It's what the big self is designed for

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A psychiatrist once told to me that people tend to look for help with their mental health in three places – first Prozac, then therapy and finally God. (I would add exercise to that holy trinity.)

I can see that. In fact, I do see that! Being a person who has always been vulnerable to a grand range of emotions and strong responses, I’ve made regular use of all four pursuits at various points over the years, with exercise and my own version of God being my ongoing and absolute constants. And while there is a vulnerability in publicly acknowledging that I have richly helped to sustain our behavioral health industry over the years, the existential view of French philosopher Teilhard de Charden makes it okay. More okay:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

There is something about this perspective that immediately puts something in me deeply at ease. It’s often hard to be human so it’s helpful to be reminded that we are not just our goofs, our dysregulations, our traumas. There is more to us than that, which is especially helpful to understand on the occasions our mental health gets out of kilter because it is so easy to confuse our diagnoses with who we are.

It is down this desolate road where I think we find the intersection of mental health and spirituality* -- a place where our sense of something larger than ourselves – be it some general greatness, a deity or the grand enormity of the mountains, the oceans, the ground and the sky – somehow gets inside of us. It’s our dawning realization of a big self within, the one that can step in and take care of our small one.

Right now there is some hefty work for the big self to do around mental health. Number one: We have got to destigmatize mental health conditions. We are human and mental health is a basic and common part of life. Unfortunately, what’s also common is our inability to imagine that those around us -- from our leaders and co-workers to our care-providers and service professionals – might also be managing mental health conditions at any given point in time. And so with a sense of our own aloneness we hide in our private bunkers to protect our secret and empower the work of shame. But as Dr. Brene Brown, research professor and world-renowned expert on vulnerability, so famously says,

“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

Bottom line, it would help a lot to normalize this aspect of our lives. If it were normal to have a mental health situation flare up then it would be no big deal to do the normal thing and go get it looked after. And if ever there were a year to make looking after our mental health a normal part of life this is it. After what we’ve been through, we’re all going to need some care for our minds. It will be impossible to take One Step Closer to the center of our wellbeing if we deny having mental health needs. There could not be a better time to take One Giant Step Closer to destigmatizing mental health than this Mental Health Awareness Month of May as we pick up the pieces of this year of pandemic. It’s what our big selves are designed for.  

*We don’t talk much about this intersection between wellbeing and spirituality because it feels kind of hot but it’s real and also clear in surveys from employees who participate in one Total Health program or another how deeply central faith or a sense of spirituality is to wellbeing. In fact, spirituality is commonly cited as one of the core dimensions of wellbeing – and is one of the dimensions of wellbeing on the Northern Light Wellbeing Wheel. 
Our One Step Closer Co-Workers
This week we get to meet Michelle Davis, the Nurse Manager for Eastern Maine Medical Center’s ICU/PICU; Bryanne Lovell, an Occupational Therapist at CA Dean Rehabilitation; and David Leach, the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Office of Community Health and Grants and the NLH Foundation.

I hear all the time in Total Health programs how useful it is to get a glimpse into the experiences of our co-workers when they share a piece of their life as they are doing here in One Step Closer. In fact, for a hefty number of employees, it’s often their favorite part of a program because hearing how it is for one person often gives voice to how it is for us, or it broadens our world view, or it gives us good ideas for what we can do ourselves. Thanks so much to all who have contributed their experience to our common pool of challenges, either with these stories or on The Accountability Track.

The Accountability Track

Be sure to update the Accountability Tracker each week! We’re missing a bunch of updates this week. The Accountability Track link is the same from week to week so at the end of one week just go in and update it based on your most recent experience. Same questions, each time. As always, use your real name or an invented name if you prefer since the Accountability Track is a shared public document.

Resources for happy, healthy minds

Don’t forget, EAP is there for you 24/7.  Just give them a call at 1 – 800 – 769 – 9819.

Healthy Life Resources
Do you need support with your mental health and well-being? Healthy Life Resources is helping Northern Light Health team members like you with issues like anxiety, trauma, and stress. Ask the experts or use our mental health screening tool and myStrength self-guided app to get started. Go to