Monkeys in trees (or separating myself from my illness)

My favorite DBT therapist described the practice of mindfulness like this:

Picture your mind as a jungle full of all kinds of trees. Now your picture your consciousness (focus/mental energy/thoughts/whatever you want to call it) as a little monkey that lives in that jungle. The monkey likes to hop around from tree to tree. Mindfulness is the practice of consciously deciding which tree you want your monkey to be in and redirecting him back there when he hops/swings/climbs away. When your monkey tries to go to a different tree it is not being bad or difficult. It is not its fault at all. It is just acting the way monkeys act. So bringing your monkey back to right tree should be done compassionately. Imagine your monkey is wearing a leash. When your monkey moves, tug the leash gently. “No, no little monkey. Please come back. We are playing in this tree right now.”

I like to think of my brain disorders (mental illnesses) as trees in that jungle. My eating disorder has a trees. My anxiety has trees. My depression has trees. My body dysmorphia has trees. When my monkey spends time in those trees my head is full of disordered thoughts. It is not my monkeys fault. It is not MY fault. I need to gently and compassionately pull my conscious focus back from those trees to the trees that are the real me.

People talk a lot about separating the eating disorder from the person but we talk less about doing that with other brain disorders. Just as I have ED thoughts, I have anxiety thoughts, depression thoughts, body dysmorphic thoughts. I am not always perfect at identifying them as such and even when I can do that, I am not always great at ignoring them. But being able to label them as NOT ME makes it a tiny bit easier.

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3 thoughts on “Monkeys in trees (or separating myself from my illness)

  1. WHOO! I am so pleased you started a blog 🙂 I meant to send you a message on FB to see how you were doing anyway, but now I can stalk you from here too! The stalked becomes the stalker, heh.

    I just read every word on your blog so far and want to jump up and down and clap at having another online ally (but that’d wake my housemates up, so I won’t at the moment). Hopefully a friend too! I love your extension of separating yourself from symptom-related thoughts – I do my best with this too. It works well with my anxiety, but I have a harder time with depressive thoughts – I think it’s probably just a matter of more practice…

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