Confession: I took my mind and effort away from my own mental health.
I apologize to myself and, more importantly, to those around me. I did a fantastic job of working through panic attacks and generalized anxiety, but I did not give my mental health a FULL examination. While I am still proud of the fact that I went in to get help (after suffering a few panic attacks), admitted I needed medication, and then worked to get to the point where I could stop medication, I am also disappointed in myself. I did just enough to identify the issue (anxiety) and did just enough to get back to the bare minimum of “normal”. I did not focus on getting better or happier, just eliminating the scary parts, like panic attacks or staying on medication.
So what have I learned? I’ve learned that mental health and the issues that come with it are incredibly complex and fuzzy. My anxiety wasn’t just anxiety, but also had some roots within depression – there is a reason why they have an anxiety/depression scale. I’ve also learned that just because you suffer from a named illness, there is no “correct” or universal way to treat it. My underlying struggles are coping and obsessive thinking. Sometimes I can use those things to my advantage – obsessively thinking about something until I perfect that skill or idea – while other times I let it bring me down until I have a panic attack or get depressed. But it doesn’t stop there, it also affects those around me. My treatment of myself bleeds into how I treat others and how much energy I drain from them.
Now I am not trying to make it sound like people don’t want to help someone with a mental illness, far from it. But in many cases, those around you have no clue what you need or the correct way to handle someone who is suffering mentally. Doctors have a hard enough time defining and treating it, so why do we think our loved ones can shoulder so much of the burden? I was guilty of this, especially since I thought I had done enough to say that my journey was over for the time being. The anxiety was better, but the anger and other issues still remained. I worked on my anxiety, but I did not work on myself and did not do enough self-reflection to elevate myself into a better life.
A lot of people face an issue (mental of physical) and only look at overcoming that obstacle. What we don’t see is how we elevate ourselves even higher so we don’t have to continually face those same/similar obstacles in the future. While not true for all mental health issues, there is still a lot to be said on working on yourself and your happiness in order to lessen the likelihood of suffering mental health setbacks. This doesn’t mean having rose-colored glasses or being happy every single second of the day like some cartoon character, but it does mean working on basic things in order to improve your daily life. For me, that skill is mindfulness. I know, I know, that is the “in” word right now; from yoga to meditation, we all think of mindfulness as some weird Buddhist/guru jargon for hipsters. But it is more than that. Slowing down your thoughts and allowing yourself to reflect on all your emotions, dreams, goals, and whatever details that pop into your brain really allow you to focus on those things and not let them build up.
We have enough stress in our lives. Personally, I am dealing with my mental health issues (anxiety AND depression) along with two family situations that only add to the two mental health issues listed earlier. And that isn’t counting the daily stresses of life – job, house, dog, chores, finances, etc. Without reflecting and allowing myself to feel these emotions, I would build up quicker than a snowball falling down a mountain. And if we just go through our daily lives with our heads down, without focus, and without reflecting, we lose sight of our dreams and goals. We start to take things for granted and even get cynical and negative. The stress eats away at our true self and you are left with someone who can only get through the day, not someone who looks forward to tomorrow.
Even if you do not battle diagnosable mental health issues, I would recommend looking into some sort of reflection/mindfulness. We all have times when we get stressed to an unhealthy level, we all get anxious and/or depressed, but many of us still do not know how to work through those tough times. Eventually we get through them (and if you don’t feel like you can, please reach out to a loved one, a doctor, a hotline, or even 911), but being proactive and being able to have a good foundation for when times do get tough is key. Mindfulness doesn’t have to just be for stress or dealing with negative emotions/feelings, you can be mindful of the happy things, too. One of my favorite things to do is a mindfulness exercise where I listen to an album and concentrate on *only* that music. Listening to the intricate sounds of my favorite music while tuning out the rest of my mind/world is cathartic. It is my happy place.
So this May – mental health awareness month – let’s make a commitment to ourselves, to those around us, and to each other that we re-evaluate our journey. Let’s be more proactive and get to a place better than normal, somewhere we truly want to be living, not just surviving and getting by.
*Edit: No more than one day after I wrote this draft (4/27), I see a link to THIS ARTICLE on Google News. The title is “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Can Reduce Chances Of Depression Relapse”. Talk about serendipity.*
If you have questions about mental health, want to donate, or need additional resources, please click THIS LINK.
Also, if you are suffering from any type of crisis and live in a household where someone is employed and has an Employee Assistance Program, I urge you to call that number. Those programs are designed to help you in a multitude of ways – mental health being just one small piece. My program offered me 3 free sessions with a licensed therapist for the situation I was facing.