Is mental health encapsulated by seeking therapy, talking to a trusted friend, or relaxing with a game of golf?
When I was a child, I was not focused on my mental health nor knew the importance of it. As a child, I had a normal childhood. I was blessed with many friends, enjoying the outdoors and having a family network. The most impactful events in my life focused on the death of my grandparents and family friends. Many memories of death are tainted with numbness.
As the reader, you may wonder how a child could become numb in these situations.
Our brains do a fantastic job harboring emotions we do not want to experience. The brain pushes these emotions so far below our subconscious that it allows the mind not to think or feel, thus becoming numb. As I reflect on all these memories of death and sadness, my mind still does not want to relive the past. With therapy, these memories are still tainted with the looming darkness of being numb. Reliving the emotions brings sadness and a deep pain that is aching to be honored.
I did not believe I had trauma before learning more about myself and the many behaviors I normalized. The events in my childhood I have normalized. I had thought nothing more than this is how everyone reacts.
A distinct memory that floods my brain is when I discovered that my last living grandparent had passed away, unexpectedly. My mother had already left hours earlier, as my Papa's' significant other had called her before his passing. My father, two younger sisters and I received the devastating call. My siblings and I entered my parents room, and my father hesitated but then shared the world-crumbling news that my Papa had passed away. I held sediment towards my Papa, and after the grief of losing my Grandma, Grandpa, and Nana, I would not lose him. I was never prepared for his death and never would be. The loss of my Papa was the first death of a grandparent that I was old enough to understand consciously. I was younger than 6 in the previous deaths and did not recall conscious memories. When my father told my sisters and me of his passing, there was a family hug. As I witnessed my two sisters grieving profoundly and watching the tear pellet off my father's cheeks, I realized I could not cry. I had to be the strong one, and so I did. I did not cry during that family hug. I forced those emotions deep inside myself. I twisted and knotted the sadness and tossed it in a deep place that no one would find, not myself. I cried later that day. I tried not to cry at the funeral. I tried not to think.
This memory shadows the expression of my grief and impacts other aspects of my life. Understanding this raw portion of myself allows me to speak about the importance of mental health.
Mental health is the ability to produce successful mental tasks and a mind that can adapt and change ( Gamm et al. 2010). A pivotal aspect in my definition of mental health is feeling fulfilled in all aspects of your life. To foster my mental health, I contacted a psychological clinic and sought a registered psychologist to assist in honoring my emotions. After many sessions, I was able to dissect certain emotions I feel and understand the true meaning of these emotions. The fostering of my mental health did not happen till many years after the death of my Papa, as mental health was not the top priority as a child. The resources I have now have enabled me to become the best up-to-date version of myself. Many individuals are not as fortunate as me to be enrolled in university and constantly learning about themselves. I have been fortunate enough to take many psychology classes that have educated me. However, not everyone can access psychological services. Therefore these are the other methods I use to aid my mental health:
Honor my emotions. This statement includes being honest with myself and delving into emotions that can be triggering. An example of this technique would be taking a minute to sit with this feeling before exploding into anger. Is anger the primary emotion felt, or is there another emotion fueling this anger?
Take breaks. Taking time for yourself can be challenging in a world obsessed with hustle culture. This time is crucial to offering yourself time to be unproductive and rest.
Move your body. Research illustrates that exercising at moderate intensities can mitigate the effects of harmful stressors ( Deslandes et al. 2009). I have found that dancing allows me to be present in my body by only focusing on the movement. I use Just Dance to accomplish this!
Talk to a trusted friend. Talking about internal dialogue can be challenging. However, I have found that illustrating my struggles allows me to dissect and understand the problems from a different perspective.
Practice Gratitude. The art of gratitude is slowing down to recognize the positive aspects of one's life. When I feel overwhelmed, I take a minute to think of anything I am grateful for, as in "I am grateful for the sun shining." I may create a list of five things I am grateful about to aid in myself being more centered.
The main component I have learned is that taking time for yourself to rest and respond has had beneficial effects on my mental health. With being able to sit with uncomfortable emotions, I have begun to understand the primary emotions at play when I get an overwhelming feeling of sadness, anger, or jealousy. I have begun to understand that my numbness is from not honoring my emotions and therefore need to be vulnerable. I care a lot about the individuals that have passed on in my life; being able to mourn their deaths in my most authentic self is empowering.
There is no health without mental health (Prince et al., 2007).
Andréa Deslandes, Helena Moraes, Camila Ferreira, Heloisa Veiga, Heitor Silveira, Raphael Mouta, Fernando A.M.S. Pompeu, Evandro Silva Freire Coutinho, Jerson Laks; Exercise and Mental Health: Many Reasons to Move. Neuropsychobiology August 1st, 2009; 59 (4): 191–198. https://doi.org/10.1159/000223730
Larry Gamm. Sarah Stone. Stephanie Pittman. Mental Health and Mental Disorders- A Rural Challenge: A Literature Review. Rural Healthy People. 2010. Pg.97-114.
Martin Prince. Vikram Patel. Shekhar Saxena. Joanna Maselko. Michael Phillips. Atif Rahman. The Lancet; No health without mental health. Global Mental Health.September 8th, 2007. 370(9590);859-877. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61238-0