Sunday, May 29, 2022

Happy Mind

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and also the month that in 2002 began the worst summer of my life. I call it the Summer of Discombobulation because within two months time: my Nonne died; my college sweetheart Chris was found dead; I left the company that I had spent my whole career at; and it was my sister's big out of town wedding extravaganza (which was happy and wonderful but was hard to be up and peppy for when it felt like my whole world was crumbling down around me). 

Oh, and did I mention I was still recovering from a breakup. Ya, it suuuucked!!!!

I was so so sad and had white-knuckled it through until that Fall when I hit a breaking point and needed to do something. So I attended a weekend workshop: Landmark Forum. And, hated it! Well I hated the first day, then got food poisoning the second day (from a local lunch spot, not their fault)... but then on the third day it all came together and I've never been the same since. There has been plenty written about Landmark so let me be clear, yes it is a little cult-y in that you get pretty high on the transformation you undergo and then they want you to tell everyone you know about it; but no, it's not a cult. I can't be sure if this is what they actually meant to teach us but this is what I got out of it...

The key to understanding life is that we suffer because we're meaning-making-machines that take our past experiences and interpret what's happening now through those old tainted lens.  So when X happens we project our past onto the situation and tell ourselves a story (Y) about what's happening as a way to understand its meaning which we then believe is the whole and real truth when it's simply just our version of what we choose to believe.

It seems like a simple concept but until it really clicks in your head you would swear both the past wounds you're carrying around with you and what you're currently thinking are true. Once you break free of the collapse of these two distinct things you see the world much differently. Only way I could explain it is that I felt like Pinocchio once his strings had been cut: I'm free!!

This was truly a profound experience for me but as liberating as it was it also made me nauseated at how messy my emotions had been and how sick I was of so much of my life. Which lead me to begin sketching out all the things that were bugging me and not the way I wanted them to be. That lead me to creating a mind map of my life which after I got engrossed in working on eventually morphed into Me Mapping.

I realized the goal of my life was to be as happy and joyfully grateful as I could be 😊

I don't always achieve it, but even when bad things have happened in the last 20 years I've never felt as sad as I was that summer. And it is because I know the story I tell myself isn't the end of it. I can interpret whatever is happening in a more empowering way.

Now my discombobulation was situational and I did the work of reading a lot, attending that program and seeing a great therapist, so had the ability to dig my way out my funk. But my beloved Chris had mental health issues that he couldn't reason his way out of. He had been diagnosed with bipolar manic-depression in his early 20's and even though he was a super smart guy he ended up dying from the stubbornness of not taking his medication. It is the saddest thing ever to know someone you love would be here today if they only could have accepted help. 

Chris was an athlete, an engineer that contributed to several important projects, a loving brother and the greatest first-love a girl could have. He was brilliant, funny, giving, could dance all night and would rub my feet after my waitressing shifts which was so dreamy. My family loved him and I miss him all the time especially when I see a gadget he would have marveled at and wanted to take apart and improve. He was the sweetest most decent person when he was well but even geniuses need help when they're not in their right mind. 

I shared at the start of this How to Happy series that I use perspective, gratitude and remembering death as my happiness pillars. But the only way to use your mind to get to those thoughts is if it's healthy. I know for certain Chris wouldn't have purposely left this world (or me and those he loved) but mental illness is deadly. So take this as a reminder to invest some energy into your mental health and wellbeing, map things out if you don't know where to start, and please, please get help if you need it. Someone will miss you if you're not here. And you deserve to be as joyful as possible while you are.

May we all be mentally well and Happy Happy in our journey through life!