Mental Health Month is
Welcome to May – “Mental Health Month!” Now I ask you, if you had to pick a month to focus on mental health awareness, would you choose May? Personally, I would have picked a month earlier in the year when, at least for us Michiganders, we tend to get cabin fever with the dark, gloomy skies and bone-chilling temps. In May, coming out of my cave with bleary eyes, I see fun days ahead. I’m already thinking about “National Donut Day” (June 3), planning to repent on “National Eat Your Vegetables Day” (June 17), then splurging once again on “National Splurge Day” (June 18).
June 18th is also “Father’s Day.” Thirteen years ago, that’s the day I decided to step back into work. My daughter Julia had unexpectedly died a few months before. After taking a deep dive into despair, I found myself two miles out in a kayak on Lake Michigan, thinking about paddling on to Wisconsin (84 more miles). I wasn’t aware of my own mental health, nor did I care about it.
When I decided to continue living and turned back to shore, I realized that I couldn’t exist in the state of limbo I was in. I called the University of Michigan, expressing my desire to get back to work as soon as possible. I would “teach every one of my students as if they were Julia.” This became the new purpose in my life. It changed everything.
My students responded immediately to the sense of purpose I put into my teaching. My Dean started joking about the 8 or 10 students always waiting in the hall to visit during my office hours. I was shocked when the University of Michigan football coach called to tell me that I was the professor of the year (nominated by my students) and that he was making me the honorary captain of the football team. Students started telling me that I was changing their lives. Suddenly I felt as if I’d jumped into a river with a strong current. I started “going with the flow” of my purpose.
With this renewed purpose, life became fun again. It wasn’t, however, without its challenges. Throwing myself into work, I needed to find new ways to bring my best self to work and home, so I examined the research evidence for approaches to building more energy and vitality. I found that focusing on Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating well or S.P.A.C.E. every day gave me the energy required to live purposefully. I still use it 13 years later. You might want to try giving yourself S.P.A.C.E.
Consider stepping back into work in a new way – a purposeful way. Perhaps turn to your co-workers, your products, or your customers in new ways. No matter what job you have, consider how you can make it more meaningful and how it can make you a better human being. Consider doing this not only in May, but every month. Make Mental Health Month every month of the year. But don’t forget “National Donut Day.”
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