When I was younger, I was a big fan of the culture-jamming magazine, Adbusters. It used art, marketing and magazines, (some of my favourite things), to challenge consumerism, the big brands and a lot of things that fundamentally confused me about the world, as a non-trendy kinda girl. I’d spent my teenage years working in my dad’s pharmacy, and wandering around the mall of a working class town on my lunch breaks, and it was uninspiring and depressing, so Adbusters’ annual Buy Nothing Day pleased me weirdly, too. It was provocative and poking fun at the status quo. And, who knew, it was based in Vancouver, my future nearest city.
The sub-head for the magazine’s title always confused me, though: A journal of the mental environment.
I didn’t get that. I didn’t understand what a mental environment was. Or what shopping had to do with it. (Nor did I foresee that today, as Mental Health Week commences for another year, I would be writing a post about the fact that I think I might be actually be a mental environmentalist, growing in my radicalness – based on a 1996 interview with the magazine’s founder Kalle Lasn explaining the goal: “What we’re trying to do is pioneer a new form of social activism using all the power of the mass media to sell ideas, rather than products.”)
The Canadian Mental Health Association is using the week to promote empathy. Their campaigns typically are aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. I jumped onto their facebook page to find some useful resources or a pretty poster to share in this space for Mental Health Week.
They’re offering all kinds of resources and programs over the next little while, just as even our school district is, bringing in Greg McDonnell on Wednesday May 4 for a free talk at 6pm, in response to the huge number of inquiries the Signal Hill admin has been getting from parents needing some help with their kids’ anxiety.
This is all great, and I’m happy to share these resources, and advocate for empathy, but the newly minted mental environmentalist in me is thinking: we can’t keep offering one-off seminars and fact sheets on self-care, and saying, “be kind” and “I can relate”, while at the same time polluting the mental environment beyond any of our abilities to absorb the toxins or live amongst them.
Our mental environment is currently experiencing not-life-sustaining/life-harming levels of pollution.
I honestly think the only people who are flourishing mentally right now, are the Dalai Lama types who have incarnated as higher beings in the first place and have been waking up at 3am for the last 60 years to meditate, and the sociopaths and psychopaths who don’t feel anything anyway.
Do not let the world pathologise you into thinking that you are the one who has the problem, if your mental health is not flourishing in today’s current mental environment.
Yes, you may have a problem that needs addressing… but the larger problem is the mental environment we’re all swimming in.
Don’t let the world gaslight you into thinking that if you’re feeling wobbly or threadbare it’s because you’re not eating enough greens in your breakfast smoothie.
So I wonder if a more helpful question than:
“what are you going to do for your mental health, or your self-care, today?”
“What might you be able to do today, or this week, to spring clean the mental environment we’re all inhabiting?”
- Maybe you’ll gift yourself a social media break.
- Maybe you’re reconsider posting something that might pollute someone else’s instagram feed and just enjoy your own photo or moment yourself, privately.
- Maybe you’ll take a break from reading the news. We’ve come to believe that following the news cycle is part of being an informed and good citizen. But, we live in a unique time where the news cycle is 24/7, the resources dedicated to gathering the news have been slashed so it’s hard to give it the care it needs, shock and outrage sell so they’re prioritized, and most media is owned by a handful of billionaires who are deeply invested in maintaining the status quo and keeping us all afraid and submissive and feeling as if our own power in the world is to buy something nice to take our minds off the mess.
- Maybe read a poem a day (instead of the headlines). And just sit with it.
- Maybe go and lie on the earth and dock your energy until you feel grounded and recharged.
- Maybe tell a person who agitates you, “thank you but not right now.”
- Maybe you’ll say, “hey, not cool”, when someone says something cruel, racist, transphobic or hurtful in your presence, even if it’s not directed at you. (Especially then. Let’s protect each other’s mental environments.)
- Maybe invite a friend to join you on your dog walk or your evening stroll and chat. Maybe join a morning run club or the library’s book club or plan a meditation or yoga retreat.
- Consider signing up for the free Together We Can summit, which is happening online from May 11-21, and is designed as showcase of all the amazing things that are happening in the world. It’s the kind of food our imaginations need. (More on this tomorrow.)