However, according to mental health professionals, the “pursuit of healthiness” can be the ticket to ensure our ride on the roller-coaster-of-living leaves us resilient and resistant to mental and emotional distress.
Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale identifies the five traits of an emotionally healthy individual and some good examples to support them.
An emotionally healthy person embraces life with full-on acceptance and optimism. Instead of “Why me?” they say “Why not me?” They are not victims they are survivors.
Meredith Vieira is a great example of someone who embraces the imperfections in life. In a recent interview I read in More Magazine, on her second date with her husband, Richard Cohen of now 23 years, he said to her, “I have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I have no idea what the future holds.” Meredith shrugged her shoulders and proceeded to fall madly in love in him. After a series of miscarriages, the couple now has three nearly-grown children.
Over the years her husband’s health has deteriorated; he is nearly blind and has suffered two bouts of colon cancer. There are times when he can’t walk; and he and Meredith end up sitting on the floor and laughing – “what else can we do?” she says. The media has sadly had a tendency to blast the couple as “Meredith the Martyr” and “Richard the Wretched.” According to the interview, that is far from the truth. Meredith said that picture diminishes them both and, besides, with her quick wit she added, “He‘s much too big of a jerk for me to have tremendous sympathy.” Her husband’s illness is so woven into her life that she doesn’t even think of it as adversity – it’s just their life!
Another important characteristic is someone who takes like head-on and lives boldy!
People with a healthy outlook are not afraid to stare “standard procedure” straight in the eye and call something for what it is even when it’s highly unpopular to do so. They may be scared when they do it but they do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. Jenny McCarthy did just that!
When her son Evan was diagnosed with autism and began suffering from seizures, as 30% of autistic children do, she set out to find answers when her team of medical doctors offered her little to no hope. In her painstaking research she found one little window of opportunity in which Evan could be pulled out of the acute state he was in and she took full advantage and was successful. She found ammunition in the form of a strict dairy-free and wheat-free diet, an anti-fungal medication, and various forms of behavioral therapy.
The more controversial and bold aspect of Jenny McCarthy’s work is that she’s confronting the regimen of 36 vaccinations that have become mainstay in western medicine. She has been instrumental in educating women to say to their child’s pediatrician, “I don’t want that vaccine…and yes, I’ll take that one!” To some of the powerful moms like Jenny, an increase in autism has been associated with an increase in the number of vaccinations. Little bodies may not have the auto immune support needed to handle all these vaccines. Regardless of what side of the issue you stand, it‘s hard to deny the power in the love and fight of a mother. Evan has gone from a boy who wouldn’t interact or even let his mother hold him, to a child who hugs, kisses, and squeezes her all the time, saying “I love you Mommy….I love you so much!”
To strong-minded individuals it’s not “if” they’ll reach their goal but “when.” Another’s doubts may actually even spur on their determination and progress. Someone says, “I don’t think you can do it….” And they say, “Watch me!”
At the Beijing Olympics – what took only about 14 minutes pool time, was a lifetime in the making. Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals – more than any other athlete has won in a single Olympics. He kept his eye on the goal after claiming to type that specific goal of 8 golds on his home computer before heading to the games. The road was not always easy for Michael Phelps. In October, 2007, he fell on the ice trying to get into a friend’s car and broke his right wrist. His coach said he was distraught for this interrupted his regular training. After surgery, he was committed to kicking in the pool with a kick board which, interestingly enough, may have been the very thing that allowed Michael to build enough leg strength to win the butterfly final by a hundredth of a second with that one last powerful kick that propelled his hands to the wall first.
Emotionally healthy people have little to hide and offer few excuses or justifications. It’s as if they say, “What you see is what you get!” There are no pretenses and no surprises to who and what they are.”
Some of our particular issues are obvious, of course, such as weight. In her own magazine, O, Oprah states that she’s embarrassed and mad at herself. (who can’t relate to that at one time or another!) “After all these years, “she laments, “I’m still talking about my weight!” What Oprah went on to say in the article was that her weight issues isn’t about eating less or working out more, or even a malfunctioning thyroid. It is about her life being out of balance, with too much work and not enough play, not enough time to calm down. She let the well run dry. “I don’t have a weight problem – I have a self-care problem that manifests through weight.” We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Oprah through 2009 as we start to see a lot less of her physically, once, again.
The most important of all traits regarding healthy individuals is that of being resilient amidst adversity. There is a great deal of research in the field about the necessity of resilience and how we can increase the characteristics that belong to that trait. When you are resilient you have an internal reservoir from which to draw from and which protects you from mental illnesses. Resilience can help you survive challenges and even thrive in the midst of chaos and hardship.
It’s been ten years since Michael J. Fox announced that he has Parkinson’s. He is aggressively fighting the disease and says he still sees a bright future ahead. He and his wife have not only been busy raising 4 children but also $140 million dollars towards fighting the disease. He told People Magazine recently that he didn’t want people feeling sorry for him. He stated, “Having Parkinson’s is part of an amazing life. And it’s not an otherwise amazing life, it’s part of what makes my life amazing.”
He also goes on to say that “if I let it affect everything, it’s gonna own everything. I don’t deny it or pretend it’s not there, but I don’t allow it to be bigger than it is. I can’t always control my body and I can’t control whether or not I feel good…but I can control how clear my mind is and I can control how willing I am to step up if somebody needs me.”
A-B-C’s of Mental Health
Many of the same things we do to keep physically healthy are also good for our mental health, as well. Here are my ABC’s of mental wellness:
ACT: Never stand still or stop! Stay mentally, physically, and socially active. Walk, greet neighbors, establish and maintain relationships, dance, play cards or do crossword puzzles to also keep the mind active.
BELONG: Relationships are paramount! Join a book club, sign-up for a class, deepen your involvement and participation in groups you already belong to, and attend community events. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable in attending group functions by yourself. The most important goal is to show up and be present!
COMMIT: Keep your word, help a neighbor, take up a cause, make a difference, challenge yourself, help in a school or with the elderly. Look outside yourself towards a larger, greater purpose.
People who are emotionally healthy are in control. They are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and they maintain self-control in relationship to self as well as to others. They keep themselves in check…even when they think no one is watching!
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.