…and putting an end to that bitter taste in your mouth
What does being okay and well look like? For most people, it’s a picture of a person who is competent in many aspects in their lives — who is also ultimately content with how things are and who they are, and enjoys being in their body and mind; in their existence. Not only do they look forward to every day, they also make the most out of every day, eager to create and contribute, never losing sight of themselves and their goals amidst challenges.
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be all okay and well? But the truth is that some of us, perhaps due to a combination of genetics, brain biology (amygdala hyperactivation), physiology, adverse experiences (that left us in a prolonged state of helplessness and disconnection), safety behaviors (habits that keep us feeling safe but reinforce our poor sense of self), and severely faulty thinking and beliefs, will find it harder to be okay and well. That’s why they say mental health is a spectrum: the truth is some of us in fact do do better at it.
So what happens to those of us who don’t? Who perhaps, are mildly, moderately, severely, or clinically depressed? How can we feel more okay and well; climb up that ladder towards better mental health?
We now live in an era rich with information. Articles, books, and social media posts tell us to learn to regulate our thoughts and feelings, build self-esteem, practice self-care, meditate or practice mindfulness, have meaningful interactions, be compassionate towards ourselves, live according to routines, set reasonable goals, maintain optimum physical health, and so on. All of this makes obvious sense.
Nevertheless, in addition, for those of us who somehow still struggle with that gnawing pain that (figuratively) haunts us almost every second of our waking hours (for some in their sleep too), as if there is something that’s always not right that threatens to put down our spirits yet put us on guard (funny, right) — there needs to be a straightforward rulebook that encapsulates what it takes to be okay and well for people like us. So, here it is:
- Feel the pain. The terror, the resentment — by pain I’m referring to all the difficult emotions that are stressful. Don’t try to go back to the past to change things: All of that shit happened and it feels like that’s what your life is and is going to be about now but that’s your braing tricking you into safety. Don’t hide, don’t numb, don’t escape. Don’t get all intellectual about your pain: Understanding it to make sense of it is one thing but going on and on in circles to overexplain painful emotions gets you nowhere. Don’t expect someone to save you from your pain: It’s your pain to feel because you went through what you did — take it as a signal on what your likes and dislikes are as a person (values), not as a signal that something is wrong with you which makes you different from everyone else. Additionally, discharge the pain you feel so you don’t have to carry too much of its energy with you (e.g. swear, scream, punch into a pillow, sigh, exercise, scribble, go kickboxing, do karate; cry like you mean it).
- Embody what being in the middle of denial and defining the problem as you looks like. That is, do not suppress and do not personalize (find fault with yourself). In other words, do not live as if you didn’t go through what you did and do not live as if you have to keep living such a life that you’ve been living. It’s actually quite tricky, this middle path. Instead, always know what it’s like to be you, allowing this awareness of your own mind and body take precedence over any other truth your brain formulates (which might involve the inaccurate notion that you have to fix yourself and be perfect & desired to be worthy, okay and well). You can also be aware of all of your more challenging parts because these parts typically try to get you to control what you cannot, such as whether or not you get upset (but how upset you get is another story…) and the fact that you get distressed in the face of seemingly nothing, and the latter is something you have to forgive yourself for (‘take it easy, one day at a time, self; you can be a hot mess’).
- Have a plan on how you’re going to get by on a day-to-day basis, psychologically. Prepare for potential breakdowns and anxiety attacks so they don’t cripple you as much as they used to, knowing that something can be done by you to abate them, and that’s the very point of healing — you have some power. Plan on how you would catch and reframe self-defeating thoughts. Plan on how you’re going to find your tribe who gets you as a person (to be understood is a relief). Plan on how your time is going to be spent (routine and novelty too). Plan on how you’re going to go about tracking yourself in doing all this, and plan on how you’re going to keep yourself reminded of the essentials.
And with that, you have a brief, workable reminder slash guideline on what’s essential to healing (my version of course).