Part I: Dr. Andrew Elliott of St. Jude Children's Hospital
Words by Erwin Davis II
From what we know about the discussion around mental health, the growing population seems to be increasingly aware of our collective psychological well-being. Over the last half-decade, we’ve seen celebrities, politicians, athletes, and companies drive the conversation forward about how to keep our minds healthy in the world we all inhabit.
This got me thinking, “What does it mean to have an ‘okay’ mental state?” As someone in their late 20’s, I’m in a not-so-unique group of people trying to find themselves in a world that seems to have lost itself. Seeking a euphoric state of universal pleasantry would be me asking my brain to pull the plug before we even got started.
But, a state of ‘okay-ness;’ now, that sounds reasonable, sustainable, and logical. So..how do we get there?
In seeking this insight, I decided to reach out to some individuals much, much, MUCH smarter than me, and see if I could find the steps, strategies, and science behind truly being ‘okay.’
My first stop was with Dr. Andrew Elliott: Director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. Here, I wanted to know where to find a starting point for my “quest for a quiet brain.” Dr. Elliott assists patients on a daily basis in managing their feelings, emotions, and thoughts during stressful circumstances. Incredibly enough, he was once a patient at St. Jude when he was 14!
I asked him where to start in finding a mental compass in a life without direction. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing what we don’t have control over, and making an intentional habit of owning what we do.
“When we feel trapped, stuck, or forced, we lose our sense of control. Our bodies and brains don’t like that."
"It’s important to find those things that you can control and act on those! Even choosing someone else to help and make decisions for you is a kind of choice. Lots of times, our kids at St. Jude can’t control how they feel after chemotherapy or that they have to spend so much time away from home. They can have choices though—whether they talk to their doctors, call their friends back home, or what they’re going to eat for lunch or dinner. Sometimes, just that little bit of choice goes a long way in helping them.”
Dr. Elliott continues on this pathway of thought by expressing the importance of feeling, “just okay.” He goes on, “I think the title of your article, “The Science of Being Okay” puts the emphasis in the right place. Just getting to ‘okay’ is enough sometimes. No one is happy all the time—and even in the saddest situations, it’s okay for there to be some happiness, humor, and love too.”
The work being done at St. Jude is amazing, and I can see why with insightful minds like Dr. Elliott working daily to implement these methods into their patients lives. Before we concluded our conversation, Dr. Elliott mentioned a word that we’ve all heard before: mindfulness.
“Finding a moment to just be is important for everyone,” says Elliott. “We often call that mindfulness, but that sometimes makes people feel like they have to do something specific. You don’t; you just have to drop the stresses of your day and just BE exactly where you’re at.”
I sat and pondered on those words for a bit before it hit me on where to find my next step in my search for ‘okay.’ I needed to learn more about what it means to be in the moment and just be. I needed someone who could help me learn to relax, breathe, and just chill.
What better place to learn than on the sunny pacific beaches of Los Angeles, California to meet psychological professor, Dr. Avi Adhikari.