By Joshua Holland
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
In a world full of seemingly increased shared prosperity and more opportunities, life for people today is better than ever. Increasingly however, in the wake of high profile suicides of beloved celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, who on the surface seemed to have it all, many have begun to ask, “What does it take to live a happy and healthy life?”
Mental health experts such as Romal Tune, author of “Love is an Inside Job” and speaker who recently visited the Seattle area to discuss the topic, believes people today tend to be more guarded than ever, due to the fear of getting hurt or being perceived as weak. This act of keeping up a constant guard leads people to become chameleon-like, adapting to what they believe the environment needs them to be versus being their true and authentic self in a given context.
“For many people, they’ve encountered a new problem of being successful yet alone,” said Tune. “They have all the things in life and still feel misunderstood or isolated because they have bought into the belief that, ‘I can’t show people the real me. I can’t tell them what’s going on. I can’t let them know that although aesthetically life looks great, I’m having a hard time emotionally right now,’ because that would mess up the persona, and I have to keep up the appearance.”
To escape the trappings of not living an authentic life, Tune believes we need to redefine success. In the United States in particular, he points out we’re too often told to go out and pursue greatness instead of becoming great people with character, integrity, and meaningful relationships. This issue is particularly challenging for communities of color who often grow up in cultures adverse to talking about feelings openly, with discussion of feelings often being seen as a sign of weakness. These inherited narratives, however, can be lead to unhealthy lifestyles that rely on self-medication or other ways of coping that can occasionally lead to issues of addiction or alcoholism.
“We have to raise questions around what narratives serve us well,” said Tune. “If a set of beliefs don’t serve you well, it’s maybe time to write a new narrative.”
To empower people to live happy, healthy, and authentic lives, one path suggested by Tune is therapy. Through it, he’s personally found ways to cope with relationship issues, managing work stress, and navigating issues related to his own childhood. He believes it’s important to invest in showing up as the best you — mentally, vibrant, and excited for what’s next, because most endeavors pursued in life require you to show up and be the best you can be.
To find the right professional, Tune recommends taking the time to ask the right questions to ensure you are comfortable, honest, and accountable with your therapist. He lovingly calls his therapist his “compassionate witness,” who is always willing to listen without judgement and most importantly, creates space to hold him with open arms to talk about hard issues he is encountering and offer potential paths of resolution.
“It’s like getting a physical every year,” said Tune. “Rather than waiting till you’re sick and seeing a doctor, if you get a physical, you’ll avoid being sick for a variety of reasons because you can catch things before it gets too far along. Sometimes when life is good, it can be good to check-in and have a conversation about ways to sustain that level of peace of mind, rather than deal with the great highs and hard lows.”
For those interested in starting conversations about mental health with themselves and loved ones, Tune and his team have curated a list of national organizations dedicated to finding a therapist, reading materials on the subject, videos discussing the issue, and other tools on romaltune.com. It can help you measure the state of your own mental health and determine what tools you need to foster a healthier state of being. Additionally, his book, “Love Is an Inside Job,” is currently available in stores, and a free companion workbook designed to help you unpack your own story and issues is available on his website.
It’s Tune’s hope that increased conversations around mindfulness and emotional health will become more common. Today, even high profile celebrities like Jay-Z and Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, are opening up to discussing challenges they’ve encountered in relationships and dealing with depression and emotional hardship. They are shifting the conversation out of the shadows and helping shed light on the importance of having real discussions about what it means to be depressed, to be sad, and to seek professional help.
If you or a loved one is experiencing emotional distress or struggling with mental health, the suicide lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Even in times of hardship, remember you are enough and loved.
Joshua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.