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Mindfulness - Part I

By John McManamy

Rewind the clock to early 1999. I was two or three weeks into my diagnosis. My meds were doing their job. I was stabilizing, with very few side effects. If this were a clinical drug trial, I would be classified as a responder and deemed a success.

Now what?

My emergency psychiatrist indicated that I would benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.

Not so fast, I cut in. I’m not partial to strangers getting inside my head.

No, this wasn’t like that, she explained. This was all about watching our erroneous thoughts and taking appropriate action.

A lightbulb went off. “Ah, mindfulness,” I shot back.

She gave me a blank stare. “The mind watching the mind,” I explained. “The Buddha talked about this 2,600 years ago.”

Whatever, said the look in her eyes. Two or three weeks into my diagnosis, I was not exactly looking like a poster boy for mindfulness. Maybe the Buddha was a non-starter with this illness.

Despite my initial skepticism, I found cognitive behavioral therapy extremely useful. The therapy was strongly derivative of mindfulness, though its practitioners refrain from acknowledging the Buddha. (By contrast, dialectical behavioral therapy explicitly highlights mindfulness and gives credit where credit is due.)

These days, mindfulness is the new recovery buzzword. There is even something called “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” (which is something of a redundancy).

In between, my writings on talking therapy and coping kept coming back to mindfulness, but it was only in 2005 that I began connecting the dots. That is when I came across a study by Melbourne researcher Sarah Russell PhD.

Dr. Russell surveyed 100 “successful” bipolar patients, and asked what they did to stay well. Seventy-six percent of the participants were in paid employment, 38 percent were parents.

What Dr. Russell discovered boiled down to mindfulness, though she didn’t use that term. Rather, she talked about “moving swiftly to intercept a mood swing.” This had to do with how patients “were responding to their mental, emotional, social, and physical environment.”

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