The world has recently paused to acknowledge in horror that two Americans celebrities – Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade took their own lives. Months ago, the Jamaican/Caribbean community lost one of its sons Lowell Hawthorne, a successful NY based entrepreneur similarly to suicide. Many are flummoxed at how people who have “everything” could do such a thing as commit suicide, and as such, this mindset demonstrates the ignorance in our approach to people who struggle with emotional or mental issues. Albeit as we speak, people with mental illnesses are being incarcerated at alarming rates, but that is another conversation. Accordingly, this article will be a discussion of my approach to this journey called emotional wellness, some call it happiness, some call it contentment, some call it peace, I call it the journey to my best self (Oprah inspired).
Being emotionally well is more complex than just handling life’s stressors. It more importantly includes an awareness and subsequent engagement of your thoughts, feelings and subsequent behaviors – positive or negative. The road to emotional wellness is paved with the ability to be aware, to accept, to do the work, to enjoy, to evolve and repeat.
Awareness: Determine where you are on the wellness scale. Are you being your best self? Are you adding positivity or negativity to the people and world around you? Evaluate your feelings and thoughts, listen to what your loved ones are saying about your moods and actions. Is something just not right? Is your action matching up with your intention? Do you bring light or darkness when you enter a space? For example, I would show up at my yearly graduation ceremony as a Principal and cause unnecessary stress to my staff members because of my own fear of the ceremony not being “perfect.” After several years doing this, and hearing the feedback, I realized that I was wasting my time showing up early as my staff was quite capable of taking care of the tasks. Additionally, I was killing the festive vibes. So, in subsequent years, I showed up fifteen minutes before the ceremony and went straight to hug the graduates and to the podium where I would be sitting. That decision changed the entire graduation experience for my staff and myself, they cheekily thanked me for doing that (those punks). Of course, this example may seem like it was not a long-term issue, au contraire. This approach was not isolated, it was my response to dealing with work related stressors. That, my typical response had to be challenged for my own optimized wellness journey.
Acceptance: Upon becoming aware of your negative emotional state-temporary or permanent (sadness, anger, crankiness, depression, nagging, etc.), ACCEPT that this emotional state is NOT the best state of being for you and your loved ones. Be REAL about how crappy you are feeling and be open to receiving the criticisms from those close to you on how you are being perceived (this is hard). If more than one loved one says you are CRANKY, or seemed DEPRESSED, UNHAPPY, SAD, MOODY etc. you probably are. Explore and ACCEPT it. If that is not how you would like to be perceived or be, then know that you can CHANGE it. Know that this is NOT the desired way to feel or be, especially for an extended period. Do NOT accept this as “just the way I am.” Challenge yourself to create the vocabulary to expressed succinctly how you are feeling.
Do the Work: Once you are aware and have accepted that you are experiencing a less than balanced state of emotions, thoughts or feelings, it becomes important to tackle the challenge to make it better. Why are you feeling this way? Is it tied to an incident? A biological change- PMS, menopause, drop in testosterone, chemical imbalance or a psychosis? How long have you been feeling this way? After determining the why, then tackle the how to fix it. Do you know what things make you happy? Recently I asked two of my sista/friends for a list of ten things that make them happy. They were annoyed at me for yet another assignment, however, they grudgingly did it. What this list provides is a basket of goodies from which to pick your own wellness medicine. I swear by it. When I am not feeling my best self emotionally, I go to my basket and I pick from it SELF-CARE activities that contribute to me feeling better.
Enjoyment: Once you have determined what makes you feel your BEST. Pause and ENJOY them, or at least some of them daily. Over the years, I have been even more intentional with engaging my happiness basket. Life, the pursuit of materialistic dreams can cause you to lose yourself in the hustle. I was en route. One early morning at approximately 3 am, huddled over the laptop focused on balancing school (PhD degree classes), being a Principal (in the middle of a district audit) and everything else that a woman is expected to be, AND, being fabulous and fit, I literally felt something in my head shifting. I closed the computer and awakened my husband. Was that my mind? Was I losing it? One friend/colleague had asked me weeks before if I were hormonally imbalanced and I told him NO, I was just stressed from work. Furthermore, this same person with the best of intention when I said I wondered in that 3 am moment if I were losing my mind from the stress, retorted that I was too “strong” for that. The truth is, I was overwhelmed, plus going through menopause without knowing it. So, my husband, who is my voice of reason said “wife, you have to choose, and I know you won’t leave your job in the middle of the school year.” I dropped my classes that week and stayed out of school for a year and a half. We were successful in the audit and I regained some peace. I spent one more year in that role and I resigned from my job (albeit fulfilling, but with some unrealistic expectations of me) and now am a fulltime doctoral student and part time Professor. I forfeited thousands of dollars of income and yet, it is the happiest I have EVER been since I was a child.
Basket of Happiness: I am positioned perfectly where I can choose from my basket of happiness:
- Walking and communing with the Creator through nature several days per week
- Spending time with my loved ones (not everyone that you love, you will enjoy spending extended time with. KNOW the difference. Some loved ones are happiness vampires and should only be consumed in bite sizes)
- Listening to, singing and dancing to music
- Travelling the world with my husband
- Quiet time in my home when its clean and neat, with music playing in the background (N.B. I hate cleaning, but I love a clean space, so I prefer to hire someone to clean because I do not always feel like doing things I hate)
- Teaching, inspiring, motivating, mentoring
- Seeing the lightbulb of awareness go off in my students’ head
- Being in purpose and thus feeling connected to something greater than me
- Setting SMART goals (I no longer set unrealistic goals) and decimating them
- Being of service to others and feeling that I made a difference in somebody’s life.
Therefore, when I am not feeling my emotional best self, I go to my list and tackle the feelings, thoughts or moods with the things that make me happy. I recommend that you create your own list.
Try it, if your list does not work, GO GET HELP!
Evolution: As you know better, you must do better. Be ok freeing yourself from the traditions that have oppressed and suppressed and as such dimmed your wellness for too long. Do not become a prisoner to your goals, past, traditions or anything that does not bring you joy/peace/happiness. Free yourself of gender roles. Free yourself from doing all those cultural practices that you so hate. Drop a task or two from your plate, even for a day. Who says you must cook chicken and rice and peas every Sunday? Will you die if you actually do not? Would it not be more satisfying if you ate out and as such free up time for a Sunday nap? Evolve to being ok doing things because you feel like doing them, instead of because it is culturally expected. I am still developing in this area as “so called” cultural norms are hard to surrender.
Fling your durags and stilettos at the norms and customs that make you sigh in despair and frustration and evolve to engaging in intimate practice with those SELF CARE activities that make you exhale in peace and giggle in delight.
Be ok asking for HELP. Call that person who you can depend on to make your feel better. If despite your best efforts, you are still experiencing extended low feelings, check into a hospital, see a therapist, ASK FOR HELP. If you are thinking of taking your own life, call:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Available 24 hours everyday
The Journey Continues:
It is within your right to fight for your emotional wellness. The journey challenges us at every juncture. We must however LISTEN to each other, HOLD each other’s hands in love, and ride out the storms which threaten to topple our balance. You are important to me, I NEED you to survive. Be important to YOU!
The Light in me acknowledges the light in you. NAMASTE
By Nadine L. Leblanc