Finding your way through terrible advice
“Push Yourself!” “Be Gentle with yourself” “Do the things that terrify you!” “Take it easy!Be sure not to over exert yourself” “Get back on the horse! Life goes on you know!” “You deserve a break! Life can wait” This is all advice that you may have heard many times sometimes within a five minute period. Everyone loves telling other people what they should be doing with their lives. This past year in the wake of a personal tragedy, college graduation, and finally dealing with my own mental health head on everyone decided to give me “advice”. These words are meant to be used as a helpful stepping stool to help me live a healthier more well rounded life but can often feel stifling despite their good intentions. The worst bit was absorbing it all in only to realize in a way everyone was correct. So much of this advice contradicted each other but to the core all of it was somewhat true. Thus most mental health advice exists in a dichotomy.
Acoording the the Merriam Webster Dictionary a dichotomy is “1. a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities; the dichotomy between theory and proactive 2. Something with seemingly contradictory qualities”. It is the balance of ideas which contradict each other but true. This idea comes in eastern philosophy as “Ying” and “Yang”, the light and the dark which balance each other out. Even in Star Wars the jedi masters talk about how their must be balance in the force. Many mental health experts, and yoga teacher, talk incessantly that there must be a balance but those of us living the modern western world only hear the words. We understand their meaning but never the less still do not understand how to apply it to our lives.
The fact that life must be balanced creates the dichotomy of advice whenever we are faced with a tough life situation. For those just trying to seek relief this can be overwhelming about what their next course of action or even long term plan can be. This is of course is where my personal least favorite bit of advice truly comes into play “You know yourself best!”
The dichotomy that follows this advice is this is the most accurate advice when faced with a situation but also the last thing you want to hear when you do not know what to do. If you have no idea what to do then why would “You know yourself best” be of any help. The truth is that even when you are overwhelmed you do know yourself best. You are the only one who knows the delicate intricacies of your personal situation. You are the only one who understands what your day to day life is like, your personal history, and even the way you think. Many people do need the guidance of a therapist and perhaps are seeing a psychiatrist as well. If you are seeing those experts please do follow their advice since they are professionals with degrees and board certificates who are doing their best to help you. However if you are an adult and another adult (who is not a therapist) is trying to give you “helpful advice” you do not need to listen to them.
Ok this makes sense but still not entirely helpful with what to do with a closet full of advice on hand. Fine. I will spell out what has helped me evaluate what I should have been doing Hopefully this will be helpful of knowing what to do when your find yourself in a tough situation or when everyone and their mother has an opinion of what you should be doing.
- Assess your situation.
What exactly is going on in your life. What has changed recently that you are starting to seek advice? What is your financial situation? What has been going on with school or your job? How is your support system with family and friends? Do you have to take on new responsibilities such as being a caretaker for a sick loved one? Do you now have to deal a diagnosis or illness? Although this may be difficult try to list everything going on in your life. This way you can see in front of you exactly what is going rather than causing anxiety by raking your brain. It may be difficult to look at or even write out but seeing what is going on can help you evaluate how you may take on the big trouble you are finding yourself in. Problems were never solved through avoidance.
- List out the advice and options that have been given to you
No doubt that during this time you have been given so much advice or if you are dealing with a medical issue such as terminal illness then a treatment plan. Write all of it down. This may include new time commitments with a new job, activity, or medical treatments. These may be necessary. Of all the advice that you are looking at perhaps you can separate them into two categories. Usually these categories are separated into “Relax More” and “Work More” both can be helpful, but the trick is finding the balance.
- Divide and Conquer
Now that you have everything listed in front of you try to set out the plan. There is always a little room for wiggle room to balance between work and play. For example starting to do a five minute meditation in the mornings will bring not only clarity but a sense of relaxation to the day which may otherwise be hectic. On the flip side if you find yourself feeling too lazy or lethargic, perhaps it is time to turn to a creative project or hobby. Try to find the small attainable ways to balance out the dichotomy.
- Let your Plan Be Your Plan.
You are the only one who knows your situation. Perhaps the only thing you used to fight when getting out of bed was your heavy eye lids and now for some reason getting out of bed in the morning feels like fighting a dragon. Take your time to find changes which will create balance. You do have to find a balance of swaddling yourself in a blanket and scaring the living daylights out of you but in the end the proportion of which you do those actions is up to you. People will always want to add what they think you should be doing with your life. But ultimately that does not matter what others think. You will find your journey at your own pace no matter what you are dealing with. Keep that in mind.
Then as people swarm to you with advice you can just smile. I hope that this has helped you find an easier way to find your way across the sea of mental health advice. The quotes can get cheesy quickly and sometimes even sound dumb. But they usually do hold at least one grain of truth. Then decide which or how much of the opposing advice you are able to incorporate into your life.
Let me know your thoughts on this? How do you feel about the “pinteresty” kind of self help quotes? I would love to continue this kind of conversation.