Health and Unicorns
The other day I was reading an online post from a friend of mine in which she explained how chronic anxiety boxed her in. I could definitely relate, as did several of her online friends. However, in reading this, I wondered "Do mentally healthy people actually exist?". I noticed that I had a distinct lack of people in my life who claimed to be healthy and happy, or at least healthy.
I looked up "symptoms of mental health" online. It was actually a little difficult to find; I had to wade through a ton of articles on how to ACHIEVE mental health, but none from someone actually claiming to be healthy. I did find a couple of entries defining how a mentally healthy person functions in our society, which was a start. For example, here is a Wikipedia definition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_health.
I think there is a difference between being mentally healthy and having a happy life. You can certainly have both, but a mentally healthy person also deals with the trials and tribulations the rest of us have to deal with. Because they make healthier choices than the rest of us, they probably have better outcomes, but life isn't always fair or kind. So I was curious: how does a mentally healthy person THINK? How is it different than me, and can I train myself to reroute those neurotransmitters to think more like a healthy person?
Since again, I have a lack of mentally-ill-free people in my life (at least, according to their therapists), I don't have a whole lot of role models to work with. However, I'm imaginative and observant, so at the very least I can speculate how a healthy person traverses through daily activities. Thus, my new self project began: Think Like a Healthy Person.
For the last week, I've been stopping myself throughout the day to ask myself: how would a healthy person handle this? The answer is often: not how I handle it, that's for sure. However, the solutions I come up with aren't too difficult to employ. Here's an example: I'll get a bill, and my gut drops (it always drops when I get a bill). I'll ask myself: Okay, how would a healthy person address this bill? Because my normal response is to throw it in a pile to forget about it, but I'll still have it stew in my brain, building up anxiety. I would imagine a healthy person would do one of two things: check the due date and if they can't pay it right away, schedule it with a reminder, then move on. If they can pay it right away, they pay it, then move on. In other words: Address the issue, then move on. So the last few bills, I both paid and/or scheduled. The result? Clearly less anxiety. Oddly, I was surprised at how hard it was to take care of the bills right away, at least mentally. I fought it with the resistance of a two year old. Damn, I mused, I am really stubborn.
I've been using this to address more complex issues as well, mostly involving interactions with difficult people. I am finding that people are difficult in part because I allow them to be, in my life. I recently had to deal with a guy that I employed to do some work for me, and he's been utterly disappointing. He makes constant excuses that, as a client, I don't really need to hear or WANT to hear. I just want to know when something can be completed, not his sob story. The bottom line: he's just not fulfilling the expectations we initially set up for this job. What would a healthy person do? Let him go. What have I done? Gone in circles with him, arguing over his botched timelines, and given him umpteen chances to fix his mistakes and increasingly grow frustrated with him, and then complain to everyone around me, which initially blows off steam but does nothing to fix the situation.
Honestly, I saw red flags early on but ignored them, essentially overriding my judgement of the situation as to how it could affect me down the line. I made the situation difficult by not addressing the 900 pound gorilla in the room the moment it entered. Yes, it would have been uncomfortable to say, "hey, I don't think this is the right fit, sorry", but the discomfort would have been minuscule compared to the months of haggling we've currently gone through. And I STILL had to let him go.
A lot of the difficult situations I've had the last few years could have been addressed very early on and many of them avoided, but alas, I don't think like a healthy person just yet. But I have noticed, since I've started this personal project, that when I do make changes, I'm relatively satisfied with the results. The loose threads aren't there, tangling up in my brain. I ended the week feeling less drained than normal, less defeated. I complained a little less. I got a lot more tasks completed than I expected to, but with less mental energy charging them up.
So yeah, mentally healthy people may be like mythical unicorns - they may not exist in pure form. I like to believe they're out there, and maybe I'll actually meet one. In the meantime, asking myself what a mentally healthy person would do in a variety of situations really just allows me to stop and examine how I think, and if that thinking is not adding any value to life, try something new. I don't need to be a slave of habit or mental disorders, as long as I have the skill of observation at hand.
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Julie Baroh is a US artist, entrepreneur, and chronic chatterbox.