We’re joining the APA in honoring Mental Health Month, which seeks to bring awareness to the importance of taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.
Nowadays there seems to be a focus when talking about mental illness or challenging life issues to talk about what’s wrong. There’s this emphasis on symptoms — an emphasis that seems unrelenting and single-minded.
Eventually, when you get into psychotherapy, you do start talking more about your strengths, about the good things in your life, and how you extend such strengths and wins into other aspects of your life. But people don’t seem to go into psychotherapy as much nowadays. They expect life changes to just happen, with little effort on their part.
Since this is Mental Health Month, it seems like a good time to just say what sometimes seems impossible — you can make the change you want in your life.
Whether you do it on your own, or you do it with a friend or therapist, it doesn’t really matter. People make changes — small and large — all the time in their lives.
Sometimes it feels like we can’t change. Like all of the weight of our previous decisions weigh us down, that our personality traits are intractable and unchanging. We instead might focus on trying to change others instead of focusing on ourselves. But nothing in your is as set in stone as it seems.
People who experience a serious accident or a life-threatening diagnosis find this out very quickly. Life change in the blink of an eye, yet we wrap ourselves in a daily cocoon of pleasant — and safe — optimism (whether we mean to or not). Most of us believe our lives will continue today just as they did yesterday, with little difference.
That’s the false belief most of us operate under. And most of the time it works for us.
But when something in your life isn’t quite going right, or you’ve run into a wall in the treatment of your diagnosis, you discover how things don’t always work as well as we’ve led ourselves to believe. Coping with our emotional states using crutches — whether they be unhealthy behaviors or irrational thinking or both — usually won’t work out in the long-term.
Just as an outside force — such as an accident or physical illness — can exert change into our lives, we can be just as powerful a force for change. We just need to make the choice for change, and then stick to it.
“Easier said than done, doc,” I sometimes hear in reply. I agree — it is easier for me to say we can all change, than to actually do it.
That’s for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s our illness telling us that we’re losers, that no matter how hard we try and change, it’ll never take. Or if it takes, it won’t last. Or if it lasts, it’ll just be a matter of time before something newly bad happens to us. That’s the insidiousness of disorders like depression — they affect the very core of who you are, as well as your self-confidence.
Other reasons might be more a matter of your current circumstances. Maybe you’re out of work and can’t afford health insurance. Maybe a relationship you valued just ended, and you lost that one person you always had to rely on to talk to, to share life with.
And these are all very good reasons. But reasons shouldn’t be turned into excuses for inertia — for rationalizations to stay in the status quo.
You can change. It usually is not easy, and for every step forward, you may feel like you’re taking two steps back. But trust me when I say that change is possible. And that potential is within every single one of us — yes, even you.