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.

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.

#4Mind4Body: Mental Health Awareness Month

As it has been since 1949, May is Mental Health Awareness Month throughout the United States. Founded by Mental Health America, each year has a different theme that focuses on certain aspects of mental health (e.g. in 2017, the theme was Risky Business). This year the theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it’s centered about making sure that you’re taking care of your entire body when it comes to your health. This means physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…the list goes on. They also emphasize ‘making use of the tools and resources that benefit bodies and minds together’ – of which there are plenty. It’s no secret that physical actions can significantly affect our mental health. Whether it’s exercising, spending quality time with people or earnestly seeking out activities that you love to do, the things we do every day go a long way in impacting our mental health.

We make choices all the time. What to eat, what to wear, who to spend time with. Should we work out today? Should we meet up with friends for happy hour? All these things affect us in the long run. Whether we admit it or not, the physical things we do day in and day out affect our mental health – which is why we should pay attention to them.

I really like this year’s theme because I think that taking care of my body has a positive impact on my mental health. Maybe it doesn’t always keep the depression away, but it rarely makes my symptoms worse. Whether it’s eating right, exercising, or spending time with quality people, I’ve known for a long time that the choices I make – or don’t make – will impact whether or not my depression and anxiety will get the best of me that day, or that week. It might not always be the main factor, but it definitely has a role to play in the grand scheme of things.

And this might be my favorite part of this year’s theme; ANYONE can participate! Being mentally healthy should be at the top of everyone’s list – you don’t need have a mental illness to get to work on your mental health (though I won’t lie, it helps a little).

Mental Health America has a ton of awesome resources to go along with a toolkit that is made specially for Mental Health Month. They also have interesting challenges every day of the month to help you reach your goals. This might seem like a lot of information, and that this all requires a crazy amount of effort, but remember – any attempt to improve yourself is a monumental step in the right direction.

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.

 

Mental Health and Masculinity

When I first began experiencing symptoms of depression, I (quite naturally, I might add) shrugged it off. I assumed that most people felt the way I was feeling at the time, and chalked it up to any number of reasons: I was in a transitional period in my life, going through a lot of change and facing plenty of uncertainties. I was shocked when, the more I began to share my experiences with others, the more I saw that they were more unique than I thought. But I also found it interesting that women were far more open to discussing my issues than men were. I don’t believe that was a coincidence.

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Why I Don’t Want Alone Time

_Man, it feels good to be alone sometimesGod I gotta say those are my favorite nights._I’m introverted by nature, so spending time with groups of people tires me out pretty quickly. Introverted people typically need time to themselves to recharge their batteries, to be alone with their thoughts. They’re typically more reflective than most because they feed off that solitude.

I’m speculating, of course, because that’s merely been my experience as an introverted person, but I’ve heard from friends that they can be the same way (how do you think we became friends?). However, if you combine an introvert with a mental illness, that alone time becomes increasingly more complicated – and not easy to come by.

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Mental Illness During the Holidays

It’s a magical time of year, isn’t it? It’s cold outside, the snow is falling (in some places) and you feel content because the holiday season is upon us. It’s a near-perfect picture. Unfortunately for some people, that feeling doesn’t come around this time of year – in fact, they could end up feeling worse.

While the holidays are a wonderful time to be among friends and family, it’s not a wonderful time for mental health. Yes, it can be healing to be among loved ones, and for a lot of us it’s a boost to be around the people we care about. But please take note – you might be on holiday, but your mental health is not.

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The Mental Health Tag

Hey, how’s your day going? Probably great if you’re reading this swell content. One thing that is very difficult when talking about mental health is to be blunt. Honestly, it’s my biggest problem if I’m discussing my mental health. It’s so much easier to talk around the subject and not get right to the point. Kind of like I am right now…

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It’s #WorldMentalHealthDay!

#WorldMentalHealthDay means it’s another WONDERFUL day to talk about mental health! It’s the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day, which was founded in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health. Obviously any special day, week or month bringing awareness to mental health is important, but I feel like this day is especially important not only for those with a mental illness, but for anyone who is trying to maintain good mental health – which is everybody.

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