Your Mental Health Team

One of the most debilitating things about depression and anxiety is that it can make you feel alone. Like, extremely alone. You believe that you’re the only person that feels this way, that no one understands how you feel or what you feel. If you’re in a situation where you’re surrounded by people who are mentally healthier than you, this only adds to that feeling of loneliness.

When I began to feel that way, at first I didn’t know what to do. I was very nervous about talking to people about my mental health issues, and it took me a while to actually talk to family and friends about it. I was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to understand or empathize with my situation, which would only make me feel more alienated. After months of crying spells, panic attacks and days where I could not get out of bed, I finally began reaching out. That’s when I began to form my Mental Health Team.team building.jpg

What’s a Mental Health Team? It’s a group of people that you’ve surrounded yourself with who know your situation well and can help you deal with the daily challenges that a mental illness can bring. Whether it’s family, friends or co-workers, having other people out there who know your struggles (even if they don’t understand them) can change the way you perceive your mental health. Sometimes it’s as simple as one conversation with someone, but other times building that team can take time.

I’m not going to lie to you: not everyone will love hearing from you about this. It will likely be hard to talk about, and even harder for people to listen. There’s a reason mental health still struggles with a stigma; it’s not easy to talk about! But once you have that first conversation, it becomes easier, and that’s how you can grow your team and put more people in your corner.

Four and a half years after being diagnosed with mental illness, I can proudly say that I have formed a strong Mental Health Team. I’ve found the right people to talk with about the right things. This didn’t happen easily, though. I’ve leaned too hard on some people, coming to them with every single problem I’ve had, and others I haven’t talked to enough. Some people were more helpful than others and make no mistake, not everyone I talked about my mental health is on my Team. That’s okay. Don’t get hung up on the people who can’t accept this side of you – instead, focus on the ones who do. Quality, not quantity, is important for this Team, and taking that approach will not only help you, but it will help your Team as well.

While this isn’t always the easiest thing to do, having a Team around me has helped me through the many difficulties that living with mental illness can bring. These people (I hope they know who they are!) have helped me grow and try to live not just a happier life, but a healthier life. And if you’re feeling like you don’t have a Team, or can’t have a Team? Say hey. I’d be more than happy to be part of yours.

Whether you are living with mental health issues or not, it’s important to have people in our lives who help keep us healthy! Who’s on your ‘Mental Health Team’? Let me know in the comments!

 

Feeling vs. Being

In every appointment I have with a mental health professional, there’s one question they ask that comes up every single time: “Do you have feelings of hopelessness?” It happens so often that sometimes I smile when it’s asked (which likely doesn’t reassure the person asking it) because I know that more often than not, the answer is yes.

Feeling hopeless is a very common symptom of depression, and it makes sense why that is. When other symptoms of depression start popping up, I’m not exactly filled with hope that life is wonderful and everything is going to be great. I’m usually filled with quite the opposite. So it can be a natural progression from other symptoms into feelings of hopelessness because sometimes, that’s the only logical direction I can head in.

I’d also like you to keep in mind that personality has an impact on what type of ‘hopelessness’ you’re feeling. I have several friends who are into personality tests and questionnaires, and over the years I’ve learned about some of my tendencies and personality traits. For someone who is guided by emotion and feelings over logic and reason, that feeling of hopelessness is (at least to me) can sometimes hit me a bit harder than it might for someone else. This might not sound like a good thing, but I would argue that it’s not so bad either – it’s just the way I am.

What these feelings of hopelessness have taught me over the years is that there is a difference between feeling hopeless and being hopeless. This ‘feeling’ vs. ‘being’ is something I struggle with daily, but the more I combat it the stronger I become. I haven’t figured out all the intricacies and detail of this revelation yet, but I do know that once I made this realization, it changed how I viewed my depression. I hope that as you’re going through your week you are able to differentiate between what you’re feeling and who you are because they’re not the same thing – and it took years of me feeling hopeless to realize that.

 

 

#4Mind4Body: Mental Health Awareness Month

As it has been since 1949, May is Mental Health Awareness Month throughout the United States. Founded by Mental Health America, each year has a different theme that focuses on certain aspects of mental health (e.g. in 2017, the theme was Risky Business). This year the theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it’s centered about making sure that you’re taking care of your entire body when it comes to your health. This means physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…the list goes on. They also emphasize ‘making use of the tools and resources that benefit bodies and minds together’ – of which there are plenty. It’s no secret that physical actions can significantly affect our mental health. Whether it’s exercising, spending quality time with people or earnestly seeking out activities that you love to do, the things we do every day go a long way in impacting our mental health.

We make choices all the time. What to eat, what to wear, who to spend time with. Should we work out today? Should we meet up with friends for happy hour? All these things affect us in the long run. Whether we admit it or not, the physical things we do day in and day out affect our mental health – which is why we should pay attention to them.

I really like this year’s theme because I think that taking care of my body has a positive impact on my mental health. Maybe it doesn’t always keep the depression away, but it rarely makes my symptoms worse. Whether it’s eating right, exercising, or spending time with quality people, I’ve known for a long time that the choices I make – or don’t make – will impact whether or not my depression and anxiety will get the best of me that day, or that week. It might not always be the main factor, but it definitely has a role to play in the grand scheme of things.

And this might be my favorite part of this year’s theme; ANYONE can participate! Being mentally healthy should be at the top of everyone’s list – you don’t need have a mental illness to get to work on your mental health (though I won’t lie, it helps a little).

Mental Health America has a ton of awesome resources to go along with a toolkit that is made specially for Mental Health Month. They also have interesting challenges every day of the month to help you reach your goals. This might seem like a lot of information, and that this all requires a crazy amount of effort, but remember – any attempt to improve yourself is a monumental step in the right direction.

Life Updates

Hello everyone! I know it’s been awhile since I posted last, but I’ve been a little busy. Life happens, you know? And I figured I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t share that part with you because as life goes, so does mental health.

For the past month I’ve been finishing up an online course to achieve my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Once I am fully certified, I will be able to apply to teach English in tons of countries around the world! I still have a few more months of my practicum (practicing teaching and teacher observation), but I am very excited to be certified and begin some new adventures!

But I’m not in any rush to go somewhere for the time being. I’d like to save up some money before I travel, and I have some weddings to be in (because apparently that’s a thing that happens when you get older), among other things.

I’m also doing my best to live present and enjoy where I am in life, which is quite difficult for me – but I’m doing my best! Luckily, being on a consistent dose of medication helps me achieve (some) balance in my day-to-day life, which helps me get through days that can sometimes be difficult. Though it took me years to get there (more on that in a future post, I promise!), being able to maintain some level of consistency in my life has played a huge factor in how I go about my day. I might not be where I want to be, but I think I’m where I need to be – which is quite alright with me.

How Busy Should I Be?

Things are very busy in my life right now. Between my job and an online course I’m taking, I feel like I haven’t had time to myself in quite awhile. I know I should be more annoyed by that fact, but I’m not…and it has a lot to do with my mental illness.

When my mind is occupied, when my life is busy, things are good for me mentally. I go from one task to another focused and in control and, though it is exhausting, it keeps my mind at ease. When I am not as busy, however, is when things can take a turn. My mind wanders, and not in the fun, daydreaming type of thinking that can happen when you don’t have much to focus on. I don’t like going there, but when I am not busy it’s almost a force of habit to have negative thoughts.

So, where does this leave us? Should I stay busy forever? That could be a possibility. Keep my days full with activities and things to do, and then I never have to confront my anxiety and depression again. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But I don’t think it’s possible for me. As an introvert by nature, I need time to recharge after doing things with people, so I can’t feasibly be as active as I would want to be – it’s simply not possible.

I wrote about this a few months ago about having alone time, and why I was afraid of that. I’m less afraid now, but there’s something that’s still stopping me from being alone, something that I’ve been conditioned to think after years of being crippled by depression. When I am alone, I am unable to do things. I don’t go out alone, I don’t go on walks alone, I don’t just hang out alone.

For the longest time, when I was not busy that meant I was depressed, and so I could not do anything by myself. While that can still be the case, it is not the norm for me as it once was. It sounds weird for me to say, but sometimes I don’t have anything to do and I’m not thinking about how much I hate myself. And that is when I truly do not know what to do.

So what do I do now? How do you pass the time when you don’t have anything to do. I want to hear from you!

I Need a Morning Routine

Getting out of bed in the morning is one of the hardest things I have to do every day. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it’s true. When the morning comes and I’m in my bed, the only I urge I have is to stay there. Sometimes this is for a normal reason (I’m tired, comfortable, etc.) but sometimes the reason is…not so normal. Next to bedtime, the morning is when I have my worst self-talk, self-hate, and the most likely time that I think about how pointless my life is. What a way to start the day!

Early to bed Early to Rise...I wish!

I think one of the reasons it’s so difficult to get out of bed in the morning is my lack of a morning routine, or ritual that I go through when I wake up. There are so many things that a person can do when they wake up to give them a jump start on the day, but the simple act of getting out of bed can be so difficult and tortuous for a mentally ill person that they are not mentally prepared to do anything but the requisite of dressing and leaving their home. Some days, even doing that is a victory.

But I would like to start doing a morning routine. I think that every attempt to improve mental health does not go to waste. Even if I do not meet my goal of doing my morning routine every day, it gives me something to strive for, which is what I’m currently lacking. Any attempt to better myself, whether it’s a success or not, is good for my mental health (and might be good for yours too!)

As I try to piece together what I hope to be my morning routine, I want to hear what you do in the morning to help you get ready for the day ahead. I could definitely use the ideas!

Just Do It

I’m really happy that I’m writing these words. Sometimes when I get too busy with life, certain things fall by the way side. Sometimes it’s my hobbies, or maybe my friends. Once in a while this blog can take a hit because all of the things I’ve got going on. And this week would have been an easy week to do so. I’ve been traveling for work so it’s understandable if I maybe didn’t put out a blog post this week.

_The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing._ (1)

But for some reason, that wasn’t good enough for me. I realized how much joy has been brought to me by working on this blog, and even though I don’t know what it’s going to be or where it’s going to go, it makes me excited to share my words, and my experience, with you – all of you.

So I knew I needed to write a post this week. Even though I’m working 14-hour days this week and am exhausted at the end of the day, I knew that writing this post would make me feel good, so I did. Maybe I don’t have more to say this week than that, but I feel like I needed to say it anyway.

It’s important to do what makes you happy even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. If you can power through and make it to the other side, it will be worth it. I’m not promising that you’ll always power through, but I will tell you that when you can, when you’re able, it’s beautiful and wonderful and one of the things that makes life great. And writing that down, to me, was worth sharing.

The 5 Second Rule

I spend a lot of time listening to different motivational videos and speeches, often when they’re compiled together in an inspirational YouTube video that makes me want to tackle a bear. It was in one of these videos that I heard about something called the “5 Second Rule” (and no, I’m not talking about food that falls on the floor).

As it turns out, the 5 Second Rule comes from someone named Mel Robbins. You can find the entire post here, but what it boils down to is this, according to Mel:

“If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.”

That sentence resonated with me for a few reasons when I realized how much that could impact my life – and my mental health.

Like most people, it’s hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. There are many reasons for this. We’re tired, we’re comfortable, we just want to stay in bed all day. More often than not, my reason is a bit darker, which leads to me not wanting to get out of bed and exist that day. Some days it takes every bit of strength I have to get out of bed and get dressed be ready for the day. So these five seconds that Mel is talking about, these five seconds that can make or break me getting out of bed, are HUGE. Monumentally huge.

These five seconds she’s talking about? They could change my day. And if I change my day? One day at a time, I could change the way I do things. The way I think. The way I live. Yes, this is quite a leap and a bound I’m taking, but it is possible. And that type of hope, that hope of what is possible, is what drives me to be the best I can be – even when I think that the best I can be isn’t all that great.

So I’m going to try this 5 Second Challenge for the few weeks. Apparently, it helps if you count down backwards from five, kind of like you’re on a rocket ship set for outer space. I think I’m going to try that. I have a feeling that to make this work, you have to treat every day with equal importance – that it’s going to be the best day you’ve ever had. I hope that at the very least it will challenge me. To be my best and to strive for being my best self. And even if this doesn’t work out, to be resilient in the process.

Keep On Telling Your Story

I’m a huge NBA fan, so of course I was interested when I first heard about DeMar DeRozan’s interview with The Toronto Star. I’ve written in the past about how masculinity plays a role in the mental health conversation, so while reading the interview made me feel for DeMar (as it always does when I read about someone opening up about their struggles), it made me feel some hope that the mental health conversation can make its way into professional sports, an area where it has always been considered pretty taboo.

It’s no secret that when someone shares their thoughts on mental health, especially a celebrity or public figure, I want to let people know so that we can continue the conversation. Sometimes when someone speaks out it can be a drop in the bucket. But then Kevin Love wrote something for The Players Tribune (you can check it out here) about a panic attack he had earlier this season. His experience, though different from DeRozan’s, hit on the same notes, writing, “You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own.” These men are opening up about their mental health in a way that hasn’t really happened in the NBA before.

Love saying that he was partially inspired to share his experience because of DeMar DeRozan’s interview spoke volumes about stigmas can fade away once you realize you aren’t alone. Because of these two, another NBA player, Kelly Oubre of the Washington Wizards, opened up about his mental health as well, in part because of what Love and DeRozan had to say. This is important because it shows not only how powerful stigmas can be, but the chain reaction that can occur when someone speaks out about their own experience.

More power to these men, and I truly hope this is the beginning of the mental health conversation in the NBA.

 

Things Get Better…Right?

Whether I’m in a funk or not, I ask this question fairly often: are things ever going to get better? Whether it’s something good or bad, I tend to ask this question after big events or moments in my life. To me, things can always be better because – whether or not good things happen to me – I’m usually too sad, tired or anxious to see the good things happening around me, so by that logic they can always be improved.

It took me a long time, but I finally stopped asking that question when it occurred to me that it didn’t matter how things were, or how life was going. What mattered was how I felt about those things, and how I felt about life. And there’s where I realized there was a problem. I wasn’t asking are things ever going to get better; I was asking, am ever going to get better? And that’s the real question that scared me.

One of the first times I was in a psychiatrist’s office they told me I might not ever get better. That it was a possibility that I would have to live with this for a long time. That some people deal with their depression better than others. Granted, this was because I pressed them on these subjects and wanted their opinion, but the reality of the situation was heavy. I might not ever be 100 percent healthy again.

Don't Ask.png

Five years after that conversation, I’m still not sure. But I am able to discern the stark difference between my mental health and the external things in my life. I’m able to stop asking if things are ever going to get better because I recognize that I have some power over those things – maybe not the power to overcome them all the time, but the power to fight back.

No, you can’t win every battle with mental illnesses that you have. But you can live to fight another day, and sometimes that’s as good as winning; on occasion it’s even better than winning. Because you know things will get better, because they can start and end with you. And let me tell you something friends, that’s a feeling unlike any other.