Shalimar, Classical Egyptian Dancer

Shalimar, Classical Egyptian Dance Instructor, Shalimar's Veil

A dear friend of mine’s younger sister died yesterday morning. Nancy (not her real name), had suffered from a debilitating depression.  Over the years, she had tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide.

Today, when I told friends that I was angry, they thought I meant that I was angry with Nancy.

I’m not.

Brain chemistry balance: the difference between life and death?

I can understand how someone could be in so much pain that they would do anything to stop it.

I’m angry at us. Ok – maybe it’s frustration that I feel – for our inability to rebalance the unhealthy biochemistry that surely must have contributed to Nancy’s death.

Even when I’ve experienced my own hormonal fluctuations, I’ve been shocked at how profound the impact can be. At times I’ve felt a total loss of self-worth. I could think of no reason to go on.

All that got me through was the knowledge that my pain was caused by a change in brain chemistry. That, and by chanting a mantra of: wait a few days…wait a few days…wait a few days…

Sadly, for some of us, the pain is so devastating that we cannot wait even one more day.

Crying for sorrow, crying for joy

As I cried for my friend’s loss, news of Egyptian president Mubarak’s resignation came over the radio. Sounds of jubilation from the Egyptian people accompanied the broadcast. Suddenly, I didn’t know whether to cry for joy or sorrow.

It got me thinking: is mental health personal, or political?

I began to think of the stark contrast between the mental state of Nancy, and that of the Egyptian people who were celebrating in the square at that very moment.

Just as I did not know Nancy personally (I’d been friends with her sister), my only direct experience of Egypt has been learning its wonderful drum rhythms; dancing its beautiful, empowering Egyptian dance; and through my father’s tales of his visits there.

Art and politics as an expression of mental health

As I thought about Egypt’s beautiful cultural heritage of dance, music, art and architecture, I began to think about how these are a reflection of positive mental health.

Again today, by taking the bold step of public demonstrations; by expressing optimism and hope for the future; by letting the possibility of positive change overcome fear and oppression – I couldn’t help but think that this, too, was a sign of mental health in those who were demonstrating in the square.

Granted, a collective is made up of individuals. But it can’t be denied that our mental health (or lack thereof) as individuals is reflected in the “personality” of our community. We influence each other, each and every moment of our lives, with each and every breath, thought, word and deed.

Doomsday or a new day?

There are doomsayers amongst us who would interpret the protests in the Middle East as a sign of the prophesied end times drawing nigh. (And yes, these folks exist; just today I received an invitation to a workshop to teach me how to survive such an eventuality. I will not be attending).

There are others, of whom I am one, who would interpret this monumental moment in Egyptian history as a sign that humanity is moving towards an elevated state of mental – and perhaps even spiritual – health.

It is too late for one soul. Perhaps, somewhere in the next realm, Nancy is rejoicing to see our continued work for fair and equitable treatment for those who suffer from mental health issues. Perhaps she rejoices that we continue our struggle to educate, and work tirelessly to find ways to alleviate the pain of mental health challenges.

Personal and political

We work to heal both individually, and as a society. We work to restore peace and harmony, as individuals – and as nations.

Mental health is both personal and political.

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