Episode 31: Mental Health
Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we imagine ourselves living in homes with stained glass windows of our own design.
The podcast in which, on the occasion of your fairy godmother’s birthday, we talk about one of the inevitable facets of getting older and get ready for it, with a hefty dose of prevention.
The podcast in which Freud and the Philosopher Princess go head to head, and the Philosopher Princess scores a point.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.
“Now now now, Lily Fields…”
Oh, that? That’s you, Cinderella. Yes, you sound like a southern belle because I don’t know how to do any other accent and I like to imagine you as a sweet innocent country bumpkin. You’ll see. It doesn’t hurt.
Now, Lily Fields, I do not believe that taking a home tour is a very podcast-friendly activity! Have you entirely lost your mind?
Ha! That is a very good question, my dear! I ask myself that same question at least three times a day. I think you’ll see, though, the house tour I am going to take you on is worth the podcastingly unfriendly detour.
I have the distinct suspicion that you are going to go off on a tangent today, Lily Fields, and I am fearing the worst.
For several years, as I have been trying to figure out how to pursue my Ideal Life, I have had a very simple core thought: what can I do right now so that future me will thank me. This is a weird line of thought, I know, but it was how I was able to express love to myself when everything else was a jumbled mess.
My dear Cinderella, I assure you, although you are a spry young thing with all your life ahead of you, if you listen to what I have to say today and put even a tiny bit of it into practice, future you will thank you.
It’s my birthday this week, and I want to get up on my birthday soapbox for a moment and say this: I want to publicly thank past me for the things she did to make my life easier today. I want to thank her for not giving up on building routines and habits that today help keep me sane. I want to thank her for believing that there was a future and hope for my life.
It was never easy, and rarely fun. But making the decision to prioritize future me over present me was easily the most fruitful act of self-love I could have engaged in. You loving yourself is the best gift you can give.
That was my tangent for today. I hope you enjoyed it. Happy birthday to me.
On with the show. Today we are talking about Mental Health.
“Mental Health” is a buzzy pair of words, isn’t it?
It’s a wide ranging topic, which deals with the state of our well-being…psychologically, socially and emotionally. These factors are all deeply intertwined. You don’t need me to define those three factors for you, and I am in no way qualified to provide anything new on the topic.
There are so many elements that impact our Mental Health, as well. Genetics can be a factor—many of us can trace back symptoms of bi-polarism or narcissistic personality disorder back through generations. Genetics are not determinative. But we can have genetic predispositions towards a more fragile Mental Health.
Our life experiences, our childhoods and parental attachment styles can impact our Mental Health.
For example, I don’t know what I did to my youngest child, but he cannot stand it when he doesn’t know exactly where everyone in our family is at all times. I wish I could pinpoint one experience that would have created this fear of abandonment in him, and I hope that with time it will become less rigid. But boy oh boy, watching him deal with this every day proves to me just how important our formative years are, and just how subtle an experience can be to create insecurities in our psyches.
Deep-seated Mental Health issues like genetics and childhood trauma are not the issues that we are going to tackle today. These are best taken up with a Mental Health professional, and if you need one, or even suspect that you have need for one, I would recommend you find one.
Today, we are going to be talking about aspects of Mental Hygiene that are within our control, and how we can pursue our Ideal Life in the area of our Mental Health.
Part One: The Ideal Life
I want you to imagine you just entered a beautiful home. You wander from room to room, and you arrive in an office that has abstract stained glass windows.
The largest pane is made up of many different color circles, which all overlap in different ways. It’s breath-takingly exquisite. At the overlap of the circles, the colors change, mixing in glorious ways.
I want you to imagine that this stained-glass window is your life. Each of those circles is an area of your life…work, family, health, personal style, spirituality, commitments, marriage… The places where they overlap are the unique ways that you live out those areas, with the resources that you have…your time, your talent and your treasure.
Each of us imagines our Ideal Life differently, and on this podcast, we seek to define what each of those circles of that gorgeous Venn Diagram means to us. We start by asking ourselves the question, “In My Ideal Life, I am a person who…who what?“
When I first started asking myself that question, I ended up with nineteen overarching themes. Today, we are looking at the theme of Mental Health.
So, here is a sampling of some of my Ideal Life statements for the topic of Mental Health.
In my Ideal Life I am a person who:
- doesn’t have panic attacks
- knows how to recognize when hormones are making me crazy
- is even-keeled
- doesn’t make a mountain out of a molehill
- holds her tongue when hormones start roiling
- lets emotional cycles complete
- has a healthy outlet for rage
There is a reason that we are most fertile when we are young and go through menopause when we are closer to fifty.
Raising small children and going through menopause at the same time make for uncomfortable bedfellows. As a discrete activity, there is nothing easy about raising small children. Likewise, there is nothing easy about going through menopause.
Doing these two unavoidable activities at the very same time? Zero stars, do not recommend.
And yet, and yet…that is where I find myself today. This experience is going to color a lot of what I have to say today, so buckle up, Cinderella. It’s going to be a bumpy, but worthwhile, ride!
Part Two: Menopause Watch Party
I’ve talked about this before, but at the overlap of our Mental Health and our Bodies lies the topic of Menopause.
A million years ago, before I began puberty, my mother did something very very cool. She prepared me for it. She explained to me what was going to happen, and when I got my first period I wasn’t scared. I actually was kind of proud. I had been armed with information, had gotten answers to my questions, I knew what to do.
I don’t have daughters, and I must say, that is one part of parenting that I almost kind of regret that I won’t get to do. My mother gave me an amazing example.
Since I have no daughters of my own, I have made it a bit of my mission as your fairy godmother, to prepare you for your menopause. Call me the Menopause fairy, if you will.
The tricky thing with this is that it isn’t as simple as “well, one day you are going to stop bleeding and here is how you deal with it.”
Menopause is a sneaky little vixen. Yes, she is the wicked witch in our fairy tale. (Not to be confused with LiElla, your Wicked Stepsister who is absolutely kooky and delightful) Our villainess starts teasing her arrival years before she actually decides to grace us with her presence. She makes us feel wildly uncomfortable in our own bodies, in our own minds…
Now, given that I know that the majority of my listeners are between 39 and 44, I must admonish you, my fabulous Cinderellas: you can already make this transition easier for yourself, even if that sneaky little vixen is years off.
You can make your life simpler by building a habit of tracking your monthly cycles. Track your symptoms, track when you get hormonal pimples, track your libido, track the length of your cycle. Track when you start to feel bloated or look six months pregnant even when you aren’t.
I learned how to do this years ago, when I was trying to get pregnant, and it became a habit that I never dropped. And so, when in January 2019 my usually clockwork periods and symptoms started to get wacky…a few days early or a few days late, an insane libido shift, mood swings like a teenage prom Queen, memory problems and three days a month during which I would have people asking me when my baby was due, well… I knew something was up.
But the first symptom was a period that came three days earlier than usual. This was a red flag that helped me put all the other oddities into perspective, and quickly.
Of course, when I talked to my OB/GYN about he, he dared say to me, “Everyone goes through it…you’re not the first, you won’t be the last.”
Even though he couldn’t or wouldn’t educate me, I did everything in my power to read up on the subject. Just like my mother had, before I got my period. I interrogated friends about their symptoms. I became that person who asks prying questions. That said, most women were not opposed to talking about their experiences. They just never had talked about their experiences before. We usually ended up laughing about how odd this whole process is!
I joined a Facebook group for peri-menopausal women, where I could ask embarrassing questions of women I would never meet in real life.
By being active about learning what I could possibly be up against, I was able to identify the symptoms and put them into words for myself.
One particular topic that I explored was that of the overlap between Mental Health and Creativity as a support system for Ménopause.
I had been reading up on different natural-ish ways to handle the mood swings that accompany the hormonal turmoil of menopause. May I remind you that while I may not look or sound like it, I am someone with a very high tolerance threshold for pain, and was quite adamant about having natural childbirth experiences.
I have, over my short forty-four almost forty-five years, had to learn to love and trust my body through all sorts of different changes and miniature crises. These were all fine and dandy, with various degrees of physical pain that I had to face. The physical pain, in many ways, made it seem real. Like something was happening, and, as they say, “No pain, no gain,” right?
Well. Menopause ain’t so satisfying as all that. Menopause hasn’t, so far, caused much more physical pain than the fact that I kinda can’t button my favorite jeans any more after four in the afternoon and the sundry night sweats and momentary nausea just before a hot flash.
What menopause has done is made me the very most short-tempered and ill-humored version of myself. Like, to the point that I don’t think a day in the past month has gone by where I haven’t muttered to myself something that you might hear a sailor shout at a trucker. Not to mention the rage that stirs up like a storm on Lake Erie: fast, nasty and short lived.
I have theories. Lots and lots of theories. Like…our bodies hold onto a lot of repressed emotions and Menopause is when the presssure of that repression finally cracks. The more unexpressed emotions we have, the longer it will take, or the more uncomfortable the symptoms. Again, this is just a theory I invented.
But I like my theory. It gives me a tiny bit of power, in that if I can figure out how to express some of my rage in a safe way, maybe I can help my body along. I know this is not scientific, but it makes me feel like I am doing something to help. At worst, it’s a placebo effect.
All of this to say: I have only found two things that keep my rage under control and they are: drying my hair with a hair dryer and sewing. It’s as if the roar of the machine channels the roar of my rage and provides some kind of catharsis.
Thus why I have had really good hair lately, and also why I have been sewing like a maniac.
Well, imagine my delight when my philosopher husband shared with me the Freudian notion of sublimation. Freud says that sublimation is when we take our societally unacceptable impulses (Freud always takes everything back to sexual impulses, but plenty of other thinkers link this notion to the displacement of any undesirable or unacceptable behaviors) and learn turn them into socially acceptable actions, in the long-term even retraining the initially unacceptable impulse.
While this doesn’t exactly prove my theory about repression and menopause discomforts, it makes me think that perhaps there was something helpful to the drive to be creative as an outlet for rage.
At the same time as I was finding some relief from the rage by refashioning, literally, tearing apart something (in my case an item of clothing), that already existed and turning it into something else (interesting to note that the idea of creating something from scratch does not interest me at all…illustrating the idea that I must destroy something…an « unacceptable social urge » first in order to find comfort…)
I started to look into other ways to understand my rage. I read up on this, and found an article about menopausal rage, and there it is said, in black and white, that creativity was a way to help.
So let me go even a tad deeper into my own proprietary and unscientific Theory on the Sublimation of Menopausal Rage and Creativity.
A while back, I told you about how I had once taken a bathrobe, the one I wore at the maternity ward when having my first child, and turned it into a cute little blouse. My experience in the maternity ward had been less than stellar, and every time I would see that bathrobe, I would seethe with rage.
When I was working on my bathrobe refashion, I noticed that the act of taking a seam ripper and removing the sleeves was like opening the valve on a pressure cooker. An initial violent plume of anger escaped and suddenly the bathrobe no longer contained the emotional fumes of my rage about the circumstances of my first child’s birth. Suddenly, it was just a piece of beautiful quality striped fabric. It was a beautiful bathrobe to begin with. Tearing it apart made me feel powerful.
Reclaiming power over a situation in which we lost our power is an effective way to deal with rage. Creativity holds the key to redraw the lines of our rage, channeling it into socially acceptable behaviors.
Wow. I just threw a ton at you in one section. Sorry about that.
Let’s recap: even if you aren’t yet peri-menopausal, you can make life easier for future you by tracking your periods and symptoms.
Also, finding outlets for the rage you will inevitably be facing as your hormones start roller coastering is important, because once it starts, you have no idea how long it is going to last. But you have the power to redirect that rage into something beautiful.
Part Three: Mental Hygiene
I was lecturing my children about flossing the other day. Flossing, as in, dental hygiene, not that weird dance thing.
It started because one of them had been eating a lot of sweets, and he quite cavalierly said, “I brush my teeth before bed. I don’t need to worry about my cavities.“
This raised my hackles. I launched into a diatribe about how it is not enough to just brush your teeth before bed. Eating sweets, or drinking sodas or coffee…these are all bad for our teeth. These can’t just be counteracted by brushing our teeth before bed. Our mouths are healthier when we avoid this kind of thing.
This was news to them, apparently.
“But you drink coffee, Mama,“ came the reply. “And besides. What would dentists do all day if everyone stopped eating candy?“
Side note: it really stinks when children start making reasoned arguments. Whether or not they are based on false premises, the fact that they are capable of arguing me into a corner for a quick moment makes me nervous for the future.
That was when I explained to them, an argument that I created completely by the seat of my orange petticoat, that there are three important ways that we manage our health:
Prevention, maintenance, repair, blah blah blah…
While I droned on and on, my brain took leave for a few minutes and had a bit of a realization. An epiphany, if you will. I need to practice better Mental Hygiene.
Just like I invest in my Dental Hygiene, I need to invest in my Mental Hygiene.
After I dropped the boys off from school that day, I sat down, opened to a blank page in my notebook, and wrote “Mental Health“ at the top. Then, I divided the page in three, and wrote: Prevention, Maintenance, Repair.
I did a little bit of a mind map, I just let my thoughts freely associate about what this meant to me. I really encourage you to do this as well, because for each of us, it will take on a slightly different focus.
Nonetheless, I want to share with you some of my thoughts.
When it comes to dental hygiene, prevention would be things like NOT eating sweets or drinking too much coffee, avoiding things that would damage my teeth. How is this related to my Mental Health?
What is my Mental Health equivalent of Skittles? My immediate, knee-jerk response was Twitter. Twitter is where I get a lot of my news these days. It is also a place that causes me a huge amount of anxiety, because what I am hearing about in the news is not necessarily always good.
Not to mention that I am getting emotionally caught up in the success of a candidate for the relatively obscure race in Texas for the Railroad Commissioner seat, and this makes absolutely no sense to anyone that I know or live with, since I don’t live in Texas, have never lived in Texas and have only ever been there once for like twelve hours. (Please vote Luke Warford for TX railroad commissioner.)
After careful consideration, though, I realized that social media in general was my coffee and soda. If I wanted to prevent anxiety, stress or anger and improve my emotional well-being, I needed to use social media more sparingly.
I didn’t want to entirely disengage…I mean, I like social media. But I did want to take one serious preventative measure to improve my mental hygiene. So I decided that for two hours per day, during the lunchtime hours (ah yes, because remember, here in France, lunch hour lasts two hours)…from twelve to two every day, I would turn off my devices.
Next: Maintenance. What would Mental Hygiene maintenance look like? It would look like making sure I get enough sleep, because I know that for me, bad sleep=bad mental health. It would mean being more considerate about how I make commitments. It would mean developing habits that will help reduce stress and make me feel less crazy—like knowing where I put my keys, my phone, my purse and my shoes.
Maintaining good mental health would also mean engaging in activities that I enjoy, like making music and being creative…hacking that sublimation loop I talked about earlier.
Lastly, what would Mental Health repair look like?
My first thought was, “Therapy“ and I stick by that. Professional mental health support when you need it is like going to the dentist when your teeth hurt. It shouldn’t have to get to that point, but if it does, there are professionals who can help.
I also think that repair can, in a smaller way, look like taking a day or a morning off to do absolutely nothing. It can also look like re-evaluating our schedule and responsibilities and making decisions that will allow us to be more serene.
In just a few short weeks, we are going to start talking about Curiosity. Curiosity about ourselves is an element to mental health that should not be overlooked. Getting to know ourselves and what is meaningful prevention, maintenance and repair is going to be part of our discussion.
The Ideal Life Exercise
As we do with each of these themes, I ask myself four easy questions about the theme we are covering.
This is an exercise I do every morning, about just one topic each day. So, this week, we are going to ask those four questions about Mental Health.
- What is working? The fact that my indulgent husband and I sat down the week before school started and planned out our calendar allowed me to start this school year with serenity that I rarely have known before. This totally worked and makes me feel like I am on top of the world.
What is working for you? Is there an area of stress that you have started to make progress in? Did you take a mental health day? Write that down.
- What isn’t working? This could be anything, too. Are you too busy? Are you feeling triggered by the news? You aren’t here to judge yourself for something not working. Just put it into words!
- What do I need to think about? How can you repair what isn’t working? Is it an easy fix? Do you need to enlist the help of someone else?
For context, scheduling and planning has always been an enormous source of stress for me. The fact that my husband sat down with me to plan meant i didn’t have to carry that burden all on my own. So…who can help you deal with your anxiety causing issues?
- What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life?
This is jut one tiny little thing that you can do, today, to get you closer to your Ideal Life. Start tracking your period, or spend some time being creative. Of all the things you might need to do to work on your Mental Hygiene, do one little thing today.
Your psychological and emotional experience of your life is just as real as your physical experience. Being attentive to your mental health pays dividends in your experience of your life.
No one is asking you to be happy all the time. But learning to prevent negative thoughts from seeping in, building good habits that help pressure to release, and knowing where to go to seek help when our mental health is suffering are three critical elements to mental hygiene.b
Think about mental hygiene as the steps you take to care for future you.
Through the magic of fairy dust, I can already hear future you thanking you.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene.
Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up.
The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/
Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/
You can contact Lily by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song “La Joie” as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
On a blank sheet of paper, write the word Mental Health at the top.
Dividing the page into three parts, writing the following words at the top of each section:
When it comes to your Mental Health, think about how you are doing in each of these categories. How are you currently practicing Mental Hygiene?
Are there any practices you could put in place to help improve your Mental Health?