2019: The Year of Mental Health

From the perspective of spiritual and mental health, 2018 was like the years that preceded it, marked by imbalances that I had neglected to correct. My memory of 2018 is comprised predominantly of the voids I filled with ersatz surrogates for love, the anxiety that swarmed unchecked into every crevice of my consciousness, and the pervasive emptiness that seemed to hollow out the foundation of most everything I undertook. It was yet another year where I asked: When will I learn? Will I break before I do?

But don’t take that as a declaration of defeat. It’s a meditation on hope. A grim, gritty kind of hope, bred over the years on a steady diet of my own shortcomings and insights. This hope is often all I can muster on a given day, and I try not to imagine where my life would be without it. It is rooted in one simple idea.

My world as I know it is refracted to me through my mind. All that I know, I know through this imperfect, fallible lens. All this time when I wanted so desperately for things to change, I failed to make the one change that mattered most. The one change that could free me from my suffering. 2018 will go down in my memory as the year I began to master the simple lesson from which all life’s wealth derives: If I can change my mind, I can change my world.

If there could be a mantra for 2019 onward, this would be it. If there could be a way out of the spiritual waywardness and suffering that has characterized the past few years of my life, this would be it.

These words can be but a slogan, a competition, kitsch. But I’ve been starving for these words in a capacity beyond these. I’ve been needing these words as my mantra, mandate, salvation.

If I can change my mind, I can change my world.

Why sensitivity is my strength

Growing up, I was always just a bit too vulnerable, easily stirred and tipped over at my own expense, in situations where other people seemed to just glide away without a second thought, blissfully unencumbered.

My ultra-sensitivity isn’t something I’ve ever been able to get away from or put on pause. It is, quite simply, a part of who I am. I wouldn’t be me without it, though I didn’t always feel that way.

As I struggled with being sensitive throughout adolescence and early adulthood, I grew increasingly desperate to sedate myself, even if it meant dangerous forays into self-repression or violence. The one outcome I couldn’t tolerate was to simply be me: easily sucked in, triggered, and immersed in what surrounded me, as I seemed destined to be.

But as my hope of ever reforming dimmed, I started to wonder if maybe on some deeper level, I had been going about it all wrong. Why did I need to suffer so much trying to be less sensitive? Would it be better if I found a way to accept and collaborate with for this much-maligned trait, instead of trying to tear something out of the fabric of my personality? That seemed much more sustainable than the self-destructive path I had been teetering along.

So I stopped caring that I was so damn sensitive, because God was I. I stopped chastising myself for the tears that welled so easily and outed me. I stopped letting myself hate how the melancholy of someone’s expression stayed with me or a stranger’s words could resonate long after their original context. Unarmored, I held back the tsunami of self-judgment and lashing criticism that I had let run rampant for so long. I held it all back so I had space to be, and make peace with this being.

Strangely, letting myself be sensitive made me feel powerful. Acknowledging other people’s indifference without envy or shame at my own inclination to immerse deeply didn’t make me feel weak, as I had expected, but like myself. When I stopped fighting my capacity for uncomfortable emotions like pain, anger and sadness, I discovered there was power to being able to connect with the experience of another person. Feeling what they felt didn’t impair me, it empowered me. It made me feel like we were stronger together.

I soon discovered that it wasn’t really me who was uncomfortable with my capacity for empathy. It was society. One in which the suffering of others was better left just that way: other. Not mine. Not anyone’s but that person’s alone. The game is to hedge your bets against all possible tragedy through some winning combination of insurance, monetary wealth, outward markers of physical virility and prestige. Everything but, I suppose, the health of your very soul and mind. The health of your humanity.

Where am I at now with my sensitivity? Well, it’s become a trusted ally, a source of genuine strength. When I’m feeling particularly lonely or demoralized, I remember that my experience is anything but singular. It is drawn from the collective pool of experiences had by people long gone and yet to come, who will have existed at some time and place on this earth, as woman or man, as prince or pauper. That I can connect to these people as if time and space were illusion, and understand something we all share in our essence as living beings, is a gift of infinite wealth that cannot be measured monetarily.

Every person has her own way of connecting to her strength. Her self. Her people. I’ve discovered that for me, my capacity to empathize and receive the experience of another human being is what connects me to mine.

On duty

Something I’ve noticed about myself as of late is that I loathe notifications, from the phone or some other computer. They assert themselves: I am demanding you pay attention to me. Notifications do not discern or relent. They just rap, insensible and Pavlovian, a chime or ding or hiss or burp, regardless of the hour or context, animated and alluring with their promise of satisfaction should you just bestow your attention upon them. That promise is broken more often than not, at least by the criteria of the digital zeitgeist. Yet our depressed, compulsive minds can’t seem to stop buying into the promise time and again.

It’s not that notifications are bad news through and through. A cheerful text from a friend or an alert that a request has been approved are certainly embraced. But I don’t thrive on being at the beck and call of all the world, or at least an awfully great swath of it. We honor ancestral ways of life through fads like the Paleo diet, yet think little about our consumption of unnatural “processed” junk for the mind in the form of banal emails, notifications and sale alerts whose value we are forever dubious of. Why the discrepancy?

This phenomenon of being attached at the hip to the ostensible world has created an expectation in people that we should all be available around the clock. Our minds really shouldn’t ever rest, always receptive to be fed the next great bite of that empty caloric promise. But this is no way to live.