Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
One of my favorite movies is 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The movie was released in the early 2000’s and had a cast of actors and actresses that were well known for making funny movies at that time. I’ve seen the movie several times over the years, but more recently, the movie has transitioned from being just a silly fictional movie, to being more of a depiction of the struggle that many of us presently have with our mental health. Basically, the movie is about a man who falls in love with a woman with a condition that causes her to forget everything daily. His romantic love interest literally did not remember what happened the previous day as each new day began. While this fresh reset might be welcomed for some people in their relationships, the challenge for the man in the movie was that he fell in love with the woman and wanted to marry her, so each day he had to work to get her to fall in love with him. The movie chronicles his many efforts and the associated emotions he experienced daily while attempting to win her over. His daily efforts to achieve an outcome that he had limited control over is something that many of us can relate to, all joking aside. As comedic and tragic as the storyline for this movie is, there are many mental health concepts at work in the film. The producers and directors may not have thought of “generational curses”, the long-lasting effects of trauma, and the toll of emotional distress when creating this movie, but I see that and so much more in it now.
An advantage we have over Drew Barrymore, whose mental condition and environment led her to relive the same trauma-induced events daily, is that we can learn from our previous encounters and use that information to help improve our present situations. Lessons learned can also help us achieve our desired quality of life but shape our environments as well. We do, in fact, have the ability to understand our encounters, process situations to understand what things could or could not have been controlled, and rationally determine what to do, or not do, in future situations. In the movie, Drew Barrymore was powerless to make any significant modifications to her thoughts and actions in response to her situation. Similar to the limitations we observe in her character, we sometimes repeat the same cycles of behavior and act as if we are unable to adjust. We, on the other hand, blame our situations, environmental conditions, and other external factors as the reason why our lives are stuck on repeat. We also sometimes choose to ignore the core issues that adversely affect our mental health, or we’re ignorant to the impact that unaddressed traumatic experiences have on our present thoughts and actions. Essentially, we allow fear, worry, and anxiety tied to unresolved trauma, and the potential for us to experience those same feelings and emotions in the future to trap us and keep us in a holding pattern of negative thinking and behavior.
Fortunately for us, our fate does not have to be the same as Drew Barrymore’s character. We have the luxury of doing better once we learn better, which is where mental health counseling comes in. We can be more like Adam Sandler’s character and understand the benefits of addressing the issues we’ve previously experienced and learn to use our wise minds, that is our logic coupled with our emotional intelligence, to prepare ourselves to deal with and manage those challenges that may arise in our lives. Adam Sandler allowed hope and intentional efforts to be his focus and thus received contentment in the daily process, as difficult as it was. Despite not being able to control the way Drew Barrymore responded to his efforts, he did seize control of what was in his power to control, and was ultimately able to influence more favorable outcomes for himself and the woman he loved. We, too, can have peace with both the process and the outcomes when we choose to not allow situations and conditions to dictate our responses, and instead seek the peace that accompanies our choice to continuously address what we can and seek help with what we can’t. As unscripted as our lives are, it is within our power to break negative cycles and find satisfaction each and every day.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC
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