my dharma journey to mental healthiness


Blame isn’t worth a lot, but there is a place I can start with blaming others and know it’s true: as a child, a toddler. After all, at that age, I was in the care of other people who had almost total influence on whether or not I would begin my life on a road towards mental healthiness. Sadly, the most important of those people, my parents, were not very healthy themselves. Looking back from here, I can see all that I needed and did not get.

Things did not improve from there. School was awful, friends were non-existent, and our family did the All-American thing and broke into pieces. Becoming a Christian only made my problems worse, but it would take me decades to recognize that. On and on: I had no clue about the nature of my mental health or how to care for myself, and people treated me as they needed to treat me in order to live their own lives.

This is a gross over-simplification but it should make the point: I have not lived a life that lent itself to mental healthiness. By the time I was an adult and theoretically capable of self-care, I was already unhealthy and without any ability to do better. That began to change as I approached sixty, but it wasn’t until I started regular mental health care in 2020 that I came to learn the nature of my unhealthiness and how I could turn things around.

I am still learning, still working on getting healthy. Lots of gaps remain in my understanding of myself, so getting healthier is a bit of a patchwork job. Today’s lesson, though, was a big one:

I have never been validated as a human.

I have been valued and cared about; I know there are many people who love me, who wish me well, who want my life to be happy and fulfilling. That, however, isn’t validation. That’s why I began by talking about blame. If I feel worthless as a person and have done so all my life – and I have – then this began at a time when others were responsible for my mental health care.

The point here isn’t to blame. The point is to have a place to start to understand and then grow.

By recognizing this lack of validation and that it’s a life-long issue, I can look at how I’m living my life now so that I can figure out how to change this. I now know that no one but me can provide that validation. I mean, I could spend the next year writing a novel, finish it, and feel “Wow, this is amazing. I am talented!” But before I can show anyone, I get hit by a bus and end my life without the praise and acclaim –  but with the knowledge and validation that “I am pretty good at this, and I like it”.

Ok, yes. A bit extreme. Point being: this is on me. Of course I’d like other people to praise me, to win acclaim of others, to do things that maybe even earn a more useful income. None of that is validation, however. Validation is me living a life that I enjoy, that makes me feel like I’m using my days well, and that generates energy and excitement moving forward, rather than uncertainty, fear, anxiety.

For me, validation matters because, in the end, it is about knowing what my values are and then living a life based on those values. I only began looking at my values two years ago; I still feel like my grasp on them is tenuous. I am trying to be kind to myself and not demand that I have this all figured out just two years later.

Just to be able to get to the point I’m describing here is huge. It’s a piece of my puzzle I’ve been missing, the “what comes next” piece. I’ve been thinking “I should do such-and-such” to live in accordance with my values, but, for me, that’s like going from Step A to Step C without first passing through Step B.

In a way, this is “What do I value about my values?” Creativity is a value for me, and I’ve been jumping right to “Do this thing to be creative”. That has not been working. Something was missing. I’ve been close to this answer, but these mini-epiphanies are how my brain works. (I do have a bad practice of using them as stopping points rather than a means for actually living my life. But living my life has always been my problem, so that’s no surprise.) Today’s epiphany: My efforts on living my values will need to lead to doing things that will provide me with (self-)validation.

When I was six, it was on my parents and other adults to develop my self-worth as a human. Approaching sixty-six, that’s all on me. I am grateful to be here with the understanding, and the mindfulness tools, to make this possible.