How I am over coming mental illness through re-wiring the brain
Experience has shown that, ironically, it is often our very attempts to solve the problem, that in fact, maintain it. The attempted solutions become the true problem. — Giorgio Nardone and Paul Watzlawick
There is a dominant belief in Western medicine and pyschology that change is traumatic and slow. People expect therapy to take years, and this is the belief I held for 10 years of my life, continuously re-playing moments throughout my life, re-living traumatic events and beliefs, being prescribed medication to ‘cope’ with my feelings and emotions and believing I needed medication to fall asleep or to get me through the day. We are made to believe we are required to take medication for twenty years or to battle with symptoms during very long rehab programmes.
From my own experience of living with mental illness for over a decade, the above quote simply sums up that when I was searching for a solution it often became the biggest problem. I spent years seeking out the top professionals, thousands of dollars on the best Rehab programs, moved to Bali to escape the western ideals, tried every Holistic remedy and every prescription drug available on the market, lived in a Buddhist centre, but I still could not escape this hold the illness had over me, I was consumed with dark thoughts and feelings of wanting to escape 24/7 with a sense of failure and belief I would never feel myself again.
My experience this year has been, that change can happen very quickly. I realised my past experiences that maybe lasted 10 minutes, and the beliefs I held from these, have played a huge role in my suffering for a decade. I chose to stop focusing on the past by trying to figure out ‘why’ I developed severe depression, anxiety and an eating disorder that consumed a third of my life. To stop blaming others or situations and in ‘finding the answer’, instead I chose to let go of the past and bring myself into the now. To focus my energy not on what went wrong in the past, but in how I can spend my energy on improving myself daily to reach my goals and purpose.
The answer I found was in re-wiring the brain, everytime you think a thought, it forms a pathway in your brain. When you think thoughts repetitively, they form highways through your brain that are very easy to travel. This is how you learn new skills. It is great if that skill is something productive and enhancing to your life, not so great if it is a skill that produces anxiety and pain. Repeated patterns get stronger and stronger in the brain to a point where responses become automatic without even thinking about them.
I developed many coping stragies to deal with my emotional pain that became automatic responses, and in turn feed my illness more. I became addicted to drugs and alcohol to escape the pain I was feeling, which resulted in my life spirally out of control, bringing me to a point in which I had lost all sense of my values and all the loved ones around me, I had lost all trust within myself and those I loved. It took until I had lost everything and reached rock bottom to realize that I needed to make drastic change, already this illness had consumed a third of my life living in a pain cycle of repeated patterns. This is the point where I started to research the brain and study about ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) where the focus is on re-wiring the brain and programming it with positive actions and patterns. I quickly learnt that if I was capable of forming those bad pathways, I am just as capable of forming the good brain pathways to get the good health I desired.
I decided to give up on exploring the past, to let go of the beliefs that I needed medication to cope with the severe anxiety, depression and insomnia, that there was something wrong with me that needed ‘fixing’. I decided to explore my own ways of developing new beliefs and thought patterns in the brain and in doing this I have discovered my old beliefs were never true, I am no longer on any medication which I was told and believed I would be on for many years, I am continually discovering and trying new things which is validating this, that by re-wiring the brain we can make positive changes and overcome mental illness. I am enjoying the simple things in life, re-gaining my confidence and trusting in myself. Each day is a new beginning, an exciting opportunity to feed my brain and use my energy in positive ways instead of being consumed in panic, fear, in thinking of ways to escape and suppress the emotional pain.
The first thing I decided to do was to be clear about my values, I wrote them down with an explanation about what each of them meant to me. I then shared these values with my partner and family, I asked for them to share theirs with me if they felt comfortable in doing so. This set me off with a clear foundation in order for me to change my thinking. With having my values clearly written down, then each day, as long as a stuck to my values, I could have a measure of success and sense of achievement. Everyones measure of success and values are different and its important for growth to explore different ideas, experience and test what works for you, introduce new learnings and activities, try them out for a month, reflect on how they impact your life, if they helped in a positive way, introduce it into your life, if not then discard it and try something different.
Continue learning and exploring, this has been the biggest game changer in re-wiring my brain, keeping away from the past thoughts and habits by feeding and stimulating the brain in positive and new ways. The brain is very clever at re-wiring constantly, by practicing these ideas it has given me the confidence that I can have the life I have been seeking for so many years. The change has been so fast, I can’t believe how drastically my life has altered for the positive in the past few months, it is a constant work in progress and there is always going to be hurdles on the way, but it is important to remind yourself that this is normal, everyone has problems, it is all about how we react to them. It all begins and ends in the mind. What you give power to, Has power over you, If you allow it.
Below is my shortened list of my Values, I explored each in depth about what they meant to me, I then broke them down into steps so I could achieve these values in the way I live my life every day. I encourage you all to explore your values and purpose to create a pathway to live by these. I have also included 5 takeaways I have learnt through my experience that always helps my mental state of keeping well, balanced and humble.
Acceptance, Gratitude, Sense of purpose, Truth, Trust, Honesty, Staying grounded, Continuous Leaning, Balanced health, independence, compassion, growth, being curious, love.
My Five Takeaways
Give- Your time, your words, your ideas or your presence
Be active, Take action- Do what you can, enjoy what you do and move your mood
Keep learning- Embrace new experiences, see opportunities and supervise yourself
Connect- Talk and listen, be there and feel connected
Take notice- Remember the simple things that give you joy
My Partner asked what I was writing and the outcome I hoped to achieve in writing this blog, my answer was simply what I have learnt and explained above. It is about trying new things and stimulating the brain in new and positive ways. This is the first time I have ever written a blog, it is reinforcing what I have discovered, showing me how I have the space and concentration to focus on something that gives me meaning and purpose, pushing me through the fear of worrying about how others will react. I don’t need validation from others, but if someone can relate or discover something that may help them on their journey then that is a plus. My discovery through my healing has come from reading other peoples journeys and applying these ideas to my life. I hope by writing this it gives me more understanding and maybe helps others on their journey of discovery.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this.