The Mental Immune System | Part Two

A few weeks ago we started talking about the mental immune system. In part one, we got the boring elements out of the way (eating health food, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough). Today, I want to focus on: connection.

I have found genuine connection to be vital for my mental health because it is grounding. For me, there are three areas of connection.

WITH YOURSELF

  1. What makes you happy? It took me a while to get this, but there is a difference between what you see making other people happy and what I actually enjoy doing. I can get really inspired whenever I see someone else love training for a race in cute running gear, killing it at water color painting, or traveling to multiple countries during the summer. That doesn’t mean I would enjoy that. I don’t like running even if I buy new leggings. I don’t have the patience or passion to become good at painting (the instructor and 10 middle-aged women in the water color class I took can attest to this). And I’m a homebody. A yearly to bi-yearly vacation to some place in nature, even the same place every year, does it for me. I hate packing and crowds and not being in my cozy bed.
  2. What makes you feel alive? I’ve been able to narrow this down to just a few things, which allows me to consciously make time for them. I love anything flower-related (growing, photographing, arranging), writing obviously, and learning new languages. I also love long walks in nature.
  3. What brings out of side of you that your current situation neglects? Whenever I worked at a computer all day, I did more floral stuff, because I was less in touch with that side of me. Now that I’m on my feet with kids all day, I make more of a point to get in touch with my writing side. I still do the other hobbies, but by making sure I’m getting in touch with all of me, I feel more whole.
  4. When are you most honest with yourself? I am most honest with myself when I’m journaling or contemplating life in the shower. For you, it could be in drawing, in recording yourself, in talking out loud to yourself in the car (except at the stoplights because you don’t want that stranger you’ll never see again to think you’re crazy). Try to take time at least once a week to be honest with yourself without judgment. Unless the shower is where you’re honest–you might want to do that a little more frequently.
  5. What part of yourself do you really appreciate? If it’s your creativity, do something creative! If it’s your problem-solving, do a logic problem or solve some other sort of problem! If it’s your green thumb, garden! If it’s your computer skills, do some hacking and expose the shadow government! Whatever it is you love about yourself, do that thing. Hang out with the side of yourself you think is cool.

WITH OTHERS

  1. How many meaningful relationships do you realistically have room for right now? I don’t have room for a lot. One of my best friends keeps in touch with, like, everyone she’s ever been close to (it seems) or connected with. She loves it and it gives her energy. Not me. I don’t have the social energy to keep up that many relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cutting people completely out left and right. But I’m not going out of my way to maintain them. I can’t. But I can prioritize my and my husband’s family and a handful of close friends.
  2. Do you prefer one-on-one, small groups, or big gatherings? I think you can guess where I fall. Big gatherings! I love the noise, small talk, and constant stimulation! The social anxiety is a high! πŸ™‚ But yeah, for me one-on-one with someone I can genuinely connect with and small groups of people I truly click with are where I feel most connected.
  3. How frequently do you need to socialize? This varies so much from person to person and the type of socialization affects it as well. I can only really handle one, sometimes two in-person, hang outs in a week, with people other than my husband (or parents/brother when we lived in close proximity). My husband doesn’t count, because, not to be mushy, but being with him is usually better than being alone (Everyone who’s been married more than two years is going, “Yeah, sis, that’s gonna wear off.”). A phone date or two with family or close friends is perfect for me. Otherwise, keeping up with daily or weekly snap chatting or texts does the trick. You could be completely different. You could need to socialize every day or only bi-weekly. Do you.
  4. Where do you feel most like yourself? Besides the small group factor, I feel most like myself when I’m having a deep conversation, being nonsensical, serving others, or spending time with people who are kind of outcasts in society or lonely. What that looks like for me right now is refugee families and an elderly woman who takes the flower arrangements I make off my hands because if they stay at my house, they die, dry, and remain on various surfaces looking gross. Before said woman retired, she was a social worker and I hung out with her and her tag-along friend who was a homeless ex-felon (I might have left out a detail or two at the time, Dad. Oops sorry love you). Maybe for you that’s with your gamer friends or pals in your sorority or your church small group. It could be running with a partner or playing pranks with your church small group or… I don’t know! I think I’ve given you enough ideas to get the ball rolling. The point is, connect with others in a way where you will feel connected and not like you’re going through the motions.
  5. What is your love language? My top two are touch and quality time. This is why cuddling up on the couch with my husband makes me feel so connected to him. You can take the test here. It’s not just for romantic love, but how you show and receive all types of love. This could help you figure out how you’ll feel most connected to others. If your love language is acts of service, making something for someone and showing them how it works is a good way to start. Or, volunteering together. If your love language is words of affirmation, maybe writing a letter about or talking to someone in person about the things you love most about them will get the ball rolling. If you’re too lazy to read about the love languages (been there), take a moment to reflect on when you feel most in tune with others and do more of that.

WITH THE SPIRITUAL

If you’re nonreligious…

I don’t think you’re excluded from this, depending on how you personally think about spirituality. An atheist I know shared a photo on Facebook once that said something along the lines of just because she’s an atheist doesn’t mean she doesn’t get caught up in the mystery of life. That was some food for thought for me. I was raised with an idea of God and even in my low, skeptical points regarding God, the notion of there being God has never completely left me. So, what I’m saying is, I can’t completely relate to not being religiously spiritual. But I think if I wasn’t, ask myself these questions:

  1. What makes you feel in awe of life, of the universe? Maybe it’s being in nature reading about space, or getting lost in art.
  2. Where do you feel most still? Mindfulness and meditation are “in” right now so there’s so many meditation apps out there. One of my nonreligious friends recently recommended the Calm app.
  3. What helps you see the bigger picture? It could be meditation, yoga, or some other form of mindfulness that helps you put down thoughts that are “urgent” so you can see how much more there is to life or where you’re going.
  4. What do you find sacred? I like to take time to reflect on sacred moments I’m experiencing or have experienced lately. Places where I saw love, healing, justice, growth, etc.

If you aren’t spiritual, but get in touch with a more spiritual side of life, I’d really love to hear your thoughts on what you do!

If you’re religious…

First of all, I think it’s important to realize if God transcends culture, language, and age, than I’m sure God has endless and unique ways to connect with us. Saying that almost seems unnecessary but then I remember how many years it took me to unlearn (I still have to remind myself from time to time) there are more ways to connect with God than a disciplined Bible reading plan or thorough prayer list.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for spiritual disciplines. I haven’t quite mastered them yet, but I have seen how self-discipline can be what actually creates more freedom (my friend Linnea talks some about it in one of her blog posts). A small example is limiting my social media time to a certain amount and time of day. I’m finding by doing this, I seize more opportunities, even if they’re short, to talk with God or digest my thoughts instead of impulsively opening an app and scrolling for five minutes.

What I’m trying to get at is I think God wants to know you and teach you in the way that is holiest for you and most conducive to your learning style.

Maybe these questions will help:

  1. What kind of conclusion did you come to in the connection with yourself section? Invite God along. Even if it’s video games.
  2. When do you feel most still? I feel most still when I know when the stillness will be over. That might sound kind of funny, so let me explain. I used to try to go have “quiet time” with God, but would get super antsy because I didn’t know how long I was expected to sit there. So, I tried setting alarm, but then all I could think about was when the alarm was going to startle me. It kept me from relaxing. I have now found a happy medium. I have Tea Time with Jesus. I get a hot cup of tea and go sit in a dark closet (it’s the least stimulating–aka distracting–place in my home. Sometimes I talk and sometimes I listen. Sometimes I do both. (Okay, okay, sometimes I do neither because I’m getting mad about the dog barking outside, worrying about what minor symptom I’m experiencing is probably a sign of a major disease, considering what I’m going to have for dinner, or experiencing an existential crisis about religion. God still loves me.) The thing I like about the tea is it gives me something to do while still being relatively still and it gives the date a set end. When the cup is empty, the session is optionally over. The time it takes for the tea to cool down (after I’ve burned my tongue by trying to drink it too soon) and then for me to drink it is just about the right amount of time before I lose focus.
  3. When do you feel most caught up in spiritual joy? Be real with yourself. It doesn’t have to be the worship set at church. It could be gardening, hiking, knitting, cooking. It could be washing windows for all I care! But wherever you lose yourself with God, go there. For me that’s dance parties with Jesus. I have to be alone with no fear of others’ eyes. And a lot of the songs are “secular” (I said secular just so I could have an aside about how I don’t think there should be a distinction between Christian and secular music because music of all kinds explores sacredness and truth in life, like love and healing and heartbreak and justice–“Christian” music does not have a monopoly on the holy just because the artist holds a particular belief.) but I have a special memory or mysterious connection with God through them. A couple even have the f-bomb.
  4. What makes your heart the angriest or saddest? Counter intuitive questions perhaps. But recently my church focused on lament. Which apparently means you can be really honest with God about how you feel regarding the state of the world and how you feel it should be handled. And you can do it without secretly feeling like a negative Nancy Christian who needs “the joy of the Lord” because it turns out people in the Bible were doing it all the time. Even Jesus did it. It’s like God doesn’t want us to force ourselves to feel happy all the time when humans are capable of a whole range of emotions. In fact, if that was the expectation, the smartest thing we could do would be to shelter ourselves from everyone whose lives suck–for example, homeless people, survivors of domestic and sexual violence, refugees, the mentally ill, children of people suffering from addiction, people suffering from addiction, the terminally ill, prisoners, and literally anyone oppressed by racist, misogynistic, or class (etc.) systems. Unfortunately, that would require avoiding Jesus since he said he was the least of these and would be in direct defiance of the second most important commandment, which was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Alright, I didn’t intend to get fiery. Maybe I should delete all that… nah.

Well, on that note… I hope these questions gave you a thing or two on which to reflect (I feel so fancy when I go out of my way to not end on a preposition) and how to connect (rhyming). Like I said, making sure I connect with myself, others, and God keeps me grounded. Those connections are roots preventing me from getting washed away whenever life get rainy. Have you found a similar affect? I would love to hear about it and how you connect to any of the three (or additional aspects I didn’t consider).

***

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