I'm picturing my eldest son's kindergarten classroom. He's 23 now, contentedly pursuing a pure math degree at Simon Fraser University and working for a local startup doing backend stuff.
When he was 4, though, I took him to the local kindergarten. All the boys sensed something. They sat huddled together in the back of the room, one clutching his blanket, none looking settled.
Then the music started. A large, fiercely happy sunflower sat on the piano and the teacher began to play. I can't remember the song — what is screaming in my head right now are lyrics that feel, translated, like "BE HAPPY GOD DAMMIT. IT'S TIME TO BE HAPPY. NOW"
By the time he turned 5, a few weeks later, he had not "adjusted" to the classroom. None of the boys had. I got used to arriving at school with him, his younger brother, and the baby brother, all of us trying to behave in the back of the classroom as our eldest tried to square his legitimate feelings with the command to be happy.
Finally, he refused. He refused. I had a lot to learn about advocating for my kids, so there were lots of me attempting to cajole at first. But my gut knew he was correct. And, I mean, it's kindergarten. Not exactly rocket science. So, after 3 weeks of absence and an odd phone conversation with the teacher where she basically told us that no one enjoys their life, get used to it, and I stuttered a reply around, "But he's 5?", we pulled him out of school.
Welcome. The Underbelly project started with me feeling vaguely uncomfortable with a lot of stuff.
I began to write, which is what I do at times like that. I started a newsletter, which I am still writing each Monday morning. It's (IMHO) a great way to start your week on the right foot. I also started a podcast which I needed to pause for a bit but which I am gearing up to start again this week. It's going to become more and more a platform for us to share wild and really precious conversations to break through the silence around mental health challenges.
Time's up for the silence and weird shame around mental health challenges. When people feel like they can't adjust to a disordered community, I think it's time to gently consider whether there are other ways to be.
Hint: There are! Lots of people have done work in this area over the past many decades. The work has been done. We know what to do. I say it's time to do it.
Many people who act out or feel deeply and just. can't. even. are expressing something many of us feel but somehow manage to "deal with" in super destructive but socially acceptable ways.
My opinion is that these canaries, these beautiful creatures, need to be listened to and advocated for so that we can gently change society so that we can all be a bit more settled. A bit more present. A bit healthier.
Welcome. Enjoy the ride.