades since adolescence. My default response: the mental equivalent of a half-hearted shrug. If I just ignore the thoughts, I reason, they will go away. Or, maybe, I could try wishing away the anxiety inducing thoughts.
Hope may be a winning political strategy; unfortunately, it isn’t a winning mind health strategy.
A half-hearted shrug is the equivalent of acquiesce. And, sadly, I cannot wish — or will away — the tormenting thoughts. In fact, inaction tightened their stranglehold. Willful blindness is just that — willful and blindness.
But here’s what you — and I — can do. When the thoughts blitzkrieg your overwhelmed mind, you define them. Each and every time. That thought about harming a loved one? Nonsense. That disturbing sexual image? Throw it in the garbage — not the recycle — bin.
As I categorize each of these thoughts for what they are, their power — miraculously — dissipates. That vice grip loosens and, in its place, something resembling tranquility appears. Even more significantly, I have empowered myself. It is futile — and arguably counterproductive — to attempt to control your mind. As mental health consumers, we know this truism better than most.
But in defining the OCD thoughts, you strike an ideal balance between resistance and acceptance. As I have consciously committed to labeling the thoughts (“OK–that is a trick thought; I can move on”), the labeling process has become semi-automatic. And, thankfully, I am now averting those once automatic sinkholes.
When the agonizing thoughts strike, my instinctive reaction has been “retreat retreat retreat.” I slink into bed or frantically call a close confidante. These are passive–even avoidance — strategies. And, sadly, they exacerbate the already writhing anxiety.
Experience has taught — and humbled — me. As my mind shrieks, I know that I am the only one who can hear. Mind health wellness is more than a spectator sport; you cannot be a disengaged witness to your own mental well-being. Innocent bystander? Like Kitty’s neighbors, you are far more culpable than you know.