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Mental Health Awareness - Wisdom from the Suit of Swords

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10, I thought I would weigh in on the subject as a Mental Health professional and a tarot reader. The Eight, Nine and Ten of Swords always stand out to me as opportunities to reflect on mental health, specifically anxiety and depression.

Mental Health is a varied and subjective experience for everyone. It is crucial to understand this truth when engaging in conversations with the intention to support those who are challenged by their mental health.

Eight of Swords shows a blindfolded figure standing bound and isolated in a prison of her thoughts (represented by the swords surrounding her). She is trapped by negative, self-defeating or self-deprecating patterns of thinking. She may struggle within a defeatist self-belief system, negative self-talk and an outlook that seeks confirmation of her perceived inadequacy or worthlessness. This figure struggles to release herself from past traumas.

Nine of Swords pictures a figure sitting up in bed, head in hands with nine swords levitating above her. This card evokes the feeling of tossing and turning at night, unable to sleep for all the anxieties that circle above your head, disrupting your peace of mind.

Ten of Swords indicates a painful ending. This card evokes depression, devastation and hopelessness. The figure in this card is face down with ten swords in his back. A part of him has died. His thoughts, relationships and environments have effectively defeated him. The message in the ten of swords is ‘the only way out is through’.

When you are experiencing this energy, you are advised to be in it, acknowledge where you are at emotionally and do not resist what is. This card speaks to our attachments to certain ways of thinking, relationships and situations in life upon which we project our self-worth and sometimes our whole identity.

This wisdom presented by the ten of swords carries great significance to my own mental health journey. I have experienced anxiety and depression first-hand a number of times in my life. In my experience, mental health affects the mind, body and soul. Experiencing anxiety and depression have led me on a healing journey toward spiritual enlightenment and deeper self-knowledge. One of the most helpful coping strategies for me has been practicing compassion toward myself regardless of what state I am in.

There are two key concepts I think are useful for folks who want to support those with mental health issues.

  1. Just because you do not have mental health issues, does not mean you know what’s best for someone who does (in fact, you know much less than they do, so don't give unwarranted advice, just LISTEN)

  2. When pursuing recovery, sometimes the most effective action is ACCEPTANCE of where you are at, even (especially!) if that is in a state of inaction

It is helpful to remind yourself and others that their state of mental health is not their fault. Of course there are ways in which we can act with care toward ourselves to support our mental health, but these are not curative. For example, it is smug AF to suggest to someone they should be eating healthier or exercising more to improve the experience of their diagnosis. This kind of advice is unwarranted, misinformed and self-righteous. You cannot speak to someone’s experience of their mental health, only they can do that.

It is very common to come across reflections on self-care in the mental health recovery community. An important idea that has been circulating lately is that the pressure to practice self-care can cause more harm than good. It is my experience and belief that not doing self-care is most harmful when you beat yourself up about it. It is best to accept where you are at, and exercise compassion for yourself even if you didn’t eat well, leave the house or take an Epsom salt bath today.

When supporting someone with mental health challenges, remind them that their state of health does not determine their worth. It is a culturally accepted myth that worthiness is determined by productivity. This is a capitalist ideology that contributes to the marginalization of folks with mental health issues. When supporting those who are fighting for their mental health, it is helpful to emphasize: You are not what you did today. You are not your accomplishments. You are valid by virtue of being.

My new favourite mental health exercise (introduced to me in this YouTube video by Teal Swan) is to ask myself when faced with a decision: What would a person who loved themselves do? When I choose the direction of self-love, I build resilience against mental illness. When I choose the other direction, I accept that decision without judgement because I’m not perfect, recovery is not perfect and I am practicing self-love in this act of non-judgement.

Sometimes we don’t have the energy, the motivation or the will to take care of ourselves in the midst of battling symptoms and managing the stress of daily life. During these times, it is okay to lie in bed. It has to be. This too will pass.

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