Doing Away With “Mental Health”

Everyday: More changes, more evolution.

I’ve decided to move away from my focus on mental health, even though this issue has played a huge role in my life:  At 25 I was diagnosed with major depression, 28 brought me bipolar 1, and all of this was laid atop a solid foundation of substance abuse that kicked in shortly after my Dad died.  I was 17, and the subsequent plunge into alcohol abuse was not a coincidence.

Dad’s the one with the beer.  It always runs in the family.

I’ll continue compare the view of yoga psychology to mainstream psychology throughout my blog, and it is a goal of mine to help dispel the myth that mental disorders are “forever.” Humans were not meant to be slaves to themselves. We are each the operator of a brain and a mind, and we can learn how to master them.  As I said in this (long) post on the mind, it isn’t necessarily easy—until it is: At some point, your old ways of looking at life become nonsensical, and deepening awareness is the only goal.

What consciousness really comes down to is holistic well-being. A person doesn’t need a diagnosis of any kind to be unwell: Stress, worry, anger, negativity, and apathy are very common emotions to carry around. It’s taken as a given that stress is factually “a part of life,” and numbing out is a favorite pastime. These are “normal” modes that “normal” people live in. They may not be in therapy or take psychotropic medications, but that doesn’t mean they are well.

If we look at people’s eyes, we can discern which emotions are playing out within them, and it usually isn’t great. It is only a rare individual who carries him/herself in joy wherever they go. Again: I am not this person, but I know it’s possible. This is this level I aspire to above all else, because I know there is nothing more beneficial to this planet than getting there and maintaining it. A place of enduring, unshakeable joy is where the exploration of consciousness can get us, and this is what we’re aiming for: Permanent recovery from all forms of unwellness, be it a formal DSM thing or the simple stagnation that routine life brings to us.

Somehow, we’ve gotten all chopped up.  We have overcomplicated and split the whole of the human experience: In reality, we do not have a work life, a love life, a family life, etc. We only have life and are life. Cutting it up into discrete chunks is a surefire way to create confusion, for from this perspective we are no longer viewing ourselves as complete, singular people. Only certain parts of us are acceptable in certain situations, and figuring this out requires much thought: “Don’t say this around so-and-so.” “Don’t drink around family.” “Don’t get into politics at work.” Anxiety sprouts if we unthinkingly show a side to someone who may not be accepting of us. Before we know it, we’re doing backflips to try and smooth tiny incidents over in our minds, forgetting where we are, and acting unconsciously.

Endless wisdom from the illustrated Tao Te Ching.

Similarly, there is no sense in cutting “health” up into a bunch of different categories: Physical health, mental health, sexual health, emotional health, etc. For pragmatic reasons there are of course sub-specialties, but overall we are either well or unwell, and this is primarily a state of mind. A happy person on their deathbed is well; a physically fit person with suicidal thoughts is unwell. It is possible to become such a way that even the threat of death cannot shake our joy. (In part, this is because we learn that the death we fear is fictitious: The decay of a physical body is not the “end” of consciousness.) This inner state lies beyond the realm of what is known as “mental health” in our society.

In the West, being in “good mental health” tends to more or less mean “capable of semi-comfortably holding down a job.” If you are able to do this, you will avoid much of the mental healthcare system. But if you are sensitive (by which I simply mean more affected by cultural memes and negativity), you probably will get a diagnosis someday.

I’m not interested in whether or not an individual can “function in society.” This is the largely the goal of mental healthcare in the Western world: Get people to be stable and functioning. This is a relatively low place to rehabilitate a suffering individual to in comparison to the total human potential.  Both parties—practitioner and patient—know this on some level, but to admit it would violate the rules of capitalism: People have to do the jobs and make the things and keep the machine a-runnin’.  Because the economy is more highly valued than our wellness, base-level functioning is how mental health is measured.

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My interest lies in human happiness: If someone is homeless and happy, I find him/her more successful than a miserable person making $150K per year. We need to examine the reasons why it is so difficult to be happy in a day and age where we can literally sit around and have food brought to us by tapping a phone screen. Our material and technological comforts haven’t helped psychologically, and we’ve pillaged the Earth to create complex forms of hollow, fleeting happiness. In short, we have taken down innumerable other life forms in order to be miserable. There is only one more place to look for that which we so deeply desire: Inward. This is where it all is.

I’m not here pushing for well-being and joy just because it’s awesome: I’m all for these things because reversal of the fear pattern requires it. There are many causes aimed at “defeating” evil in this world, but it all comes to a very basic principle: People who are blissful don’t hurt other people or other living beings, and when we feel whole on our own, we do not take from others. With deep inner peace, the need to hoard resources and wealth evaporates.

Higher consciousness brings about great joy and an equanimity that cannot be touched, and these are the attitudes we must cultivate if we care about life on Earth.  And, hey, if you’re not really interested in saving the world and just want to be happy for yourself, that’s totally fine.  Whether your intent is to enjoy your life or benefit all life on Earth, the deepening of consciousness will achieve both.

Lastly, I’m axing the focus on “mental health” because it’s become a pejorative term. The word “mental” says it all, I think. Even more excitingly is that I am not convinced that “I am bipolar” or even that “I have bipolar disorder.” I’m a sensitive person on an unstable planet that taught me nothing about how to be a human. We are at such a low level overall that severe healing and growth paradoxically presents as illness.

The intensity that has come through me without training or awareness has resulted in behavior that is totally regrettable from a higher perspective. But I will not dwell in shame, for it only hurts me and others. And I will not doom myself to a lifetime carousel of highs and lows by committing to the “I’m bipolar” story.

I encourage all people to examine the stories they’re telling themselves, and see if they can find one that is healthier and truer to them.

– Lish