The Mental Health Side to The Simple Life

Guest Post by Tara Munjekovich

Every week when I tune in to Gary’s podcast, the first words I hear are “Optimal health, financial freedom, finding your purpose… It’s called The Simple Life.” These are words I have come to truly believe in, and I strive to live by the concept of this “three-legged stool” on a daily basis. However, lately, I’ve really been struggling with the “optimal health” part of this equation. Let’s be real here – my use of the word “lately” really means the past couple of years. Although I have my workouts on lockdown, I know how to eat clean (not that I always do, but I’m making progress…), and I take the necessary daily steps to stay healthy from a physical perspective, I’m definitely dealing with some difficulties in other areas of health.

I believe “optimal health” can be broken down into its own version of a three-legged stool. From my perspective, those three components are a balance of physical, mental, and some sort of spiritual health. The focus of this article will be on mental health, although I do want to mention that I think all three components are intertwined and interdependent. When I don’t exercise on a consistent basis, it has a significant impact on my overall well-being and my mental state. I become easily irritated, my energy levels drop, and my eating behavior becomes a train wreck. So, for me, working out is a non-negotiable part of my life.

In terms of spirituality, although I grew up in a religious Christian household and participated in church activities as a child, I spent most of my adult life identifying as an agnostic and believing that spirituality in any form had no importance for me. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I even entertained the idea of welcoming evidence of any kind of higher power back into my life. Although I don’t follow any particular organized religion, I have come to believe that having some level of spirituality and faith (in God, the Universe, the Creator, Spirit… whatever you want to call it), has contributed greatly to bettering my mental health. Not to sound all “woo-woo,” but developing an interest in spirituality has led me down a path of focusing on daily gratitude. Being more in tune with, and appreciative of, all the positive things in my life has ultimately contributed to me being able to recognize when I’m starting to spiral down a negative path mentally and take effective steps to correct my course of action.

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of self-reliance, confidence, and resiliency as key elements in my simple life journey. All of these qualities require a strong foundation of mental health. Before I go any further, let me preface the rest of this article by stating I am clearly not a doctor, and when I use the words “mental health,” I am not referring to having any expertise in mental health disorders or clinically diagnosed mental illnesses. I recently read that the term “mental illness” is not “inclusive” language. The article suggested that more appropriate terms to use include calling someone a “mental health consumer,” “user of mental health services,” “person with a mental health history,” or a “psychiatric survivor” (What???). Call it what you want, but I will just be using the words “mental health” because I refuse to pander to cancel culture and adopt ridiculous terms of purported inclusivity. This article is about my personal journey in how I’ve learned (and am still learning) to effectively deal with daily stress, manage my own thoughts and emotions, take personal accountability for my actions and behavior, and work towards achieving my goals in a world filled with increasingly absurd new terminology, negativity, fearmongering, and some really heavy shit.

When I was a teenager, I went through a rebellion period like many kids do, and I acted out by spending most of high school in various stages of punk and gothic culture. I don’t think I owned any clothes that weren’t black, you couldn’t see my actual face under heavy layers of dark eye make-up, and I lived in my bomber jacket and Doc Marten boots. I had shady friends and frequently went to clubs and parties in Hollywood without my parents knowing about it. I also snuck out of the house at least once or twice a week on average to run around the streets in my neighborhood and do dumb shit like meet my friends for late-night French fries at a local diner at 2:00 a.m. and run from the cops. My very conservative parents were obviously quite concerned about my appearance and the people I was hanging out with, but I was a straight A student and never got into any significant trouble, so despite threats of being sent to an East Coast boarding school, the compromise was family counseling.

Although I went into the first counseling session with a sullen expression on my face, my arms crossed defiantly across my chest, and a belief that the whole thing was stupid, I can say with all honesty that starting therapy in my teens was great for me. After the therapist convinced my parents that I wasn’t going off the rails, I started having one-on-one sessions with her. As time went on, I learned how to sort through personal issues and communicate more effectively. It got to the point where I actually looked forward to these weekly sessions, and I was disappointed when they were deemed no longer necessary.

I know I was fortunate that my first experience with a psychologist was a positive one because a lot of people come away from therapy feeling like they got absolutely nothing out of it. Some people also believe that therapy is only for the mentally “weak” or that it’s something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Fuck that. If you find the right person to talk to, it can be a life changing experience. Years later, as an adult, I found an incredible therapist who helped me navigate some significant career stresses and work through a failed marriage. Sometimes I only had to talk with him for a session or two to wrap my head around whatever I was dealing with, and sometimes several years would go by before I would even call him. However, for over 20 years, I’ve had a professional in my life I’ve been able to rely on when I need to work through an issue or problem, and that has been a huge part of my journey in achieving optimal mental health.

I also credit much of my mental health stability to my law enforcement career. I laugh out loud as I write this, because, in truth, that statement is a double-edged sword and almost wildly hypocritical. Being a cop was one of my greatest sources of stress and a significant contributor to the decline in my mental health that eventually resulted in me making a career change. So, let me explain what I mean here. As a police officer, I spent almost 15 years seeing the worst of humanity on a daily basis. Tragic accidents, gang violence, drug abuse, homelessness, untreated mental illness, sexually abused children, domestic violence, and horrific homicide scenes were often just part of a “normal” day. Anyone who doesn’t think this takes a toll on someone’s mental health over the years is clearly naïve (and probably a Biden supporter). Yet, my law enforcement career also taught me the importance of mental toughness and mindset.  

As I mentioned earlier, I am a firm believer in taking personal accountability for my own actions and behaviors, and I attribute much of this to years of developing and practicing mental toughness as a police officer. The term “mental toughness” is often used in the context of sports and competition, as well as military and paramilitary jobs, because it centers on the idea of psychological resiliency for optimal performance. There are countless books written on this topic, most of which include catchy phrases like “embrace the suck,” “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” “whatever it takes,” “no days off,” etc. Although often cliché, these phrases are pretty damn accurate when it comes to developing a mindset centered on positive mental health. And if they motivate you to get off your ass and exercise, then that’s a benefit too.

At the height of the “pandemic” in 2020, I was at my personal lowest from a mental health standpoint. In addition to dealing with the constant stress of daily anti-cop sentiment, weekly protests, and wondering if my grocery store was ever going to have toilet paper in stock again, I was struggling to make sense of the completely contradictory and ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions and mask mandate protocols that were being put in place by the Dictator of Washington State. I also wasn’t doing myself any favors by watching sensationalized news stories and disturbing weekly press conferences, having watercooler conversations with my coworkers about the latest threats of riots, and scrolling political posts on Instagram. Although there were some damn funny memes, overall, everything I saw or talked about was significantly contributing to my stress, anxiety, frustration, worry, and anger. In short, it was severely fucking up my mental health.

I’ve already written about this part of my simple life journey in a previous article, so I won’t go into detail again here, but I ended up leaving my law enforcement career to pursue a better quality of life. This decision was bittersweet because I still identify as a cop, and I often struggle with that not being my reality anymore. Choosing to give up my career and move to Texas was truly the best thing I’ve ever done for myself in terms of pursuing optimal health, but that’s not to say my life right now is a worry-free fairytale because that would be a lie. Yes, my life is definitely more “simple,” and I am much happier and in a better place mentally, so I have no regrets with making this decision. However, I’m dealing with the same challenges almost every other American is facing right now, living on a fixed income in the midst of epic inflation and a looming recession with insane gas and food prices, while watching my country being purposefully destroyed by a senile geriatric fucktard and his communist puppet masters.

I’ve always been an overthinker, and if I don’t keep myself in check and focus on my mental health, my mind tends to go down a rabbit hole of worries and fears, sometimes spiraling into dark and dismal places. Like a true Libra, I often fluctuate between extremes, striving to find a healthy middle ground with my thoughts. I can go from positive to negative in 2.0 seconds, teetering back and forth between trying to stay “Zen” with my gratitude practice and stressing out over the impending doom that seems to be the future of the New World Order. One minute I’m trying to figure out how to establish a side business to make more money in the hopes of setting myself up for the future and achieving true financial freedom. A few minutes later, my mind goes to “Fuck it, there’s no point in planning for a future under a communist regime where you won’t get to own anything in a couple years anyway.” This is legitimately how my brain works, and these are the thoughts that keep me up tossing and turning at night.

So, for me, maintaining balanced mental health is something that requires daily effort. I wake up early every morning to exercise. I try to eat healthy despite my deep love of junk food. I go on walks in my rural neighborhood to enjoy being in nature. I make time every day to spend at least 10 minutes focusing on gratitude. I read books that challenge me to grow and be the best version of myself. I listen to podcasts with positive messages and practical advice. I focus on projects and hobbies that inspire me and give me joy. And perhaps most importantly, I try to spend as little time as possible on social media and watching mainstream news. This isn’t always practical or possible because I also want to be informed about what’s going on in the world, but I try to focus on legitimate news sources (if those even exist…?). I haven’t had cable tv service for the past 5 years, so it’s fairly easy for me to avoid the heightened fear culture and false narratives being pushed by mainstream media sources when I’m at home. However, my boss typically has Fox News blaring on the big screen at work, and I find myself constantly having to walk away and shut my office door when I’m starting to get anxious or angry. Like I said, it’s a constant mental battle for me to stay balanced.

Maintaining optimal health when things out of your control are spinning into increasing chaos and decline isn’t easy. In fact, it can be really fucking difficult. There is no magic fix. It basically comes down to the fact that that only thing you can control is yourself – your thoughts, your actions, your behaviors, and your responses to things that happen in your life. Sometimes it’s easy to take the wheel and steer yourself in the right direction, and sometimes you might need a designated driver to help you get there. If you’re struggling to keep your mental health train on the tracks, don’t let it completely derail by giving up and succumbing to a life of mediocrity and despair while you sit on your couch watching Netflix and endlessly scrolling social media as you stuff pizza rolls into your mouth.

In order to achieve optimal health in all areas of your life, you need to be able to work through your shit and truly let it go. Fuck the victim mentality. Fuck the excuses. Take control of your own life and be intentional with making optimal health a priority. Get rid of the shit that’s bringing you down. Seek help from friends, family, or a professional. If you uproot your entire life like I did, and you end up starting over in a place where you don’t have family or a support system nearby, be proactive in doing things in alignment with your health goals. Read books and listen to positive podcasts that give you practical advice you can legitimately apply to your life. Find a mentor. Join a gym or start going on daily walks. Take up a hobby that you love or join a local / online group with people who share the same values and beliefs that you do. Yes, the struggle is real when it comes to putting in the effort to work on yourself, but without optimal health, the simple life you seek will continue to elude you, and your three-legged stool will just be a wobbly, unsupportive piece of crap.

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