Column: It may not be easy, but it’s harder not to try


Sam Barney-Gibbs

Let’s get some general housekeeping over with: two plus two does not equal six, the hypochondria is not the powerhouse of the cell and surviving does not mean living. 

Repeat it with me for good measure: just because I am surviving does not mean I am living. 

One of the fatal flaws I believe lies within our analyses of mental well-being is the idea that if you are not actively self-harming, completely debilitated or needing constant care–then you are fine. 

Once again I must play my “I’m-no-therapeutic-or-medical-professional-card” when I say that this way of thinking seems to be toxic to the sustainable lifestyles of even your fellow family and peers. 

For many people just being able to get out of bed, get dressed, brush one’s teeth or go outside for a few minutes is a step toward better mental health, and that should be rewarded. But it is important to highlight the importance of these actions as steps, not as the end goal. 

Too often we feel panicky at the notion of long-term goals; we see them as daunting, especially when dealing with some seriously hefty psychological weight.

Since before my mom’s death last summer, I was told over and over by multitudes of my family, friends, counselors and honestly strangers to set short-term goals. To just spend a bit of time here and there by her bedside asking about her childhood, take a walk in the neighborhood every day to clear my head and so long as I continue getting a good night’s sleep everything will be fine. 

Well, shocker! Breaking news alert! Plot twist! Everything was not fine. It hasn’t been. And the truth is, that’s just OK for now. 

Basic functioning should be applauded as an improvement, but does not fit into the rubric for the course of long-term well-being.

Grief hits this perfectly grotesque spot in the gut and heart between depression and anxiety, and what ensues has formed a dissociative mess of a teenage boy. Surviving, as I would describe someone in an emotionally-devastating state, drains the body of its energy as you’re constantly feeding an active state of denial, anger and gut-wrenching sadness, all the while trying to go through daily tasks that no longer feel so normal. 

Living, on the other hand, lacks the strenuous and laborious mental and physical effort to maintain a certain heavy alternate reality and instead, allows for increased mind-body awareness. Mindfulness, and allowing yourself to accept each moment as it actively floats by, is a more peaceful and proactive way of going about life, especially under excruciating circumstances. 

I am not saying to ignore your emotions and constantly nod out and into your irrational happy place, but rather to fully embrace and meditate on each feeling or impulse that comes your way.

What I wish more people told me before and after losing my mom is to change my vantage point to the longer term; I could have been spending my last days with Mama living and thriving, seizing and feeling.

Even in the past few months, I effortlessly did the bare minimum to go through the grieving process, to take care of myself and to think futuristically. Instead, I could have been working harder to live with my own, revived purpose and flourish vigorously for my mom.

So I ask you to make a pact with me. Yes, I’m talking to you! It’s time to take back some control.

Promise me you will work long-term, think big about your future, grasp at hope whenever you can and, yes, you should celebrate even the small steps it takes to get there. 

Some people don’t all get the chance to finish their stroll along the path of living or surviving.

So choose your path of truly living with confidence and with a smile growing across your face; it’s what my mom wanted for me, and sincerely what I wish for you. 

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