Monday Musings… a few days late…I Was Out Shopping!

It’s the week after Christmas and the flyers and online ads are tempting us all with Boxing Week Specials!! We’ve extended the 50% off (or more) buying extravaganza beyond the traditional one day post-Christmas Canadian and British holiday to a week-long affair. It’s interesting that the original intention of Boxing Day involved boxing up presents and giving them to the poor or to the service providers who worked on Christmas Day so others could enjoy the holiday. In our modern culture, however, it’s evolved into a common practice of giving ourselves gifts, all under the illusion that “it’s a good deal”.

Now, unless you think I am passing judgement on those who love to shop, I humbly admit that I, too, recently engaged in this practice, giving into the temptation to buy new hand towels after Christmas. You see, I quickly realized over the last few days with my growing family, that only having four of these towels in the house is a problem! The fact that I bought them now that my company is gone tells you a lot about my poor planning, more than it does about my ability to be a savvy shopper!

The truth is, I’ve never been a stuff person, despite being raised by parents who felt that the acquisition of homes, cars, and Royal Doulton’s was the true mark of success. For me, wealth comes in two forms: knowledge and people, and it’s an incredible windfall when the people in your life expand your knowledge.

For most of my life, I have been searching for meaning and purpose, and I largely found that through my insatiable quest for knowledge. From childhood, I’ve always asked “Why”? And since ‘because’ was never a satisfactory answer, I hung out a lot at an old gray cement building on Ridge Road, in the reference section. I would get lost in the encyclopaedias and atlases and fill my head space with all kinds of random information. My attention was rarely focused as I would get side-tracked by a word or a picture and then go off on another adventure in learning, in another volume. I simply just wanted to know more about things, about people, and about places. That pursuit of knowledge has enriched my life immensely and still does to this day as my history on the Google search engine can attest to.

But people have always intrigued me. As a perpetual observer and with a mind geared for assessment, I continue to ask the question ‘Why” and never settle for the simple ‘Because’ answer. People are infinitely complex and unique, though, as a student recently declared with irritation, most try to categorize individuals into “cookie cutter stereotypes”. In a sense, we want to put people into a cookie tin or box, to make it easier for us to understand. And in the field of mental health, we often use these boxes to determine the path forward, the treatment plan, and the hope for recovery.

But boxes can promote stigma and fear. “I don’t want to be in the box with the bottom ready to fall out of it and that needs to be held together with medical tape. I want to be in the box that has all the sides intact and that is strong enough to allow me to carry everything on my own.” The inevitable result of a box mentality is that people try to keep the sides of their box upright and strong, but often the weight becomes too much for the cardboard to support. So those who fight against the box mentality are often the ones who end up suffering the most in the end. The obvious question now, is no longer ‘why’ people won’t seek help, but rather ‘how’ can we help people build and maintain positive mental health through all the challenges that life will throw at them?

The original intention of Boxing Day was for those who were more privileged to give to the needy, to lighten their load, even if the gift was short lasting. That is what we have been doing in mental health – specialists give to those who struggle in order to alleviate their pain. In both instances, this is a reactive approach, and only reaches those who have made their situation in life known. But I’m wondering if we need to rethink this, and become proactive, so those who suffer in silence can also be helped. Perhaps the answer actually lies in our modern approach to Boxing Day. Maybe, we need to have people give themselves the gift of positive health. What if we can discover a way to give and, therefore, prepare ourselves with enough hand towels in our personal cupboards to manage the often unexpected visitors that come into our lives? You know I am speaking figuratively, but it makes sense. What do I need to be ready, to stay healthy? What do you need? I have heard this logic compared to an immunization strategy, and I believe this is a good analogy and excellent starting point.

True wealth and health come in two forms: knowledge and people, and it will be a very ‘good deal’ if that combination provides us with the answer. And so….I’m off to my reference section, provided high school students, as you read this!

Blink-182 wrote a song called “Boxing Day” about heartbreak. Their song is a gift to all those who have felt that emotional loss, who may be suffering in silence, and who may be comforted by knowing someone else has also walked that painful path.

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