When I grew up, I had a scary picture of mental illness. It included images from movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and sightings of the lady living at the corner in the white house with red trim who none of us ever heard speak and whose face was a permanent grimace. But I’ve changed how I come to illness and health, especially mental health.
Over the years, I’ve maintained an interest in the mind, and my understanding mental illness has developed since I lived down the street from the woman I never really knew but feared as a boy. These days I think about mental health in connection to emotional health. While I don’t keep a hard and strict definition of mental health, I definitely tend to think in terms of wholeness.
I imagine health as an integration of a person’s head, hands, and heart. I think health has to do with intellectual and emotional fulfillment in the context of quality, challenging relationships that push a person to do and be great.
Greatness is active. It takes effort and work to be good. It takes more to be great. And being great carries with it a temptation to keep acting, to continue putting forth effort, and to hardly pull away.
Stopping and being great are like lovers who’ve departed on unfriendly terms. They remember the important connection between them, while, at the same time, they want little if anything to do with the other. They’d prefer not to see the former friend, or if they must meet publicly, they are cool toward the other at best.
We don’t learn much about the balance between being great and taking breaks. We equate greatness with tirelessness. We mark the person who works to death as a person who’s honorable. On the other hand, the person who rests is, well, missing just a little something inside.
I think breaking away, observing cycles of rest, equips us to see beauty and glory in the Creator which we cannot see in the midst of continuous work. Stopping opens us to depth. Resting cracks our hearts in the presence of Divinity that waits for enough silence to speak greatness into us.
One of my mentors used to say often, “Come apart before you come apart.” It was his introduction to something about self-care, about retreating from the world, and about reviving oneself. It was his way of turning people to the importance of maintaining one’s emotional health.
To me it is an invitation to caring for oneself in the presence of the One who is best able to care. To stop is ironically to engage in a dance–a spiritual, emotional, and mental dance–that ends with nothing but wholeness.
How do you step away and replenish yourself? How do you make sure to take care of you?