Finding the light: a journey of self-acceptance, self-discovery and community awareness – part 1

This article has been submitted to us by Deb Roberts, Director of Yogabean and a Career Money Life Certified Supplier.

I want to gain acceptance of myself (all of me) and with that discover how to live and breathe easier and give others the possibility of the same vision.

Success is a complicated and largely misunderstood concept to me that has been influenced by my upbringing and culture.

Emerson declares about success.

What is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

—————————————

When I was at The University of Texas at Austin, there was a leadership group that met and had a ceremony of sorts to commemorate our contribution to the university and there was a candlelit which had a burning flame.  The flame represented an ongoing passion and commitment to the then and potential future initiatives and ideas a group of us (all of age 20 somethings) would be involved with over our lifetime.

Since then, light has followed me…or I have followed the light?  But there has been a lot of darkness too.

Ever since I can remember, the concept of time has been a foe not friend.  What can I accomplish in this amount of time?  Am I successful?  What worthiness does this task or activity have in the scheme of life?  No doubt my family and culture have influenced this along with my own unique DNA.  I am always thinking (over thinking) what I can be and do in life?  What is my contribution? What is my unique skills and how can I impact society?  I like ideas and talking about ideas and issues that matter to humans.  I tend to think big and bold and yet the minutiae often gets in the way too.  I’ve been described as an industrious philosopher by my able-bodied therapist who has known me for 13 years.  I’m not sure.

I’ve been hospitalised 3 times at least for anxiety and depression.  I’ve gone in when I feel such shame and guilt that I need to ‘go away’ and I have a strong desire to find a cure, read something, learn some new theory or approach that will be the thing to solve my woes –  ironic though that I continue to search for it but I’ve never found it.  A diagnosis of generalised anxiety has been given with a mix of obsessional tendencies that get in the way of living life but yet isn’t all bad.  It’s partly what has enabled me to travel and study internationally, attain a PhD, work in the public and private healthcare sector, teach at university, own and operate a yoga business and in the midst of that, having a family of 3 boys and a husband who is literally a backbone for all of us.

Am I lucky yes; Am I unlucky…yes.

To share the experience of a mental health condition is already to label something that perhaps doesn’t have to be labelled.  We are living a human existence and that includes suffering just as the Buddha enlightened us with during his lifetime and teachings.  As a human, we all share a mix of emotions ranging from joy and elation to the depths of anguish.  Some of us feel more deeply than others.  At various times, we are happy, sad, lonely, angry, bored, unmotivated, nervous, excited.  This is to be expected as a human, though periods of anxiety and anguish have tended to frequent my existence or at least it feels like it.  It has also been the motivating factor for doing much of the contributions I have made in life.  So why is it such a precarious and difficult topic to share stories about and how can we talk about it for the benefit of people everywhere.

I want to be able to communicate how mental health affects everything and that our first world’s greatest quest is to be able to contend with our mental health.  Most people are affected by someone with a mental health condition since the statistics are that 1 in 4 have a mental health condition during their lifetime.

Part of the process is acceptance.

I have not accepted that I have a mental health condition mainly because of the societal stigma attached to it and my own stigma attached to it.  I’ve been around it for as long as I can remember.  My mom had ‘depression’ and her mum had ‘bipolar’ and her mom had something else that wasn’t diagnosed but was something related to one of the two.  My dad’s dad suicided and many family members have suffered down the familial line.  But so what?  Does this define us and will it continue to define us?  How much is nurture vs nature?  It’s obviously both so what can we do individually andas a community to reverse the statistics.

People don’t want to talk about anxiety and depression because let’s face it – it’s not a fun or comfortable topic.  However, there are so many of us suffering day to day with a bravado of ‘everything is ok’.   It’s not exactly the topic people want to talk about or share their own histories about.  We largely cover it up and at best have a small inner circle that know about our plights.

I’m in the business of self-care and looking after oneself yet have the very same personal challenges day to day that periodically make me unable to ‘give’ back and I become insular, withdrawn and sick.  It is part of my reality.

For the benefit of my own coming to acceptance of ‘all of me’ and being authentic to myself and my children and family and friends and community, I want to start talking about it.  If I talk about it then maybe I will not feel as ashamed as I do covering it up.

So why can’t we be more open and accepting about our mental health?  Because society still deems it weak and being vulnerable is largely seen as weakness even with author and researcher Brene Brown maintaining its wholeheartedness and strong to be vulnerable.  There is growing acceptance of mental health conditions that many organisations have helped to debunk like Beyond Blue, Headspace, Smiling Minds and many others.

If you had a leader of your organisation or are part of your family or community that is/was suffering mentally, can they still lead and be a valued and contributing family member?  What if they are not coping?  They can’t do the job that they are meant to or the role that they are meant to fulfil.  Literally, they need help.  Isn’t it ironic that to need help is somehow seen as inferior to keeping it all intact and together.  We want to be in control and able to function.  Why wouldn’t we? But what if we are not?

I often don’t want to be here. It’s a more existential thought than a real plot to do anything.  At its essence, I want to go away and relieve the depths of my despair.  I want to change who I am and be someone who thinks less, wants less of life and feels less.  But here I am.  I am sensitive, passionate andfeeldeeply.  I often just want a way out of feeling miserable.  But I have children.  How in the world can a mother of 3 children possibly have a thought of ending it all when I have such a beautiful family and life.  It’s that simple.  I just do.  I get caught up and consumed by the uneasy feelings and sometimes it’s just too much.  I’ve had enough.  Luckily I have a host of support around me personally and professionally.

I’ve been on medication for a number of years for anxiety and depression though I still consider it a weakness. Members of my family growing up were on medication and so it’s a familiar scenario of ‘what medication are you on now’.  Some medications work to a point and then stop and we try something else.  There is cognitive therapy that has been my guide for 13 years and still trying to figure it out.  Some of it has helped.  Some of it hasn’t.  I do yoga, I meditate.  I communicate with friends.  I get out in nature.  With all of this, I’m still here in the plight and fight of my life much of time.

So when do we talk about it?  How do we talk about it? How do we destigmatize it?  When I started Community Conversations at my children’s local school a few years ago, my vision was to talk about real issues affecting us as humans including the pointy end of the issues to do with mental health.  I was not game to bring it up as a topic and therefore we started talking about other issues – easier issues.  But today I want to talk about real suffering and that maybe we are more similar as humans than different but we just don’t realise it or communicate about it.   Can we come together and try to address the many hardships mental health has on us, our family, community and society?

 What has been your experience?  Feel free to share.

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