The Inherent Power of Mental Illness

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Several years ago I was leading a process group with patients affected by schizophrenia and addiction in a community outpatient center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Each patient took turns sharing thoughts and feelings on challenges of dealing with their symptoms and discovering more effective ways to deal with their condition.  As I listened to the their daily struggles, their efforts, and their level of gratitude, I couldn’t help but to think that in contrast to the rest of the world these seemingly poor souls were in reality the fortunate ones.  These individuals, through their condition, had acquired a keen ability to reflect, to identify weaknesses and strengths, and make difficult but responsible decisions necessary to change.  This group knew themselves at a level so profound they were able to help newer struggling members through their experiences.  These people understood the problem- they were awake.  There was honesty, there was sincerity, and a knowledge of self I had rarely seen anywhere else.  These individuals were fighting for their lives and they were doing it from the inside out.  They were aware that the war they battled was within and when someone attempted to deviate from this reference point they were quickly reminded of the errors of external blame.  This group like several others I’ve worked with stood in stark contrast to the general consciousness of society that declares “I’m fine” and that the solution is “somewhere out there.”  I’ve come to learn the most valuable lessons through people committed to their mental health and addiction recovery- and that is-the ultimate state of being human is not attaining nor portraying perfection, but a full ongoing life commitment to fight, to love, and to do battle from the inside-out.  

Facing the War Inside

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The problem is not that we battle emotional and psychological problems.  The problem is that we are taught we should not have any kind of inner turmoil.  The subliminal message of “that isn’t real” or “it’s all in your head” contributes significantly to the deterioration of symptoms of people with mental illness.  This form of gaslighting in which a person’s reality is taken as a fabrication of his or her mind is the all pervading message of the mainstream mental health treatment field.  Suggesting a patient change their symptoms is equivalent to them changing a limb- it is their reality.  Instead, the aim should be to provide validation of an individual’s reality, understand the meaning of particular symptoms, and provide ways for patient’s to properly handle and overcome the battle.  

The greatest illness is denial.  Pretending as if emotional and mental health problems are foreign and exclusive to certain unfortunate individuals greatly contributes to the isolation and further stigmatization of an underrepresented group.  It’s time to be honest and acknowledge the battle!  

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