This week's episode of Global Humanist Shoptalk reflects on our paucity of systemic solutions to mental wellness problems. But how to talk about that podcast without also mentioning Lincoln Andrews' grief-work here?

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The Humanist Light Source Global Humanist Shoptalk

In this Season One closer, we explore the history of the light bulb, and what aligning ingenuity with literal illumination has done for us as a culture (for better, and for worse). When we consider how best to uplift fellow humans today, what lessons can the light bulb and its histories teach us about how not to measure success?
  1. The Humanist Light Source
  2. The Humanist Monument
  3. The Humanist Punk Aesthetic
  4. The Humanist Sneakerhead
  5. The Humanist Fire

When I first recorded episodes for Global Humanist Shoptalk last year, I had no idea what 2022 was going to hold. I did suspect that far-right legislation would continue to pose problems, and that pandemic wouldn’t be over so easily after all. But I certainly wouldn’t have put money on a full-on war in Ukraine (not for another year, at least). I also wasn’t entirely sure what discourse on OnlySky would actually look like, once we’d launched. I wanted the podcast to focus on “thinking slow” about bigger issues, like the wellness industry this week, but how many of my fellow writers would be meditative, too?

This podcast episode shares my personal mental-health history to explore the need for a more holistic view of wellness. But here at OnlySky, Lincoln Andrews has been exploring key mental health issues from a deeply personal point of view as well. And so, rather than dwell upon the subject of my piece, which you can listen to yourself (for nap uses or otherwise!), I’d like to share a bit about the work of this other, excellent writer here at OnlySky, and invite you to reflect on mental wellness with him, too.

Lincoln Andrews, wellness, and you

On September 12, 2021, Lincoln Andrews’ son Josh, one month short of 21, took his life.

In his articles for OnlySky, Andrews has now dedicated himself to creating a vital space for secular conversation around death, grief, mental health, trauma, and recovery.

And there’s a bitter irony to the fact that, perhaps because the world has had much more sensational political news as of late, you might not have noticed his pieces here.

But it would be misguided to assume that one exploration of individual loss couldn’t also offer critical insight into how we move through our abundantly hurting world in general. The truth is quite opposite, in fact. In many of Andrews’ reflections on trauma and recovery, he’s presenting positions and possibilities that are urgently needed for coping with our large-scale traumas, too.

Take, for example, “The dangerous and the commonplace: Despair and sadness after suicide.” In this piece, Andrews writes on the “contagion” of suicidal thinking that can arise after loss. He also offers excellent pragmatic reframing to help stop the cycle.

But the phenomenon he describes is not singular to suicide. We’ve borne witness in these last two years to so many dying needlessly from pandemic, and war, and simple human/corporate greed. So many of us struggle in cruel financial systems, a single setback or missed paycheck from disaster. Domestic abuse also makes hellscapes of far too many homes, and climate change is here, right now.

So why bother? Why keep going when there’s nothing to hope for? That’s the dangerous mentality his work grapples with, head on.

The traumas that we share

And this understandable despair ties into another of his pieces, on the subject of survivor’s guilt. Although Andrews is talking about a specific kind of survivor’s guilt, there’s no escaping its role in many of our lives.

When I had COVID-19 last year, in May? When I didn’t end up hospitalized, intubated, and dead like people that I knew? I absolutely felt survivor’s guilt, and I still feel very much transformed by the experience now. I have very little interest in my old standards for success, but not always for the better. Malaise, at times, sets in. Who am I to have lived, when so many did not? Who am I to have had a fairly mild case of long-COVID, when others are so deeply debilitated for life?

Many of Andrews’ pieces offer pragmatic suggestions to mitigate these terrible feelings. And all of his work also comes with a key disclaimer, to encourage readers to seek other resources, too:

This entire column, not just this entry, contains a content warning. I will be writing about suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress, and other serious topics. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone you trust, establish care with a therapist, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), or go to your nearest emergency room. Please stick around. We need you.

But maybe these feelings don’t directly apply to you? Good! However, if you know others who are struggling, Andrews has you covered, too. In “How to help the grieving,” he navigates a range of advice for providing meaningful support to others in need.

Wellness topics for a world at war

Andrews’ work at OnlySky also explores atheism and religious belief in relation to questions of mental wellness and trauma. Those articles include an acknowledgment of how trauma distorts clear thinking, and coping with people trying to “silver linings” loss in keeping with the divine plan.

And those topics might be of note to you! But it’s especially Andrews’ work on mental wellness that I value as we bear witness to our hurting world together. As I note in this week’s episode of Global Humanist Podcast, there’s nothing wrong with seeking individual healing. The problem lies with a system that encourages us to think that individual treatment is enough.

Whether or not you too have lost someone beloved, we are all bearing witness to global trauma. And there is oh so much helplessness and despair on offer in the process.

Andrews would rather have his son back than be in a position to write so excellently about such urgent topics. I would rather that he had his son back, too. I can only say that I’m deeply thankful for his strength, courage, and vulnerability in this trauma’s wake. He is truly making a humanist site of urgent action out of so unnecessary a human loss. I hope you’ll consider following along.

Either way: May you all take such good care of yourselves, today and every day.

And may we all be in a position to seek a better world where we can.

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GLOBAL HUMANIST SHOPTALK M L Clark is a Canadian writer by birth, now based in Medellín, Colombia, who publishes speculative fiction and humanist essays with a focus on imagining a more just world.