Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Dividing Line

After a lifetime spent with various sorts of people, I find myself thrown in these days with a rather New-Age-ish crowd. Which is fine. I am a long-time believer in the old adage, “live and let live.” I even agree with them on many issues. But more and more, I am having a problem with parts of their outlook, as they are recommended over and over again to me. There are two major sticking points (and I hope you will make allowance for my imperfect understanding). I feel pushed to “let go of my limitations” and to adopt an updated version of positive thinking.

Now, there are some very good points in favor of both attitudes. It is quite true that, as conditioned members of society, we tend to hem ourselves into strict little comfort zones and stay there, when we are capable of more. Ask any psychologist (or any teenager), and I suspect they will tell you that risk is necessary sometimes. Everyone needs to stretch themselves once in a while. Life lived in a box is not healthy or humane.

There is also much to be said for positive thinking. There always has been. I am aware that I have spent much of my lifetime in struggles for survival, and this has led to a problem-focused, ‘downside’ habit of mind that really isn’t helpful. Once we thoroughly understand and a problem (and we must to think about it to do that), it behooves us to concentrate on the solution. The results are better, and the relief to the nervous system is enormous.

Further, I will even concede to those who claim that looking on the bright side improves life itself. To an extent it does. As I say, it feels better, and more than that it sharpens your alertness to any helpful circumstance or fresh opportunity; the kind that can drift by unnoticed if you’ve got your head in a dark cloud. As we with altered states know better than anyone, perception, or state of consciousness, is everything.

But there are philosophies, such as that in The Secret, which seem to propound that the way you think will actually change events - that the Universe will in fact respond to you and give way to your desires. This is just one baby step away from magical thinking. And it is a step too far for me.

Now mind you, I’m not saying they’re wrong. It might be true. I don’t know. I try never to judge others’ belief systems. BUT - and it’s a big ‘but’ - as a mentally ill person I cannot afford to think this way. It is profoundly dangerous to my shaky grip on reality. It smacks of delusion. The Secret - which I’m only picking on as an example, I actually like the book - encourages its audience to speak, act and believe that things which they want, but which haven’t happened yet, are actually true now.

It is just one small step to telling people that your Pumpkin carriage is waiting for you out in the parking lot, with the Prince inside. People get locked up for stuff like that.

The mentally ill cannot afford to play patty-cake with physical reality. We need a concrete grasp to stay sane. We need to look our circumstances in the eye and say, “this is what it is.” After that, we can work to make things better. At our own pace.

If our world also becomes blessed with synchronicity, if the Universe hands us gifts, that’s wonderful. Be joyful.

The same thing goes for “letting go of our limits.” As individuals with a medical condition, we have very specific things we cannot do. I have learned over the years which behaviors and events produce meltdown and which sustain serenity. It is not “negative” to respect these limits, any more than it is “negative” for a diabetic to turn down cake and pie and ice cream at a party.

I have seen this played out time and time again. Someone will try to convince me that I can do X or Y if I would only stretch myself; that it’s “not really hard,” that it’s “for my best interest.” And those people suffer with me when they are treated to my screaming, shouting breakdown. They thought it was OK. But they were WRONG. They don’t have my condition, and so they don’t know, no matter how well they THINK they understand it. My therapist made the remark about cake and diabetes, and she ended by saying, “What do you have to do to convince them? Go into a coma?”

Remember, when it comes to your mental condition, YOU are the only expert. Don’t be pushed around.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She is currently recording it as an audiobook and CD set.  Deborah has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at She has narrated a guided meditation CD, “Island Journey,” produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker; available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and many other venues.