I have recently had what some might call, a spiritual awakening. A series of strange occurrences took place which left me very confused. I began asking the universe questions like, “What do you want from me? Why do these strange things keep happening? Why me?”
I asked someone who I admire and look up to the same questions and they said, “Why not you?”.
It’s obvious by looking at our world’s history that the way we have been looking at mental illness and addiction isn’t working. We have proof of that.
The “war on drugs” isn’t working, that’s obvious because we are more addicted. There are more people suffering, more families torn apart, more incarceration, and more overdoses and deaths since we imposed the war on drugs.
Many people have what is called a “dual diagnosis”, which is when there are mental health issues as well as addiction. Now we have also imposed the logic of the war on drugs into our relationships and daily lives and as a result, we are becoming more and more disconnected.
I heard recently that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection. Humans are social by nature, and when we don’t have healthy connections to each other, we form bonds with other things and sometimes those things aren’t healthy attachments. This form of connecting doesn’t stop at drug use; there are other forms like pornography, television, cellphones, along with various obsessive-compulsive behaviors people seem to get addicted to i.e. gambling, exercising, or cleaning.
I saw a Ted Talk recently about this exact issue. Johann Hari explains quite elegantly, that everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. He talks about the addicts in his life that he loves, and about how although it’s difficult, that he told them he wanted to deepen the connection with them. He told them he loves them whether they are using or not and if they needed him, he would sit with them so they aren’t alone.
I first saw that Ted Talk in December 2019 and I knew it was something special. I believe that not only is everything we think we know about addiction wrong, but some of what we think we know about mental illness is wrong as well.
There has been so much progress in mental health over the past 50 years and we are definitely doing better; I’m not discounting 50 years of hard work and discovery. However, I can’t help but be bothered by a few things.
When I was a little girl, mental illness showed itself for the first time through obsessive compulsive behavior. I washed my hands… A LOT. My mom freaked out. She has a degree in psychology, plus we have severe mental illness in our family genetics, so her first thought was, something is wrong with my baby.
My mom took me to see a psychiatrist who said it was no big deal. He said to buy me soap for sensitive skin and hand lotion and to tell me if I was going to wash my hands so much that I needed to use the special soap and lotion, and eventually I would stop, which I did. Seems like solid advice to me…
I started thinking about the times we are in now and how although we are more aware of mental health issues, I’m concerned with the type of care people are receiving, and if it’s the best course of action to get the best possible outcome.
Sometimes, there is an actual imbalance in the brain, and medications may be needed. It has also been studied that trauma may in fact also lead to a change in our brain chemistry. The thing that frustrates me is that although sometimes medication is needed, its leaned on as a cure, when medication only suppresses symptoms. As of now, there is no cure for mental illness. We are left with symptoms we still have little understanding of.
I have been plagued with various mental illness symptoms, varying in severity throughout my entire life.
Nothing really works. When it does work, it’s always short-lived. This brings me to think again, about human connections and the fact that we are a more disconnected society than we have ever been, while problems with mental illness as well as addiction is on the rise.
I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Since I was diagnosed with several mental illnesses, I have been looked at as crazy, over-emotional, spontaneous, anxious, promiscuous, insane, the list goes on and on. What I need people to understand, is that when I began focusing on connecting with people on a soul level, many of my symptoms faded, some disappeared, and others became more manageable. I began to see my so-called problems and issues as gifts I have been given and began focusing my attention less on suppressing my symptoms, and more on how to tune in and listen. The results have been magical. I have been better equipped at facing whatever is making me feel uncomfortable, and finding ways to let my symptoms work for me, not against me.
I think it’s safe to say there is a lot about mental health that we don’t know or understand, and our approach needs to be reevaluated. With the expanding need for mental health and addiction services, people are often all put into the same categories, misdiagnosed, and given medication. When these approaches don’t work, patients often stop taking their meds. Some have psychotic episodes, are hospitalized, and are then expected to jump right back into the system that failed them. That scenario is also a very mild one compared to how much pain and turmoil some mental breaks can cause everyone involved: the person in distress, their loved ones, coworkers, medical professionals, police officers, teachers, etc.
I think it’s past time to try new approaches to these problems and see if something else works. I want people to start thinking about how our approach to mental health doesn’t work. I want people to think about what it is that makes them feel good, important, more alive. I think we need to start embracing that there are many different types of humans, each with unique gifts. Possibly, instead of suppressing what we obviously just don’t understand, why not try embracing these “illnesses”, treat them as unique gifts, and teach how to use these gifts to help themselves or others. We need more focus on social interaction, coping, and healing.
Just a thought…