My husband and I just took a trip to Savannah Georgia for Thanksgiving. We travel well together. We download all sorts of songs on my Ipod and hit shuffle. People who hear me sing on Sunday know that I do not always carry a tune well but the joy is there. We sing along with the music be it old rock and roll or Frank Sinatra singing duets. We love it all (okay we are not country fans but we love most music). On the way home we were listening to Jimmy Buffet songs and I remarked to my husband that the songs on one particular CD must have been his way of working on his own mental health issues. One song in particular is a favorite of mine. To paraphrase Mr. B, we were all taken out of the cosmic oven a little too soon and and there is a little bit of fruitcake left in all of us. I like that. It makes it okay for all of us to have quirks. And we all do. Yes all of us, even those who think they are okay and everyone else is messed up. All of us.
I know that October is mental health month but I didn’t have a sing along in October so I am late. So sue me (or not). I want to explore what the term mental health means to me. I do not plan to look it up and repeat others words, I will do what I do best and shoot from the hip. Here goes.
We discuss our family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer and on and on. Do we ever discuss great Uncle Joe’s odd behaviors outside of our own homes? Do we openly discuss the issues that we have seen repeat generation after generation? Do we encourage Cousin Mary to seek help for her emotional issues? Rarely. Why? Because of that one word. Yes, you know which word I am referring to, the word that has been taken out of the name of every institution dealing with Uncle Joe and Cousin Mary. I even refer to myself as a behavioral health therapist. Not because I am ashamed of that word, you, know the one, but because the people I talk to about what I do shy away from that word. It is not okay to say mental in the same sentence as health. Why? We can have healthy mental health. We can discuss how healthy someone deals with issues in their lives. We can encourage good mental health like we encourage good physical health. I rarely if ever hear someone whisper about someone’s physical health like it is a top secret but we usually whisper about someone’s mental health when we are discussing actions and behaviors that are causing issues for self or others. I for one think that we all have mental health issues. Not always good and not always bad but they do exist.. We are never without mental health and its corresponding issues, good or bad. Why do we work so hard to disguise or deny those issues? Why do we flock to the reality shows to see someone else’s family deal with hording or watch people yelling at each other on Dr. Phil? (Shudder) We do it because we are fascinated with others problems but refuse to look at our own.
I have an anxiety disorder. It is a family issue. It more than likely is on both sides of my family but I know that my mothers mother and her family had anxiety issues. Not all of them but enough. In the luck of the draw of mental health related issues, I drew the anxiety straw. I think I am lucky. My mothers fathers side of the family was (and still is) so passive that it is difficult to get up off the recliner and go to work. We always laughed about my grandfathers two brothers who spent most of their lives sitting in rockers on the porch whittling. They didn’t even whittle anything useful. Just whittle a stick until it is a pile of sawdust and then get another stick. I wonder who brought them the sticks. My dad’s side of the family has issues too but although we were and still are close as cousins, we did not see each other often. My grandfather died before my parents married and my grandmother is a faint memory for me. Any cousins on that side reading this can weigh in on Facebook. But I digress. My family tree is not the real reason for this blog. The real reason is that we all have issues. Those of us who identify those issues and seek some help are rewarded with healthy mental health. Those who fear the stigma of mental health are stuck and the family members tend to repeat history. One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. So lets do something different. I wouldn’t suggest walking naked in the crosswalk any day of the week but if your life isn’t working do something different.
It is okay to be only half baked. We all are. What is not okay is for us to ignore mental health (and physical health) issues and to blame others for issues we should own and fix. The new year is only a little over a month away. Lets all turn up our ovens and work on completing our baking. Lets be okay with having mental health.