Editor’s Column: On Mental Health: Internal Integrity & Integration

Pertaining to current focus on mental health, the following:

Growing up in the 1950s on coastal California and forever perceiving myself, to myself, as somehow “different,” especially from what my parents’ assumptions about me were (or as they were communicated to me), the matter of how different I was in my internal life from the projected image of the me I was in charge of transmitting to the outside world was perhaps the most important and ongoing challenge of my early life.

I can’t say that until age 14 or so that I had any cogent words, phrases or self-expressions to describe to myself exactly in what way or how “different” I was. But my preferences in things were not in line with popular norms — I think I knew that much — and while my dad and brothers seemed generally disinterested, I sensed my mom was on my side and was willing to go along with whatever were my silent and hidden contradictions, as was my maternal grandmother  and her amiable husband who seemed content in his role of taking me places from time to time.

Notwithstanding how normal and ordinary our household was, or seemed to be, no matter how lower middle class it was, trying here to be as completely honest as possible and not attempting a sanitized rendition of my life growing up, I confess that, moving into adulthood, I applied a gloss on my earlier days, that until recently when I saw the importance of trying to remove it entirely, had become my official version up to this day.

So, there is reality and there are the oft-rehearsed residues that constitute memories. But why does one versus the other particularly matter? Well, as I get to a particular age, it concerns me that I do not simply sleepwalk through this entire experience I call my life. If I find it is important to me to populate my constellation of memories with edited versions that add up to a narrative that can be called valid, of good report, then I must ask why that is. To whose mind do I defer? In whose mind am I seeking to find solace and a sense of achievement? My own? Someone else’s? Whose exactly? And why? Depending on whose mind we are talking about, the versions of my life may vary considerably. There are some out there whose impressions of me are necessarily at odds, even sharp odds, with others.

No matter what happens, or has happened, true enough, life goes on and in the process it creates ever more impressions among more minds.

Once giving sufficient thought to all this, I am led to believe that I can proceed with some viable assumptions. And yes, this becomes my jumping off point that I already realize is different than what I might have thought before.

My one glaring and most steadfast observation is this: That the most important thing in life is what one might call “integrity.” I use the term in the context of its wider use, “integration.”

There is one person, one life, one story to tell. This is me. There is not one story that one group of family, friends and associates thinks is me, and another for a different group, even if such a group extends into my own inner self. I am not who any among others may think they know me as, nor whom I may think of myself as. There is only one me, and it is my life’s work to try to knit a single, authentic whole out of all its seemingly varied fabrics that seem to represent their differences. Authentic. Integrated. One person, one whole.

That may sound simplistic and stupid, but I think it marks the kernel of the most important truth that one needs to travel through life upon. To really get there, a person needs to be incredibly honest with themselves. It requires a brutal honesty that needn’t be shared with others, but surely is required to be shared openly and candidly and at painstaking lengths with a self.