A Road Map to Mental Wellness

An Introduction
There is no one path to mental wellness. It’s a combination of factors, a give and take. There is trial and error involved. There is a synergy of elements. Along the path of learning what works for us, we learn what doesn’t work. These lessons can feel like setbacks, and sometimes they are. It’s an intricate dance—a tango of one.
Psychic Pain
What if we have been hurt deeply in the past? What if that hurt was subtle, or very distant, or if it occurred even before we started forming memories, like in infancy or very early childhood? Perhaps the wound cut very deep and created scar tissue, tough and a bit numb to the touch. Do we feel safe enough to try again?
Transforming, Blossoming
When we attempt to live in a way that is authentic, we come up against certain obstacles as a matter of course. These may be vices, or simply habits that provide momentary relief. If we allow them too often, they dull our senses and keep us in a sort of holding pattern of inauthenticity. Discomfort may arise, at some point.
It’s a strange concept, ego. Is it a person, a thing, a presence? Is it that part of us that cries out: “See me! I am worthy of your attention,” or alternatively, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be bothered,” or even: “I’m nothing. Let me stay small.” Ego is all of these things. Ego cannot be shed. Go ahead, try it!
What happens when that doubting voice tells us: “This is b.s.” What then? If it really is b.s., then what would that mean? Betrayal, perhaps. The people we trusted were all full of hooey. Underneath the betrayal, we find a sense of isolation. This speaks to a primitive desire to connect with our tribe, for reasons of safety from predators. If we are alone, we have to fend for ourselves, and that is a daunting task. Human beings are hard-wired to be part of community, whether large or small. 
How to Let Others In When You Have Trust Issues
Go where it’s warm . . . emotionally, that is, but check in with yourself. Are you feeling smothered? Take a step back. If the “emotionally warm” person doesn’t give you space, they may have ulterior motives. 
An emotionally healthy person will tell you they need space, too, if you are the one encroaching on their boundaries. They will not ghost you. If they did, they weren’t the right person, anyway.

There is a wonderful document called “The Personal Bill of Rights,” which can be found online: https://www.etsu.edu/students/counseling/documents/stressgps/personalbillofrights.pdf. While there are several adaptations, the original appeared in Healing the Child Within (1987) by Charles L. Whitfield, MD. This bill of rights teaches about personal boundaries, such as: “I have the right to say no,” “I have a right to express all of my feelings—positive and negative,” and “I have the right not to be responsible for the actions, feelings, or behavior of others.”

There are around 25 items on this list of “personal rights,” and they can serve as important reminders to folks on the path of learning to be more assertive. Some items on the list may seem obvious, others may seem profound (or some combination of both obvious and profound). For example: “I have a right to make mistakes and do not have to be perfect.” For those of us who feel, or who have felt, the need to be perfect, this list may seem revolutionary. 

“You mean I’m still lovable if I make mistakes?”

Absolutely. Making mistakes means we’re human. And assertive humans set firm boundaries, for reasons of safety and self-respect. 
If we are human, we will err. Sometimes our mistakes and imperfections will seem trivial, other times egregious. What would happen if you didn’t get an “A” on that exam? Does the entire weight of your future seem to rest upon this one event? That’s a lot of pressure. Let’s take it down a notch. To be authentic is to acknowledge one’s whole self: the warts, the wrinkles, all of it: the whole package. To allow room for error is an act of self-kindness and liberation. 
Compare & Despair
There will always be individuals greater than or lesser than ourselves. Why do we get so attached to the pecking order? Underneath, there may be a sense of insecurity or perhaps jealousy. If so, recognize it, allow it, maybe even be curious about it, but then let it go. Or perhaps there is the reverse: a sense of superiority: “I’m so much better than them.” Really? Could this attitude be masking, too, a vulnerable place within us? Once again, an attitude of curiosity can be useful here. No need for judgments. Be still with this tender spot. Don’t push it away. It has its reason; its wisdom to share if we’re open to it. 
When a flow of water is blocked, one of two things happens: 1) it builds up and forcefully (sometimes destructively) creates a new path of release or 2) it naturally gravitates towards a new path wherein it won’t be blocked. The right attitude in life is to notice the blocks and then find a new path. 

Life is complex, and obstacles are common. We may want to overcome the obstacle immediately, feeling a great sense of urgency. We have the option to pause, and ask ourselves, “What’s the big rush?” Are we worried that someone else will get there first? That there won’t be enough? That we’ll be left behind? That we’ll perish? Sometimes when we slow things down and take an attitude of curiosity, we allow space for new solutions to emerge. 
Drop the Controls
It can be tempting to convince ourselves that we’re in control. However, when we really stop to think it through, there are few things in life over which we have complete control. People? Situations? The future? We can express opinions and dispense advice, or put up appropriate boundaries. We can set goals and meet milestones, sure. In the end, however, there is quite a lot that can go awry and no matter how much we’d like to control, an attitude of acceptance can reduce our suffering in a big way. Acceptance does not mean resignation. It simply allows this moment to be exactly as it is, without the added pressure of our need to manipulate a given situation. 
There are a variety of ways to love: familial love, love for one’s country, and then there’s the type of love that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the word “love.” What is it? Romantic love. In movies, books, and on TV we see it portrayed as hot, sexy, passionate, obsessive. This kind of love, in real life, fizzles fast . . . kind of like the expression “the brightest flame burns quickest.” 

Romantic love in the early stages floods our systems with dopamine and oxytocin, feel-good chemicals. But what happens when these wear off? We may feel bereft, craving more, seeking a kind of high that forever eludes us. 

True love starts within. Only when we show up for ourselves and enjoy our own company are we truly ready to give and receive the long-term, stable, and committed love of another. 

To learn about unconditional, non-romantic love, there is a pretty easy solution: adopt a dog. They are excellent teachers when it comes to the topic of forgiveness and unconditional love. In fact, they’re probably experts on the topic. 
Obsession & Loneliness
What if we’re convinced that we will only feel complete with another? What if there’s a special someone over whom we obsess? We can notice this longing and get curious about what’s underneath. Is it truly that “the other” could take away our loneliness? Could this be a fantasy with which we delude ourselves? Could we sit still with our loneliness, our emptiness, for a minute, an hour, or a day and not rush to fill it? What might happen? 
The mind moves like a stream passing through a wooded area. The mind’s movements are natural. When we sit by the stream, we glimpse at what may be passing through there: memories of the past — both joyful and unpleasant. We may notice thoughts of a future that has not yet arrived; schemes, plans, goals. But what about this moment? Sometimes, especially at first, it may feel unpleasant to sit still and rest in the awareness of now. We may notice that we get caught up by imaginings of the past (which no longer exists) or the future which is still only just a fantasy, at this point. We may notice worry, the experience of which presents us with the illusion of control. When we worry, we miss out on the pure awareness of this moment.
“If you want to know why you do something, try NOT doing it.” -Unknown

Addiction begins disguised as comfort. Over time, it smothers. It’s like a weed that chokes out other flowers in the garden. Quality of life diminishes as more time, energy, and money flows in pursuit of the addiction. Those with strong wills might find that they can stop without outside help, or so it seems. But addictions can be slithering things, and they tend to shape-shift. Why go it alone? Find a group of others who have also gotten free of the addiction. Ask them how they did it. Listen carefully to what they have to say. 
Acceptance is following the natural flow of our lives—the joy and the pain, the seasons and storms, the losses and gains. As humans, we are naturally resilient; it is this trait which has helped us to survive as a species. We can build a boat, metaphorically speaking, to sail along the river of life. We can roll with the current or struggle against it. We have free will, of course. Salmon swim upstream as part of their reproductive cycle before dying. Perhaps we are feeling especially fish-like today? It is our choice. 
The Map to AuthentiCity
I have the right to be uniquely me, and you have the right to be uniquely you . . . but how do we find those people? It’s not always so obvious. We must learn to get quiet from time to time and check in with our internal GPS system, steering us in the direction of AuthentiCity. (Get it?) Trust the process. Take a deep, cleansing breath. Exhale. Take another. Take the next right step. We’re almost there!
For us writers, consistency is key: we must keep showing up at the page each day. And if not? How quickly the writing can slip away: first a day, then a week, then a month without setting pen to paper. The months turn to years; we forget who we were. We forget that writing taps into something deep at our core. We walk around numb, untold stories hidden within us. Yet, it’s never too late to begin anew. Writing is a channel to the mysteries within ourselves. 


4 responses to “A Road Map to Mental Wellness”

  1. Wow, very beautiful and inspirational and informational post, G!!! Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed the writing and the photos! That last one really hit deep, I haven’t worked on the book I was writing in what is now possibly months 😭, it’s so true how untold stories are sitting within us…thanks for reminding me to get back on that ✨✨✨

    1. Hey thanks for the feedback. I’m glad the last one stuck a chord. It’s easy to let it slide; I’m as guilty as the next one. I need some kind of reminder every day. So easy to get distracted!

  2. I need to share this with a few people.

    1. By all means! The more, the merrier.

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