I didn’t realize I had a mental health bodyguard until I read an essay in Anne Lamott’s latest book, Dusk Night Dawn. In it she shares a story about a friend who told her that when he first meets anyone new, they meet his bodyguard. They meet the version of him that’s less in the moment because his mind is focused on something more than jokes — it’s using all available energy to scope out the perimeter and decide a space is safe enough to exist in.
Reading this essay gave me a way to label what I have been doing for years on my hardest mental health days. Turns out, I have a bodyguard of my own. It’s my same height and when I look in the mirror, it has my same face, but on the hardest of days, we have different centers. I’m unsettled and anxious and feeling the weight of the bad talk in my head, but my bodyguard she’s standing up tall and ready to lead the way.
Her purpose isn’t always external, even if there are some instances where she’ll help me navigate social anxiety. Her purpose is to help protect me from the internal battle I wage against myself on the hardest mental health days. She protects me from the bad voice in my head and serves the purpose of reminding me that I am not all the things the bad voice says.
She also lets me feel things. She reminds me that I can feel all the feelings and survive them, which if you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, you know that this can be the biggest mountain to climb.
At first, having this bodyguard felt like a complicated failure. Conversations around self-care lead us to believe that the only way to “win” against the bad voices in our heads is to find a way to be the exact opposite of that person. If they say that I’m lazy or need to be perfect then my existence needs to bear witness to my humanity and productivity.
While some people may be able to get there without the help of a bridge, that’s not my story. My bodyguard is my bridge person. She is responsible for helping the most vulnerable version of myself feel like the next step is a safe one to take and the right one for me, even if it doesn’t check all the self-care boxes.
It’s also true that whether in therapy or articles around mental health, we’re encouraged to give the “bad voices” in our heads their own distinct voice, so that it’s easier to distinguish truth from anxiety. I use this tactic often, but I’ve also found it helpful to layer on this separate voice. It’s a coach I can tap into no matter the time of day. She encourages me to keep going even when getting out of bed seems like the hardest task on my to-do list.
A big part of my time in therapy is focused on unpacking the shame around where I am versus where I wish I was. Since having this “bodyguard” around, that tension feels less present. I’m able to allow myself the room to slowly rebuild because I have someone in my corner that isn’t dependent on another human picking up the phone right away. Granted, my bodyguard isn’t a replacement of the support I get from my therapist, my boyfriend, or my core group of friends, but it reminds me that I’m capable of finding my own too.
It’s a joy to have someone in my head who is also rooting for me. I cultivate the bodyguard’s voice every time I fill my morning pages with positive affirmations. It grows stronger every time I listen to it instead of my anxiety. I let it have room to breathe when it isn’t constantly drowned out by all the bad things I think about myself.
It may seem strange, but when you are navigating grief or your mental health you come up with your own dictionary for what you’re experiencing and how you’re coping. Often the last thing I want on hard days is to have to explain to someone else what is going on, especially before I feel ready to. The bodyguard in my head means I don’t have to rush to do anything I’m not ready for — I already have a friend in my head.
Having a welcomed guest in a space that’s often taken up by bad voices that require warrants just to leave is more than enough reason to keep the bodyguard around.