What Does It Take to Be Your Best Self?

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Respectful Ways:

What does it take to be your best self when you struggle with mental health issues? The secret lies in getting help, sharing our struggles, and learning to be fully present with past traumas, as artists like Lady Gaga know well.

Mental Health Awareness Month helps bring suicide prevention to the forefront.

To take her place in the pantheon of pop culture, Lady Gaga went through a lot. Endowed with natural ability and and a dedication to her craft, she still had to work hard to succeed. By dint of superhuman effort and a lot of luck, she made it.

But there was a secret struggle that continued to dog her long after she achieved international recognition: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which manifested itself in debilitating panic attacks, self-harm, and physical unwellness. At the same time she was charting singles and collecting awards, she was also contemplating suicide.

And since she dealt with her stress by over-committing and over-functioning, no one knew what was going on backstage. She began to unravel under the stress of maintaining her schedule.

“I was not empowered to say no,” she recalled in a 2018 speech. “I began to notice I would stare off into space and black out for seconds or minutes. I would see flashes of things I was tormented by, experiences that were filed away.”

The Struggle No One Can See

It’s not hard to see why she kept her struggle to herself. Our mental health can be a hard topic to discuss. “ When I speak out about mental health, especially about mine, it is often met with quietness,” she observes. But as she later realized, these conditions fester in the darkness. “We need to bring mental health to light.”

While few of us have the public profile of Lady Gaga, her story has much to teach us about mental health and being our best selves.

As Gaga’s struggle with PTSD illustrates, a mental health diagnosis can affect anyone. Beneath the veneer of public success, there might be private agony. We can’t assume anyone is immune from depression or anxiety.

In fact, the only way to deal with mental health issues is to talk about them.

By bringing mental health into the light, we can destigmatize it and get on the path to becoming our best selves.  

This path forces us to face our past, present, and future with honesty.

The journey begins with being fully present. Unfortunately, for many of us, our present is filled with distraction, apprehension, and stress. It takes focus to settle our bodies and minds. Call it meditation, becoming fully present, or practicing mindfulness. Whatever it is, becoming aware of our body and mind and focusing it on the task at hand is necessary to performing well.

Gaga recalls filming a scene with Bradley Cooper, and getting distracted enough to flub her lines. Distraught, she started crying, but she quickly learned from her co-star how to be present and not let mistakes cloud her focus.

Many times, our trouble is residue from the past. We come to the present burdened by past traumas. Everyone has trauma they’re trying to work through. We can’t control what’s happened to us. But learning to get rid of the tethers to past trauma – discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, or self-doubt – is necessary to being our best selves in the present.

Gaga is no exception to this rule. After suffering sexual assault at 19, Gaga experienced PTSD with acute physical symptoms. She described her suffering in an interview:

[You know] that fear and the drop in your stomach? My diaphragm seizes up. Then I have a hard time breathing, and my whole body goes into a spasm. And I begin to cry. That’s what it feels like for trauma victims every day, and it’s…miserable… I always say that trauma has a brain. And it works its way into everything that you do.

Seeking professional help, opening up to others, and confronting her past traumas was the key to managing this chronic pain in the present.

In the present, we’re also open to a brighter future filled with growth and personal fulfillment. We’re not limited by anything but our dreams and our willingness to keep on working on ourselves.

That kind of spontaneity is what allows us to become our best selves, just like Lady Gaga. And that’s a valuable enough goal to keep in mind during Mental Health Awareness Month — and beyond.

Note: Respectful Ways offers social-emotional learning curriculum for three age groups: PreK-23-5, and 6-12 students using interactive, digital modules on compassion, perseverance, respect and responsibility.


Photo credit: © 2013 Majesty of winter. Licensed under CC-BY.

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