Space to Ask Hard Questions
I like to boil things down. To simplify whenever possible. In truth, life is complicated and it’s a disservice when we try too hard to simplify. It’s also true that we humans allow the deepest truths to become clouded by the noise: politics, social norms, and the loud, expectant voices of our individual communities. If we are willing to face down those pressures, to ask ourselves the hard questions, it is possible to find a space in the middle – the place where we can see basic truth AND to understand why human beings tend to confound and overcomplicate.
In my desire to build understanding I come away with questions more than answers. It’s become an essential aspect of my work – answering these questions and continuing to find new questions whose answers will make us better. In the #IfYouCouldSeeMe Project we do this through the framework of storytelling but in the process of creating those stories we begin to envision a different world. We ask what is possible for ourselves and others, for healing, connection, and what we see most is the need to share our unique experiences without fear and shame.
For many years I lived in a silent battle with anxiety and depression. I spent most of my time in desperation hoping that no one would ever discover the truth about me. In my mind, I knew that no one could love or respect me if they knew that I was so damaged. Little by little, I began to share my story in different ways and what I discovered was that in my vulnerability people loved and respected me more, my connections became more real, and my story took on new meaning for me. This has been a transformation that I never could have planned but one that I would not trade for all the money in the world. I needed to share that reality with as many people as I could.
The #IfYouCouldSeeMe Movement is dedicated to creating space for big questions, new answers, and voices that have been marginalized. We want to be home for breaking down tired, ineffective and often damaging ideas around human behavior: conditioning, relationships, education, therapeutic interventions, creativity; and simultaneously to conceptualize what is possible in a world in which stigma, discrimination, and fear have been eradicated.
It is vital for us to talk about mental health because by talking about these issues in real and honest ways we will make it possible for more people to live better, healthier, more productive lives.
What is mental health? What am I talking about when I say mental health? Is this the treatment of mental illness? Is it the prevention of mental illness? Is it individual? Is it collective? Is it families? Is it relationships? Is this about work environments? Is it about lifestyle choices? Is it about racism? Is it about discrimination, sexism, abuse? Are we talking schizophrenia or are we talking social anxiety? Is it medications, therapists, psychiatrists, oils, meditation, or marijuana? What exactly are we talking about here?
All. of. it.
We are talking about everything. Mental health is health. It is as important to talk about the components that make up our emotional wellbeing as it is to talk about our heart, screen for cancer, or get an eye exam. We are the sum of our parts and our brain is one of our parts. In fact, it’s a significant piece of the human puzzle. It is essential for us to be able to delve into the recesses of our minds to better understand ourselves and one another. It seems so simple, and yet we have not historically, and across cultures, prioritized this kind of thinking and action. Deviations live in the shadows. This can no longer remain the status quo. To speak up is to be free. To be seen is to be truly alive.
Just as all humans are connected on an energetic, stardust kind of level, our individual physical and emotional systems are also connected. I am not a doctor. At the least, I am a very sensitive human who has been observing her own body for a very long time. It is clear, that when my mental health is suffering I do not make healthy decisions in other areas of my life and vice versa. At most, I am a professional who has been working with people for years who often find themselves in painful circumstances, lost and alone fearing the outcome of asking for help. We can choose to ignore these intersections but it doesn’t change the fact that our life choices are deeply impacted by whether or not we are healthy in body and/or mind.
Do you ever ask yourself why you’ve made a certain choice and then paused long enough to really consider the answer? We don’t often want to know the answers because then we would be faced with the need for change. Change is hard.
Instead, we often fall into cycles of negative self-talk and judgement that makes us feel worse about ourselves triggering the self-soothing behaviors that we were beating ourselves up about to begin with. What if mindfulness, self-compassion, and empathy were at the core of our collective socialization?
In looking at, and talking about, mental health in its many facets I am interested in exploring the micro and macro effects of these issues. Micro being smaller, more individualized, and macro being related to systems, organizations, and societies. Again, it’s difficult not to the see the connection between the larger and smaller pictures here. After all, individuals make up systems and societies. What would happen if we placed a higher value on emotional wellness collectively from an early age? What would happen if we took a holistic look at our systems and their impact on individual wellbeing and then insisted upon real, human focused change?
How could our world look different if we were taught to recognize the connection between the physical, emotional, individual and collective? In a society in which productivity is valued above all else it would require a total shift of our value systems. We need an open, global conversation about mental health filled with honest questions, difficult answers, AND humor, and light. Through the facilitation of storytelling, we can normalize these interactions to prevent the darkness and isolation before it happens. I envision a future in which people aren’t afraid to laugh amid these discussions. I think we may be readier now than ever before.