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This Place Changed My Mental Health

This Place Changed My Mental Health
I just returned from a place that is very special to me and my wife.
It’s a place that hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years.
But we’ve changed.
And who we brought with us this time has changed.
It’s called Chaco Canyon, it’s located in northwest New Mexico, and it’s one of the most spiritual locations I’ve ever been.
The place was the same, but it was imbued with new meaning.
And today, you’ll learn how you can use your sense of place to change your mental health.

A Place That Changed Me
My wife and I first went to Chaco Canyon seven years ago, in 2014.
We were not yet married, and we were still very much trying to find our place in the world.
We both fell in love with Montana, where we lived at the time, and where we have now moved back to, because of the mountains.
There’s something about a looming mountain that provides us both with a balance and consistency in an otherwise chaotic world.
Chaco Canyon is much the same way, except its impressive vistas contain mesas and buttes, soaring landscapes that create otherworldly experiences.
My wife and I were struggling to find our place in the world in 2014, and Chaco was a sign that something stable was out there.
When we left, we hoped we would return one day.
My Father-in-Law's North Star
My father-in-law first visited Chaco in 1980, the year that it was designated by Congress as a national historical park.
He went with his wife.
Childless, they too were just starting out in the world.
Children would come later, and the second one would one day become my wife.
My father-in-law tells stories about Chaco Canyon, about the impact it had on him.
In fact, we first visited Chaco, a remote place that is incredibly difficult to get to, because of the impact it had on him.
He talks about animals following him, guiding him to various landmarks that the Chacoan people built between 800 and 1200.
He also hoped he would return, and he did in 2016, but under drastically different life circumstances.
His wife had passed away in 2010 after a long battle with breast cancer, a battle that consumed most of my wife’s life.
When my wife and I got married in Montana 2016, being out West again, my father-in-law decided he would make another trip to Chaco Canyon.
He was blown away by what happened to him.
He was astonished by the changes the places helped to solidify in him.
The people who built the magnificent structures over hundreds of years suddenly left in the 1200s.
They probably hoped they would return one day.
But they never did.
Creating Shared Meaning
I went back to Chaco Canyon with my now-wife this past weekend.
What was going to be a week-long workcation anniversary trip to New Mexico for our fifth wedding anniversary became an opportunity to also spend time with my father-in-law.
This would be his third trip to Chaco and our second.
The landscapes were just as majestic, and the multi-story stone structures were just as impressive as the first time I was there seven years ago.
But so much had changed for me.
I got married.
I spent time in the hospital for major depression.
I changed jobs multiple times and decided to fully follow my calling to pursue mental health education as a social worker–and now as an online mental health advocate.
I moved to Viginia to pursue my mental health education but felt called back to the mountains of Montana.
And then I felt drawn back to Chaco Canyon.
In Chaco, the questions I asked myself while looking at improbably defiant multi-story structures emerging from ancient earth, they too had changed.
But for me, in a special place, it all came back to meaning.
What did this location mean for the people who braved 100+ degree heat during the summer and below-zero conditions during the winter?
Why toil over something so difficult in such a foreboding place?
The answers I received always came back to place.
My father-in-law told more stories that hinted at the same thing.
A raven that followed him that felt like his deceased wife guiding him through the canyon.
A rabbit that hopped along his side during a hike that only left him when he had arrived at one of the most sacred locations of Chaco Canyon, a huge, circular enclosure in the earth called a kiva.
It all seemed to mean something, but we couldn’t be entirely sure.
And I think that’s at the heart of it.
The locations we go to in life change us, and they change us as we change ourselves.
Chaco Canyon looks much the same way it did when the Chacoan people lived there a thousand years ago.
There are still buildings.
There are still petroglyphs of red handprints and animals the people put on the canyon walls.
But the people who go there add the final piece of meaning.
This past weekend, the three of us created a new, shared meaning in that spiritual place that means so much to us.
This is My Place-Based Task For You
Go to a place you haven’t visited in a while.
See how it’s different, but more importantly, see how it’s the same.
And then see how you have changed.
The perspective and life experiences you bring to a place change that place for you.
Wherever you go, your mental health will be a combination of your mindset and the historical mindset of the places you’re in.
So much of building strong mental health is about finding meaning, something that is often forgotten in our fast-paced world.
The people of Chaco built something that lasted for four hundred years.
They built it in a place that was of immense importance, and each successive generation added to the structures, imbuing the place with their own, changed meanings.
How can you do the same in your life?
I encourage you to choose any place that is important to you–and make a commitment to go there again.
Bring what you have right now, reflect while you’re there, and then leave with a new understanding of the world.
Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon
Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon
I hope you enjoyed this story. I hope it inspired you to create new meaning in your life. Meaning is at the center of mental health, at least for me.
By the way, after looking at open rates and doing my own research, I’m experimenting with sending out the two weekly issues on Tuesday and Thursday instead of Monday and Wednesday. Reply and let me know if you have a preference.
I hope you’re doing well,
Did you enjoy this issue?
Jordan Brown - Mental Health Newsletter Writer, Poet, Social Worker, and Advocate

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