Yesterday I was walking passed one of the latest Toronto public housing buildings in a state of partial demolish. The building was so captivating that I stopped to take a photo. I could see all of the exposed rooms painted differently reflecting the individuality of the people who inhabited those rooms not long before. As fascinating as it was to me, I couldn’t help but wonder about how these individual felt about their rooms being exposed, and more significant perhaps, I wondered how they felt about their walls coming down before they may have been ready to expose this history.
Walls are created for the purpose of separation and privacy and indeed, serve a purpose. We don’t live in a culture where we typically urinate without walls, sleep without walls, have sex without walls, get changed without walls, and have intimate conversations and arguments with our partners without walls. Therapy sessions happen behind closed walls. Medical consultations are among enclosed by walls. Even mundane work has largely been privatized within office walls despite a more recent attempt at “open-concept”. These barriers do more than provide shelter from the elements of the world, as they were originally intended. They shelter us from the realities and authenticities that persist behind those walls.
I don’t believe in walls. I believe in open-concept. I believe in oneness. I believe in the lack of real or perceived separation. I believe in exposure, in truth, and not hiding aspects of ourselves. This is why I believe in Bell’s Let’s Talk Day (@Bell_LetsTalk #BellLetsTalk) as a huge awareness and fundraising campaign to remind us that we can bring down the walls and have real conversations and real connections about the very real human experiences within us that we all share, whether we suffer from a diagnosed mental health illness or not. None of us are perfect nor do any of us have perfect mental health, at least as far as I have seen. Sharing our experiences is important. As Theo Fleury (@TheoFleury14) Tweeted today “Suffered many years with anxiety and depression. When I started talking about it guess what? It went away #BellLetsTalk”. I believe in this openness so much that I and my like-minded best friend Lindsey White, started an organization with that mission in mind, Body Monologues (@BodyMonologues / www.BodyMonologues.ca). Through Body Monologues we bring a collection of people and their stories on stage and online to share their very real and personal stories, openly (see monologues on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/BodyMonologues/videos). The effect? Over and over again speakers and audience members claim that talking about it was therapeutic… albeit terrifying leading up to it.
I can attest. Body Monologues started with an experience I had during yoga with my body and my pain, which I then wrote about. I was so deeply moved and shocked by what I had come to realize that I went decided to read my piece to my partner, Mike. As I read it aloud, I quivered and started sweating but afterward I felt this incredible relief, like something inside of me had less of a hold on me. I told Lindsey about it and then Lindsey and I had the bold idea to take our stories on stage (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFDyV6esrrI). She too had something to share after 2 suicide attempts and a struggle with depression and eating disorders. The effect? Terrifying for us both but oh so therapeutic. So therapeutic in fact that I can no longer talk about my experience with any sincere pain being expressed through my words or my body because I have moved through so much of the emotional pain. This same therapeutic value is clear when Eve Ensler (producer of Vagina Monologues and author/editor of several powerful books) speaks. Earlier this week I was listening to her talk about her cancer (https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/a-second-wind-in-life-eve) — which she believes stemmed from the horrible sexual and physical abuse that she and other women suffered and then embodied. Eve speaks with such eloquence and matter-of-fact that she too has moved through a great deal of emotional pain, largely because she too is dedicated to an open-concept.
So yes, I do believe in openness, vulnerability (a term Lindsey prefers), and oneness. I believe in breaking down walls to expose our true experiences and our true self. But, I as a psychologist and neuroscientist and I can appreciate why our mind and brain built those walls in the first place — for protection. Those walls protect us from the uncomfortable we and others cannot deal with. Those walls protect us from the unimaginable that did happen. Those walls protect us from a rejection no human should be forced to experience, but they do. Those walls protect us from a reality that is too much for some of us to bare. Indeed, these walls are an amazing accomplishment by our brain and psyche with such good intentions. But eventually, ideally, these walls will come down when the environment is conducive to their softening. Today is not just about breaking down walls immediately. Today we should be kind with ourselves and with others who cannot yet talk. Today is about creating the safe and open space to allow those walls do come down eventually and ideally. Today is about striving toward a future where no walls exist and celebrating the ones that come down in the process. Today is also about listening just as much as it is about talking.