How To Cope When Mental Illness Shuts Down Our Minds – Free Ebook

It may sound odd or impolite to suggest that
most of us, when we are in the grip of mental

illness, are no longer capable of thinking.
That’s not how it feels of course. From

the inside, our minds have probably never
felt so busy and so focused. From the moment

we wake up in panic and self-disgust, we are
ruminating, pondering, exploring catastrophic

scenarios, scanning our past, attacking ourselves
for things we have done and not done, questioning

our legitimacy, talking to ourselves about
how repulsive we are, paying attention to

strange voices recommending that we are evil
and sick and headed for the worst – and

wondering how and whether we should kill ourselves.
Our minds don’t give us a moment of respite,

we may rub our temples to cool them down and
when eventually we fall asleep, we are exhausted

by the marathons our thoughts have run inside
us. Nevertheless, we may still want to insist

(for the kindest and most redemptive of reasons)
that we have not been thinking at all, that

none of this hive of activity deserves the
title of thinking; it is just illness.

To be mentally ill is to be swamped by secretions
of fear, self-hatred and despair that – like

surging seawater through a pumping station
control desk – knock out all our higher

faculties, all our normal ability to sensibly
distinguish one thing from another, to find

perspective, to weigh arguments judiciously,
to see the wood for the trees, to correctly

assess danger, to plan realistically for the
future, to determine risks and opportunities

and, most importantly, to be kind and generous
to ourselves. None of these faculties function

any longer, but – and this is the true nastiness
of the illness – we are never and nowhere

alerted to our loss. We are both very ill
and very unaware. It looks as though we are

continuing to think as we have always done
– with all the usual intelligence and reliability

– but that we just have a lot more to worry
about. Nowhere along the way does our mind

generously tell us that it has begun to look
at reality through a distorted lens, that

it has – at some point in the day – to
all effects stopped working. No bell goes

off, no hazard lights start to flash. The
mind merely insists that it is giving us all

the normal readings, and that we have objectively
entered hell. Yet the truth is that we have

lost command of about a third of our minds
and are pulling together our ideas from the

most degenerate, traumatised, unreliable and
vicious aspects of ourselves. It’s as if

a group of terrorists had donned white coats
and were impersonating prestigious scientists

in order to lay out a set of vicious theories
and prognoses. Once we have been through a

few cycles of distorted thinking and recovered
contact with reality, we should do ourselves

the kindness of accepting that – on an intermittent
basis – we will lose command of our higher

faculties and that there is nothing embarrassing
in recognising the possibility and accommodating

ourselves to it very carefully. This is the
nature of an illness around which we will

need to take the greatest care. We should
start to get better at detecting when illness

might be drawing in on us, what the triggers
for it might be. Then when it is upon us,

we should do and decide nothing. We shouldn’t
start to send emails, deliver judgement on

our lives or plan for the future. We should
– as much as possible – stop all mental

activity and rest. We might listen to music,
have a long bath, watch something untaxing

on television and perhaps take a calming pill.
We should also try to plug our brain into

that of someone else, to benefit from their
greater powers of reason. We should have a

trusted friend or therapist whom we can call
on at such moments and ask them if they might

recalibrate and regulate our thoughts with
an injection of their wisdom and insight.

We should willingly put them in charge of
determining how things are for us: they should

be allowed to tell us what we are worth, what
we have done, what there is to worry about

– and we should do our best to discount
the contrary, doom-laden signals that come

from inside us. We may have grown up with
the idea that so long as we are conscious,

our minds will be working optimally. But mental
illness teaches us a more complicated lesson:

our higher faculties (those that give us access
to reality) are extremely vulnerable and perilously

prone to shut down under the sway of our emotional
complexities – and to do so without telling

us . We should strive to become thinkers who
recognise when they are no longer able to


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