A few years ago I saw a patient who had a mental breakdown to the extent that it required being hospitalized. She had been doing ok in life working full-time as an administrator until she went through a divorce from her husband of over 20 years. At that time her adult daughter also moved across the country for a new job and her son was about to flunk out of college. The stress and pain turned into an overwhelming experience and things went awry. She started having delusions that people were out to get her and that she was being monitored by unseen government agencies. She had to spend some time as a patient in a psychiatric ward. When she came out things were better. Her thinking was clearer and behavior had stabilized but things still weren’t right.
There was a depression that medication wasn’t budging and a stifling fear of being alone. Our time together wasn’t pleasant as her desperation to feel better was translated into a demanding, nearly belligerent tone. But today I finally got it. Something made me ask her if she was afraid of her own feelings. It dawned on me that she was in terror, soaked in fear….a fear of her own feelings. She admitted that she was.
We were on to something.
I let her know that if she wanted to find some relief she would have to start being able to be with her self and not run away. To accept herself totally without any judgments.
At that point, she got quiet.
The chronic running away from her self, the fear of her own feelings, the denial of her own reality was driving her mad.
We talked about being able to simply be with oneself and completely accept whatever feelings are arising in the moment. I encouraged her to take even a few minutes a day to sit with herself and observe – without judgment, without trying to change things.
In allowing the feelings to be there, whatever they are – good, bad or ugly – a shift starts to take place naturally without effort. In that acceptance of what is arising, the inner struggle stops. When the inner struggle with whatever is stops, peace can be found.
We talked about being rooted in the here and now. About being quiet with whatever is. She agreed this would help. She started opening up and softening in a way I had not seen before. By the end of our conversation she appeared much more confident and expressed her gratitude.
I see this so much within my self. As soon as a twinge of something unpleasant comes up inside I notice my internal monitor goes into high alert. The alarm starts to go off that something is wrong and immediately there’s a reaction to try to make it stop or make it go away.
From what I have seen in working with people in mental health, a key factor in losing one’s mental balance can be rooted in our intolerance of own our feelings. When we get into a wrestling match with our human experience, or try to run from it, things don’t seem to go well.
There is no shelter from life. There’s no shelter from oneself. There’s no ultimate hiding place. If we don’t allow life as it is, it can wreak havoc within us. Emotionally, mentally…we get clogged up and with this can come tremendous suffering.
So many places we try to run to avoid life as it is….to alcohol, drugs, food, incessant TV watching and in other more socially acceptable ways like achieving, accumulating, accomplishing, planning, analyzing. Even staying caught up in our thoughts can be a way of avoiding the essence of our experience as a human being.
Being chronically distracted by activity and thought can be a subtle form of resistance to this moment as it. And this can bring varying levels of suffering. Or at the very least leave us feeling subtly hollow, vacant, like we’re missing something.
In a way I think this is nature’s way of showing us that health, wellness, and balance are intimately tied to our willingness to accept life as it is. Simply being in this experience of life as it is happening to us seems to go with nature’s way. We didn’t write this play. We didn’t draw up this human drama. We were born into it. Maybe our job isn’t to judge it or try to outsmart it. But instead maybe to bear witness to it. To allow it. To accept all that it is with an open, willing heart.