I am a country girl at heart. I crave the wide open spaces, the sagebrush, the endless views, the mountains rising up in the distance. I think about being on my horse- her hooves beating in the dust- solitude- quiet- and feeling like time stands still.
I have spent much of my schooling and career seeking these rural and rugged places out. Wyoming, Montana, Eastern Washington, the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley, and will soon be embarking to the mountain town of Sisters, Oregon.
My attraction to these places is also rooted in the mentality- the toughness, the grit, the independence, the “I don’t give a damn” attitude, think Brad Pitt in “Legends of the Fall”…(I think of him often- don’t worry my husband is completely aware of this).
Undoubtedly however, contradictory to the strength that abounds in our rural areas, suicide, depression, and substance abuse also abound throughout these places. Physical isolation, a lack of resources, poverty, and limited opportunity are all likely contributors, but so too is the same mentality that I both admire and am challenged by.
But you know as they say- when life gets tough, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”. Or perhaps you tell yourself something similar…”get over it”, “move on”, “put on a brave face”, “just smile”…As entitled, sometimes we just don’t have bootstraps, or as Martin Luther King eloquently explained it, sometimes someone or something is stepping on our boot:
Certainly the things we tell ourselves have their merits and there are times when “toughening it out” can build character and resilience, but trying to simply push on without support can lead to feeling desperate and alone. Depression, anxiety, fatigue, and other mental health concerns are all mediated by physiological factors, but are also often informed by our psychosocial and cultural circumstances.
The cowboy culture of “git R done” and finding your bootstraps is not exclusive to the rural parts of our country and is certainly not exclusive to only COWBOYS, ladies. Women have been expected to serve others with relentless stamina and with a smile for eons. The current façade of social media (I am guilty as charged) is not doing us many favors either.
How often do we convince ourselves to push aside our burdens out of fear that we not be a burden for someone else? We convince ourselves that we will be perceived as weak, vulnerable, unhinged, “crazy”. We bury our worries and our fears and often fail to recognize how this negative energy can manifest physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
The stigma that surrounds mental health has improved, but is still very much alive. Some cultural beliefs and/or religious beliefs continue to downplay or dismiss the importance of addressing emotional wellness. Seeking professional help is still something many of us feel we have to hide.
While I love my boots- how they make me feel- and when I feel like I have bootstraps, it has been the times that I have been figuratively barefoot that I have found my true strength- many times with others by my side. Sometimes you just need to ask for a pair of boots!
The struggle is real folks…but it can also lead to transformation. Let’s do our best not to hide from it and let’s intentionally check in with one another. Let’s try to avoid shaming others and ourselves. We all have our dark places, our skeletons in our closet, our demons, what have you…nobody has it all together…nobody has it all figured out…
I will let you borrow my boots if you let me borrow yours once in a while.
May you be well!
Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP-BC, Owner @ She Soars Psychiatry