Focus: Another Facet of Wellness

I spend a lot of time talking about the infrastructure and medical sides of pursuing wellness. I do my best to produce work that anyone can pick up and find something useful in. To that end, I don’t think I’ve been giving due consideration to the other aspects that significantly contribute to finding wellness. These include points like spirituality and perspective. By spirituality, I do not mean religious. I mean things that help people feel good about themselves, their lives, and push towards inner peace.

There are many routes for accomplishing these goals. Whatever works for you is great. I’m going to share some things that have helped me just to provide a place to start looking.

On Calming Fears and Controlling Intangibles

I’m often asked about the specifics on the way I address stresses in life. I’ve commented on it regularly, trying to articulate my point of view in an understandable way. But then, I read “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius and realized that someone already said what I was saying a couple thousand years ago. Aurelius is considered the father of Stoicism, which is a Westernized version of many concepts found in Zen-Buddhism. (Note: “Meditations” is a classic, historical text so it is available for free in many locations. Here is a website copy and here is a PDF copy.)

A concept I use on a regular basis involves the principle of Focus. In regards to mood disorders like anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, and depression; external stresses can cause the person to throw themselves into an unwell state or make an unwell state worse. The focus tenet essentially states to put your attention on what is before you, most important, and work passionately to accomplish that task. When that task is completed, shift your focus to the next and do the same. Break down large tasks into their basic components and focus passionately on accomplishing each of them.

You’ve probably heard many variants of this principle before.

Example 1:

Jack has bills stacking up and needs money. Therefore, his the overall goal is to find a source of income. The most obvious choice is to find a job of some kind. How do you get a job? Application and follow up. Jack is facing a lot of stresses. What’s going to happen if he can’t find a job? Where’s he going to be in a month, two months, six months? Who is going to hire him? How can find a job more effectively? What options does he have?

A lot of that bloat is unessential for his primary goal of finding a job. He needs to get applications out there to start being considered. So instead of worrying about the deluge of stresses, he focuses on finding the places to apply to and getting those applications in. It doesn’t matter how many applications he puts in. It doesn’t matter how many times he is rejected. What does matter is that he needs an income, a job, and applications are the way to accomplish that. Sooner or later, something will break loose and he will accomplish that goal.

Example 2:

Mary finally realizes that her mental illness is the root of many problems in her life. She decides to apply for Disability. Upon further research, she finds a mass of information on the system being unfair, how other people have gotten screwed, how people abuse the system, and tons of opinions on what people should do or not do. It is very easy to get caught up in those details and opinions because there are an unending amount of them. Ultimately, none of those things really matter for Mary and her path. Instead of looking at all of the other surrounding information, she should simply sit down and fill out the application to the best of her ability. All of those other opinions and extra information is unimportant, because it does not get Mary any closer to an approval or rejection. An application does.

I am not suggesting that anyone totally ignore the looming problems. They absolutely need thought about and preparations made, but there must be a limit. I cannot count the number of people with mood disorders I’ve known to make themselves unwell with continued and incessant worry over things they have no control over. Think about it, devise a course of action, and then force it out of your mind.

Assigning specific times for thought is a good idea as well. “Alright, I’m going to think about and look for a solution to X problem from 6 to 7 PM.” Do so, and then force it from your mind. There comes a point when thinking about the problem is no longer providing any benefit. It is only feeding into potential unwellness by dwelling on shit we have no control over.

No, this is not easy to do. Yes, it takes a lot of practice. And I can hear it now, “easier said than done!” Yes, everything is easier said than done. I’m not even sure why that is a saying, but whatever.

A Bipolar person can also use this to help minimize the impact of an unwell cycle once they have identified they have triggered. It’s pretty common for Bipolar people to continue to dwell and stress about the trigger they experience, which just helps propel them to a further extreme by focusing on that and all the ‘what if’s’ and intangibles that go along with it. Learning to stay in the present can help turn a potentially major unwell cycle into a minor one. Practice, practice, practice.

How I Distract Myself from Unproductive Thoughts

I have a few go to tactics that I use to distract myself from unproductive thought processes. I love stand up comedy, so I will toss on someone’s stand up special or listen to some on Youtube. I also enjoy reading and learning about things relating to financial industries, history, and archaeology. All of these subjects require undivided attention to really process and retain. If I’m focusing on understanding some economic principle, then I’m not thinking about whatever stressful thought is hanging over my head. And the last major one is Sudoku puzzles. They are logic puzzles that require active thinking to solve.

The unifying thread is that the distracting medium should requires me to actively think about the subject. In doing so, I keep my brain from just wandering back onto the subject that is currently threatening to spin me out into an unwell cycle.

The same principle is true for anxiety management. As anyone with anxiety can verify, it’s always way worse in the brain than what we will actually experience in the world. Utilizing strong self-management can help keep minor anxiety-provoking thought processes from exploding into severe ones.

These principles are also very common ones to learn from a therapist. You just have to ask.

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9 Responses to Focus: Another Facet of Wellness

  1. Rhonda says:

    As usual, love to read your posts. As far as I know, I only have bouts of depression brought on by difficult situations that I cannot resolve etc. Your ideas on giving yourself an hour a day to brainstorm these is something I intend to try..only problem I can foresee is if I wake at night, I sometimes have to Valium myself up because I cannot stop getting wound up about them. Keep up the good work.

    • Dennis says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Rhonda. As always, I just try to give suggestions of things for people to try. Not everything will work for everyone. Just the nature of the beast for each person to confront and deal with really. Fun times I know. Hope it helps though.

  2. AlexaFaie says:

    I have bipolar disorder (though what type I’m not entirely sure as my doctors have never given me a concrete diagnosis, they haven’t even said they don’t know what type, just have prescribed me a series of meds which caused more problems).

    Anyway, I like the concept of this – the trying to re-route focus onto some other task and it is something I realise I have somewhat unconsciously been doing myself. However, I still find that there are many occasions (the majority of them) where no matter what I do to try and distract myself from thinking those thoughts (even when I know focusing on them isn’t helping me feel any better) they still continue. It varies from continuing along “loudly” with all the other unhelpful conversations my brain seems to have with its self simultaneously in the background (how on earth I can actually complete puzzles with the racket going on I never know!) to being a sort of grey coloured feeling at the back of my head where there aren’t any specific thoughts, but a general feeling of knowing all those thoughts are there which can last days and make a lot of stuff totally infeasible which just adds to the stress and makes everything worse.

    I’m wondering if you have ever experienced anything like that and if so, if you have any advice for when no matter what you try to distract with, the thoughts just won’t go. There may be something I’ve not tried which might help!

    Currently I’m a bit out of the loop regarding any form of treatment. I moved house and had to switch doctors which took some time. I put in for a referral to see a psychologist as my psychiatrist was only interested in whether I was having side effects from the meds and where I would score myself from 1-10 and wouldn’t talk about my condition in any detail other than that. Never heard back about if they received my referral request and now its several years on so I guess not. I was signed off from seeing the psychiatrist after the government allotted number of appointments was up and sent back to my doctor. Never had any kind of social worker or outreach or anything. My doctor was only really able to make sure my prescriptions kept getting filled. I asked to be referred to talking therapy only to find that in my area its not available on the NHS, but if I lived 5 mins down the road in the county council rather than city council area, there would be a ton of help and support out there for me. I can’t afford psychotherapy privately as I don’t have an income and currently do not receive any money from the benefits I am entitled to as my partner is studying as a PhD student and receives a personal stipend (which is a tax free grant) to support him through his studies, but which isn’t intended to cover a partner. But they take his income into account anyway and so I am entitled to the benefit but receive zero pounds and zero pence. This puts me in a difficult position as my partner can not afford to help me pay for talking therapies either.

    I’m no longer medicated as the last meds I was put on (lamotrigine) caused me to have a massive problem with bruising if I as much as looked at myself too hard. Since the leaflet said excessive bruising could be a sign that internal bleeding could result from continuing the medication, I made the decision (whilst I was without a GP) to stop taking them because dying painfully from massive internal haemorrhaging is not in my top 10 ways to die. It doesn’t even make the 11th spot. None of the meds ever really helped. They were either totally wrong for my condition and caused me to rapid cycle (I already experience multiple cycles a year, but this was one day to the next, or morning to evening cycling), or they caused so much weight gain so quickly that it fed into my low level body dysmorphia and I had to be stopped on more than one occasion from physically trying to cut lumps of flesh off despite having previously overcome my issues and learnt to love my body for what it was. And then the lamotrigine put me at about a -2 to -5 on a scale of -10 to +10 with 0 being stable and the – being depressed. I couldn’t really function as I was just in that horrid grey area of nothingness all the time. I had no motivation to do anything whatsoever as achieving something gave no feeling, just as doing nothing at all gave no feeling. Occasionally I would have a manic spike, like if I forgot a dose or took it late by mistake and suddenly I had the drive to do things and would maybe clean the whole house or something which did need doing, but not in quite so intense a way. And that would of course drain all my mental and physical energy and I’d just crash and have ALL the bad feelings. And then the meds would kick back in and I’d be back to the grey wasteland of shitty nothingness.

    Ever since I’ve just been trying to self manage without medication as best I can but I don’t think I’m doing that great of a job of it. Recently trying to claim Personal Independence Payment has added an extra stressor into my life and I’m now having to sort out going through the appeals process which involves a tribunal court case. Currently, all the thoughts are buzzing around my head (like you wrote about knowing that others who apply for disability also get royally screwed over when they shouldn’t be and ruminating on that) to the point that I’m now ruminating on the fact I’m ruminating along with all the stuff I’m actually ruminating about!!

    Anyway, I’ve written too much already and you probably won’t want to read through it all, but typing this up sure beats getting annoyed at myself because my brain won’t stop and so I’ve not gone to bed yet (its now 7.44am) as it would be a fruitless endeavour.

    Thanks for any help you feel you are able to give me.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello there. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I actually do read everything that anyone takes the time to write to me and send. I’m going to cover the points I see. If I overlook anything, please let me know.

      1. There are times when the unwell thought processes are just too strong to successfully try to derail. My methodology is to move to something more complicated that requires me to think about it. In my case, I’m very into archaeology, history, and economics. If I can’t shut down the thoughts, I’ll dive into some subject in one of those subjects, because they require so much focus and thought to understand. I don’t always walk away from that practice understanding things better because of how chaotic or dominant my thoughts and emotions can be. It doesn’t always work. It’s just one more method of dealing with it really. From your description on how you experience the Disorder, I can see it not working as well for you without any sort of assistance from medication. Your commentary of “worrying excessively” and it causing destabilization may point to an Anxiety Disorder. That is something you should discuss with your next doctor as soon as possible.

      2. A lot of psychs function the way that yours did. NHS suggests that you’re in England? In America, a psych’s job is to do pretty much what yours was doing. My psych appointments lasted about 10 minutes. Any other kind of assistance for management or whatever was handled through a therapist. Since it has been so hard for you and you’re lacking the resources for a therapist, are there any support group options near you that may help you weed through the thought processes. Are you and your partner in a legal union/married? You use the term partner and mention body dysmorphia, so I’m not sure if you’re using saying you’re a “nontraditional” (pardon if that’s not the best choice of words, I really don’t know what it would be) married couple or if you are living with and being supported by a partner. Because if you are not married, then you should not be applying as a member of your partner’s household which would remove your partner’s funding from the equation. Check into this with your local social services office if that is the case.

      Much of the rest of your post I see as venting about your situation. If you wanted specific commentary on anything else, please let me know.

      • AlexaFaie says:

        Thanks for getting back to me.

        I think its frustrating mostly for me that no matter how much I tried to push for help and support, there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done in my area. My Mum suffered a nervous breakdown due to “work related stress” which is a kind way of saying her boss was bullying her to the point she broke down. But where she lives she got tons of help with diagnosis (PTSD and depression and anxiety issues) and immediate treatment both in the form of medications and then also talking therapy. I guess that’s the difference you get when the guy in charge of the county’s NHS has personal experience with family members with mental health issues. So he puts a lot of the funding the area receives into mental health. From one area of the country to another it is terribly ill-balanced.
        I’m trying to get back into the system now, actually got a doctor’s appointment today to try and start the ball rolling again. They are only a locum as my GP is away, but anything is better than nothing.

        Regarding the second point, I used the word partner because I’ve got used to saying that for all the forms! He is my boyfriend and we have been together just over 5 years now. We aren’t married. But in the UK, the rules for if they take a partner’s income into account are simply if you are “living as married”. So since we share a bed in the same house, a house which has no other bed and the rooms which can be classed as bedrooms do not have lockable doors, there would be nothing to prove that we are just housemates or something if a benefits inspector came round. As much as I don’t like to think of my father (he was a nasty piece of work and I now have nothing to do with him) he used to be a benefit fraud inspector so I know that if they get at all suspicious, they will check out living arrangements. And then if they found I’d been claiming we weren’t together as a couple, and we in fact were, they would legally be allowed to reclaim everything they had paid, plus levy a fine, plus hold court proceedings and basically give me a criminal record. Oh yeah and as all money I’d have been getting would have needed to have been spent, it would mean bailiffs coming around and taking whatever is of value in the house. So yeah, not really worth lying.
        Personally I thought it was incorrect for them to use his income to work out my benefit entitlement considering it doesn’t count towards his own tax-free limit (he could work and earn an extra £10k per year or whatever the current rate is before being taxed) as it is a stipend meant to cover all the costs of studying for a PhD. Its not classed as income in any other benefit calculations though as its not classed as him having a job. So he can’t get working tax credits to top what he gets up to the amount they would give if it were a job. So basically we got screwed over by being a weird situation. They don’t expect PhD students to end up with someone who can’t work due to how their bipolar affects them. But we contacted both the council for further details and also the citizens advice bureaux and there is basically nothing in law to tell them how to class a stipend (whether as income, or not) so it is purely up to the decision makers. And obviously they are going to pick the side of not paying out money if they can help it. So sadly not much we can do to fight that.

        • Dennis says:

          Ah, I see. Yeah, I don’t know the UK system all that well. I was not meaning to suggest you should be deceitful. It’s more that, in my experience, the people we deal with at social services aren’t always knowledgeable about what they should be doing and why. I was more suggesting it to encourage you to double check and ensure they are doing things as they are meant to be done. The disparity in services from area to area certainly sucks.

          Glad to hear that you’re getting back into the system though. Hopefully this time around you can find some better results. I don’t know how it is over there, but here we do have much cheaper generic equivalents. So if you do opt for meds again, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if any are available for what they want to treat. While I was pursuing wellness and balanced, I specifically focused on generic equivalents because they were only $4 a month. These are not “lesser” or lower quality meds. They are just meds that are outside their patent window. Exact same chemical composition.

          • AlexaFaie says:

            One thing which is sort of “lucky” over here is that with the NHS, anyone on low incomes (I assume I still count, but have yet to check whether it is individual or household based) get their prescriptions free. If not, there is a set prescription rate which I believe is per drug, but may be per piece of paper with the prescription on. I have never had to pay yet because of my financial status so it didn’t make a difference when I was put on two at once before. The prescription is always just for the drug name so its more to do with what the pharmacy will actually give you as to whether you get a brand name or generic. Government guidance for the NHS suggests focussing on generics by default since it costs them less to subsidise those over the branded stuff (when you consider that there is one prescription charge no matter the drug). It does however mean that for some poor people who could really benefit from the latest cancer drug, their area may have chosen not to provide it as it would cost the NHS too much to subsidise so the person has to go without. As in they won’t prescribe it at all. Its not that they would prescribe it and just say pay more (not that some people can) or pay for it totally out of pocket, the pharmacies won’t even stock it in that area. That’s the bad bit unfortunately with having a mostly “free” (paid for by taxes) health care system. But nowhere in the world has a totally perfect system and I think I’d rather be here with some stuff for free even if not the most ideal, than being a commodity like in America where your place of work can decide what healthcare you are allowed access to and everything costs including being born! Unfortunately a lot of the NHS is getting sold off, a lot to American companies so we are likely heading that way relatively quickly.

            The appointment today went fairly well. The lady I saw was very nice, said it was no problem to sort out getting my medical records sent to me and noticed that I’d asked for a referral back in May and wondered if I’d heard anything about that. I said I hadn’t and so she is going to put another referral through for me. Considering that she is a locum, she seemed very knowledgeable about the workings of the practice and the area which was good. She even let me see what the psychiatrist had written down for my diagnosis when I mentioned he had never said, just ignored the subject.
            I’m not sure at all that it is accurate as he said I have cyclothymia, but I was under the impression that you can not be diagnosed with that if you have had psychotic episodes and I have had hallucinations and delusions (both grandiose and paranoid at different times, along with ones such as believing I could fly) and had mentioned several times to him that this was the case. My boyfriend even supplied a document to him outlining a particularly bad break from reality he witnessed which I do not recall but which apparently involved me insisting he address me by another name and he felt that it was as if there was a totally different person there. I don’t have any clue other than his statement about what went on, but something must have happened as he mentioned things from my childhood which I had never before spoken to him about. So I don’t doubt whatever it was happened. The psychiatrist did say that based on my childhood history it was likely that I suffered some PTSD and may have at the time disassociated as a coping mechanism and that it probably wasn’t anything to worry about, just stress bringing things back. Either way, I’m not sure how likely it is to suffer these kinds of things but then “only” have cyclothymia as a diagnosis. The only part of cyclothymia which at all seems to fit me is that there seems to be little if any “normal” period between my shifts. When I was younger I think I recall being a bit more stable (with more depression, some hypomania) but as I have grown older, the bits in between grew shorter. Right now I think I must be closest to being in a mixed state. A last week I was feeling suicidal with the desire to act on it (rather than the usual constant suicidal thoughts which are just there under the surface which don’t result in direct action) and had to be watched. We managed to get me to sleep it off instead after a long chat about it. Thursday I then managed to get a lot done (for me) I managed 4 out of 6 of the tasks I set myself each day to try to give me a routine. Unfortunately that didn’t include the “eat 3 meals a day” one, I only ended up having dinner. Friday I was worn out from Thursday so got no stars at all. Saturday I managed 3 meals and to have a bath. Sunday I managed to get out of bed and to cook dinner in the evening. Monday I was up late working on my appeal, woke up after an hour and a half and couldn’t get back to sleep. Tuesday I was tired but couldn’t rest, brain wouldn’t shut up. Didn’t sleep at all Tuesday (when I commented here). Managed to be tired enough on Wednesday that after putting some clothes to wash I went to bed at about 2pm I think. Slept the rest of the day. Woke up early yesterday and was most definitely manic, though my boyfriend had to point it out to me. I was talking really quickly, and for some reason I became strangely obsessed with the idea of trying to eat him. Not quite sure why but he was trying to help me to work out what I should have for lunch and spent a while trying to chew on him. He didn’t seem to find it anywhere near as funny as I did. Somehow we got onto the topic of him not being a squirrel and that he said maybe he wanted to have a fluffy tail and so I said that I would go and buy him a butt plug so he could have a bushy squirrel tail. And that I’d buy him the bushiest and the best. He said no and suggested that maybe I was a little bit manic. I tried to get some tidying done, but basically just made more of a mess because I decided to tidy the bedside table by throwing everything off it onto the floor. Eventually he managed to persuade me to just stay in bed and play games on the tablet. I think I managed maybe 3 hours sleep last night. And then had the doctor’s appointment and haven’t really managed to do much since. Been trying to read up on cyclothymia to try and convince myself that it fits me, but it just doesn’t seem to. I have a lot of tidying to get done before tomorrow and made a list to break it all down, but can’t keep focused long enough to manage anything of any use.

          • Dennis says:

            Blah. Yeah the American health system leaves a lot to be desired. That’s for damned sure. Hopefully your lawmakers will keep that at bay. And you’re right, no system is perfect.

            Glad to hear your appointment went well. It’s pretty common for mental health professionals to hold things back if they aren’t sure of what they are experiencing with a person. A lot of people view this as a shitty practice, but it’s very necessary when you’re dealing with a group of people who regularly lose touch with and misinterpret reality.

            Well, the diagnosis really depends on the entirety of what is going on in a person’s mind. If you have PTSD and dissociate, then the doctor can’t really just come out and say oh yeah these things are the result of a more severe form of Bipolar Disorder. It’s figuring out which illnesses are responsible for which symptoms. So if you only have delusional breaks when you have PTSD flashbacks, then they may not be a symptom of Bipolar Disorder. To put it another way, consider if you have allergies and a stomach bug. Your intestines are doing all of the things associated with a flu bug, but if you’re sneezing excessively due to an allergic reaction, it doesn’t necessarily mean the sneezing is at all tied to the bug that is causing the intestinal problems.

            I’m not sure if that makes sense or not.

            That being said, in my entirely unprofessional opinion and personal experience, your mood swings sound way too severe to be cyclothemia. But that’s also assuming the extremes/delusions aren’t the result of PTSD. The stuff you mention in your post all sounds very much like stuff you’d expect with a bipolar unwell cycle.

            All you can do is the best you can, you know? Just do what you can and keep pushing forward.

  3. AlexaFaie says:

    Oh and I meant to send that last message in an email. Sorry. Though I suppose some of it might help others in some way maybe.
    I saw on the other thread you tried to send again, still not got anything, but could just be my email playing up now because its a jerk. I’ll get an email sent to you soon and you can just reply to that. Hopefully that will work out!

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