Hello. I have something to tell you.
I am mental.
Mental. Meaning of the intellect, the processes of thought, perception, consciousness, the senses, the emotions. The mind.
The mind, as opposed to the brain.
The brain is an organ that controls the central nervous system. The vast majority of what the brain — the organ — controls are unconscious processes. Despite the fact that it feels like the contrary, our brain does not spend the majority of it’s energy on the goings on of “the mind.”
Yet, when I’m having a challenging mental health day, I say I’m “in my head.”
And I’ve been in my head a lot lately. Maybe this has something to do with some unconscious processes of doling out brain hormones. But more likely than not it’s my processes of thought, perception, consciousness, senses and emotions.
‘Mental’ entered the English language around the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries. It likely entered the language through the heavily French influenced Chancery Standard of written late Middle English. For 400 years since the conquest of England by the Old French speaking Normans, all official documents had been written in French. But around the early 1400s, bureaucrats — who were probably beleaguered by all the codeswitching of speaking the Old-Norse based English at home, while using French at work — began writing in English with a LOT of French dipped in, as English probably had a lot of lexical gaps when it came to describing the kinds of things the nobility would be having these bureaucrats write about.
Modern and late Middle English ‘mental’ came in through French from the Late Latin ‘mentalis’ which means “of the mind.”
The word ‘mental’ also picks up usage among certain English speakers as a completely different word in the 1700s, though, as medical personnel, who strictly used Latin to describe anatomical features, began using the Latin word for “chin,” ‘ment(um)’ to describe parts of the body related to the chin.
And it feels like I really “took it on the chin” these last two weeks regarding my mental health. I have been struggling with extremely low mood and low energy. I have had big bouts of profound sadness and this growing and persistent feeling of pure dread. My mental health has taken a major dive.
I don’t know if my SSRI meds that have been assisting my brain organ with those unconscious processes for the four years since my suicide attempt are just losing their efficacy, or if it’s something else. After all, my suicide attempt was over Pride weekend. Maybe the knowledge of this and not my drugs, is throwing me out of whack.
What I do know is that I am unfocused, distracted, withdrawn, sad, terrified and exhausted.
It’s extremely difficult to control my emotional state and my reactions to things when I am in this headspace. It’s also really easy for me to get really defeatist and nihilistic.
To add to that, navigating our mental health apparatus is extremely confusing and difficult. Especially if you can’t afford to pay for therapy out of pocket. Your insurance company is little to no help, and the act of trying to find a new therapist becomes a full-time job. Or at the very least, it can take a village.
Because of this I am so grateful for the few friends who reached out and gave me a hand when I started to slide downhill, specifically in the realm of helping me sort through possible new therapists. I have not seen a therapist in about three years. Not good for someone with a history of suicidal ideations. I got a lot of very sincere moral support from a handful of good friends, but a few went above and beyond to help me find an actionable intervention.
Both Latin roots, ‘mentalis,’ and ‘mentum,’ seem to come from the Proto-Indo-European root ‘*men,’ which means “to project, to ascend, to be prominent.”
So our mental selves involve projections and complex, abstract thoughts, while our chins literally project out prominently from our face holes.
It’s believed that our proto-homo ancestor species began growing chins to help balance out and counterweight the growing brains. As our minds began to get more sophisticated our hardware, the brain organ, also had to grow to accommodate. And that meant counterbalancing the weight of this now larger brain with a new face shape that kept our heads from snapping and tilting back. Coincidentally, now the English language has two versions of the word ‘mental:’ one pertaining to our conscious minds, and the other to our huge chins and all the parts associated.
Those complex conscious processes helped us tame flora and develop agriculture, form more complex societies, create simple machines, develop language, and create civilization. But that increase in complexity of our mental selves also means that I get sad for long periods of time and I can’t explain why and nothing seems to bring me out of it.
Thankfully, though, that’s where the complex societies jumps in. Certainly my cats give one another moral support, empathy and compassion are all over the animal kingdom, humans don’t have a monopoly on it. But when the complexity of the process of getting back into therapy was too much for a mind that was overly preoccupied with defeatist thoughts, my complex society came through, and helped me find a therapist.
I see that therapist tomorrow for the first time. I don’t know what’s next. I hope this is a good fit and I can stick with therapy a lot longer. I don’t know if we’ll rejigger my meds or if I really just need to sort some shit out with a professional. I don’t know. What I do know is that my mind is grateful for the support I have received over the past few weeks.
And if ‘mental’ also means to ascend, I hope this means that I am ascending to a new, more healthy point.
I am mental. Are you?