Saturday, October 11, 2008
Mental Illness: Healing without Shame
Having experienced both mental and physical illnesses, and both mental and physical pain, and having worked with numerous clients with both issues, I am convinced that there is no substantive difference between the two. There is not “two” – mind and body are one. There is a myth that mental pain and physical pain are fundamentally distinct, and that is wholly untrue.
Where your illness manifests – in the brain as depression, anxiety, or psychosis – or in the body as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or cancer – is simply a function of genetic predisposition. The more genetically vulnerable body parts break down in the presence of chronic stress, toxins, and a depleted immune system. Furthermore, mental and physical illnesses go hand in hand – physical illness stresses the mind, often causing depression and anxiety; and mental illness stresses the body, reducing immune and digestive function and increasing the risk of heart disease. The national legislature finally recognized this parity in groundbreaking new rules which will ensure equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses.
Whether you’re feeling musculoskeletal pain or emotional anguish, it hurts just the same. Whether you’re limping with a cane or hobbled by depression, it’s just as hard to get out of bed in the morning. Mental pain and illness may in fact be more debilitating than physical pain and illness, because of the stigma that prevents us from receiving the social support we need to heal. If we complain about our aching back, family and friends are usually sympathetic, fetching us extra pillows, and perhaps offering us a massage, or at least a compassionate ear. If we complain about our aching mind, however, family and friends may back away, fearing contagion from our negative emotions, or perhaps judging us, telling us to “buck up” or “shake it off,” as if we could.
Does anyone ever tell a person with an aching back, knee, or shoulder to “buck up” or “shake it off”? No, they offer to carry that heavy package for you or fetch you an ice pack. Depression and other mental illnesses are astoundingly common in this country, with nearly 10% of Americans experiencing a depressive disorder every year, and over 22% (over 1 in 5!) suffering from a diagnosable mental illness each year. Yet we cannot talk about our illnesses with the people who care about us – or with anyone! – lest we be judged, shunned, rejected, or tongue-lashed. I personally have lost several friends by “coming out” as manic-depressive. Frankly, I think we should all be less bothered by the people in our communities who have mood disorders, and more concerned about the people running our government who are sociopaths! Mindfreedom International is working to remove the stigma and eliminate the persecution of people with mental illnesses, across the globe.
In the meantime, we must remember that just as Tylenol won’t cure a toothache – it will just dull the pain temporarily until you can resolve the cause of the ache with your dentist’s assistance – the same goes for psychiatric drugs. Prozac doesn’t cure depression, Xanax doesn’t cure anxiety, Haldol doesn’t cure psychosis – they just dull the mind temporarily. Until you find out where the source of your mental illness is, learn to love yourself deeply, and heal your emotional pain, medications can only offer temporary symptom relief – often with numerous side effects and medication-addictions.
With holistic healing, social support, counseling, life changes, nutritional support, and a fearless self-inventory, you can heal mental illness. Since mental illness affects your whole self – body, mind, and spirit – any treatment plan must address your physical self (nutritional deficiencies, neurotransmitter imbalances, sleep, and exercise), your mental self (counseling, affirmations, social support, and cognitive-behavior therapy), and your spiritual self (energy healing, EFT, NMT, acupuncture, homeopathy, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong).
For now, take the medications if you really need them. Just remember not to rely complacently on them, but to do the healing work necessary to transform your illness into health. And remember, there is no shame in being ill – you deserve loving support and care, no matter what or where your illness is. May you be well!
Some helpful support organizations for folks with mental illness:
White Bird Clinic