A Vacation from My Mind

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!

_We are only as blind as we want to be._.png

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

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!

 

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!

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.

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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.

I’m Alive (This is What is Looks Like)

Given my personality and life experiences, one of the most important things in my life is the need to feel truly alive. Depression can sometimes take me out of my own body and make me feel like I’m not a real human being. It can make me desperately crave those moments, those experiences that make me feel truly alive, more than most (at least that’s what I tell myself). I’ve spent my whole life chasing these moments, trying my best to recognize them and appreciate them when they occur. So that means on top of envisioning a future where I am not depressed, I see a future where I feel alive. That’s a problem for me.

Does that mean I feel truly alive when my brain isn’t racked with depression and anxiety? In a way, yes. At least in my experience it’s been that way. I know this because I’ve done some things and seen some places that are absolutely memorable, but if I am lost in a cloud of depression, the experience means less to me.

According to Psych Central this could be what is known as “existential depression” and honestly, that sounds about right. I do know that I’m at an age and a point in my life where existential crises happen nearly every day and – mentally ill or not – I know plenty of people my age are going through the same thing. How do we get out of this corner in which we’ve trapped ourselves? Sometimes it seems that there’s no way out. And oftentimes, that’s true. There isn’t one magical, cure-all that is going to change our life and make us ecstatic with the first few years of the real world. It’s taking the little things in your life and tying them all together that make up the fabric of your life, and it’s important now more than ever.

Luckily for me, I know what makes me feel alive. I know what makes me feel more human than anything else, and I am working toward that goal. However, it also took me 20 years of living my life before I experienced this freedom. My point? It takes time. And in my willingness to chase it again, I know what I am after. And while it doesn’t make me necessarily feel alive, it helps me deal with my mental health issues, which for me is saying a lot.

Note: I stole the title of this post from a song I like. Give it a listen to brighten your day!

Enjoying the Good

When I am feeling particularly depressed, sometimes I’ll think about the future. Nothing specific really, just general futuristic vibes as I try to envision myself being happy. I try to use it to cheer me up, to think to myself that somehow, some way, I can be happy one day. But it always revolves around me being somewhere or doing something. Oh if I lived there I’d definitely be happy I’d think. If I had that job there’s no way I wouldn’t be happy all the time. It’s a dangerous game that I play to try and cheer myself up, but the flawed logic has started to take a toll on me.

The truth is, I don’t know if I’d be happy then. I’ve done that many times in my life. I think that if I do a certain thing or am in a certain place, then that will lead to my happiness. And when I get to that place, as if on cue, I am met with a familiar pestilent feeling: I’m not happy. Not even close. And then I get depressed.

This cycle has continued and on in every stage of my life. Graduating high school, going to college, graduating from college, getting a job, even starting this blog. This will bring me happiness I think to myself. And when it doesn’t, honest to God I still get a little surprised.

Wait, you must be thinking. Maybe inner happiness is what you’re after. And yes, that is true. I have read hundreds of passages and quotes that justify that thought. I know that happiness can come from inside me and the little things I do. That’s when I realized that sometimes, it’s not really happiness I’m searching for; I just want to feel good about things. I want to feel good about graduating from college. I want to feel good about securing a full-time job. When I look to the future I’m not worried about not being happy; I’m worried that I won’t feel good.

The inability to enjoy things (which is called anhedonia) can be a symptom of depression, so I’m not shocked that I don’t feel good most of the time. But I also want to change that.

I want to know what makes people feel good about life. Not what brings you eternal happiness or joy, but things or moments that you can look back on and say hey, that was nice. I think part of what depression does is make your view cloudy, making it hard to see the good in your life. So I’m going to begin to look for the good, and I’d like you to help! Comment below with some things that make you feel good. I’m hoping to take this week to try and come up with a few of my own, and hopefully together we can create a list of what makes life good and beautiful. I hope you can help!

 

Lost In My Mind

Put your dreams away for now
I won’t see you for some time
I am lost in my mind
I get lost in my mind…

Those are lyrics from a song by The Head and The Heart, and they’ve been stuck in my head all week because (if you can guess) I tend to get lost in my mind well…a lot. I used to think that it was a bad thing to get lost inside your head, but now I don’t see it that way.

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There’s a phrase people use often when they get engrossed in their thoughts, that you’re “living inside your head.” For some people this can happen every so often when they’re nervous or anxious about life events. For me, it happens all the time – I feel like some days I take up a permanent residence inside my head, which isn’t usually a fun place to be.

I used be to afraid of living inside my own head. If you had the choice between being somewhere that brought out the best in you and somewhere that brought out the worst, you’d pick the first one, right? For a long time, it seemed that I only picked the latter – with disastrous results.

It was only recently that I got more comfortable with my thoughts – at least, some of the time. Once I began to realize that I had power over them, rather than my thoughts wielding power over me, my attitude changed. I’m not saying that I’m not afraid of my thoughts now, but I’ve taken a step in the right direction and am hoping that one day, I won’t be afraid to get lost in my head.

On this journey I’ve learned that every win, regardless of magnitude, is important. If this is the first step to being completely comfortable with my thoughts, that would be wonderful. If it’s not? That’s okay too. I spent way too much time trying to change the way I am instead of accepting certain things about me, and getting lost in my thoughts is one of those things. I think about all the negative aspects of living inside my head and forget about all the self-awareness and thoughtfulness that I’ve gained as a result.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all the time spent lost in my thoughts and though it isn’t easy, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t know if I like the way I am, but I’m getting to be okay with it. And for me, that’s saying a lot.