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Honoring Your Mental Health Journey

Honoring Your Mental Health Journey

By Maria Shriver
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Because I’ve been traveling a lot lately, my plan for this past week was to “take a beat.” But, if I’m being honest with myself, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant to me.

Should I take a beat to celebrate the opening of the new Cleveland Clinic Comprehensive Women's Health and Research Center? Should I take a beat to reflect on the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement grants that were recently given out in Washington, D.C.? (Thanks again to the First Lady for coming and addressing the crowd.) Should I take a beat to celebrate the growth of The Sunday Paper? (Thank you to all of you for subscribing.) Or should I take a beat to celebrate MOSH making it on Shark Tank, which has been on my son Patrick’s bucket list since he was a little boy?

The other day, I heard myself saying I needed to pause whenever others asked me a question. "Wait, I can’t answer you," I kept saying. "I need to take a beat." I also heard myself saying it whenever people wanted to discuss the recent uproars on college campuses. And I thought it to myself whenever I spoke to family members about other family members. Whew.

Upon further reflection, I think wanting to take a beat is my way of telling myself to slow down. It's about being cognizant of everything on one’s plate and considering whether that plate is too full. It’s about asking oneself whether your life is moving too fast and whether you need to reassess how you spend your time. It’s taking the time to make sense of things when nothing makes sense. I think taking a beat also means listening to your body, mind, heart, and soul—especially when it feels like they are trying to get your attention all at the same time.

Maybe me saying I wanted to "take a beat" is the same thing others mean when they say, "I need a mental health break." In fact, mental health is the subject of this special edition of The Sunday Paper, and I’m really proud that we’re taking a beat to focus on it. I’m thrilled that so many of the greatest hearts and minds in this space have joined us to discuss how we can honor our mental health journeys, as well as the journeys of those we hold dear or cross paths with.

The statistics about mental health in America are astounding: 84 million people have one or more mental health disorders; 34 million have one or more substance abuse challenges; 31 million have a major depressive disorder; and 20 million are dealing with anxiety. These numbers are especially staggering when you consider how few people are actually getting the treatment or care they need. Millions of us are just trying to understand our own life experiences and traumas and/or the experiences or traumas of those we love. It's a lot. We wanted to do this special edition because we know all of you—regardless of where you live and regardless of your age or family experience—could use some guidance. I know I could use some.

Over the past many years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to make sense of my own upbringing and beliefs (or beliefs I thought were my own). I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand my own triggers and my struggle with boundaries (my daughter actually suggested the other day that I attend a Co-Dependents Anonymous meeting). The truth is that I’ve actually attended several open AA and NA meetings over the years, as so many of my friends and/or family members attend both groups. I’ve learned so much about courage, humility, and forgiveness from attending such meetings.

I’m proud to include my cousin Patrick Kennedy in The Sunday Paper today to highlight his new book, Profiles in Mental Health Courage. He has done so much to help millions of families trying to navigate mental health. He’s done so much to lift the stigma and help us find a new language around this issue. His new book details the courageous journeys of so many people who live these private struggles. We could all benefit from reading about them and trying to understand them. Patrick's own story has inspired so many, so I hope you will listen to our conversation or buy his book. He’s right about the courage that so many display in private, but that few of us are privy to seeing.

I’m hopeful this edition of The Sunday Paper will offer you a way into some conversations that perhaps you didn’t feel comfortable having before. I’m hoping this issue might make you feel less alone. I’m hoping this issue might help you take a beat, assess your own busy life, and look at it with a fresh set of eyes. Maybe it might help you work up the courage to share your story or ask for help.

My dear friend Anne Lamott (who as one viewer said, is “God's scribe here on earth”) has courageously shared her own struggles with addiction. She’s also written about parenting a child struggling with addiction, as well as never giving up on herself or others. I always find it’s worth my time to take a beat and listen to what she has to say or read her words. She puts so much in perspective. Anne’s take on life and love is funny, inspiring, and insightful. Her insights bring me hope.

The other day, a friend said to me, "Maria, you are an unfinished symphony. Keep playing." I love that visual, so I want to say the same thing to you. You, my friend, are an unfinished symphony. Each of us plays many parts in the symphony of our lives, and our lives are made up of many parts of ourselves. But when the orchestra plays well together… well, that’s when you know all the work you’ve put into understanding yourself has been worth it. Remember, your life is never finished. It’s always worth knowing more about. So take a beat. It’s helpful to do and it’s good for your mental health.

After taking a beat myself this week, I took a walk and was surprised by what came up for me. I saw a cactus on my street that I didn’t expect and took a moment to take it in. Then out of nowhere, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears as I reflected on how grateful I am for all those who support me and help me. That includes the team here at The Sunday Paper, the team behind WAM, the team at the Cleveland Clinic, the team at Shriver Media, the team at MOSH, the team that supports my family, and all of you here who buy memberships to Sunday Paper PLUS (you don’t have to, but you do, and your contributions support jobs, dreams, and lives). Wow, wow, wow. I’m so glad I took a beat and let these feelings come up for me.

This week, I hope you’ll take a moment to take a beat. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to the symphony playing within you. What do you hear? What music is playing? Which instruments are missing? Think about what part of your symphony you have yet to play. Then let the music roar.

Prayer of the Week

Dear God,

Amidst the noise, help me be able to get quiet and hear the symphony playing with me. Help me appreciate all facets of myself and take in my world with fresh eyes and ears.

Amen.

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