By Jessie Wimmer
When we're sick we take medicine or vitamins, maybe rest in bed more, drink a lot of water, and give ourselves permission to "get well". Physical sickness often demands that our bodies slow down, get cozy and eat some warm chicken noodle soup. If our body is sick enough we literally do not have a choice.
What about our emotional health though? Most people can function on an almost normal level even when they are struggling emotionally. We wear masks or pose to cover our emotional wounds and carry-on at work and with others even when just below the surface we are trying to hush the anxiety, or fear, or trauma that keeps trying to resurface. A lot of people develop coping skills to maintain a functional life even though they are struggling emotionally. For most, our emotional struggles aren't as pressing or nagging as a cold or the flu - which would put us in bed or send us to the doctor immediately. Yet, those mental wrestling matches are just as important, if not even more so to our well-being and overall health. Obviously, they are easier to ignore than the flu and we can numb them, or silence them, or busy them to death, but the truth is - those feelings are still there and need attention, just like a sore throat or fever.
To stay well physically, most people have an exercise regimen, eat well, do their best to get 8+ hours of sleep a night, and have a balanced ebb and flow of work, family, friends and leisure. But what do we actively do to stay emotionally healthy? I know for myself, attending to my mental health wasn't something I ever learned in school, and yet it is just as important to our wholeness and our physical health. Our emotional, or mental health actually effects our physical health. Ever heard of a stress ulcer?
No matter who you are or what your life map has looked like thus far, we as human beings are all in need of an examination of our mental health. Just like a car has flashing lights that come up on the dash warning the driver that the oil needs to be changed, or the engine needs to be checked or the antifreeze is low - we get these same flashing lights from our own bodies all the time; they're called FEELINGS. But most of us ignore these flashing lights on the dash of our soul and just keep pumping the gas for miles and miles without ever attending to what's happening under the hood. It's kind of a dumb questions, but think about it - what is eventually going to happen to this vehicle (your body)?
Ok, maybe you were brought up in a family where everyone swallowed their feelings and never said what they were really feeling. Or perhaps you were raised in a family that engaged in assertive, very honest and possibly even aggressive conversations where everyone let their feelings loose on each other. Maybe you have a vivd memory where you were made fun of for sharing your feelings as a child. For some, the actual word "feelings" makes you scoff, roll your eyes, fold your arms and mumble "Pfftt! I'm tough. Feelings are for losers."
No matter what we have learned, or how we feel about feelings, it's never too late to address the truth: your feelings matter. They're apart of who we are as human beings to help us navigate life and understand ourselves and how we fit into it all. And, like a vehicle with warning lights on the dash, if ignored, may cause serious damage to ourselves, our loved ones, unsuspecting strangers, and our own physical bodies. You have feelings for a reason. They're extremely important, even if overlooked, locked up, or so far hidden in your belly that you don't even know they're there. They're important and deserve to be validated and have some light shed on them.
The decision to dig deep into your own heart and examine it's contents is extremely brave. To get honest about the past, the present, and your goals for the future is vital to your wholeness. One's own personal desire to heal broken and sad places, stand up to and conquer fears and crippling anxieties, and face-off with the only person we can change (you) is a beautiful and noble decision. For some, there may be a shame road block keeping you from calling a therapist; from calling your own heart. Perhaps you're afraid of what you may learn about yourself. You're afraid for anyone to find out about the dark secrets of your past that you swore you'd always keep locked up so no one would ever know the truth. You're afraid to let out the feelings you've swallowed for so long. It's ok. You're not alone. "Pain is our Mother, she makes us recognize each other." - Over the Rhine. "Empathy is the antidote to shame" - Brene Brown.
I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, when I decided to start seeing a counselor it was one of the best and healthiest decisions I have ever made; that I still make every week. The initial decision seven years ago was based solely on the fact that I felt a bit busted and jaded, and wanted to perpetually be growing and stretching and becoming a better version of myself everyday. I knew in order to get past those flashing lights of feeling busted and jaded, I needed to seriously talk with someone safe about my hurts, my loses, my secret grief, my own shame, fears and anxieties. I needed to let it out, validate it, and put an IV in my heart to begin to heal. I also set goals to live differently in the days to come. I learned that the only person I can change is myself.
So it's no one else's job but mine to call a therapist, and get real about my hurts, and only I can be consistent with it. Only I know if I'm really telling the whole truth or not. And only I can feel the weight lifted off my chest and fresh air fill my lungs when I start to heal. Because what I want more than anything else in life is to be the best Mom I can be. To be the best partner I can be. To be the best daughter, sister, friend, niece, cousin, aunt and business owner I can be. And I am fully aware that even in all it's healthiness, eating a bucket of kale, taking probiotics, and doing hot yoga will never validate and set free the dark memories and bright dreams tucked away in the corners of my soul. I have to engage with the me in the mirror and get real with her before I can start to peel them off the walls of my heart.
Thankfully there is a growing awareness of the many benefits of counseling and therapy, and more people are speaking up in the mental health community. It's amazing that we have access to safe, qualified professionals and resources which can guide and assist anyone towards a more whole-hearted life. My hope is that more people will choose to venture into their own wellness journey's, share their stories of healing and freedom and normalize the discomfort that many people feel but never speak of. May we choose to no longer front, or pose or ignore the flashing lights on the dash. Let's take that step of courage, pull the car over, and pop the hood.
by Jesse Wimmer
About the Author: Jessie is a guest blogger for Collaborative Counseling Group and owner of the famous "Cookie Cult" located in Charlotte, NC offering some of the best fresh baked cookies on the planet.