Editor’s note: Every month, the team at Ravenwood Health posts about a mental-health topic. This month, Dr. James Rodio, MD, Medical Director, discusses the benefits of a patient, simple-life approach to mental illness recovery.
A recent Lenten book I enjoyed rereading was The Dark Night of the Soul, written by St. John of the Cross when in prison in Toledo (Spain not Ohio) in 1577. The book is actually his own commentary on a nine-stanza poem he composed about focusing on God, during a time when a small, stark prison cell did not offer comfort and distraction. The book title may be recognized from general references, although the reader learns that this foreboding-sounding dark night is in the end a good one, in which detachment from a life of the senses (connections to the world) and detachment from the active life of the spirit (active spiritual experiences) allows one to quietly receive spiritual blessings from God. In this dark, quiet, still night of the soul there is maturation far beyond what active efforts could bring.
The book in part reminds me of the rewards to be gained in addressing mental illness with a quiet, serene and patient approach. There are plenty “life of the senses” opportunities in our American culture, but a simplification and detachment from excessive distraction may play an important part in effectively treating illness. An overly busy schedule, frequent trips to the bar and/or restaurant, frantic involvement in multiple relationships (with sleep schedule then cut short) can destabilize anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenic conditions (to name a few). Many patients tell me of the subtle and growing rewards of a streamlined approach to their schedule in which extra distractions are eliminated or the proportion of time spent on extras is reduced and balance and stability quietly builds.
There may also be a quiet “life of the spirit” component to the experienced process of addressing mental illness. I am often heartened to see the tremendous progress patients can make in their lives when looking back after several years. During certain moments of illness, the patient may feel there is a complete lack of progress (medications don’t work completely in a day and habits may not change overnight) and the process may feel beyond hope. The patient who is in fact patient can benefit from a quiet approach in which reacting too dramatically to the current moment is set aside, for better rewards to be had in a deeper sense. The emotionally challenging time spent in therapy and gradual process of body response to medication can result in a stability to come, unimagined in the time of acute illness.
I encourage all patients working on treating mental illness to examine possible distractions which can be removed from their life and to practice patience during the process of their recovery for the sake of improving health for the long run.