What exactly is a healthy mind? in Daydreaming on the Porch

  • Feb. 19, 2024, 4:08 a.m.
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A healthy mind knows how to hope; it identifies and then hangs on tenaciously to a few reasons to keep going. Grounds for despair, anger, and sadness are, of course, all around. But the healthy mind knows how to bracket negativity in the name of endurance. It clings to evidence of what is still good and kind. It remembers to appreciate; it can — despite everything — still look forward to a hot bath, some dried fruit or dark chocolate, a chat with a friend, or a satisfying day of work. It refuses to let itself be silenced by all the many sensible arguments in favor of rage and despondency.

Alain de Botton

Recently on a healthcare provider questionnaire, I was asked to choose the state of my mental health from these options: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor, or I’m Crazy (just kidding). What an ideal opportunity to heal yourself,” I thought. “Just select ‘Excellent,’ and everything will be fine.

Now, does guessing the status of one’s mental health refer to the present time — the past six months, for example — or does it mean one’s cumulative average state of mental health (whatever that term actually means) over the past few months, years, many years, decades, or a lifetime?

On those days when I am feeling good physically and the days are full of ordinary little anticipations that excite me, I like to think my mind is generally healthy. This despite the constant background presence, and unwelcome intrusive thoughts, of traumatic events and lengthy bouts with severe depression and anxiety over a lifetime.

Retirement has made a huge difference. I have the time now to savor life deeply and think about its meaning and purpose, and also to tap into to the universal stream of consciousness that flows everywhere in this life, and beyond.

But retirement is also a huge double-edged sword. While I have unlimited freedom to do what I want, and have filled my time with numerous projects, hobbies and my writing and photography, I am also separated from the world of work and being in daily contact with people. I have lost the sense of purpose in life that came from caregiving for my mother over many years. In some respects, all these interests and hobbies are my way of filling the void that opened up after my mother passed four years ago, and after I had been retired more than two years by then.

However, old age itself heals and calms the ravages of time. It’s nice to harken back to memories of good times. The bad and even traumatic memories, which come to me fairly often in brief, and still quite painful flashbacks, recede farther away into those dim caverns of the mind that we can now more boldly enter if, and when we want to, and not feel as keenly the cold, biting winds of failure and remorse.

There is something about time being compressed now that enables the mind to break free of its former shackles, even though I am still subsconsviously tethered to them. As I get old, I realize on each day that I have left, that the past does not control the present. I recognize that my memories, that now seeming eternity of a past, the deep pits of depression, the joy of laughter, being with friends and family, and the miracle of my own consciousness, are all cumulative and constituent parts of one person, myself, inseparable from others, whether or not I want to admit that, but not immutable. Every day is radically different in the tiniest ways, if you think about it, and change is constant. One of my most treasured and hopeful realizations is that the old adage is true: Each new day is the first day of the rest of your life.

Jinn February 19, 2024

Very well put. It feels like time passes so quickly now that it’s almost a blur and that feels scary . I remember an older friend of mine telling me once to not waste time on finishing books I did not love “‘because you will miss out on the great books ; you only have so much time left” and then it made me feel uncomfortable to think about . Now I get it ; each day is precious.

Oswego Jinn ⋅ February 20, 2024

Exactly! There are endless paths for learning and mind expansion. You can find them in books and all over the Internet. The sky’s the limit, and each day can be infinite if we use time wisely.

Telstar February 19, 2024

Good entry.

I'm continuously amazed at how the mind can be influenced by very unrelated things.

Oswego Telstar ⋅ February 20, 2024

Thanks! You're quite correct. Mind expansion and learning every day of our lives involves that which at first may seem unrelated, but which upon further reflection is part of the grand scheme of creation. Everything is related in some way.

Lady of the Bann February 19, 2024

My thoughts lately too have been on the workings of the mind. With my youngest daughter in hospital with Psychosis after childbirth, it is like all the wires in her brain are tangled and she still,at times,talks nonsense. Yesterday she was good. Today she may not be. She may be my sweet girl or she may think that the grill on the bathroom door or the plug sockets are listening devices or cameras to spy on her.
My mental health is good but that line between mental health and insanity is very fine.
We need people. Just last night I read how important random conversations even with strangers are important. Just a brief few words and exchange of pleasantries with the cashier or waitress or the old man walking his dog,can make us much happier. We also need a challenge that makes us feel we are successful at something. I used to play word games on my phone. Now I am learning Portugese on Duo Lingo.its fun.

Oswego Lady of the Bann ⋅ February 20, 2024

Words of wisdom and experience. How difficult it must be to cope on a daily basis with your beloved daughter’s illness. But love and devotion enable you to keep your mental health intact and to be there for your daughter and her newborn.

I agree completely about the transforming power in an otherwise lonely day of the simple act of briefly conversing with strangers. Last week I went days with my only human contact the brief words I shared with the employees of stores I frequent, or my neighbor across the hall in the apartment where I live. What a difference it makes!

Kristi1971 February 25, 2024

I really like this entry. :)

Oswego Kristi1971 ⋅ February 25, 2024

Thank you so much. I thought a lot about this one! :)

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