Last Friday, I was gulping down my second cup of coffee, dressed uncharacteristically in creased slacks and heeled sandals at a meeting for work, sitting between a dear friend and a new acquaintance. They were catching up. I was taking it all in. And at some point, my new acquaintance referenced “mental hygiene” as an antiquated phrase which eventually morphed into “mental health.” I’m honestly not sure which phrase I prefer, but she dismissed “mental hygiene” as the foundational philosophy for electric shock therapy and other efforts to clean or sanitize the human mind.
I saw her point, sharing her disdain for our culture’s approach to mental health through the ages, and yet …
“Mental hygiene” also resonated with me. It suggested daily maintenance, frequent care and attention. It’s a phrase that could remind me to take those daily silent moments for myself, opening that deep, rich sense of myself with the same care and frequency I put into brushing my teeth, showering, or brushing my hair.
Did I find a new title for my blog?
For months, I’ve been hopping all over the place in search of a new theme for this blog of mine. Because Miss E now has an undeniable need for privacy, which means telling the stories of our more profound or transformative conversations feels to me like breaking her trust. She is experimenting with distance and intimacy. She is full-on tween. These are precarious days.
She is also nearing the age I was when my mom began to spin out, eventually shedding her role as a parent for many years…
Recently, I arrived home after a grueling day at work, calling “Hello!” as I unlocked the door. My two dogs came running to greet me. I pet them both on the head, cooing my love. Then I went searching for the humans. Kelly, my partner, was out with clients and our home was unbelievably, eerily silent. I walked down to the basement, where my eldest was sorting the chaos of her bedroom, working hard to make it peaceful and clean – and while she was lovely to me and kind, I had clearly interrupted. I tried to stay brief, sticking to: Hello. When is our company coming? What’s the plan for dinner? And finally – Is your sister here?
“She should be in her room,” she answered, shuffling her pile again.
Miss E had never in her life failed to greet me at the door, but I climbed the stairs, knocked on her Minecraft-decorated door, entered, and found her sitting on the bed with headphones on, iPod in-hand. I kissed her head.
“What?!” she said, scrunching up her shoulders. “I’m watching videos.” I hadn’t seen her in ten hours. At least.
Still, I nodded. “Okay,” I told her, leaning over and kissing her again. “I love you.” I stood straight and walked towards her bedroom door.
“I love you, too, Mom,” she said.
I told this story to my friend Helen the next day at work, this story of the first time I arrived home after a challenging day and my young one didn’t run to greet me at the door. She said it hit her right in the heart, which I needed to hear, and she said she’d been there with her kids, too, who are all grown now. “She’ll come back to you,” Helen assured me.
“I never came back to my mom,” I replied. I didn’t think it through; I just said it. But it was true, I realized as the words came tumbling out of my mouth.
So THIS is the trouble I’m having now, I thought. This right here.
… which brought me back to the idea of Mental Hygiene. And how writing for me is like flossing.
Flossing my mind?
Helen may be right. It’s possible. Miss E may come back. Or maybe she won’t go far when she goes. When she separates. I can’t predict.
After all, at forty-five, I am slowly coming back to my mom – imperceptibly perhaps, but STILL – I wouldn’t have predicted that.
And so I floss. And I brush. And I rest. And I write. As much as I can. For my own mental hygiene. Praying we’ll all turn out all right.