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Unfortunately, this digital debris costs us time, degrades performance, and kills concentration. Unsurprisingly, our brains have a tougher time finding things when they are positioned in a disorganized manner, which means every errant icon, open tab, or unnecessary bookmark serves as a nagging reminder of things left undone or unexplored. With so many external triggers, it's easy to mindlessly click away from the task at hand. According to Sophie Leroy at the University of Minnesota, moving from one thing to another hurts our concentration by leaving what she calls an "attention residue" that makes it harder to get back on track once we have been distracted. *Desktop clutter takes a heavy psychological toll on your attention. Clearing away external triggers in your digital workspace can help you stay focused. Turn off desktop notifications. Disabling notifications on your computer ensures you won't get distracted by external triggers while doing focused work. Most individuals with mood disorders have a variety of these relationships to manage, and you are not alone if you feel that a family member does not understand your illness or what you are going through. In fact, many loved ones have a hard time understanding this illness. William Styron experienced it this way: "Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive ... as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode." He understands the challenge that is facing you, trying to bring your loved ones on board to something that may be difficult for them to understand. It is important to protect your own health by managing these relationships well. The question is, how do you get through these stressful encounters? The first step is to remind yourself that you have an illness that is treatable, and that you are doing your best to manage it. Understand the nature of your illness, its ups and downs, and your patterns. Use your treatment team wisely as a support. Then try to increase the level of understanding about the illness among your friends and family. Offer them books to read, have them come to a family meeting with your therapist, or ask them to attend a community lecture or presentation with you on mood disorders.

These are the close, important people in your life, and they should be the ones you turn to during the good and not-so-good times. They should be your regular social contacts and the people you reach out to as part of your Action Plan for Relapse Prevention (for when things get worse--see chapter 5). Do not hesitate to open up to them about your illness and tell them what you are feeling, even if you are feeling suicidal. Try to have more than one person in this category, because anyone can be away or busy with life's obligations at any given moment. Remember that not everyone is able to understand or come to terms with a mood disorder for their own reasons, which are not related to you personally. Often other people respond to your illness based on something inside themselves, not you. Some people incorrectly believe in a stigma about your illness and can see it only as shameful and socially unacceptable. They may be judgmental and critical of you, believing you to be incompetent, weak in character, or undesirable because you have a mood disorder. But this is all because of their own ill-informed belief system about mental health. Their reactions probably feel hurtful to you, because you want your loved ones to be on your side, to fully understand your illness and what you are going through. In these situations, you need to step back and understand that you may never be able to change the other person's opinion no matter how hard you try. You may need to "agree to disagree" on this matter if you want to continue the relationship. Remember that the people who respond in this way do still love you in their own way. They are just not capable of accepting your illness at this point in their lives. The placebo effect is pervasive in medical science--many people feel better after receiving a given treatment, even though the treatment has no real therapeutic component.20 In fact, since medical science has developed most of the treatments with real therapeutic effect in just the last hundred years, it's been said that, "prior to this century, the whole history of medicine was simply the history of the placebo effect."21 Studies have shown that about 35 percent of patients with a number of different types of ailments receive benefit from placebo pills (e.g., sugar pills).22 Placebos even help about 35 percent of patients with severe postoperative pain. Their effects are so potent that some people actually get addicted to placebo pills.23 And so, many people can get better after a therapeutic touch treatment just because they think it's going to help them. Their "cure" has nothing to do with the technique itself. In addition, most symptoms exhibit some degree of variability--sometimes they're better, while other times they're worse. We often seek medical help when we feel our worst, so any improvement is attributed to the treatment we receive. However, many illnesses improve on their own naturally, whether a treatment is given or not.

It's been estimated that 85 percent of our illnesses are self-limiting--they'll end without any intervention. Even chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer can have spontaneous remissions.24 As a result, patients may get better after receiving treatment even though the treatment itself had no real therapeutic benefit. Now that we have these three hypotheses, let's evaluate them. They are all testable. While therapeutic touch has some evidence in its support, that data is primarily anecdotal, which controlled experiments have brought into question. On the other hand, scientific studies have documented the placebo effect and the variability of illness. When we evaluate the simplicity of the hypotheses, therapeutic touch falls short. Why? Therapeutic touch requires that we believe in some unknown energy field, while placebo effects and the variability of disease do not. In addition, therapeutic touch conflicts with other scientific evidence. Controlled experiments demonstrate that therapeutic touch practitioners cannot discern an unknown energy field that they assume emanate from our bodies. Thus, it seems more reasonable to accept the placebo and variability hypotheses as contributing explanations for why people get better after therapeutic touch. Similar analyses can be made for homeopathic medicine, magnetic therapy, and many of the other so-called alternative medicines.25 In fact, a number of alternative practices have been tested and shown to be false. Yet, a subcommittee of the US Congress estimated that we spend around $10 billion annually on questionable medical practices; an amount considerably greater than the funds spent on actual medical research.26 In addition, a survey of 126 medical schools in the United States found that 34 offered a course in alternative medicine. In fact, at the insistence of some congressmen on Capitol Hill, the National Institutes of Health established the Office of Alternative Medicine (later changed to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) in 1991 to test the efficacy of alternative medical practices. While testing such practices is a good idea, many of the office's investigations have not involved accepted scientific techniques, like double-blind studies and control groups. Instead, some rely on pseudoscientific arguments and anecdotal accounts. Therefore, after more than ten years and $200 million in research funding, much of the research sponsored by the office has not been able to validate or invalidate any alternative therapies.28 As Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, notes, why should we have a separate office of alternative medicine? All medical practices should be tested with the same rigor. We don't have an office of alternative airlines, which tests planes with only one wing.29

At first, the process may feel clumsy. Testing each negative belief of your self-talk takes practice. You will catch yourself sliding into fictional labeling and tapes. You have a long history of learned habits--habits called internal responses--and they will not go away quickly. But you can change your internal dialogue. You can change how you label yourself. You can hit the eject button on the tapes that you have generated and can overcome the fixed beliefs that have held you back. You can audit all of these internal responses for authenticity and generate AAA alternatives to those that don't pass muster. Choosing the authentically accurate alternative means that you'll acquire genuine habits, the agendas of who you really are, so that your life can be carried out in the truth of who you are, rather than in the service of a false identity. Your authentic self is characterized by confidence, hope, optimism, joy, and purpose. It's time to start behaving that way. Starting today, it is you who must step up and accept the responsibility of the authentic life. It is you who must create the life chain that you want. You have the tools, now use them. Please understand, first of all, that this reaction is not always intentional. Friends and family do not always plan to hold you to a fictional self. Some do it out of a desire to protect you. Others are trying to protect themselves from change. Still others may be trying to protect the predictable world that the two of you share. What I have found is that most people really do not know how to promote the welfare of someone else's authentic self.

Doing so takes both wisdom and a great big dose of trust. Trusting your choices, deciding to step back and allow you to live in your authentic self, requires that the other people in your life trust the process perhaps even more than you do. It is easy for them to feel threatened: They may fear losing you, because you appear to be outgrowing them. As a result, they may try--consciously or otherwise--to maintain the status quo. In essence, it takes an authentic person to know and understand what your quest for getting back to your authentic self is all about. Getting support and empathy from the people in your life is tough, because to them your situation looks so unstable. You are questioning every value and belief you have had about yourself, you are questioning your relationships, and it may not appear to them that you have clear ideas yet. You start experimenting with new concepts and these new ideas may appear ridiculous to someone else. To complicate things, the process is often one of refining: You moderate and change your initial experimenting; you are testing and fine-tuning your changes until they reach a much deeper level of conviction. In this way, they become much more meaningful and long lasting than changes you adopt overnight. Seeing these "tweaks," your moderations and changes to your first experimenting, the naysayers may leap to the conclusion that you've failed; they might say, "See, I told you so!" The point is that your life is a process and you are going to kiss a few frogs along the way. Don't be deterred from your quest for your authentic self just because somebody notices that the journey has a lot of twists and turns. Often those same people are the ones who are too afraid to confront their own twists and turns. They are only challenging your new script because it challenges their old one. For example, it may happen that you question your relationship with God. Doing so is not "selling out" to the devil. You are certainly entitled to question whether your understanding of God is one you have accepted wholesale from somebody else. You might be asking whether it is true, whether it resonates at the deepest levels of your faith, or whether it just "is," because somebody said so. This kind of questioning, honestly pursued, can bring you to a stronger, more relevant, and more personal relationship with God. But you need to recognize that there may be people in your life who will not encourage you in that process.