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.

Guest Post: The Role of Community in Breaking the Stigma

This week’s post comes from Martha McLaughlin, a writer for Heroes in Recovery.

When a nation faces a public health emergency, it’s usually addressed with increased funding, prevention efforts and accessible treatment, often involving both the public and private sector.

But what happens when the disease is so stigmatized that people are afraid to get help? Breaking the stigma needs to be part of the strategy for addressing the crisis.

The United States is facing an addiction epidemic, with opioid drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, currently being the most problematic. The overdose death rate is at an all-time high and still climbing. Deaths attributed to opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, and from July 2016 to September 2017, opioid-related emergency room visits increased by 30 percent.

Only a small percentage of people who need treatment for addiction receive it. One analysis of the data concluded that for every person receiving treatment in a specialty facility, 18 more who needed it went without. There are multiple reasons for the disparity, including the fact that the stigma associated with addiction may lead to a reluctance to seek help, especially among certain populations. Women report stigma as a barrier to treatment more often than men do, and married parents report it most frequently.

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Potential patients have a reason for their concern. A study of public attitudes found that survey respondents were much more likely to have negative opinions about people suffering from drug addiction than from mental illness. Study authors noted that people were more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing.

Because stigma is based on cultural messages, breaking it also requires cultural and community effort. Among the messages that need to be communicated are these:

  • Addiction is a brain disease. Drugs change both the structure and function of the brain, and, although anyone can be affected, some people are at higher risk because of genetic and other biological differences. Human behavior is involved, but that’s also often true of heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic conditions.
  • People from all walks of life can be affected. No one’s age, income level, gender, race, education or degree of professional success provides immunity.
  • Whether or not they realize it, everyone knows people who are or have been affected. Nearly 10 percent of people in the United States have experienced a drug use disorder.
  • People can and do recover. Addiction is treatable, and people go on to live healthy and productive lives.

Communities and organizations are taking on the challenge of reducing stigma in various ways.

Sussex County Community College in New Jersey, for instance, held a program open to the public called

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction” where people in long-term recovery were invited to speak. Other organizations, like Faces and Voices of Recovery, also seek to humanize the issue by giving people a place to share their stories.

Heroes in Recovery is an organization with the goal of breaking the stigma through the power of storytelling. They host a website where people can share their journeys and they sponsor races, which are 6K rather than the traditional 5K distance. That additional kilometer reflects the extra distance that people in recovery go to achieve their goals. They also host virtual races, allowing anyone to run or walk on their own time and wherever they wish. And the organization recognizes stigma-breaking leaders with its Heroes Award.

Media messages, including those on social media, are powerful, as is the choice of language. The

Office of National Drug Control Policy provides suggestions for de-stigmatizing communication. They recommend, for example, avoiding the term “drug habit” and using the term “substance use disorder” instead. When referring to people affected, “a person with a substance use disorder” is preferred to terms like “addict” and “drug abuser,” which negatively intertwine the illness with the person’s identity. Change starts with awareness, and when we pay attention to the messages we send, stigma can be reduced and lives can be saved.

Heroes in Recovery has a simple mission: to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.

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’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!

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.

 

Life Update!

Life Update

When I get into a rhythm, I tend not to keep track of what I’ve got going on. I ebb and flow from one day to the next, going through the motions of my day. While its nice to be in this rhythm because my mental health is in a decent place, it sometimes feels like I’m not really enjoying any aspect of who I am or what I’m doing. By providing a little life update I’m hoping for two things: 1) that my readers get to know me a little bit better, and 2) that I am able to take stock of some of what I’m doing in hopes of improving my long-term mental health.

So what’s new? My job is still going well; I’ve been at it for eight months, and it’s produced a ton of new challenges that make me have to think creatively about the messaging of what we do. Since I like to keep work life separate from my personal life I don’t elaborate much on here what I do, but it’s safe to say that I enjoy it very much.

I’m also back in school! Kind of. I recently started an online certification course to teach English as a foreign language, otherwise known as TEFL. After this 11-week course (and a practicum I have to fulfill) I will be TEFL-certified and can teach English anywhere in the world! I discovered my love for travel when I lived in Prague in college, and since I graduated it’s been my goal to figure out a way to explore the world – this is a great way to do that! While I’m not in any rush to go somewhere immediately, I’m glad that I will have the certification in hand so that when I decide to go abroad I won’t have to wait.

While these two things are taking up much of my time these days, I’m doing my best to continue doing the little things that keep my mental health strong. For me, that means exercising and working my mind by reading and playing brain games on my phone. I also like to cook for myself, and I go on walks when I can’t stop my anxious mind from working. I’m staying busy, which sounds good in theory, but I don’t know if it’s what’s best for me or my mental health (could that be the next post? Stay tuned!).

Overall, I am in a much better position than I was a year ago, when I was having panic attacks every single day and was unable to leave my bed. I hope as this blog continues that you will get to know me better, not only as a person with depression or GAD but as someone who is just like you. Isn’t that all people want, anyway?