Lady Eaton College recently held an event called “Jammies for Positivity” – an event where students got together to do activities in their jammies.
This event was special to Active Minds because it parallels what Active Minds is all about.
Active Minds provides a space for people to come together in their pajamas; we allow a space for people to be however they are most comfortable.
Often, there is stigma about pajamas that prevents people from wearing them in public. If one goes to a business meeting wearing pajamas, there is a negative attitude about it.
Active Minds is a place for people to go to in their pajamas. We at Active Minds welcome people who wear their pajamas; we welcome everyone.
We welcome the things that people worry about socially, like anxiety and depression. We allow a social community in which people can be comfortable and finally not worry, and; a community where people can finally wear their pajamas.
Welcoming people regardless of their mental health is what need to be done for students to thrive in this world filled with negativity and judgment.
Before I go into how this works, I want to answer the question: “what is mental health?”
We often hear a lot that anxiety and depression is a “chemical imbalance” in our brain. Is this the case? What is a chemical imbalance? A chemical imbalance is a neurotransmitter imbalance.
This doesn’t help, does it? Neurotransmitters emit these chemicals that determine our mood.
The truth is, it is neural pathways in our brain that determine what chemicals get released that affect our mood.
“Neural pathway” is just a fancy term for our habits and our tendencies.
The chemicals are what stimulate our current mood. One’s habits are what cause these chemicals to be released. Therefore, our habits are what determine our mood.
These neural transmissions, or lack of certain ones, are just an indication that one is feeling a certain way; they are just symptoms, they are not the cause.
Mental illness is essentially a habit (or “neural pathway”) that tends to lead us to a painful emotional state.
A chemical imbalance is an indication that one tends to go down a negative pathway. Serotonin, dopamine, or whatever chemical is released or not, are released according to our habits.
When someone takes drugs that block these chemicals, this does not change these pathways, it just manipulates the release of these chemicals that determine our mood, without addressing the cause.
Good mental health is simply the absence of major negative pathways. That is the core of it.
External factors such as being able to contribute to your community or realizing your own abilities are just indications of some positive pathways.
There are an infinite amount of things that indicate positive pathways. These indications are not a definition of mental health, but rather some examples.
So is anxiety caused by a chemical imbalance? No. A chemical imbalance is a symptom of anxiety. These pathways however, can be very, very difficult to change.
Anxiety and depression not only thrive off of these negative pathways we go down, they are these negative pathways.
Society tends to cultivate and perpetuate these negative pathways in a way that makes them the only ones we know.
The best cure for mental illness is to create a new, positive, pathway. This stigma surrounding mental health is what feeds and empowers this negativity we all have. It silences everyone such that everyone feels alone. There is a quote we at Active Minds like to say:
“Stigma causes shame. Shame causes silence. Silence hurts everyone.”
This silence causes a large number of students to suffer alone. It causes people to believe that their mental illness is a negative thing. It causes people to believe that there is no hope.
Mental illness isolates us, but strangely, it also connects us. At Active Minds, we are all brought together by our mental illness. Our sharing of our sufferings is what binds us. It is the human bond, the bond that we are all similarly treading to stay above the water we don’t even know we are in.
As a professor I know, Robyn Hanley, once said, “community brings resilience.” She said it brings hope. It brings that positive feeling that we can accomplish something.
When we come together to share our mental health, we are no longer associating negativity with our mental illness.
We are creating a new positive pathway in our brain where our mental illness can no longer inhibit us. We develop a new relationship with our mental health, one that is welcoming, caring and positive.
When we come together and are open about our mental health we are not only relating, but also connecting with people on a deeper level that is truly rare.
This deeper level of intimacy is what gives us hope. It gives us resilience. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t,’ we say ‘I can.’ That is the most powerful statement one can say; ‘I can’ is what positivity truly is.
There are so many people struggling right now, waiting for someone to say ‘you are okay.’
This one simple gesture is all it takes to truly transform someone’s life into something they did not know was possible. It makes the impossible possible.
I have anxiety, and I did a speech about it 2 years ago that was filmed at Trent. Speeches were my biggest fear and that speech was the first one I did in 10 years while not on medication.
My mental health speech is a product of that resilience from community, from Active Minds and from sharing my mental illness.
This positivity, “I can do this”, is what allows the impossible to be possible. It is what allowed me to do that speech which was impossible to me. It is what would allow us to save the earth from ourselves, even though it is impossible. This rapport with other humans builds this positivity, this hope, this resilience. I think that the fundamental bond between all humans is this suffering that we all share. It is with this suffering that we can build resilience, build hope, and build a better world. Because drawing on and sharing our deepest sufferings is what intimacy is. This true intimacy is what gives humans the courage and determination that is seemingly impossible.
To me, mental health is how positive one is. How resilient one is. How hopeful one is. Mental health and global issues go hand in hand.
Here at Trent, we are trying to increase both the planet’s health and our own mental health. So let’s be resilient, with our fuel being connection and intimacy, and not resistant with our fuel being hate and anger.
Let’s cherish the thing that gives our life meaning, the thing that connects us – our mental illness. Let’s wear pajamas.