Voices for Mental Health: Stephen James Smith, on being kind to yourself – hotpress.com

Posted: October 9, 2019 at 9:46 am


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We invited a chorus of artists, writers, musicians, broadcasters, sports stars, and more to contribute to Now Were Talking, a mental health campaign, run in partnership with Lyons Tea and Pieta House.

As the late great writer Toni Morrison said, "Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined." So how do you define 'Mental Health'? Is it a spectrum so broad that there can be a multitude of interpretations and reactions to it? Is it just a buzz phrase we see everywhere now? That a magazine can build an issue around?! (I jest).

While this era is known for its individualism, I also believe mental health is an individual thing. So for me, I'll define it as kindness. You can and obviously should be kind to yourself. I know this can be easier said than done, sometimes. Also, the beauty in being kind to ourselves is, we'll learn to help others. Kindness requires empathy, patience and forgiveness. I'm learning to forgive myself all the time (not that I do awful things all the time!). I know now I've learnt the most in my aloneness: in a sense, facing into my darkness has allowed me to be more empathetic towards others.

However I must admit, I fail at this all the time! I need to relearn, re-remember - it can be one step forward, two steps back. So maybe you shouldn't listen to my faux-sage counsel... While I'm a great guru for others, sometimes practising what you preach can be the hardest. I've been tested a few times along the way: 2007 and 2015 were particularly hard years for me. I had to relearn how to be kind to myself again; there is a vulnerability in even having to admit to yourself in the first place, to know you are being untrue to yourself, that fucked me up a bit.

Firstly what I needed to do was to take more control over my life, So I gave up alcohol and meat, and I started to do some simple yoga/meditation each day. After a month, I'd lost weight, was in less debt and felt much healthier. I then set myself a goal to run the Dublin marathon in 2016, which I did just about (so now I'll boast about it! I should also have learnt to temper my ego a bit more as you can see). I've learnt if I don't have a goal, I lack focus and I'll go inwards. Now, however, one of the struggles I find is getting balance right - sometimes I might have too much on and I can be overwhelmed. If something doesn't make you feel alive, it's too small for you - the irony being that the smallest things are often the most worthwhile.

I've learnt how to be OK with feelings of disappointment, hurt and anger, to hold it and to know it'll pass. I say this safe in the knowledge I'll fail with these feelings again, then I'll remind myself about needing to forgive myself. Knowing feelings pass is so apparent, yet it certainly can be a comforting realisation. The transience of life is humbling.

Yet all this learning requires patience - not a virtue I'm blessed with in truth. But I'm far more self-reflexive and happier with who I am now than I was three years ago. There are probably a lot of musicians/creatives reading this issue, and something I see amongst my peers is an inadequate feeling artists can have. We can be pitted against each other in our own minds and we strive for 'success', but as the saying goes "comparison is the thief of joy." Nobody truly knows what anyone has gone through to create what they have. I wish we could all be less quick to judge. Don't define others by an action without knowing the context, then hopefully that kindness can be extended to you. We have all made mistakes, and will again. Don't be the crab in the bucket, focus on amplifying art you like instead of bitching about what you don't. It can be easy to get lost in paranoia, but you're only hurting yourself.

Then there are the cliches; it's OK not to be OK, don't be afraid to ask for help, talk to someone, find solace in friendship, etc... And you know what? Most cliches are fuckin' true! Bowie said that, so I'm not going to argue with him!

Go and create, it's cathartic. For me personally, it helps me to find meaning in this 'crazy' world of ours. If you don't feel like being creative, volunteer your time with a cause you believe in. I've been volunteering with First Fortnight for almost 10 years now. This gives me a sense of meaning and helps me to feel part of a caring community. Ask courageous questions of yourself, wait, listen to your heart's answer - and know these truths are how you connect to the deepest you. In finding your deepest self a healing can begin.

Lastly, I am convinced that reading David Whyte's book Consolations and listening to Alan Watts saved my life in 2015, so they might be worth checking out. Also, all of what I've said above can be summed up far more eloquently in Mary Oliver's poem 'Wild Geese' - go and read it immediately!

Now We're Talking 2019A partnership between Lyons Tea, Pieta House & Hot Press.Lets break the stigma and take the dialogue about mental health issues onto a new level#NowWe'reTalkinghotpress.com/now-we're-talking

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October 9th, 2019 at 9:46 am

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