That Little Bit of Doubt

Last time we talked, I was telling you about reality-based problems. My ceiling caving in. My computer breaking. My car being towed…you get the picture. But we’re moving on from that and focusing on something new because while all that did happen, other incredible things happened to me in the past week that I would love to share!

Last week, I took a trip out of the country to El Salvador. It was the first time I’d gone abroad in more than two years, so needless to say I was extremely excited – but I was also nervous because I hadn’t traveled like that in so long. Would I still enjoy myself as much as I had when I traveled in the past? Would I want to embrace the new culture and lifestyle that was sure to be in this place?

Though I felt confident that I would adjust, I have to be honest with you – I was scared. But the moment the plane landed and I looked out the window, all that fear went away. I became immediately excited to tackle a culture that was brand-new to me, with so much to see and explore. And I did. I packed more into five days than most people do in a month, going from one place to another with a clear head and a smile on my face. The people I met, the food I ate, the places I went to…all of these experiences will be ingrained in my mind (and my camera roll!) for a very long time.

But why am I telling you this? Because even though I was incredibly excited to go to this new place, I still had some doubt, some fear in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t enjoy the experience as much as I used to. I was afraid that too much of me had changed since I last traveled. Though I am extremely grateful that I could NOT have been more wrong, I recognized that, no matter how happy I was, that fear and doubt still existed.

Wherever this post finds you, I’m sure you’re nervous about an upcoming decision you need to make. Maybe you have doubts about a decision you just made. I’m not here to validate or invalidate those choices – I just want you to know that you aren’t alone in those feelings of doubt. Everyone has them! Whether they’re big or little, important or insignificant, that kernel of doubt is a very real and human aspect of everyone one of us. But you do have control over how you handle it, how you face this doubt. And if you learn how to handle it, that can make all the difference in the world.

P.S. I’m hoping to share my trip to El Salvador on the blog next week. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am very excited to share what I saw and learned!

Shakespeare Quote

Problems Based in Reality

I had a blog post all set and ready to go last week when some things happened. For one, rainwater leaked into my apartment and ruined my computer. Then, that same rainwater pooled up in my ceiling and caused a portion of it to collapse on my bed, ruining my room for the foreseeable future. As I type this I am sitting on a mattress with a gigantic hole in my ceiling with a time TBD for when it will be fixed. This came on the heels of having my car towed and getting a speeding ticket. I know, I know, that’s a lot of shit to be thrown at someone in a week and a half. But I’m okay. Truly, actually, I am fine.

With a well-documented history of mental illness (re: this blog), I feel like it would be understandable for these kinds of problems to freak me out. If I have anxiety about nothing, wouldn’t I feel worse when something bad actually does happen? I thought it might. But it didn’t happen. Instead, something interesting happened: I actually became calmer. I was more accepting of what happened to me and took each necessary step to correct these missteps and fix what was broken. Why did this happen? I have a theory.

As someone who lives in their head constantly, these problems threw me headfirst into reality. I had to deal with real problems that have real consequences, and therefore I had to come up with real solutions to solve them. I emphasize the word ‘real’ because oftentimes, my problems are not reality-based. They are fictitious concoctions that I spend my days thinking about, and while they may have real consequences they are, in another sense, my own machinations.

However, taking up residence in my head allows me to better attack real-world problems. It’s funny, I think nothing of waiting in line for hours at the DMV or having to sleep on my floor for weeks, which might bother the hell out of someone. On the flip side, some people go through life without negative thoughts about themselves and I…do not (you have to smile at that – I personally think it’s pretty funny). But these real problems remind me that I’m human, that I’m a real person that has real things happen to him. And for someone who can spend his days living inside his head, it’s nice to be jolted out of it every once in a while. So I might not be entirely happy with my situation, but I am grateful. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m a person sometimes. We could all use that every now and then.

Muhammad Ali Quote

Happy or Healthy?

Happiness is an interesting word to me. Some days it’s all I’m looking for; other days I don’t even worry about it. I have a complicated relationship with happiness and ‘being happy’, and for a good reason. I feel like it can be a buzzword in the mental health community that is overused and misunderstood. So instead, I’m more concerned with being healthy rather than being happy.

I know I’ve done this before, but I feel like Google search results speak a lot so here is some more fun info again. When you Google ‘how to be happy’ you get more than 4 billion results. When you search ‘how to be healthy’? One billion. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of what ‘how to be happy’ has. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because people have a tendency to place a priority of being happy over being healthy. And yes, I’m one of them. But hopefully not for long.

When you think about being healthy, what’s the first thing you think of? Probably your physical health. I don’t blame you. Physical health is supremely important and your wellbeing depends on it. But it’s not the only type of health you should take care of – not by a long shot. Dr. Bill Wettler came up with the Seven Dimensions of Wellness in 1976 and they include:

  • Social Wellness
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Spiritual Wellness
  • Environmental Wellness
  • Occupational Wellness
  • Intellectual Wellness
  • Physical Wellness

Yes I know, I’m going to want to push mental health, which in this case is encapsulated in Emotional and Social Wellness. But each type of wellness is important in leading a productive life – and can certainly lead to a happy life. Instead of worrying about if we’re happy, why don’t we worry about being healthy? And I’m not just talking about exercising a few times a week or meditating more. We need to attack each part of our health as if it’s important as going for a run – because oftentimes it is. My friend Pat wrote a great guest post a few months back about flexing your ‘mental muscle’ and it is indeed a muscle. A muscle that we must work at and strengthen, same as any physical muscle we have.

So yes, I would advocate for practicing being healthy over being happy. Because more often than not, if you are living in a healthy manner, in every facet of the word, happiness is sure to follow. And if it isn’t, that’s okay. I haven’t stopped trying, and I hope you won’t either.

Why I Care What People Think

If you Google the question ‘should I care what others think?’ You’ll be flooded with tons of different articles. Some consider the question, but most of the results are listicles about not caring what other people think. For some, it’s a life hack. For others, it’s a motivational technique. Lord knows the Huffington Post has done a piece or two on it.

Honestly, it’s a nice message designed to help people feel more positively about themselves. But what if you aren’t so kind to yourself? What do you do then?

I used to tell myself that it didn’t matter what people thought of me, only what I thought of myself. If someone didn’t like me? Oh well, their loss. If someone made fun of the way I looked or acted? It didn’t matter, because what they thought about me didn’t matter as much as what I thought about myself. And this philosophy carried me through most of my childhood even though I was ignoring one crucial element of my mindset – I didn’t think I was all that great.

It wasn’t a big deal at first but as my mental health worsened and my opinion of myself sunk lower every day, I contemplated why I never cared what people thought. What was my reason? I talked to some of my friends about what they thought of me as a person and – since they were my friends they might have been biased – I was told that all in all, I’m a pretty decent person. But that didn’t matter to me.

I realize this approach of not caring what people think is to combat people’s negative opinions more than their positive ones, but I don’t think that distinction is made often enough. No, you shouldn’t care what others think of you if they think negative things. But if someone thinks you’re great? That you’re a special person, and you’re perfect the way you are? Embrace that. Don’t forget those things that people say about you that are good. Because on those days when you aren’t feeling so great about yourself, when you’re struggling with self-doubt and self-worth, maybe you won’t have to only rely on what you think of yourself to get you through that difficult time.

This is very much me talking the talk when I should be walking the walk (and I’m sure my friends and family tend to agree with that), but I think that even if this isn’t always achievable, it’s still something we can strive for. So yes, you shouldn’t always care what people think. But there are people out there who think the world of you; it can’t hurt to give them a listen.

Are We Still Talking About Mental Health?

People are super concerned for a week and then forget about mental health entirely until it happens again.

That’s what a frustrated friend told me when we were discussing the recent passings of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. And he’s right. The media cycle can be vicious, and it chews up and spits out stories every 24 hours like clockwork. This was no different. After stories that included blaming the culture and reports that both Bourdain and Spade had dealt with depression for years, while people still spoke out about their experiences, the mental health discussion died down considerably by comparison. And it shouldn’t.

Mental health is not something to pick up and put down on a whim. It may be that way for some people – and that’s fine. But I would be doing a disservice to everyone with a mental illness if I didn’t say that that’s not the case for millions of people. Keeping track of my mental health is something that I must do daily in order to live a happy and healthy life. This means that there are no days off. That the conversation is always relevant, even on days when you feel good – and especially on days when you don’t.

It’s been two weeks since the unfortunate passings of Bourdain and Spade. But is the mental health conversation still going on? Are we still checking in on our friends and family to see how they’re doing? Are we still taking care of ourselves? We can’t wait until we lose someone else to start thinking about our mental health. That won’t work in a country where the suicide rates have risen to the point where half of the states in the U.S. have seen suicide rates rise more than 30 percent over the past two decades. You think this is going away? It’s not. Continue the conversation. Check in on people. It might not be easy but it will be worth it.

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!