I am massively influenced in my thinking about mental health by two books which tackle the drivers of poor mental health. There is a saying in psychotherapy circles, “Name it to tame it”. This applies to emotions, when feeling out of control of emotions, the first step is to name them and identify the pain behind the feeling. Emotions like anger for example, or frustration.
There are some emotions that are so primal, so linked to our survival, that they drive us to behaviours that we are not in control of. The ones most relevant to mental health are the ones that are tackled by my two favourite books, and they are the twin drivers of mental health episodes as I experience them. They are Fear and Shame. The two books that I love that tackle them most effectively, that I am always recommending to friends and peers are Beyond Fear by Dorothy Rowe, and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Please read them.
Name it to tame it is true. It works. It works very effectively with emotions that are supposed to be secret, of which we are supposed to be embarrassed. Fear and shame fall neatly into this category, as does the feeling of social isolation that they can lead to. The fact is that it can be frightening to manage your mental health. That fear, whether it is of being alone or being overwhelmed by things out of your control, stimulates the fight or flight instinct. It leads to mental survival tactics that are taken in desperation, sometimes in the middle of the night, when the fear of another sleepless night causes anxious spiralling thoughts. Or on a day when the only refuge seems to be a duvet, or the bottom of a bottle of wine.
Its sister emotion is Shame. When we are isolated by fear, shame comes along and tells us we deserve it. We deserve to be alone, we deserve to struggle, we don’t deserve any better because we aren’t like other people. There is something wrong with us.
I’ve been working on my fear and shame for years now. I’ll probably be doing it all my life. But I have worked out some great tactics to challenge them. I’d love to share them with you – and the new creative thinking that helps challenge them. Think like a #mentalhealthartist. That’s who you are, a practicing artist. Not in any way anything other than a beautiful and creative human being, wearing your scars like the medals that they are, and generously sharing the story of your struggle in a way that makes it useful and inspiring for others. You should be proud of what you do and how you manage.
If you want to learn how to be a #mentalhealthartist, join our group, look out for our new course, remember to be yourself, and take care of you. Stay in touch – we need you here.