ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Why it is Important to Stretch the Comfort Zone...But Not Too Much

Jack Bragen
Friday October 11, 2019 - 04:26:00 PM

Some mentally ill people have a lot of difficulty with things that non-afflicted people assume are easy. Consequently, when we complain or have a problem with one of these things, we are thought to be lazy or of bad character. People do not comprehend that we might find something to be very hard that they believe anyone can do with no problem. We may receive bullying over this. Family members or acquaintances do not understand our struggle and they believe we are being difficult without good reason. 

We are victimized by people who see things simplistically. And when they perceive that we are not serving their purpose, they believe we ought to be punished. 

Antipsychotics and many other medications neurochemically force a patient into a low energy mode. Many of these medications may remedy the overt symptoms of the illness by introducing another abnormality--that of limiting the energy output of the central nervous system. 

As a patient who has taken antipsychotics for nearly forty years, I know firsthand that antipsychotics make it very hard to do anything other than sit like a blob and possibly fall asleep. 

Antipsychotics also induce physical and emotional suffering. The induced suffering is part of the mechanism that allows the drugs to limit brain activity. On the other hand, other drugs that limit you and at the same time, make you feel good, for the most part aren't recommended. This is due to the potential for drug or alcohol dependency. 

Because of the restrictions introduced by medications, the need for us to adhere to our comfort zone is a lot stronger than it is for most people. This can take the possibility of employment completely out of the picture. In my past, I tried very, very hard to work while on high dosages of medication. And my level of effort was substantial enough that I succeeded about half of the time. This is probably far better than what psychiatrists predicted when they formulated my prognosis. 

If you stick too much to the familiar, if you adhere too much to what is comfortable, if you do not try anything that could seem challenging, you could lose your neuroplasticity. If your mind becomes too crystallized in the same routine, this is bad for brain condition. 

If you periodically try to do new things, some of which could cause you to have fun, it can make you more adaptable. This can also increase intelligence. 

It is important that persons with mental illness should not be excessively distressed, especially for an extended period. On the other hand, it is probably bad for our condition to cling excessively to always being comfortable. The comfort zone should be a zone we live in more than half the time, but not all the time. Embracing uncomfortable situations and dealing with them can make a person better. 

It can require a great deal of effort for a medicated mentally ill person to go beyond the comfort zone. However, the ability to produce effort becomes stronger when it is used more. And the ability to be comfortable while uncomfortable is another trait that develops when it is exercised more. 

However, here's the possible problem: when a potentially psychotic person pushes past limits imposed by medication, it can sometimes cause an increase in psychotic symptoms. In most instances, this will be mild. Yet, if we push ourselves too radically, it could eventually trigger a relapse. 

Another technique is to, through mindfulness, cause uncomfortable situations to be perceived as nonthreatening. When we do this, it reduces the need to push, because the barrier is lower. 

The temptation to become noncompliant in young adult psychiatric patients may partly stem from the desire to be able to perform at a job. And it also may stem from the fact that taking these medications creates massive discomfort, even to do nothing more than exist within our skins. 

When you have taken antipsychotics for more than thirty years, it is far too late to go back. By that time, being medicated has become the normal state. The suffering of antipsychotics is not noticed any more, because we cannot readily recall what it was like before we took these medications. 

However, do not assume that it is too late to make an effort at something, even if you have been in treatment for years. Although no one can control the outcome of one's efforts, making an effort is based on resolve. 

Jack Bragen is an author who lives in Martinez. He has written for numerous publications and has several books available.