One of the fundamental truths of life as a human being is that, no matter what, we all suffer. Whether physical fatigue, mental exhaustion, anxiety or another factor... episodic or chronic... some measure of it is unavoidable. The level or degree ebbs and flows, but at some point we all encounter it. How we engage and relate to this inevitable suffering can be one of the keys to living a balanced life.
As golf course superintendents, our jobs require total immersion if we are to be successful. Pitfalls and traps such as long hours, pressure from members and management, and unrealistic expectations result. These can infringe on our quality of life at the minimum, and add up to burnout if we are not mindful of our condition and responses.
As golf course superintendents, our jobs require total immersion if we are to be successful. Pitfalls and traps such as long hours, pressure from members...
This suffering takes on a much deeper meaning when mental illness enters the room. We have all had an experience with mental instability, be it anxiety, discontent, apathy or simply a short fuse. If you tell people otherwise, you are simply lying to them and worse, to yourself. That lie is the greatest trick that mental illness pulls. Not only do those affected suffer with the actual disease or condition, but then most feel the need to hide it. The stigma or shame of dealing with mental illness in a culture that considers it a sign of weakness can be crippling in and of itself.
The ripple effect of this type of suffering can be extremely difficult for families and friends. They also feel the stigma first hand, and will often go to great lengths to protect and shelter their loved one. The affliction not only affects the direct sufferer, but also goes a long way in governing the lives of those that love and care about them. It becomes a tiring cycle of adaptation, frustration, advocacy, and compassion.
Thankfully there are signs that things are slowly changing. There are movements afoot to unlock doors and shine a light on the stigma attached to mental illness. For those who live this struggle every day it cannot come fast enough, but the tide does appear to be slowly turning. As superintendents and members of our broader communities as a whole, what can we do? How can we help?
There are movements afoot to unlock doors and shine a light on the stigma attached to mental illness...
I have experienced anxiety, depression, and panic attacks first hand. My lovely wife Jill has had to learn to cope with her anxiety and sensitivities over the years. My amazing oldest daughter Maria battles severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are struggles that our entire family deals with every day.
From that standpoint, here are a few tips
- Help is available. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out and get help. No one deserves to suffer alone. Please reach out to anyone you know who might be suffering in silence; your help can literally change a life.
- Vulnerability does not equal weakness. Those who deal with mental issues on a daily basis are some of the bravest and strongest people I know. The internal struggles they live with could cripple even the strongest of people. Allowing people the space to be open with their pain moves us closer towards being a healthier, more caring society.
- Shine a light. The irony of mental illness is that it only gains power over us when we hide it. By keeping it locked away it only grows and becomes a far bigger problem in the long run. Bringing it into the open and letting people know that it's ok to have issues may actually go a long way to preventing more issues down the line.
- Compassion is key. Those who suffer from one of the various forms of mental illness need helpbut they also need our compassion and our kindness. Care and love go a great deal further than shame and guilt.
- Advocacy and education. If someone close to you suffers, educate yourself and then go to bat for them. Spread the word in an effort to change the perception of mental illness. Those who live with these diseases must have resources to learn how to manage their illness and regain their lives. Nothing changes unless those who can speak up do so.
- We are all in this together. Many of the most highly intelligent, creative and thoughtful people throughout history (including those you know) have suffered from or are suffering from mental illness. High mental acuity and sensitivity can produce wonderful art, music, dance and writing. But the flip side is that many of these same people are prone to stimulus overload, anxiety and depression. Giving creative people enough space to be who they are helps us all.
- Take care of yourself. No one is immune to mental illness, but taking good care of ourselves can go a long way to keep us mentally well. Study after study shows that self-care is vitally important to overall physical and mental health. Mindful meditation, whether through breath work to relieve anxiety or simply taking time to be truly present in life as it unfolds, can be a wonderful, life enhancing management tool once acute symptoms are under control. Making self-care a top priority can go a long way towards healing mental trauma and also lessening its impact in the future.
Thanks so much for reading...