From switching careers at age 27 to creating the beautiful imagery you see through Caliper’s photos and design, Art Director Meghan O’Connell knows the value of putting in the effort. Here, she shares her journey to prioritizing her mental health, every day.
Was there a time in your life where you came to understand that your overall health depended on your mental health?
I think that I’ve known that for a while now. When I’m feeling depressed or anxious my appetite completely goes away and I have less energy—and I’m more susceptible to illness. Mental health is a huge factor in overall health, for sure—and I think it has a huge role in general performance in life, because you can end up holding yourself back so much with the stories you tell yourself.
I think mental health has a huge role in general performance in life, because you can end up holding yourself back so much with the stories you tell yourself.
And I’ve heard that wisdom before, but I think there’s a big difference between agreeing with the validity of a statement and really absorbing it and living it out in your life. Sometimes it takes something large for stuff like that to sink in.
An extended family member committed suicide recently. The note he left made it so very clear to me that he had been trapped in his own subjective story of his life. As humans, we’re geared to construct narratives. And we’re all going to come into contact with trauma and pain in our lives, to varying degrees. So that’s going to be part of our stories, and I’m not discounting how real that is. But I wonder why we so often choose painful or self-defeating storylines to contain our experiences.
Like last week I was at my martial arts gym, and the instructor came over to help the person I was partnered with. I had seen something else my partner had been doing incorrectly so I added that correction to the instructor’s comments. As soon as the instructor walked away, my brain started saying, “Oh no, I’m not an instructor, so I’m not supposed to coach students, they hate me, I’m awkward, I can never come here again.” And then, for the first time, in real time, I recognized what I was doing. I realized, “Wow, this is the story I’m telling myself? Why?”
For the first time, in real time, I recognized what I was doing. I realized, “Wow, this is the story I’m telling myself? Why?”
Like, “Why am I making up these conspiracy theories about myself?”
Yes. There’s a question I find helpful to ask myself: “Is this problem solving or is this rumination?” What I was doing was rumination and catastrophizing—but problem solving was apologizing to the instructor after class, and having it turn out he didn’t care.
I think it’s hard for perfectionists, or recovering perfectionists like myself, to allow the potential or the admittance of flaws, because you do one thing wrong and then all of you is wrong. So there’s power in realizing that flaws and mistakes are just part of being human.
There’s power in realizing that flaws and mistakes are just part of being human.
How do you prioritize your mental health in your life now?
I prioritize it by giving myself the time I need for reflection when I need it. I used to be afraid of my negative feelings because earlier in life they overwhelmed me, and I could only deal with so much of them directly. I’ve been learning how not to fear them, and to view my anxiety and any other negative feelings as messengers and guides—alerting me to something in my subconscious, something that I’m yearning for, or something that’s bothering me that I haven’t yet attended to. And so I don’t see the negative feelings as the enemy anymore. I see them as a part of being human.
The other thing with feelings is, you don’t have to analyze every one. Sometimes they come from something, and sometimes they’re just there. Sort of like if a raincloud passes by, you don’t try and shoo it away from the sun; you just let it pass by and you don’t identify with it.
You don’t have to analyze every feeling. Sort of like if a raincloud passes by, you don’t try and shoo it away from the sun; you just let it pass by and you don’t identify with it.
Now I give myself the time when I feel those things to process them, either with my therapist or through journaling. Therapy is super important if you have insurance and if you can afford it; it’s amazing. I wish that they taught mental hygiene in school and that everyone had access to therapy.
Do you have any advice on how to help someone who’s struggling?
I would say that even if you don’t understand what they’re going through and haven’t been there yourself, make sure you’re validating them and their experience. I’ve had someone tell me “Don’t think so hard, just stress less,” and that’s like telling an asthmatic person, “just breathe.”
Even though there may be steps they can take to help heal themselves, they still need understanding from you, even if you don’t fully understand their experience. There’s a time to actively help, and a time to just be there. Let people know that you’re there for them and that you love them. I think that connection and those secure attachments are what we all really need.
I’ve had someone tell me “Don’t think so hard, just stress less” and that’s like telling an asthmatic person “Just breathe.”
We all need to feel like we have a reliable community base–and that includes family, found family, friends, coworkers, and shared hobby enthusiasts. Community is a need for humans, even introverted ones.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Therapy is amazing, even if you’re resistant at first and hate your first session. I remember destesting heading to therapy, because I knew being in that room was going to bring up uncomfortable feelings. But I also knew I needed to do that on some level. Just stick with it, everything gets easier with practice.
Just stick with it, everything gets easier with practice…it’s never too late to rewire your brain pathways. It takes work, but you can change how you think about things.
We now know that neuroplasticity is something that’s available throughout our entire lives so it’s never too late to rewire your brain pathways. It takes work, but you can change how you think about things. I’ve only really been successful at that in the past couple of years, and it’s beautifully freeing. So is knowing that we’re never at an endpoint as long as we’re alive. We’re always going to be growing and working on ourselves. There’s always going to be tough times, but it just gets easier and easier as you go along.