Mental health: an uncomfortable talk that should not be uncomfortable

Photo by stevanovicigor/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by stevanovicigor/iStock / Getty Images

It’s the conversation many want to have yet nobody dares to take the first step to initiate it. As the title suggests this is about mental health and, by extension loneliness, but I’ll probably discuss the two interchangeably. Fortunately and unfortunately, I’ve met many people during my life that are around my age that struggle with these problems in their lives and/or are depressed – sometimes in a lesser degree, sometimes in a more worrying degree. Fortunately because I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine from these people and they inspired me to research and understand the topic of mental health more. Unfortunately because, well, I hate to see people suffer, especially emotionally. I feel for these people, I genuinely, genuinely do. Simple people living simple lives that have no support system of friends that they can honestly and fully connect to.

The more I talked to and learned from them (mostly males, mind you), the more I recognized a pattern emerging: it was almost embarrassing for them to speak of their deeper emotional struggles or dissatisfactions in life. They’re stuck in their own worlds because they cannot connect with others about what worries them, what exhilarates them, what they feel when they’re alone, or what they feel when they think about the future. I guess the problem is that we generally assume that if you have a solid roof over your head, a good education, enough food and drink to keep you alive, a computer, and stable access to the internet, you should be happy/satisfied enough, right? Or to phrase it differently, what right do you then have to feel unhappy or sad about life? Now, before I continue, I do want to clarify something because this is a delicate topic. In no way am I condoning or standing up for people that feel entitled to happiness or success just because they are “Daddy’s little princess” or because they always got things their way in life. I’m speaking in defense and support of those that feel scared or embarrassed to discuss their personal struggles because displaying emotional vulnerability, especially for men, is such an uncomfortable conversation that should not be so uncomfortable.

 

Stuck daydreaming in your own little world

I always used to wonder, very stupidly and naively, why these people didn’t just go find new friends that understand them. Just, you know, go talk to people! Then I realized how saying this is literally like telling a depressed person to “just be happy” or a procrastinator to “just stop procrastinating.” I do, however, believe that everyone has at least one person they truly trust with their heart, soul, and lives no matter what happens. Talk to this person. Seriously, if you’re struggling with something in your life, be it depression, anxiety, loneliness, anything; give them the chance to help you out. This cannot be a conversation you’re ashamed of having, it’s simply unfair to feel ashamed for being vulnerable or talking about your struggles with someone else. Now I know that if someone mentions the word ‘therapy’, people get all uncomfortable and freaked out, but even deciding (and having the courage) to go to therapy is absolutely not something we should ashamed of doing.

Loneliness: A lack/absence of closeness with those around you

Closeness: Direct access to another person’s inner world through knowing what’s going on in a deeper way and caring about it.
— Kira Asatryan

On the other hand, you may not have a trusted confidante in your life that you can trust without question. This, inevitably, will create a painful feeling of loneliness. The question, then, is why? As Kira Asatryan defined it in her podcast interview with the Art of Charm, loneliness spawns from a lack or absence of closeness with those around you. She absolutely hit the jackpot though, in the way she defined closeness: Direct access to another person’s inner world through knowing what’s going on in a deeper way and caring about it. This one sentence is both a brilliant definition and a sharp description of a problem and definitely resonated with me.

You’re lonely because people cannot access your inner, mysterious world; a world where you dream of days of future past, of that poignant scene in Kingdom Hearts (spoiler alert), or of other surreal things that emotionally touch you. They don’t have access to that world because they don’t know or understand why such quirky snippets that seem so trivial on the surface have such a strong emotional impact on you. This kind of “lost in translation” feeling is one I see so often in people that feel marginalized in their social contexts. It’s literally like speaking a foreign language to someone; it simply does not compute.

So look, I’m not going to say that I understand all your struggles, disappointment you have in yourself, or regrets you have for your past failures. What I can and will say is that you have to remember and grasp those feelings of old. You have to remember those times that you… felt. Be it from videogames, TV shows, or movies, hold onto those feelings. Remember those nostalgic times and harness those emotions when you feel like saying “screw this, I’m done with this shit.” But don’t feel ashamed to feel like shit once in a while. It frikkin happens. And when it does, it will probably seem impossibly difficult to do anything at all. There’s a time to be happy and there’s a time to be sad; don’t feel bad to take the time out to just feel. But you absolutely have to set a time limit to this and eventually move on, if not what was a speedbump will turn into a perpetual state of depression.

To be fair, Kira offers much better advice in the podcast (the shameless narcissist within me just wanted to sound smart by offering my own first) so you should probably take note of it:

Think of a time when someone really GOT you and how it felt like. Then think of what that relationship was like at that time, why it felt like that, and write it down. It’s nice to have a mental model of what that experience felt like so that you can work to recreate that with other people again.
— Kira Asatryan

To me, the principle of this advice seems to be rooted in reverse-engineering: take an experience where you genuinely connected with someone (man or woman), deconstruct every element to understand why this was so, and use this knowledge to try to recreate this with other people. Heck, you can even use an experience where you really connected with the main character of a videogame or TV show, as I discussed earlier, if that works better for you. Not comfortable with writing this stuff down because it will feel weird? Remember: how much do you want this, to move forward?

When it comes to building the physical world, we seem to understand our limitations. We build things like roads and bridges to help us with the things that we cannot do perfectly on our own. But when it comes to the mental world, we somehow forget the idea that we’re limited, that we’re fallible.
— Dan Ariely in (Dis)Honesty, The Truth About Lies

 

Where to go, what to do?

As a final note, I want to offer another thought that might sound a little contradictory given that it won’t actually encourage you to go out and talk to people in real life. My advice is to find online communities/blogs to talk and connect to people about topics specific to your struggles. I often scour the internet for research when I plan a blog post and it often brings me to places like Reddit. It never ceases to amaze me how people share the most profound, deeply personal feelings about their lives. It’s absolutely extraordinary; people share some of the most intimate and personal details of their lives with total strangers. What’s even more fascinating is to see how much this actually seems to help them, this airing of their pains, struggles, and emotional highs/lows. It’s almost like a feeling of “finally, a place where people relate to me instead of giving me the cold shoulder.” The danger though – which is why I was reluctant to recommend this method – is that there is a strong chance that you end up in a malicious community that feeds on the negativity in your heart (spoiler alert) to convince you that the world hates you, everybody is bad, and the government is the reason your life sucks. You must find places that lift you up, not pull you down into a never-ending spiral of hate and anger.

Remember everyone, now more than ever, we have to genuinely support one another.

See you, Space Cowboy.