Saturday 20 December 2014

Mental 'injuries' are a lot harder to spot

John Masterson

Published 19/05/2014 | 02:30

‘We still don't acknowledge the fact that men can be as vulnerable to depression as women’
‘We still don't acknowledge the fact that men can be as vulnerable to depression as women’

I SPOTTED a handbag in a trendy shop which sported 'Don't Be Afraid of Getting to Know Yourself' in big, bold letters. It looked like the ideal present for a lot of people I know. I resisted. Partly because of the price tag, but more because of an instinct for self-preservation. But it did set me thinking.

As a nation, we are becoming obsessed with physical fitness. Not that many of us are doing much about it. But at least we know that a lot of us are carrying too much weight. That is the physical side. It is easy to understand the connection between calories in and what the weighing scales tell you. Likewise, if you do a bit of exercise, the notches on your belt soon tell the story. But we almost totally ignore our mental fitness.

A pulled muscle makes itself felt. You know the cause, the when, why and the how you did it, what it feels like, how to repair it, and approximately how long that will take. With our bodies, we are aware of how debilitating a seemingly small injury can be. A sprained hand almost reduces you to helplessness. A damaged Achilles makes climbing the stairs an ordeal. You cannot ignore the injury, you have to do something about it.

If mental 'injuries' were as easy to spot, life would be easier. We can carry a grudge for a lifetime. It is probably the mental equivalent of a pulled muscle that was never allowed to heal. Instead, life has adapted around it.

I was conscious of this recently when I read a tweet posted by someone who, in my kinder moments, I would describe as a 'duplicitous, self-serving, manipulative creep'. That description is not without foundation. I can immediately think of acquaintances who add further purple prose for good measure.

I could not read the tweet without that well-ingrained emotional filter. And this was a person I have not met in years. It was time to build a bridge and get over it. The person was not worth even a momentary thought.

They couldn't care less about me and it was time to reciprocate. Never again were they going to be allowed to discolour my emotions for even a millisecond.

Mental fitness is not a concept we are used to. We do not understand it well, and it is easy to ignore. We automatically say, "fine", when asked how we are because, really, no one actually wants to know.

A world where people answered truthfully would be an unimaginable nightmare. But maybe we should take the time and ask ourselves, and answer truthfully, from time to time.

We hear sports people talk about feeling mentally strong. They know that mental state affects performance. Physical fitness takes planning, effort and time. The same is true of the mind, but we have no idea what to plan, what effort to make, and we do not even set aside the time.

Without going all Californian, we could realise that nobody feels great all the time. Sometimes we feel fragile for no apparent reason and it can feel very disconcerting. That is just the way human beings are. No need to bottle it up.

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