The Great Un-Shaming

It's Mental Health Awareness Month

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

I’m about to reveal something that may at first seem small-minded but in fact makes everything so much more blessedly expansive. What I’m about to reveal is a reaction I had a week ago when my sister showed me pictures from a recent hiking trip. In one of them I saw her friend, Jean, plopped on the ground, Jean who can cross-country ski a gazillion kilometers at the age of 65. In this picture, however, I also saw the fabric of her shirt stretching over several not insignificant rolls around her middle. Dear reader, I instantly felt something release in me. Here it was, a visual message that it’s okay to be human! It was like I exhaled. It was like the world got more comfortable, not so constricting. Even this superwoman who can carry a 40-pound pack into the Grand Canyon has human struggles like the rest of us. And you know what? Those rolls did not take away from her very real accomplishments and prowess one whit; she just became more complex, more dimensional, more like me with my own set of human challenges. It was an affirming, permission-granting moment.
It’s that very level of relief that it’s okay to be a complex and fully human being that we stand to gain when we are able to un-shame mental health. It’s a relief that helps us feel psychologically safe and it’s a relief that makes it more likely we’ll seek treatment. There are many people who will suffer and spiral instead of getting treatment because the perceived shame is too great – even people who would encourage others to seek treatment.
Spring is a great time to put some extra muscle behind un-shaming mental health as we crawl out of winter and celebrate an all-new and greening world. It’s a time of so much possibility and renewed energy for growing. In the spirit of growth, the more attention we bring to this issue, the more stories we tell, the more we normalize getting treatment, the more everyday systems we build to enfold this piece of our human experience into the fabric of life, the more we all win. The more we will get the best gifts people have within them to give. In that world we are working towards, taking care of our mental health will be as normal as eating fruits and vegetables. It’s just something we do to be healthy and whole.
Throughout the month of May a few of your co-workers will share their stories about taking care of their own mental health, helping to normalize this part of being human and making the world a bigger and safer place for everyone for the signal it sends that the world is a kind and accommodating place to be. We all have our things that need accommodating. And even if you don’t have an ongoing mental health condition or aren’t currently experiencing a period of poor mental health, chances are good you may at some point. Mental health for everyone is in daily flux. Some days we’re good; some days we’re not.
Living in a society that doesn’t regard mental health as a shame-worthy thing changes the score about how we feel about ourselves and what we do with ourselves. If we can open our minds a little more and a little more and a little more each May, there will come a day when we will wonder what on earth we were thinking. Not taking care of our mental health will be like not washing our hands.
Having a mental health moment or condition or period doesn’t take away from our accomplishments, our competence, our prowess. It just adds to our complexity and speaks to the full-bodied experience of being human. Full-bodied complexity…after all, that’s what makes good wine.
Cheers to us!