Do you hear about suicide and say I would never do that? Have you denied even thinking about it?
No, not the person who committed or thought about committing suicide.
Thinking something neither would or could ever happen is as foolish as saying something like you will never have cardiovascular disease or skin cancer or need glasses. The brain is an organ. The one we know the least about and yet is most responsible for all functions of the human body…and even more complex, functions of the mind.
This is not meant to normalize suicidal ideation.
Normal, a ridiculous word to begin with, is truly an oxymoron because norms are reportable averages. Suicidal thoughts are not the kind of thing people willingly admit – even to themselves. Obviously thinking about killing yourself is not healthy -but- arrogant denial of the possibility that it would ever cross your mind only makes the ground more fertile for unhealthy thinking.
It is time we get real about one of the darkest faces of death…suicide. And to do that we must begin with honesty and compassion about just how common mental illness is. Mental illness is more about the second word than the first. ILLNESS. The brain is capable of malfunctioning just as much, if not more, than any other organ and yet those malfunctions are denied, downplayed, and shamed as if they were a choice or a weakness.
Rather than impressing this point with random statistics or research study results, let’s use personal experience. Think about a physical illness you’ve had, maybe even something you’re prone to, say strep throat, sinus infections, digestive issues, or allergies. Chances are it is very easy to discuss symptoms of those maladies, and also, to ask or be asked about them. Now think about mental illness you’ve experienced. What? You’ve never experienced mental illness?
Maybe the dialogue starts there. For every other part of the body we are able to self-diagnose and treat common disease but when it comes to the brain/mind we think mental illness must only be something major, something that fits a recognized diagnostic category. If we can wake up with a sore throat, head, or stomach ache, then why can’t we just as easily have a sore or aching mental/emotional state that is just as much a symptom of everyday/common/minor mental illness as inflammation is to everyday/common/minor physical illness? And just as inflammation in the body is actually a protective response that unchecked has the potential to escalate into full blown chronic illness or catastrophic event, mental pain may be exactly the same in progression. The difference is, talking about and seeking help for common physical pain and problems is widely accepted but lack of acceptance and awareness about common mental pain and problems keep both in the dark. And when that darkness deepens, the trajectory of full blown chronic illness or catastrophic event may involve suicidal thoughts and actions.
What if every day was lived as a mental health day? How would it be to start exploring mental illness as something that could be felt and discussed just as readily as physical illness? To talk about and address symptoms of depression, anxiety, and addiction before they become full-blown, life impairing maladies?
Living every day as a mental health day starts with realizing that it is no more shameful or unusual to feel symptoms of emotional pain and mental illness than it is to feel inflammation and illness in the body. From there, understanding and accepting that there might even be strong correlation between the two.
The real work to living every day as mental health day is exactly that. Using all day-every day living practices to optimize mental wellness. Washing our thoughts of toxic contagion is the mental health equivalent of what hand-washing is to prevent the physical spread of germs to self and others. Thoughts are to the mind what skin is to the body, permeable transport mechanism.
If you had shit on your hand, you’d likely want to wash it off immediately with soap and water. Not rub it onto someone or something else. Not pretend it isn’t there or cover it up with something else. Not use a drink, a pill, food, an orgasm, tech devices, work, sleep, talk or other behaviors to distract yourself from it. And if was really stinky or sticky, you might need to wash a few times. In fact, the memory of its unpleasantness might even have you washing again later on with a little sniff-test to be sure it was no longer there. How might you start doing that with the shit on your mind?
How might you start living every day as mental health day?