On the reality of mental health
Mental health is never too far from my mind. I have spent a considerable amount of time wishing this weren't so, or denying it so I could feel more "normal." More upbeat, less intense. This has at times provoked self-loathing, where I feel I am the wrong sort of person. The wrong sort of woman. Not easy-breezy, spontaneous, lighthearted, but instead someone who needs to remain deliberate in tending to self. I see how this can be construed by some as self-absorbed, standoffish, or serious, and I know there are times these words aptly describe my behavior. But they do not describe my being, and it's precisely the moment I begin to believe they do that a cascade of "if only's" barrage me: "If only I were more (fill in the blank), if only I were less (fill in the blank)." Typically it's a wish to be more like someone else and less like myself.
I'm not sure what I think being more like someone else and less like myself would actually do. Make life easier? Make me more acceptable? More lovable? No. It really wouldn't. It can be difficult to admit, but these "if only" statements are just a way for me to shift the responsibility of loving and accepting myself onto others. If others are responsible, then I can sit back and be a helpless victim, which feels easier in a way.
While it is amazing and important to feel loved and accepted by others, I know I'll never be able to wholly embrace this love and acceptance unless deep down I feel that way about myself, as I am. As I am exactly. The times I genuinely feel this way about myself, I am balanced in mind, body, and spirit. Paying close attention to my lifestyle is what makes this balance possible. Being deliberate about my daily life helps me manage anxiety, dysthymia, high sensitivity.
What does this mean for me? In practical terms, it means creating a lot of space and time to process what is going on around and within me. It means saying "no" more often than I want to because I will become overstimulated. It means carving out time to do the things that feed my soul and energize me, many of which are activities done in solitude, or with one or two other people. It means spending weekly time in the company of a therapist or spiritual director.
I look around and see a lot of people for whom this is not true, this need to pay such close and deliberate attention to lifestyle to manage mental health. In ways I feel I am not, these others appear to be able to go with the flow, to take things as they come. How I have envied them. I have envied their boundless energy, their unfaltering optimism, their limitless ambition.
Then last week happened and I wondered if I'm getting this wrong. Last week, mental health was brought center stage in the media by the suicides of two famous, beloved, and very successful people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. We lost Kate Spade on Tuesday, and Anthony Bourdain on Friday. The reminder most media outlets issued is that mental illness and mental health do not discriminate, anyone can be affected. A potent and sobering truth.
Am I painting a picture of others that is not based in reality? Is the need more true for others than I think, than it appears on the surface?
Nearly four years ago, I lost a very, very dear person in my life to suicide. Today is his birthday. He would have been 43. Knowing him, loving him, remembering him, missing him, it all causes my heart to be incredibly tender about this issue. Though I cannot fully embody the experience, I try my best to understand the darkness and despair, the anguish, the state of mind that my dear friend, that Kate Spade, that Anthony Bourdain experienced in their final moments. My heart feels heavy and overwhelmed to imagine them in that place, to imagine anyone in that place, feeling beyond hope, beyond a lifeline.
The desire to honor their lives and their battles inspires me to own my personal mental health journey more fully. To talk about it more freely. The truth is that it affects my daily life more than I tend to let on, and sometimes that causes me to feel isolated and alone. So this is my start.