Mental health is a journey. It is a road trip with tired eyes that long to catch the sun rising after several hours of only seeing the night sky. It is a red eye flight whose jet lag introduces the body to time and space before it does the mind. Sometimes, we arrive in bliss. Others, in turmoil. In sad times, we often wonder, “Why has the sunshine left me to face darkness again?”
Even when we do all of the right things to care for our minds, we find that we still experience low days. This can feel frustrating, disappointing, and confusing. We may ask, “After all of the positive efforts I have taken to care for myself, why am I consumed by such negativity?” Or, “I have had so many good days where I feel joy and I can engage in activities that I love…Why do I feel so down lately?”
Some days, we seek the sun and the shadows seemingly fall behind us. On others, we can’t help but find ourselves beneath the clouds despite the surrounding sunshine. Seldom do we acknowledge that our reclusion to the shade can be the breath of fresh air we needed in that moment. Seeking shade is not good nor bad. It is the simple and natural act of allowing the body to tend to its needs. In the shade, our skin, once hot, takes a sigh of relief. The muscles around our eyes cease their strain, providing a new perspective of the colors and shapes of the world around us. The journey of our mental health is not so different. It is easy to perceive a bad day as a setback, just like the darkness and the shade. However, our bodies and minds are constantly seeking a state of balance. Just as we turn to the shade to take a break from the heat, we experience lower days to help us better understand and bring awareness to the parts of ourselves that need soothing.
During the month of May, the month that brings honor and awareness to mental health as both an individual experience and a field of research and care, may we set the intention to be aware of how we see our own mental health journeys. May we view our peaks and our valleys with compassion and non-judgement as we continue forward. A bad day is not a total defeat, just as a great day is not a total triumph. Life is an ever changing force; its ebb and flow create waves that either rock our worlds or propel us to new levels. Sometimes, there are no waves at all. We must remember that just like the tides of the ocean, mental health is not constant. Rather, mental health is like a variable dependent on everyday changes in the greater equation of life. A variable is something that is liable to alter and adapt. May we kindly remind ourselves that mental health is not fixed; its trend is not upward or linear and its path is not smooth or clear. A fork in the road does not mean we’ve lost ourselves entirely or that our healing thus far has served us no purpose. In these moments, we must bring awareness to the parts of ourselves that call for tending and do so with kindness. We are not perfect beings and our healing is not perfect either.
Healing is the culmination of learning experiences. Through these experiences, we are better able to recognize our triggers and our remedies; the things that stir us and the things that steady us, the things that we need and the things that we can release. Healing is not a state of being or an end goal. Healing is a process. Our bad days are not the outcome of our efforts to heal, but rather a part of the greater healing process. Having a bad day can seem counterproductive to the healing process, but our bad days are some of our greatest teachers. The more we learn about ourselves as we unearth our past experiences and unfold in our present day ones, the more we grow. May we allow our healing to guide us as we participate in the unfolding of our lives in each moment, highs and lows included.
By acknowledging that there are both good and bad days to come, we must make our greatest effort to be gentle toward our healing. Let us celebrate every tiny victory. Let us feel gratitude with each new discovery of ourselves–each lesson, a hidden treasure–that we encounter on our ever changing excursion through life. So, buckle up. We have a ways to go. When we find ourselves in the valleys, may we know that the peaks are still to come. We will enjoy the sun, but we will remember to be kind to our needs as we seek the shade, too. After all, we tend to forget that there is beauty to be found in dark places.
Briana Shea BA, BS