I am writing this post on “World Mental Health Day”, although it may post a day or two later. The day started off quite well – I attended a virtual book club discussing the book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari (I will link to the recording at the end of the post) who writes about his experience with depression, and what he believes causes or contributes to depression. This is not a book report about that book (but I might write that later) but one thing that struck me is that he put words to something I am going to describe as – the price of progress. The book listed several lost connections that can contribute to depression – loss of connection with people, with nature, with meaningful values and meaningful work – to name a few. He also mentioned chemical and genetic causes of depression.
I thought about this a lot some years ago (before I even discovered the book) when I felt as if I was at my breaking point, and I attended a lecture from someone who spoke about the steps that we could take in our profession to safeguard our physical health, including various yoga stretches, other exercise advice, dietary advice, and other information about how to spend (and not to spend) our spare time. Instead of finding it helpful, I was upset and frustrated. I could not believe that I had to spend my time doing things I didn’t like in order to cope with a job I didn’t like. There seems to be something about modern life that can put us at risk at all sorts of health conditions – both physical and mental, and the solutions that are touted are never good enough for me. To me it feels like an added to-do list that is necessary to cope with the other things on the to-do list that are causing the problem in the first place. Or to put it another way – for me I found the reality of healthy living bringing me as much stress as the things that caused the health problems to begin with.
To give a practical example of this – I suffered when I lived in England when winter came. I hated the cold dark months, and the only thing that made me feel marginally human was to go out for a walk every day – rain or shine. One day, someone suggested that instead of going out in the cold/rain, I buy a daylight lamp to help. It was a reasonable suggestion, but it made me sad – the idea of sitting indoors under a lamp to get what I thought should come from the sunlight on my skin – and I refused to do it, sticking to my lunchtime walks instead. And eventually, I moved back to the Caribbean (and I am fully aware that not everyone has that option or indeed the desire to do so).
And that was something I felt struck with again when I read lost connections. I find that often “progress” and modern living has given us urbanization, technology and opportunities that we did not have before! We can work remotely and from home - never coming into actual contact with actual people. We can live and work in urban areas without having to care for a lawn or outside space. We can have the freedom and flexibility of “the gig economy”. We can use the treadmill in the safety of the gym. We can eat our cereal fortified with 28 vitamins and minerals instead of meal planning, shopping and cooking “real food” (I will say - this is one of my favourites!!). But these can be the very things that are bringing our health and mental health issues to the surface, or making them worse. And often the suggestions at tackling this are viewed as “a step backwards” when thinking about “the price of progress” especially in so called “Western” societies. It would appear that depression, and other health issues could be seen as “the price of progress” and the solution more items on the to-do list, some of which may be considered “old fashioned”, while taking a tablet and soldiering on with modern life may be seen as the “modern” way to deal with things.
This is not about whether I agree with any of the solutions. On a personal note - several years ago, at the time when I was diagnosed with major depression, I said no to anti-depressants - which was the first thing offered to me, and I was extremely fortunate to work with a team who supported that decision, and did thorough checks to see what the best options were for me. I happened to be very deficient in vit D, and also had an underactive thyroid, and the other “prescriptions” my team medical team recommended included an increase in physical exercise, counselling, enjoying life more, and putting more time into serving others. I did all of these things, and I was able to see vast improvements. That being said - everyone does not have the resources to do these things (in terms of finances, or sometimes even energy) and I always suggest that it should be a decision for every individual. However, whatever you do, if you can - find a good team to work with and to support you then this will always make a huge difference.
My conclusions today - read the book. Even if you aren’t depressed, he gives some great insight into why “old fashioned values” can improve your mood and your life, and you might get some ideas for activities which can fit into your schedule and improve how you feel. And if you can make major changes - then don’t rule them out. Everyone has mental health and so it stands to reason that any of us may find a decrease in this at some point, so there is nothing to be ashamed about, and don’t let that stop you from seeking help, and from advocating for yourself.
And celebrate your mental wellness. I think we take it for granted, until we are in a situation where it starts to deteriorate. Mental health and wellness is important to everyone so take the time to celebrate, connect, play and serve and see if it doesn’t bring more joy into your life!
I bring you big love from a small island.
PS here is the link to the book club session - I hope you enjoy it!
PPS I am sure I used the photo above before, but the beach is one of my favourite feel good tools.