“Can You Help Me?”

Dear Dr. Hurd:

I am a 26-year-old girl/woman, living in Europe. From time to time I check in on your website and I often think that what you are saying about lots of things is smart and rational, and I agree with most of it. I mostly read the posts that are about mental health and psychology, since I myself have some major psychological problems.

Now to the point. Even though I find what you are saying very rational, healthy and smart, I don’t seem to be able to apply it to myself.

I have been mentally ill for more than 10 years and I cannot stand it anymore. I’m regularly seeing a therapist who works with cognitive behaviour therapy and I’m eating medications for my depressions, for what we (me and my therapist) think is Borderline Personality Disorder and/or Bipolar 2. But nothing seems to help and I am as unhappy and deeply depressed as I was one year ago. No progress ‘

My question to you is, do you think that it is possible for anyone who is dealing with serious mental problems, to get “well” or healthy with the “right kind” of philosophy (Objectivism or a very rational philosophy based on facts and reality) and with the right thinking patterns?

Even though I want to think “right” and I’m thinking right from time to time (also acting “right”- doing things that I know are good for me) it doesn’t seem to help me. Am I beyond help? And can a Borderline get well?

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

There’s a difference between a ‘disease’ of thinking and errors of thinking.

The problem I see in your email is that you look at yourself as diseased, rather than mistaken. You’re seeing yourself as damaged goods and asking the next logical question: ‘Can I be fixed? Can the damage be undone?’

It’s the wrong question to ask, because the premise is wrong.

You’re not damaged goods. You’re only damaged goods if you think of yourself that way. You are someone who’s not yet getting out of life what you want. Lacking in your attitude is any sense of confidence that reason and thinking can solve problems. Instead, you see yourself as having a personality or mood disorder that something external—medication, perhaps—is supposed to fix. But nothing is having any impact. This is because you’re identifying your problem in the wrong way.

You say that you have been mentally ill for ten years. If I were you, I wouldn’t look at it that way. If I were you I would say, ‘For the last ten years I have been on the wrong track. I have been operating on wrong assumptions. My goal is to figure out what assumptions are wrong, why they’re wrong, and what new direction I need to take.’

You like the rational ideas I’m talking about because they appeal to the best, most reasonable within you. But something in your mind or subconscious thinking is leading you to contradict those good ideas in your daily life. The most likely cause is irrational fear. That’s where 90 percent of these problems start, and fear is what maintains them. A person looks at rational ideas — in Objectivism, for instance, or in my writings — and thinks, ‘Yes, but of course that’s right.’ But then fear blocks the way. Fear is an irrational roadblock and sometimes it has to literally be blown out of the way to get you on a path that your reasoning knows is right.

It’s possible you’ve been on entirely the wrong track, in your thinking. It’s also possible that you’ve been contradictory. For example, on some days (or parts of days), you act and think rationally; yet in just as many instances you act the opposite. This isn’t mental illness. It’s an error. It’s mistaken—but it’s not illness. Contradiction, like fear, is another major mental roadblock causing people to derail or be stuck in their lives.

So long as you keep looking at yourself as ill or disordered, you’re never going to solve the problem. If there were an illness involving your brain, then you’d be right to take medication to alleviate that problem (if one existed). But what you’re describing in your email are errors in thinking, and resulting errors in behavior. Even if you took medication and it were altering your brain states in a productive way, you’d still have to confront everything else I’m saying here.

Stop thinking of yourself as someone ‘with a problem.’ Retrain your mind to think of yourself as someone who’s actually and essentially rational. Rational people make mistakes. Rational people get caught up in feedback loops that require persistent work to correct. None of this implies there’s something wrong with YOU. It implies that there are certain mistakes in your thinking and actions. Mistakes and thinking in action can always be identified and corrected—by you, with the help of an objective, coaching therapist as necessary.

You have made yourself out to be more helpless than you really are. You lack confidence in the power of reason, thought and consistency to help you through this. You’re looking to identify the right label to get you to the right medication—or some other externally identified intervention. You’re basically asking me, and yourself, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Your hope is misplaced in a false premise. If that premise could speak it would say, ‘If we can just get the right diagnosis, then we’ll be on our way to the cure.’

It doesn’t work that way.

Your internal programming is probably a mixture of right and wrong, mistaken and lucid, in many different respects. We humans are complex creatures. Your problem is that you’re contradicting yourself, I’ll bet in a whole lot of ways in daily life. If you can leave aside the idea that you’re broken and need fixing, and instead take up the idea that you only need to identify and correct your errors in thinking, you’ll be on your way.

That’s where you’re stuck and that’s why nothing is working. Of course there’s hope. Reason is a powerful tool, and there’s nothing special or different about you to prevent it from being operative in your daily life. Give reason and yourself a chance. And stop trying to do the impossible. What I’m recommending is more than enough work, and it applies to the possible. Drop the search for “a cure for my mental illness” and replace it with a never ending quest for solutions, thought — and consistency in your daily life.


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