I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health recently, both within and outside the topic of relationships. Thankfully God has blessed me with very strong mental health, but even with that I really do not take any risks with this at all. For a long time I have prioritised my mental health possibly even over my physical health – and I am extremely careful with that! Actually, I think “emotional health” is a more accurate description. Mental health is (or should be) more about the actual process of thinking, or “cognitive ability” . There are people who sincerely do have these issues who actually cannot reason because their brains cannot parse or interpret what various concepts mean. So sometimes these people will utter completely meaningless statements. And you know that this must be due to some physical injury to their brain. Yet what is often spoken of as “mental health” is clearly actually “emotional health”, because it is about feelings. So positive “emotional health” would be about feeling positive, happy, confident, looking forward to the future, being able to enjoy your life in the here and now. But negative emotional health might include many opposite feelings: not having high self-esteem etc.
Regarding emotional health, perspective is, if not everything, extremely important, definitely! Whenever I am tempted to sit down and feel sorry for myself (which is often!), and reflect on all the things that I have not yet achieved (as I used to joke to myself – no job, no husband, no money! – as I write this, at least one of those things is still true!) – I remind myself how desperately lucky I am compared to the vast majority of people in the world. I remind myself how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, and beautiful clothes, and so many possessions – way too many, despite my eco/social-justice pretensions. I think of things like running water, and sanitation, and food and electricity. And thankfully, outstanding health.
I remember what life is like for much of humanity – incessant struggling, incessant injustice – and I remember how incredibly fortunate I am. So in the grand scheme of things I am incredibly blessed, husband or no husband!
During periods when I am feeling especially low, I bring out my gratitude journal, to write in it. I try to think of at least 10, or 20 things to be grateful for each day. Actually a large number of these things are repeated, every single day, and they are the things I have mentioned above – running water, food, clothes, also God Himself. Being alive! There is something about the power of gratitude that changes your mindset from focusing on negativity to focusing on positivity. It is so powerful that I would do it every day, but for time constraints. As I am writing this, I’m thinking that I need to challenge myself to take up this habit again.
I would encourage absolutely everyone reading this to sit down and think through measures to implement to bolster your emotional health. None of us would feel in the least bit ashamed of admitting that our bodies can be liable to physical illnesses especially if we don’t look after them that well – so why is there such a stigma about admitting that our emotional health can also be liable to weakness, or illness? In the same way that we would deliberately structure our lives to promote and protect our physical health, I believe that we should do the same to protect our emotional health. And that includes recognising our vulnerability. This is not weakness, it is sheer common-sense wisdom, like wearing warm clothes in the depth of winter.
Some simple things that I would recommend: a gratitude journal, as I have mentioned above. Seriously, you would not imagine how something like this could bolster your feelings of positivity, but it definitely works – believe me!
– Praising God! Historically, I have taken serious time to praise God at the beginning of each day. I mean mostly singing Christian songs. It can also include reading out Bible passages which praise God. Serious time, as in an hour. I am not even joking. Please believe me that this is such a powerful investment into your day. If a whole hour is unrealistic for you, as it currently is for me, please consider half an hour. Once again I am challenging myself. People always used to tell me all the time that I was full of so much joy and happiness, and I know that it was because of this one hour in my day. Now I’m as grumpy as anyone else! Seriously, if you while away hours on social media or mindlessly watching box sets every day, then surely you could give a single one of those half-hours to praising God?
“But Tosin, I am not a Christian!” You know what, I firmly believe that Jesus is the one way to God. This is good, and basic, Biblical, Christian theology. However, I also believe that because there is only one God, He is the One, because He must be the One, who hears, and responds to, everyone’s prayers, regardless of your faith background. So even though Jesus is the one way to God, this same God is still very much the God of Jewish people, Muslims, Hindus, Jains, all the different Christian sects. Even atheists, agnostics, and anyone who might be unsure of His existence. And as we have seen this week, definitely the God of the Buddhists, as He clearly heard and answered the prayers of a whole Buddhist nation, Thailand, crying out to Him to save the lives of the 12 boys and their football coach stuck in that cave. So what I would say to you is this: first praise God any way you know how. In any language you speak. Pour out your heart to Him. Lavish Him with extravagant praise! And when you have clearly seen that it works then you can start asking yourself bigger questions about who God really is, and how you can know Him better, and you can seriously consider the claims of Jesus for yourself. (But if it does not work for you in the first place, why would you even bother?!)
Regarding relationships specifically, I was recently thinking that loneliness could be an expression of an emotional health disorder. As I say, by the grace of God I feel strong about my emotional health, but I would never grow complacent. I feel that this is the one area in which I am emotionally susceptible – needing that deep connection with someone else. There has been lots in the news recently about loneliness in connection with mental(emotional) health issues. And yet it was only recently, maybe a month ago, that I first thought about my loneliness as an expression of my own emotional health susceptibility…
However, what I really wanted to talk about today was a different angle regarding emotional health.
When I start finding someone attractive, I often find it hard to speak to him. This is largely due to my own fear. I am so scared that my loneliness will just boil over and I will find myself in a big sticky mess. And then there is my powerful imagination, which is running 20 stages ahead, automatically thinking through every permutation. So the man will have barely noticed me, and already I will be thinking “what if he and I get married? What if he and I hug one day and I find I physically cannot extricate myself from his arms!? (Because they are just too compelling?!) What if we stare into one another’s eyes, and all time stands still?”
This might sound over the top, what some friends might call “extra”. But please believe me that this is sincerely how deep I am with my relationships. I barely see the point of staring into someone’s eyes unless time is going to stand still! Am I capable of throwing away my faith, just like that? I don’t want to find out the hard way just what I might be capable of, just because of a handsome face and a pair of strong-looking arms! So then in fear at all these thoughts, I over-compensate by literally not being able to be friendly towards the man in question. And ironically, it is often this that actually makes him notice me, observing the glaring distinction between the way I relate naturally and effortlessly to everyone else and the stilted, artificial way I try to relate to him.
But here is the real point. One of the most important points about protecting my emotional health is feeling that all my actions “add up”. If there is tension or awkwardness between myself and someone I respect and care deeply about, then I would naturally seek to resolve that, and I would “make the first move” towards that, up until the 21st move, and I would do whatever it takes. This helps me set my mind at equilibrium. It is a bit like tidying up matters in your mind. So whenever I am acting in this crazy scared way in my mind, which results in my being unable to be friendly towards someone, it causes me immense emotional turmoil because it is a bit like I am applying pain to someone else’s life, and I just cannot stop myself. And as a person, I cannot deliberately inflict pain on an innocent person. So there is a huge and deeply painful disconnect between my values, and how I am consistently behaving. I believe that for anyone this is a huge cause of emotional distress, having a wide gap between your values and your actions. And I feel so bad that I am causing these men pain, or confusion, or self doubt. That in itself causes me deep pain. I fear that these men blame themselves, precisely because I manage to be so friendly with everyone else. And the guy will be thinking “perhaps she thinks that I don’t like her because…” And then you see them trying to overcompensate by being extra friendly towards me. And I just feel awful. And I often fear that my actions amount to emotional abuse. Because after all, everyone wants to be liked and accepted. And I often try and tell myself “Tosin, just don’t be scared! Seriously, what do you think is going to happen?!”
And I feel as if my actions definitely do not “add up”, because I am knowingly applying pain to an innocent person’s life which is totally incompatible with who I am, who I pride myself on being. And the worst thing is that I cannot say anything. And I just think to myself that if I could at least say something, then the guy could at least feel flattered, and stop blaming himself. So you see when I explain to these men, it is not about chasing at all. Rather it is largely about relieving my own emotional anguish. Yes, in a way it is thinking about myself. But it is genuinely also about the man too. Surely if anything, it would only make you feel better about yourself if you knew that my unfriendly behaviour was not after all an expression of dislike, but something altogether more flattering? If you knew that regardless of the possibility of a relationship, you seem like a really down-to-earth person, exactly the kind of person I’d like to be friends with?
This might not be true of everyone, but think about this. If every admission of attraction from a woman to a man constitutes “chasing”, then those shy explanations of my behaviour would also amount to chasing. And if I must avoid that, at all costs, then you are essentially condemning me to carry on living in that constant emotional turmoil that comes from knowingly causing someone else avoidable pain. A great solution would be if I could get over my fear, and over my loneliness, and I am working on that – that is a post I have also been thinking of writing, but literally from a place of not knowing where to start. But other than that, please believe me that the only thing that would stop me from at least hinting to someone, is if he and I were working together in a job. Because, you know, HR!
In conclusion it is not truly chasing, rather it is explaining, for the sake of your emotional health and mine! I just have to pray that the man in question will also be able to understand it this way! (But as soon as I mention the faith thing, then it lurches violently from one extreme to another, from “emotional abusing you through irrationally ignoring you” to “trying to manipulate you to accept my faith”. Sighs. You cannot win!)
Admittedly with a certain Mr it quite clearly did cross over into unapologetic chasing. However as well as mutually relieving emotional discomfort, that was about seizing the day, taking a chance – shrug! 🙂