“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
~ Albert Ellis, PhD
Mental illness is a tricky beast in which the problems in one’s life seem to be entirely separate from of one’s own making. They seem to erupt independently, some coalescence of unfortunate events, family environment, and genetic predisposition that come together to wreak havoc on the life of the individual. Aspects of our treatment can perpetuate this notion that the patient has no control over their situation, as medications attempt to right often poorly understood “chemical imbalances.”
In his book, Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Workbook, Craig Lewis encourages those struggling with mental illness to recognize the control they do have over their lives. And by sharing slices of his own experience, he encourages them to move forward.
Lewis writes candidly from the patient’s perspective. The foreword, written by Chuck Weinstein, the Director of Recovery Services for Boston Medical Center, reveals that Lewis has used his life’s struggles with his own mental illness to help others, speaking openly about his experiences and serving as a peer counselor. He is now a Certified Peer Specialist on an outreach team.
In his introduction, Lewis writes, “To choose; to decide to do something. Every day we have to choose how we want to live. We can choose to work hard and we can choose to try our best. Ultimately, it is up to each and every one of us to decide how our day is going to be.”
Written in a workbook style with prompts and questions, Better Days can serve as a useful tool within the context of therapy, encouraging the patient to choose to take a proactive role in his or her recovery. The book brings up a number of different topics, ranging from coping skills and accountability to frustration and injustice. Each topic begins with a reflection from Lewis in which he shares his personal experience, followed by three prompts in the form of questions.
Lewis’s thoughts and observations can serve as a starting point for discussion, either in a group or individual therapy context. Using his workbook is a bit like having that one talkative person in a group who can help break the ice, as Lewis’s comments, sometimes highly personal and other times banal, are easy to relate to and can spark further comment.
As an example, under the heading “Dealing with Injustice,” Lewis writes:
I live in a life full of injustices and I am witness to injustices every single day. … Having been institutionalized at age fourteen, I lived in hospitals, residential and group homes for many years. I was not taught how to take care of myself nor was I taught coping skills. People who have trouble living in society are treated badly, even when it is not their choice or by their doing. … I would imagine that all the people using this workbook have suffered injustices in their lives. A good thing is that we can better learn how to deal with injustices in our lives and how we process our rage and pain. We can and will find better ways to live, and we can turn our pain into our strength.
The question prompts then ask the reader to name injustices they have faced, think about how they cope when difficult things happen, and consider how they want to improve their life.
The writing style is present-focused and very informal, with lines like, “Wow, today I feel both angry and frustrated.” Again, the conversational tone will likely help readers relax into their own experience-sharing.
What this book does not include, however, is any sort of therapeutic user’s manual. Similarly, it is not a self-help book. What to do with the answers readers give to the prompts is left open. While the text may aid some readers on their own, it seems most helpful to those with access to a therapist’s guidance.
Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Workbook
Better Days Recovery Press, October, 2013
Paperback, 82 pages