By Kristin Condon
It was only very recently that mental health issues have started to lose their stigma. Not long ago––a matter of decades—people suffering from “nervous conditions” were treated by locking them away in asylums. The “cure” for so-called mental disorders might be a lobotomy.
But now, thanks to those willing to publicly share their personal stories, as well as public education programs like World Mental Health Day, we are beginning to better understand the unique nature of the human brain and the ever-evolving ways to treat a wide variety of mental health issues. And while we still have a way to go, it’s heartening to know that our options today are much improved. Thank goodness.
In the same way that we’ve broadened our definition of a “healthy” body––not just thin or aesthetically pleasing, but nourished, thriving, useful, and geared toward vitality and longevity––we now want our mental health to include a greater capacity for calm, peace and joy. And just as we have reimagined our relationship to our bodies, must we evolve our relationship with our minds. It’s a lifelong process.
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I realized I was suffering from a roller coaster of anxiety and depression, and that many in my family were too. That’s because in my family, the focus of such conversations was always shifted toward our innate intelligence and high achievements, rather than the uglier issues that went along for the ride. In some ways I’m grateful for that approach. It never even occurred to me to feel shame about my anxiety and depression, and I still don’t. Of course, the downside is that for a long time I failed to see those issues for what they are: manageable circumstances.
Through my early 20s my dedication to ballet and the rigor it demanded helped keep my anxiety and depression in check. When I quit as a professional dancer I experienced a loss of identity, which I expected. But, I also realized that ballet had been propping up my mind against the world. Finally, I understood that what I’d felt for so long wasn’t passing sadness or performance anxiety - it was simply how my brain functioned. And it would continue to function that way unless I did something about it.
My search for tools to manage anxiety and depression has been a gift. I studied Transcendental Meditation with an incredible woman who was a pioneer of meditation in this country. I studied yoga and vedic meditation, and eventually became a teacher. I go to therapy. I journal. I cross-train. I reach out to my friends and family. I express myself through performing arts and writing. I learned (okay, I’m still learning) to understand my own mind and body, not only because I want to but because I must.
This educational journey has led to a satisfying career of helping others know their minds and bodies. I teach Pilates, barre, yoga, meditation, somatic movement, and active present awareness. But most important, I teach that you can appreciate your body and mind no matter what. Any issues or differences you have can become a teacher and an asset if you choose to let them. The same mind that struggles with anxiety and depression has also helped me achieve seemingly impossible tasks and create a rich life full of diverse experiences and people.
While science continues to uncover more of the brain’s secrets, we as individuals can create real and lasting change in society simply by acknowledging and taking care of our own mental health. Especially given the unsettling nature of our world right now, it’s imperative.
If you’re having trouble managing, reach out. Be open to possibilities you haven’t yet considered. If we all made these kinds of efforts, we could better understand and be able to help one another. This sort of understanding on a mass scale can help pave the way for something larger: helping those who don’t have the means or capability to manage their mental health on their own.
So on this World Mental Health Day, take a moment to meditate, journal, or go for a mindful walk. Consider donating to a local suicide-prevention chapter. Then call someone you care about, and just listen.