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The Picture of Mental Health

I first published this post in 2017, but it is as relevant an exploration today in 2023 as it was those several years ago. Just what does "mental health" look like, and what expectations do we hold for ourselves around it?


Recents stats from a World Mental Health survey spanning over two decades shockingly revealed that about half the population can expect to experience a mental health disorder by the age of 75. And here in New Zealand, the trend is also toward a lower sense of life satisfaction and a decrease in mental wellbeing.


Getting the help we need is not always easy. And many of us have to try, and try again, to find the right programme or therapy that actually makes a difference. This is what iRest was for me, and why I've made it my life's mission to offer it to others.


Now, back to the original post!

 



It's Mental Health Awareness Week in NZ (Oct 9-15), and all this talk about it politically and on social media makes we wonder, "What exactly is mental health?" We may think we know what isn’t healthy on the one hand - chronic anxiety and suicidal tendencies for instance. But is anyone the picture of perfect mental health? Do you fit the bill when you're happy 100% of the time? Or when you seem to have it all sorted out and are humming along in life? What exactly does the picture of "good" mental health look like?

I meet a lot of people in my mindfulness work who, on the outside, might very well seem "the picture of perfection". But what I've learned, both professionally and in my personal life dealing with depression, is that everyone is going through something. Just because they make you laugh, are the life of the party, or seem successful in all the right ways does not mean they are exempt from suffering.

Does mental health mean having no problems, living happily ever after, or finally mastering the art of positive thinking? Society and media may want us to believe that. I would say otherwise. The reality is that some anxieties, depressive thoughts, and stressors may be with us as travelling companions throughout our lives. ​Although we all have habitual ways of relating to life that don't necessarily serve us - keep us mired in the mud of negative thinking or caught in spirals of thought and behaviour that limit us in some way - we can learn to see through them, to defuse from them without having to get rid of or control them.

It can be a comfort for us to think we’re at the helm controlling life and our thoughts, but the reality is we are not. When’s the last time you planned a thought? Isn’t it more accurate to say that thinking is just happening? Try it for yourself if you’d like - spend some time watching your thoughts and see how they just arise without asking or planning. And isn’t it the case that we don’t get to choose our biology, our upbringing, whether we were bullied in the past, suffer a trauma, or will get cancer in the future?

Life dishes out what it will whether we want this to be the case or not. In fact, the need to control life is often at the heart of the dialogue running in the background of someone who has lost their ground. Worry and panic arise when we fail, or think we might not be able to divert circumstance to our favour.

​But there is a flip side: we can all re-negotiate our contract with life by acknowledging how we will live with what is given. We can make a vow with ourselves to stay open to what arises. And respond compassionately when we do not. This is where mindfulness meditation can help.

Many of my clients have heard me say that iRest has changed my life. And it has, profoundly. This doesn’t mean I live blissed out because I meditate. This is a false perception that only feeds into the idea that some people always have it all figured out - living in paradise. (And by the way, there must be something wrong with you because you don’t.) “Yeah nah”, as the Kiwis say. Quite the opposite.

My life is actually exactly the same. All those negative thoughts, worries and depressive episodes still visit. But now I know I don’t have to make them go away or bury them in positivity. I don’t have to be happy all the time. There is a powerful freedom in knowing you’re perfect in your imperfection. The mind, this mind, tends toward depression. OK. These things are all still the case, but I don’t have to fuse with them. They are here, yes, but not what I am, who I am. And for me, this is what mental health looks like.

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