Power + World Mental Health Day

Maya Enista Smith / October 10, 2019

World Mental Health Day was going to be a very busy day for me. I had blogs to write, op-ed’s to pitch, press to do, and important tweets to send. I was going to tell you a lot of statistics and try to convince you that there is hope (there is), and remind you that we each have a role to play in building a culture that prioritizes mental health (we do). And then, the power went out, literally. The electricity in my town is out today, so I spent this morning frantically searching for a cup of coffee and a place to charge my phone while working hard to find a signal to download hundreds of emails that await me every morning. I got dressed using a flashlight in my closet and my refrigerator door is tied shut with a dog rope toy serving so my children are reminded to not open it.

I couldn’t go far since traffic lights aren’t working and school might be cancelled so I went to find electricity and coffee at Nick’s Starbucks. Here I am with Nick next to the store’s kindness tree:

As I sit next to the kindness tree, I am thinking about everything I should be doing today that I can’t because of the power, because of the traffic, because of uncertainty. Everyone in the store after ordering their coffee comes to stand next to me to look at this colorful message board. Kids laugh at the occasional use of an expletive, women in groups clutch each other’s arms and release audible “aww’s”,  and business men try and look busy on their phones while they read the leaves. The people writing these notes and the people reading these notes – we’ve all been both people – we just want a place to put our hearts, our fears, our hopes, and our truths. 

On World Mental Health Day, when the best laid plans have been derailed, I am just reading these leaves (and watching other people read them) and sharing them with you.

“My best friend is moving. Brig, you’re incredible.”

“My mom is a lesbian and my dad doesn’t know.”

“Lily, be courageous. Love, Peter”

“Hey, I think you’re pretty. Maybe could we hang out?”

“I am sad.”

“F*#^ those people who think it’s OK to be a bully.”

“If you ever feel stupid, weak, or powerless, remember that I – and you – am not.”  

“Thankful for my friends.”

“Words are so powerful, so choose the right ones.”

Here are a few more:

Today, as it turns out, I won’t be on TV to talk about how important it is to acknowledge the experiences of the people around you and be a safe, trusted person with which people can share their stories. I will be sitting next to this kindness tree, acknowledging the experiences of the little boy who just wrote “be happy, life is short” followed by a series of Minecraft emojis. I’ll cry with the woman that just wrote, “You can change the world. Really.” I’ll be smiling at strangers are they hesitate above my shoulder, maybe feeling the urge to write something or unexpectedly connecting with something already written. 

Today, I’m meant to be here, forcibly removed from distractions, in my pajamas, bearing witness to this kind, diverse, painful expression of our collective experience.