Category Archives: Mental Health

Breaking it Down

I posted the following reply to a question in the Happiness Trap Online Interest Group on how to make a big move towards your values, when you can’t break it down into smaller goals:

“Thanks for asking this xxxxxx. I’m no expert in ACT, and not a therapist, just a guy for whom ACT has been a lifesaver (literally), so I should probably keep my mouth shut… but I’m not going to. 🙂 Plus, I have no idea what your situation is, so this is as probably more of a reminder to myself. I’ve never experienced something that couldn’t be broken down. Even when the depression flairs up and one of my values is to get to work, just asking myself “Can I move my right leg” will usually work. If I don’t want to shower, can I get undressed and turn the water on? From a non depression standpoint, if I’m afraid to ask for a raise – can I start walking toward my boss’s office? Again, caveats galore, and I hope I didn’t insult your situation with my petty examples.”

I thought it might help the poster, and it really was a good reminder to myself (I need a lot of reminders.)

It’s not the achieving of the goals that matter – it’s the movement toward them, no matter how small. Jim Rohn said:

“The ultimate reason for setting goals is to entice you to become the person it takes to achieve them.” (source)

It’s the movement that makes us who we are. It’s how we vote for the person that we want to be.

 

Updated – Podcasts on Meditation, Personal Development, Stoicism, ACT, Buddhism, and More

[This was originally published in August of 2018. I thought it was time for an update. I’ve added some new podcasts, and kept the original ones on the list, even if they’ve been removed from my current playlist. None of the original podcasts are “bad”, they just don’t fit in with my life at the moment. Because of this, I’m not going to take them off the list, or even indicate the ones that are gone. The added podcasts are at the top of the list.]

I really enjoy listening to podcasts while driving, doing housework, running… anytime parts of my body other than my ears are the primary focus. Sometimes I’ll do the music or NPR thing, but the majority of the time I’m getting my groove on with Dan or Brian or Massimo or Gil or another of my favorite audio interviewers/gurus. Surprise surprise, all of these podcasts have to do with some kind of personal development. Maybe you’ll find something interesting in this list.

I use an awesome app called Podcast Addict for my listens, but there are a ton of others out there as well. The titles all link to what I’ve found to be the best page to subscribe and listen no matter what device or app you have (RSS feeds are the most flexible), but there are so many ways to get your pod on nowadays that you may have to use your app’s search function to find the one you’re looking for. If you can’t find it on your current app, try another one.

The list includes podcasts that I’m currently subscribed to and have been for a decent amount of time. I was originally going to list them in order of my favorites, but I realized that my “favorites” change like the weather, so they’re in alphabetical order.

I hope you discover something you enjoy. Be sure to let me know about other quality podcasts that you listen to in the comments section.


The Daily Stoic Podcast – Similar to, yet different from, Massimo Pigliucci’s Stoic Meditations, Ryan Holiday brings you a daily dose of Stoic Wisdom. Short and to the point lessons teaching different aspects of Stoic. This is one of those that goes to the top of my playlist once it’s downloaded, whether I’ve in the middle of another podcast or not.

Jocko Podcast – This is probably the the podcast that I’ve most subscribed to, then unsubscribed from, then resubscribed to on this list. It’s very long, at least a couple of hours in most cases. Jocko’s style is unique and powerful, and Echo Charles has a delivery that makes him the perfect sidekick. Maybe not for you if you aren’t into the military or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (which is what, along with the length, causes my unsubscribe/resubscribe antics), but the lessons on leadership and discipline just can’t be beat. Here’s my favorite (enhanced) video excerpt: Good.

The Practical Stoic Podcast – Another (generally) short podcast with Stoic lessons for daily life from Simon Drew, that also (usually) gets bumped to the top of my playlist as new episodes come out. I say generally because of occasional interviews – the latest one with Michael Tremblay was fantastic. I really appreciated the discussion in that episode of what the Stoics got wrong, especially the idea that we have, or can even develop, absolute control over our thinking.

The Sunday Stoic – I actually remember when this one first started a while back, but for some reason it didn’t quite catch my attention. That’s been remedied – my attention was caught by his most recent interview with Donald Robertson. After listening to the episodes since then, my attention has stayed. Steve brings a human element to Stoicism that can be lacking sometimes. Seems funny to say that, since the Stoic philosophy is all about learning to live according to our nature as human beings.


10% Happier with Dan Harris – Dan, a “fidgety skeptic” with little patience for “woo woo”, talks with a variety of personalities with a focus on their meditation practice, as well as his own experiences with mindfulness and meditation.

ACT in Context – Start with the first 12 episodes of this one. They’re an excellent introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I just found out they’ve rebooted the podcast and am looking forward to listening to the new releases.

Audio Dharma – Gil Fronsdal and his crew were (probably) my first meditation teachers without knowing it. I’ve been subscribed to this one for years.

Deconstructing Yourself – Michael Taft, in this podcast for “Modern Mutants”, goes deep with guests featuring conversations that “look at secular post-, non-, un- Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Hindu Tantrism, philosophy, the neuroscience of the sense of self, neurofeedback and the consciousness hacking movement, aspects of artificial intelligence, entheogens, and much more.” Or to put it succinctly – a whole lotta stuff!

OPTIMIZE with Brian Johnson | More Wisdom in Less Time – Brian delivers audio versions of his +1’s and PNTV Episodes on a daily basis. “What one can be, one must be.”

Stoic Meditations – Massimo Pigliucci is my personal favorite among modern teachers of Stoic philosophy. This almost-daily podcast presents a short reading from an ancient Stoic text and his take on it. If you like this podcast, you may also be interested in his fantastic book How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

The One You Feed – Learn how to feed your good wolf. Eric and Chris talk to various experts covering multiple facets of personal development: habits, meditationaddiction, ACT, and more.

Waking Up with Sam Harris (Now called “Making Sense”) – I just resubscribed to this one because of the recent release of the Waking Up Course app which focuses on meditation from a secular point of view. As an outspoken atheist, skeptic, and advocate of free speech, Sam can be quite the controversial figure. This is not a podcast focused solely on personal development per se, but the wide variety of topics and conversations can be educational, thought-provoking, and eye-opening.


What do you think of these podcasts? Did I leave any out that we just *have to* start listening to? Let the world know in the comments.

 

New Project: maybethiswillhelp.me

This is difficult – I’ve already shared it on Twitter and Facebook with a sense of dread.

But that’s OK – a la ACT, I am/I have accepted the feelings and have moved/continue to move in a valued direction.

A few months ago, I started a new website at https://maybethiswillhelp.me/

I busted out an outline and introduction, but haven’t worked on it again until today.

Once again, feelings of dread and fear of ridicule are all up in this Lyman – “Goddamn, you suck.” “What a load of bullshit.” “Who do you think you are?” “And now you’re talking about it here? Fucking fool.” “Jesus Christ, now he’s writing publicly about his feelings!!!! You aren’t actually going to bother people with this crap, are you?”

Plus the ones that I’m not about to share publicly.

“Thanks, Mind!”

“Listen to that, it’s Radio Lyman.”

Yes, I am writing about it here.  It’s something that I have that I’m able to share with the world – an honest look at what has worked in my struggle for sanity.

Do with it what you will: https://maybethiswillhelp.me/

 

Is That So

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer…

Wait – I’ll let Alan Watts tell the story, since he’s much smarter, funnier, and better looking than I am (plus he has a cool British accent):


Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. It ran away. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said, “That’s too bad.” And he said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. All the neighbors came around and said, “Why, that’s great isn’t it.” and he said, “Maybe.”

The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it. He was thrown and broke his leg. All the neighbors came around in the evening and said, “Well that’s too bad, isn’t it.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the conscription officers came around looking for people for the army. They rejected his son because he had a broken leg. All the neighbors came around that evening and said, “Isn’t that wonderful!” He said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. It is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.


An excellent example of this happening today – “… the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards says nearly a third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy meaning they were worse off than before they became rich.”1

I’m pretty sure family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers came around and said “Isn’t that wonderful!” to those lottery winners. Many of them probably also said or thought “Can I have some?”

Then there are those who, without the failures (and just plain old horribleness) in their lives, may not have become as successful as they did – even if it was only because the direction of their life changed. I’m sure their family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers also said to them “Well that’s too bad, isn’t it.” Many of them probably also said or thought “Call me when things get better.”

My personal favorite “had a ridiculous amount difficulty in life” story is the life of Abraham Lincoln.

(Well shit… maybe he wasn’t such a failure after all. I wonder where believing in – and then not believing in – the Lincoln glurge will take me?)

It’s important to maintain our equanimity in the face of both failures *and* successes, because we never know where they’ll lead us. Not that we should go through life like zombies or robots, numbly accepting the things that happen to us and around us. I’m sure the Chinese farmer, when his son first broke his leg, didn’t just say “Oh well, c’est la vie.” (and not just because he probably didn’t know French.)

And he was probably thrilled when the draft board said “Hard pass.”

Acknowledge the emotions that come up. Celebrate and cry. Maybe even spend a few days in bed or partying. But try to remember:

“The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. It is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.”

 

Meditation as Personal Development

“A little mindfulness is better than no mindfulness.” – Dan Harris (probably paraphrasing)

Some Buddhists bemoan the fact that their practices have been appropriated, taken out of context, and used for purposes that directly contradict their ethics.

Probably the most extreme example is mindfulness being used by active duty military personnel.

“After eight weeks of meditating for just 15 minutes a day, the soldiers are far better at dealing with anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. It helps them stay calm and focused in the thick of battle, while improving overall mental and physical fitness.” – Meditate Just Like The U.S. Marines

The very job of the military (whether on offense or defense) requires it to break the first of the basic precepts of Theravada Buddhism – not taking life. Breaking the second (not taking what isn’t freely given) and fourth (being truthful) are also often required, while the third (not participating in sexual conduct) and the fourth (abstaining from intoxicants) are often practiced.1

The impetus for me writing this post was something I read in the forward to The Monkey Is the Messenger: Meditation and What Your Busy Mind Is Trying to Tell You by Ralph De La Rosa.  I just started reading the book (love it’s premise and what I’ve read so far), but there’s a part of the forward by Susan Piver that bothered me:

“To use meditation purely for its prescriptive capacity is to miss the point of the practice altogether. Though it is indeed a powerful medicine (my friend and fellow meditation teacher Jonathan Foust says that if meditation were a pill, everyone would take it), it is far more than that.

Meditation is not a life hack. It is a spiritual practice.”

I don’t see the difference. A “spiritual” practice is something one participates in to improve the quality of their life. The only way to improve life quality long term is to improve ourselves. Meditation can do that.

I’d say that when we meditate to develop mindfulness, we often start to see that killing, stealing, lying, doing sexual harm, and getting wasted do more harm than good.2 Not always, as is evidenced by the recent rash of “spiritual” leaders finally being called out for their misconduct (Noah Levine and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche come to mind), but often.

Mindfulness is a tool, like a hammer. Depending on what you use it for, the quality of a hammer you need differs. A home do it yourself person doesn’t require much more than Walmart offers at a low price, but the skilled craftsman needs something better. If the DIYer really loves what he’s doing, maybe he’ll upgrade. In the same way, if McMindfulness is where people get started, more power to them.

Of course, if someone is using a hammer to bash someones head in, they need to be stopped by any means necessary. But don’t blame all hammers for the actions of the person using it.

 

Don’t Affirm – ACT

For a long time, I used positive affirmations in an attempt to improve my life. God knows why I continued for as long as I did, since at best they kept me stuck where I was, and in some cases they actually made things worse.

Now I know why. Research has suggested that when people with low self-esteem use positive affirmations and tell themselves things like “I’m smart and capable” over and over, but have a belief that they are actually stupid and incapable, they experience push back and feel worse. The very act of affirming makes the beliefs they already have stronger (they are trying not to think of a white bear) – and now they have a belief (and proof of that belief) that they are liars as well.

Brute force is the absolute worst way to change your thinking.

What about the idea that “We become what we think about?” That’s only a part of the story, the introduction to it. Of course you must have an initial thought – “I want to be smarter and more capable.” But repeating to yourself that you already are won’t make it so.

We don’t become what we just think about – we become what we do, and unbecome what we don’t do.

I remember listening to an old Tony Robbins cassette where he said something like “Personal Power is the ability to act – the ability to take action.” I agree. He then explained that his books, tapes, CDs, MP3s, courses, and seminars would show a person how to get themselves to take that action.

I spent a lot of money on his stuff (you’re welcome, Tony). None of it worked for me long-term. I couldn’t get myself to take action on the things that were supposed to give me the ability to take action.

Eventually, after slogging through innumerable piles of personal development/self-help material, I found something that has actually helped me long-term.

There are three basic ideas that came together and created the key that unlocked my ability to take the action necessary to become the person I want to be:

  1. Acceptance of the thoughts and feelings that were causing me to suffer. I stopped fighting the fact that they exist. They aren’t bad or good they just are.
  2. Recognition that thoughts and feelings are not reality, they are my brain’s interpretation of reality. And my brain is so far off of the mark sometimes it’s almost comical.
  3. Untangling (unhooking, defusing) from these thoughts and feelings, freeing up energy to take the action I want to take.

When I can do these three things, I may not always feel better (although usually I do), but I’m able to take action toward creating a more fulfilling life for myself.

What I’m presenting here is a very basic, non-technical, probably not very accurate, incomplete, coming from someone who has no training in psychology or psychiatry, overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Training. ACT (pronounced like the word, not as an acronym) teaches people how to disentangle themselves from thoughts and emotions (again, not get rid of them or change them) and take action toward what they value in their lives.

Again – ACT doesn’t teach us how to live happier lives, at least not in the way we generally define happiness. It teaches us how to live more fulfilled lives.

Learning about and practicing ACT has changed my life. I’ve done all of it through self-study – it’s been difficult connecting to a therapist in my area who practices it and is accepting new clients. I was first turned on to it via the book The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris. That book was so well written (from the standpoint of making ACT accessible to an average Joe like me) and my initial results were so astounding that I really went down the ACT rabbit hole.

Maybe it could work for you too? I’d encourage you to give it a try. Start with The Happiness Trap – get a copy of it however you can – buy, beg, borrow, even steal it (you probably shouldn’t steal it, but you gotta do what you gotta do). Don’t just read it – invest your time in doing the exercises. This book, and my further explorations into ACT, literally changed my life.

[image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/robynm-358611/]

Current Ingredients

Wrote this in my journal this morning and thought it might be helpful:

“So the main ingredients of my current life paradigm are: Buddhism (the secular variety), Stoicism (the atheistic variety), and ACT. There are also some herbs and spices thrown in there, but those are the meat, potatoes, and veggies of my daily meal. And the beverage? Mini Habits, because those help wash down all of the bites I take.”

The reason for sharing this? To show that there isn’t just one path to liberation from suffering. There can be four. Or two. Or ten. Or even one. They can weave in out, crisscrossing one another at key points in our journey.

If you have just one path that works for you, fan-fucking-tastic. Seriously, I’m a little jealous. I’ve been looking for the One True Way©®™ for as long as I can remember. Just remember that your path(s) isn’t/aren’t my path(s). I’ll try to remember the same about yours.

ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

If I, as a layperson who has practiced ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) for a couple of months, had to quickly define what ACT is, I’d do it this way:

ACT is a collection of exercises applying the idea that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. It doesn’t eliminate pain, but teaches us how to accept it, reduce or eliminate suffering, and move toward a fulfilling life.

[1/19/20 Addition: After working with ACT for a couple of years now, I thought it was important to add the idea of psychological flexibility to the start of this post: “The general goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility – the ability to contact the present moment more fully as a conscious human being, and to change or persist in behavior when doing so serves valued ends.” – from The Six Core Processes of ACT]

(For the official definition and description of ACT, see this page on the Association for Contextual Science website.)

As human beings, we all experience pain – physical, mental, and emotional. Some of us more than others. When we do, we have two choices – move toward it or run away from it.

Sometimes we should run away from it. If a person is in constant pain because of a physical ailment, the use of painkillers could be appropriate. If a person is being abused, it’s time to get out of the situation as soon as possible. If a person is in mental/emotional pain because of depression, the use of antidepressants often proves useful. Even in these cases, it seems to me that ACT can help reduce the suffering that is instigated by the condition.

In the majority of situations, though, running from pain causes even more pain in the future. How about the pain that can be caused by a broken relationship? We can run from that pain by never engaging deeply with another person again, and become isolated physically and emotionally. Or the pain of rejection? We can run from that pain by never putting ourselves out there – in art, in business, in social situations – and our lives can become very very small.

You’ve probably heard the exhortation to “Just Do It.” It can be good advice sometimes, but it doesn’t provide any useful information if it’s left on its own. Would you tell a person with a broken leg to “just run a marathon?” Or a person with PTSD to “just buck up and deal?” (Maybe that second one is a bad example – many people *would* tell a person that. But they’re ignorant assholes, and can be either put in their place or ignored.)

ACT provides those of us who have tried (unsuccessfully) to “just do it” for years with paradigms and methods which, if practiced regularly, allow us to live a life that isn’t filled with roses and sunshine and pleasure and success, but a life of fulfilment.

The “Acceptance” part of ACT is all about embracing things as they are. Look at your pain, experience your pain, “make space” for your pain – let your pain be. Acceptance is not saying “Oh well, life sucks and then you die.” It’s saying “Right now, the reality is that life sucks”, and “defusing” (detaching/unhooking) from the thoughts and feelings that are producing the suck – not attempting to eliminate them.

The “Commitment” part of ACT is the commitment to taking action toward what we value in life, in spite of the pain. Sometimes the act of defusion (ACT has a bunch of exercises which help us to do that) is enough to eliminate it. But not always, and it’s important to remember that the point of ACT is not to eliminate the pain. Pain is inevitable, remember? It’s about accepting and defusing from the thoughts and feelings that are causing that pain so that we have the energy to make moves toward something we value. That is what the paradigms and exercises hope to accomplish.

Here’s an example. Right now, I’m feeling pain. Let’s call it “fear of rejection.” I’ve been thinking about writing and publishing this blog post for a while now. The plan is to make it part of a series comparing and contrasting ACT, Stoicism, and Buddhism.

Here comes Lyman:

“Who the fuck are you to write, let alone publish, something like this!? You aren’t a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. 48 years old and haven’t even finished college, ya poser loser freak. Your writing is childish, shallow, and pedantic. You’ve written some bullshit before, but this really takes the cake. At best, people will ignore you. At worst, they will actively campaign to internet shame you to into oblivion.”

Yeah… that’s where my mind can go. It goes there quite a bit.

And even as I write (and edit) this, it’s still chattering away in the background. While I’m editing, I keep adding to the above dialogue as more of that stuff comes up.

But I’m writing, editing, and plan on publishing this post. I’m not “pushing my way through the pain”, but letting those thoughts be whatever they are going to be, defusing from them by thanking my mind for trying to protect me, and move forward in a valued direction – the valued direction of writing down and sharing my thoughts.

The exercises in ACT are not a panacea, and there are other methods that work just as well in helping people move toward a “better” life, whatever that means to them. I’m writing this because ACT has helped me, and maybe it can help you.

If you’re interested in learning more, my favorite resource for learning ACT has been the book “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT” by Dr. Russell Harris. It’s both an enjoyable read and full of examples and exercises which will help you get to ACTing in a relatively short time.

 

Stoicism and Mental Health

I’m a big fan of Stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy started by Zeno of Citium over 2000 years ago.

By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert.  I’m just a guy who tries to practice its principles on as regular a basis as I can. It’s an outstanding philosophy for those who want to improve their quality of life. This article is coming from the perspective of an imperfect user of the philosophy who suffers from a mental illness.

Stoicism has enjoyed a popular resurgence over the past few years. My introduction to it was reading “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine. Ever since then, I’ve tried (with varying degrees of commitment and success) to apply it to various situations in my life. In typical Lyman fashion, I first turned it into a religion (it’s not, by the way). Back then, in my mind everything that the Stoics said was true, no questions asked. They had it all figured out over 2000 years ago, and we’ve just been too stupid to follow their lead. This is similar to what I’ve done at various times in my life with Evangelical Christianity, Alcoholics Anonymous, Buddhism, the Law of Attraction, Science of Mind, and the New Atheism.  I’m really lucky that I never ended up in a full on cult.

Imagine my surprise when Stoicism didn’t deliver what I wanted, just like none of the religions, philosophies, and practices I just mentioned.  I wasn’t in a constant, full on state of “Eudaimonia” within a week of this latest metaphysical distraction that I’d discovered.

My broken brain told me that this was all my fault. If I just tried hard enough, if I was just good enough, if I could just control myself, I’d become a Stoic Sage and all would be right with the world.

Thankfully, I’ve since dropped the belief that the Stoics had it all together and were right about everything.  The difference between my practice of Stoicism and those other belief systems is that even when I dropped the belief in it being an infallible panacea, I was still able to see the value in it and continue to practice.  (I have a similar affinity for Buddhism.)  But the philosophy could use some updating in light of recent discoveries and modern theories, especially in the field of mental health.

One of the ways I’ve been getting my Stoicism on is by following along with “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman over the past year. It’s been very helpful in centering me (usually) first thing in morning and has (usually) given me some strength to tackle the day ahead.

A recent entry really struck me, and I realized that one of the Stoic principles (one of its central tenants, in fact) was my bottleneck when it came to full on putting the philosophy into practice.

From December 16th:

“I tell you, you only have to learn to live like the healthy person does… living with complete confidence. What confidence? The only one worth holding, in what is trustworthy, unhindered, and can’t be taken away – your own reasoned choice.” —EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.26.23b–24

As the Stoics say repeatedly, it’s dangerous to have faith in what you do not control. But your own reasoned choice? Well, for now that is in your control. Therefore it is one of the few things you can have confidence in. It’s the one area of health that can’t suddenly be given a terminal diagnosis (except for the one we all get the day we’re born). It’s the only one that remains pristine and never wears down – it’s only the user who quits it; never will it quit the user. In this passage, Epictetus points out that slaves and workers and philosophers alike can live this way. Socrates, Diogenes, and Cleanthes lived this way—even while they had families and while they were struggling students. And so can you.

“It’s only the user that quits – it never quits the user.”

Bam! There it was, the biggest struggle with Stoicism that I’ve had for all of these years.

My “reasoned choice” can be taken away from me – because of my mental illness.

I have Bipolar II disorder. This means that while I don’t have the psychotic highs that a person with Bipolar I experiences (although some of the highs have done some real damage), the massive, soul crushing depressions that I experience are much more of an issue.  Both of these poles have done serious harm to myself, the people I love, the people I’ve worked for/with, and even complete strangers that I’ll never see again.

I’m currently on medication and in therapy. My most recent incident was about a month ago, brought on by stress from my job (which I lost during the flare up). Medications have been appropriately adjusted.

There is something physically wrong with my brain, and there’s currently no permanent fix. Like asthma or diabetes, there are ways to control it, and even with the recent relapse, I’m slowly making progress toward living a better life.

Stoicism has been a part of making that life better. Many modern therapies (CBT and REBT, for instance) borrow heavily from Stoic thought. As a matter of fact, another of the central ideas in Stoicism is summed up fairly well in the Serenity Prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous:

God,

Grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

The Courage to change the things I can,

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

Compare this to the first few lines of the Handbook of Epictetus (the Enchiridion):

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.

Awesome! Sounds pretty simple to me.

“Oh well, I can’t control that.” That’s the Stoic response to events outside of us.

“Now that I can control!” That’s the Stoic response to events within us (our thoughts.)

Here’s the problem: people with mental illness often can’t control their thoughts. Never mind those of us with Bipolar or Major Depressive Disorder; I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be for someone with Schizophrenia or similar afflictions.

So what’s the solution?

We work with what we have (pretty Stoic thought there), accept what we have to might as well accept (we don’t “have to” do anything), and recognize that the very thing the Stoics say we have control over and can never lose… is possible for us to lose.

It’s important to recognize that there are different kind of thoughts – automatic thoughts that we don’t control, and conscious thoughts that we do. Sometimes, when I’m in the throes of my illness, the automatic thoughts take over completely – and I’m screwed.

We can do our best to not let it get to that point. Medication helps. Physical action helps. Different types of meditation help. Writing helps. Talking about it with someone who understands helps.

That last one is the hardest for me personally. I’m still working on the idea that just keeping silent about what’s going on in my head (la la la la la im fine im fine just think positive thoughts and all will be well) will make it go away. And if (when) it doesn’t go away, the shame that comes from “I couldn’t do it myself” keeps my mouth shut.

These things keep it from going away. It causes the thoughts to grow into monsters that will eat me alive.

I suppose that I’m writing this for both myself and others like me (you are out there, right?).  For myself because it has helped me clarify my own ideas and commitments, and for those of us who feel like we can’t practice Stoicism, those of us who feel like it has nothing to offer those of us who can’t “Just Do It” because our Inner Citadel is under such brutal attack that it sometimes is overrun by the barbarians.

Yes, we may lose the battle sometimes, but as long as we’re above ground, there’s still a chance to win the war. Many of us have lost that war permanently – let’s pay our respects by continuing to fight, and use whatever tools work, Stoic or not.