Naming changes scale. Whether you call it cyst or cancer, insomnia or clinical depression. Sadness is the last thing I want to give you, if it is the last thing I can give you.
In art school, they used to tell us it is hard so say or do anything original. Some days I feel the same about mental health. The solution in art is to speak your truth, your way. The last thing I want to give this world I love is sadness, because any given moment could be our last. My beacons of hope in sustaining mental health are three fold: sleep, exercise and being in nature.
For decades I thought that the weight of the world and the graphic gore ridden landscape of my dreams was caused by depression. It was only after I finally saw a sleep therapist (after dropping to three hours of sleep a night) that I finally turned that equation around in my head. Once I cleaned up my sleep hygiene and discovered six to seven hours a night was optimal for me, the darkness receded. Pillar one of my temple of mental health – sleep.
Before I fully embraced that discovery, I did try the western medical crutch of medications — anti-depressants in this case. Last summer was the only time in my life I have had a family doctor I trusted enough to even try them. After they turned me into the equivalent of an autistic toddler, I then turned to exercise instead of medication. This allowed me to emphasize my individual needs and lived experience over prescribed generalized solutions. Exercise became my sleep and depression antidote. The side effects have been great! I’m eating less, my energy is up, and I have lost weight (which I know because of how my clothes fit, as I own no scale). Thus was established the second pillar of my mental health temple.
What better place to exercise than outside? Kayaking, biking and walking have always been favorites, but when I discovered that Japanese family doctors have been prescribing ‘forest bathing’ for stress for over 30 years, I knew I had to make being outside a priority. My third pillar was always there, unrecognized.
The fourth pillar of course is my loved ones – those who reap the benefits of the other three with me.
Naming changes scale, but it also empowers us to take steps towards change. Naming my problems and carving my own solutions helped build my temple and keep the darkness at bay. It took me 20 years. Since I have committed to all three pillars, the benefits to my mental, emotional and physical health are countless. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, but I know this too shall pass. While I fully believe my best days are ahead, I know that when the darkness threatens again, I will have my temple to guide my way and see me through to the light once more.