We all have big dreams as kids. I dreamt of being a rockstar. As we get older those dreams become more and more realistic. There’s a progression to it all. I wanted to be a rockstar, then a “baby doctor,” then a teacher, and finally a therapist.
We walk through life with goals in terms of professions and external accomplishments. We go to school from the age of 3 or 4 so that we can learn enough to get into college, to get a degree, to make money, to support our family. What they don’t teach you as a kid, is the most essential and foundational thing you’ll need if you ever want to truly succeed— Mental health.
I remember being as young as 5 and having this heavy sadness in my chest. I never knew what it was. I thought that this was the way everybody walked through the world. As I grew through the years, so did that feeling. One day I found out that thing was named depression.
My depression became this monster that I felt I needed to hide from the world, and eventually when there was no more room to hide it away inside of me it spread outward. It took over my mind, and soon began to take over my body. Turning me against myself, it whispered in my ear to self harm. Before I knew it, this little friend of mine had not only invaded both my mind and body but became my identity.
Depression took me down some dark roads. It paved the way for a debilitating eating disorder and a painful existence. At the age of twenty I had been in three residential treatment centers and had essentially been in and out of day treatment consistently.
My life was put on hold for a long time, but eventually I made it to college. In my freshman seminar my professor played a TedTalk. I, like any other college student, didn’t think I was going to take anything I was learning here with me throughout my life but it was in this class that I had a moment of revelation.
In a powerful presentation, the speaker asked his audience, “What do you want to be one day?” Without hesitation, my first thought was “happy.” The funny thing was that after the viewing a few of my peers shared their answers. Across the room I heard things like, professional athlete, doctor, teacher, politician. It struck me in that moment that my mind never stopped at my profession for even a split second.
It was a meaningful moment for me. I realized that even in a time in my life where I thought I was managing my depression well, I still yearned to be happy and I was still suffering. It was a catalyst for a lot of change in my life, but beyond that it was a moment where I realized the way we set children up for failure.
We prep kids from the day they are born to be successful. We prep them to be successful financially, academically, and socially. Yet everybody questions why the rate of suicide has sky rocketed in the last 10+ years. We are teaching kids that status and material possession is what the goal is. We teach them to live to work rather than work to live.
Poor mental health puts restrictions on the type of life you get to lead, if any at all. Yet we as a society are teaching that in order to be successful you must be perfect. And in order to be perfect, you must run yourself into the ground to achieve that A+, to get that raise, to buy that home, to have that expensive car. If you aren’t healthy enough to enjoy those luxuries, if you aren’t alive, if you’re stuck in the revolving doors of treatment, then that house, or car or title means absolutely nothing.
I was once told, anything you put in front of your mental health, you will lose. Quite honestly, I thought this was bullshit. Yet every time I chose to put my mental health on the back burner because I had obligations to school, financial matters, or other relationships I relapsed.
There is nothing more important in this life than to find your own inner peace, to find balance, to find bliss. There is not one person in this world who will be full of joy and happiness every moment of every day, but to feel confident in your resiliency is a pillar to living a fulfilling and happy life.
I’m not saying to quit your job and through your goals out the window; what I am saying is that we need to begin to create a community that teaches future generations that it is not just okay, but essential that they tend to their emotions, both the pleasant and not so pleasant ones. Tending to one’s mental health, partaking in self care, talking about those taboo things called feelings is all at the foundation of true success. Set goals, and work toward them, be passionate and fierce, but every bit of energy that is put into those external goals needs to be doubled into the energy put into taking care of the self.
One day, maybe we’ll get to live in a culture that works so that we can live, to experience, to travel, to connect. I want to live in a culture where we stop preparing kids to survive, and encourage them to truly live.
With Love and Gratitude,