New Year, New Me? Nah.

“New Year New Me” is a phrase often used around the start of any new year, and it makes sense. Though some people just see it as one day becoming another, for others it’s a chance to start fresh and work on good habits and self-improvement. The start of a new year can be cathartic for some who may want to leave the previous year behind and begin anew. Whatever your reason, the passing of one year to another can be a momentous time. But for me, for the longest time, it was torturous.

Since I was first diagnosed with mental illness, New Years became a holiday where I vowed to vanquish my illnesses. Not this year, I’d say. Depression won’t beat me this year. And when I inevitably failed, I would feel terrible. Whether it was canceling plans with friends, having a crying spell or practicing negative self-talk, I would catch myself in the midst of a symptom of my depression and anxiety and be overcome with disappointment. This year? Not so much.

For the first time, I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution. When the clock struck midnight, the year was new but I felt the same. My mental illness didn’t go anywhere. My depression didn’t turn into a unicorn, and my anxiety didn’t reappear as a rainbow. I took my mental illness with me into 2019, and I’ll take it into 2020. But something’s different.

Don’t get me wrong, resolutions and mental health can definitely work  – when they’re within reason. But my all-or-nothing resolutions to no longer have depression were not good and got me nowhere.

So instead I came with up with goals. Short-term and long-term, I came up with a list of achievable goals that will help improve my mental health and my life in general. And guess what? My goals are a lot less daunting than a generic resolution to get in shape, read more or try to eat out less often. And I feel more confident about them. And I think I can make them work.

I’m not telling you whether or not to to make a New Year’s resolution – I’m just telling you what works for me. Don’t put any more pressure on yourself to change your life because it’s 2019. Your life could change tomorrow – you just never know. What’s important is that you’re happy, and proud of what you’re doing. I’m on the first step to doing that – a goal achieved in and of itself.

_Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year._.png

 

 

The Holiday Check-In

holidays

It’s that time of year! The holidays are here, and with it come hopes of fun times spent with family and friends. But that’s not always the case.

The holidays aren’t great for everyone. There are plenty of reasons for why this happens, but what’s important to understand is that it’s normal and that it happens to more people than you think. Whether it’s at work, at home or somewhere else, the holidays can sometimes bring out the worst in us instead of the best. Even if it’s out of our control, if we can recognize this, we’re taking the first step to getting better.

Checking in with your people

I like to check in with my family around the holidays, regardless of whether or not I see them in person. Knowing what a touchy time this can be for my own mental health, I want to make sure everyone on my team is okay. Regardless of how well you think someone is doing, it doesn’t hurt to ask around and see how your loved ones are. Even if it seems like there’s nothing wrong, ask anyway. Often times, those who are hurting the most are also the most insistent that they’re fine (aka the mantra of someone who is not fine).

If someone is upset with you for asking, there are a few ways to handle this. First, you can let them know you’re checking in on everybody, not just a select few. This might put them more at ease and not feel like they’re being targeted. Second, you can tell them you’re just doing what you think everyone needs around the holidays, which is a chance for self-reflection and contemplation. You can tell them that your asking comes from a place of love and care, and only the best intentions.

What should you say if someone’s checking in with you?

Be honest. There’s no need to try to fake your way through the holidays because everyone seems so happy. The holidays aren’t easy for everyone, and if someone such an honest question, they shouldn’t be surprised by an honest answer.

I typically have pretty great holidays with my family, but they don’t go by without at least a few loved ones asking how I’m doing. And I tell them, honestly, how I’m doing. I know they love me either way and they are there to support me. But I get how awkward it can feel to tell someone that you feel like garbage when you’re supposed to be celebrating a holiday. But after a short time that awkwardness goes away, and eventually, it just becomes like any other question you get asked.

If no one checks in with you, check in with yourself

If no one asks you how you’re doing mentally, make sure you ask yourself! It’s important not to forget about your own mental health this time of year while you’re thinking about everything else. You have just as much a right to be mentally healthy as anyone else does, and taking the time to check in with yourself is important and very underrated around the holidays. This should be a time of gratitude, happiness and thankfulness – I hope that it is that for you this holiday season.

 

Why I’m Back in Therapy

As I mentioned last week, I’m back in therapy. This decision didn’t come easy – it’s been almost two years since I’ve routinely gone to therapy. But I’m a different person than I was two years ago, with different goals. This time, I’m prioritizing self-improvement over self-love. Let me explain.

A common symptom of depression is not liking yourself very much. It sucks, but it’s true. On top of everything else depression threw at me, this was the thing I had the hardest time dealing with early on. I couldn’t stand the fact that I hated myself. I read book after book on loving yourself, learning to like who you are and accepting yourself as a human being. And it didn’t do squat for me.

When I used to go to therapy, I would obsess over this fact: how do I learn to love myself? This ever-present worry surrounded me and got in the way of any self-improvement. I was so fixated that the concept of ‘loving myself’ became foreign to me; I wasn’t sure what ‘loving me’ even meant.

This isn’t to say that those therapy sessions were fruitless. They helped me explore my mental health in a way I had never done before. But my own self-improvement, as a topic, was never on the table. I thought that I had to rid myself of my mental illness instead of living with it. But why does it have to be that way?

It’s taken me a very long time to realize, but I finally want to focus on improving myself in other areas. For instance, I have a tendency to be late for things and I have problems waking up in the morning. I used to chalk up some of these flaws as part of my mental illness, but I’m tired of that. I’m wary of when I use my anxiety and depression as a reason for not getting something done. I won’t lie, it bothers me sometimes. By attacking other aspects of myself, I am able to become a more complete version of myself – mental illness and all.

This has also changed my perception of who therapy can benefit. Like many people, I believed that only those who were mentally ill, who truly ‘needed’ help, needed to go. That’s why I went, right? Not anymore. Therapy is anything that helps you become a better version of yourself. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Exercising, yoga, meditation, writing in a journal..the list goes on and on. And yes, actually talking with a therapist is also a form of therapy.

I’ve been searching for ways to become the best version of myself, to learn how to live mentally well. I think talking with a therapist will help in that goal, so that’s what I’m going to do. But I also know that’s not the only path to self-improvement – there are many other things we can do. But it starts with us. And this time around in therapy, that’s finally something that I understand.

What is your favorite form of therapy? Let me know in the comments!

Carl Jung.png

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

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

World Mental Health Day 2018

I know I usually post on Thursdays, but I thought I’d mix it up a little this week since today is World Mental Health Day, and what kind of mental health blogger would I be if I didn’t write about that? In addition to World Mental Health Day, this week is also Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is put on by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. These days are not only important for those struggling with their mental health but their loved ones as well.

World Mental Health day 2018

It’s okay not to be okay. #SameHere. Cure Stigma. There are so many mental health movements going on around the country, but they all have a similar goal: reduce the stigma around mental health and make sure people know that they aren’t alone. This might seem like a difficult task, but it is possible.

However, this can’t be done overnight (if only it were that simple!). This is a battle that we have to fight every single day if we want to continue the living the lives we’ve created for ourselves. I talk about mental health and promote mental wellness on this blog not because I think it’s a fun thing to do every now and then, but because it’s a necessity for me to live a healthy life. If I don’t focus on mental health every day, my life as I know it will change.

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’ and it could not be more relevant in today’s world. According to the World Health Organization, half of mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. They also say that ‘prevention begins with better understanding’ which I totally agree with. That means talking to young people, sometimes children, about how they’re feeling and trying to understand what it is. Sometimes it’ll be nothing. Other times it will be something that could turn their mental health around! You won’t know unless you ask those questions.

But they’re just kids, critics will say. They’re always in a ‘mood’ or are going through something. Are they? Yes, every person goes through ups and down – that’s life. But take it from someone who knows. It’s not normal to dislike yourself. It’s not normal to have constant crying spells. It’s not normal to not feel like yourself most of the time.

Like I’ve said plenty of times on this blog, mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter your gender, your race, your religion, – or even your age – mental illness can happen to anyone. Promoting healthy minds can lead to healthy lives, and it starts as early as you want it to start. So this World Mental Health Day, maybe check in with a young person and see how they’re doing. See where they’re at with their mental health. It can’t hurt, right?

You may have to fight a battle more than once.png

Q&A With Dr. Laura Dabney

This week we’re talking with a mental health PRO! Dr. Laura F. Dabny, M.D. is a psychiatrist who has run her own psychotherapy practice in Virginia Beach for nearly 20 years. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about mental health and its place in today’s society.

What is a popular misconception about seeing a psychiatrist?
That we are judgmental, critical or going to tell a patient what to do. Instead, we are impartial, supportive and help you find the best solution for your problems.

When should someone consider getting help for their mental health issues?
I define that by when your problem, however “big” or “small,” negatively impacts your relationships or job performance, it’s time to get help.

How, especially in the beginning, can a person learn to trust a professional with their mental health? 
By reading my last answer a few times! Just kidding. There’s nothing wrong with calling and asking to speak to the mental health person before making the appointment.
Reputable and trustworthy professionals will be glad to do this. It may help to see if you “click” over the phone before going in. I also strongly recommend that if you get a bad vibe for any reason in the first appointment, don’t make a follow-up appointment. An initial evaluation is a way to test your connection with the therapist. It doesn’t commit you in any way.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to get help for their mental health?
Break the concept of “getting help” into bite-size chunks. You don’t have to throw yourself into months of therapy. Start first by simply checking out some websites or some blogs on mental health. Then maybe just call and talk to the receptionist about the practice. These casual first steps might help get you over the nervousness about making an appointment.

What is the best way to address possible stigmas of mental health?
Luckily this seems to be improving. I think reading books by accomplished people with mental illness such as Kay Jamison’s book (Unquiet Mind) helps balance the media’s skewed perception that people with mental illness are untreatable or misfits.

Anything you’d like to add?
Although I’m an M. D., I do believe in using psychotherapy to help ween people off psychotropic medications. Big Pharma really pushed these medications as miracle drugs in the ’90s when I was in training. While they can be helpful, there are many people that can benefit from therapy or short-term use of medication, and therefore don’t need the medications for life. It’s important to get a second opinion if someone recommends medication without giving a list of pros and cons of the different types of therapy and medication usage.

A Simple Reminder

Now that we’re coming to the end of #SuicidePreventionMonth, I wanted to make one more post because I wanted to tell you (and myself) one more thing. Please remember this not just now, but days, weeks, months from now. Because it’s important today and every day.

You matter.

I will never say that enough – I could never say that enough. You. Matter.  Your thoughts, your words, your actions. They matter. When you think no one cares, when you feel all alone, remember this. It might not get you through the rest of your life. That’s okay – if just needs to get you through the rest of right now.

I wish I had more to say but for once, words are failing me. Because those two words – you matter – have gotten me through some of the toughest points in my life. I hope they can help get you through some of yours. And if you need to hear more, I’m always happy to help. It’s okay not to be okay. We’re stronger together, and we can beat this thing – one day and one moment at a time.

P.S. This October, for the second year in a row, I’m going to take part in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. I’m putting my money where my mouth is and being a public advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. I will do everything I can to further this cause, and I hope you can help. If you’re in the D.C. area, and want to do the walk, join me! If anyone wants to walk, my group and I would be happy to have others meet up with us. And if you can’t, these walks are happening all over the country (and are free to register!).  

You can find my Fundraising Page here. If you have any questions just let me know – I’m happy to talk with you about these walks or anything else. After one year of doing this blog, I’ve realized something – my mental health, everyone’s mental health, is near and dear to my heart. And I won’t shut up about it. 

_If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward._.png

 

 

How We Can Deal With Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal thoughts are more common than you think. Statistics show that more than four percent of adults in America had thoughts of suicide in 2016. That amounts to more than nine million people. Nine million! So the odds that someone you know, or someone you interact with on a daily basis, have had (or are having) suicidal thoughts is pretty high.

So how do we deal with this? What can we do to stop this and prevent it? I wish I had a solid answer for you, but that wouldn’t be honest of me. The truth is, I think about suicide every single day. I don’t say that to be dramatic, I’m just being honest. And preventing these thoughts is one of the most time-consuming things I do some days.

There are plenty of things I try when I feel this way, and I’d like to share some of them with you. I also understand that what may work for me might not work for you (and vice versa). I’m not saying that these are full-proof guarantees to ward off suicidal thoughts – but they can help.

  1. Meditate. Clearing your mind can be difficult when you’re in this state but if you can do it, it’s worth it. Sometimes when you’re having bad thoughts, you forget about the physical aspect of yourself. Meditation helps bring that back and reminds you that you’re human.
  2. Exercise. I wrote this down instead of ‘Go for a Run’ or ‘Lift Weights’ because whatever way you exercise is what you should do. I have a bad back, so going on long runs is a thing of the past for me. But getting on a bike and riding around, or using my weight machine at work can help keep me occupied for a time.
  3. Spending time with someone. Anyone. This is more of a suggestion when bad thoughts have been floating around your head for a while. Go do something with someone. Most times it doesn’t matter what you do or with who. The simple act of removing yourself from a bad situation can go a long way to restoring better thoughts. And while you don’t have to do this when you’re with someone, you might want to…
  4. Talk about it. This isn’t an easy one. It took me years before I told anyone that I had suicidal thoughts. There are tons of reasons why we don’t tell anyone. But there are more important reasons for why we should tell someone. Because we deserve to be here – even if we don’t think so. And if someone can help us stay, we need to let them help keep us here. The more you talk about it, the easier it gets – believe me.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2018

TW: This post discusses suicide.

This is the second consecutive year that I’ve written a post about Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Last year, I couldn’t write this post until the end of the month because September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day, hit me so hard that it took me a while to recover. I’m writing this post this year a little bit stronger and a little bit more confident.

As it did last year and the years before, suicide remains prevalent in our country. Suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is still top-ten in cause of death in the United States, the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Those statistics might be hard for you to read – they were hard for me to write. It’s a little unbelievable, when you think about it. It makes you think that suicide is something unavoidable, inevitable. But it’s not inevitable. It’s preventable. Though it’s not always easy to prevent, it is preventable. And we must do what we can to fight it.

For the rest of the month, I’ll be posting about different topics related to suicide prevention. If you’re able, I hope you can read them. Because this problem won’t go away if we ignore it. We need to #ShineTheLight, #BeThe1To and do everything in our power to fight against suicide. It won’t be easy – it might seem impossible – but in the end, it will be worth it.

You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.