I’m writing about this because when I spoke to my doctor about it, they said that since the pandemic, an incredible number of people are dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms, some for the first time, some after long periods of remission, and some are facing more intense symptoms than usual. Remember that this is a large-scale, long-term traumatic event. It is always ok to not be ok, and it is even more ok than ever to not be ok right now.
I talk a lot about embracing and de-stigmatizing mental health for someone who has a ton of internalized mental health stigma. Yes, you read that right. I have a ton of internalized mental health stigma, just like we all have tons of internalized racism and misogyny, just like who we really are and what we really believe is often muffled by layers of societal conditions and expectations.
We can see an example of this when we find ourselves having an initial reaction to an experience, person, or situation that is not aligned with our true values. I sometimes find myself shocked by the first thought that goes through my mind, sometimes it’s something racist or sexist or otherwise truly out of line with what I believe. Often, our first thoughts aren’t truly ours – they are our knee-jerk reactions, they are what we have been conditioned to think and believe by the systems we live in.
What is important is the second thought. The second thought, the thought where we correct ourselves and articulate what we actually believe, is what’s indicative of our values. Sometimes, shaking our conditioning is just difficult, and it takes years of mindfulness and intention to correct our first thoughts because they are so deeply ingrained in our psyche. But once we’re aware of them, we can begin re-training our brains.
I’ve been in a class the last few weeks where we’ve been discussing oppression and justice in relation to the stories we engage with about them, and about how disrupting some narratives is essential to healing and justice work. A phrase that’s come up a lot is “to change the narrative, change the narrators.” We have to ask ourselves where our narratives come from, who benefits from them, who might even be profiting from them, and how our perspectives might shift from experiencing additional points of view.
So, with all of this swirling around in my head, I had a lightbulb moment recently where I realized I’ve been feeding myself a false narrative about my mental health. I’m not shy about the fact that I live with ADHD and anxiety, and that I’ve struggled with depression in the past. I truly believe that mental health is just as important to holistic well-being as physical health, and the stigma surrounding it is completely unwarranted.
Even so, I realized I’ve been telling myself that if I just raise my vibration enough, align my chakras enough, if I meditate enough and set my intentions clearly enough, if I’m spiritual enough and believe enough, I won’t really need medication to treat what is obviously a pandemic-induced bout of depression and the Universe will give me everything I need.
If, for example, I heard a Christian saying those things in their language (“If I just pray enough, repent enough, read the Bible enough, and believe in Jesus enough, God will fix the chemical imbalance in my brain!”) I would think profoundly irreverent and unkind things about them.
Faith and spirituality are important. And – the Universe has already given me everything I need. She’s given me doctors and medication that can help my brain work better, and the wisdom to know that medication and therapy cannot fully heal my wounds – that’s where the spirituality comes in.
I had a therapist once who told me, “don’t believe everything you think,” but that’s exactly what I did. I let this story, this first thought, live in my body and mind. I let it lie to me and perpetuate itself until instead of I need some help, the story was I’m not good enough. And then I wasn’t getting my needs met and I was blaming myself for it.
As soon as I was aware of the narrative, though, my perspective completely changed. I realized that even though I personally consider myself a fierce advocate for de-stigmatizing mental health, I live in a society that still fails to see mental health as a medical concern, still believes that mental illness is from lack of will, and tells me that if I just pull myself up by my bootstraps hard enough, if I just have enough willpower, I can overcome a chemical imbalance in my brain by sheer grit. But that isn’t true. None of it is true. It’s a story our society tells us to justify not investing resources in mental health, in people, in wellness and equity. It’s a lie, and I fell for it. We all do sometimes.
After I realized that, I wrote a blessing to say when I take my medicine, and I’m already feeling the effects of the connection to Source and the boost in serotonin. It really can be both Science and Spirituality.
One of my brilliant classmates said this during our last class today:
“We’ve been conditioned to believe that we need to get other people’s information and regurgitate it back, but we are enough, we know enough. You are enough. You know enough.”
No matter how many times I hear that, how many times I hear it from others or say it to myself, I always need to hear it again.
My worth is inherent. It really is. Even if I’m not perfect. Even if I need medication sometimes. Even if I need medication forever. Even if I’m still working through some unhealthy stuff and still kind of attached to some of it. Even if healing is slow and steep and sometimes stumbling. Even when I am human.
Especially when I am human.
So, perhaps next time you’re facing a situation that seems miserable and impossible, ask yourself what stories you’re telling yourself about what’s happening. Try to shift the narrative to one where you really are doing your best, you really are good enough, and the situation has nothing to do with you personally, your character, your effort, or your beautiful human flaws.
There might be deep layers of systemic conditioning living in your body and mind and keeping you from even recognizing that you’re still on the first thought – and you have all the power to create the second one.
Please accept this offering
Of Science and Healing,
Which I give to you to help quiet our mind,
To remember that everything really is and really will be ok,
And to be in right relationship with you
As we continue our journey towards wholeness.
(It’s worth noting that I’ve been told all of this, specifically by my pastor and therapist, many times. Part of me wants to kick myself and ask why I didn’t just listen then, but the answer is simple and human – because I wasn’t ready to, and I didn’t have the experience to fully process it, even though it did make some sense at the time. We can never learn what we’re not ready to, we can only be open to growing and continuing to learn.)