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A State of Well-Being

I grew up in a household where no one talked about mental health. No one I knew ever went to counseling. No one I knew ever was diagnosed as depressed. And folks, it wasn't THAT long ago--I grew up in the 80s and 90s. My first true conversation about going to counseling was with a friend at college, and she scoffed at the suggestion from her dorm RA, saying "I'm not crazy! I don't need to see a counselor." She was struggling, but I had no context for any "success" stories of anyone seeing a counselor, so I said nothing.
Thankfully, around that time--the early 2000s--a shift was happening in our culture, where counseling was no longer such a "bad thing" and you were not deemed "damaged" if you saw someone for mental and emotional health. However, I think we still have a long way to go. Many people, like my college friend, scoff at the idea of seeing a professional counselor or goodness! the taboo and dreaded referral for a psychologist or psychiatrist.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as:
A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can effectively and appropriately cope with or adjust to the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
By this definition, mental health includes everyone, and is vital to a thriving life! And we cannot talk about mental health without noting emotional health is just as important to a thriving life. The WHO says emotional health includes "the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties."
None of us can afford to overlook these aspects of life and how they impact our interior (our desires, thoughts, and choices) and external (our reactions) world. It is uncomfortable to admit our struggles when coping with stress; it is uncomfortable to admit when we are not contributing to our potential at work or at home because of personal difficulties; it is uncomfortable to realize I am undervaluing myself as a person; it is uncomfortable to let someone else into the way we process our emotions. Our culture rewards those who "have it all" and look effortless doing so--no second-guessing, no faltering, no struggling. But we are not loner super-humans.  We need the safety of a confident, a physician, a counselor to help guide us to a healthier place.
Back to me in college: I dated the same guy for all four years and, soon after I graduated, we were to get married. The week of the wedding, he decided he was not ready to commit. Devastated was not even close to what I felt. The raw pain, the confusion, and the hurt began to drown me. Instead of moving into the cute apartment we had put the deposit on, I moved into my parent’s basement. Instead of interviewing for the office job I had applied for, I interviewed to be a nanny. I was not coping well; I laid around on the porch during the day; I couldn't sleep at night; I cried constantly; I was never hungry. I had thoughts of "If I got in a car accident, I wouldn't mind dying." And I had no one to process my depression or give empathy where I was hurting most. I needed help.

I started seeing a counselor and saw her regularly for years. YEARS. It is hard work to be that healthier version of ourselves--but doable and obtainable. I know if I had not taken the step to meet with a counselor, my life would not be a resemblance of what it is today. Not because I eventually got married and have three beautiful daughters, but because my faith was made stronger as I wrestled with God's goodness; my emotional vulnerability was met with compassion and someone met me in my heartbreak; my heart healed rather than splintering in ways that could have lead to one of a hundred other paths.
Unfortunately, no one is exempt from pain, loss, heartache, or suffering. It is not just a matter of how we will respond when we experience a crisis, but whether we have the support system in place. Do I have that friend or confident that won't let me "just get by" in life but who challenges me? Are we up to date on our well checks with a primary care physician (PCP) so we can get a referral in a timely manner if needed? Do we know what organizations or churches in the Valley offer support and recovery groups? If I have spiritual struggles, which pastor would I feel most comfortable meeting with? These are simple but important questions that can aid in our process to pursue wholistic care.

I challenge you to take one step in caring for your mental or emotional health this month--schedule to see your PCP, take daily walks, drink less alcohol, take a leave of absence from work, get a journal and actually start using it--whatever it is, just do it. It is worth it all. Because our families, our coworkers, our friends, and most importantly, YOU deserve the effort and self-care.
World Health Organization mental health
American Psychological Association emotional health
Emotionally Healthy blog and Christian resources

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