How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning
By Eric Maisel, Ph.D
“It is a grave mistake to make every unwanted aspect of life the symptom of a mental disorder.”
Whether you are dealing with depression yourself, know someone who is, or simply wonder whether all the anti-depressants being popped are necessary, you will get something out of this book.
Dr.Maisel writes in a friendly and familiar tone as he looks at depression in a new way, and in doing so makes us look at life in a new way. In what he calls an “Existential Program”, he investigates happiness, existential intelligence, realities, our thoughts, and focusing on meaning rather than mood.
“…If, however, you experience the thing called “depression” and feel like exploring an existential approach to climbing out of that hole, give my program a try. The word depression is a corruption of language, and the more society uses it, the further it will push us all toward unhappiness. Pathologizing unhappiness creates unhappiness. Reject the very idea of depression and make meaning instead.”
Maisel describes how our unhappiness and uncomfortable emotions have been turned into disorders that benefit the medical establishment. (Think about all the money spent on doctor visits, counseling, anti-depressants and other medications, etc. – It’s BIG business!) He also offers several suggestions on how to overcome our reliance on depression, and turn our lives into something meaningful.
“That a chemical, an antidepressant, can change your mood in no way constitutes proof that you have a mental disorder called depression. All that it proves is that chemical can have an effect on mood.”
The existential program makes you look at whether or not you are living authentically for your self by identifying what matters to you; whether your thoughts are aligned with what matters to you; and whether your behaviors are aligned with what matters to you.
Our thoughts should be serving us, according to Maisel. “If a thought doesn’t serve you, you reject it.” But how do we monitor and correct our “incorrect” thoughts?
“You may feel that your life sucks, but you are not free to unleash that thought and let it run through the halls of your mind like a banshee. The question isn’t whether a thought like ‘My life sucks’ is irrational or unreasonable. The question is whether or not it serves you. That is the measure of any thought you think – does it serve you in your efforts to earn the experience of authenticity?”
One of my favorite parts talks about how to make yourself proud through decisions made each moment and every day. By constantly focusing on “How can I make myself proud?” we change what we do, how, and why. Follow that up with focusing on Meaning rather than mood, and you have a great new basis for living…
“One decision that an existentially aware person makes is to focus on making meaning rather than on monitoring moods. If you pester yourself with the question, ‘How am I feeling?’ you create unhappiness. If the question you pose yourself instead is, ‘Where should I invest meaning next?’ you live more authentically.”
The overall idea is simple: “Where should I invest meaning next?” By answering the question, and living the process of following the answer, we can create our authentic self and in doing that make ourself proud. We accept ourselves and life; we create, experience, and invest meaning. Then, we are better able to handle unhappiness AND happiness. Read the book, even if you don’t believe all of it, it will give you some new ways of looking at life that can help you find fulfillment.
“When you recognize these two important truths – that you can pay less attention to your moods and more attention to your intentions, and that experiencing no mood or a neutral mood is perfectly acceptable – you rid yourself of a mind-set that keeps you primed for unhappiness..”