It Takes a Village

Week one of Mental Health Bootcamp is underway, and things are looking up.

Surprisingly, I noticed an improvement in my mood even before my first mental workout. This is thanks to everyone around me, including you, Dark Little Readers.

The graph first registered an upward twitch when I decided to share my Bootcamp experience. I knew that announcing my plan would create pressure for me to follow through. Like a vicious trainer, thoughts of you all going, “What ever happened with that?” would prod me past fatigue and fear of looking like an idiot. They would keep on poking until I got the job done.

When I talked about my bootcamp idea in person, I got funny looks: smiles that were supportive, though slightly quizzical. When someone’s face says, “I love you, but have no idea what you’re talking about…”,  it gives me a call I can’t refuse. That expression is a challenge to explain myself better, move forward and make my weird vision real, so I can go, “See?” and hear, “Oooooooh! I get it. That’s cool.”

Is there anything more intoxicating than feeling someone step inside and join you in the wilderness of your mind?

I thank you all for agreeing to go there, and giving me that motivation boost.

Next, I needed help managing the practicalities of my life so I could do the work I needed to do.

To my deepest gratitude, many family and friends were willing and able to help. Together, we organized visits and babysitting so I could do the things my brain needs to heal. I had great workouts and even better writing sessions.

One night, someone brought over dinner, and another, someone took me and the girls out. One determined individual even did my dishes and tidied up the girls’ toynado while I was out kickboxing.

Seeing the calendar fill with these plans lightened my lungs. I knew that breaks were on their way – opportunities to pull in oxygen before diving back down into the jobs of the day. I even started to look forward to things for the first time in weeks. It was so good.

Patient friends engaged in Facebook conversations with me, even though I took hours or days to reply. I got to poke my head into other people’s space and feel something other than my own overdone thoughts.

My husband Skyped home every evening, managed to remotely fix our Netflix connection, and even made sure that our pulled-apart Roomba was back up and running before he left town.

Every one of these things helped; I’m not sure I can express how much they affected me, or how grateful I am. My circle of people saw me in my mess and instead of turning away in disgust or embarrassment for me, they reached out.

This reminded me of words I have seen in some of my favourite books and meditations by Deepak Chopra. They go something like, “We are all privileged children of the universe.” Right now, I feel that. In spite of my brokenness, I have everything I need to succeed.

I am surrounded by support. Knowing this, I can work wholeheartedly on standing back up. I can trust that no matter how much I wobble, those outstretched arms won’t let me fall.

How often do we fool ourselves into believing we are alone? In my darkest places, I can hardly stand myself. It seems impossible to imagine that anyone else could handle me in my reeking, tacky blackness.

There is some truth in that thought; when we are anxious, depressed, or in a rage, it impairs our brain. It makes us go partially blind, and without self-awareness, we tend to flail around and act like a bit of an ass. It is hard on the people around us.

But the aloneness is a lie. No one is alone. Even if we live alone, don’t have a job, and do our best to avoid the rest of the world, somebody out there needs us. They need our help, our friendship, our talents, our genuine smile.

When we are well, we contribute to the world just by living in it. Someone is better off because we listened and saw them. Somebody remembers a good time with us, and wishes for more.

When we are ill, our people are wishing to get us back. We are loved, all of us, whether or not we have a wedding ring, paycheque, or family tree. No matter what we have done or failed to do.

I think there is a web among us; others feel it when we hurt and they want us to get better. Of those people who feel you, there are some who are ready to help.

If you are hurting, and especially if you feel like there is no one on the planet who would or could help you, I challenge you: prove that feeling wrong.

Sit quietly in your dark place and listen; what is one thing that you need? Your pain is trying to tell you.

Then, think of someone who might want to help. People whose offers you have turned down in the past, or people who have stood with you before.

Humbly and honestly ask for what you need.

Receive it with gratitude, and go get better. Do it for you, and for them.

When you are well, for however long it lasts, contribute to your village to the best of your ability.

When you go down again, as many of us will, remember to reach back into the web.

If you can’t think of a lifeline available to you, tally your resources: family, friends, teachers, mentors, bosses, doctors, religious leaders, human resources or employee assistance programs, health insurance for physical or mental healing, not-for-profit facilities and organizations, subsidized or free programs for fitness or counselling, one-on-one therapy or support groups… even the level-headed, great listener who cuts your hair could be an asset.

You don’t have to bare your blackest pain. Just ask for help with something. Let the village materialize and prove that you are supported.

If you are far from other people, reach out through the distance. Read, write, and make a long-distance call. If worse comes to worst, just start scribbling it all down and stuff your expressions into a seafaring bottle (or launch it onto the internet), and trust that someone is going to pick it up one day and get you.

You might find that you are the one who finally receives your message. Hearing yourself, completely and without judgment, opens you up to hear others. You can plug yourself into deep, fulfilling empathy.

You are not alone.

This week, my incredible friends and family sang to me that I am not alone. It lifted me up, and I hope it lifts you up, too.

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