How perfect that right while we’ve been sequestered in our homes for the past six weeks, we are currently celebrating Mental Health Month. By now, we all know what it is not, because we’ve been pushed to our maximum limits of patience and tolerance, coping in whatever ways possible.
We’ve become a society that has been conditioned to avoid feelings at all costs. Adults rarely teach children that it’s normal to feel anger and sorrow, and how to express those feelings in healthy ways. Over the years, these children grow up full of unresolved pain. When they are unable to self-medicate or suppress those emotions, they wind up in a doctor’s office being prescribed medication — and getting the same message: it’s not okay to feel.
An Emotional Crisis
According to the World Health Organization, one in every four people suffers from mental health problems. This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that forty million Americans are on some type of psychiatric medication. And right now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, some who don’t even have diagnosed disorders are experiencing sadness, anxiety, loneliness, stress, and frustration like never before.
Mental health is the psychological component of overall health. Just like physical health comes from eating healthy, exercise, rest, and balance, mental health results from all of that plus taking care of your emotional well-being. It means being in touch with your emotions and learning to express them in productive ways. For some people, this is very difficult because they have never learned how to connect emotionally. When a person hasn’t learned how to express emotions, those emotions become bottled up and can turn into anxiety, anger, depression, and even suicidal states of mind.
It’s the hard times that challenge us the most, but those same challenges can push us toward psychological growth. The world pace is moving faster and faster, and it’s conditioned us to immediate gratification, but we don’t have to give in to the darker side of our natures to feel better. The quick fix distractions — eating, drinking, drugging, smoking, etc. — are not solutions and only serve to numb our feelings. But feelings don’t go away; they simply get pushed deep down into the already existing bottomless void where nothing is ever resolved.
You’re Worth the Effort
I understand how hard it is to break out of dysfunctional behavior. As a child, I stuffed my pain, and when that no longer worked, I medicated it with cigarettes, alcohol, or anything else that helped me to escape. When I got sober, I had to learn how to be a mentally healthy person. I had no idea what that meant and spent years in addiction recovery and therapy.
It took a lot of time to replace immediate gratification with learning how to wait. Waiting meant working through anger before expressing it, learning how to consider the other person’s feelings, being patient in the wait zone rather than demanding my needs be served right now. I had to learn how to cry so that my sorrow did not turn into depression.
I had to learn how to be authentic and honest rather than a chameleon that changed colors to avoid being rejected. I had to learn how to be responsible and accountable for all commitments, financial and otherwise. I had to learn how to be a friend. Most importantly, I had to develop spiritual maturity, which meant doing my part and then staying out of the way, allowing things to fall into place — trust.
Together We Can Do This
There’s a lot you can’t control right now, but there’s one thing you can learn to control — yourself. You were born mentally healthy, and if you’re not that way now, you can learn.
You can learn what it means to take good care of yourself rather than adapting to discomfort in ways that are not good for you. You can learn healthy ways to cope with life’s pain and disappointments without hurting yourself. You can feel your feelings without imploding or exploding. You can be true to yourself by refusing to use substitutes for authentic love.
You are not alone. Get out of the lone-ranger state of mind. Reach out to others, and be a part of the human race. Love is all around you; let it in. Love will cure anything.
Be patient with yourself. Whether you are learning by reading, attending workshops, participating in therapy, or taking an online course, keep at it. Like any new behavior, most people don’t realize they’ve gotten good at something until they’ve gotten good at something. You’re improving all along.
Can you relate? Please share your comments or insights below. I’d like to hear from you.
Dr. Marks, a licensed psychotherapist, believes that the current models for diagnosis, treatment, and addiction have failed. Her mission is to help save at least 10 million lives by 2030, through education and prevention. She has been an author of two books: Exit the Maze — One Addiction, One Cause, One Cure, and Learn, Grow, Forgive — A Path to Spiritual Success. She is also a consultant, educator, public speaker, and instructor of A Course in Miracles, and has served as an addictions counselor in private practice in Palm Beach, Florida, for more than thirty years.
If you want to connect with Dr. Donna Marks and find out about her tools and programs on how to Reclaim Your Power Over Addiction, visit her website, https://drdonnamarks.com/