11 years ago this month, I was in the midst of the most intense experience of my life, which was the start of my therapeutic journey. I was 16 years old and had been living in an outdoor wilderness therapy program in the wintery BlueRidge Mountains from March - May. My only possessions were a backpack, tarps, a sleeping bag, clothing, food, and a journal; the point being to remove all distractions so I could connect more honestly with myself. After 9 1/2 weeks, I was brought to an “Emotional Growth Boarding School” in Southern Virginia. At the Boarding School, I completed my High School education, but it was also so much more than that. I was put through intensive day and week-long therapy workshops, weekly group therapy, and individual therapy. I like to say that I received a PhD in “Emotional Intelligence,” which is something we are not taught in regular school yet is so crucial to our mental health and happiness. This is where Essential Rose began before I even realized it.
I was deprived of the typical High School milestones like prom, Senior cut day, and graduation. There was no partying and no romantic relationships. What I got instead was the ability to get to know myself; to process the thoughts and emotions that kept me locked in my self-destructive behaviors, and to befriend the deepest parts of me. This work was far from easy. It was actually one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life -- to remove all distractions and really look at myself. But, it was also one of the most transformative experiences because I was no longer running from myself. I was doing the inner work to peel back the layers and rebuild myself, one piece at a time. I’ve learned an infinite amount of tools since then that have made me feel more confident and empowered no matter what life brings me. This is what I’m here to share.
TOP 5 WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
1) Take certain emotions off a pedestal. There is no such thing as a "good" emotion vs a "bad" emotion. The truth is that anger, grief, and sadness are just as important to feel as joy, pleasure, and love. Emotions are just information, simply put. They indicate to us where we need to grow. When we perceive certain emotions as better or more acceptable than others, we deny ourselves our true experience. We become perfectionists about our feelings, always trying to feel "good," which puts unrealistic pressure on us.
2) Allow yourself to feel -- your feelings indicate your aliveness. One of the tools I learned at Boarding School was that our emotions are like a pendulum. The degree to which we feel joy is also the degree to which we feel sorrow. When we try to prevent ourselves from feeling sorrow, we turn to behaviors that stop the pendulum from swinging. This stagnant, empty state might protect us from experiencing the more painful moments, but it also robs us of our capacity for beauty and pleasure.
3) Stop trying to "fix" your feelings; most times they do not need a "solution." The goal is not to "think" our way out of our feelings. Realistically, they are not "rational" and cannot be adequately processed through our faculties of reasoning. The best thing we can do for ourselves when we're experiencing stress or obstacles is to just let ourselves feel whatever we need to, without trying to conceptualize or judge it.
4) Take up mind body practices that promote self-connection. "What we reveal, we can heal," as Jay Z says. He really did say this! And it's true. Once we connect with ourselves more deeply, our true feelings and fears can be brought to the "light" and recognized. With self-awareness, they can be processed and worked through.
5) Release your desire to avoid your feelings -- they gain momentum when they are not expressed! When we repress our emotions, they do not go away. They come out sideways onto our thoughts and behaviors with even greater power and control. Instead of avoiding and repressing, the healthiest and best thing we can do for ourselves is take time each day to process our emotions (in the morning or evening). The truth is, our feelings can never swallow us whole, forever. They may overcome us for a time, but they are not permanent, and the fear of them just makes them bigger in size. Letting yourself be temporarily "overcome" by your emotions is a healthy step to healing.