Mental Health Tips
One of the most common symptoms I’ve seen in mental health is discouragement. Patient’s describe places, people and things that disappointed them, they imagine that more places, people (including themselves) and things will do the same. That’s pretty normal, to assume one reference point casts all the other experiences, past or present. I did the same thing for about 10 years. When I did not have hope for my addiction and depression, when I was trying to keep it all a secret, it was because I imagined it would be like last time I tried. I imagined failure: ultimately not living in line with my values and my dreams. That felt like rejection and shame. Living like that, in the black and white, seeing things as all or nothing, as devastating or fulfilling, led to discouragement.
There are four things I suggest to patients to combat this very real struggle with perception and imagination. First, test your theory. Second, keep no secrets. Third, ask questions. Fourth, get some sleep.
Testing a theory requires action. Testing points our body toward destination. This involves the right brain (creative) and the left brain (logic). The more we use both sides of our brain, the less likely we are to let paralysis creep in. So, if you listened to music today, while daydreaming and wrote down one goal for the day, congratulations, you took the hardest step in getting the mental health you desire. Testing requires action, presence, not perfection.
Keep no secrets is something I learned in AA, but it is something I LEARNED in real life. In other words, we can be one person in AA and another person outside of a meeting. One person privately, a different person publicly. These variations lead to more feelings of failure. To put our life on the clothesline, to share the hard parts, to initiate a discussion, to say no - steps towards honesty and vulnerability - that’s feeling alive. The more we hold back, the more we feel alienated from others, different than … rejection, shame. Secrets are the opposite of being known. When I need help with this one, I think of a dog. The dog is totally out there, reliant on its owner or on it’s survival skills. But, the dog rests and sleeps and lets you know when it wants or needs something. It’s easier for everyone if we don’t overcomplicate it. Imagine the dog.
When discouragement has led to or come from grief and loss, one absolute necessity is space. Hold space for yourself and find someone who can hold space for you. It’s a good idea to ask questions. This engagement takes power away from stagnancy or fear. Questions are a symbol of imagination. The beginning of it really. A child wants to know how the hot air balloon floated into the sky - and with people in it! The child asks. I call what happens next moving from black and white to color. The child listens to the explanation and probably asks more questions or their imagination meets them in the answer. Color. A co-worker never eats the birthday cakes in the office, engage, ask them why. They describe an intestinal problem that they have and explain how much they miss cake, sugar. The picture went from black and white to color, now you know more about them, a momentary relief from rejection or shame. Asking questions about ourselves is ok too. Why do I feel the worst when the sun goes down? Why is the first step the hardest? It doesn’t matter what, but engage. Many schools of thought disagree with this and demand blind faith from the start. But, that’s unrealistic and can feel condescending. Create space for questions because grief, loss, and discouragement cannot heal in a vacuum. You need some color. We all do.
Recharge with sleep, not stimulants, depressants or sugar. If you are not sure how much sleep your body needs, start to notice how you feel after 12 hours of sleep and notice how you feel after 6 hours or 4 hours. It’s not easy to get those 8 golden hours. But, to lessen discouragement, give your mind and body a fighting chance. Not only is your biochemistry, stress hormones, motivation and executive function better with a consistent 8 hours. But, your ability to think critically and see gray areas like, “I am more discouraged before work than after work.” Or, “It was not a great day because I did not feel appreciated, but it was a good day because I took a lunch break anyway.” It’s easier to tune into our needs and our ideas if we are rested. It’s easier to try again if we are rested.
Failure is not an event or, a combination of events. Failure is a judgment, a conclusion, a decision about said events. If you want any mental health symptom to improve, try again. There is nothing black and white about imagination and testing the habits we are born to love.