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Warning: some well-deserved adult language within.
I recently learned that May is Mental Health Awareness month.
Insert eye roll—my distaste for how our culture assigns a stigmatized topic, or marginalized group, to focus our attention feels similarly to being nagged by your mother to brush your teeth or eat your vegetables.
We shouldn’t only dedicate a month to something, we should have daily practices that help us care for ourselves and others, with love and respect and that maintain overall health.
Mental health, or shall I say, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, I am quite intimate with, as they are the basis of a yogic lifestyle.
Yogis study the sutras, or threads, which describe ways to connect body, mind, and spirit, live with more ease, and work toward liberation from our suffering, which is understood to be a construct of the mind.
The first sutra is: Atha Yoga Anushasanam or “now the practice of yoga begins.”
The second sutra is: Chitta Vritti Nirodhah or “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”
Basically, stating the first step is to simply show up (be present) and then the practice teaches us tools to stop the excessive thoughts that tarnish enjoyment of the present moment and free us from our attachments (to desires, or events of the past, or of what may be waiting ahead).
The reality is mental health is multilayered and is a spectrum with one underlying truth:
Humans will suffer.
Some people need more help with medical intervention than others, and it is far time we accept that as the norm. So many people ignore or diminish their mental anguish out of shame, which can prevent them from getting the help they need and finding a solution best suited for them.
I would love to see this month improve our awareness of how personal mental health issues are intimately connected to every other issue within society. To help put an end to turning our backs, or our noses up, to those who are suffering, so together we see, regardless of our differences, we all share the struggle of controlling the fluctuations of our minds.
It is clear to me that the harm we do to others stems from the harm we cause ourselves through unprocessed pain. It is not an independent struggle—our mental health links us to each other.
It is a sign of strength to recognize when we need help and then find the courage to ask for it.
My teenager, these last three years, has spent more days than not cocooned in her bed linens, needing to shut the world out.
Let’s go back another three years—having to relive middle school through her eyes, and not being able to prevent the same “mean girl” behavior I experienced that left us both friendless and alone.
Or the 1o before that, when I asked for a divorce and “ruined our family,” and was accused of being the root of my daughter’s current pain.
Or the 10 before that when I tried to find myself while being told how to think and behave in a controlling relationship.
Or the 10 before that when I dissociated from my body to ruminate on the unanswerable whys of losing my childhood innocence at the hands of a trusted adult when I was seven or eight.
Our mental fluctuations are a real fucking bitch, way worse than any insecure 13-year-old acting out.
I spent hours calling over 50 mental health professionals. Only one called me back. The sheer difficulty I had in finding help for my teenager tells me the demand is higher than ever.
The current weight bearing on my mental health is having to watch my daughter suffer, trying to help her navigate the pain she encounters, as a queer teen in an affluent area, where competition is fierce, and everyone talks of how accepting we are as a community, yet bullying is at an all-time high, as is suicide.
The fact that my experience, and the tools I found that bring me out of the dark days, are of no help to her, set my rage ablaze. It bubbles from my toes all the way through to my clenched jaw and fists, as her eyes roll backward and I am forced to watch helplessly from the sidelines again.
I know somewhere deep down under her eczema-covered skin, she knows she chose me for good reason—my guidance may fall on deaf ears, but I believe the messages are getting through and will surface one day. My rational mind tells me her willingness to share and openly communicate with me is a sign she is doing well, but the despair and sadness she speaks of makes me worry we won’t get through the next dark time she feels unworthy.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but that’s because the worry of it being true—a parent’s worst nightmare, burying a child—is something that can be put to peace with the right resources, with getting professional help.
Being a parent fucks with my mental health—another reason to fear the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The burden of being a parent is more painful than any overbearing partner, or loss grieved.
Way worse than the pain I felt being neglected and alone at her age, which led to swallowing a whole bottle of pills.
I was too stupid to have premeditated that for it to be a success; I guess I should be thankful. I mean I’m still here, right? My stupidity gifted me more days on this earth, even though the will to live didn’t come until much later. I merely stayed afloat, unstable for decades, towed along by various lifelines.
Diving deeper into my yoga studies, I eventually found my way, my power, my community and became a healer, and an inspiration to others.
And yet some days, I am still in a puddle of my own tears, curled up in a fetal position on the floor. Not so much from my manas (seat of intellectual operations and emotions) but after yet another suggestion goes in one ear and straight out the other, through her chaotic, unbalanced third eye, after it does not penetrate any one of her unproductive, negative thoughts that keep her down—it’s maddening!
Until we get help, self-awareness, open communication, and lots of hugs are our best defense as we cling tightly to each other on this hellish ride.
This week, I’ve felt pretty shitty, with small bits of peace, a blip of joy here or there, but mostly a clusterfuck of sadness.
I get tired of having to find ways to be okay. But I do, and I have proven to myself that I can. I know one day soon I will wake up and the heaviness will subside to feeling light, to having more song to my words, smiles to strangers, and a spring to my steps. I hope it will be tomorrow.
And if it isn’t, then at the very least, I will get an hour of peace during yoga practice, 10 or so minutes more in meditation, another 45 walking the woods, and I’ll leave space for a phone call to a friend who might offer a few moments of pure joy and even laughter.
The wheel of fortune will keep spinning and next month, June, when I turn a year older, we will be asked to support a new topic: identity diversity and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
I intend to have way more fun, with more to celebrate and explore, with more rainbows and laughter. Surely, discovering my tender, messy, queer self has done wonders for my mental health: even on the most horrible of days, self-compassion and acceptance are always a huge win.