During Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s a lot of talk about shrinking the stigma. While it might look different than it used to, the stigma surrounding mental health is alive and well. While many would agree on how important it is to shrink the stigma, it’s easier said than done. Shrinking the stigma isn’t only in our words; it’s in our actions. So, what does it actually look like to shrink the stigma, and how can we contribute?Continue reading
Five Ways We Can Better Understand Our Mental Health Symptoms
Earlier this week on the blog, I wrote about understanding symptoms. When it comes to mental illness, many symptoms are easy to see or understand. However, many symptoms also feel impossible to see in ourselves or others. A symptom of depression for one person might not exist for someone else, but both of these people could experience depression. Mental health is complex, and understanding our symptoms (however they look) is a big step on the path toward mental wellness. Today, I want to look at five ways we can work toward better understanding our symptoms.
Do your research – but take it with a grain of salt
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s be honest. The Internet is a big place, and not everything you find here is going to be helpful. The more that mental health has worked its way into mainstream conversation, the more likely there will be disinformation or misinformation about it. On the flip side, researching depression and anxiety on my own terms has been one of the most helpful ways of understanding my diagnoses. Researching symptoms is a good way to understand things more, but it’s important to take everything you read with a grain of salt until you talk with a professional. Which leads me to the second point…
Talk with a mental health professional
If you’re experiencing symptoms where your physical health is impacted, you see a doctor. Why would it be any different for mental health? Talking to a mental health professional is a good first step to get the help you need. And if you think that means immediately seeing a therapist or psychiatrist, that’s not always the case. There are many types of mental health professionals who can provide valuable insight, and reaching out to someone you feel comfortable talking with is the most important criteria.
Understand mental symptoms and physical symptoms
As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, symptoms of mental illness can manifest themselves mentally and physically. It took time, but I’ve learned the difference between mental and physical symptoms. I’ve learned to recognize symptoms within myself, and figure out if my symptoms are recurring. It’s important to understand what these symptoms are, but it’s more important to know what they are for you. Understanding how my symptoms impact me is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned when it comes to mental health.
Know the difference between acute and chronic illness
For a long time, my symptoms came and went without any further understanding and introspection about them. Learning the difference between acute symptoms and chronic conditions has been very helpful for my long-term mental health. According to the National Council on Aging, acute illnesses “generally develop suddenly and last a short time, often only a few days or weeks,” while chronic conditions “develop slowly and may worse over an extended period of time – months to years.” Once I could start defining my symptoms as acute or chronic, I could better learn how to deal with them.
Take things day by day
This last bit of advice sounds a little cliche but it’s something I come back to time and again. For a long time, my only reaction to a new aspect of my depression and anxiety was fear. I was afraid of learning about new symptoms because I assumed I’d have to deal with them every single day. I’ve since learned that this isn’t the case; a symptom that might be challenging one day might not show up the next. Learning to take things as they come has taught me a lot not only about my mental illnesses, but also about myself. Every day brings new lessons on dealing with depression and anxiety. In my experience, the best way this happens is when you slow down and take things day by day.
Now I want to hear from you! What is a bit of advice you have for someone who is learning about symptoms of mental illness? Let me know in the comments!
Another Chance to Start Fresh
After my (in my opinion) grumpy post about how challenging the month of February is, I’d like to try a different approach today. I’m glad I’ve admitted that the winter is a difficult season for me; doing so has helped shift the way I manage my mental health this time of year. While it hasn’t solved my problems, I’m glad that I’m more aware of what I’m up against.
Make no mistake, I still have my bad days – and during the winter, it feels like they happen constantly. But this awareness helps me appreciate the good days, the good moments where I don’t feel anxious or depressed. Moments where I feel like myself. And it’s those moments I want to build on, ones I want to experience more and have around more often.
At the start of a new month, I often think about my goals and things I want to do. Sometimes, these goals feel like the same old, same old: I want to read more, write more, meditate more, journal more. I want to have fun experiences and do interesting things. I constantly think about what I want to do but it wasn’t until thinking about this post that I realized something. I think often about what I want to do but in this context, I rarely think about who I want to be.
I’ll admit, this type of thinking is challenging for me. My instincts are often to act; when I see a problem I want to find a solution and do it as quickly as possible. It’s not the worst trait in the world, but it can often put me in situations that are more complicated than they need to be. If I don’t actively work to slow myself down, I’ll rush into something. These things usually aren’t the end of the world (my anxiety would disagree), but it happens enough that once I recognized it, it wasn’t something I could ignore.
I want to reflect on who I want to be, how I want to be, this month. I want to think about who I am in this time of my life, and how I want to move through this specific time. That doesn’t have to mean anything has to change from what I’d normally do – in fact, it’s possible nothing will change. But I’m not looking to change my actions; I’m looking to change my attitude surrounding those actions. I want to get a better sense of who I am and why I do what I do, and it starts with reflection.
I’m trying to build on my mental health on a month-to-month basis. Every month brings new challenges, new highs and new lows. But it’s also a chance. A chance to get to know myself better. A chance to learn from myself, and those around me. And regardless of how it turns out, I’m going to be grateful. Because when next month rolls around, I’ll be able to start fresh and try again.
Building on momentum isn’t as easy as it sounds, believe me! How do you get yourself motivated for the month ahead? Let me know in the comments!
Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Over the years, I’ve learned a number of words, phrases and definitions that have helped me understand my own mental health. Some of these are connected to mental illness or medicine, while others are connected to mental wellness. In this recurring series, I break down some of the mental health terms I’ve learned over the years. Today, I’ll be breaking down intrusive thoughts: what they are, what they look like and what we can do about them.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
I spent many years experiencing intrusive thoughts without knowing what they were. Even once I learned about them, I still had trouble understanding them. The definition of intrusive thoughts is quite simple, but dealing with them can feel far more complicated. According to Healthline, intrusive thoughts “are unexpected images or thoughts that seem to pop into your head. They’re often strange or distressing. But these thoughts happen to almost everyone from time to time.”
It’s not always easy to spot intrusive thoughts, or to name them when they happen. In fact, not knowing how to name these sort of thoughts can lead someone to assuming that’s just how their mind works. But intrusive thoughts are often unpleasant and unwanted, and that lack of desire for a thought you may have is a good sign that you’re experiencing an intrusive thought. This can also lead people to feeling ashamed or wanting to control/stop these thoughts, which can lead to spirals and other mental health issues.
What Do Intrusive Thoughts Look Like?
Intrusive thoughts are just that – thoughts. There’s an instinct to believe that every thought we have matters or to worry about what they mean, but they’re just thoughts. Our brains have (on average) around 6,000 thoughts per day and for a lot of people, most of those thoughts are pleasant or just nondescript. But it’s these intrusive thoughts – which can often feel scary because they are dark or violent, or full of worry or doubt – that have a habit of sticking with us. These are the thoughts we can’t let go of if we’re not careful.
When I think about identifying intrusive thoughts, there are two criteria I look out for:
- Did this thought feel unwelcome/unwanted? Was I thinking about something else, or anything at all, when this thought popped into my head?
- Is the content unpleasant, or something that feels vastly different from what we usually think about?
When I can identify these sort of patterns when it comes to a thought (or a set of thoughts), I can recognize them as intrusive and begin to deal with them.
What Can We Do About It?
The more I write these blog posts, the more I end up stressing that the most important part of understanding any of these terms is awareness. This is especially true with intrusive thoughts. Without knowing what to call these thoughts or recognize when they happen, things can feel scary. We can begin to think that those thoughts are who we are, or that they aren’t intrusive and they just are part of us. But we need to push back against this narrative and build a new one.
Thoughts are just thoughts, and if they aren’t interfering with your daily life or make a person feel like they need to take action, they can be harmless. But it’s important to name and define the various aspects of our mental health, even if we don’t deal with all of them. The mental health stigma grows when we’re afraid or unable to talk about our problems. We still might be afraid of these problems when we name them, but at least we know what we’re up against.
A Reflection on Depression
Sometimes, depression takes. It takes things away from you, and you feel empty. You didn’t even know you wanted some of these things. But depression puts those things out of reach, making you feel less than once again. Depression doesn’t care what your plan is, or what your goals are. Your timeline is irrelevant in this scenario. All that’s in front of you is a long, painful, endless moment, as far as you can see.
We don’t always see what depression takes. Our vision can become blurry, or our brain foggy. Memories might go missing for a short time; moments you might have enjoyed vanish out of thin air. What was simple then is difficult now. What makes sense in one moment is impossible to comprehend in another. Our minds wander about all the time, but we’re under the false impression that this can only be in a positive way. When it happens in a negative way, our mind has betrayed us. What was once a safe haven is now a space we’re afraid to explore.
We don’t choose depression. It chooses us, it selects us, it casts its invisible hand out and taps us on the shoulder when it wants to come out and play. Sometimes the explanation is as plain as day. Other times that hand seems to reach out of the abyss, stunning us with its timing and cutting precision.
We get tired of depression. We hope the pain will end, we wonder when will the long night be over. We wonder how long it will go on, and feel helpless in its stead. We think that maybe this time is different, that it feels more manageable in this moment…until it doesn’t. We get frustrated that depression seems to have outsmarted us once again. We outlasted it once, we’ve beaten it before, why is it coming back yet again? We’re one foot out of the boxing ring, but depression wants to fight another round.
We’re not always up to the task of fighting our depression. It can sap us of energy, make us feel tired and exhausted. It can feel like an endless moment, like we’re in a room feeling for the light switch on the wall. It’s right there and we know it exists but we can’t find it, moving our hand along the wall endlessly. It feels like it will never end.
But we do learn from depression. We learn about the way it takes shape within us and around us. We learn how it impacts us, what our reaction is to it and the best ways for us to manage it. We learn that it ebbs and flows; that it has happened before and it will happen again. There’s good reason to be fearful of this fact, but there’s comfort there as well. We’ve been through the dark before, and we’ve come out into the light. We’ve grown stronger, we’re better prepared. There’s hope in what we’ve learned.
There’s a lot we don’t know about depression. Oftentimes, we’re left with more questions than answers. But there is power in pushing on. There’s power in moving through, in understanding ourselves in a better way. There’s also power in resting when we know depression has gotten the better of us. And that is my lasting thought in these moments, in these times when depression gets the better of me. I feel helpless, but I am not helpless. I feel powerless, but I am powerful. I’ve been through this before, but I’m a different person than I was before. Depression might take, but I won’t give. And in between these challenges, I will continue finding joy, hope and inspiration where I can find it. I will be better prepared when depression comes around again.
Calling Out for Change
TW: this post discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.
Before I write about a post that discusses suicide, I breathe a big sigh. I try to hold back my own personal emotions because I need to focus, but the shadow of depression hangs its head over me. Because this thing is so hard. It’s so hard to sift through all the feelings and emotions that come with learning the news that someone has died by suicide. There are a million different directions that news can take your brain and what you start thinking about. But after ten years of living with depression and having experienced suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation before, I get sad. Sad and frustrated.Continue reading
Writing Through Sadness
I put a lot of pressure on my writing. Sometimes writing about mental health is a release. It helps me express things I can’t say, and put into words a feeling or emotion I’ve had trouble explaining. But it’s also difficult, in many ways, to write when experiencing anxiety. In those moments, it feels like every word has to be perfect or flow naturally. But perfection is the enemy of good (I’m trying hard to learn this lesson), so I want to share a little of how I’m feeling at the moment.Continue reading
I Am Not My Depression
There’s a phrase I see a lot when I am scrolling through social media or finding mental health resources on the Internet that always gets me thinking. The concept behind them all is that you (or I, or anyone) is “more than” their mental illness. So for instance, I am more than my depression; I am more than my anxiety; I deserve to be known for more than experiencing mental illness. And while I do think it’s a helpful approach to shrinking the stigma, this type of approach – overcoming obstacles, “beating” mental illness – is still difficult for me to manage. That’s why I want to offer an alternative phrase to use today, and see how folks like it.Continue reading
What Does Depression Look Like? More Than You Think
Recently, I came to terms with the fact that I’ve been experiencing a tricky bout of depression for the past month or so. It wasn’t easy to spot, and even though I’ve lived with depression for almost a third of my life, I couldn’t recognize it for a long time. However, it took putting some dots together (and a very patient partner who gives as much support as she can) for me to realize I was living under a fog of depression.Continue reading
Five Reminders For When You Feel Restless
In the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling a little more restless than usual. I’m not sure what’s brought on these feelings, but I was able to recognize that they’re something that can be dealt with and managed – just like the symptoms of anxiety and depression that I experience every day. I haven’t discovered my go-to techniques and activities for dealing with restlessness, but I have learned a few things that have helped me overcome these feelings. That said, here are five reminders for when you’re experiencing restlessness.Continue reading