My Story 2016

Passengers on the Bus

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Over the years I have seen a few psychologists…now I know that makes me a complete and utter nutter but I  did it because I got fed up with people saying to me “These things happen for a reason”  Trust me it’s not what you want to hear when you are suffering from a mental illness and so a professional was someone who would listen to me without smothering me with their own problems.

My first venture with a psychologist was back in 1999.  I have written about that experience before so I’m not going to bore the crap out of you again, but its safe to say it was an experience that at the time I thought did me a power of good.  I was sadly mistaken because from what I remember I sat there for hours bleating on about all my troubles and trying to find excuses why I couldn’t cope with my life.  After a few months I remember being mentally drained and wondering who the hell benefited from it because it wasn’t me…..all I got was a book called “Being Happy” that cost me $3000 and a problem with alcohol.

After 1999 I got a mixed response from a plethora of different psychologists with very few giving me anything that I could grasp onto and use for some form of recovery.    Most of the information they supplied to help with my mental health was about as useful as a porn video is to the Queen.  The visits bored the crap out of me and in some cases you got the feeling they were just quoting from a series of textbooks and waiting for the hour to tick over when they could reach for my wallet and squeeze the remnants of it into their own bank accounts.

After my breakdown in May 2016 I stayed away from psychologists but, that didn’t go down too well with the police.  When you “hit the wall” in the police you pop up to see an over-worked welfare officer who then ticks a box, gives you a phone number for a cheap psychologist and throws you a book written by a broken-arse american policeman.  This treatment is designed to have you doubting yourself in the hope that you resign and make way for a younger new breed of cop who can cope with life and represents the wider more diverse New Zealand society.  Apparently this treatment keeps the “powers that be” happy in the knowledge that they are doing something for their weak-minded staff who should learn to “harden up”.   The one thing I learnt from my 2016 breakdown was that welfare’s number one priority is not the interests of the person who has fallen over…but the interests of the New Zealand Police…..and so it should be…. because that’s who pays their wages.

Eventually in February 2017 I came out of my swill pit and sought the services of someone who knew what they were doing…luckily for me I was seeing a psychiatrist at Waitemata Mental Health  and they referred me to a Clinical Psychologist who worked for the organisation.  She was a breath of fresh air for me because for the first time I felt I was talking to someone who knew what they were doing and not someone who was watching the meter tick over in their office.  After spending the first couple of weeks sussing each other out and her scratching my head from the inside it became obvious that she knew more about me than I did and she was about to start digging up some horrible insecurities that had been festering away in my head for years.

One of the first things that we dug into was the passengers that were travelling on my bus.  To give me an understanding of what she was talking about she threw this little exert at me.

Passengers on the Bus describes the ways internal experiences (i.e., thoughts, emotions, urges, memories, etc.) seem to drive our lives. The metaphor asks us to consider a life in which such experiences do not determine our decisions, but instead sit in our minds as would passengers on a bus. Accordingly, the bus represents the mind and the passengers symbolize different internal experiences. You are the driver, who can exist separately from the content spewed out by the passengers. For instance, the driver can notice a passenger telling him he is ugly, but the driver does not necessarily have to believe the comment to be true.

As the driver, we make important decisions about the speed and direction of the bus; we generally have a sense of where we might like to go and the pace at which we might like to move. Simultaneously, passengers may express opinions loudly and aggressively, while others may sit back quietly. Some passengers may even behave frighteningly by running to the front of the bus and yelling directions at you.
What often escapes our awareness is that these passengers (i.e., thoughts, feelings, memories, urges, bodily sensations, etc.) cannot actually touch you or the mechanics that move the bus. You are always the driver and they can only be passengers. The can say that “you’re stupid” or “you will fail,” but they cannot actually stop or redirect the bus. Their words may even bring you to tears or increase your heart rate. You may stop the bus and order the passengers to leave or you may turn around to argue with them. In the end, though, these efforts most often result in you moving nowhere so that you can engage with these troublemakers. 


 At different times in our lives, some of these passengers may be more forceful, persuasive, or imposing than others. Furthermore, when you are more vulnerable, these passengers may seem to directly impact the way you drive the bus. Loneliness may spot a mean, abusive ex-partner and advise you “it would feel so nice to have a co-pilot for this part of the drive.” At times, you may want only the “positive” passengers on the bus so that you can drive along with Hope telling you “it will all be okay.” That encouraging message, however, may cause an unexpected bump in the road to leave you blind-sighted. 

The passengers naturally exist as residents of the bus. The problem does not lie in their presence, but instead in mindlessly believing in and abiding by their declarations and demands. The secret to managing the passengers is not to only listen to the “good” ones; instead, the trick is to acknowledge the content of all the passengers as merely part of the bus ride. Each passenger has a seat on the bus and will always convey their typical messages. No matter their volume or persistence, they will never drive the bus. Similarly, internal experiences (i.e., thoughts, feelings, urges, memories, etc.) can arise, and they do not have to determine the manner in which we behave. 

Consider Joel, who forgot his mother’s birthday. As she expressed hurt feelings, he noticed the following old passengers:

            Defensiveness: “Make an excuse! Better yet, blame her!”

            Guilt: {showing Joel memories} “You are a terrible son.”

            Avoidance: {creating an urge to end the call} “Hang up NOW!”

            Anxiety: {paired with rapid heart rate} “You can’t handle this!”

Passengers such as Consideration, Honesty, and Accountability seem to take a back seat, yet they speak to Joel’s values more so than those louder and more imposing folks. As the bus driver, Joel acknowledges the reactions of Defensiveness, Guilt, Avoidance, and Anxiety, but also notes the opinions of the less vocal passengers:

            Consideration:            “Apologize and make it up to her.” 

            Honesty:                      “Acknowledge your mistake.”

            Accountability:            “Take responsibility for your actions.”

A bus driver can turn left at 20mph while screaming passengers insist he travel straight while moving at 80mph. Likewise, Joel can acknowledge the urge to hang up the phone and/or defend his mistake while deciding to act in accordance with values informed by Honesty, Accountability, and Consideration. Of course, the louder, older the passengers are the harder to ignore; however, it is not impossible to note the content of all passengers and make value-based decisions. 
Follette and Pistorello (2007) perfectly describe the way we can use the bus metaphor to understand acceptance:
     “Acceptance is about driving the bus yourself, turning right or left
as you personally choose according 
to your values, with all your
scary passengers along for the ride.”

Of course, action in the presence of conflicting messages can be difficult.  A good first step involves identifying the passengers on your bus. Are they emotions, thoughts, memories, images, sayings, bodily reactions, etc.? To what ex
tent do you believe their content and/or behave according to their demands. 


As I found out I was a slave to my passengers demands and that was one of my biggest problems because I kept listening and questioning every decision I made and that kept me rolling along down that same old road.  If my mental capacity wasn’t insecure enough it gets thrown into utter disarray when I throw on those passengers who take great delight in making themselves feel better by having a crack at my failings.  The police has people like that and sometimes it was very hard to bring your mind back to what was is important….that gets even harder when I actually forgot what those important things were.   I really struggled because I had way too many passengers on my bus and I listened too them way too often.    Over the next few weeks I will tell you what they are.

Nutty Policeman

Categories: My Story 2016

3 replies »

  1. Good read Mike, Some important information for all here.
    Each of us has different tools to deal with mental health and well being and this is a great one for those who are still building their tool box!!!


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