Beautiful Minds started in May, and it’s crazy to think of all that’s happened since it started. The magazine has experienced change, and we’re still figuring out what exactly it is. We are constantly trying to figure out how to make it better, more accessible, and the most open complement to the discussion of mental health policy and stigma taking place on campuses this year.
We’ve learned a lot, and had to ask ourselves hard questions. Starting something, whether a publication, a non-profit, or a new adventure can be liberating, but also tiring. Exhaustion can take multiple forms. Often, our tire was a product of trying to run this thing, BMM, something of an outlet for ourselves, a space of expression for others, and a looking glass for the public, while full-time students at an Ivy League university known for its stress, anxiety, and pre-professionalism.
At others, this exhaustion was more about the weight of people’s lives. While we’ve certainly had our encounters with mental health’s uglier sides, there are things we will never see, hear, or experience. There are nights we’ve read three to four stories about attempted suicide, eating disorders, or depression. These nights are not happy. But engaging experiences, in healthy doses, is one of the first steps towards empathy and understanding. That’s what Beautiful Minds is all about. Free expression is a powerful tool, perhaps most useful in its capacity to disseminate stories.
In her blog Brain Pickings, Maria Popova recently reexamined the power of our words. While she traverses the world of fiction and nonfiction, she illuminated the importance of narrative (which at Beautiful Minds, we see as necessary to any discussion of mental illness). Walter Benjamin wrote that, “To write is to know something. What a pleasure to read a writer who knows a great deal. (Not a common experience these days…) Literature, I would argue, is knowledge — albeit, even at its greatest, imperfect knowledge. Like all knowledge…Still, even now, even now, literature remains one of our principal modes of understanding.” E.B. communicates an important progression from the idea, explaining: “By literature, I mean literature in the normative sense, the sense in which literature incarnates and defends high standards. By society, I mean society in the normative sense, too — which suggests that a great writer of fiction, by writing truthfully about the society in which she or he lives, cannot help but evoke (if only by their absence) the better standards of justice and of truthfulness that we have the right (some would say the duty) to militate for in the necessarily imperfect societies in which we live.”
Words are what bring mental illness out of the dark. They are descriptions, diagnoses, and feelings. Sometimes, our words are only approximations, at others they are the closest we will ever get to explaining the demons that mental illness can create. Words are pledges: to do better, to be reasonable, to be nicer people.
New Years’ can provide both an important frame, and perhaps a threat, to our mental healths. We’re ending Beautiful Minds’ year with reflections and expectations. We’re not going to let it consume us, but we will not let it die, either.
As the year draws to a close, we wrote of list of things to consider as we wake up on January First.
Life can be incredibly busy. We all have a never ending commitments and every day our to-do lists seems to get longer. Though it may seem like you don’t have enough time to make time for other people, you can, you do, and you should. Your best friends from home you keep up with via an active group chat? Find a time to catch up over the phone or through video chat. That girl you sat next to in your first semester freshman seminar who you say hi to only if you pass by her on campus? Catch up over coffee (or something non-caffeinated).Taking some time to reconnect with friends, old and new, is important. Sometimes, however, reaching out to friends is not enough. Exploring the counseling and mental health treatment options available to you can be an incredibly valuable tool. No one is more equipped to help than a professional.
Say no more often
Making time for yourself means prioritizing yourself. Let go of any fears of disappointing others, and learn to say no more often. You don’t need to attend every social function and you don’t need to do every favor a friend or acquaintance asks of you. Setting too many expectations for yourself can lead to a lot of stress, so be selfish more often.
No explanation needed. Whether it’s your favorite drink, TV show, or dessert — treat yourself to the things you love once a week. Sometimes, it can be the little things that get us through the roughest of weeks.
This may be the hardest one, but it’s one of the most important. Scrolling through your newsfeed, you see someone else’s highlight reel and can feel compelled to compare someone’s internet presence to your own life. Having a shitty day and then viewing someone’s greatest hits online can be awful for your self-esteem. Shut your laptop, log off of Instagram, and remember to love yourself. You have so many people in your life who love you. You are wonderful and worthy of love and are a person of value. Looking in the mirror everyday and finding things that you love about yourself is a great act of bravery, but you owe it to yourself!
Find an outlet
Whether this is a hobby you already enjoy, or a new pastime you’d like to pick up, go for it. Writing in a journal, going for a run or walk, drawing, talking to your best friend for an hour — whatever is an outlet for you, add it to your to-do list every so often.
Indulging yourself and staying in bed can be great when you really need it. Other days, you sometimes need a breath of fresh air. Walk to your local park, or around your block, see some nature. Some of our best memories involved calling up a friend when we were really stressed, and then going for a walk with them throughout our city. Sometimes you can see and explore new places, other times, you can just sit on a bench in park nearby and just talk. These experiences can be cathartic. Be spontaneous and walk to that coffeeshop you pass every week but have never been inside to, explore your neighborhood.
On the other hand, staying in your pajamas with a cup of tea or coffee, and your favorite tv shows might be just what you need. Again, saying no can be your best option. You don’t have to always go out or stay up late. Taking some time to be alone in your own home, and going to bed early can provide a fresh start for the next day.
Learn a new recipe
Being able to cook one meal really well can make your 2016 both easier and happier. Cooking for yourself is a way to ~treat yourself~ feel productive, and is a finished project at the end. Nourishing your body, in addition to your mind. It is also a great excuse to invite friends over for a dinner party.
Patience with yourself, friends, family members, your barista, and anyone you encounter is a step to healing and a step to having a better day, week, month and year. Instead of getting upset at people or with yourself because a project is taking too long or isn’t panning out the way you’d like, use that time to practice mindfulness and self-reflect. Is this making me happy? Am I doing the best that I personally can? Ask yourself questions before getting frustrated, and try to see things from someone else’s perspective. Not everyone will know how you are feeling, and you certainly won’t know how their day is going either.
Yourself or those in your life who have hurt you. 2016 is the year you prioritize yourself and that means letting go of what has been painful for you. Interpret this however you’d like, but keep it in mind for the year ahead.
Happy New Years!
Clare and Rebecca