ON MENTAL ILLNESS: More About Mindfulness

Jack Bragen
Friday July 29, 2016 - 03:02:00 PM

Since I have a severe psychotic disorder and significant mood issues, mindfulness, for me, is an essential adjunct to medication and talk therapy. However, if I am not careful, mindfulness can downgrade into negative rumination. 

The mindfulness techniques I use are loosely based in Buddhist principles, but I don't do formal Zen meditation. My methods of self-observation and remediation are self-invented or perhaps reinvented.  

What I do would be hard for me to teach to someone else, yet I can give you a general description. My techniques address two problems that are related: emotional pain (including chronic anxiety and the whole gamut of unhappy emotions), and delusional thought.  

Readers should realize that thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, (for everyone, not just for those who suffer from mental illness) are often inaccurate.  

To combat emotional pain, paradoxically, what works is to accept the pain. This could include acceptance of an event about which pain is generated. (Yet sometimes there isn't an event connected to the pain, and instead I just feel badly for no apparent reason.) Secondly, acceptance of the "body" part of emotional pain can include changing how I perceive painful emotions.  

Acceptance of painful emotions and changing how they are perceived can be done by realizing that pain and suffering are merely sensations. Pain and suffering are objectionable because we object to them. If we didn't object to pain, it would no longer have the ability to make us suffer. When this exercise is performed, often the upset emotion releases--I may feel a release of tension in the abdomen or elsewhere. This method can also be used to alleviate minor to moderate physical pain. (It may not be very effective against extreme physical pain because of how the human body is designed. Furthermore, it isn't an effective tool for getting over a preexisting substance abuse problem.)  

Just to give a note of caution, you should never inflict pain on yourself to test these ideas, or for any other reason! 

Concerning pain relief from negative or painful emotions, another piece of the puzzle is to produce the idea that you are "okay" and to refute thoughts of being "not okay."  

The essence of emotional pain is the perception of distress. It is the perception that something is bad or that something threatens to be bad. If you can overrule such a perception and decide, at least on an emotional level, that everything is okay, this will alleviate emotional pain.  

I also use a number of other cognitive methods for pain relief, but I do not have space here to describe them all. 

This isn't to say that there aren’t problems that we need to address. On the other hand, and this is paradoxical, being calm and undisturbed is a far more effective space for dealing with actual problems. When addressing problems, being excessively upset is counterproductive.  

To combat delusions, some of the techniques I use are similar to the ones for pain relief, but not all of them. To begin with, I have learned maintain the awareness that my mind is subject to errors, small errors and big ones.  

A big help in overcoming delusions is to observe how they happen, observe their patterns, and observe the types of delusions I get. If I have an area of unresolved emotion, this is fertile ground for delusions to arise. The delusions nearly always have an emotional charge connected to them, and that is one reason why they can be hard to get rid of and why, if I am not careful, they could have influence over me. Since delusions gain power through hijacking the emotional system in the brain, it is one reason why having more power to resolve emotions gives more power to resolve delusions.  

In observing delusions, I have seen where they present themselves in my mind as reality. Delusions, when they gain a foothold, present a false picture of the world that, at the time, can appear very real. Delusions can become assumptions. These assumptions can then generate entire patterns of thought that seem real but that are a massive false picture. This is where the term "delusional system" applies.  

Taking the time to learn anti-delusional methods is not a waste of time. This can entail using more parts of the brain to learn to recognize a delusion. Scanning for delusions is analogous to doing a virus scan on a computer. I also use the memory of how delusions took over in the past, the "strategies" that the delusions used, and what some of the themes were.  

And there are more methods, more techniques. Exploration of how your mind works is a good effort, as long as this doesn't degrade into an even worse episode of delusional thought. If you cannot stay on task, and if you find things are deteriorating, it is time to stop.  

However, if you can remain on task and constructive with explorations of the mind, this can pay off big in your future quality of life.  

And, if in doubt, it is always good to ask someone reliable, someone who you know very well, if they think a particular thought is nonsense or if it sounds reasonable. (You do not want to try this with just anyone, with someone who doesn't know you very well, or with someone who may not understand much about mental illness.)  

Learning more about your mind, and learning methods to deal with symptoms, can make a big difference in quality of life, and serves greatly as an adjunct to conventional treatment.