Reading and Mental Health

As a kid, I loved to read. While I had favorite authors and genres, it came to a point where it almost didn’t matter what kind of book it was – if I hadn’t read it before, odds were that I’d give it a shot. I’d guess that I’ve read hundreds of books in my lifetime, but the vast majority of them happened before I went to college – and I had to deal with my mental health.

When my mental health worsened, it became hard to read. I had difficulty concentrating on one task at a time, and the result was many years of multitasking. I would have music on while studying, or stream a show on Netflix while doing some writing. I could not focus on a sole subject or interest because I could not develop a one-track mind. Instead, I would have two thought processes running in my head: 1) the normal thoughts and feelings about what it is I was doing at the time, and 2) the negative thoughts and self-talk that seemed to be popping up more and more every day.

By multitasking, I was occupying both thought processes and keeping my mind fully occupied and away from the negative thoughts. But reading a book meant that I would have to develop a one-track mind that concentrated on the words on the page – a near-impossible ask for my anxious self.

This meant that over the course of my college career, I read very little outside of what was required for school. After college, I tried to get into reading a little more, but it proved to be too difficult. I thought that I had to be busy all the time in order to combat the negative thoughts, and the result was an unhealthy lifestyle that definitely didn’t make me feel better about myself. So, like in many other aspects of my mental health and my life, I took a new approach.

First I started rereading books that I’d enjoyed in the past. Some were easier to read than others, but it helped me get on a good schedule of reading consistently because even if I didn’t enjoy it, I’d already read the book before so it wasn’t a total waste.

When 2019 started, I decided to take a chance and really get into reading again. I started by making it a goal to read only 10 pages a day. It was a small chunk, but it was manageable and made me feel like I’d accomplished something. Soon, I started reading during my lunch break at work, which satiated my need for multitasking while helping me learn how to focus on reading.

It’s taken a few months, but I’ve finally hit my groove. I’ve read four books so far in 2019 and I just started my fifth, and while I’m not in love with reading like I used to be as a kid, I like it a whole lot more than I have in recent years. I hope that as my mental muscles grow stronger I can read not only as a coping mechanism but because I genuinely enjoy it.

Has your mental health affected a hobby or activity that you love? Let me know in the comments!

Fear of the Unknown – And the Known

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.

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My Journey to Setting Monthly Goals

Like any other day, I was scrolling through social media when I came across an interesting article. Apparently, you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. This is not just some cliche – it’s actually backed up by science. I was a little surprised, but then I thought about all the goals I have for this coming year. To be honest, they’re quite vague, and that isn’t helpful. How can I achieve something if I don’t really know how to get there? Continue reading

Life Update – Taking Steps Toward My Dreams

So I know it’s been a long time since I updated you guys on what’s going on in my life, but I wanted to share some of what’s been going on with me recently.

Last year I mentioned my TEFL certification course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and I am happy to share that I am now a TEFL-certified teacher! I have had plans in the works to move to Europe in 2019, and I am making that dream a reality. I settled on returning to Prague, where I studied as an undergrad. In fact, I’ve already found a place to live in advance of my move, which I am extremely excited about! Next thing on the list: finding a job. While I’m a writer at heart, I’m really curious to see what effect a year of teaching English has on me and my personal development. As the son of two teachers, I can only hope some of those genes have rubbed off on me.

I’m still busy at work, learning the ins and outs of what it’s like to work on a Communications team. In May I will have worked at my organization for two years, and I am proud of myself for the fortitude and strength to stay at this position for so long while maintaining my mental health. That’s not to say every day is easy, but I’ve gained knowledge and put more tools in my chest to succeed at my job despite my mental illness.

I also have some big plans for the basketball website that I run (Ballers Abroad – shameless plug, I know) as well as this blog! The tagline for #MBNB is “living with mental illness and promoting mental wellness” and while I think I’ve done a good job of sharing my experience living with mental illness, I have not done as good a job as promoting mental wellness. Next month, I hope that you see more than one post a week from me as I delve into what it really means to live and be mentally well. I’m always open to ideas on what to write about, so please let me know what you want to read!

The next stage of my life is slowly beginning to take shape, and I am excited to share it with you. The positive response to this blog over the past year and a half has been so amazing, and I cannot wait to continue to share my experience and continue to be a true mental health advocate. Much love to you all!

Being Decisive While Having Anxiety

By nature, I am an indecisive person. Whether that’s a genetic trait or something I’ve taught myself over the years, it’s true. Painfully true. Whether it’s a massive decision or the tiniest little thing, I overthink just about every single thing in my life. From deciding where to live or what to eat for lunch, each moment of decision comes with a thousand other thoughts. I weigh all possible outcomes, and think about how they will effect me now and in the future.

Being indecisive isn’t fun. It’s even less fun when you have GAD. While I do think my indecisiveness is a personality trait, I know having an anxiety disorder doesn’t help things. So how do I make decisions? There seems to be a simple answer (you know, make them), but it’s taken me years to figure out a way I can – somewhat – be decisive.

The most important decision I make every day is to get out of bed. It might be a reflex for some people, but for me it’s always a choice. I choose to take on the day and its challenges. Some days, it’s easier to leave the bed than others. A symptom of my depression is a severe lack of energy. On days where it’s particularly difficult, I don’t – I can’t – leave my room. This symptom used to be much more prevalent in my life, but it doesn’t hold as much power over me as it used to.

So I make the decision to get out of bed. I make the decision to get dressed. I make the decision to be a person that day. And that changes everything.

Those decisions at the beginning of the day are the most difficult ones for me – but they have the most impact. After that, all my other choices seem easier. What to wear, what to eat, what to get done at work. Those choices pale in comparison to the massive one I’ve already made that day to be me.

Before you get the wrong idea don’t worry, I’m still indecisive. I can’t change overnight! But the decisions I make don’t have as much staying power as they used to. I still agonize over the decision but once it’s made, I move on. Because by being here, by choosing to be a person and interact with the world, I’ve already made the most important decision I can make. Nothing really tops it.

Making decisions while living with an anxiety disorder isn’t easy. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it is possible. I make the decision every day to get out of bed, put some clothes on, and try to be my best self. And to me, that’s the most important decision I’ll ever make.

 

 

 

Holding on to Hope

I know, I know, I didn’t write a post last week. I was out of town at a time when I usually write these posts so I decided to take a week of from the blog and get back to it this week. But wouldn’t you know it, there was more than one thing that happened this past week and a half that I need to share with you, even though that wasn’t my intent – funny how that works, eh?

Two weeks ago, I went on an Out of the Darkness Community Walk, put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was an incredible experience and meant a lot that I was able to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention, a topic I am very passionate about. Before the walk, some words were shared by the people hosting the event and people who had lost others to suicide, and someone said one thing in particular that stuck with me. Two words. Hold on. I’ve heard those words many times before, but this time they hit me harder than ever before. Hold on, she said, for the future. For the life you’re going to live, the relationships you’ll make and the person you’ll become. I’ve always been told to hold on, but I’ve never been told why.

Then I attended a wedding last weekend. It was a wedding between two friends that are near and dear to my heart, and I was fortunate enough to be a member of the bridal party as a groomsmen. I won’t go on and on about how amazing the weekend was (even though it was!), but instead I’ll tell you what happened because of it. It gave me hope. Hope about what? A lot of things. But it wasn’t important what those things were as much as it was that hope existed in the first place. Because I lose hope fairly frequently. Hope that I’ll ever lead a normal life. Hope that mental illness will not define me. Hope that I can be happy with the life I lead.

But this wedding, it gave me hope – in so many ways more than the obvious. And it gave me an answer to the question, why? Why hold on? Hope. Hold on for all that I hope for. I want to hold on to the hope that my health, and consequently my life, will get better. I want to hold on to the hope that my life won’t always be this way, both in and outside of my head. There’s so much hope I want to hold on to that I don’t know what to do with all of it.

So I’ll hold onto some hope for you, too. Whatever it’s for, whoever it’s for, I’ll hold onto it. Because people have been holding onto hope for me my entire life, and it’s time I return the favor.E.B. White