Dear Fellow Human,
May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” and I am grateful to take a moment to talk about mental health. (Especially because how we tend to ourselves and each other deeply matters to our overall wellbeing!)
In sharing from personal experience, I recall the first time I confided in someone that I was struggling, and I remember the heartbreak I felt when the reaction I received was irritation and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” sentiment. In that moment, I was abandoned. I felt alone and lost and frustrated and hurt.
Have you had this experience before?
I bet you have.
I do believe that others are well-intended when these types of exchanges happen; they are trying to be helpful and don’t want to see us hurting. But it is in these moments when we most need someone to be present to our pain.
I made my way through that dark period, only to be met with more on the road. The thing about being human is that we only have so many guarantees in this life, one being grief. We will all go through it, and when we experience the death of a significant person, or the loss of an important relationship, or we experience an important life transition – grief is part of it. And when we have big and even confusing emotions, it can make us feel like a crazy person when we aren’t able to simply “move on” or “get over it.”
Even as I write those words, I feel a pang of betrayal hit my heart. We aren’t “bad” for our feelings. We aren’t an inconvenience or something to be dismissed or discarded. We need to be allowed our big emotions, whatever they are. The acknowledgement alone means so much! Just to be able to say out loud, without judgment, “I am hurting” matters. It can create compassion and understanding. Taking a pause to actually feel that pain… will allow us to tend to it in a more healing way.
Something of significance I’ve learned over the years, and that I often speak about in the group setting, is how we can be present to our own needs. How do we take care of ourselves during the day? How do you prioritize your mental wellbeing, especially when life is tough or when grief hits hard?
Self-care isn’t just bubble baths and spa treatments. Self-care can also be expressing how we feel in a safe space, binging a show on Netflix to get a “brain break”, engaging in a ritual that brings us comfort, going to a support group and feeling connection, creating art, giving ourselves permission to rest… The list goes on and on. And so much about self-care is really rooted in self-compassion and permission to meet ourselves right where we’re at, not just suffocate the emotions we are feeling but to give ourselves the gift of recognition of our emotions and to take care of ourselves while we move through that emotion. And by doing so, we are tending to our mental wellbeing.
I appreciate the pressure of productivity. We are in a culture that promotes self-sacrifice and “keep your nose to the grindstone” and that force to keep going no matter what. To the point that often we feel anxious when we try to rest or feel guilty when we are unable to do more than our present capacity allows. Some days we will absolutely get everything checked off as complete on our to-do list. And then there are some days when we feel so overwhelmed and bogged down and grief-stricken that we deserve a trophy just for getting out of bed to brush our teeth.
Can you relate?
Those days when the grief feels unbearably heavy are the days when we need grace and gentleness the most. It actually can hurt our mental wellbeing to feel that criticism and judgment of how we “should” be, because it isn’t where we are. We are humans, with big complicated emotional experiences, and sometimes we need a cup of tea, a walk outside, to rage on paper, to take a long shower, to eat all the ice cream, cry in the grocery store…
And please, use caution when you compare your super motivated/productive days against your grief days or hard days; that comparison can kick us when we’re down.
There is nothing wrong with being exactly where you are, and listening to your needs.
Mental health is as important as our physical health. When we get a cut, we treat it, when we break a bone we go to the hospital… So, it would make sense then that when our heart feels broken, we need to help tend to it, right?
So I invite you to consider yourself, right now in this moment. And ask yourself: “What do I need right now for my mental wellbeing?”
Please take good and gentle care, I’m giving you a big mental hug right now!
~Allison Gary, therapist, fellow griever and emotional being
Written by: Allison Gary, MA, LPC