Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.Alfred, Lord Tennyson
One of the coping mechanisms which I think anyone with health problems, particularly mental health problems, attempts is trying to “hack” when something is about to happen. You try to find patterns in your behavior, make sense of your feelings, and correlate your mood to the weather just to have some kind of agency in your own life. This ends up forcing you to develop discrimination and discernment skills, without you even realizing it.
From my experience, the worst part of mental illness is feeling like you have no agency in anything. Your life, your feelings, and your reactions all seem arbitrary, out of control on the best of days. So much so that exhaustion becomes a way of life. All the more reason to learn all the subtleties of a situation or your own feelings.
But to do this, you need to understand what is involved in learning to discriminate and discern.
How to discriminate correctly. Top tip: It shouldn’t involve race.
Discrimination gets a bad rap these days because it’s used to hold one arbitrary characteristic against a person or group of people. Most often, it’s used almost interchangeably with racism.
But, that doesn’t make discrimination under its other definition a bad thing. Can you discriminate between the different flavor notes in a wine? Or the notes in a scent? That’s discrimination too, but it’s a good thing. So is being able to discriminate between different emotions. If you don’t know what makes you happy, sad, or excited, then your mental health battle is that much harder.
Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.
So where does that put discrimination in the world of ideas?
Well, consider what discrimination does: it allows you to distinguish between different things. It allows you to say “this is one thing” and “that is another.” It allows you to distinguish between different contexts like culture, religion, ideology, etc.
This is a GOOD THING. If we saw everything the same, then the world would be a much duller place than it is. We wouldn’t have a variety of mythology, religious tradition, language, culture, or even color.
Nor would we have a range of emotions. This means learning to discriminate between your kaleidoscope of emotions is something that is kind of important if you want to manage your mental illness, especially if you actually want to be happy.
You learn to appreciate things better when you learn to discriminate and you learn better who you are in the world’s morass. Better still, you may actually have a wonderful day and not be afraid to acknowledge it.
Discernment is taking discrimination to the next level. In a good way.
Ok, so we’ve put discrimination into its proper place. What about discernment?
Discernment, in its most basic terms, is learning how to not jump to conclusions. Watch some of the old James Bond movies, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how this works, particularly in the Cold War-era movies. A third party is always there trying to pit the USSR against the United States who, of course, blame each other instead of looking for the said third party.
Pretty clever, right? It’s a well-worn device in the world of literature, but it’s well-worn because it works so very well. It works well because it is true of real life too.
How many times have you just reacted instead of thinking everything through? More than any of us would admit. By the way, having depression and anxiety, or any trauma of any kind, makes it harder to develop discernment.
Especially if you’re still in “fight or flight” mode.
Learning how to discern is one of the life skills that you can’t teach, but you can model. Unfortunately, it also isn’t well-modeled these days. Particularly of late when you can get fired by Tweet, or mobbed online for expressing an opinion.
Is it any wonder why more and more people are reporting anxiety and depression than ever before? How can anyone expect to thrive and have a healthy inner and outer life when discernment isn’t even on the menu?
How to develop discrimination and discernment in practical ways.
Ultimately, the way you develop your abilities to discriminate and discern is by accepting that you will always be learning. The world changes constantly and your skills have to be retooled to change with it or you’ll end up stuck in an intellectual rut.
Another tip is to describe the world around you. Being able to express emotions and picture with words is one of the best self-care practices you can have in your arsenal. This is why journaling and freewriting are such powerful tools in the first place, even if you aren’t a writer.
If you find you still don’t have the words, then go find someone who does have the words. Thousands of writers have put their thoughts and feelings into words. Someone, somewhere has felt what you are feeling, has gone through a similar hell you are going through. You just need to find them.
Whether that’s sitting at a white man’s bar on Christmas Eve with Chingachgook and drinking for the sorrow that befell the Delaware tribes, running away to faery land with Kilmeny to escape the corruption in the world, or standing side-by-side with Hamlet against the “sea of troubles” in the wild hope that taking a stand will make a difference for once.
And that is part of the reason I started this blog: to help you find your kindred spirit.
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