Author: Todd Baratz
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week! With that in mind, this instalment of D’bunked is focused on you and yours: A note on mental health.
Mental health is not the lack of emotional challenge, constant happiness, or having an easy time with life. In fact, it’s 100% healthy to experience emotional challenges, sadness, and ongoing life struggles.
Everyone at some point will experience mental health challenges. When this happens to you know that there is nothing wrong with you, you’re not fucked up, you’re not crazy, and you’re not a failure. You’re a human being who experiences human problems. This is normal!
There is absolutely no wrong way to feel, think, or experience. Sometimes we feel contradicting emotions; we can feel happy and sad in the face change. Other times we can feel one emotion so powerfully that it totally destabilizes us. Do not invalidate yourself; find a way to validate your emotional experiences. We don’t feel without a reason and there is always a story.
When you are sad, down, or anxious reach out for support. Don’t go through it alone. You’re not too much nor are you a burden on others. Find someone safe, share, and get support. Most people will relate and appreciate that you’ve shared. And, if you’ve learned that you shouldn’t share – explore why that is.
Take care of your body. Mental health doesn’t just take place in your head, it’s a full bodied physiological experience. That means you must eat, sleep, move, and tend to your body – daily. This is self-care and while it won’t solve all your problems, it will help soothe and ease the discomfort.
Create major distance with the people, places, and things that contribute to your distress. Whether online or offline, pay attention to the challenges that arise in response to these relationships. Keep in mind that sometimes this distance is internal; differentiating, separating, and obtaining independence from harmful relationships is just as important as creating literal physical distance.
When you’re experiencing challenges everything is filtered through the lens of whatever it is you’re experiencing. I know it might seem like everything sucks but it’s best to understand those conclusions as a reflection of how much pain you’re in. Resist philosophizing, evaluating and/or making big claims about your life when in a state of duress. Thoughts and emotions become coloured by the challenges you’re experiencing.
Mental health challenges have a way of resurfacing. Sometimes decades later. It can definitely be a surprise to re-experience an old trauma, but it’s most helpful not to judge or condemn yourself. It’s normal for the past to resurface. Let it and learn from it.
It’s #mentalhealthawarenessweek so here are some thoughts.
Mental health is like gender – it’s a sociocultural construct. The expectations we place on ourselves are fully created and constructed by systems of value that decide what is “normal.” In this system, the majority of us are diagnosable (this isn’t an opinion). It’s actually only a small portion of people that don’t experience challenges – under 20%. And that number is likely high.
To me, wellbeing or mental health means the ability to cope with life during the majority of experience. That’s kind of it. Not a specific mood state or normal ideal. And, we have to expect that at some point we will lose the capacity to cope. Like a cold, we will get sick – our mental health is no different. Yet it’s been inscribed with negative cultural meaning and stigma. If we expect to get strep throat without judging – why do we judge ourselves when we’re sad for a week?
The reality is, life is very hard and we will trip and fall. And sometimes it will be hard to get up.
The world is often cold and in response we will without a doubt struggle. It’s not like we live life over 30 times. We have one life. We’re all beginners at life. So to expect expertise the first time around is a bit ridiculous. When things are new (like life is for all of us) we will struggle.
Don’t condemn yourself for struggling – it’s what we do as humans. And anyone who tells you otherwise, is either trying to sell you something OR are living in a state of denial themselves.
Todd Baratz is a licensed personal and couples psychotherapist, podcast host, and writer who specializes in relationships and sex.
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