Mental health is a theme that pops up often in my life. I engage in meditation to maintain my mental health. I am a Special Education Teacher, and have worked for nearly 20 years with kids that suffer from mental health issues. I have had my own struggles in this area. My life has been marked, challenged, and (wierdly) enriched by the profound mental health struggles of family members.
It’s funny that the phrase, ‘mental health’ has a respectable and safe ring. In terms of meaning, it wouldn’t be much different to talk about sanity… and insanity. But these words are a whole lot more loaded. If I had started that paragraph above with the sentence ‘Sanity, and insanity, are themes that pop up lots in my life.’ It would have carried a very different feel.
Mental health is, of course, related to the idea of being sane. Lacking mental health is, therefore, somehow connected to insanity.
Or… At least that is the theory.
In practice? I am not so sure.
I am finding out more about myself than I ever expected to, as I meditate and engage in other contemplative practices. I am finding out that I am a mess, that I am broken, and I am so very out-of-touch with some pretty basic realities.
There are things that students do, things that my family members do, things that I do, that are not very mentally healthy. I understand why students/family/I do them. But I don’t reccomend them. They are not helpful in the long run. But I get what the attraction is.
On the other hand, things that I label ‘insane.’ That’s a different matter entirely. I think that it is more than just the idea that ‘insane’ is such a strong word. It’s not only that ‘insane’ means very, very, very unhealthy. Despite the fact that they seem to mean pretty similiar things, there is this huge difference.
I don’t get ‘insane’ things.
But here is the really important question. Here is the question I never would have even considered, before I started spending all this time alone with myself, in silence:
Am I choosing not to understand these things? Am I locking this knowledge away?
We deny so very much. We shut it away. We declare it ‘other.’ We project it elsewhere. When I see somebody, and label them ‘insane.’ am I just putting all the worst parts of me on them, and then locking them away so that I don’t have to look at my own self?