A Mental Health Diet

john nash 2“I became disillusioned with some of the delusions.” With this statement John Nash humorously described one of his main strategies in attempting to better manage his decades long struggle with schizophrenia. I’ve written before about one important factor in John’s improving mental health, about his becoming recognized and appreciated by an appropriate group of colleagues, family and friends.

Another significant contribution to John’s rationally managing the irrationality of his schizophrenia was what he referred to as putting himself on a mental health diet. He pointed out that just as people put themselves on a food diet by choosing not to indulge certain appetites he concluded that he could not afford himself the luxury of allowing all of the voices in his head to be taken seriously as though they were accurate reporters of reality.

Instead, just as a dieter refuses the allure of certain foods in order to more rationally control calorie and nutrition intake John realized he simply had to identify those voices which would be counterproductive to his successfully functioning in his world and disqualify them as unworthy to be heard. He realized that, through the years before employing this strategy, all the voices were being given equal credibility one with another, even those voices that were upsetting and drove him to alienating behavior.

A dieter’s eyes will fall upon an array of foods all of which appeal to him. Yet if he is to be successful, in his mind he will have to identify those foods that in spite of their appeal will have to be rejected. He rationally chooses to not indulge himself with those troublesome foods. So too, John was choosing to not give credence to certain voices since he had selected those voices as being unnecessarily upsetting or as having power to negatively affect his behavior among people.

While curing his schizophrenia would be the best case scenario mental health science has not developed to that extent. There are a number of physical health problems that modern medical science has not yet been able to cure. The next best thing, a not insignificant thing, is to create ways to more effectively manage the power of a health issue to negatively impact the quality of life for patients. Just so, John realized that while he could not eliminate the strange voices in his head he could choose to a degree how much he would pay attention to which voices.

A crucial step in treating the issues that people bring to psychotherapy is identifying structural changes that the client is rationally capable of effecting that will quickly reduce a portion of the negative impact these issues are having on his quality of life. This quickly gives the client a boost in his expectations that therapy could be helpful. It then buys time for the issues not so easily controlled to be treated in a more stepwise fashion.

Even if we can’t yet rid ourselves of all our demons we can at least identify them as demons rather than friends and begin to deny them a vote in choosing what to say or what to do in a given situation. This is an important first step in beginning to move life out of the shadows and into the light.

We have all learned from experience that certain acquaintances have proven not to be our friends and should not be allowed to influence our thinking and decision-making. Similarly we need to identify our own thoughts that are not our friends and begin to remove the vote they have on how I should feel, what I should say and what I should do. Correctly labeling which of our thoughts are truly our friends and which are truly our enemies is essential to gaining control of our lives.

John Nash discovered this. He became disillusioned with his own delusions. And he reaped the benefits, for himself, for his family and friends and for all those who have been enriched by his intriguing life.

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