Greetings and salutations on this, the eve of Thanksgiving 2018! As those of you traveling bravely battle the traffic, the boarding lines, and the general hassle of holiday sojourns, I wanted to propose something. I call it:
Yeah, it’s weak, but it’s the only connection I could cleverly come up with, combining Turkey Day with mental health. If you have something more clever, bully for you, and have a happy Thinksgiving.
Look, we all know that Turkey Dinner can be a wonderful loving occasion full of friends, family, and food. But we also know it can be fraught with icicles, land mines, and all out warfare. Of course I’m referring to family discussions about politics. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable discussions with that one family member that doesn’t share the same politics as you. Or maybe you’re the one with the different politics from all of the rest of them. It’s become the defining subject to drive a family apart.
Each family handles it differently. Some forbid it from even being brought up. Some allow limited discussion; some put a time limit on it, after which the topic is strictly verboten. Some just lay it all out and let slip the dogs of war–full throated bellowing (always remember to argue from the diaphragm people, or you’ll just wear your voice out prematurely) where the arguments threaten to become physical, pitting family member against family member. While others do as my family does: Ignore it. Dance around it. Pretend it doesn’t exist and talk about the latest sale of 5 lb. cans of Spam at Costco instead.
That’s why I propose this new idea. Maybe it will one day gain traction. Probably not. But here goes: the first annual Thinksgiving! Instead of talking about politics or the (usually) mediocre football games they always put on that Thursday, talk about your mental health. I don’t know. Maybe go around the table and each person share how they...feel? Yes that’s it. Maybe each person talks about their fears, their hopes, their foibles, and yes possibly their mental illness.
I know, it might be naive to think all families can do this without scoffing. Many, particularly of a certain age, might say that kids are too soft these days with their feelings and their personalities. But surprise! The elderly actually suffer mental illness, particularly depression, at very significant rates. Just imagine if they felt free to talk about their worries too.
We live in troubled times and nobody is completely immune. I’m not suggesting that everyone has mental illness like me; but even those in mental health will benefit from talking about the state of said mental health. Actually, this is when it might be most beneficial to talk about it: when still in mental health and before mental illness becomes manifest.
If instead of arguing about left or right politics, let’s talk about our left and right brains. And yes, this might stir up some old repressed emotions and even some bad blood: “YOU’RE THE REASON I’M LIKE THIS!”, I posit that that is still better than discussing the Midterms or Russia.
And maybe, just maybe getting you and your loved ones to talk about it is a step towards resolving things, instead of letting them fester buried in the moist fertilizer of your psyche.
Take turns; maybe go around the table. Pass around the centerpiece like you might pass around the proverbial conch, and have a go. Or just let it be a free for all.
Seriously, though, find what works for you and your family. And no, this is not just a kvetch session, nor is it a time for everyone to try to fix you or whoever is broken. My point is just to get people to be comfortable about talking about mental health. When we get it into the open, we get it out of the shadows.
There’s only one rule of Thinksgiving. When you speak or when others speak, BE KIND. Be kind, first and foremost to yourself, but then to your loved ones, even if you’re not so inclined. Be kind, because just talking about mental health is reason alone for kindness.
There's also a guideline for Thinksgiving: Don't feel you have to try to fix folks. You don't know better, and you don't fully understand what they're going through. Just be there. Listen. And share yourself.
Well that’s it. I have to start prepping. Enjoy Thinksgiving. Shine a light on mental health. And pass the pumpkin pie.