Memories and your Mental Wellness


Recently I faced an onslaught of memories, both good and bad.

Perhaps some of you have had to make the difficult choice of placing a parent in a care facility. That’s what I recently had to do, and along with it, place my childhood home up for sale.

Of course, selling the home in which my parents lived since about 1960 meant going through endless drawers, and boxfuls of family photos. The emotions evoked during this challenging task ran the gamut from laughter to sadness.

Occasionally I came across a photo of myself. (Yeah, that’s me taking up the rear in the horse photo to the left, behind my dad and older brother, Dave.) Since anxiety disorders (OCD, panic attacks, and agoraphobia) set in early on, most of the photos were taken during the years when I was deeply burdened by these dysfunctions. There were photos of me sporting long hair, wearing a college graduation down, nervously posing with my beautiful bride on our wedding day, and a lot more. Then there were the photos of me as a child, when from all appearances I didn’t have a care in the world. But mostly, the pictures are a lasting testament to a major portion of my life when I fought a wearying battle with mental illness.

Memories can help to keep anxiety disorders alive, but only if you continue processing them in unhelpful ways. Here are some things I’ve learned about memories that might help you as you move forward in your quest to rise above anxiety disorders or another mental wellness challenge.

Memories are only memories. That may sound strange, but what I mean is that memories do not equate to your current situation. Memories are never placed in the future; they’re a register of past events. Yes, memories can evoke both powerful emotional and physical sensations. During such times, try to put memories in their proper place: the past. Learn what you can from them, but don’t let them keep you mired in an unhealthy and unhelpful place. Memories themselves hold no actual power, it’s literally all in our head. So while real stuff happened, don’t let their memory dictate your present state of mind.

Your memories may or may not be accurate. Sure, memories of OCD, panic attacks, and other unpleasant experiences are probably pretty accurate. But what you remember about how people perceived you then (and maybe even now) is probably distorted. People were’t shaking their heads in disbelief that someone could be so dysfunctional. In reality, few people were thinking about you at all (sorry to break the news). When unpleasant emotions surface when certain memories arise, don’t try to simply not think about them. Rather, do your best to face them while considering just how accurate or inaccurate they might be. Either way, you can learn and grow from them rather than run and hide from something that really poses no threat.

Cherish the best memories. Not all memories are counterproductive! Do your best to focus on the wonderful things that happened in the past. Sometimes even these will bring tears, but those tears are not rooted in sadness, but in joy and perhaps even a certain sense of sentimentality or nostalgia. Give these emotions full expression, but don’t let them carry you into an unhelpful emotional place.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” ― Lois Lowry, The Giver

Talk about your memories. This won’t be easy, and the best listener may be a therapist. But sharing memories—both good and bad—with a best friend or the right family member may give you the confidence to start unpacking more and more of your life. You will be surprised at how healing this experience can be.

• Now is the time to start making new memories. I turned the corner on anxiety disorders in 1999. Since then, my life has been filled with a lot of wonderful memories. Sure, everyone has their moments and memories of regret. But trust me: it’s a whole lot of fun making good memories.

As you rise above your mental wellness challenges, you’ll find yourself having to make some choices, including what kinds of memories you wish to make. If you’re like me, making some of those memories is going to involve taking some risks, doing some things that you either have never done or haven’t done for a long time because fear has held you back. Don’t make the mistake of avoiding the opportunity to make new memories just because it involves something you used to think you couldn’t do. We’re talking about a brand-new you here, and now is the time to start making some brand-new memories.

Republished with Permission from Randy Fishell, An Anxious Kind of Mind 

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Randy Fishell
Randy Fishell

RANDY FISHELL is the former editor of Guide magazine—a weekly publication for young people. He has written hundreds of editorials and articles and authored several books. Randy is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Health and lives in Smithsburg, Maryland.

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