Mental Health Check for 2023: Every Day’s a Gift

My original plan was to write about leadership this week. However, I came across a draft I started on December 31, 2022 and felt compelled to complete, and update it. Wherever you find yourself today, I hope it meets you where needed. Let’s walk back four months and take a moment to look forward…

December 31, 2022

Standing on the eve of another new year, the questions return: where did the last 12 months go? what is waiting for me in the next 12? Some of us are plotting a strong start to 2023, while others may feel like they’re limping across an imaginary finish line. Are you exhausted or exhilarated as we flip to the next number?

One of the beauties of the new year is the accompanying sense of beginning again. We wake up today and we see the final day of December and the final day of 2022, knowing that tomorrow will begin with a one – the first day of the next 12 months. Of course, every day is the first day of the next 12 months, but our temporal nature heightens our sense of change at the calendar’s inflection points. We exist in time and acutely feel its progression; particularly when we can see it written on a calendar.

Some reading this post may be walking in joyful expectation. Perhaps 2022 has been a banner year. Maybe the blessings are piling up and you feel the contented peace of the Holidays, and the hopeful possibility of the coming year.

Others may be feeling a more complex mix of emotions at the close of 2022. Many are facing loss. Loss of a job. Loss of a loved one. Maybe even loss of hope. All of us continue to face an ongoing loss of innocence as we wrestle with a frequently dark world and mankind’s seemingly infinite capacity for cruelty. A few minutes with any day’s headlines will be more than enough to confirm the validity of your darkest dreams.

Missing Pieces – Missing Peace

Where did the joy go? Where does peace hide? Amid the broad sweep of the macro struggles, our little worlds face their own resistance. The negative energy assaults from all sides with those voices repeating the discouraging litany of you can’t, you didn’t, or you won’t. Why do so many feel hopeless? What’s missing? Money? Fame? Success? Just being heard? All the external things for which we hunger and allow to disappoint when we don’t get our fix.

Soon enough, we can’t get enough to fill the hole. We are left with an deepening need for consolation in a world bent upon desolation.

There is still awe and wonder, still astonishment, hidden in each new day. Can you see it? All the things that were once new, now lost amid the endless backdrop of a canvas we can no longer see.

Where did the smile go? Where is the laugh? The melancholy of time and regret turns into frustration. Why isn’t it getting easier? Why is it so hard? Disappointment begets despair when felt frequently enough. Where are the wins? Do we know what a win is anymore? The long slog leaves little room for the moments of celebration and soon those happy moments are poor defense against the long slog.

Crisis of Hope

We get lost in all of it. We call it a mental health crisis, but it’s really a crisis of hope. A despair born of lost, or forgotten, hopes and dreams. When did we stop dreaming?

The feelings overwhelm us because we’re centered on things that once felt good and don’t anymore. We keep looking externally for something to fill that hole, to make us feel good. We’ve become so accustomed to the instant hit that we can hardly tolerate the trough. The low ebb of life’s peaks and valleys. As the frequency increases, we feel the bottoms more acutely. Often getting stuck in them.

Those around us become impatient. Why is he always depressed, angry, sullen? He needs help.  We used to have friends or family or mentors or priests or pastors. Now, we have therapists who give us names for our disordered lows. Soon, we become our diagnosis. Finally, a reason to explain my melancholy. Systems, models, techniques, and perhaps medications follow. Maybe if we numb the lows, life will be better? Of course, we lose the highs as well.

It is easy to lose sight of all that’s right. The buzz of what’s good in your life wears off, just as the fire in your romance dims, or the new car smell fades, or the new furniture gets old, or the great job is no longer so great. If you feel like things are pretty good, don’t worry, the world will soon come by to tell you how bad, boring, or unsatisfying they are. LinkedIn headlines are loaded with reminders that people don’t leave companies or jobs, they leave bad bosses. You aren’t unhappy with your performance, focus, or effort: it is your lame boss that is the root of your angst. Just leave, there are so many better options somewhere else.

That message gets played out a hundred times a day across every aspect of your life. Clearly my life should be perfect each and every day so when it’s not, something must be broken – whether it’s me or everything around me.

A Time When All was New

Can you remember a time when everything felt new? An edge where the world seemed to stretch before you in wondrous possibility? How about a moment when you felt the fervor of belief? In anything. A place, project, person, or moment, where you were fully engaged: all-in.

The crazy thing is that everything that looks stale, common, or faded, in your life once had the shine of possibility on it. The rough day you are in likely started with oxygen and daylight – two miraculous elements that we allow to become stale. The magic is still there, you just don’t see it anymore. The wonder is hiding in plain sight, camouflaged by all the things you’d like to have, and the struggles that eventually make things worth having.

Here we are, heading into May, 2023. The New Year’s Resolutions have faded and we are 1/3 of the way through the year. Where are you today? What are the struggles holding you back? What is stealing your joy or peace? In eight months, we’ll be standing at the edge of 2024. Where will you be?

Four months later, the loss, struggle, fear, doubt, and frustration, likely remain…at least in some form. But, if you are reading this, the sunrises still come, the oxygen still flows, and you have another day in front of you. Why? Why is any of it here? Why do we bother?

Because it is all staggeringly beautiful. Life, that is. Life is incredibly, mysteriously, incomprehensibly, beautiful. There is no low that cannot be met by something higher. There is no loss that cannot be countered with a greater win. There is no uncertainty that cannot be overcome with a deeper hope. The places we lose ourselves are rarely as bad as they feel and the glimmer of possibility on the horizon is almost always enough to help us take that next step.

Our year is in full swing and all of its glorious possibilities remain. There is time enough for new resolutions. Time enough to jumpstart any goal with which we started, or pivot to a new one. Time enough to count our blessings and revel in the gift that is life. New and old friendships lie before us. Loves that deserve our full attention and gardens that need our love.

Time to Try

The weight of suffering may be heavy, the uncertainty of tomorrow may paralyze, and the frustration of today’s resistance may threaten to derail our hope and momentum. But we are still in the fight. We are still running the race. We still have strength in our arm, thoughts in our head, and love in our heart. There is time. Time to course correct. Time to pivot. Time to refocus. Time to try.

Wherever you find yourself today, take time to try. Try to love. Try to forgive. Try to believe that you are loved, have value, and are made for a purpose – known or unknown. Try to remember that there is work to be completed, hearts to be touched, hurts to be healed, good to be done, and life to be lived. Then do it. All of it. And keep doing it knowing that the trough will return, the frustration will re-emerge, and the doubt will assail. That is life. And, the gift of it.

Showing 2 comments
  • John Harrison

    Thank you for this. Great timing. I hit a “wall” last week. One day sitting in my office I was contemplating what to do about it and I thought “I wish Shital (new member of my team) were here and could teach me to meditate.” NOT KIDDING she called 1 minute later. She spent the next 45 minutes of her day, helping me, dig out of a hole I was in. We all need a little help every once in a while to see the light that is always around us.

  • Jarilyn Berry

    Every human being needs to read, at the least, the last two paragraphs of this post.

    Thanks for helping me realign!

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