Observing Distress Rather than Becoming Distressed

I can still remember my late twenties. I began having a hard time. I started going to a therapist, who told me that I should tell him my worries and then, crucially, he taught me how to observe my problems as though they were a leaf on a stream. I was supposed to watch the thought from the shores rather than identify with it. In other words, I was being taught the important lesson that we are not our thoughts. Therapists call the process of overidentifying with your thoughts fusion. And so their job is to help us defuse from our thoughts, and then, if we’re lucky to have a good therapist, they train us how to defuse our thoughts ourselves. If you have schizophrenia, this is very difficult and perhaps you will also continue to require a therapist in order to keep perspective on how you are not your thinking. I’m not a professional, but that’s what happened with me.

It was an important lesson when I first learned to watch my thinking rather than experiencing my thoughts as facts. I remember feeling so relaxed after it for several days. I realized it was my interpretation that was causing the distress. I had attached values to events, and these values weren’t universal. Eventually I needed to go on medicine to remind myself that I was not my thinking. My thinking became more persuasive to myself even as it became more detached from logic. And it became so strong that I created the situations I feared were happening in my interpretive world as I alienated myself from friends and family and coworkers.

Now, safely on my medicine and avoiding things and situations that are triggering when I can – choosing my battles, if you will – I can indeed stay on the bank and watch the leaves of my thinking pass by the stream of life. I am not my thoughts. We are not our thoughts. What type of therapy is this called? It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mixed with mindfulness and positive psychology. I learned about how to talk about it from the book Treating Psychosis: A Clinician’s Guide to Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion-Focused Therapy and Mindfulness Approaches within the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tradition. There are, as I said, 8 authors to the book. The main author is Nicola P. Wright, PhD, CPsych.

If you struggle with mental health issues, remember I am not a professional and am just writing as a lay person with lived experience. Perhaps my book will help you find meaning, however. It is about how I found meaning in my struggle with schizoaffective disorder and how you can start to think positive about managing your care. It’s free: