Monday, October 5, 2009

Mental & Emotional Inventory

There are some ways in which they are separate, but Mental and Emotional health overlap in so many ways, I will often be lumping them together, today included.
Mentally/intellectually, I'm a pretty smart person, and always have been. It was a key part of my identity growing up - I was the really smart kid, and didn't have a hard time with any subject at school. I think that was at least as much to do with the way the school system was structured and my ability to figure out what adults (teachers) wanted as it was to do with me really being smarter than my peers. I think it's terribly sad that so many very smart children are indoctrinated by the school system to equate learning with suffering and themselves with stupidity. But that, my friends, is another rant entirely.
Intellectual challenges are important to me. It is vitally important to me that I continue to learn and grow throughout life. As I've said before, without change, life gets stagnant.
Mentally, my ability to think clearly, concentrate, reason, and understand and solve problems quickly deteriorated in college. I'm not sure why, but I'm certain it had to do with poor diet, lack of sleep, and emotionally abusive relationships, as well of years of poor-self care catching up with me. I sometimes joke that I got stupider in college... and it's only half a joke. I miss that sense of mental clarity and alertness, as I rarely feel it fully any more. I don't feel all that smart, anymore.
Ideally, mentally, I'd have a quickness of thought, clarity of mind, and ability to reason clearly and rapidly, without the dragging hangups I developed late in my teens. I miss math. I want to practice and love math again. I want to do higher math for fun. I want to tutor/teach HS kids (and adults) in math up through calculus, and be able to instill in them the understanding and sense of fun and amazement I used to have for the subject. Learning can be so exciting and fun. Unfortunately, our public school systems have a tendency to suck all the excitement and fun right out of learning.
Many, many years ago I realized the important of applying one's mental abilities to understanding, interpreting, and controlling emotions. Our emotions are affected by so many things - even more so if one is, like myself, a particularly empathetic person, open to the influences of others' emotions. Diet, sleep, exercise, addictions (to anything, including foods) and unconscious cues (such as smells or sounds that call up remembered emotions) can all cause emotions in us. Without practicing self-awareness and making mental connections, we can act on emotions without realizing we are just feeling that way because we are tired, our blood sugar is low, a song has triggered a painful memory, etc.
Emotionally, I have dealt with depression off and on my entire life. There have been times when it has been very dark, but the majority of the time it is more subtle, and I have had to learn to pay attention to my body's cues and what triggers I am susceptible to. I am pretty good at handling depression on a daily basis, but occasional bouts of a deeper depression require outside support. Luckily, I have a strong support network in my friends and family. I cannot overstate how important this is. But even more important is a belief in and love for YOURSELF.
I'm currently in therapy and quite pleased with my therapist. I've had a few before and decent ones are hard to find. I'm finding this one is responsive when we run into stylistic differences and willing to customize to what I need. She is what a therapist should be - a facilitator, not a boss or advice-giver. She is really helping me work through some of the deeper, more hidden psychological issues I didn't even know I had, and it is really good. It's also very different than previous therapy that I've had. I'm up in my head so much of the time that I haven't been able to do much with the deeper emotional level, but she's got me doing some gut-level work too, from time to time, which is very helpful. I am a firm believer that the right match in a therapist can do much for your mental and emotional health, even if you feel you are "healthy" already, and I would encourage everyone to consider seeing a therapist to talk about any issues, even small ones, that stand between you and radiant joy. Becoming aware of your emotions, becoming mindful of them, allows you to begin to unravel conditioning that affects your life in both daily and in large ways.
Ideally, I would have clarity regarding my emotions and triggers and I would be able to understand the true source of the emotion and respond accordingly, with intention and mindfulness. I would no longer be subject to the whims of chemical imbalance (body is tired, have a migraine, ate something allergenic) but would be aware of them, minimize them, and act with this knowledge in mind. For example, I feel an emotion of irritation with my husband. I could a) snap at him and call him out on some slight, telling him how he messed up and needs to apologize, or I could b) realize the snack I had an hour ago gave me a migraine and my body is aching from not being able to handle the food, making me tense and causing me some pain, and therefore the emotion is physically based and the physical discomfort will pass - nothing has actually occurred worth yelling about.
Furthermore, ideally I would not be subject to react based on previous conditioning or unfulfilled unconscious needs, as I would have worked through and be aware of that conditioning and those needs and could work on de-conditioning and seeking healthy, conscious fulfillment (or release) of my needs. Therapy is super-useful at this, but so is any deep mindfulness such as meditation, yoga, etc.
We as individuals and as a society (and as the whole world!) would be so much happier if each of us took upon ourselves the responsibility to be fully mindful of our actions, words, and even thoughts. We shape our reality with the way we think about it, so true mindfulness starts within, with the observation and constructive reshaping of our thoughts. We can change our lives by changing the way we think. For more on this exhilarating and empowering concept, check out the works of Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and Deepak Chopra.

Anyway, I think that's a pretty good starting point for my mental/emotional inventory. More to come as I process it.

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