Having a mental health problem impacts strongly upon the whole of your life. It’s not just about trying to turn poor mental health into good mental health it’s about developing a more positive attitude to all aspects of your health. It’s vital that the negative impact that poor mental health can have on physical well being is minimized, if possible and that physical illness doesn’t make poor mental health even worse.
By removing or reducing those elements that increase stress we can make improvements to our mental health or at least to the way we approach it. Living through difficult illnesses can either maim you or make you. Learning to grow because of problems as opposed to in spite of them means that you learn to roll with things and accept other challenges, whatever they may be, as they arise. Some people apparently sail through life without a care and then suddenly they are hit by a problem; redundancies, divorce, death of someone close, illness etc. and have no means of coping. I don’t think karma is necessarily about punishment but I do think it is about lack of investment into our spirituality.
A sense of spirituality cannot cure ills of any kind but it can give us a sturdier foundation from which to cope. Spirituality isn’t about God, religion, ritual or giving oneself over to other people it’s about finding that place deep inside you that enables you not to give up.
Although I had practiced meditation from my late teens I had never thought of it as a particularly spiritual practice. I, like a lot of other people, assumed that spirituality was a by-product of a belief in God or the outcome of following a religion. As a result of this I fought against spirituality for a long time. Other things that were going on in my life didn’t encourage spiritual growth.
Five or six years ago my consultant dared me to try Mindfulness. I hummed and haahed about it until he challenged to me to try it as a kind of experiment. He even provided the CD, which I still have, that contained the guided meditation. Even I couldn’t refuse that offer.
For many years I have suffered from hypnophobia, a fear of sleep rooted in the threats of nuns in childhood who promised me that I’d die in my sleep and spend eternity in limbo if I didn’t say my prayers at night. It means that sleep is difficult for me, impossible with sleeping pills at times. Nothing has worked for any length of time. The first time I tried the guided meditation I lay down on my bed, turned the CD player on and before I was ten minutes into the meditation I was asleep and stayed asleep for many hours. Mindfulness is neither a relaxation technique nor an aid to sleep but it puts me in a place where I can get sleep that is peaceful and relaxed.
Mindfulness works on the principle that the only time we have to be alive is now. Not the next second in the future or the second that has just passed but the second that is now. We can look back at memories as long as we don’t live in the past. We can plan for our futures as long as we don’t spend so much time there all we do is project. It is a wonderful attitude and as a form of meditation easily practiced any time, any where without having to do anything very special at all.
As a result of embracing Mindfulness I became open minded enough to read the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which is full of ideas that I would have previously dismissed as rubbish. It’s not the first book I pick up when I need guidance but it has proved to be a valuable book for me.
One of my friends is a great motivator. He has taught me to think again. I would certainly have dismissed his efforts ten years ago even though I would have considered myself open minded. He has taught me to write my blessings down when I need to be reminded of them so I can see how many there really are. I haven’t had to do this for a long time. He has taught me to not automatically assume I’m having a bad day and to let a little time pass before I make my mind up. I have fewer bad days than I used to. He has encouraged me to first speak of the good things that happen in my day before I speak of the bad things and almost by magic the bad events are reduced to the size they actually are and not the over inflated events I supposed them to be. He has told me in no uncertain terms that there are times when I hide behind Bipolar Disorder and use it as an excuse for not doing things. This is very true, sometimes I blame the way I feel on Bipolar Disorder when I’m really just having the odd off day or I want to opt out of coping. People can change your life if you allow them to.
Another friend told me the story from the Tao of Pooh that describes Pooh and Piglet walking through the Hundred Acre Wood. Piglet expresses his fear by saying, “What if one day a tree falls upon us?” Pooh replies simply, “What if one doesn’t?”
My illness has not improved in the past five or six years. In fact it has deteriorated. Bipolar Disorder has a firm and dangerous grip on me. What has changed, through the discovery that spirituality comes from within, is my attitude. Same illness, different approach.
Today I am less likely to be suicidal. That speaks volumes.