On this blog, I feel like I’ve done a good job of telling a bit of my story and my experience living with mental illness. It is something I will continue to do, and I’m excited about some of the upcoming content I’m prepping, but I come to you today with a different question in mind. Continue reading
On Tuesday I talked about how difficult it is for me to accept a compliment. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that the main reason I can’t really accept a compliment is that I don’t think all that highly of myself. However, despite this, I have gotten increasingly better at accepting compliments from people. How do I do it? Well, I’ve come up with a few strategies that help me not get sidetracked when someone has something nice to say. Here are some of my favorites:
Let’s face it – at some point, everyone feels overwhelmed. Whether it’s school, your work or another aspect of your life, there are times when we feel like the world is closing in on us and we feel trapped. While it’s more common for some to feel this way than most people, make no mistake – most people you know have felt overwhelmed about their lives at some point.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s been an interesting month for me – since I am in the middle of the process of weaning off my medication, I have been a little removed from mental health advocacy. I’m focusing on making sure this process goes smoothly and answers my questions – mainly, do I need to be on medication right now? I might have to go back on it weeks, months or years from now, but making sure the process goes well is my main focus.
Anyway, this month has been encouraging. I think the best thing I’ve seen is that this month has distinguished the difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental illness might not affect everyone, but mental health does. Taking care of yourself is important in all aspects of life, and this includes mental health.
Bringing awareness is also a very underrated aspect of improving the mental health conversation. Because it’s such a nuanced topic, it’s not enough to just say ‘be aware’ about mental health and leave it at that. It needs to be a discussion, an ongoing conversation to make sure people are looking out for each other and themselves. We make choices every day that improve or worsen our mental health, and it’s important to recognize the impact of these choices.
I was encouraged by the #RealConvo Instagram campaign and learned a ton from Mental Health America about how we can use different things in our life to boost our mental health. I read posts from people who don’t normally talk about mental health – they were honest and open and I loved seeing it. I feel like the conversation surrounding mental health improves every year, and things like Mental Health Awareness Month are a good reminder of how far this conversation has come.
Even though the month might be over, we can’t stop talking about mental health. Maybe it doesn’t have to be in the most obvious or outspoken way. There are plenty of ways to discuss mental health, and you need to do what works for you. Maybe that means writing a social media about that the fact that sometimes, you’re not okay. Maybe it’s just checking in with a friend or loved one and asking, ‘how are you, really?’
The most important part of this is that the discussion doesn’t end. Mental health, as with many things in life, is ongoing. We don’t always have the luxury of picking it up and putting it down as we see fit. So, however, whenever and wherever you have this conversation – even if it’s just with yourself – I hope that you can continue to remind those around you that our mental health is important – whether or not it’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
This weekend, my laptop broke for the third time in three years. Since the reason I bought it was that I thought it’d be a reliable piece of equipment that wouldn’t break easily, I was pretty angry. First at the computer and at the company that manufactures it, which is understandable. But then I quickly turned that anger on myself.
I thought it must be my fault somehow. I must have done something, or forgotten to do something, and my carelessness is what led to my laptop breaking. I went to get it fixed yesterday (I should get it back this weekend) and the whole time I was at the store, all I could think of what how could you be so stupid? I could not get out of my head, and it really bothered me.
Now in the grand scheme of things, the situation isn’t all that bad. The fix will cost me some money (more than it should, but that’s a whole other issue), but in the end, I will be okay and my life will go on. But to me, it’s minor setbacks like these that are some of the most dangerous to my mental health.
Why are they such a big deal? Because they make me reexamine my actions, which is one of the last things an anxious person wants to do. I spend all day thinking about the choices I make, the words I say and the things I do. I don’t need another replay of a mistake I made; nothing good will come from it. I’ll only dig myself into a deeper hole and chalk everything up to how stupid I am. In this scenario, I suffer mentally and not only does the situation not improve, but I do not either.
Getting Past a Minor Setback
How do I get past a setback like this? Repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s worth telling yourself that it’s not the end of the world, that it will be okay. But only saying those things once means that they don’t have any staying power. Repeating these positive thoughts is a good way to have them take up more space in your head than negative thoughts. I’m not guaranteeing success (I know from experience), but I would say it’s worth trying. Like any other skill, you get better at it over time. While I’m not where I want to be with this repetition, I’m in a better space than I was, and it’s been super helpful.
I also view setbacks as an opportunity to spend more time doing something else. Instead of focusing on the closing door, I look around to see what door is now open. In this specific case, I don’t know what the open door is, but I do know from experience that it exists. It might not always be what we expect, but it can be better than we ever imagined.
Again, this is my advice for minor setbacks – the things that happen in our everyday life that can get under our skin. There are major things that happen that can really set us back, which are much more difficult to process and deal with. But in most cases – like with my laptop – things aren’t as bad as they seem. The sun will rise. Life will go on.
A setback doesn’t make you a bad person, and I hope you don’t let yourself believe that it does. You have so much more going for you than a broken laptop, a flat tire or bad day at work. It might not always feel that way, but it’s true. It’s not how we fall, but how we get back up that defines us (that’s a cliche for a reason). You’re allowed to be upset, to be annoyed, but don’t let those feelings dictate your mood for too long because eventually, that will become who you are. And you’re a better person than that.
How do you deal with the little setbacks that happen to you during the day? Let me know in the comments!
Yesterday I went for a run. I hadn’t gone on a run in more than a year, and I was nervous as to how I’d feel after, physically and mentally. Since I have a bad back, my preparation for physical activity is more involved than most, and I don’t always know how my body will react to certain workouts. But I also know the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical, so I wanted to see if this was something I could get back into. And it was...incredible. I didn’t break any records or move at the speed of light, but I was proud of my effort. But then came the hard part – the recovery.
The recovery is where workouts have a tendency to affect my mental health. When my back hurts after a long workout, I immediately tense up and think that it’s the end of exercising. I lose all the confidence I gained during my workout, and feel worse about myself than I did before I started. Then comes the negative self-talk about how I’m a lesser person than I used to be. It doesn’t take much to spiral from there, and all of the benefits of exercise get washed away in a cloud of depression.
As the adrenaline continued to flow after my run, I knew a crash was coming. And sure enough, when I woke up this morning I could feel it. I was sore all over, and my back was incredibly stiff. The negative thoughts began to pop into my head, one after another. Thoughts that I could never run again, that it was a stupid idea to start with. I was crushing myself hours after feeling better than I have in a long time.
How did I get out of this mindset? Well, to be honest, I didn’t. This post doesn’t have all the tips to stop negative thoughts – you might have to read another post for that. But I wanted to share that in spite of the negative thoughts, I was able to do something that I’d long considered impossible for me to do. I’d like to start running on a more regular basis – twice a week is my goal – but for now, I’d like to revel in the fact that I was able to go for a run at all. That despite what I tell myself, I’m still able to accomplish a great deal.
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words,’ right? But have you ever used that phrase in regards to the words you tell yourself? In this case, my actions (running) spoke louder than my negative words. I just went out and did the thing.
Sometimes it’s more complicated than that, but sometimes it’s not. I had a goal and, rather than think about it, I went ahead and did it. The success was not in how well I ran, but that I ran at all. Don’t ignore the little victories in life; they add up. Whether I start running as much as I want or never run again, I will always be able to look back on this little victory as a time where I did something. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough for me.
What are some of your favorite little victories? I want to know!
“I think, therefore I am.”
This famous quote, first uttered by Rene Descartes, is something that’s been on my mind this week. I recently started listening to an NPR podcast which is all about the invisible things around us that affect our daily lives. The very first episode was about the ‘secret history of thoughts’ where the hosts asked a question: are my thoughts related to my inner wishes, and do they reveal who I really am?
All my life, I have been told that what I think is important, that my thoughts matter. They do, and so do yours! But not every single thought is important. Not every single thought needs to affect your life. Learning that – and accepting that – has been one of the most important tools when it comes to how I approach my thoughts.
Think, really think, about the insanely high volume of thoughts you have every day. Thoughts can come from anywhere and be about anything. How often do we get sidetracked by our thoughts, or get distracted by thinking of something completely different from what we’re doing? Anxiety or not, depression or not, I know this happens to everyone.
I have intrusive thoughts that pop up every single day, most of which are negative. And I obsess over them. Some days they are all I can think about. And I get stuck.
But what if I didn’t give these thoughts so much power? What if I took them for what they are? It would not be easy, but it’s not impossible. As I have been told by several therapists who specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one way to reframe my thought process is that instead of trying desperately to ignore the negative thoughts in my head, I can acknowledge them for what they are – thoughts – and move on with my day.
I tried that, and it proved to be very difficult. I still gave importance to every thought that popped into my head, and I was getting stuck on the negative thoughts. I’d like to take a new approach that takes my thoughts beyond the base level of acknowledging them and moving on. I’d like to address those thoughts and tell them what I think of them – that they won’t last, that they aren’t important, that they aren’t me.
I am not my thoughts. I am not a collection of the thoughts I produce. I am a complex person who will have millions of thoughts in his lifetime, and not all of them count. I am going to try to pay more attention to the ones that matter and can make me a better person. As for those intrusive thoughts? Those can go right in the trash.
When I was a teenager, I would feel…off. You know how it feels when something is off. It’s like having a pebble stuck in your shoe, or that last bit of corn in your teeth. Of course, those situations have solutions. Take the pebble out of your shoe. Get a toothpick. Now imagine feeling that way but being unable to change it. That was my reality before knowing what was wrong.
Fear of the Unknown
So when I first saw a therapist, when depression and anxiety were first mentioned, I assumed I would be relieved. But I wasn’t. Instead, my anxiety grew, and I was more nervous about my situation than before, when I didn’t know what was wrong.
There’s a lot to be said for fear of the unknown. It makes sense. I’m not saying you should or should not fear the unknown (maybe I’ll tackle that subject another time), but I am saying I had that fear, and I understand why. But what I didn’t understand was the fear that followed. Even though I knew what was wrong, I was still afraid. In many ways, it was worse than not knowing.
Fear of the Known
I was shocked. I was unprepared. I didn’t think I’d be that much more afraid of knowing something than not knowing something, but I was.
I’m not sure why I thought that fear would go away. Maybe I thought I would be a braver person now that I knew what I was dealing with. In many ways, I was. But as those close to me could attest, in many ways I was not. I let fear of my mental illness dictate what I did and did not do. I let fear in, and it won. For a long time, it won.
These days, fear wins less. Every day I get stronger and learn new ways to attack my mental health. But one of the biggest changes was recognizing the role fear played in my life and trying to minimize that as much as possible.
Whether you’re afraid of something you know or something you don’t, fear is fear. When you battle it, you won’t always win. It would be naive of me to tell you that I’m no longer afraid of my mental illness. But for every bit of strength I gain, that fear, every so slightly, shrinks.
Like many things in life, mental health is a marathon, not a sprint. Each day is an opportunity to be better. And since we’re honest here, it’s also a chance to get worse. And sometimes, it will be worse. There’s no way around that. But letting the fear of mental illness dictate what you can and can’t do? You can fight that. You can fight back. And you might not always win, but you will get stronger. And the stronger you get, the better you can fight. And my hope for you is that the fear you have, of the known and the unknown, slowly fades into nothingness.
Meditation has never come easy to me. I’ve done it off and on for years, but I have never been able to get into any sort of consistency when it came to meditating on a daily, even regular, basis.
But it’s so simple, you’re probably thinking. And as a concept, you’re totally right. You sit still and let your mind wander. You focus on your breathing and develop heightened awareness. Most people end meditation feeling way more at peace than they did when they started (I’d say all, but you never know!). But not me.
Meditation for an Anxious Mind
Part of my meditation problems are due to my anxiety. GAD means that thoughts are filling your head constantly. They don’t give you time to pause and process – it’s just one thought after another, flooding your brain with both important and unimportant thoughts. Since my best approach to dealing with anxious thoughts is to keep my mind busy with other creative outlets (writing, work, etc.), being in a situation where my mind is free to roam has never really helped. Thinking all through meditation makes that meditation pretty counterintuitive, so it’s hard to gain any momentum from repetitive meditation.
Not Having the Right Goals
Like other tools in my mental health toolkit, I think I’ve been looking at meditation all wrong. I expected every session to end with me feeling refreshed, happy and better about myself. When that didn’t happen, I blamed meditation as being something that ‘didn’t work.’ I was looking for meditation to have some sort of instant impact that made my mental illness go away. As with any habit, my skills would undoubtedly grow stronger with time as I meditated more. But I didn’t have patience, and I didn’t have the right goals. No wonder it didn’t work out.
Like exercising, journaling and everything else I do to be mentally healthy, meditation can be a tool in the chest rather than the be-all and end-all of my mental health. This new outlook might be what I need to make it work this time.
I Need Your Help
I’d like to start meditating on a daily basis. I think that, with the right approach and with the right goals in mind, meditation can be something that I incorporate into my daily routine. But how should I meditate?
In the past I have used several apps, including Headspace, but they didn’t work for me. However, now that I have this new approach I am willing to try things that didn’t work for me before. I’m open to suggestions, so let me know in the comments how you meditate. I need all the help I can get!
I’ve said it before: I’m not sorry about my mental illness. It’s a part of my life, it’s a part of who I am, and it influences a lot of what I do. But it’s not the only thing about me.
I have a story. We all do. From when we were born until right this minute, your story’s being told. There are tons of things that make up your story. Where you grew up. The friends you’ve made. The family you have. Your hobbies and interests. Your job. Everything and anything can make up your story – whether you want it to or not.
Today isn’t about my story – it’s about encouraging you to tell yours. How this looks is different for everyone. For instance, I’m a writer so this is how I’ve chosen to share my story. I also write creatively, which contains part of my story as well. Some people find it in other forms like photography, art or music. You can find it in things like yoga or meditation, or push yourself to the brink physically by competing in marathons and other physical activities. There’s really no limit as to how your story can be told – what’s important is that you own it.
What does it mean to own your story? It means that you are not – and should not be – ashamed of it. It means that if someone questions it that’s their problem, not yours. It means that you should be unapologetically yourself because it’s who you are – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s taken my awhile to own my story. If I’m being honest, I can’t say that I’m even completely there. I got in my own head and got in my own way, and that made it difficult to own up to who I am and what kind of person I am. But I’m doing my best, and it’s made me better. There is a special power in owning your story – in not shying away from who you are. When you own your story, it’s hard for people to hurt you with it.
I will not shy away from who I am. That includes all parts of me – scars and all. We shouldn’t claim to be perfect and without flaws, but we also should not be ashamed of being flawed – it’s led us to where we are today. And while I might not be where I want to be, I’m proud of where I am, and I hope you are too.
Owning my story has been a big step in my personal growth, but I had to get through plenty of mental setbacks before getting there. What’s stopping you from owning your story? If it helps for me to share more, I’d be happy to!