When practicing manipura chakra yoga today, I received a message of the three things that make me feel confident and most myself—three sources of personal power. They’re so basic that it seems silly even to write about them, and certainly to refer to the realization as a “message.” But that is what it was: one of those blindingly beautiful moments in which you see past your own illusions to the truth. A flash of Enlightenment, perhaps. Or one of the many benefits of neuro-eccentricity. Who knows. Point is, I now know with certainty that painting, strong relationships (primarily with my partner and children), and practicing Buddhism are the three things that make me feel most confident. When I am in alignment with these things, I am comfortable in my skin.
This rather overtly feeds into a working theory I have about mental illness—not to be confused with what I call neuro-eccentricity. We are all capable of mental illness—neuro-typicals and neuro-eccentrics alike—though perhaps the latter are more susceptible due to their sensitivities and proclivities, which often land them in compromising positions with far-reaching, soul-destroying consequences (also, the stigma associated with being neuro-eccentric is suffocating). But there is nothing a neuro-eccentric experiences that is not squarely on the spectrum of human experience. Perhaps this is what frightens neuro-typicals most of all: their own potential for mental illness.
So, my theory of mental health is, simply put, that connectedness is central. Specifically:
- operational connectedness (the work we do is fulfilling and meaningful to ourselves and the community);
- relational connectedness (the central relationships we have are supportive, loving, and engaged, and require the same from us); and
- spiritual connectedness (the rituals and practices we engage in enable us to feel compassion for other living things, help us to process our past and understand our place in the universe, and inspire us to serve our community).
Folks in the psychiatric community say that caring for our physical needs is also central to mental health, and to a great extent I agree. The thing is, we will naturally be in tune with our physical needs when our occupational, relational, and spiritual selves are connected. So, in a way, mental health and physical health are achieved by the same means: connection.
I have witnessed mental illness in neuro-typicals too many times to count because at least one of the afore-described holy trinity was not functioning properly. Bad job? Acrimonious relationship? Hollow faith? Then, mental illness will already be shutting down your ability to be effective. Mental illness looks different in everyone, and may not meet diagnostic criteria in the DSM. But you will know that you are not healthy mentally when you struggle to feel content much of the time.
For me, it’s really that simple. And the prescription is just as straight forward—which is not to say that it is as easy as taking a pill.
In contrast, a neuro-eccentricity is a description of a particular constellation of thinking, behavior, and gifts (as well as the electrical fallout that accompanies such gifts). Neuro-eccentrics can experience mental illness, and no doubt do at higher rates than neuro-typicals. But we are also capable of mental health, and the prescription is the same. We may need a little psychopharmacological help, depending on the circumstances, but even that will not have a meaningful impact on our mental health without connection.