May is mental health awareness month, so I wanted to make sure I talked about it before it was over.
I feel like the past several posts have been about mental health in one way or another — my seven year clean date, my decision to make more time for this blog, and my announcement of my writing sabbatical in September. I’ll be sure to get back to fitness, food, and other helpful wellness posts, but this is always a passion of mine so we’ve got one more for you for now.
I struggle with depression and anxiety, as do a ton of people across the country. It’s not about being bummed out or nervous to give a presentation, it’s something that takes over and impairs my ability to live life successfully. It’s not something I can just “will away” and it’s taken a lot of work to get to the place that I am today.
I wanted to share some of my suggestions for dealing with mental illness from both an inside and outside perspective. I’ve split them up and have written out what’s been most helpful for me in my own life. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
Have a toolbox
It may seem like a silly analogy, but a toolbox is basically a resource for you to turn to when situations get difficult. This refers to any number of tools you can draw from, including, but not limited to:
- calling your therapist/sponsor/support network
- practicing self-care (baths, reading, listening to music, baking, cleaning, etc.)
Reach out to others
This is already a big tool from the previous example, but I wanted to make sure to emphasize it again. Any kind of mental illness or addiction can’t be beat by yourself. As often as I tried to will myself out of using and depression, I always failed. If I’m not in the right mental state, how can I expect to make decisions that will heal me?
Getting help from those around me made a tremendous difference in my recovery. Utilizing therapists and support networks are good steps in realizing you’re not alone and finding solutions that you may not be equipped to come up with on your own.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, learn about it. This doesn’t mean spend all your time on WebMD scaring yourself to death, but talk to other people who struggle with the same thing, visit reputable websites aimed at raising awareness and educating others about what you’re going through. Talk to a therapist. Knowing what you’re dealing with makes it less scary and allows you to understand what steps you may need to take.
Don’t write off medication
The decision to take medication to treat your mental health is a personal one. For me, I found it was a complete lifesaver. I didn’t realize what I was living with until it was gone. If you’re interested in reading about my experience with antidepressant medication, you can find it here.
Personally, I think that medication works best in conjunction with some type of therapy. It doesn’t have to be consistent therapy, but I think that it should be incorporated at some level in a medication regimen. Educate yourself and weigh your options, but don’t immediately dismiss it as an option.
Be patient with yourself
One of the hardest things for me to do was to slow down and trust the process. As an addict, I’m a big fan of instant gratification and slowing down was something that took a lot for me to do. Acknowledge that you’re going through a tough time. Understand that it won’t be fixed immediately and give yourself time to trust the process and keep going.
I’ve always said that all I want is a recipe to follow for life and I’ll do each thing to get from point A to cake. The problem is that with mental health and emotional issues, there is no recipe. There’s no stringent timeline and there’s no knowing how long things may last. All you can do is keep showing up for yourself and doing the best you can.
Let them know you’re there
Even if I wasn’t ready to get help, knowing that I had family and friends that I could rely on was huge so that when I WAS ready, I knew where to go. In some cases it can be as easy as saying “I’m here if you need anything.” In others, it may help to be more explicit in your words —
- “Do you need me to call anyone for you?”
- “Can I make dinner and bring it over?”
- “Can I drive you anywhere?”
- “How can I be here for you?”
Make sure to let them know that you’re there, you’re listening, and ask them specifically how you can help or how you can get them help from someone else if you’re not the best person.
Some things to avoid saying —
- “Everyone gets depressed and anxious, just deal with it”
- “You’re being really dramatic/selfish/etc.”
- “Happiness is a choice”
- “There are people worse off than you”
- “Just breathe and calm down”
- “Maybe you should try taking some vitamins”
And so on and so on. Before you speak, consider the other person’s feelings. They’re not doing it intentionally. Think about how you would want someone to help and talk to you.
Watching someone you care about go through a tough time can be hard, especially if you haven’t been there. It’s an easy jump to lose patience and wonder “why can’t they just snap out of it??” Reserve judgement and realize that they are going through their own journey that you may not understand.
If it’s not something you’ve experienced before, show your support by learning about what they are going through. Read about depression. Read about addiction. Read about anxiety and other mental illnesses. Having a better understanding of mental health will help you react more appropriately.
Take care of yourself
It can be easy to lose sight of yourself while worrying about someone with mental health issues. If the problem is severe or if it’s someone close to you, you may find yourself preoccupied with how they’re doing. This leads to a focus of attention away from yourself and onto them.
Set boundaries so that you can protect your own well-being and mental health. It can be hard, but if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re certainly not equipped to show up for anyone else.
Here are some other links you may find helpful:
- How To Know If You Need Professional Help
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Mental Health
Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.