Natasha Karim is a Registered Psychologist in BC and helps people every day through some of the toughest times in their lives. When I first launched The IMPACT Project, I knew having the perspective of a mental health professional would be invaluable, and Tash was the perfect candidate. I met her almost seven years ago when she was a Youth Counselor at my religious education classes. Over the years, we became friends and she was there for me throughout college, making me dinner or taking me for lunch, and helping me find my own voice as a part of the local mental health advocacy community. We later presented to a group of university students – her as a professional, and myself as a person with lived experience. Her thoughtfulness, kindness, and ability to listen without judging makes me certain she’s in the right field.
In my work as a mental health professional I have had the privilege of meeting clients who have been through several traumas, stressors, and crises which manifest as depression, anxiety, self-doubt, addiction or trauma related disorders. I consider myself very lucky to be doing the work that I do because I learn lessons from my clients every day. Each day I learn about strength, coping, resilience, hardship, loss, and healing. A central theme I have learnt over the years is that “Man has never made a material more resilient than the human spirit”~ Anonymous.
I have my own battles with anxiety, bouts of depression, and periodic feelings of intense self- doubt. What makes working in the mental health field a protective factor for me is that in my work I also have the opportunity to reflect on my own mental health, take inventory of my emotions, and attempt to apply the skills to promote personal mental wellbeing. What I know is that keeping ourselves mentally healthy is hard work, but it is also necessary to live a fulfilling life in which we can reach our full potential.
Many say that people who work in the mental health field are drawn to the work because of their own lived experience with mental illness or because of familial experiences with mental illness or trauma. I personally went into the field wanting to learn more about what gets people through such hardships. What is it that makes us resilient, gives us the ability to survive hurts, loss, and injustice?
The main lesson I have learnt from diverse clients, in a variety of settings I have worked in is that resilience is for everyone. As Ann Masten, Professor in Clinical Psychology notes, “resilience does not come from rare and special or extreme qualities or processes. Resilience develops from everyday magic of ordinary resources. Resilience is not a sign of exceptional strength, but a fundamental feature of normal, everyday coping skills.” First off, what is resilience? Merriam Webster defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I understand resilience to be growth in the face of adversity.
I have also learnt that there are many paths and steps to cultivate the resilience within us. The direction we take looks different for each of us, based on our unique needs and experiences. The same things which encourage growth and the ability to “bounce back” are also factors that promote mental wellbeing.
- Availability of social relationships and the ability to reach out to, and access these social supports: When we are in difficulty we find it hard to reach out to others. We may want to isolate, to hide, or disappear- fight these urges! In a vulnerable state it takes a lot of courage to reach out, but once this step has been taken reaching out brings relief, it opens the door to honest conversations, to acceptance and mutual understanding. It is important to reach out to the people who you identify as supportive and helpful so that the request for support is met with empathy and respect rather than judgment or conflict. If you find that there is no one in your life that understands reach out to the crisis line, seek professional support and counselling, and begin to ask, “What can I do to develop supportive relationships with others?”
- Take a super hero stance: Begin to entertain the idea that you are a survivor and a hero in your own story: Own your powers, whatever those may be. Are you kind and generous? Are you analytic? Are you punctual? Loyal? Begin to look for the evidence which supports your strengths in your daily life.
- Remember that “emotions are normal, honourable and confirm your humanity” ~anonymous: Acknowledging the necessity of negative emotions and finding ways to enhance positive emotions can fuel resiliency. Making use of mindfulness, journaling, daily mood logs and apps such as “moodlytics or moodtracker” can help us be aware of our emotional states, think of a mood log as a Fitbit for your mental health.
- Taking care of the body strengthens resilience: Self-care starts with the foundations of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and regular medical check-ups. Health related behaviours and physical fitness are imperative in healing and to supplement changes made in the psychological realm.
- Spiritual connection as a way of making meaning and creating a sense of belongingness: Many are skeptical when discussing spirituality and the role of spirituality in supplementing resilience or improving mental health. It is important to remember that spirituality is different than religiosity. The word spirituality is actually derived from the Latin word “spirale” which means to breathe! One can participate in spiritual wellness without formally engaging in religious activities. For some, mindfulness, time in nature, faith in a higher power or connection to community/ culture can be ways of being spiritual. Having a practice of gratitude can also act as a reminder of spirituality.