And so it STARTS – A shared path to mental wellness

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The door to my office was always open. One day, a person came in and slumped down in a chair. We had many conversations in the past but nothing serious. I immediately knew something was wrong. They said, “What am I doing here? and I am worried that I can’t fit in here and maybe I need to go.” I put aside what I was doing, leaned forward and said, “Tell me what is wrong.” After a long and thoughtful conversation, we found the start to a mutual place to stay connected on and a shared journey which we are still on. This happened with not one, but many individuals who found comfort in being able to share.

It reminds of the times where I had to be the person coming in and slumping in the chair and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was thankful to have that person sitting across from me who was not going to judge and be open to a conversation. One time in particular, I was trying my best in a job and it was not a good fit. No matter how hard I tried, things never seemed to work out and I felt like I was letting people down and that did not feel good at all. It was affecting me personally and professionally and I knew that I had to speak with someone to help me sort through this and I found such a person that I trusted and non-judgemental. This individual knew my capacity and background and through a long conversation, helped me to find my path and I was able to move on. I was thankful and no matter where we are in life, we might be the one seeing counsel or the one giving insight.

The more and more we look around us, the more and more we see people stepping forward to say, “Can we talk?” or “”I think we need to talk.” What used to be someone walking around in darkness and trying to mask some form of artificial light just to give an impression of happiness, we are now seeing people remove that mask and find the strength and confidence to say that not all is as well as it seems. For fear of being judged, misunderstood or stigmatized, people are fearful of what others might say or do if they say that they are suffering depression, anxiety, or any of the multitude of mental pain. An environment of caring needs to emerge and slowly we are getting there. If you are an individual who has mental anguish, find the strength to step forward. If you are someone who is in the circle of someone who needs support, step forward and offer your hand. We both need to meet in the middle.

While there are people and resources available, you might need that one person to start walking with you. It is not a quick fix and it is never easy. There is a long road ahead but it is about acknowledging that you must walk this road. You will see that this road is also not a lonely road but one that has a few key people and situations. It all STARTS with you. What is STARTS?

S – Support – Before anything can happen, there needs to be the foundation of support created. Whether at home, school or at work, a supportive environment needs to be established in order to move forward. If you are an individual needing support, seek out a couple of key individuals who care and will not judge you. Support is the foundation of how any structure like a bridge, building and house are built upon…it is also how people are built. To have a strong and supportive base allows the conversations to start. The organization must embrace a culture of support so that people have an opportunity to share and not feel threatened that they should be embarrassed, or worried they will lose their job or people will abandon them because of what they are going through. The individual must start to create and build a foundation, with the help of others, so that healing can start.

T – Trust – How support is built is through trust. Trust is created over a supportive system that has been established and reinforced. Trust is that important cornerstone where you can speak and share with someone and not feel threatened that people will walk away from you. Trust is about finding one or two key individuals that you have a solid relationship with and who will not judge you when you are coming from a place of darkness. Trust is one of those carefully created and nurtured aspects to life.
How does one trust? It is through time and action. Find that individual who carries a presence that you can rely on. It might be through past actions or observations you hold of someone to know that they will care for you. You don’t need them to carry you, only walk with you.

A – Appreciation – We often rely on others to support us through trust but appreciation is the self-love that is needed. This emerges when we have the two pervious elements. Trust in others and trust in self are how we can build an environment of appreciation. We must focus on ourselves and start down a journey of appreciation. When one is going through mental illness, they only see the darkness and they overlook the small things to be appreciated. Slowly this is gained back piece by piece.

When one is struggling, there are signs and signals sent your way but might not be observable because we are consumed with darkness. By being appreciative, look for the signs that come your way. This means that you need to go forward in life with a curious nature. It might be in the form of a situation that you see re-occurring or a person that seems to appear that you feel you really need to speak with.

R – Reflection – A way to be more appreciative is to be more reflective. Reflection is about taking time to think about situations, people and things but in a deeper place and an appreciative way. The foundations listed earlier must be established for an environment of reflection to occur. When one has support, trust and appreciation, then there is the ability to do personal healing. With many distractions and negativity, reflection creates the space within us to hold so there is a light. It ignites the important aspects of our life and we can anchor ourselves into what helps us but not hurts us.

Being reflective takes time and is not something that you can just switch on and say that I will be reflective. Like anything you try, it is about pulling the resources and tools to help you get into a more reflective place. Reflection means stopping to think. It could be journaling, meditating, talking to a trusted person or any and all ways that help you heal. Reflection is just that, seeing your reflection in a narrative mirror.

T – Talk – This is about self-talk and finding that one or two people that you can confide in. Being able to share a part of you that is not to be ignored or that you feel embarrassed by. The conversation is what happens over time to take you on that long journey to help you heal. For example tea is a great conduit. A steaming cup of tea creates an environment where you can sit, share and embrace words that are meaningful. In order for the conversation to occur though, it means being brave and taking that step forward to tell someone that there are concerns and issues…that not all things are as great as they seem. If the previous four areas of support, trust, appreciation and reflection are happening, it allows you the strength to take that final step to talk. At the same time, look for the cues that allows someone else to approach you and ask you if all is fine.

There are two ways to do this, one is inner self-talk and the other is outward conversation.
Self-talk is how you appreciate and reflect and tell yourself that you are OK and you are going to be OK. That what you are going through is part of your life and your journey.
In line with self-talk is to be outward and to find that one or two individuals you can share your challenges with. Talk to someone. Simple as that. Have a conversation with that someone you trust and can share.

S – Strength – When you are going through mental illness and trying to get to mental wellness, it takes strength. Your personal strength and the strength of those around you. At a certain point, you need to have that courage to step forward and say, “NO MORE”. By creating the space of START, you can move forward with strength and regain your steps. It is never easy and there will be setbacks but it is about one step at a time and one foot forward at a time. While many might feel shattered and insecure to move forward, there are those around you to shoulder and realize that there are many in the same situation. You are not alone!

Be brave and step forward to share with someone and at the same time, be someone that allows the sharing to occur. Don’t sit idly by thinking ‘I should say something’ to help that person suffering mental illness. That someone might desperately need you now! You don’t need to have a counseling degree or be a clinical psychologist to support, they exist to do the really important healing work, but you are the one who is the important hand to hold that allows the strength to come forward. Encourage the individual to seek counseling and that it is not showing weakness but rather strength.

Mental wellness STARTS here. There is a lot more to write, speak and share about but change STARTS here.

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