The Mental Health of Professional Women is Inextricably Tied to Embracing Feminine Energy and Earth-Centered Values
A series in the New York Times published September 20, 2022 called “It’s Not Just You: A Times Opinion Project on mental health and society in America today” explores the myriad ways the increase in mental illness in our country has roots not in some defect in the individual sufferer, but in factors in that individual’s environment.
This makes sense; it is well-documented that one’s zip code is a predictor of wealth and longevity. More challenging economic and health circumstances coincide with a higher incidence of ACE’s (adverse childhood experiences) and more mental illness.
Many privileged professional women with plenty of resources still have mental health challenges — why?
But what about those of us with overall good childhoods, high incomes, fine educations and desirable zip codes? Why do women who have it all feel like so much is missing?
To put it bluntly, why are so many of us kinda f’d up?
We wonder things like: Is it a chemical imbalance? Long Covid? Undiagnosed ADHD? The new normal? Or am I just a fundamentally lazy, feckless spoiled brat?
The dominant paradigm would like you to believe “it’s not the way the world behaves toward you; it’s you.”
The illness model of mental health misses the point
Your overwhelm, overwork and underfulfillment, that no amount of yoga can seem to solve – the illness model of mental health wants to pathologize all of it. The little boy who cries out, “the Emperor has no clothes!” would today be diagnosed with something like Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Hyperactivity because he dared to open his mouth and call bullshit.
When the drug companies can profit off of patenting pills for this and that, the tail wags the dog. More disorders are invented to have a place to market the pills to people who otherwise fall outside the parameters of medically significant mental health issue requiring medication to function.
And women, who are more likely to seek mental health treatment, are more frequently pathologized.
A culture that demands happiness and hustle all the time doesn’t embrace that a normal life includes pain
When I was 20 years old and about to graduate early from college, I was struggling the way a normal middle-class 20-year-old struggles. Employers were not beating down the door to hire an English major who couldn’t code, and whose main skillset outside of writing and performing well on tests was knowing the words and melodies to a shit-ton of show tunes.
To top it off, my first boyfriend ghosted me, before “ghosting” was a thing and before the world understood that kind of event could be traumatizing. From my 20-year-old perspective, my young life felt like quite a failed start in every way.
My mother insisted I go to therapy, where the answer was antidepressant drugs, which I couldn’t take more than a few weeks because they gave me headaches. And most importantly, the prescription didn’t take the edge off of life lessons I just needed to have. Pharma could not lead me to the promised land where employers loved tap dancing English majors and boys never rejected them in love. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, I needed those pills about as much as a fish needs a bicycle.
Mental health is getting destigmatized, but in order for women to heal, we need to go deeper, past patriarchal assumptions.
The New York Times points out that the conversation around mental health challenges is gradually being destigmatized. That’s a positive development, but as a society, are we taking a close enough look at how we treat the human animal in Nature? How we treat the soul?
In the patriarchal value system that dominates much of the world, there are two very destructive sub-paradigms that set the tone of our environment, permeate our careers and leer at us from the walls of a doctor’s or therapist’s office. They’re not great for the planet, they’re not great for humans, and they’re pretty horrible for women.
The facets of the patriarchy that interfere with our mental health
The first facet of the patriarchy that interferes with women’s mental health is the way the human ego can make some really unhelpful interpretations of otherwise good religious teachings. Any interpretation of a sacred religious text to mean that men are inherently better than women just because they’re men, denies the basic personhood of women. It isn’t a stretch for believers of such egoistic doctrines to assume that they therefore have a God-given license to dismiss or mistreat women, or people of color, or anyone who is different. And then those of us who aren’t the “boys in charge” often internalize this, making our experiences and responses “wrong,” even in seemingly inconsequential ways.
The second facet of the patriarchy seems contrary to the religious one on the surface, but is patriarchal just the same. It is the overly scientific, reductionist view that dismisses creativity as frivolous and the mystical as primitive, magical thinking.
These facets of the patriarchy don’t just lead to mass deforestation, gang rape or adolescent vulgarities like “rolling coal.” The way we have internalized the patriarchy leads many of us intelligent, capable women to spend thousands of dollars on things that don’t actually work to heal the aching in our souls. Add that to the statistics that indicate that simply being a woman is expensive.
Under it is a crisis of values. We know the Emperor has no clothes. We know when the pills aren’t working, the fancy vacation doesn’t bring us true renewal and rest, and our jobs is sucking up too much of our life outside of work.
In order to create true mental health, professional women need to change which voice they listen to
Many professional women keep listening to the voice that says “you can sleep when you’re dead,” “sometimes life gets in the way,” “shop till you drop” and “winners never quit” because we are simply familiar with it. It speaks to us in the voice of the student body president at a public school pep rally.
It’s hard to take that leap of faith and trust the inner voice that says F that noise….honor yourself, honor your humanness, and honor the earth.
And then when we encounter something that could actually help us – a healer whose methods seem incredible but whose results speak for themselves – or a mentor who seems to live like a wild woman outside the rules and tells us we can do that too – we sometimes can’t work up the courage to invest in ourselves by working with those people.
When women believe that it’s wrong to spend money on anything “airy fairy” or mental health related unless it fits into a diagnostic code recognized by our health insurance, sadly, they often walk away from something that could help them.
It pains me to see women tell themselves that it is foolish, an extravagance, a luxury good or that they should put that money in retirement instead, but I understand. I’ve been in those shoes when it was a significant amount of money for me to invest in mentors or healers who were willing to hold space for me and help me find the courage to say, “the Emperor has no clothes….and I matter just as much as anybody calling themselves the Emperor.”
The thing is, when we go back to the same old stuff that isn’t helping us find peace or joy, we’re reinforcing distrust in ourselves.
We’re reinforcing an erroneous thought that something’s wrong with us because our doctor, teachers, family or society said this-or-that approach to wellness — or career — or anything! — would work, and despite what they promised, it hasn’t, regardless of our best efforts to comply.
I found true healing when I stopped investing in patriarchal answers to the wrong questions, and embraced Earth-centered values in my approach to mental health.
What if, instead of listening to those voices that say you are broken or wrong, you listened to that voice within you that says I am human, I am a woman, and I am worth an approach that honors these truths?
Like many of you, I was raised to be really smart with money, to save for retirement, and to approach any expenditure over $1000 with a healthy dose of skepticism. Much of this is just good common sense, but some of it was anchored in some patriarchal assumptions that I should just be able to thrive in a historically male-occupied field without making mental health and self-care part of my budget.
I’m here to tell you that’s about as foolhardy as going on a snowy winter hike in a pair of canvas Converse low-tops with no socks.
Too often, professional women set off in their work week or even their whole career the same way, assuming that they’ll just figure it out on the fly, or mind-over-matter the whole affair, and pretend their nervous systems aren’t going haywire. (If you want to know more about why that happens and how widespread trauma really is, read The Body Keeps the Score.) [Amazon affiliate link.]
To get over my fear of investing good money in things like energy healing and coaching, I had to make a brave decision about MY values: not just justice, frugality and all that jazz, but the arts, creativity, the planet, the absolute rights of women, and most importantly, the normalization, not the pathologization, of being a woman.
And now, I am that wild woman who has figured out how to live outside the constraints, while still walking in the patriarchal world to the extent that I feel like it. The constraints don’t have to apply to you either when you heal your traumas, stop making yourself wrong, and live by your values.
It’s liberating, and you deserve it. I can help.