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The Antidote(s) to Mental Illness

Mental Illness. The modern plague. 

The same one I’m proposing an antidote for. But, really…  can the kryptonite to our woes even be summed up? Could something honestly weaken this mass affliction? 

Well. If I were to venture my opinion, it would be a from-the-rooftops, confidently charged, echoing to world over – YES. And I’ll even sum it up with one word.

Namely, curiosity. 

Clinical Depression or Layered Experience?

All emotions and behaviors serve a purpose. I talked here about how fear (our largely conditioned, unconscious response) serves our intrinsic need for protection, though left to linger unexamined can perpetuate negative emotional states. These states give a natural rise to our behaviors. Each emotion – sadness, joy, anger, ecstasy, misery… serve a purpose. Each one, as well as the resulting behaviors, serve as information that acts as our internal gauge for “what’s going on in here.” 

I used to think depression was my diagnosis, now I know it was my symptom. Broken down, it looked like sadness, fear, grief, worry, etc. Cumulatively it was given a single label (nice shorthand perhaps, but a crappy end result) and in that blanketed transition from feelings, emotions, and resulting behaviors that made perfect sense – to “diagnosis” – I forgot that I was less a textbook explanation and more a human being having a deeply multifaceted experience. One worth examining, you know – being curious about – versus assuredly writing off and medicating down. 

Yes, all emotions and behaviors serve a purpose. And? They result from a story. 

Fear served a purpose in keeping me safe, not that I enjoyed the fruits of that service, but it was what I was unconsciously communicating to my biology at the time. The purpose of even knowing that our emotions serve a purpose is really for this: to instill the belief that our bodies are FOR us. They are not randomly generating machines, they are not stupid, they are not broken. They may not be working the way we want them to, but they are working the way we’ve been telling them to – 

the we’ve been communicating to them to be 

Because of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves 

See, I never just “felt fear.” I had a story (conscious or unconscious) that was backing up the visceral response, and resulting behaviors. 

Has it ever happened to you that you’ve learned a piece of information, and felt an intuitive (feeling/emotional) response in your body? That is your body acting out the story. It’s just happening faster than most of us tend to take notice of. Like a script is giving life to a play, or a sheet of notes is giving rise to a song, or a blue print is giving instructions for the house to materialize. So is your body manifesting a sensation equal to what is being communicated to it in any given moment. 

Ever walked away from an event and consciously forgotten about it, but your body remembers? For example, have you ever looked at your to-do list and felt your stomach drop, your candle burn out a bit. You know… “overwhelm?” Then remained in that state long enough for it to alter your mood, but you can’t quite remember what triggered it. You know it was something because it came on strong after a thought, but you sort of have to think for a minute to remember. “Oh! My list. That’s where this sinking feeling I have in me came from.” I soon came to see my Clinical Depression/OCD/Anxiety/ etc. all as the culmination of several forgotten events, with ample left over feelings. With this understanding, the Monster of my Mental Ills became something I could approach creatively at this point.

It began with curiosity about my life as I knew it. Uncovering my experience from my blanket label, that at first felt like relief and then felt like a king sized duvet that I was only ever trying to fight my way out from under. Curiosity, or questioning long held assumptions, resulted in being able to make sense out of my experience. I examined my “What” (diagnosis) and uncovered my “Why” : stories written from trauma, poor diet, lack of movement, isolation, un-expression… (I wrote in detail about the “Why” and the “ok well what do I do about it” here.) 

It once felt like life was only and ever a constant heavy feeling. Nothing preceding, nonsensical, just my screwed up biology and unfortunate inherited genes. Except for that when I was in a good state, focusing on what I loved, I felt wonderful. (or, at least not miserable…) It took me a long time to see how most of what I thought was a constant random oppressive sensation, was actually created by me steadily over time. Which meant, I could actually do something very tangible about it. 

So follow the feelings, because they lead to the stories. Don’t feel like you have to chase down the specific page in the exact novel either, in order for you to re-write it. “Oh my dad said this to me when I was three and that’s why I feel the way I do.” Oftentimes this can be a distraction … you don’t always need to find out ‘the concrete why’ to do something about the what. Its alluring but it can be a distraction to you being able to access the resources you have in the present moment – the feeling telling you “what I don’t like about this moment, what I would like in this moment, what is coming up in this moment” is all you really need to move forward in the life you want. 

Unconscious Story (all the things of life) 

+

Feeling (bodily sensation)

+

Conscious Story to Affirm/Perpetuate Our Feelings  

Shitty Cycle To Be In 

What if we could bring curiosity into this equation? Loosen our grip some, on the stories that might be keeping us stuck. Peek behind the curtain and notice how the unconscious stories are what makes sense regarding the feeling, how it’s often not the conscious stories we’re telling ourselves. Maybe you “feel” depressed, and you’re tied to this very firm “conscious story” of a chemical imbalance. Maybe you “feel” overwhelmed and frustrated and are tied to the “conscious story” of never having enough time. But if the only thing that cycle of thought is doing is getting you into the very same outcomes, isn’t it worth it to consider trying something new…? What if we felt a certain way we didn’t enjoy (manic highs/lows), and changed the story from one of supporting our feelings (I got this from my mom – ie. out of my control) to one of questioning it (I wonder how the 70,000+ thoughts I think in a day could contribute to this?) I’m not asking you to give up the conscious story, I’m asking you to bring a skeptics eye to this experience of you.

What if all we had to do was to make room for a little curiosity? It can be the catalyst to change our stories. Curiosity lead me to examine my thinking. It helped me understand that my feelings were not random, but preceded by all the stuff of life. Suddenly, it made sense why I felt the way I did. And when your experience begins to make sense, you can breath a sigh of relief. (I just did.) You can alter the stories you’re conscious of telling yourself.

You can create a new outcome.  

In the spirit of Antidotes,

Jessi

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