I need more than ‘wellbeing’
‘Wellbeing’ is really important to me personally and is also intrinsic to the emotional health work I do. Although there are lots of different ways of defining it, I see wellbeing as a baseline of emotional balance which is a product of self-care, self-awareness and positive external inputs. I am really committed to wellbeing, but at the moment I feel a bit like Sherriff Brady, who having spotted Jaws for the first time says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”
I am sure I am not alone in feeling like my emotional arsenal just isn’t big enough to deal with consecutive rounds of Covid interruption. It all reminds me of hideous rowing training sessions, where it is was always; ‘This is the last one, give it 150%’, followed by, ‘I think we will just go out one more time.’ How many times can you keep going one more time? This brilliant graphic was shared by diamondgeezer.blogspot.com last month and depicts 15 status transitions in 2 years.
It’s not that ‘wellbeing’ isn’t important, it is more important than ever. It’s just that to me it doesn’t feel like it’s enough to keep dealing with the above. Self-awareness is normally helpful, but there are only so many times knowing that you are sinking is cheering. Self-care is also crucial but encouraging yourself whist your sinking is not hugely productive. I was grateful for my friend Tanya Marlow who shared that 2021 had been the ‘worst year of her life’ in a viscerally honest acknowledgement of reality: “Don’t let yourself compare your life or sufferings to others. If it feels like suffering, it’s suffering.
“This year I have lost _________”
“This year has been traumatic because ________”
“This year I have felt invisible because _________”
“This year I haven’t felt like myself because _________”
“This year I have felt desperate because ________”
Name it out loud to yourself, tell a trusted friend, and feel what you need to feel.
We need this kind of transparency amongst people working in the emotional/mental health arena, to make sure it doesn’t look like we have happiness all sewn up!
I also fear that ‘wellbeing’ and ‘positive mental health’ could be at risk of being measures of failure, rather than the supports that they are intended to be. “Oh, their ‘wellbeing’ (emotional resilience) just isn’t good enough to cope with this sort of pressure…” A bit like the bench-press in the gym, where people observe your weakness more than they observe your strength. This is why ‘wellbeing’ can never be enough on its own, it’s too dependent upon your own ‘good practises’.
If you are sinking, you need someone to throw you a rope. My ‘bigger boat’ is my faith in God. We have started 2022 with a weekly memory verse and began with Isaiah 43:2: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
I read this verse every time I walk into the kitchen, and I keep being struck by the ‘When’ not ‘If’ at the start. As a result, I have decided to stop trying to talk myself into a brighter ‘If’ view of 2022 but to look and lean more wholeheartedly on the presence of God with me in the water and flames of the year ahead.
Ultimately, I know that whilst my attempts to retain my wellbeing might be overwhelmed, God’s hand will never let me go. Perhaps the word for the year is for resignation and rescue, rather than resilience and self-reliance: Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our safe place and our strength. He is always our help when we are in trouble.”
Happy New Year