Friday, December 28, 2012

Just a Couple of Things

Firstly, I have 4 words to say about the Newton shootings: Mental Health Care Access.

There is something very wrong with a society where guns are so easy to get and mental health care is so hard.

If you want to fight for better access but don’t have the time or energy (or functionality), your easiest option is probably to join NAMI (Nationally Alliance for the Mentally Ill). They have got lots of members who are normies, some of them real powerhouses, and they DO have the energy to work on these issues. The dues are moderate (there is a deep discount for mental health care consumers), and they pay, among other things, for legislative battles to protect and help people like us. NAMI also has lots of free programs that you or maybe your family could use. Go to and look up your nearest branch.

Secondly, I have been hearing from mentally ill friends that they’d like to meditate but just can’t seem to do it. They can’t calm their thoughts or detach from them. I totally get that! But I’ve gotten a lot of relief this past year out of meditating; so here, if you want them, are my best tips.

Don’t try to ‘empty your mind.’ That is like trying NOT to think of pink elephants. Don’t try to separate from your thoughts and let them float on by, either. That is an advanced technique - and frankly, if we could do that, we  wouldn’t have a psychiatric condition.

All meditation requires is that you try to focus on ONE thing, to the exclusion of all else. So pick a really simple thing. It could be counting up to 10: 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, and so forth. Start over when you get to 10. If you are highly visual, it could be staring at an interesting but basic object, like a seashell. Or if you’re tactile, you can lie down and put your hands on your belly and feel your breath rise and fall. Or feel your breath come into and out of your nostrils. These are just examples.

Set an alarm for 5 minutes, or whatever amount of time you’ve picked. You don’t want to be interrupting your meditation by checking the clock to see if your time is up yet.

Now. Once you start, concentrate ONLY on the simple focus you have chosen. Don’t change your mind and switch to something else, or get up to answer the door, or interrupt yourself in any other way. Try to have your whole mind, every bit of it, invested ONLY in your focal point. Try to have that be your complete existence till the alarm goes off. Whatever other thoughts come (and they will, by the hundreds), just say to yourself, “That’s not important right now. The ONLY thing that’s important is my counting” (my breathing, my seashell). Just go back to that over and over, no matter how many times you get sidetracked and no matter how urgent the thought is. You can get back to it later.

You see, your mind is not ‘empty,’ and it is not ‘detached.’ It is merely concentrated on one thing.

What this does is give you a wonderful break from all that yammering and worry in your head. Even if you only manage it for 30 seconds out of 10 minutes, it is a desperately needed rest. Even if that is all you ever get out of it, it’s a step toward mental health. And you did it all by yourself, without drugs.

I am a volatile bipolar gal who never does anything the same way twice, but I’ve kept this up nearly every day, over and over, for a year now. That bit of mental rest is sometimes the only sanity I get all day. For that reason alone, it’s worth it.

And there is always hope that one day my mind will learn to do this by itself.

Deborah is a public speaker and author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at, Kindle Editions, iBookstore, and other major vendors. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at She has also narrated a meditation CD with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker, and sings on his latest CD, "The Colors of Sound." Check out sound samples at