Do Not Neglect the Mind

IMG_8645.JPGOptimal health involves the mind & body.

That which our mind consumes our body digests. The amount of time we spend weighing out our calories, counting our carbohydrates and tracking our mileage and yet we put little to no time or thought into our own mental health.

Without a balance there is not optimal health. As an adult I’ve had to teach myself this balance and the idea of nurturing my mind as much if not more than my body.

I come from a family of hearty Midwestern Germans who push the bounds of their physicality. We are breed athletes, up for the challenge, willing to physically push ourselves, we lift heavy, we run with endurance, we carry discipline in our genetics. But ask us what we’re feeling and the blank stare that ensues will tell all.

At 10 years old I hiked Old Rag in Virginia, at 12 I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite, at 16 I hiked Saddleback mountain. When I say hiked, I do not mean parked by a trail head and then walked 5 miles. I mean our Father, fondly called the Captain, parked at the lowest point and we hiked or dragged ourselves to the highest peak and back, we did not bring provisions to spend the night, because that was not the mission and we NEVER aborted the Captain’s mission, up and back before sunset. My sister and I spent many hours of our childhood chasing the shadow ahead of us.

My Mother once on vacation endured such a strenuous hike with the Captain, that after hours of hiking she hitchhiked alone back to base only to lose both of her big toenails, nurse blood blisters and remain off her feet for over a week. As teenagers we learned how to wield the captains magic powers and when haughty relatives or friends bragged of their greatness .. we would set up a hike for them with the captain, send them off all smiles and pick them 12 hours later, heaped in sweat, tears and occasionally their own diarrhea BUT always humble. Most people hiked with the Captain once BUT almost never twice.

At 11 years old I crewed the Captain’s sailboat races, and he sailed like he hiked. There was no room for fear or emotion on most races only an intensity that demanded you be present physically at all times for your own safety. One such race, our 40 foot Tartan Ten battled a thunder storm on Lake Michigan, we took 12 footers over the bow for hours, and took turns holding the main sheet and tiller to go vomit over the side. We now laugh about the fact that we received 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies because we were the ONLY boat that finished that race.

My Mother broke under this physical intensity after 21 years of marriage and decided to live at her own pace. My sister and I were raised this way, we knew no different so it didn’t break us, in fact I think it gave us a certain amount of physical strength and endurance beyond our years.

Side note ; If you want to raise strong, hard women please see the above lessons, but realize no matter how attractive your hard daughters are there will never be a long line of men wanting to date them. Only in movies are men attracted to Wonder Woman, in real life you can get away with the gold bra and maybe even the lasso but beyond that men want to be the hero.

That being said, I will forever be grateful to the Captain for the years of exposure I had to the most beautiful mountains, lakes and trails. I learned to sail, kayak, swim, fish, play tennis, racquetball, cross county ski, camp, hike, etc. and in all these things I found my way through and was grateful at the end.

For all the lessons in navigating the strength of the body I knew nothing of the mind. We were physically strong BUT emotionally and mentally absent. I never saw the captain cry while I was a child, so we didn’t openly cry. As an adult I’ve seen tears only once when strength was stripped away by a year of strenuous inpatient chemo pumped through his heart and even then it was within a controlled context . I never saw grief, because it was buried deep. The only real emotion we saw expressed was anger.

We never spoke words of love, praise or forgiveness, they were terms I heard of but were not manifested in our home. We did not share emotions or put any thought into them. Affection was limited but expressed mostly by my Mother.

It was not a bad childhood, there was no sense of neglect or abuse, and after therapy I was able to reconcile his actions as his expression of love. What wasn’t spoken, was evident in mere presence then and now, but there was a steep learning curve to overcome, but it was not out of reach.

Emotional and mental self awareness and resilience is crucial to optimal and balanced health. If you are beginning this journey as an adult I recommend researching and investing in Mindfulness. Our mind dictates our lives, it’s an important to understand.

At 43 I cry openly now. I no longer hide the truth of joy or pain from my children. They ask me questions as to why the tears, and I do my best to explain the circumstance of the emotion, they then see their mother wipe her tears and move forward. They also see firsthand that with their mother’s honest emotion, other people open up as well. They see affection shared between friends whether it be for the sake of grief or joy. They see the significance of being open enough to allow others in, even in the valleys of pain.

If you are a parent please spend time teaching your children the concept of mental health. Please do not shelter them from honest emotion, please show them everyone weeps, grieves.. show them through your tears, show them while you’re on your knees in prayer, show them with your words .. I love you, I’m sorry, etc. they will reap the awards of graceful truth and learn that there is resilience and strength through Christ and the human spirit.

 

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