Setting the Intention to Heal
I would like to begin this page by giving you an overview of my mental health recovery program that I describe in my book Healing From Depression. The program consists of three life-changing steps. I call them "the three pillars of mental health recovery."
Step 1: Set the intention to heal.
Make the decision that you want to get well, even if you don't know how. Setting the intention to heal is the starting point of all recovery.
Step 2: Reach out for support.
Love and connection are an essential part of the healing process. Human beings are hardwired for connection. Thus, enlisting the support of others is a key factor in your recovery process.
Step 3: Treat your symptoms using a combination of mutually supportive therapies.
An example of this integrative approach can be seen in the way we treat heart disease. If you asked a cardiologist how to prevent or to recover from a heart attack, he or she might prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication and tell you to eat a low-fat diet, exercise three times a week, and cut down on the stress in your life.
In a similar manner, depression must also be treated using a variety of coping strategies that act to support you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The following statement sums up these three pillars of recovery:
INTENTION + TOOLS + SUPPORT =
Mental Health Recovery
Now let's look at Step 1, "Set the Intention to Heal," in greater detail.
Step 1: Set the Intention to Heal
The Taoist philosopher Lao Tsu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Today, you are setting out on a journey of healing from anxiety and depression. What is your first step as you begin this quest? It is simply to state your intention to get well.
This may seem like a small act, but it has profound ramifications for your future health and well being, whether you have been struggling with depression for weeks, months or, like me, since childhood.
Regardless of the time involved, the first step is the same--making the decision to heal.
For some sufferers of depression, this may seem too difficult, since depression robs us of our energy, motivation and hope. Fortunately, at this point, I am not asking you to do anything, only to make a decision. You don't have to know how your healing will take place. You don't have to believe that it is possible. If you are feeling particularly hopeless or discouraged right now, ask yourself this question: "Is there a part of me, however tiny, that wants to feel better?" If you can find just a molecule within you that says, "I WANT TO LIVE," your healing journey has begun.
By setting the intention to heal, you will stimulate and support your body's "healing system"--its innate capacity to control disease and bring itself back into balance." Physician Andrew Weil describes this phenomenon in the book Spontaneous Healing. Weil writes:
"The body can heal itself. It can do so because it has a healing system. At every level of biological organization, from DNA up, mechanisms of self-diagnosis, self-repair, and regeneration exist in us. Medicine that takes advantage of this innate healing is more effective than medicine that simply suppresses symptoms."
Although we call depression a "mental illness," the disorder manifests with debilitating physical symptoms as well. And as anyone who has survived an episode of depression knows, the brain and body can heal themselves if they are given the right support. Saying, "I want to feel better," is the first step in changing your brain chemistry.
Creating Your Vision of Wellness
The basic tool that you will be using to translate your intention to heal into a reality is the vision statement of wellness. Essentially, your vision statement will answer the question, "What would my life look and feel like if I were free from the symptoms of anxiety and depression?"
A vision statement is based on the second habit from Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People-- "begin with the end in mind." According to Covey, this habit arises from the principle that "all things are created twice"--first in the mind and then in the world of form. In writing a vision statement, you create an exact mental blueprint of health that you are seeking and communicate this picture to your brain and nervous system. The following exercise will show you how.
Composing a Vision Statement
Imagine for a moment, that you are in a state of health and wholeness. Imagine that your mental and emotional health are functioning at optimal levels. What would it be like for you to be in a better mood?
How would your body look and feel? How much energy would you have available to you?
How would you be feeling most of the time? What types of thoughts would you be thinking?
What types of relationships would you have? What kind of work would you be involved in? What would your spiritual life look like?
Drawing upon the answers to the above questions, on a separate page write a paragraph (or more) describing your vision of mental and emotional health.
See if you can use all five senses--sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste--to depict your experience. Set it down in the present test, as if the experience were happening now.
Also, see if you can tap into any positive feelings such aliveness, peace, strength, etc. In doing so, you are uncovering into your deepest passion for change, an energy that will fuel your recovery process.
As you proceed with this exercise, do your best to write something, even if recovery from depression seems like a distant reality. If you can't imagine yourself being completely well, choose to see yourself feeling "a little bit better." One woman simply stated, "I just want to feel my life force again." Remember, I am not asking you to believe in your healing; only to desire it.
If this still seems like too much, ask someone to help you write your vision statement--e.g., a friend, family member, your counselor, your doctor, etc. You don't have to do this work alone.
There are many ways to write a vision statement. What follows are two sample vision statements of different length.
Peter's Vision of Health and Wellness
Peter, a client who suffered from anxiety as well as depression, wrote this vision statement to describe his desire to return to his old life.
I am calm and peaceful. My energy is strong and good, I am engaged in life with my family, friends and co-workers. I am happy and easy going. I sleep well and peaceful at night. I wake up in the morning looking forward to my day, whether it is new design challenges at work or weekends where nothing is planned.
I look forward to being with and doing things with my friends and family. I travel extensively and I love it. I am a body builder enjoying my great body and my workouts.
I am a good influence on my kids, and they look to me for advice and support which I give easily and positively.
I love my life.
Laura's Vision of Health and Wellness
The following vision statement is only two lines, but it perfectly captures the essence of joy and wellness.
I am healed, whole and complete.
I am fully alive, filled with love, joy and gratitude.
In working with clients over the past decade, I have found that those people who write a vision statement and focus on it on a daily basis make the quickest progress in their recovery from depression. If your vision statement is clear, specific, and has the power of heartfelt commitment behind it, it will activate both your inner healer and a benevolent aspect of the universe that will support you in your desire to be well.
Over the next few days, see if you can use this exercise to formulate your own vision of wellness. It doesn't have to be perfect; just start someplace. My vision statement went through a number of revisions before it got to its present version. Be patient. Soon your vision statement of wellness will become a beacon of light, guiding you towards your recovery.