Today is World Mental Health day, so it seemed appropriate to share my 3 biggest (and hardest won) mental health lessons of this past year. Truthfully, I’ve had some crazy sh*t happen in the last 18 months, and many of the mental health and recovery practices I had were put to the test. Some of them passed, and some of them fell flat on their faces. This wasn’t always enjoyable, but I’m very grateful for the learning experiences. I can honestly say I feel better than ever, mostly thanks to these lessons!
1. The kind of support we need is constantly changing.
Last summer I had a very traumatic experience. I haven’t shared about it publicly (I probably will eventually) but regardless, it turned my world upside down. Despite having a great life coach, a supportive partner, family and friends, I didn’t talk much about what I was going through. I had no idea how to articulate what I was experiencing because it was so new, and all of the tools and resources I accumulated over the years weren’t cutting it. I felt very confused and alone.
After months of struggle I finally decided to see a therapist again for the first time in 8 years. This was a big deal for me because I had pretty much written off therapy before this experience. I saw therapists from the age of 12-25 and with the exception of two of them, they weren’t particularly helpful. I always felt like there was a wall between us, and I was expected to reveal everything while they shared nothing. I wasn’t given useful tools, and in some cases it just perpetuated the rumination cycle. This is why I became a coach, and why I only had coaches for years.
What I realized in this experience however, is that sometimes we really need a highly trained professional listener. It’s not that coaches don’t listen, but it’s a very distinct dynamic. A psychotherapist is there purely to hold space for you to explore, show you unconditional acceptance and provide gentle feedback and reflection. This is a sacred container, and frankly I didn’t have the tools I needed to properly make use of it or appreciate it when I was younger.
This time therapy was exactly what I needed to help me put the pieces back together, and it showed me that different times call for different measures. Sometimes we need a coach, sometimes we need a therapist, sometimes we need a friend, sometimes we need to self-reflect, and sometimes we just plain-old need a hug. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works in every situation, and it’s OK to step outside the usual when our usual tools aren’t working!
(PS: If you’re in the Bay Area, Kathleen Dahlen is a great therapist!)
2. Transparency is always the best and most transformational approach.
When I was going through all of that, I didn’t share with many of my closest friends what I was going through, and I definitely wasn’t sharing with my Instagram community and clients. Because I’m a coach and many people look to me for counsel, I felt a lot of (self-imposed) pressure to figure it out, and rise above it. When I wasn’t able to, I acted like I was doing better than I was. I had a short bulimia relapse afterwards and didn’t tell anyone (other than my therapist). I wanted to shield my clients from something potentially triggering, but there was also some amount of not wanting to admit I didn’t have the answers.
I wrestled with the decision to be transparent for months, and had to ask myself what had the most integrity for me. What I realized is that my greatest commitment is to help create a world where people know they’re not alone. To accomplish that, I need to be as authentic as possible. Through that lense, it became clear that being transparent was the only way.
When I finally shared with my clients what I had been going through, it wasn’t triggering for them at all. It was a relief. It helped them see and understand many of the principles I had been sharing more deeply. It helped them feel less alone. It showed me that while it may not be appropriate to share everything all the time, there is always tremendous value in owning our experiences and speaking our truth. As a mental health professional I believe it’s important to share my truths with the highest levels of intentionality, responsibility, and integrity. Sometimes that means being polished and well thought out, and others, being raw and real is the greatest gift I can give my clients.
I don’t regret waiting until I could coherently share the lessons, but I will do it sooner next time. Allowing ourselves to be human and flawed gives others permission to be more deeply themselves, and that is a beautiful thing indeed.
3. It’s perfectly OK to step away from a person or situation that brings up painful feelings in the name of self-protection.
For many years I held the belief that in order to be fully “transformed” we had to constantly be in a state of total forgiveness, connection and acceptance with everyone in our lives. I now recognize that this is an insane standard, but that’s where I was. When a close friend of mine did something that felt very hurtful, I immediately jumped to try to understand her side. I knew that eventually I wanted to be OK with it, so instead of feeling my feelings of hurt and betrayal, I tried to skip that part. I buried my feelings to the point where even I wasn’t fully aware of them until it was too late. Resentment started bubbling up, and eventually I snapped and called her out in a way that kind of sucked.
But I also did something really good. I set a boundary. I took a step back. For the first time ever I cut off communication with someone. I allowed for there to be some temporary disturbance in our relationship for the sake of protecting my heart. It crystalized for me this past year that our hearts are our most valuable assets, and no matter how enlightened we want to be, if we aren’t honoring our human hurts and wounds, we are not going to feel whole. Allowing myself this space and fully owning my hurt was a huge breakthrough for me.
Eventually we came back together and we both took responsibility for our part in the conflict (thank you Landmark!), and re-established a loving, respectful friendship. I acknowledged that I wasn’t transparent about what I was feeling, and let it build to a point where I wasn’t kind in my communication. That’s not what I’m committed to, so I fully apologized and owned up to that. I also forgave myself, because I realized that we can’t always know what we need, or even what we’re feeling. Expecting ourselves to always be able to perfectly articulate what those needs are and have them met is unrealistic (and ultimately counter-productive).
I’m grateful I took that time to heal and self-reflect, and since then I’ve been much better at acknowledging my feelings when I have them! I’m certainly not perfect, but every day I get better at it with practice.
I hope these lessons are of use to you in some way. I look forward to sharing more transparently and letting you guys in on my life more and more! I think the real take-home for me this past year is that mental health is a moving target, and finding a perfect balance is often impossible. That isn’t actually a bad thing so long as we don’t relate to it as bad, or think it “should” be some other way that we’ve idealized in our fantasy life. I also find that the more I practice seeing life and it’s challenges as happening FOR me rather than TO me, the more I learn, and the easier that balance becomes.
Much love to you all!