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Staying Focused on Good Things in Life

The following was written by Janet Foner, the former International Liberation Reference Person for “Mental Health” Liberation, for a wide world project.

If you’re having a hard time—for example, feeling sad or terrified or out of sorts [irritable] all the time—here are five ways to refocus yourself toward enjoying life:

1) Have lots of two-way listening sessions—two or three long ones in person per week, plus shorter ones via phone. The process is easy: Each person has an equal turn to be listened to without interruption, advice, or comments. When it’s your turn, say whatever is on your mind. Build trust as you go. Agree on how long an exchange you want and make sure each person gets equal time. Agree to keep confidential everything the other person says, to never bring it up again. It’s mental health oppression that makes us believe that “something is wrong” with us for needing so much help. Set up a support network—of friends you are teaching to exchange listening with you and friends, period. That way you’ll have plenty of people to call when you feel “down.” Just the act of calling someone, even if they’re not at home, can pull your attention out of bad feelings.

2) Use at least some of your listening exchanges to make a commitment to focus your attention off of distress and onto what’s good in the world. Repeat the commitment and release the feelings associated with making it. I use this version (you can make up your own): “I don’t have time to focus my attention on distress. There are so many things I would rather be doing—like (I name some). So I decide to focus my attention on pleasant and rewarding things. And this means . . . .“ Often my next thought is what I need to do to accomplish that.

3) Use some of your listening sessions to think about your life and how to make it just the way you want it, to have your life and your environment be so exciting and fulfilling that your attention is pulled out of distress every day by the way your life is. Then make the changes you’ve thought of, even if they take several years and lots of upheaval. For example, if you hate your job, figure out some ways to find other jobs you might enjoy more.

4) When it’s your turn to talk, keep your attention focused at least partially on good things, away from distress. Don’t dive into the distress headfirst. Think of the distress in your mind as a swimming pool. Your job is to tread water and keep your attention way above it. That doesn’t mean not dealing with difficult things; it means dealing with them while remembering the good things in life at the same time. You can tell about a past incident by describing all the horrifying details and get sunk in the process, or you can say something like, “I’m alive! I made it out!” in a joyous tone of voice. You are working on the same material, but you’re focusing on the positive. However, don’t use these ideas like they’re a cookbook. If you have a distress that says, “Don’t tell,” or “Hold everything in,” you may need to tell the gory details.

5) Do lots of things you enjoy every day. When you’re feeling fine, make a list of things you like to do. When you’re feeling terrible, take out the list and do some of the things on it, even if it feels impossible at first. Your mood will eventually improve. Strategize ways to get more fun into your life, even if you are busy. In the long run [eventually], get yourself out of bad situations, so you can always have fun.

The above five things can be useful for many people. If a friend or acquaintance is having a lot of difficulty, you can show them how to share listening time and assist them to do these things. Know that they are going to be fine and convey that. Don’t worry that they are “going off the deep end” [losing control of themselves]. Keep in mind that “mental illness” is a myth. People can handle their emotions if they get lots of support.

Janet Foner  first ILRP for Mental Health Liberation

(Present Time 198, January 2020)

Last modified: 2020-01-24 20:47:53+00