This post originally appeared as a Letter from the Editor in the Westwinds Clubhouse Newsletter. Image by mcfarlandmo, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings.
A few years ago, the Internet was taken by storm with a burgeoning trend in New Year’s resolutions. Instead of setting lofty, non-specific goals like “I’m going to go from being a couch potato to going to the gym five times a week for an hour and a half” (and inevitably giving up two weeks later), a new suggestion surfaced. That suggestion was to pick a verb to focus on for the entire year. To paraphrase a podcast titled “Being Boss”, the importance of goals (or, in this case, verbs) is to focus on how you want to feel, rather than focus on physical things you want to obtain (to reference the previous example: instead of going to the gym, you’d like to feel healthy). And in the mental health community, how you feel is often the main focus. For 2016, if I could pick a verb to help highlight how I want to feel for the year, it would be hygienically. Which, ahem, is actually an adverb… but I digress. For this coming year, I would like to hygienically feel.
Why feel “hygienically”, you ask? It references a now antiquated term that I hope makes a comeback. In the early 20th century, mental health professionals used the term “mental hygiene” instead of “mental illness”. Rather than exclusively treating the latter after onset, the former focused on prevention, early intervention, and stressed that everyone, regardless of their history with “mental illness”, deserved to experience good and beneficial mental health. The switch from caring for mental hygiene to treating mental illness is similar to the shift in the modern medical treatment system in our country – we often go to the doctor after we are sick and are prescribed medications to fix an illness, rather than visiting the doctor and maintaining good health to prevent one in the first place. Because illness often causes hardship, and in some cases (lung cancer for smokers; Type II Diabetes for overweight persons) carries the stigma of being the patient’s “fault”, the term “illness” generally has negative connotations. The term “recovery”, often used in conjunction with mental illness (e.g., “I am in recovery from my mental illness”), implies that you are working on getting better but that, due to the nature of mental illness, you will never truly be “better” because your symptoms will always be there. I challenge you to evaluate how you feel about these terms. Granted, mental health concerns often cause hardship. However, they are not your fault and while you will probably have periods of higher and lower functioning in your life, you do not have to be in “recovery” simply because you are not neurotypical (or without a diagnosis). What if everyone, regardless of their history with mental health, practiced proper mental hygiene as an ongoing process with the underlying assumption that we are all whole, complete people who do not need to get “better” – or rather, who need to behave more “neurotypically”?
Everyone feels. Some feel differently or more deeply and passionately than others, but emotion is a common denominator in our humanity. Self-care is universally important. Just as everyone has a physical body that we must practice good hygiene to care for, we all must address our feelings and care for our emotional and mental well-being. Whether or not you identify with terms like “mental illness” and “recovery”, and whether or not you carry a mental health diagnosis or are neurotypical, I encourage you to join me in hygienically feeling this year.
Feel whole. Feel well. Feel healthfully. Feel hygienically.