Pop Rocks in Rock Tumblers with Dynamite; We're Just Houseplants with Complicated Emotions
I have this little plant in my kitchen window that was supposed to die after a few weeks and a single bloom. It’s this cute little cyclamen with bright pink petals that curl around each other and I won it playing games at a friend’s baby shower. Their baby is now well over a year old and the plant, amazingly, is twice the size and still putting up blooms of new flowers. It wasn’t like that the whole time though; it was dying a few weeks after I brought it home, and I had to figure out why. First, it was the watering schedule- I was giving it too much or too little. Then, it was the sunlight- I had to keep turning it so all the leaves could have time in the sun. Then, as the leaves kept wilting and going from deep green to a sickly yellow, I realized the pot it was in wasn’t draining, and watering it from the top of the plant was wearing away at the bulb and making it poke out of the ground.
When I finally got a bigger pot and replanted the cyclamen, it REALLY took off- to the point where it has three blooms coming at once, with more possibly on the way. I watched this little plant cry out for help, I got in there and changed its environment in little ways until it could bloom and thrive. I’ve been using it as a metaphor for how I treat myself. When my leaves are wilting, when my soil won’t drain, when the pot is too small for my roots, is there anything I can do to change it? And sometimes, there is! Things like working out in the morning, stretching, and walking every day for my physical health, as well as eating right and getting enough water. Sunlight, water, nutrients, space- humans have eerily similar needs to plants. But sometimes, I can’t get what I need. Orchids need more attention than cacti and sometimes there are too many people in and around my house for me to get the space and rest I need. Not because I don’t want that space or because I don’t love them, it’s just that I need a lot more alone time than I can get right now. I don’t have the resources to move out and live on my own, which would be the best for my mental health- so since I can’t repot my plant, so to speak, I have to find other ways to be kind to myself and exist in a space that’s not conducive to me thriving. I also need to find ways to get to repotting, but that takes energy & resources I don’t currently have right now- like money. Sure, I could go to therapy- but that would take financial resources away from the actual fix I need, which is a different living arrangement. In a world that often treats individual therapy as the panacea for systemic issues, it's time to explore how this approach can be not only reductive but also deeply harmful to both individuals and society at large.
First, the “Fix Yourself” mentality. Society often promotes the idea that personal issues can be resolved through therapy, encouraging individuals to believe they are solely responsible for their emotional well-being. I just had a talk with a friend about the people we ‘attract’ into our lives. Sure, you have to know your worth, show up in the world showing that worth, and set boundaries- I’m not saying that you personally shouldn’t be using the resources available to you to the best of your abilities. But the idea that if someone mistreats you, you somehow ‘attracted it’ or ‘deserved it’ or ‘should’ve known’ just sounds like the “What was she wearing?” question in rape cases. People got raped in full corsets and petticoats, as well as hijabs and habits- the problem isn’t how those victims showed up, it’s the rapist who hurt them. So when I hear, “You get what you deserve!” I want to scream. That mentality almost led me to kill myself a few times, like I talked about in previous blog posts about my suicidal ideation. Sometimes, people are villains. You can do everything ‘right’, but people will still cross boundaries and use you. Should you take the time to develop discernment to avoid those people in the future? Absolutely! But every person presents themselves differently and the idea that you can somehow read everyone’s intentions and avoid the bad ones versus the good ones all the time is unrealistic. People lie. Narcissists develop skills to purposely hide in that grey area so they can exploit others- the idea that if you just fix yourself to be able to navigate those people, and that the responsibility is solely on you to feel good and promote that worth constantly is inhumane. All the therapy in the world isn’t going to save a wife from getting murdered by her husband if he chooses to do that. The idea that she ‘should’ve known’ or ‘saved herself’ is obscene and unhealthy. There’s also the problem of not having the resources to leave abusive people or situations. If you have a horrible boss, did you attract that boss by needing money to stay alive? No. You got a job, assumed that basic human dignity was part of the package, and got lied to. Then, you’re stuck there until what- you can find another job? We’re in an oversaturated job market where no one is getting paid what they’re actually worth. The idea that you can just “find another job!” is coming from a place of extreme privilege. It takes resources, like time and money, to be able to go looking for another job- and if you have kids, or medical / student loan debts, or need to buy food and pay your rent, you don’t have the resources you need to get out of that situation and repot your plant. Systemic problems, such as economic inequality, discrimination, and lack of access to health care, significantly impact mental health and cannot be addressed through individual therapy alone.
Then, there’s the stigmatization of people who do go out of their way to seek professional, individual help. The emphasis on individual therapy perpetuates the stigma around mental health, making people reluctant to seek assistance due to fear of judgment or appearing "weak." They feel like they’ll be judged, like their already precarious place in their community will be at risk. If people know they’re suffering, will they repeat the “fix yourself” and “you get what you deserve” mantra? If you’re drowning in an abusive relationship that provides you financial stability while destroying your mental, emotional, and physical health (because even just stress causes physical deterioration, they don’t have to beat you for the physical abuse to take place), you can’t risk the little bit of support you do happen to have. So many partners stay in relationships not because they want to, but because they physically have to. In that case, going to therapy to find some sort of way to problem solve would be helpful- but if you’re worried that, if someone finds out you’re going, they’ll leave you or escalate their bad behavior in response, you’re not going to take that lifeline. You’re a wilting plant whose roots are bound to the little bit of soil you have to hold on to. You can’t risk more soil eroding or you will literally, physically die. A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 60% of people with mental health issues avoid seeking treatment due to fear of discrimination. That, along with the cost prohibitive nature of mental health help, means that there are hundreds of thousands of people who would benefit from a therapist who can’t risk being seen as someone who is ‘needy’ or ‘taking from the system’- even though they’re just trying to get their basic human needs met. The fact that individual therapy isn’t a cure-all and that it cannot be applied to the people that it could help is not the fault of the people suffering, though they carry the weight of feeling like a burden in this situation which further spreads this stigma. Not only is it too hard to get the help you need when you do need it, you’ll be judged and discriminated against once you do take that lifeline. If you’re at the point where you’re in desperate need of any help, you can’t risk taking more hits to your mental and emotional health in that way. Of course that stigmatization barrier is going to remain firmly in place, especially while the United States doesn’t have a proper healthcare system to support physical and mental needs.
So, relying solely on therapy as a solution deflects attention away from the need for systemic change and reinforces the status quo. In countries with robust social safety nets and supportive communities, rates of mental health issues tend to be lower, indicating the importance of addressing societal factors. To address the harm caused by placing the burden of solving systemic issues on individuals through therapy, we must shift towards a more holistic approach. First, we have to start promoting community solutions. When the blinders are off, when you realize that you in your little plant pot can’t just grow your way out of the pot you’re stuck in resource-wise, you can at least start to shift the responsibility off your shoulders, hopefully finding some relief in the mess of our current society. You can look into how to encourage communities, governments, and institutions to take collective responsibility for addressing systemic problems, such as income inequality, healthcare access, and discrimination. Unions for workers improve financial situations, laws that protect abused partners, raising the minimum wage, speaking out against price gouging- these are all small, active ways to start removing the useless guilt of hyper-individualism that leads to the isolation we all feel in our society right now. We can only solve these issues as a larger community and focusing on just fighting your individual hydra head and blaming yourself for being in that battle is not a productive way to get your needs met. Societally, we also need to increase access to affordable mental healthcare. By making mental healthcare accessible to all, which involves reducing stigma and ensuring that individuals who need therapy can access it without financial barriers, we’ll see that 60% of people who don’t seek help for those reasons finally get access to the help they need. And when flowers get the right amount of sunshine and attention, they tend to blossom and bloom. This takes advocating for systemic change instead of assuming personal responsibility. Seek out and support organizations and initiatives that work towards dismantling oppressive systems and advocate for policies that create a fairer society, ultimately alleviating the root causes of many mental health issues. It could be as simple as posting on social media, starting a conversation with friends you trust, or even reaching out to those organizations that are helping in your community and either asking for help or seeing if you can volunteer. If you’re stuck in a situation with no chance of helping yourself, taking the few resources you have available and using them in a truly active way is probably the only way you’re going to start walking towards better mental, emotional, and physical help.
We deserve better. At this point, our society is the equivalent of a rock tumbler with dynamite and pop rocks rolling us around, when all we want to do is sit and bloom. We cannot fight society alone, so blaming yourself as an individual is only going to make that rock tumbler louder and worse. Once you realize that you are not the problem, you open up the door to finding solutions. You might not be able to leave that spouse because you can’t get a new job and you have to feed your kids. Okay! Start at the easiest community level, your local library. Libraries are free information resources that can help you with finding new housing, job searching, and resume creation, as well as activities for the kids while you try to find your way out of your situation. Those of us who aren’t trapped in that same physical environment need to start getting serious about reorganizing our society so it works for everyone, not just the obscenely wealthy. It was only a generation ago that one income was able to support a full family home, with time for relaxation and a social life as well as a decent standard of living. Blaming yourself for the socioeconomic situation you’re in is not only dangerous, it suits those in power. If you’re constantly down on yourself for not having more or ‘being better’, for feeling sad and hopeless in a situation that’s truly beyond your control, you won’t use the energy you do have to speak out against the systems currently in place that are actually causing your pain. You’ll wilt and die, all while they continue to steal the resources and nutrients you need to bloom. There are weeds in our societal garden stealing our water and sunshine so they can bloom while stripping the rest of us of the basics of survival.
That’s why talking about politics is actually important, but I’m not talking about specific politicians or electoral politics- I’m talking about politics as its core definition, “The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs”. We need to start talking about how things could be, about what’s working in other countries and areas of the world, and start pushing to have it here. This idea that you can fix yourself out of societal exploitation and neglect is a waste of energy- yes, you deserve and need mental health support, but if your brain is screaming, “You’re dying! You’re dying!” and you feel your flowers wilting, feel your leaves drooping and falling off, you can’t be blaming yourself for that. You don’t have the time or energy to waste saying that you somehow deserve to feel that way. You have to change your perspective- you are a plant, rooted in your time period, and you have certain, basic needs. It is the job of those in governance to create a society where those basic needs are met. And they should be met whether you ‘deserve it’ or not- the idea that politics should be governed by some sort of religious worth or arbitrary morality is inhumane. Everyone deserves food, water, rest, hygiene, healthcare, and shelter, no matter who they are and what they believe. When those needs aren’t met, your plant wilts and dies. Blaming yourself for dying is like blaming a plant for wilting when it doesn’t rain enough, the soil erodes or somehow gets poisoned, when too many people are walking on you, or weeds block out the light it needs. The plant had no choice but to react to its situation- to wilt and die. If you’re wilting, figure out who or what is depriving you of your needs. Getting an objective view of the situation is the first step into actually repairing it, and to stop blaming yourself. And when you finally have an idea of the problem, you can start looking for the groups of people who are working together to solve it- and start blooming in a garden with others like you, instead of individually dying in that rock tumbler with dynamite and pop rocks.
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