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Mentally checked out? Think like a tree.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Your body is there. You're present in the room. People are talking
Mentally checked out? Think like a tree.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
Your body is there.
You’re present in the room.
People are talking and telling you what you should be doing.
But your mind is gone. It’s not there.
The words floating through the ether don’t resonate.
In fact, they don’t matter at all.
It just seems pointless.
You’re mentally checked out.
Has this ever happened to you?
Then you definitely need to keep reading to find the roots of your past mental check-outs.
In fact, I have a hunch you may be mentally checked out right now.
In that case, you’re going to find plenty of good food for thought.

Finding the Roots of Being Checked Out
A tree has roots. That’s obvious even though you can’t see them.
But did you know that you have roots, too?
What I mean is that there are tendrils in your life that sprouted a long time ago, and they still have an impact on what you do today.
But first, let’s define what it means to be mentally checked out.
Being Mentally Checked Out
It can mean a lot of things.
It’s not the same for every person. Each person has a unique set of experiences that formed who they are today. The roots are different, but the human experiences are quite similar.
As you grow to become a trunk and branches and leaves, you come to interact with other trees in your life.
Some trees will seem quite similar. They’ll be familiar. Others will seem exotic. They will, at first, seem hard to understand. But remember, we all have a root system–and that’s an opportunity to find common ground. More important than that, it’s an opportunity to return to your own common ground.
Here are the roots to scan through to know if you’re mentally checked out:

  1. Your body / physical feelings
  2. Your emotions
  3. Your body language
  4. Your facial position
  5. Your behavior, with a special emphasis on sudden, drastic changes from your typical behavior
  6. Your words
  7. Your values

Now that we are speaking the same root language, let’s discuss being checked out in broader terms.
As you grow up, you learn to emerge from the Earth of your family and the locations where you first spent your time. Eventually, you move up into the air and sprout new directions and goals that are different from the people who raised you and taught you how to be.
That’s OK.
I go into all this detail to set the stage for what’s to come–the feeling of being mentally checked out.
Review the list above one more time.
Now it’s time to see what being checked out truly means–and what you can do about it.
How to Stop Being Checked Out
Do you ever feel like this tree?
Do you ever feel like this tree?
You’re going about your day. It’s business as usual.
Suddenly, there’s a big change.
In your behavior. In your words. In your emotions. You feel different, and you just don’t care about the world in the way you used to.
It’s almost a feeling of floating above the world, of veering away from the forest that raised you. Like I wrote above, being checked out is a unique experience, but it draws from a common soil from which we all came.
It’s so important to understand this.
When you feel like you are floating and nothing matters at all, it’s natural to look at others and point the blame. But that’s just snapping off branches in fits of rage, whereas what you really need to do is take a deep a dive back to the soil of your upbringing.
When a friend says something to you, and your reaction is to turn away and shut down, you must ask yourself: Why?
When a coworker gives you advice, and you immediately bristle and then go mentally and physically numb, you must ask yourself: Where is this coming from?
Again, it doesn’t feel natural to do this. It’s totally normal to want to look at your target, your fellow tree, and sway and scrape at the air to give yourself some space.
But the wiser choice is to go within, to go back to your roots.
Whether you’re mentally checked out at work or mentally checked out in a relationship, the common root structure always applies:

If someone yells at you, who may have yelled at you in the past?

If someone criticizes your goals in life, where might that feeling you’re currently feeling have originated?

If you want to run from the world and burrow down into the Earth, why might that be so? Were you slow to branch out on your own?

In other words, what are the reasons for your response?
If you got this far, you may not have expected to find the answer to your dilemma hidden in questions.
But that’s always the case, isn’t it?
To figure out if you’re checked out in the first place, you need to ask questions.
And then, to find the answers that apply directly to your one life, you need to ask questions again.
There are stories in the roots. Understanding those stories is where you’ll find your answers and learn to refocus on the world around you.
Because recovering from being checked out requires self-awareness.
Sometimes the pain is so deep–maybe it emerges from past trauma–that you need guided assistance from a therapist or a doctor. That’s completely fine. There’s not ounce of shame in that.
Remember this if you’re struggling: being checked out is no way to live a life. It’s not a complete experience. It’s getting stuck in the clouds and forgetting where you came from.
We’re all from the same Earth. We’re all stuck in the same soil. It’s all too temping to leave Earth and stare off into the sky.
But, eventually, we all need to learn to do the important life work of digging deep.
The answers are in the roots.
The answers are in the roots.
Did you like my tree analogy? Or did you find it corny? I’d love to know. Just reply and share your thoughts. I read every single response I get, and I do my best to get back to every one, even if it takes weeks. Thank you so much for being here and taking time from your day to learn about mental health.

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Jordan Brown - Mental Health Newsletter Writer, Poet, Social Worker, and Advocate

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