O P I N I O N
There’s always that one dish, right? The Thanksgiving table brims with delightful serving dishes of our traditional favorites, or a playful variant of a classic. Sometimes one dish sits out of rotation, untouched. I remember a side of brussels sprouts one year. It typically couldn’t compete for the precious real estate on my plate. But, loving the person who labored over it, I made room for the prejudiced vegetable amongst my traditional favorites. It was amazing. Toothy morsels of bacon and roasted walnuts gave texture to the melt-in-your-mouth sprout halves, braised in flavorful stock. It became a new annual favorite. Prejudices gone.
Here’s a unique recipe for your next gathering – pass around a share of mental wellbeing. It’s not exactly the turkey/centerpiece topic of the table (vaccinations perhaps?) There is still room for the expected topics – the newest achievement of the family all-star, or the great unifier of sports. But encourage everyone to try a small serving of something new.
“Let’s all go around and share an emotional challenge encountered this year, and how we manage that…” and begin with a short, vulnerable share. You may find a GenZ family member eager to be heard, often free from the stigma of such a topic. TikTok and other media is beautifully normalizing being open about our mental wellbeing. Our Boomers and GenXers may shift a little uncomfortably. They silently process whether discussing such daily challenges feel close to admission of mental health issues such as depression. They may initially perceive the subject as negative from their perspective, while others see it as a positive topic. It’s quite a rich side dish and may be an acquired taste to some.
Is there anything more unifying than sharing our humanity? Many topics divide us today. It’s vital to be intentional about our common denominators. Uncle Ron will inevitably make his opinion known of the latest national headline verdict. It’s easier to respond in love after feeling his emotional share of losing his dog this summer. When cousin Ashley announces a change in their preferred pronouns, everyone feels more connected to their identity journey thanks to the heartfelt talk around the table. The flavor of human connection is universally enjoyed.
This newfound side dish of sharing mental health may bring some back for seconds. Deeper discussion can touch how we managed challenges and traumas this year. In a safe place of sharing, vital talk is had about available medications for anxiety. Those hiding marijuana use may feel free to discuss how they’ve utilized it for coping. Together recognize that this coping use might not look like the taboo drugs and alcohol, but can look like obsessions with fitness, food, relationships, or shopping. What starts as coping can become an addiction. But the opposite of addiction is connection. And this new taste of connection for Ashley or Uncle Ron may be their path away from further isolation.
Your annual gathering may look like the iconic Normal Rockwell around your North End dinner table, or a Friendsgiving around a Shopper’s Pub booth (with their sumptuous brussels sprouts!). It may look like sharing a turkey sandwich with your coworker on break. Take a moment to be intentionally vulnerable. Be purposeful about removing mental health stigma. It’s delicious and tastes best when shared. And it may surprise you by becoming a new favorite tradition.