Mental Wellness Challenge
September 12, 2019
Tears of joy.
Tears of sadness.
Tears of anger.
Tears of loneliness.
Tears of shame.
Tears of futility.
Tears of gratitude.
Tears of fear.
Tears of surprise.
Tears of hopelessness.
Tears of wonder.
Tears of pity.
Tears of loss.
Tears of frustration.
Tears of being lost.
Tears of heartbreak.
Tears of happiness.
Tears of worry.
Tears of exasperation.
Tears… just tears…
I know I have tears from so many different emotions. When I can identify the emotion or emotions behind the tears, I appreciate them. I think we all recognize that our society has a thing about tears… “Why are you crying? Oh, please don’t cry.”
When I am struggling, when I am starting to walk through/in a depression, I often have tears and I have absolutely zero idea why I have them. They sit in my eyes, or just behind my eyes. I stay on guard that I don’t let them slip out. For sure – I never want to let anyone see my tears – even if they are “happy” tears…. There’s more to this feeling like tears are ‘right there’ than just being a sensitive individual – there’s an unsettled/uncontrolled piece that is hard to describe to others. The feeling is one of “being unprepared” or perhaps “uncomfortable”. Like I say, it’s difficult to describe just how unsettling this feeling is. To be unsteady inside myself…
In my talk, I discuss walking through a place that is terrible. It’s filled with sharp jagged stones, steep cliffs, and craggy edges. A place where there is so little light that I can’t see my hands in front of my face, I can’t see where my feet are treading. My senses are on edge, I am listening for any and every thing, but I hear nothing. All this is really an analogy for just how mixed up all of my emotional well being is. I have no confidence – I don’t know where to put my feet. I have no real reference – I can’t see where I am going and therefore I have no real direction. The strongest emotions I identify in this “space” are anger/loathing/disgust and fear… disgust perhaps more than any other. In my analogy – the one sense that I can (and at times do) identify is a “sulfur/putrid/rotting flesh” stench that I can’t get out of my nose. I share this as a stench of dying… because for me – that’s what it feels like is happening to me. My truth is, that even as terrible as this place is, there’s something worse.
If I can’t get my stuff together and find my way out of my depression fast enough, if I stay in this place too long, I begin to go numb. My emotions totally fade, I disconnect from feeling anything – even the disgust that was so strong – so burning red, begins to fade to a dull ache, to a dull grey. When I talk about my depression with others I comment that at its very deepest, at the very depths of it, I feel nothing. I care about nothing. I want nothing. Sleep can be a place to hide from it or not. Physical activity of pretty much any sort becomes nearly impossible at times. This being numb, this being emotionally empty is a precarious place for me. While I have never cut or starved myself, I do recognize the destructive things that I have done in my life. I recognize why some people cut or burn or starve themselves. I believe that some of that can happen in mental places where their emotions are numb. I know I created chaos in my life. (Unfortunately this creates chaos in the lives of my family too.) I call it “life by crisis”. These chaotic events would create emotional intensity… a bunch of emotional intensity.
There’s a “funny thing” that can happen while I am depressed like this. Even though all of that is going on inside my head, in my mind, in my reality – I can put on a mask. I can put on a mask for those around me. I don’t think that this “funny thing” is anything specific to me… I sincerely believe that many people who walk in a depression put on masks for those we interact with. My masks do two things – they cover up what’s happening behind the mask and they provide a means to portray a brighter picture to those who view it. A mask, for me, is like armour in a way. When I am empty, I can put on a mask that hides that emptiness. Yes, we all put on masks at some point in our lives – perhaps you might be able to relate to the whole mask idea because of that reality.
I have masks for all sorts of occasions. I use them to insulate others from me, and me from others. My masks help me to maintain my desired state of isolation even when I am in situations where I have to interact with co-workers, students, friends, and family/loved ones. Even the most genteel social interactions can be exhausting.
When I am in this void space, I’m not strong enough on my own to find my own way out. I need support from somewhere. That support, for me, usually comes from some sort of medicine. I understand, recognize, and accept that there are likely to be more/other times in my life where I may need the help of anti-depressant medications to help lift me out of the void. And you know – that’s OK with me. I fight and scratch, and claw, and dig and work and search as hard as I can when I am able. When I am not able to do it on my own, I am thankful that there are medicines available that can help. When I am in a deep depression, I don’t have the ability to do it. That said – there’s no “magic pill”. The medicines can and do help. The honest truth is that, for me , it takes supports, consistentency, persistence, acceptance, connections, in time – exercise, recognition of values, awareness and of course purpose to dig out of the void.
It takes something else too…
Tears, my tears…
Tears of hope. You see, tears for me are a good thing. For me, all tears are pretty much tears of hope… when they are coming from my eyes – it means that I am feeling. That hurts hurt, that love warms, that tears of sadness means I recognize grief – for myself or for others. When I find that I have tears and feelings again, I recognize that I am on my way to being “out of the darkness”.
So, for me, my tears are a personal barometer of my mental wellness. I sincerely try not to lose sense of what I am feeling. I try to NOT run on autopilot. I work at being aware of where I am at. Certainly, as I have said, when I am struggling, I have tears that are right there – I am sensitive and if I’ve been ignoring my mental wellness (just because I’m human and life does happen) that sensitivity and “rawness” tell me I need to get busy and get “back on my model”.
In this weeks Mental Wellness Challenge I chose to share a piece of my journey that is really difficult. Hard in fact. It’s the piece of walking in depression, where – while I am already fatigued with the depression itself now I have the requirement to be really aware of what it is that I am feeling (of being aware of where every tiny footstep is going). If I don’t pay attention to those tiny steps, I risk slipping and falling into an ever deeper void. My experience so far has been that each successive depression tends to be deeper and needs more work to recover from. During the journey out of the darkness, I don’t have a choice – I have to pay attention to every figurative and real step I take. Why am I doing this, why did I say that, and what purpose did that serve? AND How does that make me feel, why I am feeling that… in a way, I suppose you could think of it as learning to walk after an injury.
So – here’s my challenge to you.
I’m going to challenge you about feelings. In the interest of full disclosure, I am straight up going to admit that I tend to lean to being a “reactionist”. I am learning that I have a choice, a responsibility to choose how I react to a given situation. Most of this type of “feeling” for me tends be to more anger/fear based. I can however also react quite quickly and strongly to all sorts of feelings… I’m a belly laugher too. Part of my giving thought to feelings is the learning piece about the responsibility of my responses to my feelings. Fair enough?
Part one: For each day for the next seven days, take 10 minutes or so to go over your day and think about the feelings that you experienced that day. Maybe even write down – happy – what helped you to be happy, angry – what presented you with an opportunity to be angry, sad – was there an occurrence or situation that brought you sadness. The goal here is to learn a little more about what helps you feel this or that. To learn to “feel” a little more clearly perhaps.
Part two: For each day of the next seven days, take 5 minutes or so to go over your day and reflect on how you might have contributed to another’s feelings for that day. This isn’t to punish yourself or even really to reward yourself. It’s about taking a few minutes to be a little more aware that your presence in the lives of others might be enriching rather than depleting.
So that’s it, I challenge you.
My intention is to share some more and to look deeper into the my awareness of my emotions piece, but this piece is getting longer than I had intended at this point… so that will be material for another day.
Oh, and to recap from last week, I sincerely hope that you were able to fill your mental health/wealth buckets some with thinking about gratitude at the start of your day and again when you put your head down at the end of your day. For me, when I consider my life through the lens of gratitude, it helps me to gain a more realistic perspective on my circumstance and this is as important and as valuable as the boost to my mental wealth. This perspective allows me to more truthfully, sincerely see where I am at in my life.