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!

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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?

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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.

What To Remember When Choosing a Therapist – If You’ve Had One Before

Last week, I wrote about things you should think about when you’re choosing a therapist for the first time. This week, I thought I’d build on that by talking about choosing a therapist if you’ve been to one before. 

Odds are, your first therapist will not be your only one. Sure, you might strike gold with the first one – you might even find ‘the one.’ But often, life and circumstances change, and we’re forced to see multiple therapists during our mental health journeys. Here are some things to remember when you’re picking a therapist when you’ve had one before.

Know your diagnosis. One time I went to see a medical professional who diagnosed me, after one brief assessment, with borderline personality disorder. They did this after ten minutes of speaking with me, and they were aware I had first been diagnosed with a mental illness three years prior. Still, that one ‘diagnosis’ was hard for me to shake, and it took many visits to other mental health professionals – who all told me that was a rash diagnosis – before I could believe them. If you’ve been diagnosed with something from a professional you trust, bring that with you to your new therapist. It’s helpful for all involved.

Do some research. Sometimes when you’re first looking for a therapist, you don’t get to be picky. You pick the person who’s closest, or the first person you find that takes your insurance. If you’re able, really dig into these new potential therapists as much as you can. Psychology Today has a ‘Find a Therapist’ section on their website and I’ve spent a lot of time on there when looking for someone new. You can see people’s specialties, the issues they deal with and their client focus. It’s been a great help to me and I’d totally recommend it!

You know more than you think you do. I remember the first time I went to therapy. I didn’t know what to expect and to be honest, I didn’t get much out of my first session. But when I went to see a new therapist for the first time, I felt much more assured. I knew myself, and my mental health, much more than I had in the past. That knowledge has helped me going forward, and your knowledge will help you, too. That leads me to my third point…

Confidence helps. While I didn’t have confidence in myself, I did have confidence in my knowledge of my mental health. This is something I remembered when I was going to see a new therapist a few years ago. Since I knew more about my mental illnesses, I was able to take comfort in the fact that at least I knew what I was up against. Having that confidence – even in the fact that I didn’t have confidence – helped me as I got to know my new therapist.

Think about your goals. Why did you decide to see a new therapist? I had to see new therapists because I was in college, so I was constantly switching between therapists at school and therapists at home. It got hard to keep track of what I was trying to achieve in therapy and made me sometimes feel like the visits were pointless. Yes, it’s okay if you don’t know why you’re there – getting help is a good step to take. But if you have time, take a minute and see what you’re trying to achieve. It can help in the long run.

I know there are plenty of other tips but these are some of my favorites. Have any to add? Leave a comment below.

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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.