😌 — Reflections on the examined life and mental health

How grounded in reality are my worries?

That’s my question for you today. I think I am not alone when I say that many of my worries exist only in my head. They never materialize. But that often doesn’t stop me from inventing possibilities, thinking about all the things that could happen, or what others could have meant with this or that. And that costs a lot of energy, time, and headspace that could better be spent on fun, positivity & gratefulness.

Artwork above drawn with fineliner on paper, 20x30cm, January 2021

So what’s wrong with thinking, what’s wrong with using one’s brain — isn’t that a sign of intelligence? And isn’t the capacity to think beyond one’s own fingertips and imagine possible scenarios a condition for inventive, creative, and also empathic thinking?

Yes, Mr. Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. But we have to be careful which mental waves we ride, and which we let pass, on a mission to keep our health and sanity. We need to examine what does us well and what doesn’t. We need to examine how grounded in reality our mind games are and assess their relevance. For thoughts can be destructive and form unhealthy belief systems that can form storms that overcome us like a tsunami or hold us in a mental prison, keeping us from pursuing (sometimes merely accepting) our happiness and goals.

I am not talking about the bliss of ignorance. I am talking about active control over how we talk to ourselves. Entrance bouncing for the disco in our heads, to keep the party going.

Do you control your thoughts or do your thoughts control you?

The thing about thoughts is that they can quickly spiral. As humans, we have the brainpower to make thoughts not just about happenings in the world, but take it a step further: make thoughts about thoughts. We also have feelings about our thoughts, which can in turn trigger new thoughts & feelings again. Some call this construct a mindfuck. I prefer to call it the spiral of thought, because it can go upwards as well!

Artwork above drawn with colored pencils on cotton paper, 50x70cm, June 2021

Whatever you let into your brain can and will find a place to breed. Grow. So what do you want that mental flower to be, what thoughts do you want to seed?

Artwork above drawn with colored pencils on cotton paper, 50x70cm, June 2021

As an artist, I can tell you that many of us have a very masochistic and self-destructive approach to managing our thoughts.

Find what you love and let it kill you (..while trying to preserve something others can look at)

is probably the shortest and most common artist biography.

Yes, I too have explored the depths of pain in the name of inspiration, letting them suck me into their darkness. They are usually teased by the most attractive of muses which make you curious to go a step further. And further. And further. And when you start to see and pick the fruits of inspiration, they suck you further into their inferno. It’s so easy to get lost in there. Down there it’s so easy to lose sight and touch of reality. We start to see and interpret things that aren’t real or true — which can lead to impressive artistic feats, but sadly, those often come at the great cost of personal sacrifice, and often of those close to us as well. So so so bittersweet.

Artwork above drawn with fineliner on paper, 20x30cm, June 2021

What it means to be mentally healthy

Let’s take on the power and responsibility to control and edit our thoughts. Choose which ones we keep and grow, and which ones we kick out.

Reality check. Reflect. And edit. Keep some, leave some. Or as an Internet quote puts it:

Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It's your masterpiece after all. ― Nathan W. Morris

To achieve this, the importance of setting boundaries cannot be overstated. Boundaries are often talked about in relationships with others, and I’d like to raise awareness for setting boundaries in the way we speak to ourselves.

Show yourself the respect you deserve.

Artwork above drawn with fineliner on paper, 20x30cm, May 2021

And yes, we can be caring, empathic beings while maintaining a healthy distance to the outside world, to outside people. This is not an either/or. This can be evaluated and adapted on moods, situations and people. And you are the one in control of that. Respect yourself and your mental health to take this control.

As a sensitive person who physically feels lots of emotions, I have to stress the importance of finding ways to distance yourself from negative thoughts, negative people, negative environments.

It should also be noted that many, many conflicts within ourselves or with the outside world are a result of misunderstanding. Unfortunately, so much of our communication is never expressed in ways that are understandable and clear.

Communication is subject to interpretation and therefore letting the mind go crazy on certain expressions or possible intentions is a very, very unhealthy approach. Instead, take a moment to clarify a statement, reflect and express how a behavior or situation makes you feel. This simple practice usually helps you calm the storm. Don’t let a seed of fear or anger or pain grow in you, setting in motion the tornado spiral in your head & stomach. The earlier you take control over your thoughts, the earlier you clarify an interpretation, the quicker you can turn over to the bright side again.

Artwork above drawn with fineliner on paper, 20x30cm, April 2021

The people who practice mental health know that all of this means effort. Like a physical workout, mental cleansing and mental healing requires a commitment, time and space. I want to encourage you to take this time and make this effort. Don’t let everyone play ball with your emotions. You are the referee of the mindgame. Stop overthinking. Start clarifying. Keep enjoying.

♡ flow