Mental Health and The Importance of Our Emotions | Dr Brene Browns Research on Joy
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Dr Brene Brown
I came across several videos and TedX Talks featuring Dr. Brene Brown, who if you are not already familiar with her, I shall include some of those videos at the end of this blog post. Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. For those of you that are aware of her work, you may agree that this summary does not do her work justice. Her research has touched many peoples lives and has inspired me to continue down the path of authenticity; she has the rare ability to define emotion and explain the reasons behind them in a way that imprints on to your memory. I often go back an re-watch her various talks and interviews and each time I learn something new about myself.
Dr. Browns specific take on Joy has me questioning a lot about our current take on mental health. Upon taking to social media about such subjects, I have been welcomed by an influx of people from all over the world, who have honoured me with their stories and struggles involving mental health. Perfectly put, Dr. Brene Brown states that Joy is the emotion people often wish to experience but is quickly followed by terror. Her example that has brought much-needed clarity on this topic is ‘have you ever looked at your children whilst they sleep and be overwhelmed with happiness, joy, and love that you created such beings and then suddenly you are hit with thoughts of what if something were to happen to them?’ Leaning into joy was the most prominent lesson I have since learned which may seem easy enough to practice and yet a lot of us find it a rather difficult habit to take up. As in her research and various interviews with people show, leaning into Joy it will not make the fall or the hurt or a loss any less bearable, but it will allow you to be present and enjoy those moments of joy for longer, without regret as to what follows thereafter.
As I have been doing a lot of research on the topic of mental health, it has become apparent that there is a direct correlation between mental suffering and joy. Bipolar disorder, for example, is often connected to shopping sprees, erratic and impulsive behaviour, amongst other ‘symptoms‘ and yet for me, these ‘behaviours‘ only begs the question as to what exactly the mind is trying to gain by doing them?
We are very quick to replace therapy and mindfulness with medication which from my own experience, is rather worrying, hence why I am currently writing a book on the matter. As a result of neglecting our own well-being and failures to go within, I have found that we often turn to what we have experienced outside of ourselves that we associate with happiness, joy, love, in order to replace what we are missing within ourselves. Therefore I can only presume to think that if by definition, those diagnosed with Bipolar disorder are in a rush to fill what is missing through all means necessary such as the consumption of material possessions then if we were in fact, guided within ourselves, in order to reclaim this missing Joy, would those with Bipolar have adapted such behaviours in the first place? Aren’t most things we do in life symptomatic of the void we have inside?
Understandably, meditation or the act of looking inside oneself can no doubt be perceived as a daunting task and it is significantly easier to take a tablet. Some may gain a period of calm or ‘normal’ and yet I, who suffer from anxiety and the like, have found that I was merely using a band-aid to cover a black hole. Eventually, the mind may stop using those above-mentioned behaviours, however, it will only replace it with another set of actions. On the basis of this thought process, I have since dedicated the best part of three years and commit to spending the rest of my life, paying attention to what habits, behaviours, and experiences best serve my own well-being to avoid any future conflict that for those who are currently dealing with ill mental health, can admit that it is far too exhausting taking a tablet and hoping for the best.
Pain is inevitable in our lifetime but suffering is always optional. The difference now is, we are aware that our emotions are a choice, but how we exactly do that hasn’t been narrowed down. Meditation is a sort of trial and error practice that one day shall just click and instantly you will become more aware of how you are living your life and as a result, shaping your brain. Everyone is beautifully unique and medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies, of course, cannot find a cure for every individual but we do not need these factors in order to solve the problem, if we maintained a healthy relationship with ourselves in the first place, there would be little need for them to begin with. This is the current journey I am on and a daunting one at that.
As an avid reader of spiritual literature, I have over time, found solace in knowing that I am a spiritual being having a human experience. For me, this understanding allows me to take responsibility for everything that happens for me in this life and gives me great comfort in knowing that all of my experiences are either teaching me a valuable lesson or broadening my perspective, both rewarded by a greater power/source/God. This lifetime is merely preparing me for my next adventure in which gives me relief to past pressure of finding ‘meaning’ and encourages me to be more present. It is often difficult to remember that the majority of the world we live in, is man-made and not ‘God-given’ i.e Time, money, conformity, television, radio and anything else you can think of. Nevertheless, if we ironically take the time we currently have to understand that we are in fact, limiting our own power by allowing our old mindsets to continue thriving, we will surely feel a lot freer than we currently are. What could be better than feeling lucky/blessed enough to have a human experience on earth and that everything we experience and learn and observe, serves the greater picture? Wouldn’t such knowledge encourage a healthier, more adventurous way of life? If we truly understood that everything is directing us back to Source/God or every event in our lives is merely shaping us into the best version of ourselves and we respond positively rather than react emotionally, wouldn’t we feel more love, joy and powerful than we currently do?
When your mind is in distress or you have developed a habit that seems impossible to break, it can make your experience of life not as great as it appears others are having which often leads to depression. I do believe that having a “mental illness” as medical professionals refer to it as, is not actually a problem because there is, in fact, a solution. From experience, I view it as a blessing in disguise as most of life’s unasked for circumstances are. I say that with great conviction because otherwise, I would have continued life, unaware that I could be living any other way, with no mind-body connection and on the subject of connection, I wouldn’t have felt the presence of Source/God – whichever your preference – and that has made my memories of being a young adult or child, all the less colourful but thankfully, my current life, all the richer for it.
The issues I have found on my own journey, is that there are millions of Psychiatrists, Therapists and Doctors alike that will gladly charge vast sums of money per hour to medicate you, discuss issues with you or even both and yet none of them are able to give you the exact blueprint as to how you fix the mind. All the education in the world is not as valuable as learning about your own self and going within. I cannot fathom this belief that we have been given such a weighted task of experiencing life only to be burdened by disease, mental illness, and no remedy or power to heal ourselves, or produce love and happiness, to an extent.
To be clear, I am all for medication, I am not encouraging anyone to not seek medical treatment, however, I do feel that when it comes to our minds specifically, medicines are merely biding our time because they are unable to target the specific issue that is causing this effect. We solely have the power to find that out and modern medicine or therapy can, of course, help us get closer to a solution. In light of my diagnosis of having a mental illness; I have since regarded it as a sort of reincarnation. I do not feel the same person I was before. I spent the best part of a year feeling jealous of my old life, mourning it like I had lost some part of me I was never going to get back because the medication was not working for me and as much as therapy had helped me create a map out of several triggers, no one could tell me how to stop this pattern or break free from such anxieties and depressive thoughts.
Ultimately what I have discovered thus far, is that I have ignored the warning signs and allowed all of my observations, experiences, and behaviours to date to create my minds current state, both good and bad. With that knowledge, the ability to change that mindset or behavioural pattern now appears a much easier task. We can, of course, forgive and understand or regret other peoples actions against us but we can not free ourselves of such attachments to those moments that effected us if we are hellbent on changing nothing about our behaviours thereafter and what I mean specifically about behaviours, is by going over and over our pasts without any reasoning other than to comfort our misery, or remaining in the company of those that do not serve us well, or conducting the same old routine that lead us to those specific events that caused that awful mindset in the first place. It is eventually going to cause unnecessary turmoil in our minds and lifelong suffering as a result.
If we were to use Dr. Brene’s work and implement her theories into our everyday lives then we could easily pose the argument that all emotions are terrifying to some extent, just as there is a fate worse than death such as having a mental illness, or a debilitating physical issue. Surely, it would be easier and much more practical to allow ourselves to exorcize our ‘God-given rights’ and become consumed with those moments that let us feel joy until we can learn to create that emotion within ourselves?
The freedom of choice is something no one can take away from any of us but do not allow yourselves to be limited by the choice of action. We too can choose what we feel, what we think of and what we do on a daily basis, the quicker we realise our own power, the better our lives will be for it, wouldn’t you agree?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Sending you all love and light.