Mental Health is Hiding, and You Need to Find It
What is mental health?
As a society, are we getting any closer to agreeing on a definition?
Do we even care?
Maybe we should — because mental health has been in the news more often.
But what has not changed is how mental health gets in the news.
It happens after crisis.
It appears after a tragedy.
As if the only time mental health materializes is when things going wrong. As if mental health is nonexistent when times are good.
When times are grand, we are responsible. We are doing everything right. We are complete. We are good people.
But when we are beset by tragedy, we don’t want to take ownership of the calamity in which we now find ourselves. And that especially includes events which we deem to be shameful, whether they happen to us or to others.
Is mental health absent when times are good and hopes are high, or is it a symptom of faulty perception?
Something is peculiar.
We have more abundance and possibilities than ever before. We are deeply intertwined — more connected with each other and to never-ending strands of information.
Our homes have become “smart” homes. Our TVs know what we want to watch before we do. Our apps have spawned new apps — all to make our lives as easy and efficient as possible.
But if this is reality, why don’t we see more people smiling?
Why do half-closed mouths emit anxious sighs as eyes follow scrolling screens, on the bus, on a walk, at our dinner tables?
It’s an existential crisis, and joy is not to be found in a screen.
Technology is a tool. It’s not nourishment.
And we are mere humans.
We evolved for thousands of years to need social connection, but now, in this small sliver of time, we think we have moved past that.
We believe we have outsmarted the system. Better yet, we have built the new ecosystem and positioned ourselves outside of it as the system’s creative geniuses.
And our mental health swirls down the drain.
But still, what exactly is mental health?
Is it remembering that you forgot to breathe while your inbox loaded?
Is it hoping for more “likes” than you got?
Is it taking time off Facebook only to check back in days later to realize you forgot to wish your friends happy birthday and that you only knew about the birthday in the first place because of Facebook?
Mental health is in there somewhere, gasping for air.
We are in an era of only noticing our mental health when everything goes horribly wrong.
We have more to cram into our hours, so we don’t have the hours to slow down. We have apps and widgets and extensions and icons and tabs — and extensions to house all our tabs when they become too much for us to look at.
We have all these things.
But do we have the contentment that is there when we stop for five minutes to breathe? It’s contentment that radiates out of life itself— from the dog we forgot to feed, peering out from behind the large, cardboard box that we forgot to throw away, the box which was once the home to a large electronic device that now sits on our shelf collecting dust?
Do we see our things smiling at us even when our moods fluctuate? Especially as our moods fluctuate?
Do we feel the radiance of even the most simple things?
Mental health is hiding in the noticing.
Mental health is in the bearing witness to life before it passes us by.
It’s losing track of time instead of trying to optimize it all. It’s writing a letter to your mother because you know she will enjoy it.
It’s putting others first — and feeling good about it.
We fear missing out, so we cram our schedules full of things when we never actually wanted to do all those damn things in the first place.
We schedule self-care as a way to hold onto our sanity, failing to realize that “self-care” has become a catch-all term removed from it’s original meaning. Now it’s a sign of a sick society more than it is a strategy of a mentally well person.
Individuals, families, and communities took care of themselves for thousands of years without needing to schedule in self-care.
Now our life hinges on fads, buzzwords, and time scarcity.
We were never supposed to do it all.
Instead, we were supposed to stop and listen to what our hearts and minds were telling us.
We were supposed to stay silent long enough to notice what it is that our hearts wanted us to do.
And then we were supposed to pursue our calling with everything we had.
We weren’t supposed to schedule it all in, be everywhere at once, and give up on our dreams.
Mental health is in the spaces that we are forgetting to explore.
A vibrant life is in art and holistic education. It’s learning what it’s like to feel strongly and think deeply. It’s passing stories down from generation to generation. And it’s daring to speak up and and denounce the commodification of men and women.
If that sounds too extreme, then good. It needs to be.
We are more than fine-tuned algorithms assuaging the plight of the masses. We are individuals, and we all matter.
It’s saying congratulations because you mean it, not because the message has been pre-populated by an app for your convenience.
It’s discovering yourself, day by day, thought by feeling by hope by dream.
Mental health is a river, and we’re all just tiny tributaries finding our way back to the source.