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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Buddhism, My Mental Health & My Happiness by Jennifer L. Myers

Jennifer L. Myers is author of the blog, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family, & Schizophrenia. Jennifer earned her masters in Urban and Environmental Policy from Tufts University and her undergraduate from UC Santa Cruz. She has experience working with the U.S. Peace corps in the Dominic Republic, environmental non-profits, and teaching. Currently, she is working on her memoir, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family, & Schizophrenia. The following is her experience...

Buddhism, My Mental Health & Happiness
by Jennifer L. Myers

When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002 I had already been practicing Buddhism with the SGI (Soka Gakkai International) for 14 years. Still, I didn't have a very strong practice at the time. I attended local discussion meetings regularly, but I didn't spend much time chanting on a daily basis. It wasn't until the symptoms of schizophrenia - the voices whispering in my head, the screaming and yelling I heard outside my apartment, the feeling that I was constantly being watched and followed, the incessant fear and paranoia – grew unbearable and took over my life that I really began to strengthen my Buddhism practice by chanting consistently every day.

I was at a point in my life where I felt like I couldn't explain how I felt or what I was really thinking to anyone who would understand. I kept everything to myself because nothing that I believed made sense. I decided to focus on chanting my Buddhist chant and hoped that therein I would find the resolution to my problem. This was over three years ago. While I still deal with symptoms of schizophrenia every day, I have learned how to manage the symptoms so that they no longer have power over me. Buddhism gave me the courage to challenge the negativity in my life, to believe in myself and to fight against my own negativity as well as the evil in my environment manifested as symptoms of schizophrenia.

When I chant, I repeat the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (literally: devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound and vibration) over and over, rhythmically and sonorously. This is a fundamental part of my Buddhist practice. I make sure to chant at least one hour every day, and I recite the morning prayers as well as the evening prayers. I also attend local discussion meetings once a week and I have recently started supporting the elementary school youth group, much to my great fortune. I read daily encouragement over breakfast every morning to start my day off on a positive note. All of these activities that comprise my Buddhist practice, along with the encouragement from fellow Buddhists have provided me with the hope, courage, and perseverance to never give up in the battle against my own negativity and the devilish functions that are present in my life. Without my Buddhist practice, I would have given up the fight years ago and probably would not be alive to see the light of day.


Ashley Smith said...

Hi Jennifer,

First, thank you for sharing your story on my blog I appreciate your willingness to open up about how you maintain your well being. I know a few people who are living with a mental illness and also practice Buddhism. I see the prevalence of the practice among peers and I am very interested to learn more about it.

I think it is great that you- or anybody- maintain consistency to help overcome challenges. I am glad that you found a great coping mechanism, and hope that others will learn from your experience by committing to positive practices- whatever that might be.

I attended a Buddhist meeting and know that people who practice it are encouraged to study- how does the practice view mental illness, and address it- if at all?

Thank you, again.
Ashley Smith

Jennifer L Myers said...

Hi Ashley! Thank you for inviting me to guest post on your blog. I really appreciate the opportunity to share my experience with your readers. In terms of Buddhism, mental illness is viewed in the manner that Buddhism views illness in general, with details specific to each illness and each individual. The following quotes are taken from the book "Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death: A Buddhist View of Life" written by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda (2004). Available on Amazon.

"Through contemplation, Shakyamuni [Buddha] concluded that the best medicine is the fundamental life force inherent in everyone's life, which enables us to draw forth the wisdom and energy necessary to cure our own physical and mental ills. Buddhist medicine's chief aim is to help individuals develop their natural self-healing powers by cultivating life force through Buddhist practice."

In the SGI, the way we strengthen and bring out our fundamental life force is by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. By vibrantly chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, we are able to fuse our lives with the life energy of the universe. In this way we can transform illness into a source of growth, joy and true fulfillment. Daisaku Ikeda states: "Buddhism views illness as an opportunity to attain a higher, nobler state of life. It teaches that, instead of agonizing over a serious disease, or despairing of ever overcoming it, we should use illness as a means to build a strong, compassionate self, which in turn will make it possible for us to be truly victorious." The Swiss philosopher Carl Hilty said: "A person who understands his or her illness correctly and perseveres through it will achieve a greater depth, strength and greatness in life."

"Whereas modern medicine largely relies on drugs and technology, Buddhist medicine [philosophy] concentrates on the patient's role in curing his or her own illness." This doesn't mean that as Buddhists we avoid doctors, psychiatrists, medicines or hospitals. Buddhism is reason and we use common sense to treat any illness, mental or physical. For example, if a person exhibits symptoms resembling a mental illness, the individual (ideally with family support) would visit a psychiatrist and/or therapist to identify the illness and seek out the best treatment options for him or her. Mental illness presents a unique challenge for individuals because of the social stigma and because it is difficult to detect and treat. Buddhism gives meaning to illness, and is a source of encouragement and strength. As Buddhists, we can chant specifically to find the best treatment, the most helpful therapist, or the most effective medication for ourselves or a loved one suffering from mental illness. We can also rely on other Buddhists for support, encouragement and hope on the road to recovery.

Thank you Ashley!


Sapres Centauri said...

Hi Jennifer,

While you were doing your chants were you also on prescribed medication? I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia since 2003. I have come to terms with medicine's role in the treatment but feel that understanding Buddhist teachings could further control the chemical imbalance in my brain.

Alex said...

I Can't chant
I can't meditate
I cant do anything since the moment I'm not treated anymore
supposedly I have ADHD and clearly PTSD
a severe meningitis more than a year ago
sleeep deprived
food deprived
It is hard


Daughter of the Mongolian BBQ Restaurant said...

Yes Buddhism is reason, medicine has its place. It think it is like everyi in life, observe your body's response to any medicine. From what Jennifer said, I gather that each person's illness is unique to them so they are the best judge of what benefits them. From the point od mind body connection, understanding how Buddhism views life, health, etc may provide you some new perspective to your health. You can contact your local SGI centre or all the best!