When there is a physical injury, our body tells us very quickly when something is wrong. If we injure our leg, we are soon aware of our condition because of pain or a limitation, such as not being able to move a leg freely. We usually realise because of these symptoms and their impact on us that we need to seek help. A doctor may suggest that we need go on some medication, do some exercises, and go through a rehabilitation programme of physiotherapy and rest to take off the full weight of the body on the leg. We may have to take a bit of time off work, forgo the exercise we once enjoyed and reduce our social activity. If we do not heed the advice of doctors and give ourselves time to heal, we could end up in a cycle of recovery that is far longer and our leg may get worse, causing a more permanent impact or just prolonging the recovery. Bottom line: if we don’t give time or priority to the injury, we don’t give ourselves the best chance to heal.
In comparison with mental health, it is common to ignore psychological symptoms because of their lack of externally visible signs. With psychological symptoms such as anxiety or prolonged low moods, we can still be highly functioning and have no apparent physical limitations, so we may choose to ignore them and carry on business as usual. Even when we know something is wrong, we may end up putting it off and even feel ashamed of the stigma of seeking mental health support. We may make some moves to help ourselves, like get more sleep, but we don’t fully perform the necessary steps to give us the best chance of recovery. For example, we may continue working long hours and continue to expose ourselves to mentally stressful situations, causing our anxiety to spiral. A voice may be saying something is wrong but because we appear to be functioning “as-if” these problems were non-existent, the symptoms become easier to ignore. The necessary care is simply not present. After a while, our mental health issues can start interfering not just “inside” of our mind but they can also spill over into the physical and impact external situations, such as difficulty concentrating at work, anxiety attacks and just not enjoying life anymore. Just like walking on an injured leg, the more we “push through” emotional injuries, the more the issues can grow and the emotional injury gets bigger and more severe increasing the time we need to recover fully.
Mental health requires metaphorically the same type of attitude to healing as a physical injury. This may include finding time to heal, changing lifestyle, and seeking support, advice and therapy. Therefore, the commitment to the act of a therapeutic process is analogous to not simply pushing though and standing on an injured leg but giving yourself the “space” mentally to work on you. By working on recovery through therapy, you are accepting the fact that there is an emotional injury, just as you would for a physical injury. Through accepting the need to make changes to recover, we are doing the equivalent of take the weight off our emotional injury, which provides us a clear space to heal emotionally.