It is a Sunday morning and I got up earlier, as usual, before everyone else. I am enjoying my cup of tea and a light breeze in the kitchen from all the windows being open so the fresh air can come in. Sun is out, birds are chirping away…. you get the picture. Beautiful setting and, yet, I have been so tearful last few days, painfully aware that Eid is in just a few short days and it will be the first one without mum.
I feel empty and confused as I do not know what meaning to give to Eid as it was because of her that we fussed about it in the first place. I just want to skip it. And I know I probably shouldn’t. Because the world does not stop. Next one will come before I know it and I will have to find way to go through it at some point. Heart tells me to acknowledge it, in her honour.
So, I have been wrestling with my emotions for months now and I am so grateful for people around me who, without judgement, are holding that space for me, acknowledging my pain and are supporting me to get through it.
It has been only me who has been unkind to myself, impatient, frustrated, in a rush to “get back to normal”, judging myself for the lack of progress…
I am sure that you have noticed Mental Health Awareness initiatives throughout May this year. Here we are in June and, as personally I am going through grief with many other emotions resurfacing, I wish to give my own contribution.
Because mental health issues affect us all. Directly or indirectly. One person’s suffering can have a rippling (and crippling in extreme situations) effect on us all.
I have always been one of those who wears their heart on their sleeve. For a long time I thought it was not necessarily a good thing, leaving yourself so exposed to be crushed by the good opinions of others, however, with age I came to think differently and I am very grateful that I always try my best to find the strength to pull right from my heart and share my emotions.
What this means is that when I am down, I may suffer a bit in silence, but not for long before a muscle I developed pulls me right out and gets me to talk about it or write about it in order to connect with other human beings either through words, pictures or through locking arms and hearts.
Pain is halved when shared. Very true. Feels right. Feels good.
It is through “soul to soul” connections how we heal as well as build meaningful relationships and partnerships, because, in happiness or pain – we are not meant to be alone.
I recently had a Jehovah Witness at my door. Few years back I would close the door, these days – I could never do that to another human being. I also no longer feel threatened by other’s beliefs.
He came with his 12 year old son and opening line was the excerpt from the Bible on death and what happens to us when we die. He dived straight in and asked me what my opinion of it was.
How very interesting for this situation to present itself, I thought to myself straight away…
After my mum’s passing this February I spent much time looking for answers and insights into death from various people and their religious and spiritual beliefs. So, death was a subject that was of a great interest to me and his gentleman and I spent good part of the hour discussing it, sharing, talking…
It truly felt as a true connection between two humans regardless of the fact that we did not share the same religious beliefs. I felt we were both elevated in the process. In the end, he thanked me for my time and insights and, after he left, I felt my spirit lifted.
It was just from this single act of opening to another human being, although a complete stranger, that the rest of my day I felt rather good. It felt good to talk and share…
My husband and I watched the BBC programme recently on mental health awareness where Price William and several footballers opened up on the subject of some of the struggles they all went through, trauma, grief, shame and how debilitating it was to deal with it all in isolation as they had no support. Most did not even understand what was happening to them at a time.
One could see their spirits rising after they have shared their experiences, it felt like true bonds were made and it was an obvious example of a healing taking place right before our eyes. For them as well as for the audience. And that happened through a simple act of sharing their emotions and experiences and what it taught them as well as respect they each have shown for each other’s experiences, without any dismissal, but truly honouring each other.
Sharing our emotions can truly leave us exposed, but it can also have a truly profound effect on the process of healing. People unite in grief as well as happiness. And experiencing deep human connection is nothing short of beautiful.
If we are all encouraged to share more and lift the stigma that mental suffering has, the whole society would be better for it.
But, sharing takes courage and the right environment to happen…
Everything that happens to us is for our growth.
I understand that we are all on a different journeys and and I feel that our ability to effectively deal with (and ultimately overcome) struggle, challenges, even trauma that life will bring to us all without exception – will depend on our own level of personal development, internal, spiritual growth.
Our salvation is in our ability to understand this, to accept, even embrace our suffering so we can learn from it so we can offer more to the world, develop empathy as well as resilience.
And it is easier said than done!
Exactly because we are all at different levels of personal development and many have not even started their journey and, inevitably, those would be ones among us who are feeling lost, overwhelmed, angry, vengeful, depressed, lonely, not seeing a way out. Truly vulnerable parts of society.
Part of society that is also less likely to seek help. So, society as a whole has a role to play to help. It is about all of us helping each other. With kindness. Love. Understanding.
And we do not need to be experts to help others. We just need to care enough to listen. Without judgement. Holding that space for others and allow them to guide us where they need to go with that interaction.
Which is a skill and one worth gaining and practicing for the betterment of the world we live in. So, we stop hurting even more, most times unconsciously, those who hurt already.
Words can hurt like a sword
Have you ever confined to someone to be told “That was really stupid thing to do!” or “I can’t believe you said that!” or “I know exactly how I feel, last year I …” or they just laughed in disbelief… or shook their head in disapproval…
The result: instead of feeling better, you feel shame, stupid and you retrieve to your shell hesitant to even confine again to another human being. Or you feel angry. Whatever it is – this human interaction would be a pure fail. And we are all guilty of it.
We all had conversations where we tried to make people feel better, but, instead, unaware, have made it worse. Because, perhaps, we are very close to that person, we felt we owe it to them to tell them the painful truth and give them the piece of our mind! Truly believing that is what makes us a better friend.
No, it does not. Intention was great, but execution – a pure fail. We made it about ourselves. We perhaps feel better, but the person who has just confided in us probably does not.
Empathy is a skill and it can be learnt. When done right, it is beautiful and can truly facilitate healing and connection.
No one talks about it better than Brene Brown and for anyone who needs healing, finding the path to themselves or to understand human connection and what makes us truly empathetic, check out her books:
“Braving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone”,
“Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, lead and parent” and
“Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts”.
I have gone through hundreds of books before hers on personal development, but no one taught me more about empathy than Brene Brown and I am forever grateful. I know I am a better human for it and still learning and breaking my own bad habits of how I interract with myself and others.
I also recently read and could not agree more:
“Going to a counselor or therapist when you are feeling sad or overwhelmed should be as normal as going to the doctor when you have the flu.”
Brene’s research has taught me that a lot of suffering is either ignored or mismanaged by the society, by us all, because we find it hard or lack courage to lean into other’s person’s vulnerability or we just don’t know what to say.
Or we are too absorbed by our own problems to see the other person and their pain, never even occurring to us that opening up and reaching out also opens up healing for both.
While professionals are equipped to help us in the best possible way, it is the whole society that needs to support the healing process. Because those who suffer do not fear the therapists, on the contrary – they fear what the society thinks, in particular those closest to them. Or what we think of people going to the professionals. That is the stigma around mental health.
I grew up in a culture where this stigma was in particular prominent and there was a huge shame attached to it. Going to the psychiatrist would equal being ready to be locked into a lunatic asylum. I can not even imagine this. This did not even seem right to me when I was a kid.
Some people have gone through serious traumas. Some carry burdens from childhood and were never shown how to deal with those emotions. They learnt to shut down in order to protect themselves and carry the pain and shame all their life. Some of us experience traumas in our adulthood and are ill prepared to deal with them. It is thousands shades of gray.
Those amongst us that suffer each day in silence perhaps do not even have an awareness (yet) that they already have all it takes to get out of that situation. That they are truly more powerful than they think they are…
“Pain is real, suffering is optional”
When I heard this, I was forever transformed. It is liberating accepting this as truth, but it takes some internal work to be able to do that.
What prolongs the suffering is us shutting ourselves from expressing our emotions and seeking help. We think voicing it will cause more of it. More pain. More shame. Instead, this stunts our emotional growth and the armour we put around ourselves does not lessen the suffering and feelings of shame or whatever unhelpful emotions we are experiencing.
Disconnection grows and, with that, loneliness too.
Finding courage to reach out for help is the only way out. And we need to feel safe to do that. That is why, as a society, all of us individually and collectively, need to be able to show compassion, empathy, love. Those are a direct antidote to shame.
That is why I love “Are U OK?” movement. It is teaching society how to respond without judgement and to show it cares in the right way. That is all we can do sometimes. Instead of ignoring, hoping it will go away or asking “What is wrong with you?”
“Are you OK?” gives a chance to start a conversation, make a connection and it can be a life saver for some.
That is why I truly believe that raising mental health awareness is crucial in healing the world. And we need to talk about it daily. Because it effects most people at some point in their life. It can stunt their growth and achieving their true potential. It can be debilitating.
The fact that premier football clubs (as it was my understanding from what was portrayed in the BBC programme) have best nutritionists, physiotherapists, doctors, cooks, you name it – but offer no emotional support and help to their players in that respect – is possibly a reflection of a stigma or a complete lack of awareness present in a society as a whole.
Ability to communicate our emotions is what saved my marriage many times over.
My husband is the same – wears his heart on his sleeve too – and we have learnt that the only thing that can bring us down as a unit is the lack of communication. The moment dialogue opens – we are back to each other. And to ourselves. We feel connected and, therefore – safe.
My husband’s openness and authenticity is the reason he won the hearts of the toughest people he works for – CEOs, other business professionals, celebrities even, academics too, etc. They write to him or about him, they send him cards, emails, postcards or simply demand the company sends him and only him. Because it is unusual to have a guy driving you and impress you with his life philosophy, depth of his world views and ability to show empathy.
Yes, he is a chauffeur and one of a kind. And my rock. And that took internal work that we went through individually and as a couple. And there is more to learn.
My work is different to his, but, in the end, we both work with people and the ability to emphatise is crucial.
I truly believe that it is exactly our ability to authentically show empathy that can offer healing to the people around us and strengthen our own sense of connection and belonging. It strengthens relationships. It conquers fears.
Some of us are more intuitive and sensitive to the sufferings of others, but, anyone who has gone through a specific life experience, grief, trauma, etc. and came through at the other end – has a blessing of being able to offer understanding, love and healing because of their direct experience.
Any life coach, psychiatrist or psychologist would have gone through this work themselves before being able to help others. Many would have specialised in one area because they have personal experience in that particular area, like help with marriages or business or trauma, etc.
Our own painful experiences can truly be seen as blessings. Because you truly don’t know what you don’t know and have not experienced. Perhaps intellectually we do, but we usually relate to those who authentically have already experienced what they are talking about. We just feel it …
I empathise, therefore, I am…
I am a Health Coach. A Nutritional Therapist. I do not advertise my services as anything else but this. However, I can not help developing deep relationship with many of my clients. It comes naturally. Only because of all that I went through personally. And I feel priviledged for that. This is what gives my work a meaning.
My aim is for everyone to feel good when they leave our meeting and I know it will not be because of the meal plan I personalised for them or a bag of Herbalife Nutrition products they just picked up – but because of all the intangible interactions that happened during our session.
The hope they feel. Understanding. Absence of judgement. Inspiration they were given so they can find the motivation within themselves.
I am in business, but not interested in it being purely transactional as most traditional businesses are. You walk into a supermarket and walk out without interacting with a single person. You buy things online and it is the same thing.
I teach my clients to eat better, offer great solutions to healthy eating and optimum nutrition, but helping bring hope, understanding, offer different perspective, insight or just piece of my heart – is the glue to our relationship and why I have clients who have been with me for over a decade.
Because we all seek connections and safe place to talk about our fears and emotions.
I do believe that changing person’s nutritional habits is making a difference, but, if people FEEL better when dealing with us, then our purpose may be far greater.
That is exactly how I wish to come up in the world. And it is a privilege I do not take lightly – an opportunity I am given with my work.
We are all one. Happiness of one person has a ripple effect on the whole of society. Healing many has a ripple effect on the whole world.
If we indeed are energy vibrations (as I believe that we are), lifting someone from fear, lack of self worth, desperation towards love, acceptance, hope, willingness is what shifts the energy of us all as a whole.
Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart
I took this from Brene Brown. It totally moves me.
What it means?
To have courage (strong back) rather than fear to show our vulnerability (soft front) so we can connect with others with our authentic selves even if it means to stand alone (wild heart).
Only through being totally ourselves we can experience true belonging (when others want us for who we are, not the other way around). Belonging to ourselves first, so we can attract the right people into our lives.
This concept is an aspiration of mine.
We all try to fit in or hide true feelings or disguise our pain or are run by fear or anger… One or combination of those and more… It is not a way to live nor a path to thriving in life. And it can consume us.
Behind it is a mental health storm brewing in. When it goes to an extreme – give it access to guns and you have massive shootings as we see in the USA often.
To have more compassion is to start from ourselves first. Mind the language we speak to ourselves. Then how we treat our children. And everyone around us.
It is about awakening. And we can not judge those still asleep as we are all on a different path and where we are meant to be, but the future rests on the shoulders of those who are awake(ning) and willing to work on themselves to make this world a better, more compassionate place.
It takes a village to raise a child…
In closing, the bottom line is that mental health is taking a beating in today’s world. And mental health truly matters. Our own and health of others around us.
And do not expect the change to come from governments and institutions.
We should all take interest in how we can individually make a difference.
It starts from us. By empowering ourselves, we are able to empower our family, our community and beyond. Because it takes a village for us all to thrive… There is strength in numbers.
Healthy mind can only exist in a healthy body and the other way around because the two are inseparable. Well, not entirely true. Mind, body… and spirit.
My wish is to be part of the solution where these are united. So, we feel that we are enough and worth becoming the best versions of ourselves in all aspects.
The truth is, we will always be work in progress, but as long as we accept that and keep striving and growing, progress is all that matters.
In the mean time, let’s (learn to) enjoy connecting and give a little bit of our heart to the world around us. We need each other…
Thank you for reading and hope you are OK.