My Mental Health Break: A Report
Thank You for Your Incredible Support
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Some have asked for a report on my three-week mental health break. I feel some accountability to you as my primary audience. You generously permitted me to take time off. So, here is my report.
First, you overwhelmed me with expressions of support and fellowship. Feedback was universally supportive. Many of you stepped up with paid subscriptions, including several Superhero Subscriptions. That surprising gesture of putting your money with your message touched me profoundly.
Lots of people provided actionable support, recommending books, therapies and other resources to help me with my effort to improve my mental health. Several reached out to talk, recognizing the importance of interpersonal relationships to improve well-being.
I’ve added a number of books and several programs to my efforts. They form something of a mosaic, each offering fresh takes on similar themes, reinforcing the most important messages. Thank you for all of that support.
Hurricane Ian struck Florida just before my break. In some ways, it came to define my time off.
My last fresh post here before the break was Thursday, October 6. The next day, with a church group, I went to Port Charlotte, Florida, near the worst-hit areas. In this part of Florida, every single home experienced damage, if only to trees in the yards.
Driving through this area is a bit surreal. The homes are still standing, but most have blue tarps on the roofs and large piles of debris—mostly from downed trees—out front. Some of the piles include furniture, indicating severe damage to the home.
That weekend, the church organized over a thousand volunteers in this community alone. I was part of a team of about 15 people comprising volunteers from my neighborhood in Jacksonville.
Our first assignment was to cut up a massive oak tree clearly more than 100 years old and perhaps closer to 200. A home had been built near it; its fall damaged but did not destroy the house. We removed all the limbs, including some massive ones, cutting them up and piling them along the road for the county to haul away.
Our duties for the rest of the day were similar.
This volunteer role was an excellent way for me to start my break. While my work focuses on helping people, it is a bit indirect. I tend to help the helpers. I bring attention to people doing good for others. I love it but rarely get connected to the ultimate beneficiaries of my podcast guests’ work.
Volunteering in Port Charlotte allowed me to help people directly when they desperately needed it.
I returned Saturday night, arriving in time to hit the road with Gail for our week-long vacation up the Atlantic coast.
With our Chevrolet Bolt EV, we towed our solar-powered Aliner Scout camper up the Atlantic Coast to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and then returned. In hindsight, the little challenges of the trip were just that—little.
We visited Savannah, Charleston and the mainland area leading to the Outer Banks (we didn’t make it out to those famous barrier islands). We enjoyed virtually every aspect of the trip, from spending time together to seeing so much new and beautiful.
Along the way, we listened to audiobooks about mental health. I’m grateful to Gail for supporting me that way. It is humbling to listen to or read books about mental health when you see yourself as the patient. The exercises and advice are not abstract or academic; they are practical and personal.
Focus on Mental Health
Upon returning from vacation, I began in earnest to take time each day to do the work required by the guidebook I chose to focus on, Self-Esteem. It provides hours upon hours of exercises intended to help people see themselves in a more healthy, objective way.
At some level, I was disappointed that the authors didn’t want to help me see myself as a superhero. Instead, the book is more about having compassion for myself because I’m not.
The most profound insight I took from my study is the correlation between my judgment of others and myself. If I’m frequently thinking about how evil and stupid former president Donald Trump is, my brain will also judge my actions by a similar standard. My brain, accustomed to thinking harshly of others, judges me harshly, too.
One of the essential steps of mastering healthy self-esteem is learning not to judge others—at all. This will take practice. To the extent I have begun to make that change, I feel more compassion for my weaknesses, errors and mistakes.
There are two other vital aspects I hope to learn as I continue to work on myself.
One is overcoming my fear of success, especially financially. I’ve got to overcome the sense that making a comfortable living is somehow evil. I use my financial resources for good by what I consume, how I invest my money and my philanthropic giving. I shouldn’t fear, shun or be ashamed of the limited success I’ve had or hope to have.
The second is learning to take criticism in a more healthy way. Most often, criticism is helpful. I think of the recent SuperCrowd22 event. Leading up to the event, I received some feedback from a few people, one finally putting it in plain, clear and emphatic terms.
I followed my typical pattern in response. I sent a tersely worded rejection of the idea.
Within a few hours, however, I’d finally seen the advantage of her idea and implemented it. The conference was better for it. I’ve got to learn to process constructive feedback less defensively so I can implement it more quickly, eliminating the stress and anxiety associated with my flawed, insecure feedback processing.
Painting My Office Suite
Recognizing that I couldn’t—and believing that I probably shouldn’t try—to spend all day every day for weeks focusing on myself, I planned to paint the upstairs office suite/studio/guest room where I work.
Working with my hands is challenging for me. I didn’t find joy in it during my pre-college years, which is why, I guess, they are pre-college years. I went to college and graduate school partly to minimize the time I would spend with a paint roller in my hand.
In recent years, however, I’ve begun challenging myself—with lots of help from YouTube—to do things I didn’t think I could do. I’ve amazed myself by, for instance, installing a complete solar power system in our travel trailer.
I hoped painting would provide hours of quiet time to reflect on what I was studying. It proved more challenging than I’d expected, requiring more hours and closer focus than I’d hoped.
When I completed the project, I felt great about how the rooms looked and having completed the job—with lots of help from Gail. The little accomplishment did provide a bit of a needed ego boost.
Hurricane Ian Redux
This past weekend, my church again requested my help in Port Charlotte. With time disconnecting us from our sense of the tragedy—it is easy to move on if there isn’t a downed centuries-old oak tree leaning on your home—the number of volunteers thinned considerably.
This trip proved to be vastly different from the first. In some ways, it became a test of what I’d been learning over the past three weeks.
Church leaders asked me to serve as a team captain. The role required me to organize a group of volunteers from our local Jacksonville congregation to tackle assigned projects in Port Charlotte.
The difficulties began quickly. On the rainy drive down to Port Charlotte towing our little trailer where I planned to sleep, one of the tires on the trailer blew out. I was proud of myself for changing the tire and getting back on the road within an hour.
I bragged to Gail that I’d handled it well, noting that it could have been much worse.
When I arrived in Port Charlotte and set up the trailer, I couldn’t get the power on. I opened the cabinet where the complicated and expensive solar power system resides—right behind and above the tire that had blown. I discovered one large and several small holes blown into the trailer, through which dirt, tire parts and water had flown and accumulated. What a mess!
Without power, the trailer was a depressingly dark and lonely tent.
Setting my little crisis aside, I organized the team for our Saturday work. Arising early Saturday, I reached out to the ten families the church assigned me. The organizers said to expect that at least half of those assigned would, by now (four weeks post-storm), have solved their problems another way—friends, family or funds.
Ultimately, we helped three families on Saturday with a small crew of just four, counting me. This sort of work is backbreaking and exhausting. It was also warmer this weekend than three weeks earlier. (It was hot!)
By 3:00 in the afternoon, my little crew had evaporated. Exhausted, they started their return trips home.
I used the afternoon and evening to buy supplies for and make some improvised repairs to the trailer. In that process, having waited 24 hours for the electrical equipment to dry out, I offered a heartfelt prayer and flipped on the switch. It hummed to life! I count that as a little miracle.
Then, I sealed up the holes with sheets of plastic.
With lights on and holes patched, my mood improved. Without a team to organize, I relaxed Saturday evening. Truly relaxed.
With my team gone, I’d abdicated my role as team leader and asked to be assigned as a grunt laborer again on Sunday morning. They assigned me to a team that had a tractor. That allowed us to get more work done. In under three hours on Sunday morning, we helped two more families.
Then, I packed up the trailer and headed home. Once again, I felt the joy of helping others. This time, having faced and overcome what felt like significant challenges to me with the tire and its aftermath, I also felt I’d passed a test. I was ready to get back to work.