In honour of World Mental Health Day (#WorldMentalHealthDay), what better way to further the initiative than to talk about a subject which is still shunned by much of society. There is no shame in discussing this issue, save the wall of fear we ourselves erect.
And that’s because we are all damaged goods. The difference with many of us is the wrapping paper we put on the outside to make things look pretty. And acceptable. And safe. But underneath the shiny, bleached pulp, we all struggle. We try and make sense of the world. Sometimes we make brave advancements, and other times we cower in fear, unable to face the deafening light of reality.
Deep down, in that cave we don’t let a soul, yet which houses our very own, we spend much of our time when alone. We don’t allow others in lest they scar its pristine walls with their breath, or damage its floor with their stomping.
I can think of two words in English that embody this day very well. Not perfectly, of course, as language is a human invention, and therefore necessarily flawed, but I think compassion and empathy do a pretty good job nonetheless. (In the past, people also used compassionate as a verb. I like that, and would like to resurrect its usage.)
In my experience, compassion is gained by a wealth of human interactions, while reading a wide variety of books inculcates empathy, even in the mean-spirited.
I was watching a TED Talk recently and Joan Halifax — Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care — was describing what compassion means to her. You can click on the link above and watch all 12 minutes, but essentially what she said was: “Compassion is comprised of that capacity to see clearly into the nature of suffering…and to see that I am not separate from this suffering.”
If you find yourself struggling on this day, and perhaps on many others, don’t let the fear of your ego being tarnished hold you back from discussing it. If you can’t/won’t talk to friends, loved ones and/or family, there are other outlets. Although not everybody reading this right now will reside in Canada, we are very fortunate to have countless organizations, help lines, institutes, hospitals and peer groups that can help you with this throughout the country.
One of the finest examples of this is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) here in Toronto. Like any other big organization, it can seem daunting at first to navigate your way through its murky waters, but I assure you the effort is well worth it. Many kind and well-trained people work there and want exactly what you do: to find solutions to tough problems that may feel like they are strangling you from the inside out.
For now, I’ll leave you with this poem and some more information at the bottom. In closing, 안녕히 계세요 (Stay in peace)…
To the urn of which I hallow,
a stark reminder of things past,
I was once a deathly sallow,
but hoped it would not last.
Now, in years since passed,
life did somehow turn,
From burning coals and rotten ashes,
to a higher place I’m free to yearn.
P.S. Per the World Health Organization, the good people who bring you this day, and their website:
World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.
The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.