World Mental Health Day: Hah!
Unlike almost everyone in Canada, this weekend Marty and I are not gorging on turkey, stuffing and all the other traditional Thanksgiving delicacies that celebrate the annual harvest.
Marty has a terrible cold and is living on chicken soup with matzah balls. I’m walking the pooches, eating whatever we have, whenever.
In short, we’re here.
As for my protracted “break from blogging,” all I can say is I’m otherwise occupied. Concentration isn’t the greatest at the moment and I’m not in terrific shape in terms of my mental health.
Just returned from the gym and a good workout. I walked there and back. It’s a glorious day. Blue skies, spattered with feathery clouds. It’s 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit. How can one complain?
Also, it’s October. The best month of the year. I was born in this month and here in Ontario, autumn is breathtaking. Stunning. Dazzling.
The landscape is replete with all my favourite colours as the leaves change. Oranges and yellows and burnt amber and bright reds. My dogs are happy because they can walk in this weather, though it’s a bit warm for them today. They’re cold weather dogs, preferring sub-zero temperatures and snow to heat and rain.
I do not know what tomorrow holds. I’m rudderless, right now. No job to speak of. No income. No direction. The future is a blank page. I don’t even know if there is a page, but…
Today, I refuse to send you a shred of pessimism…
In honour of World Mental Health Day, I am reposting the first blog I wrote for Psych Central. It ran on May 1, 2010. It still stands.
Also, more currently, here is an optimistic note from psychiatrist Ronald Pies, a friend and frequent contributor here. Dr. Pies is a prolific author, a poet, Editor Emeritus of Psychiatric Times, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Tufts University professor of psychiatry ~ in short, a Renaissance man, a polymath, a font of wisdom and a kind, empathetic human being. Also, he is a perpetual self-described “scribbler.”
His note arrived a few days ago, in response one from me inquiring about his health and well-being and describing my current mental health. I won’t go into details. If you’ve read this blog, you know all about my mental health.
Here is Dr. Pies response, in part:
I know that you will draw upon your deep wellsprings of courage, resilience, and hard-won wisdom, in grappling with this!
I am holding on to this. To his “assessment” of me. It’s symbolizes hope.
I’m being assessed up to my ying-yang…
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, at 9 a.m., I’m facing another assessment. My third since May. In all, thus far, I’ve had nine-hours of assessment by psychologists (mostly) and one psychiatrist at another hospital here. In truth, I feel I’m being assessed up to my ying yang. Am I that tough to figure out?
Anyway, who cares? Who can truly figure anyone out completely. We’re all different. All special. All unique. Not the same. But we’re all human beings. We’re always a little mysterious to ourselves, let alone others. To be human means to be flawed and I think flaws are interesting and provocative. There’s nothing wrong with being flawed, is there? Marty sometimes finds me challenging to live with, but he always adds, “You’re never boring.”
So, here’s my May 1, 2010 post, my premier post here…
I want to add and by no means as a footnote, thank you to Dr. John M. Grohol, founder, CEO and visionary behind Psych Central and Jessica DiGiancinto, our intrepid managing editor. You personify patience, compassion, sensitivity, goodness, integrity and kindness. You are the meaning of Thanksgiving for me, right now. You and all my blogging colleagues at Psych Central. I give you thanks. Tibi Gratis Ago.
One day I was crying in my psychiatrist’s office. Not just weeping. I was sobbing. Blubbering. Boo-hoo-hooing.
I don’t remember why. It isn’t relevant.
On the rare occasions I’ve cried like that, a snapshot of my maternal grandmother flickers in a cranny of my mind. She died when I was nine. She treasured me. I wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral. Never able to grieve for her. I rarely cried after that.
I’ve learned that when I crumble into tears as I did that day, it’s a signal. Some ancient anguish is surfacing, but I can’t for the life of me piece together its meaning.
Snivelling and littering Dr. Bob’s desk with my tear-soaked tissues, his tissues from the box he keeps there, I was apologizing profusely.
“What happens when you peel an onion?”
After several moments, he said. “You know, we’re all like onions, and you know what happens when you peel an onion.”
“You cry,” I answered. Obviously.
“Why do you think you cry?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, soaking up the downpour that was washing away my face. “Never really thought about it. It’s hard. Frustrating. Awkward. Sometimes it hurts. It’s painful. And you’re working from the outside in.”
“Yes,” he said. “Go on.”
“It’s kind of like the therapeutic process, isn’t it?” I said.
Dr. Bob smiled…
The first layer to breakthrough, the toughest, is on the outside…
I started thinking about the process of onion peeling.
“You have to begin on the outside, where onions are always so smooth. Too smooth. Slippery. Flakey. Especially the outer layer. That part’s the toughest layer to break through,” I said.
“And the smell hurts. It smarts. Peeling onions destroys your eyes. Stings like nothing else in the world. It’s blinding.”
Dr. Bob listened. Nothing about him moved. He is “calm” personified.
Do you know how much blood I’ve lost peeling onions?
“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve sliced into my fingers instead of an onion? How much blood I’ve lost peeling onions?”
He leaned back in his swivel chair, folding his arms comfortably in his lap.
“No one really knows how to prevent that uniquely pungent onion smell from blinding you with your tears, you know. No one. Every cook has a magic solution. None works for me. There must be something wrong with my eyes. You know? You know all those so-called remedies? They’re all old wives’ tales. Except every wife has one.”
I wasn’t a wife then, old or new.
“I just grin and bear it.”
“There’s nothing you can do. So, now, I just grin and bear it,” I said. ”That’s what really makes onion peeling so hard. Being blinded by the invisible smell of something you’re cutting into. It’s life-threatening.”
Dr. Bob nodded, idly playing with his pen.
“If you peel an onion by hand, one layer at a time, it takes longer,” I said.
“Yes, it takes time,” Dr. Bob said.
“The smell still smarts. You still cry. But it’s gentler. Safer.”
“Yes,” he said.
A new onion-peeling insight
Then something hit me. Something I’d never considered before, despite peeling bushels of onions.
“You can never get to your core,” I said. “That’s it.”
How stunning. Enticing. Deliciously hopeful.
I felt myself re-emerging.
Dr. Bob’s beautiful face was smiling.
Whatever had broken me into pieces that day seemed to be puzzling back together. For now.
My face was dry, clear, cloudless. He looked at his clock. We had gone over our hour. It was okay.
We made our next appointment. We said our good-byes. Mine mixed with a pinch of tenderness.
We would be continuing next week.
I ventured out into the day, refreshed, inspired and 25 lbs. lighter.
*The title of this reflection was inspired by the title of a book I loved as a child called The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, a well-known American humorous author. (1908-1958). The reflection is mine. sln
Photo by Antonello Musina, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Naiman, S. (2011). World Mental Health Day: Hah!. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/coming-out-crazy/2011/10/on-world-mental-health-day-wishing-you-a-happy-canadian-thanksgiving/