Is your thinking full of bad habits?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Is your thinking full of bad habits?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Poor mental health can be the result of bad thinking habits.

People diagnosed with both depression and anxiety disorders often engage in a lot of thinking behaviors that therapists call “unhelpful thoughts.” Sometimes these unhelpful thoughts are called dysfunctional or irrational thoughts. I prefer the term unhelpful thoughts because when you have them you don’t experience them as either illogical or dysfunctional. What may be missing from these discussions is how often those “unhelpful thoughts” are the result of bad thinking habits.

Recently I have been reading some research on habit formation. When we talk about bad habits, we are usually talking about behaviors. But experimenters have shown that they can influence how people think about events, and with enough practice, people can learn automatically to have very “unhelpful thoughts.” Let me give you an example.

How to create an unhelpful thought.

One way to measure unhelpful thought formation is to have people complete a sentence whose ending is ambiguous. Imagine for a moment that a friend’s child or grandchild has come over to your house for a visit. The child is full of energy and wants to go out in your backyard and play. Let’s assume the back yard is fenced. And that you don’t live in a neighborhood with a lot of drive-by shootings.

After 10 minutes, you look out to check on the child, and what you see is this child is ______.

How did you fill in the sentence? People who are high in anxiety or depression often fill in the sentence by imagining that the child is: missing or dead. If you are high in anxiety and try to anticipate all possible negative outcomes, you are likely to worry about things and imagine the worst possible alternative. People with depression also show bias towards unhelpful thoughts.

People who are lower in worry or depression are likely to complete the sentence with something like – After 10 minutes you look out to check on the child, and what you see is this child is _____, playing with a ball, or excitedly running around chasing the dog.

People whose worry rule is “only worry about the big things” are likely to imagine the neutral or happy endings for the sentence. People whose worry rule is “worry about every possible negative outcome” are much more likely to imagine something terrible has happened to the child.

The way you complete the sentence alters the way you think and behave.

People who repeatedly complete ambiguous sentences with negative or unhelpful endings become increasingly depressed or anxious. You can start to mistakenly believe that by keeping the child in the house, you are protecting them from undesirable outcomes. Unfortunately, children who don’t get to go out in the yard and play and are kept continuously where the adult can see them are often babysat by TVs and electronic devices.

The results of your unhelpful thinking that if the child can play in the backyard, something terrible will happen to them, results in children who don’t get enough exercise and are at increased risk of developing type II diabetes and ADHD.

It’s easier to develop a bad thinking habit than to change them.

When people come for counseling, they tend to believe that if they think something is dangerous, it is. Therapists call that emotional reasoning. And it is an especially unhelpful thought. Most of these unhelpful thoughts people have been practicing for a long time. And just like behavioral habits, unhelpful thinking habits can be hard to change.

The first step in changing unhelpful thoughts is to notice that you have developed certain thinking habits. Becoming aware of those unhelpful thoughts can help you to start challenging them and to develop more helpful thinking habits.

A warning about trying to change thinking habits.

Don’t try to change a negative thinking habit into an unrealistically positive thinking habit. We often use positive affirmations to help people move from negative thoughts to positive ones. But don’t try to fool your brain by lying to it. In the example above of the child playing in the backyard, it’s best to substitute a more neutral outcome for the negative one you habitually think. Don’t try telling your brain that your child is so smart that nothing terrible will ever happen to them. Your brain will know you’re lying and disregard that kind of positive affirmation. He also may want to check on the child every few minutes just to reassure yourself.

Become aware of your thoughts and how unhelpful thoughts may have become a bad thinking habit you need to work on changing.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Six David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Some family secrets can be deadly.

What if your family secrets put you in danger?

Letters from the Dead The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead?

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking, and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders, see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter.

How to stay mentally well.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Mental Health or Mental Illness

Mental Health or Mental Illness?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Being mentally well involves a lot more than not having a mental illness.

I learned this lesson from an old car I used to drive. The car was battered, and it had a lot of miles on it, but it ran, and it got me where I need to go. Periodically I took it to a mechanic to get it serviced. There wasn’t anything broken on the car, but it didn’t always run as well as I would have liked. On the freeway, if I got up to a certain speed, the car would start to shake and become hard to control, so I had to slow it back down. But when I tried to accelerate it took forever to get up to speed, and the things that the mechanic fixed didn’t seem to make any difference. This car had an air conditioner, but it never seemed to be able to keep up once the air temperature outside got above eighty degrees.

Finally, that old car did break down, and there was no fixing her this time. I bought a much newer car and was quite surprised at how much easier it was to drive my new vehicle. It accelerated rapidly, and it didn’t shake when I got up to freeway speeds. Not only did the new cars air conditioner cool on high, but it could also make the car feel downright cold.

Just as there was a long-distance between a car that ran poorly and a car that didn’t run. There can be an equally large distance between a condition that is so severe it’s diagnosed as a mental illness and you’re being fully mentally well.

Here are some tips on how to improve your mental health and be mentally well.

Try some of these tips to improve your mental wellness.

Don’t let your thoughts control you.

There is a difference between your thoughts and the truth. Not everything you think is accurate. What you need to do is separate helpful from unhelpful thoughts. Just because something scares you doesn’t mean it is dangerous. Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap of believing that if you’re not perfect, you’re a failure.

Get honest with yourself.

Many people have these little stories they tell themselves. It’s easy to blame other people for what’s wrong in your life. Many people self-handicap. They tell themselves they can’t do something which then becomes their excuse for not trying. When I work with people, who were in recovery from substance use disorders, I discovered many of them had told other people lies so often they come to believe their own stories. You’re going to spend your whole life with you make it an honest relationship.

Being real is essential for good mental health.

Be true to yourself. Don’t go through life being a fake and living for other people’s opinion. Don’t fall victim to the “impostor syndrome.” Do what you can do the best of your abilities but don’t ever doubt that you do have some abilities.

Be true to yourself; avoid dissonance.

Living your life by someone else’s values will not be satisfying for you unless those are also your values. Many people have three separate selves, who they think they should be, who they believe they are, and who they wish they were. The farther apart these three selves are the more dissonance. Accept yourself the way you are rather than trying to become some ideal perfect person. Work on improving the who you are and consider living the life of the person you want to be.

Knowing yourself is part of being mentally well.

Self-knowledge will help avoid fuzzy boundaries. Avoid being enmeshed or codependent. Your thoughts and feelings are your own. You must live your own life. You can share part of your life with others, but you can’t live their lives.

Don’t dump your stuff on others.

Psychoanalysts spend a lot of time looking at things called transference and countertransference. Don’t assume because you’re angry that everyone else is. If you had a problem with your father, don’t treat all men as if they were your father. Try to see each person as a unique individual who may not feel or think the same way you do.

Double-check the blueprints you developed in childhood.

A lot of the problems adults have are things they learned between the ages of eight and eighteen, which turned out to not work as adults or to not to be true. Crying may have worked well to get grandma to give you candy but falling down on the floor, and crying won’t get you a raise, and it may get you fired. No one learns everything a hundred percent, and your parents could only teach you what they knew. Reexamine those old templates you stored in your brain about how you should be and how you should interact with others.

Learn to calm yourself down.

Small children are dependent on their parents to soothe them when they’re upset. As we grow, we should learn to regulate our own feelings and to self soothe. Don’t believe that other people can control the way you feel. You may not like the things others do, but you don’t have to become angry or hurt. Just because you feel agitated does not mean you have to act out.

Look for improvement opportunities rather than failures.

Making mistakes is a part of life. Everyone does it whether you see their failures or not. Don’t beat yourself up for every mistake. Learn from your experiences. Continue to get better at living life. Life will give you a lot of challenges. Just because you missed the target once don’t stop trying. You will either learn from your mistakes, or you will keep making the same ones over and over. Grow because of your experiences rather than giving up.

Start now working on your mental health and wellness as well as your physical health. Some things may be out of your control but take control of things you can. Just avoiding illness is not enough. You deserve to have the best life possible.

Look here for more information on Mental Health and Wellness.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Six David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Dark Family Secrets: Some family secrets can be deadly.

What if your family secrets put you in danger?

Letters from the Dead The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead?

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter.

Finding your passion.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Finding your purpose.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

You are told you should find your passion – but how?

Repeatedly we are told that to be successful in life we should pursue our passion. But how do you discover that passion, and once you have found your passion how do you decide if this is a healthy direction? It’s not unusual for someone to get extremely interested in something and for a year or two pursue it with undivided attention only to drop that activity for something else. Some passions are passing fancies. How do you know if this passion will come and go or does it have the substance that can give your life meaning and purpose?

Pursue something you love doing, not something you’re obsessed with.

An obsession is something which intrusively forces its way into your mind when you’re trying to concentrate on something else. It’s an obsession if you’re preoccupied with the activity to a troubling extent.

To find your passion examine your current interests. Is what you are doing things you love doing for their own sake. Is the practice of the skill it’s own reward or has an obsession taken over your life, trying to lead your mind off in another direction? Successful people often make substantial investments in the training, skills, and practice, that leads them to success. You may need to give up television or taking days off to devote yourself to the education and skills development necessary for success. Will this goal be worth the sacrifices?

Make sure that in the process of pursuing a potential passion you don’t neglect other essential parts of your life. Don’t give up relationships, time with your children, or ignore your physical and mental health while pursuing an obsession. The search for your passion is an area where getting outside opinions from people you trust can be helpful. Don’t let naysayers deter you from reaching your goals, but if several people warn you that you’re headed in a dangerous direction heed their warning.

When your purpose calls answer it.

The unhappiest people are those who feel they had a calling they didn’t answer. Neglecting your calling is worse for your mental health than never having found your purpose. If you discover something which gives your life meaning and purpose, and that you would be happy spending your life doing regardless of the outcome, this is probably your life purpose come knocking. Don’t let fear or trivial things get in the way of dedicating for yourself that something is worthwhile.

Persistence without passion will grind you down.

You probably heard that to become skilled at anything you need to put in thousands of hours of practice. The more you practice something, the better you become at it. Repeatedly doing something that brings you joy takes more dedication than effort. Practicing something when your heart is not in it is likely to wear you out rather than build you up.

Be careful that someone else has not selected your passion for you. The long hours of practice required to fulfill someone else’s dream will rob you of your own life.

What you put effort into may become your passion.

If the goal of what you’re doing is worthwhile, do it wholeheartedly. Doing important things can help you discover what matters most in your life. Whatever you do, seek to do it without reservation. If it’s not worth putting in your best effort try to cut it out of your life. Over time you will find the things that are easy to devote your energy to are the things which you’re passionate about.

Do what you believe in, and you may come to love it.

Just loving something is not enough. Many things in life are enjoyable for a season. Beyond temporary satisfaction, you need to have the belief that this is worthwhile. Approach every task in life as if what you’re trying to do matters. The things you put the most effort into are likely to turn out to be the things you become incredibly passionate about.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Four David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter.

Reasons you’re feeling lost in life.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

looking for directions.

Lost in Life.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Common reasons people feel they need to find themselves.

Have you ever felt lost in life?   Are there times when you’re not sure where you’re going, how you’re going to get there or even what you should be doing?

There are a number of reasons why it may be feeling lost.  Take a look at this list and see how many of these issues are causing your lost feeling.

1.  You’re not clear on your values.

Are you one of those people who spends a lot of time trying to figure out if you can do something?  The more important question you should be asking yourself is not whether you can do it, but should you.  Get clear on your own values.  People who find themselves caught up in doing things that are inconsistent with their values often feel lost or confused.

2.  Your goals are fuzzy.

Having fuzzy goals makes it difficult to take action to actually accomplish those goals.  Get clear on your goals and you will have a better road map to where you’re going and how to get there.  Having a clear set of goals, consistent with your values, gives your life meaning and direction.

3.  You haven’t spent time getting to know yourself.

Failure to genuinely know yourself results in a lot of difficulties finding your way in life.  You spend more time with yourself than with any other person during your lifetime.  Invest some time in getting to know yourself.  Learn what you like and don’t like.  What makes you feel happy?  Avoid going along with others because you don’t know what you want. If you’ve never really gotten to know yourself, it’s easy to get confused about who you are.

4.  You’re living by someone else’s values.

If you’re living by someone else’s values, doing things to please them rather than to please yourself, you can easily lose yourself in the process.  Take time to examine the values you are living by and get clear on whether those are really your values or are you living to please someone else.

5.  You haven’t stretched your comfort zone.

People who spend a lot of time staying inside their comfort zones find that the comfort zone shrinks over time.  If you haven’t made a conscious effort to stretch your comfort zone, you’re likely to find yourself disoriented whenever you step slightly outside that zone.  You find yourself by trying on new behaviors and seeing what fits.

6.  You’re not doing enough good things.

Doing things, things you can be proud of increases your self-esteem.  People who do very few things begin to doubt they’re ability to do anything well.  If you have reached a point in your life where you are feeling lost, it may be because you’re doing very little.  When you’re not sure, make a decision and head off in a direction.  You will learn who you are in the process of doing what you do.

7.  You don’t accept yourself the way you are.

Most people have a mental picture of what they should be like.  Far fewer people have a clear picture of what they would like to be.  The part of themselves that many people struggle with the most is getting an accurate picture of what they are really like.  It is easy to be critical of yourself because you fail to live up to that image of what you should be like you have in your head.  Reducing the discrepancies between these three selves, who you should be, who you want to be and who you are, is the road to self-acceptance.  Once you accept yourself the way you are, you will stop feeling lost and begin to know exactly where you are.

8.  You have let drugs; alcohol or other addictions control you.

Once you’ve given into drugs, alcohol or other addictions they’ve taken over control of your direction in life.  When someone or something else is controlling your directions in life you lose track of where you are and begin to feel lost.  To get back control of your life and that sense of knowing who you are, get those addictions out of the driver seat.

9.  You have disconnected your feelings.

Feelings are not an inconvenience to be ignored.  Feelings provide you valuable information.  When you get into the habit of ignoring your feelings it disconnects your emotional compass.  Without those feelings to guide you it is easy to get lost.  Stop ignoring those feelings and get back on a course that is consistent.

10.  You make a habit of comparing up.

There is always someone who has done something larger, better or more important than what you did.  People who constantly compare up begin to feel bad about themselves.  Stop comparing yourself to others and become the unique individual that you were meant to be.  When you accept yourself the way you are you will have found yourself again.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Have you figured out who you are yet?

Me keeps changing

Me keeps changing
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Sunday Inspiration      Post By David Joel Miller.

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” 
― 
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you.  Sunday seems like a good time to do this. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you please share them.  

You become who you think you are.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Believe in you.

Self-Esteem.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What you tell yourself about you comes true.

Are you a great fortune-teller or do you just specialize in self-fulfilling prophecies?

People like to tell themselves things about the future. They sometimes think by predicting the future they are protecting themselves from disappointment. The truth is you may be creating your own disappointment.

One of the surest ways to snatch defeat out of the grasp of victory is to tell yourself constantly that something bad will happen. Give your brain enough of this message and it works hard to create the failure you predicted.

Say you can’t and you can’t.

We hear a lot about the power of positive thinking. There is truth to that. If you think you can do things you get more done. We tell kids the story of “The Little Engine that Could” for a reason. Belief in yourself makes things happen.

Team leaders that inspire optimism in their teams reach more goals. Leaders know that telling their followers “they can” helps create accomplishments. Tell your people they have no chance and the effort ends.

Negative thoughts prevent things.

What we miss sometimes is that negative thoughts are just as powerful, maybe more powerful than positive ones.

Telling yourself you will fail inhibits any effort to succeed. Say you can’t often enough and your brain will start believing you. You can influence yourself to sabotage your efforts.

Think about a team and the half-time locker-room talk. Does the coach say don’t be concerned? I knew we were going to lose so don’t bother to put in any more effort? What a good coach does in inspire his team to believe in themselves.

Winners don’t just hope they will prevail they see themselves already having won. Those who plan on returning home empty-handed do not stand on the victory platform.

Be your own coach, expect you can do more than you know at this point in your life and then go out and make it happen.

Say no one likes you and you become difficult to like.

If you expect people to dislike you, the natural behavior would be to treat that person curtly. Why waste your time on people who do not like you? But if you expect everyone to dislike you this makes it hard for them to get past your wall and get to know you.

Expect the world to be full of enemies and you will find them. Believe that there are lots of friends out there, you just haven’t met them yet, and every day is another chance to meet that friend you do not yet know.

Start by liking yourself. To improve your self-esteem do more things and some of them have to work out. Ignore your less than perfect events and focus on your accomplishments. If you have had difficulties in your life and still showed up and tried, how have you been able to do that? Focus on your strengths and you will become stronger.

Saying you are dumb prevents learning.

Students who think they are dumb study less. They do not become excited about learning and they learn less. We repeatedly see adult learners who return to school after many years away and then they begin to study something that interests them. They commonly do better than they expected. Learning is very much about attitude. If you like what you are studying and you expect to learn it, the learning comes more easily.

What do you tell yourself about you?

Many people spend life thinking very unhelpful thoughts. If you say you will be lonely you create that isolation. Say you are on a quest to find a good friend and you will begin to meet new interesting people. Believe in yourself and search in new places. You may find a better you and a happier life just around the corner.

If you expect unhappiness you will look everywhere for it. If you expect to find happiness, you may be surprised at how often it is waiting there along your life path for you to stop and recognize it.

Is it time for you to toss the unhelpful thoughts and start practicing the new useful thought patterns? Who do you want to be? Focus on this. Practice thinking you are there and then move forward.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Taking stock of yourself. Posts about self-discovery

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Self

Getting to know yourself.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Here are links to posts about self-discovery and getting to know yourself.

I decided to post this list to help you find some of the past posts on this important subject. There will be additional posts on the topic of finding out “Who are you?” as we progress through the year.

Eventually, my plan is to pull all these posts together into a longer document, maybe even a book. Only time will tell. If you have other suggestions on how to get in touch with yourself, that old inventory process, feel free to leave a comment.

How sure are you about that goal?

Finding your Quest – what life challenge will define you?

Inventorying your baggage

What do you most want in your life?

Your autobiography as therapy

How heavy is your baggage – Unpacking your baggage

Would a Genie help? Happiness by magic

Who are you? Who do you want to be?

5 things you need to ask yourself about mistakes to avoid making them again

Are you original or ordinary?

Are you successful?

How did you know that? When and where we learn things matters.

Every day is April Fools’ Day when you are fooling yourself

Hope that helps.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Is it the Bipolar or is it me? Confusion and self-doubt.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Who am I?
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

The struggles to find you when you have Bipolar or another mental illness.

People who grow up with a mental illness have a difficult time finding out who they are separate from their disorder. The younger you are when the symptoms start the more difficult it is to find out who you are during those times the symptoms are at a severe point. People with other mental illnesses may experience this same confusion but it is easiest to illustrate by discussing the effects of Bipolar Disorder on self-doubt.

Youth with Bipolar disorder have a second set of tasks to navigate over and above those all teen’s experience. Finding you who you are is a necessary task of adolescence. Much of that sense of self is developed as a result of the experiences you have. For the person with Bipolar Disorder, the person who has those experiences changes depending on the severity of symptoms.

In the early stages of the disorder, the disease goes largely undiagnosed. The person who will someday get that bipolar diagnosis may spend 20 years or more struggling with out of control emotions before they discover that those unpredictable mood swings are a result of their disease, not some defect in who they are.

When you have symptoms, try to control them, but find you are out of control more than in, it is easy to begin to doubt yourself and to begin to hate yourself. Before receiving their diagnosis many youths with Bipolar Disorders have been led to believe they are “bad kids” and that they should be able to do things they find far outside their abilities.

The person with Bipolar Disorder will experience a large discrepancy between who they are supposed to be and who they are. Despite their best efforts, who they feel they are, will change depending on whether they are in a manic, hypomanic, depressive or mixed phase.

The peak onset for Bipolar is between fifteen and nineteen years of age, precisely those late teen years when you need to establish who you are as a separate person from your caregivers and friends.

The earlier the onset of Bipolar Disorder the more difficult it becomes to define what is the disorder and what part of these feeling and behaviors are you.

Often the person with Bipolar will report that they don’t know how they feel. A given situation will make them feel happy one day and sad or angry the next. This creates extreme self-doubt.

Having a mind or body that betrays you can lead to self-hate. In the early stages of Bipolar Disorder, before the diagnosis, there is a high risk that you will come to hate yourself for having uncontrollable and unpredictable moods.

Clients sometimes report during a severe episode “This is not who I am.” They have the feeling that there are three or more of them, the depressed person, the manic person and sometimes there is that person that is them without the symptoms.

Someone with Bipolar Disorder may find that they shift between being an introvert and being an extrovert depending on the state of their illness. They can easily become confused as to which is the real them.

After a particularly manic episode or a really low depressive episode, the person with Bipolar Disorder may find themselves saying “That is not me, I don’t want to be like that.”

The result of all these conflicts in their self-image can leave a person in the early phase of Bipolar Disorder with negative self-beliefs. These beliefs are likely to persist into adulthood and then change slowly if at all. The person that they find themselves to be on medication or after therapy is a whole different person to the previous untreated person.

One risk for the undiagnosed person is the tendency to become a chameleon. Not knowing who they really are deep down they try to blend in and assume the roles of others around them. This results in an unstable self that is one way today and another tomorrow.

A common refrain is “I don’t like myself.” Or “I can’t do anything right.” Shaking these beliefs and sorting out who you are separate from your disorder is a difficult but necessary process.

Because of the mood swings between depression and mania the person with bipolar disorder faces unique challenges in finding who they really are separate from their diagnosis.

People with other mental and emotional problems will expertise these conflicts in varying ways. The key task is to learn that you are not your diagnosis and that your condition does not define who and what you will become.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Who are you? Who do you want to be?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Self-Exploration

Self-Exploration
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Planning the destination for your life’s journey.

We are now into the new year.

Some of you made resolutions for New Years and some of you didn’t.

Either way, these first breaths of the new year are a good time to take a look at yourself, your life and what you want it to be.

A first place to start is to take a hard look at ourselves. Most of us are used to muddling along, trying to remember those directions in our head but never really putting them down on paper and being sure of the direction we need to take. Now is a time to change that.

We have talked about happiness and over this year defining happiness and finding ways to get there are high on our agenda. But you can’t start any journey until you know where you are. In twelve-step terms, this is called an inventory and there are specific directions in the books on how to do this. In the language of therapy, we might call this an assessment.

I am not suggesting that you need to become an expert on diagnosis to move to happiness. Guess what? There are counselors who are not happy. The precise definition of your issue is not as important as your own appraisal of where you have been and how can you move forward from that place. We will break this process up into some steps.

One way to begin work on this life improvement project would be to begin creating a manual for your life. While we are all willing to contribute to this work, you as the expert on your life need to do the work of assembling this manual. Personally, I use a loose-leaf binder and paper to keep this record. This allows me to make lists, revise them and move them around. This is sometimes called a sectional journal.

Some of the things you will have thought about so far are:

1. What will make you really truly happy?

This is all about finding real lasting happiness. As you will probably soon find, this is not about taking shortcuts and momentary pleasures. Your life journey should include some of those “right now” fun times, but it needs a longer range goal to give it meaning and purpose.

2. What does success mean to you?

Lots of us find we are taking someone else’s journey and therefore never get where we wanted to go. You need to decide for yourself what would make you happy and what success means to you. That is the destination part of the process.

You may begin by deciding to do something that you have never done before. For some people, they will find they have never finished a project they started, never completed school. They will decide that is where they need to go – for now. You may decide to finish your high school diploma or get a GED.

Later, once you get to this destination, it does not mean the journey is over. In life, we keep reevaluating and then setting new goals.

3. How will you know if your life changes?

Therapists call this the “miracle question.” If one morning a miracle was to occur and your life’s problems were all solved, how would we know this? What would be different?

All last year we talked about diseases and disorders, the problems of living. Maybe for a good part of your life, you have had nothing but struggles. So my asking you to imagine a happy successful life, that may be a bit of a stretch.

Give it a try anyway.

Make up a list of things that would be different. Write this list down if it is safe to do so. If you don’t feel safe in making lists and writing them down, then tackling that lack of safety is the first thing you need to do.

Is this fear about you or about them? If it is only about you then take a chance, write down anything. It does not need to be complete or even right. It just needs to reflect how you feel right now. Tomorrow is a new day and you can revise these lists at any point.

If you find that the fear is about them, the others in your life, then you either need to reword the things you write so you will not care if they read them or you may really need to consider if this is such a bad relationship that you need to run not walk away. In that case, reach out for professional help.

So you write down that first provisional list. Things that I would like to be different in my life. Try to keep that list between 3 and 10 things. If it gets longer than that take the list and save it but makeup draft number two by combining things down.

Say you list came up with 8 bills you want to pay off and 3 things you would like to replace you might simplify this by saying 1. Reduce my bills 2. Save up enough money to replace some things. Now you have two doable goals.

There may be some other things that some of you need to do.

One thing that would be wise to do is think about these goals. Will accomplishing them really take you to a place of happiness? We should talk soon about values. These goals of you happy life should be consistent with your values, religious and spiritual as well as material. It won’t do to achieve your happy life goals only to find that to reach them you needed to turn into a person even you don’t like.

By now most of you who are reading this have lived a while. You may have a lot of pain from your life so far. In popular language, you may have some baggage that will hold you back on this happy life journey. We will need to talk about how to leave some baggage behind and how to unpack some to lighten the load.

So let’s go there next.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

When you were born did you get your instruction book?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Books for sale

Books.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Did you get your life’s instruction book?

With most important things, when you make the purchase you get an instruction book. When you buy a new mower, you get a book.  When you buy a barbecue, you get a book. When I came home from the hospital I don’t think I got a book.

It would have been nice to get an instruction manual for life when I was born. How about you? Did you get an instruction book that told you what to do and where to go? Wouldn’t that have been helpful?

Such a book should include warnings – don’t do that with your life, it can be painful.

So often I feel like I am making this life up as I go along. You would think the instructions would have been clearer. Should I move here or there? Which relationships should I get into and which should I avoid. It would be nice to have instructions to known about the warnings without having to make the mistakes and suffer the pain of yet another learning experience.

Some hospitals used to give out books to new parents, what to do and not do to be a good parent. Most of those books described the “typical” child and the “average” parent. “Typical” and “average” are rare things – almost as rare as those elusive “normal” people.

People who were given those baby raising books, or bought one, report that the books were only marginally helpful. Not that you should do without one. If by some chance of luck you get a book that tells you how to raise a child and the system works, cherish that book. Just most of the time the book describes things that don’t happen, and your child is doing things that don’t sound like anything in the book.

Think of those baby raising books more like field guides to the fauna of childhood than any accurate plan for raising your child right.  Books that describe developmentally appropriate parenting and life stages give you a guide to things some or many children a certain age do or should be able to do. As for your child, the writer of that book knows no more than the child does about how he may act tomorrow.

Which should you spring for, sports equipment, music lessons or tutoring in algebra? Do everything right and your child may become famous for something you forgot to provide for him and may fail at the thing you put all that time and effort into. Kids are like that, so are adults.

The older the child gets, the less helpful the book becomes. Give that child a year, and just as you get them figured out they will have changed.

By the time your child is grown the book is hopelessly out of date, or the child is.

Most of the people who come to see me for counseling report they not only didn’t they get a book on how to be a parent they got even less information on how to grow up. So we teach our kids the lessons we learned from them about being a parent and leave the how to grow up and have a happy life for them to figure out.

Despite all the books out there on how to live and how to have a happy life we still all need to live, make choices and learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.

So consider all those self-help books – mine included, as books of suggestions. Try on the things that are suggested but feel free to discard anything that doesn’t work.

So many of my plans for a great life didn’t work out the way I planned them. I think that may be why the hospital neglected to give me that instruction book for my life. The full instructions are still being tested and improved.

Hope you are successful at designing and constructing a happy life for yourself. Remember there is time to write another chapter right up till the Great Editor adds the “The end.”

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.