Adding a bucket of water to a river. During the earlier years of my foray into therapy, I would occasionally come into my session and claim that the week had been relatively sound. “I feel like this is going to be a waste because I don’t have anything that I’m actively concerned with,” I would arrive at usually within some ten minutes of beginning our discussion. My therapist would always spin this immediately to, “Therapy is whatever you want to make it; it isn’t necessarily a place entirely for complaining or problem-solving. Mental health encapsulates all range of the spectrum of interpsychic understanding.”
What I took this to mean, over time, was that sometimes the goal is to be happier and sometimes the goal is to tolerate happiness more. Or from another perspective, look at the sport of long jump: it seems fairly simple on the surface in that you run, jump, and land. Now to compare mental health to long jump, you might think of running as de-escalation, jumping as understanding, and landing as processing. Within this framework, one can set any number of goals to improve their mental health from any nuance or intersection of process. Maybe you want to prolong your jump as much as you can because you find calmness in understanding a trigger or trauma, or you want to land in the most stable and least painful way possible because active and passive processing hold the keys to whether you are under or overstimulated in a situation.
Where to begin in developing mental health goals
The easy way out in addressing this situation is to say, “Everybody starts at a different location;” but I don’t find that ever to be particularly helpful. Like, sure, it’s a welcome throat-clearing noise and reminder; however, it doesn’t contribute anything to the efforts being made in earnest. In my journey, I began with the goal to understand and process my mood-swinging more: why is it that some days I was unendingly joyful and others I was deliriously morose? I ran into several obstacles during this path: deep traumas from upbringing or childhood events that had settled in and made it difficult to move past unless I was willing to love myself in spite of this pain. Then I wanted to take a broad approach to processing and thinking clearly about how to initiate a form of processing that would clear stressors and toxic information from my interpsychic landscape.
Perhaps in future decades of maturity I might have the confidence to say, “I don’t experience days where I hate myself anymore,” but as I am now, even with as much intention and attention paid to provoking a healthy mental-emotional development, there are days where I’m irritable, or that I hate myself, or that I look in a mirror and see nothing but insecurities, or that I wonder why I’m not doing more in my life.
so the same heavy snow has twice fallen on my shouldersJose F. A. Oliver
when it covers the garden I am forgotten
stepping on an intersection I am mistaken
under the lamps the empty street is a hoarse throat
declaiming and for years the withered and fallen words look on
With this in mind, I think the beginning is whatever will draw you to begin a consistent routine of self-exploration. As, really, these can be troubling and unsettling pathways to traverse and can lead to uncomfortable moments where you are faced with the task of revealing a wound. It is not easy to want to explore yourself in this way, deliberately.
Setting up the environment for mental health empowerment
Because we construct time in three modes – past, present, future – we need a past, present, and future to most any situation that carries psychological weight. While I had a committed therapy session each week, there was an easy point in which to place my ‘present’ around – the session time. The past is the hour or so prior to the session where I would take a long moment to either meditate, journal, or do something relaxing – the point being that I did not want hang-ups from my professional life or daily disturbances to halt progress in my emotional understanding.
The future, though, and this is where I think it can be interesting for other parties trying to enable themselves, was largely nonexistent to me. My partner taught me the term ‘time-blindness,’ which is an application often attributed to neurodivergent individuals whose particular conditions make the standard parameters of time construct a different ‘arena,’ of sorts in which one may operate within. For me, depression had caused a pseudo form of time-blindness where I truly could not imagine a future beyond a few days. I would be clear about this element in therapy, and over time my therapist would check in with me about my thoughts toward the future. Slowly, but surely, I was able to begin thinking in scopes of two and five and more years ahead.
It is not uncommon for individuals to face temporal repercussions when contending with mental health challenges. Losing touch with a sense of history – being blind to particular timelines due to trauma – or losing access to a form of present from depression are especially common. I paint these obstacles as commonalities because even if above I scoff at the blanket statement of “Everyone starts somewhere,” I do think that the less isolated one feels in a problem the more empowered one can then feel to try and tackle it: after all, if someone else can, why can’t you?
Tying together for development of the self
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I am an immense advocate of mental health goals simply to try and be a better, healthier person for yourself and your loved ones. The point of this post is to try to dissuade any preconditioned ideas that the journey for mental health improvement must start from a traumatic source, or a pathological source. No, no. Pathologizations are useful for the purpose of discovering more catored treatment options and opportunities for a clinically understood neurodivergent diagnosis; however, are anything but necessary if you simply want to give it your all for the people who you think deserve the world.
If you do begin the journey following mental health goals, I would recommend keeping some form of structured introspective element – a journal, or diary of some kind – where you can annotate clearly some ideas and breakthroughs on a semi-regular basis. I might recommend checking in with large-picture goals, traumas, obstacles, and breakthroughs every six months or so, as that tended to be the ebb-and-flow of my own emotional turbulences. But! Importantly, things happen! We’re still going through a more than two year pandemic globally that has affected human-security-in-community drastically. Social creatures being threatened that socialization can become deadly has immense evolutionary psychological consequences that we have certainly not begun to see the end of! Be kind to yourself!
If you wish to read more content like this, consider starting with these posts on critical thinking or communication skills. Otherwise, I host free classes for emotional understanding that I’ve termed Espials. You especially might like this one around the concept of awe.