Tassia Pellegrini

February 24, 2021

The mental health talk we're not talking about

I'm so glad we're more open to discussing mental health topics. It was almost a forbidden topic in my family (we didn't know how to talk about it) or at work (it wasn't a "workplace" problem).

Still, it feels like we're throwing "mental health" everywhere, like when we learn a cool new word in a new language and wanna hang out with the native speakers.

Better than nothing, I guess.

Up until five years ago, I didn't know what depression was. Sure, I have heard the term since I was young. I've got to know people close to me sharing that they had it (and medicated for it too). And, of course, I heard the term being used in very generalized ways.

But until you're truly aware of it, you don't know what it truly means.

So what "being aware" means?

At least in my experience, awareness either comes from feeling like a 1TON sandbag smashed me (pain) or when I realize I'm getting enmeshed by something (regardless of my ability to stop it from happening or not — insight).

With depression, anxiety, and grief, I kept getting both: pain and insight.

Not that everyone needs both. So far, life has made me realize that "fairness" is just a concept. You get what... you need, not what you want? I don't know which new catchphrase is hot right now on #gratitude media, but my point is that whatever themes you carry heavily in your journey, they seem to hit you with pain and insight, over and over, until you're aware that this abuse — external or internal — is happening.

I didn't want to experience depression to understand it. But, to varying degrees and circumstances, I was carrying it even before I learned the word itself. I wasn't aware. And then, when I became "aware" — of the word — I still didn't understand it, but I thought I did. I had empathy.

I had empathy for others. Not for myself. Not enough to investigate the pain, not enough to investigate the insights. I was so confident that this couldn't be happening to me that I was skeptical of therapy. I outsmarted therapists so I could justify why I dismissed them.

"See, I tried. It doesn't work, it's not a big deal, I will solve it myself". So:

  • I thought positively
  • I found new hobbies
  • I meditated
  • I exercised
  • I even helped others!
  • I traveled 
  • I found "what sparks joy"
  • I connected with others
  • I took a break
  • I read books
  • I spent time with loved ones
  • I spent delicious time alone
  • I walked in nature
  • I started eating better
  • I journaled
  • I improved my work x life balance
  • I got a promotion
  • I changed my hair color
  • I changed cities
  • And then I crashed. 

Yes, this all helped. These things compound and ripple to dimensions I'm not capable of understanding yet. But they helped, and they still help. Those were good events, and new, high-quality habits are great things to keep.

Have you read those books about habits, and have you used these meditation apps? What a great time to be alive!

Still, changing my habits (mental or otherwise) doesn't always mean I'm changing myself (which, I would even ask: what does it really mean to "change oneself"? What are you changing? Anyway.)

So, these helped. But I was still miserable. I was just more aware of it now, which made it worse.

It gets worse before it gets better, they say.

I felt utterly guilty and responsible for my state, which was conveniently covered by my high-functional personality. Everything was in order. Being functional despite thinking I was doomed to be chaotically sad inside was very useful, I confess. It was a privilege, too. 

But it also masked the immense pile of confusion, fears, and lies. And that's what we're not talking about: the immense pile of confusion, fears, and lies.

All these cute meditation apps and books were a needed bandaid to my experience, but that's the exact mentality that kept me from seeing what was in front of me this whole time: chasing a "cure", chasing a "better state,"... chasing kept me from seeing.

This whole gamification of mental health or productivity or life is a gigantic distraction.

It kept me from being aware. But then, when I felt like "let's go into the wilderness of my existence," it was frightening. 

I couldn't do that alone. I would suggest you don't do it alone either if you feel called to explore that in this lifetime.

If you don't, that's fine.

But if you're not well, for whatever reason, ask for help.

In case you're in doubt, burnout is a huge reason, too.

And to be honest, asking for help was a massive step for me since I don't like to depend on others. But then I learned — with practice — that it was yet another confusion, fear, and lie.

At least now, the pain/insight ratio started to make sense. By slowly increasing my tolerance of one (instead of hiding or distracting), I found more of the other. It's a life-long process.

It will be different for you.

That's the whole point.

There's no app for that.

I believe in your mess.