Dr. Lebensohn didn't spend time at our sessions delving into my past. He was most concerned with helping me focus on the here and now; helping me know how to get through one day at a time and how to relate to people and a life interacting with them.
Back then, I was most comfortable being alone, separate from everything other than my own thoughts and imagination. I wallowed in them. Dr. Lebensohn, realizing this, insisted I pull away from activities that would submerge me into my trance like state of fantasy and isolation. He wanted to instill in me an approach to life that would lift me out of my seclusion, physically and mentally. He gave me specific directions and his character and intellect inspired me to follow his lead. Here's a partial list of his instructions. The first part of each one I've put in quotes. What he actually said was burned into my mind by his powerful, hypnotic voice.
"Don't read or watch science fiction." Science fiction can pull those of us overly attracted to fantasy away from our current surroundings and opportunities. It elevates us into a sense of wonder with things unknown and diminishes the importance of our daily lives. Watching Star Trek is ok because the plots are about basic human hopes and values. Star Trek can inspire us and enable us to distinguish good choices from bad.
"Find an opportunity to be around people everyday." Getting to know people, sharing thoughts and ideas with them helps to build compassion and a feeling of being part of a community, even if a small one.
"Learn more about and seek out your religious heritage." People with mental illness do better if they root themselves in their faith tradition, giving them a greater feeling of self-worth and meaning.
"Pursue creative interests." Doing art, music, writing, wood-working, etc helps to channel hidden thoughts and ideas that are not easily expressed through other means. It helps us feel pride and positive self-awareness.
"Find an interest and learn more about it." In doing so, attend classes where you can learn with others and discover how interests can be shared and further developed.
"Exercise often." Physical activity makes you feel better in all ways while it also alleviates pain and weight issues.
"Engage in yoga and meditation." Focusing and quieting the mind helps provide a space for healing and centeredness. The disquieted mind can cause unnecessary stress and disillusionment.
"Let yourself be sad and lonely if that's how you're feeling." Indulge in this sadness for a set amount of time - no more than a half an hour. Let yourself become bored with that and then move on. Read a good book, watch a good TV program, attend an interesting movie or play to help you get out of your sadness and on with your life.
"Learn how to present yourself in a positive way." Feel pride in how you look and realize that how you take care of yourself can make a good and lasting impression on others as well as help you connect with them. (This is an old tradition that dates back to cave men and women.)
"Don't eat too much and eat healthily with lots of vegetables and good fats." Sugary soft drinks, packaged snack foods, and empty carbohydrates make you crazy.
"Little liquor and no illegal drugs." Don't risk going to jail or experiencing the consequences of too much alcohol.
These instructions were shared with me over many months. Further filling them out and assisting with how to use them and why they mattered so much took many years. But as of September 1974 they were my bridge and passage way. They were my means for learning how to become a member of society again, of how to return to my position with United and an independent life.
To be continued ...