Sometimes, the best way to overcome our mental health challenges is to, rather than focusing on the problem(s), turn away from them. Shifting our focus and perspective can empower us to transcend, to rise above, any problem we face.
Perhaps a clarification is in order before going forward: Changing focus isn’t about avoiding or ignoring or even getting rid of problems. Avoiding, I learned from my own life experiences as well as through working with others, tends to make problems bigger. Fighting problems to make them disappear doesn’t work, either. Some things, such as mental illness, brain injury, and chronic health problems, don’t fully disappear.
However, our struggles lose power—we can almost completely overcome the hold they have on us—when we shift our focus and journey to find ourselves. It is simple (but not always quick or even easy) to find yourself—your true self, not your mental health struggles because your challenges aren’t who you are at your core.
No matter what we are facing, shifting our focus from the struggle to ourselves is powerful.
I have a short, simple novel entitled Losing Elizabeth and an accompanying curriculum that I use in high school classrooms (it’s suitable for middle school, too) and community programs such as teen library programs. It’s about toxic relationships and all that they encompass. The curriculum is called Find Yourself. Keep Yourself, and the emphasis is on students developing awareness of losing themselves and developing a strong sense of self (finding themselves) to either avoid or overcome toxic relationships.
While finding yourself does help in situations like toxic/abusive relationships, it helps with all other struggles, too. This process can be helpful:
Are you losing yourself?
Perhaps the better question is how are you losing yourself? What challenges are you facing? What is the nature of your struggles?
• How you feel like things are out of control? Get specific. The more you can pinpoint the problem, the better equipped you are to overcome it.
• In what ways is your life being affected? Relationships with others? Feelings about yourself – your self-concept?
• Are your actions and behaviors changing? Do you find yourself avoiding people, places or situations? Are you making unhealthy or dangerous choices?
• What are your thoughts like?
• What about emotions?
When I sustained a traumatic brain injury and two subsequent concussions fourteen years ago, things were challenging for a while. In addition to seeking professional help, when I eventually sorted out precisely what I was experiencing, I could conceptualize what it was that I did not want.
This, though, is just a first step. Knowing what we don’t want for ourselves and our lives isn’t the solution. It’s merely the step that leads to the most important thing: finding ourselves.
How to Find Yourself
You know what you don’t want. Now it’s time to shift the focus. Who are you at your core? Developing this is what gives you the strength to transcend anything that come your way. Some questions for introspection include (but aren’t limited to):
• What are my values, the things and people most important to me?
• What are my passions, the things that make me excited right now?
• What is my sense of purpose, the “why” behind what I do?
• What type of person do I want to become?
• What are my goals?
• What are my unique strengths I can use in my life?
When you can develop a deep sense of yourself, you can begin to act and make choices accordingly. Rather than remaining stuck in mental health struggles or other problems, you can work to transcend challenges, which often means living well in spite of them.
Seeking and finding yourself is a powerful tool that lasts a lifetime, a quality lifetime.