Last Thursday while carrying out the #dailymorningpractice over in the Emotionally Free Life community, I ended up climbing onto one of my *cough* many *cough* soapboxes...
This time it was sparked by some random nonsense I'd seen on Twitter where someone was promoting their new book all about how they survive each day with their mental illness...
Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, Autism, ADHD... and every other 'mental illness' listed in the DSM V (Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or the ICD 11 (International Classification Of Diseases) are not mental illnesses.
The definition of an 'illness' is: 'A disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.'
People struggling to manage all the infuriatingly unhelpful way their brain is managing the day-to-day activities are not sick.
They also did not end up where they are because they picked up a virus, inhaled a pathogen or randomly sucked in a 'mental illness' worm through the bottom of their feet.
Yes, you absolutely can catch the flu this way, develop shingles and/or find a tapeworm inside you because of this method of transfer but you categorically can't catch 'mental illness.'
Calling them mental illnesses is the same as calling someones broken leg a 'leg disease'...
Hopefully, now you get how ludicrous that is?
When I was battling all the demons from my past, I wasn't sick, ill or mentally unhealthy.
I had simply wired my brain in such a way that I was able to function.
It didn't matter that this re-wiring ended up being extremely harmful to me.
Day-by-day, the decisions I was making to get up, go to school, go to work and all the other things I had to do slowly altered how my brain was functioning.
It's the same process our brains go through when we're trying to build any new habit.
Like all those New Years resolutions you made a couple of months ago which you're not doing anymore... ;)
In the beginning, you make a conscious effort to make a different decision but after a while, the new decision (your habit) becomes automatic.
Kinda like when you first start to drive how everything is unbelievably scary (I totally freaked out the first time I moved the car even though it was only going 2mph...) but after a while you find yourself driving along paying no attention to the physical things you're doing to get the car to move.
We can even find ourselves getting to a destination we travel frequently without having a clue how we got there.
All that's happened is you've simply wired in the driving habit.
For me, the first way I tried to cope was by becoming inconsequential.
If I hid away, made myself as irrelevant as possible and just stayed well out of the way then I'd be fine.
After all, this was the advice I was given by my teachers, my parents and every other adult to cope with bullying...
It didn't work.
As an adult, I ended up cutting myself off emotionally to such an extent that I would say things, without realising that it would be hurtful.
I was existing as a shell of a human...
It became so bad, I figured out a way to check out...
Thankfully, I failed and after a crazy 15 years has led me to where I am today.
For 13 years I was scrambling out of the emotional black hole I'd dug for myself.
Then in 2017, I finally took back complete control of my brains wiring.
Don't get me wrong, I was already a changed person and experiencing so many wonderful things in life by that point, but there was still a small part of my past I was keeping firmly under lock and key.
It wasn't until I opened up Pandora's box, did I find emotional and mental freedom.
So here's another truth, you've probably never heard...
When someone is battling for control of their brain (struggling with a mental 'illness) the Prefrontal Cortex is massively impaired.
If you look at any fMRI scans, this area is lit up like a Christmas tree.
The Prefrontal Cortex is located right at the front of your head and is 'uniquely large' in humans compared to other animals.
What is key to understand about this area of the brain is it's responsible for:
Working Memory*: This is your brain's ability to hold information in its consciousness which is then manipulated based on our past beliefs, current thoughts, feelings and understanding of the event at hand, before being moved into the short-term memory store. It's kinda like, how many things you can process at a time. For example, most people can remember a sequence of words or numbers which is no more than 7. Over 7 and we all have extreme difficulties remembering them all.
Abstract Thinking: This is the brain's ability to think about ideas, objects and principles which are not physically represented in front of it. For example, your ability to set goals and take actions or your ability to day-dream about lying on a tropical beach, Pina Colada in hand.
Social Behaviour: This refers to how much your feelings, actions and thoughts are influenced by others. For example, whether you walk into a room filled with people who are laughing and believe they're laughing at you, whether you instinctively reach and shake someone's hand when you're being introduced or whether you feel paranoid in a room full of complete strangers.
Executive Functioning: These are 'higher-order cognitive abilities' such as the ability to plan, make decisions, solve problems, sequence actions correctly, assign/organise tasks and to take action towards your goals. They're kinda like your 'logical' functions which enable you to not only decide what you want to do in your life but also to create a list of 'to-dos' which will enable you to bring your desires about.
Behaviour Monitoring: This refers to your own ability to monitor and adapt your behaviours where necessary so that you can meet/fit-in with social norms. For example, most of us wouldn't scream, shout and jump on tables in a library but would quite happily do so in a nightclub.
Resisting Distractions: This refers to how well you can focus on a specific task and the speed at which you can return to a task after you have become distracted. For example, if you're working hard to get something done, how focused you are on just that one thing, or how quickly you get back to taking action on that one thing after you distract yourself by checking your phone, or someone else distracts you by asking you if you want a cup of tea.
Providing An Awareness Of Self: This refers to how good you are at monitoring, understanding, accepting and adapting your thoughts, beliefs and emotions so that you can successfully navigate through different aspects of your life.
Providing An Awareness Of Time: This refers to our ability to understand the order in which events occur in relation to other events. For example, during a thunderstorm, the thunderclap appears to occur after the lightning strike. However, we know that in reality, both occur at the same time. Because light travels faster than sound, we see the lightning and then can measure the distance of the storm by paying attention to the number of seconds which pass before we hear the thunderclap.
Do you notice anything about all of those brain skills I've just mentioned?
Yup, you guessed it, all of them are impaired to a certain degree when someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
In fact, many of those impairments are diagnostic criteria for specific mental illness.
Now, many people will tell you that the reason you are suffering from the mental health disorder you've been assigned by your GP, the mental health nurse or even a psychologist is because, that specific part of your brain is damaged.
This is not true.
The only difference between someone who has one of these three and someone who doesn't is the rewiring process will need to be adapted to work alongside the natural wiring process, rather than simply snip away at the unhelpful connections.
How do I know this?
Because I know there was a time in your life when you didn't have depression, didn't have anxiety and didn't suffer with whatever else you've been labelled with.
Okay, so there are exceptions to the rule.
Someone who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, someone who has Autistic Spectrum Condition and someone who has a Specific Learning Disorder whether it's with reading or maths, well their brains are wired differently from birth.
These are classed as neurological disorders.
The super exciting thing is that even if you have one of these three, you can still alter your wiring so that it's helpful to you.
You have simply, applied unhelpful coping mechanisms to your life after a traumatic event, or series of traumatic events which has resulted in wonky wring within this brain region.
Over my time as a psychologist, I've helped children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder who the local services said would never speak, learn to speak.
I've helped children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who were segregated because of their inability to focus or concentrate for longer than a couple of minutes, not only return to a normal classroom but thrive.
I've even helped many adults, including myself, who have difficulties with reading or maths excel in these areas.
I've worked with countless adults struggling with extreme anxiety and depression, many of whom only come to me after multiple suicide attempts break completely free not just in the short term, but for years after we finished working together.
Do you want to know the secret to their success?
They accepted there's nothing wrong with them.
They embraced the idea they're not ill.
They wholeheartedly welcomed the fact that they can have the life, the relationships and the future they desire if they just first sort out their unhelpful wiring.
The same as a child's electronic toy won't work if you put the battery in the wrong way, our brains struggle to function if we haven't input our feelings, thoughts and beliefs in a way which is helpful.
Look, I get it.
For many of you reading this, I've just completely flipped your world upside down.
Doesn't it feel awesome?
Ready to experience the same results as my clients?
Simply click the button below to watch my TEDx talk where I talk about the 3-Steps Everyone Can Take To Life An Emotionally & Mentally Free Life.
Plus, you'll also be able to download a free 'Get Started PDF' giving you 3 psychological techniques to safely alter your wiring so that you too can live a life free from the burdens of your past experiences: