I know, I know, I didn’t write a post last week. I was out of town at a time when I usually write these posts so I decided to take a week of from the blog and get back to it this week. But wouldn’t you know it, there was more than one thing that happened this past week and a half that I need to share with you, even though that wasn’t my intent – funny how that works, eh?
Two weeks ago, I went on an Out of the Darkness Community Walk, put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was an incredible experience and meant a lot that I was able to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention, a topic I am very passionate about. Before the walk, some words were shared by the people hosting the event and people who had lost others to suicide, and someone said one thing in particular that stuck with me. Two words. Hold on. I’ve heard those words many times before, but this time they hit me harder than ever before. Hold on, she said, for the future. For the life you’re going to live, the relationships you’ll make and the person you’ll become. I’ve always been told to hold on, but I’ve never been told why.
Then I attended a wedding last weekend. It was a wedding between two friends that are near and dear to my heart, and I was fortunate enough to be a member of the bridal party as a groomsmen. I won’t go on and on about how amazing the weekend was (even though it was!), but instead I’ll tell you what happened because of it. It gave me hope. Hope about what? A lot of things. But it wasn’t important what those things were as much as it was that hope existed in the first place. Because I lose hope fairly frequently. Hope that I’ll ever lead a normal life. Hope that mental illness will not define me. Hope that I can be happy with the life I lead.
But this wedding, it gave me hope – in so many ways more than the obvious. And it gave me an answer to the question, why? Why hold on? Hope. Hold on for all that I hope for. I want to hold on to the hope that my health, and consequently my life, will get better. I want to hold on to the hope that my life won’t always be this way, both in and outside of my head. There’s so much hope I want to hold on to that I don’t know what to do with all of it.
So I’ll hold onto some hope for you, too. Whatever it’s for, whoever it’s for, I’ll hold onto it. Because people have been holding onto hope for me my entire life, and it’s time I return the favor.
A few months ago, I went on vacation. Or at least, I thought I did. I wasn’t at work, I didn’t have a set schedule, and I was sleeping in (well, as much as I could). But did I feel on vacation? From what I understand about vacations, it didn’t really line up.
On vacations, you’re not supposed to be stressed out. You’re not supposed to be worried about things, back home or otherwise. Vacation is a break from all of that.
But I was stressed, anxious and yes – depressed. Though I still had an incredible time on my vacation and enjoyed myself immensely, I didn’t have a break from one thing that I had really hoped I could take a break from – my mind.
Imagine being trapped somewhere you don’t like. No, I won’t paint this imaginary place as the worst place on Earth. But let’s say you don’t like it very much and would rather be elsewhere. Now it’s easy enough to get up and leave – in fact, that would be my first piece of advice to you. But what do you do if you can’t?
If you have a mental illness, you’re all too familiar with this imaginary place. It means different things for different people but for me, it’s my head. There are days – plenty of days – where I wish I could take a vacation from the thoughts in my head. The song “Migraine” by Twenty One Pilots is something I think of often when I can’t take that vacation: am I the only one I know, waging my wars behind my face and above my throat (I really like Twenty One Pilots. I’ll have to write about them one day!).
How do I combat it? I choose to stay busy. Whether it’s working on this blog or doing some other type of work, writing keeps me very busy and my mind very active. So I do that a lot (arguably too much, but that’s another story). When I’m not busy is when things can become frustrating and often, quite sad. I mean actual sad, not pathetic sad. I long to one day take a vacation from the negative self-talk, and constant anxiety, but I also know that I am fortunate in that I know how to fight against this – though it took years to learn.
If you’re like me and can’t really take a vacation from the thoughts in your head, don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone. If you can do that, let me know what it’s like, because I’m curious about the experience!
I know I usually post on Thursdays, but I thought I’d mix it up a little this week since today is World Mental Health Day, and what kind of mental health blogger would I be if I didn’t write about that? In addition to World Mental Health Day, this week is also Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is put on by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. These days are not only important for those struggling with their mental health but their loved ones as well.
It’s okay not to be okay. #SameHere. Cure Stigma. There are so many mental health movements going on around the country, but they all have a similar goal: reduce the stigma around mental health and make sure people know that they aren’t alone. This might seem like a difficult task, but it is possible.
However, this can’t be done overnight (if only it were that simple!). This is a battle that we have to fight every single day if we want to continue the living the lives we’ve created for ourselves. I talk about mental health and promote mental wellness on this blog not because I think it’s a fun thing to do every now and then, but because it’s a necessity for me to live a healthy life. If I don’t focus on mental health every day, my life as I know it will change.
The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’ and it could not be more relevant in today’s world. According to the World Health Organization, half of mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. They also say that ‘prevention begins with better understanding’ which I totally agree with. That means talking to young people, sometimes children, about how they’re feeling and trying to understand what it is. Sometimes it’ll be nothing. Other times it will be something that could turn their mental health around! You won’t know unless you ask those questions.
But they’re just kids, critics will say. They’re always in a ‘mood’ or are going through something. Are they? Yes, every person goes through ups and down – that’s life. But take it from someone who knows. It’s not normal to dislike yourself. It’s not normal to have constant crying spells. It’s not normal to not feel like yourself most of the time.
Like I’ve said plenty of times on this blog, mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter your gender, your race, your religion, – or even your age – mental illness can happen to anyone. Promoting healthy minds can lead to healthy lives, and it starts as early as you want it to start. So this World Mental Health Day, maybe check in with a young person and see how they’re doing. See where they’re at with their mental health. It can’t hurt, right?
This week we’re talking with a mental health PRO! Dr. Laura F. Dabny, M.D. is a psychiatrist who has run her own psychotherapy practice in Virginia Beach for nearly 20 years. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about mental health and its place in today’s society.
What is a popular misconception about seeing a psychiatrist?
That we are judgmental, critical or going to tell a patient what to do. Instead, we are impartial, supportive and help you find the best solution for your problems.
When should someone consider getting help for their mental health issues?
I define that by when your problem, however “big” or “small,” negatively impacts your relationships or job performance, it’s time to get help.
How, especially in the beginning, can a person learn to trust a professional with their mental health?
By reading my last answer a few times! Just kidding. There’s nothing wrong with calling and asking to speak to the mental health person before making the appointment.
Reputable and trustworthy professionals will be glad to do this. It may help to see if you “click” over the phone before going in. I also strongly recommend that if you get a bad vibe for any reason in the first appointment, don’t make a follow-up appointment. An initial evaluation is a way to test your connection with the therapist. It doesn’t commit you in any way.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to get help for their mental health?
Break the concept of “getting help” into bite-size chunks. You don’t have to throw yourself into months of therapy. Start first by simply checking out some websites or some blogs on mental health. Then maybe just call and talk to the receptionist about the practice. These casual first steps might help get you over the nervousness about making an appointment.
What is the best way to address possible stigmas of mental health?
Luckily this seems to be improving. I think reading books by accomplished people with mental illness such as Kay Jamison’s book (Unquiet Mind) helps balance the media’s skewed perception that people with mental illness are untreatable or misfits.
Anything you’d like to add?
Although I’m an M. D., I do believe in using psychotherapy to help ween people off psychotropic medications. Big Pharma really pushed these medications as miracle drugs in the ’90s when I was in training. While they can be helpful, there are many people that can benefit from therapy or short-term use of medication, and therefore don’t need the medications for life. It’s important to get a second opinion if someone recommends medication without giving a list of pros and cons of the different types of therapy and medication usage.
Now that we’re coming to the end of #SuicidePreventionMonth, I wanted to make one more post because I wanted to tell you (and myself) one more thing. Please remember this not just now, but days, weeks, months from now. Because it’s important today and every day.
I will never say that enough – I could never say that enough. You. Matter. Your thoughts, your words, your actions. They matter. When you think no one cares, when you feel all alone, remember this. It might not get you through the rest of your life. That’s okay – if just needs to get you through the rest of right now.
I wish I had more to say but for once, words are failing me. Because those two words – you matter – have gotten me through some of the toughest points in my life. I hope they can help get you through some of yours. And if you need to hear more, I’m always happy to help. It’s okay not to be okay. We’re stronger together, and we can beat this thing – one day and one moment at a time.
P.S. This October, for the second year in a row, I’m going to take part in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. I’m putting my money where my mouth is and being a public advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. I will do everything I can to further this cause, and I hope you can help. If you’re in the D.C. area, and want to do the walk, join me! If anyone wants to walk, my group and I would be happy to have others meet up with us. And if you can’t, these walks are happening all over the country (and are free to register!).
You can find my Fundraising Page here. If you have any questions just let me know – I’m happy to talk with you about these walks or anything else. After one year of doing this blog, I’ve realized something – my mental health, everyone’s mental health, is near and dear to my heart. And I won’t shut up about it.
Suicidal thoughts are more common than you think. Statistics show that more than four percent of adults in America had thoughts of suicide in 2016. That amounts to more than nine million people. Nine million! So the odds that someone you know, or someone you interact with on a daily basis, have had (or are having) suicidal thoughts is pretty high.
So how do we deal with this? What can we do to stop this and prevent it? I wish I had a solid answer for you, but that wouldn’t be honest of me. The truth is, I think about suicide every single day. I don’t say that to be dramatic, I’m just being honest. And preventing these thoughts is one of the most time-consuming things I do some days.
There are plenty of things I try when I feel this way, and I’d like to share some of them with you. I also understand that what may work for me might not work for you (and vice versa). I’m not saying that these are full-proof guarantees to ward off suicidal thoughts – but they can help.
- Meditate. Clearing your mind can be difficult when you’re in this state but if you can do it, it’s worth it. Sometimes when you’re having bad thoughts, you forget about the physical aspect of yourself. Meditation helps bring that back and reminds you that you’re human.
- Exercise. I wrote this down instead of ‘Go for a Run’ or ‘Lift Weights’ because whatever way you exercise is what you should do. I have a bad back, so going on long runs is a thing of the past for me. But getting on a bike and riding around, or using my weight machine at work can help keep me occupied for a time.
- Spending time with someone. Anyone. This is more of a suggestion when bad thoughts have been floating around your head for a while. Go do something with someone. Most times it doesn’t matter what you do or with who. The simple act of removing yourself from a bad situation can go a long way to restoring better thoughts. And while you don’t have to do this when you’re with someone, you might want to…
- Talk about it. This isn’t an easy one. It took me years before I told anyone that I had suicidal thoughts. There are tons of reasons why we don’t tell anyone. But there are more important reasons for why we should tell someone. Because we deserve to be here – even if we don’t think so. And if someone can help us stay, we need to let them help keep us here. The more you talk about it, the easier it gets – believe me.
TW: This post discusses suicide.
This is the second consecutive year that I’ve written a post about Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Last year, I couldn’t write this post until the end of the month because September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day, hit me so hard that it took me a while to recover. I’m writing this post this year a little bit stronger and a little bit more confident.
As it did last year and the years before, suicide remains prevalent in our country. Suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is still top-ten in cause of death in the United States, the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Those statistics might be hard for you to read – they were hard for me to write. It’s a little unbelievable, when you think about it. It makes you think that suicide is something unavoidable, inevitable. But it’s not inevitable. It’s preventable. Though it’s not always easy to prevent, it is preventable. And we must do what we can to fight it.
For the rest of the month, I’ll be posting about different topics related to suicide prevention. If you’re able, I hope you can read them. Because this problem won’t go away if we ignore it. We need to #ShineTheLight, #BeThe1To and do everything in our power to fight against suicide. It won’t be easy – it might seem impossible – but in the end, it will be worth it.
Last week, I wrote about things you should think about when you’re choosing a therapist for the first time. This week, I thought I’d build on that by talking about choosing a therapist if you’ve been to one before.
Odds are, your first therapist will not be your only one. Sure, you might strike gold with the first one – you might even find ‘the one.’ But often, life and circumstances change, and we’re forced to see multiple therapists during our mental health journeys. Here are some things to remember when you’re picking a therapist when you’ve had one before.
Know your diagnosis. One time I went to see a medical professional who diagnosed me, after one brief assessment, with borderline personality disorder. They did this after ten minutes of speaking with me, and they were aware I had first been diagnosed with a mental illness three years prior. Still, that one ‘diagnosis’ was hard for me to shake, and it took many visits to other mental health professionals – who all told me that was a rash diagnosis – before I could believe them. If you’ve been diagnosed with something from a professional you trust, bring that with you to your new therapist. It’s helpful for all involved.
Do some research. Sometimes when you’re first looking for a therapist, you don’t get to be picky. You pick the person who’s closest, or the first person you find that takes your insurance. If you’re able, really dig into these new potential therapists as much as you can. Psychology Today has a ‘Find a Therapist’ section on their website and I’ve spent a lot of time on there when looking for someone new. You can see people’s specialties, the issues they deal with and their client focus. It’s been a great help to me and I’d totally recommend it!
You know more than you think you do. I remember the first time I went to therapy. I didn’t know what to expect and to be honest, I didn’t get much out of my first session. But when I went to see a new therapist for the first time, I felt much more assured. I knew myself, and my mental health, much more than I had in the past. That knowledge has helped me going forward, and your knowledge will help you, too. That leads me to my third point…
Confidence helps. While I didn’t have confidence in myself, I did have confidence in my knowledge of my mental health. This is something I remembered when I was going to see a new therapist a few years ago. Since I knew more about my mental illnesses, I was able to take comfort in the fact that at least I knew what I was up against. Having that confidence – even in the fact that I didn’t have confidence – helped me as I got to know my new therapist.
Think about your goals. Why did you decide to see a new therapist? I had to see new therapists because I was in college, so I was constantly switching between therapists at school and therapists at home. It got hard to keep track of what I was trying to achieve in therapy and made me sometimes feel like the visits were pointless. Yes, it’s okay if you don’t know why you’re there – getting help is a good step to take. But if you have time, take a minute and see what you’re trying to achieve. It can help in the long run.
I know there are plenty of other tips but these are some of my favorites. Have any to add? Leave a comment below.
Picking a therapist isn’t easy. Whether it’s price, compatibility or nerves, sometimes it takes longer to find the right person to listen to our thoughts and feelings. It’s especially difficult if you’ve never been through therapy before. When I first started therapy there were plenty of things I didn’t think about that would have helped. Here are some important things to keep in mind if you’ve never been to therapy before.
Pick someone you like. This is an extremely important, and often underrated, point when selecting a therapist. Not only are you going to have to be with this person for a significant amount of time, but you’re going to have to share a lot of yourself with this person. If you don’t mesh with them at first that’s one thing, but don’t routinely go see someone who you actively dislike. It doesn’t do you – or that person – any good.
It’s okay to feel uncomfortable…at first. Look, therapy is weird. I won’t pretend it isn’t. The concept of paying someone to listen to you talk about your life is, as far as humans go, one of the weirdest things we do. But it can also be one of the most rewarding, worldview-changing things we can do. You might feel a little strange about it at first but trust me, that goes away. And if the worst thing about therapy is that you’re not willing to be as vulnerable as you could be, maybe you could bring that up…in therapy.
Insurance, Insurance, Insurance. Whether you like it or not, this can be (and often is) a dealbreaker when deciding what therapist to see. You should not only rely on my experience, but there are many therapists I’ve crossed off my list because they didn’t take my (or often any) insurance. Know what your insurance allows you to do and act accordingly. And yes, some might say that the perfect therapist is worth it and that you should pay out of pocket to see them. I don’t agree with that because I believe that these people are here to serve YOU – not the other way around. Therapists can be wonderful, but they are still people. And no one is perfect, no matter how much they cost.
It’s a process. I cannot repeat this one enough because of how true it rings. Therapy really is one of those things that takes – unfortunately – takes time. You won’t see some insane change in yourself after your first session, though I suppose that is possible. It’s more likely that you’ll see a change in yourself, or in your life, over time. As Sixers fans say, #TrustTheProcess and continue to put in the work. You can’t get better if you don’t put in the work!
Everyone is different. This is something that took me a bit longer to learn, but it’s vital to personal success in therapy. Just because someone is doing amazing after a few weeks or months in therapy, that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen to you – and vice versa! Just because you feel better after a short time in therapy, that doesn’t mean that someone else’s experience should be the same. Understand that your experience is unique to you – once you do you’ll begin to approach this time in a much better way.
There are tons of other tips I have for people who are just starting therapy, but in my opinion, those are some of the most important ones. Have any tips for someone starting therapy? Let me know in the comments!