‘The purpose of life is not to be happy, but to matter…’ (Leo Rosten)
This is not a recruitment campaign for animal rescuers; this is a recruitment for purpose.
I listened with sadness to the latest report which found that there is a concerning rise in young people self-harming. I listened to the findings and recommendations: less social media (absolutely!) along with an increase in mental health services. But there is always this glaring vacancy when it comes to these types of discussions: what do you put in place that can be done with near immediacy which also serves as a practical solution when social media time and other ‘harm time’ is reduced – what fits the criteria for this vacancy? Perhaps Purpose.
Purpose is like ‘music’ that keeps your feet moving and your mind engaged enough (most of the time) to tug at it in a way that retrieves it from that cave of darkness (it likes to retreat to) where only ‘I’ exists and where life suddenly gets bleak again: ‘I am not as good as….’ ‘I will never be….’ ‘I hate my life….’ And yes, they might all feel like truths and possibly are, but with purpose comes the subtext ‘I hate my life (at the moment) but I am needed, I may not be good at …. but I’m good at this!’ ‘I love helping, because it makes me feel needed!’ and perhaps ‘I’m not alone when I have a purpose!’
I’m not minimising the treatments needed to intervene in the complexities of mental illness. But we need to intervene in the generic ‘help narrative’ and start thinking more outside of the box. Sometimes there are some mindsets that need a gentle jolt, a poke, a ‘look at this!’, look at this way of being in the world. Purpose has this way of keeping the ‘me on the road’ whilst psychological maturity develops and emotional muscle is built to cope with life’s valleys and challenges – whether accepting nobody is perfect, building self-esteem, or building resilience. Of course this has to go hand in hand with what is prescribed by the medical model.
Now, I possibly will get DMs asking me ‘what do I know about this?’ Well, I was once a teenager who struggled with staying in this world due to many factors including horrific and lengthy bullying in secondary school. I was referred to services that simply did not work for me. I became a young adult who looked in all the wrong places for help and distraction. I was an older adult who sought all that was bright, sparkling and meaningless – both personally and professionally. Everything that was not good for the type of person I was. And then it happened: purpose found me. And everything changed: better relationships, more like-minded people in my life also passionate about purpose, and no changing outfits above 20 times a day! Purpose should always be part of our lives; I would say an essential one. Now more than ever.
I am a CBT guidance counsellor, ASSIST trained and I am a facilitator for The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teenagers. I have worked years both in secondary schools, privately, and with the HSE. I have listened to the voices of many teenagers, and sat with some who just did not want to live. So, I understand and deeply empathise with those whose only outlet to relieve their emotional pain is to harm themselves or often harm others. Understanding that is only one part of the ‘helping jigsaw’.
We all can access ‘nets’ to catch us when we fall, and there is one or many for all of us. A net called purpose is a ‘one size fits all’ that will always be there for us, always will need us, and is ageless. Never be alone, when there is a purpose to live by, to be, and to work for.