Mental Health: Growing through Change
At middle-age, which is where I am, I have been at the edge of the unknown a few times. I have taken myself there deliberately, and I have been mysteriously taken there without warning. I am at the edge of the unknown again. I am going through the shift of no longer being a woman who can conceive. I am going through the shift of no longer being a mother whose duties are nearly every minute of my existence. I am going through the shift of who I am as a wife, and realizing I want to be a partner, not a role. I am going through the shift of being full-time mom, to full-time student, to do-I-want-to-be-a-full-time-employee when really all I want to do is go-deeper-into-my-authentic-nature-and-immerse-in-whatever-is-my-soul’s-intent.
The possibilities of this time of life seem endless. The freedom of this new space sometimes takes my breath away. It’s a time of great unknown and seemingly instability where I don’t know how or where my next steps will unfold. It is also a time I know and trust myself more than ever before— and that is proving to be everything. To arrive here was not easy. It was a process, and it continues. I feel different this time and I believe it is because my perspective has widened. Perspective is the way we look at things. It can be gained from our upbringing and our religious or spiritual beliefs. It can also be gained from all of our experiences and relationships. If we allow growth and change to occur in our lives, our perspectives will widen. However, gaining, keeping, and widening perspective can be difficult due to the busyness of our lives, and almost impossible when we are in the midst of intense emotions and instability.
Wayne Dyer, author and speaker, used a trolley strap as a metaphor for keeping perspective. When we are on a trolley, which many of us might have to imagine, and the ride becomes rocky, we reach up, and grab the trolley strap. When our lives get rocky, we can also reach up, or better still, reach within and grab perspective to keep us steady. When our lives are more stable we can spend time widening and expanding our perspective.
In order to gain, keep, and widen perspective, here are some of my suggestions:
Investigate: It’s important to ask ourselves, what are my perspectives? Have they broadened? Do they support new growth? And further, are they authentic? Or do they originate from my family of origin or religion that does not resonate with who I am now or want to become?
Read: Choose biographies of people who have been through tremendous adversity and have come through it. Choose self-help books to understand more about yourself. Discover spiritual texts and poetry. These readings can provide us with the deeper meaning of our existence, which helps us get through the turbulence in our lives.
Breathe: As my father often says, “When all else fails, you always have your breath.” Our breath is our connection to life, and taking time throughout our day to re-connect with this natural rhythm is sure to bring stabilization and perspective.
Move: When we feel stuck or afraid, getting our bodies moving can be the quickest way to get our heads out of a problem. We can begin by asking what our bodies need to be healthy and strong while we undergo change. Do we need to walk? Run? Practice Yoga? Are we craving a certain food or having a negative reaction to a food we eat a lot of? Movement does not have to be confined to our bodies. Maybe our minds need to move. For example, maybe we have been let go from a job and realize it was not satisfying or stimulating enough. Maybe there is something we have always dreamed of doing that we can start researching. Maybe we can make a list of the things we’ve been wanting to do.
Seek support: Support can come in many forms. For me, my tried and true is my journal. Keeping a journal can open up a healing process that sheds insight and perspective into any problem we face. Also, let us give up the mentality that we have to do everything alone and not show the world that we are suffering.
A while ago I overheard a woman share some personal issues with a co-worker, who quickly said to her, “Good luck with that,” and left the room. We are often left alone with our deepest issues, and yet this does not have to mean we cannot risk vulnerability and ask for what we need. The people who can handle it are there somewhere. If we can’t find it in family and friends, we can always find a therapist who can. Maybe we can start our own support group to help ourselves and others. It is important to remember we are not alone. There are many people who are also going through difficulties.
Ground: What does it mean to ground? Too many of us are hooked into our devices and the busyness of our lives. This can create an imbalance in our system where we spend too much time in our heads and not our bodies. Being in our bodies is grounding. Some ways to bring ourselves back into our bodies have already been listed: breathe, move— another way can simply be to take off our shoes and walk through the grass, or as a friend once suggested, getting a bucket of dirt and putting our feet in it.
Remember: We are adaptable and resilient beings. We can forget this in the midst of suffering and trauma. It is also easily forgotten when we are comfortable in our immediate lives and yet find ourselves worrying about the future. If this occurs, recall a time when something unexpected happened. How did you get through it? What forces were there to support you? How did you adapt? I bet you can find many ways in which you were supported and resilient. Therefore, we can know that when the next unexpected event or disappointment occurs, we will get through it.
Also remember these words from Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron: “This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, unchartered, shaky— that’s called liberation.” And, liberation is everything.
I would love to hear from you— what are your questions about mental health or issues you’d like to discuss? What questions or comments do you have about this article? Let’s make this an ongoing conversation.
Nikki DiVirgilio is a recent graduate from graduate school majoring in Social Work. She writes about self-care and personal discovery on her blog: https://thesoulreporter.wordpress.com. She can be contacted through her blog at: https://thesoulreporter.wordpress.com/contact/