The Tree of Mental Health

So I’ve just attended the first of a series of three webinars on Mental Health and Ministry. There was a lot to it that was excellent but my major takeaway from the morning is this. We are all trees.

Metaphorically speaking of course. The point was that we all lay down roots and if those roots are deep enough and properly cared for they will support us through life’s storms. And that seems obvious enough. But the point was made that we need to care for our roots during summer sunshine because if we don’t they get weak and dried out and they shrivel and don’t hold the ground so tightly, and then come a storm we end up like this…

Blown over and uprooted.

Now obviously we are not trees but we do have things that keep us rooted, grounded, in touch with our best selves, so that when storms come we have something to hold to.

we treat mental health support like a bandage, we put it on an injury. We provide CBT to someone after they have a massive anxiety attack or provide anti-depressants to someone with extreme depression.

I had a bit of a breakdown at the end of last year. According to the doctor it was a combination of anxiety and depression but there were days when I could not get out of bed, there were days when if the phone rang or there was a knock at the door I would literally hide behind the sofa until whoever it was went away, there were days when I struggled to string enough words together to say “good night”. to an extent I saw it coming. It was like being on a runaway bus, I could see what was happening but was too far down the road to affect it. I couldn’t stop it. To go back to the tree metaphor, the storm had hit and my roots weren’t deep enough to hold me upright.

So what are our roots? It can be hard to tell. Many people will tell you their family keep them rooted and make them happy, but family can be a major cause of stress too, something we often consciously deny. That’s not to say that family cannot root us, it’s just that if we want to be grounded by our family then we need to make sure we cultivate our family so that they have the strength to hold us in place when the storm hits.

Easier roots are all the things recommended in general information about self care. Quiet time reading or having a relaxing bath, countryside walks scented candles, curling up on the sofa with a cat and some relaxing music. All of these can help keep you are mentally healthy track if they become part of a regular part of your daily life. Going one step further, and making bigger, stronger roots, you can do things like make art, journaling, wood working, communing with friends, volunteering for charities, things that put you in touch with the best you. The third level of self care centres around spirituality and beliefs. everyone has some sort of belief system. It may be a spiritual one or a humanist or philosophical one but it is a belief system. Your beliefs and spirituality have the potential for the deepest roots. They go to the core of what makes you the best version of you. I think the key to any belief system as self care is that it makes you part of something bigger than just you. The weight of the world no longer rests on your shoulders alone. Whether you are Buddhist, Humanist, Christian or whatever you are part of a community looking to make the world your version of better. Connection is key to self care. Whether it is a connection to other people, the land or God, connection takes some of the pressure off of you and that attachment to community and whatever your belief is built around gives you strong roots.

My roots are built around many things. For a quick fix then forest bathing is the way to go. A walk in the woods will sooth my troubled mind fairly quickly and it’s something I try to do at least once a week. for a stronger remedy there’s art. Creating something raises my spirits, even if it’s rubbish, and It’s something I try to do regularly, whether drawing, painting, writing or some other form of craft. Thirdly and most deeply I try to stay rooted in my faith. My belief that God loves me, that something infinitely bigger than me sees value in me is something that keeps me rooted and, to swap metaphors for a moment, is a lifeline when I slip to far down the dark road and into the pit.

It is important to talk about mental health and my own issues, though mild by comparison to many others, give me a way to illustrate what I’m talking about. It’s also a way of showing anyone reading this who is struggling that they are not alone.

Looking after yourself may not stop you having mental health issues but hopefully it might lessen them or lessen the frequency of problems. ANd always remember “it’s good to talk”.

Author: missionerpete

i an the Pioneer Connexion Missioner for The Meon Valley Methodist Circuit. Also husband, father and artist though not always in that order.

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