Mental health stigma, Mental Health thoughts

Processing Pain and Mental Health

Photo by Dhivakaran S

Goodness, it’s been a minute since I’ve been here. Please forgive me, because like everyone else, I’m still just trying to understand and adjust myself to this “new normal” we are all forced to adapt to. But just because I have not been blogging much about mental health doesn’t mean I have not been working on it. If anything, I have never worked this hard in my life to keep my sanity. I almost want to get an award for being OK and put together, considering 2020.

Speaking of “put together”, I want to open up the conversation about the process of “putting yourself back together” after pain. From my previous post , I couldn’t help but observe a very familiar and popular scenario that is often the culprit in most of our mental health battles. That is: lose or grief. Listening to Johanna’s sister’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder, would she at all have suffered from bipolar disorder if she didn’t lose her boyfriend? Was it inevitable? How different would her story be if she received counselling after losing her then-lover?

Although I was having these thoughts about her, they were not foreign to myself. I often wonder how different my mental state/condition would have been if I had learned to process pain at an earlier stage.

You see, I come from a society that doesn’t know how to mourn loss. We may say we are in mourning, but all that we do is cry while wearing black. But we don’t ever address the pain. What do I mean by this?!

Let me give you a scenario. Let’s say you own a car that you really love. It transports you everywhere you need to go, on your own time and in your own comfort. You take long drives of endless conversations with your lover in this car. You relish the commute to work because you get to listen to your favourite music in this car. You plan fun road-trips with your family or friends with it. And sometimes it’s the place you go to have your “me-time”. Now imagine losing that car, for whatever reason. Now you have to talk with your family to plan a new routine of how to go about town.

Maybe the kids will have to start going to school with the neighbours. You and your partner may need to discuss a new bonding activity to engage in because taking long drives is no longer an option. You may need to cancel that trip and plan something new. And at the end of the day, you are most likely to call someone to tell them about how much you miss your car. Because it was hard to find a taxi, so you were embarrassed to have kept an important client waiting.  How annoyed you are, you had to sit in a crowded taxi. How disappointed you are to cancel the trip you’ve been looking forward to….the list can go on forever. But, I believe you get my point by now. Just losing material possession requires a person to re-adjust their lives to live without it. When you lose something, you call your people and tell them how you’re feeling about it. But for some reason, the same process is not applied when we lose loved ones. All of a sudden, we are just supposed to automatically know how to “move on”. No planning, no talking, yet, we are still required to adopt a new way of life without them.

I cried, I wore black, and I moved on

Dealing with the death of a loved one is a very traumatic experience. And thus, I can understand why the loss of a parent at a young age is considered a risk factor for the development of anxiety disorder in children. I don’t know if my battle with extreme anxiety is a result of losing my biological mother at the age of 2. And then losing my grandparents (who were my deputy-guardians) tragically a year after each other as a teen. But I do know that we barely talk about them. One moment they existed and the next I was told that they are no more. I know that we cried. I know that we wore black. And I also know that I needed to put myself together and “move on”. But I never spoke about how losing them made me feel daily. One minute I was spending all my holidays with my grandparents, and the next, I “obviously” wasn’t going to travel to the North anymore. We didn’t discuss the new holiday plans. And all the traditions my grandparents had with their grandchildren died along.

I couldn’t tell you much about my biological mother. I don’t know what her favourite colour was. I don’t know if she was a social person or liked being indoors with books. I don’t even know if she was as talkative as I am. She left at a young age for me to remember anything. But, the people she left behind are still hurting to tell me about her. Similarly, my little cousins that were mere babies when my grandparents passed probably don’t know much about their grandparents. Because me, as the elder cousin who was a little older to experience them also don’t know how to talk about them. I still don’t know how to talk about the holidays we spent together. The kind of love they gave to their grandchildren. The way they liked to sleep cuddling us. And how they had no bone in their soul to get upset with us no matter how wrong we were.

I just had to adjust my life differently to live without them. Basically, the “new normal” I’m trying to adopt in 2020 because of circumstances of a pandemic, I’ve had to do it thrice before. Only then, I wasn’t talking about it. But don’t get me wrong, I have a very supportive family that I love. My parents are the most supportive and loving humans, I know. We just lived in a different time where “therapy” and “healing” were just mere words in the dictionary. But, this is a pity to know that these are still the same stories for most people today.  We need our cultures to normalize talking about pain, and receiving therapy. We need to dismantle the stigmatization of labelling people who seek therapy as “broken” (but aren’t we all though?!) 

Pain + Reflection = Progress

– Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio said it best: Pain + Reflection = Progress. But, what I’ve often seen happen in my society is pain + prayer = intended progress. I say “intended progress” because it is merely an intention to move forward and not an act. For how can you act upon that which you have not reflected upon?? I am a prayerful woman, but I don’t believe God can heal what you don’t reveal. We need to start addressing how we process pain and grief in our families and circles of friends, or our kids will be battling the same demons that we’re working so hard to kill. I see a lot of people want to work hard so that their kids won’t have to go through what they did (financially a.k.a better education, lifestyle and opportunities). And I applaud that kind of work ethic. Working for the future generation to have better, just like we had better than our parents did. I stans for this kind of growth and progress. But, what good is providing your children with this better financial life while they are still living with the same mental blocks and trauma? How is this any better than what we had? Children imitate elders, so think about what kind of mental wellness your children will imitate from you.

I don’t have the answers on how to process pain and grief, I don’t think I know how to

I don’t have the answers on how best one can process pain and grief, I don’t think I know how to. But I am here, trying to start the conversion. If losing my phone breaks my heart and I find comfort when I can get home and talk about it, how much more comforting would it be talking about a loved one?

Be an ally, help someone in pain

2020 is undoubtedly a year that many of us are losing quite a lot. Be it a job, business opportunity, education, and worse more loved ones. I hope we can learn to do better from this year on how to process our pain. Be an ally and advocate for those who are experiencing pain. Lend an ear to listen, help someone find a therapist, and practice compassion. Judge people less for you can not know the importance of your opinion to someone else. Lose is always going to be part of us. At one point or another, we are all bound to experience the departure of our loved ones. But, there is no need for it to continue being a risk factor for mental illness.

Until next time, leaving you all with some of those good-good mental health vibes:)


3 thoughts on “Processing Pain and Mental Health”

  1. I loved each and every word of this Maggie! WoW so relatable and same questions we never ask out there. Thanks ❤


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