The State Of Your Mental Health Is Not An Excuse…
It’s an opportunity to see how crazy and all over the place you are because then, the craziness doesn’t own you as much
One Saturday, I spent the afternoon by myself in an empty, quiet apartment. My partner left to drop off our son at his lolo’s house. I stayed behind to get some chores done. But before I got to cleaning, I felt the sudden urge to make SPAM fries. In the background, the podcast Stuff You Should Know: How Aphrodisiacs Work was just about to end to which my SPAM craving was irrelevant because spoiler alert: aphrodisiacs don’t work. Up next on my playlist, The Science of Happiness at Work (under the podcast of the same name).
See, I’ve had a brutal work week and being a mom, coming home doesn’t mean I get to put my feet up—at least not until our son finally goes to sleep. All that work and no play often leaves many, like myself, feeling demotivated, uninspired and burdened with all sorts of bad feelings. Multiply that week by two or three more and the result is sometimes creeping depression. I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like a robot, programmed to just work, work, work, and then repeat. There were days when my body would not do what it’s told; I’d feel a low-grade fever come on the moment I wake up or experience a surge of paralyzing pain at the back of my neck down to my shoulders and lower back.
But there isn’t much of a choice. Not a lot of middle class, Third World-inhabiting families do. So I get up, go to work, come home, attend to my family and go to bed. Every. Single. Day.
But the point of this story, however, is not to tell yourself to keep pushing and pushing until you’re running on empty. It’s this: take control of the one thing you truly have control of, your mind.
Back at the apartment, I took my time chopping up the SPAM into thick, matchstick slices as I listened intently to The Science of Happiness. I’m not going to lie; 50% of the time, I’m unhappy because of my job—not because the job is hard but because I care hard. My work doesn’t just put a roof over my head or food on the table, work or working rather is one of the things I’m really good at. So when targets aren’t met, or my team or I don’t deliver on a promise, I feel like I’ve failed, like I will lose my job. And no job means no money. There’s no government or extended family to rely on. So my palms sweat, my heart races, my head begins to throb and I forget to breathe—how the fuck to breathe. And while I’m not always able to practice what I preach, the times that I do, I meditate because it works for me.
That’s what the podcast I was listening to was about: meditation and how many of us mistake it as a complete stillness of the mind. To quote the episode’s guest, Dan Harris of ABC News and, author and purveyor of 10% Happier, “The first experience (meditation) is really intense because you just see how crazy you are and that’s the point actually. People often think that when they sit to meditate and realize, ‘oh my god, I’m so all over the place,’ it’s like trying to hold a live fish in your hand. It’s really hard. People think, ‘oh I’m a failure.’ Actually no, seeing how crazy you are is a victory. It’s hugely important because when you start to see how crazy you are, the craziness doesn’t own you as much.”
To put it simply, Harris is saying that meditation is boosted self-awareness; it’s acknowledging that you’re distracted or having difficulty at the moment. I didn’t need to sit down or take deep breathes. I just needed to be alone with my thoughts and my SPAM to realize, I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself and perhaps, the people around me. My job is only a part of me, but it doesn’t make up who I am and I tend to forget that, especially with work-life integration being the new standard.
I finally drop the SPAM in boiling, hot oil. I had 3 minutes to do nothing, so I continued to acknowledge the voice in my head while listening to Harris. The man’s right about anxiety, too, about it being future-oriented and how I am not my thoughts. My thoughts may be connected to reality, maybe not. Either way, I’ve thought about them long enough and it’s time to let go. But did I? Did meditation solve my problems and make me 10% happier? Not entirely and no it didn’t, at least not immediately.
But the greatest takeaway I had from the two or so hours I had to myself while enjoying my now half-burnt SPAM fries with watered down mustard sauce was that happiness doesn’t just happen to people; it’s a skill made up of sub skills or qualities, like calm, peace, patience that we can work on and eventually get better at with the help of mental health exercises, like meditation.
Meditation allows me to see the craziness in me, the craziness that could be based on something real or based on nothing at all. It’s scary, I know, to be alone in your head. But sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes to find stillness or answers, or realize ‘why the fuck am I doing this to myself.’ The state of my mental health, just like my job, is a part of me, and I acknowledge that even in my 30s I am still a work in progress. Thinking and saying it out loud is empowering and honestly, makes me happier, even just by 10%.
Art Alexandra Lara