World Mental Health Day
As you may or may not know, today is World Mental Health Day, a day that is very near and dear to my heart. Mental Health advocacy is something that has become increasingly more important in my life as I get older and I find myself thinking about it, talking about it and writing about it constantly. The older I get, the more people I encounter people with similar struggles. With many societal pressures, it seems like there are more mental health issues now than say even a few years ago, and all the wrong things are being advertised and taken as positive ways to improve your mental health and others’ mental health.
I was always aware that there were many people around me that were struggling with mental health, but I never fully realized the multitude until I reached college. So many people are experiencing the same things, but yet they all feel alone due to the simple fact that it is not discussed enough. A lot of us have been socialized in a world where we do not express what we are feeling when there is a problem. There is a stigma around poor mental health and a common thought I had growing up was that I was defected and wrong in this world. I thought no one could ever understand what I’m feeling and to a certain extent that is true. No one can ever feel the same exact way you are feeling, in the sense that people cannot take your pain away. Feelings can’t be replicated and pain can’t be compared as both are due to psychological, physiological and environmental factors.
Mental illness is different for everyone. I have been pretty open with my experience with an eating disorder and I recently have been replaying one of my appointments in my head. I was beating up on myself because I didn’t know why this was happening, or how to fix it, or what I was running away from and my dietician looked at me and said: “how would you define an eating disorder to someone else that knew absolutely nothing about them?”I thought about it for a second and I replied “well it is different for everyone and it manifests differently in everyone. Sometimes people use it as a means of control, sometimes it comes on after trauma, sometimes it’s due to the pressure of the societal ‘perfect image’ that we are pushed to be, and other times it’s a whole different reason.” The more I think about this and talk to people, the more it rings true. Mental illness affects everyone differently. I used to get mad at people and kind of gatekeep when people said they had anxiety or depression. I fell in the trap of the common thought: “well they don’t seem anxious or depressed, so they obviously cannot be”. Little did I know people were probably thinking the same thing about me. We’re taught to hide the parts of us that aren’t “favorable” in hopes of living this so-called “perfect” life that is out there full of love, friendship, family, success, fame, or whatever else you constitute as important. I may only be 19, but I want to let you in on a little secret: That is a bunch of baloney. We all live different lives, we all have different backgrounds and we all have different paths we are going to take. I have been saying this for years and I still have to remind myself this every day, but you are the only person that is going to be with you 24/7 from start to finish, whether you like it or not. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Know that there are good times and there are bad times, especially with mental illness. Even if you are medicated, in therapy or think you are 100% better, there will be good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, and sometimes good months and bad months. It is different for everyone, but that does not mean people cannot relate to you and understand how you are feeling. Maybe they can never understand the EXACT way you are feeling, but if someone is trying to relate to you, don’t push them away because you want to be the only person who feels that way. In a world overrun with mental illness (and social media, which exacerbates mental health issues), we are so convinced that we are alone. With 8 billion people in the world, is it really possible that no one understands how we’re feeling? If we are truly alone, then we are alone together, and that’s not alone.
Funny enough, Ed Sheeran shared a post on Instagram that captured everything I wanted to say today:
“It’s World Mental Health Day! Myself and Prince Harry, want to ensure that not just today, but every day, you look after yourself, your friends and those around you. There’s no need to suffer in silence – share how you’re feeling, ask how someone is doing and listen for the answer, be willing to ask for help when you need it, and know that we are in this together.” It is so easy to get wrapped up in your everyday life and your own feelings. I know with starting college I have been so wrapped up in my own issues that I haven’t been the best with checking in with my friends, and that happens. We are only human and we are expected to be doing a million things at once, and if we’re not then we’re “not successful”, “unmotivated”, or ‘uninteresting”, but I would highly suggest taking the time and effort to check in not only with your friends and family to see how they’re doing, but to check in with yourself. For a long time, I ran away from my own issues and unhappiness by helping people with theirs. You can call me a fixer, but that is how I dealt with my problems and it eventually catches up with you. If you’re like me, it makes you more lost than you were in the first place. You should always help others as much as you can, but make sure you are also helping yourself. We are socialized in a society where a lot of us put our own safety and health on the backburner for the sake of being “nice”. We think taking time for ourselves is selfish and talking about our problems makes us seem weak, but these beliefs are inherently wrong. Being vulnerable is hard and it always has been. It doesn’t necessarily get easier the more you practice it, but it will always be important. It is so easy to shut down and keep walls up around your heart and life. I saw and shared a post today that said: “If you aren’t vulnerable, there is a lot less pain, but a lot less love”. My life is a lot more lonely and empty when I cut myself off from the world and disassociate and I still pretty frequently do it when I am so overwhelmed by the world surrounding me. It is not healthy and in the last 6 weeks, I have learned just how amazing and powerful feeling things is.
For the last 6 weeks, I have had some health-related issues including chest pains, which made me quite nervous. I went to the clinic on campus and to the doctor at home for a chest X-ray. Both had determined that nothing was wrong and that it was probably just anxiety, but I was anxious that they were lying to me. It has been a self-perpetuating cycle that has left things fuzzy, confusing and worrisome. Technically I am not even supposed to talk about this because the more I talk about it, the worse it gets, but for the last 6 weeks, I have been dealing with symptoms of what I believe to be depersonalization or DP. DP is a symptom of anxiety and it is essentially your brain’s way of protecting yourself from perceived danger. Over 50% of the population will experience a moment of DP in their lifetime, but it usually goes away within a second or two. Depersonalization is when your brain says “hey this is too much for me right now” and protects itself by making things seem unreal. The more you think about it, the worse it gets, but the subconscious mind does not work in positives and negatives so recovery is not as simple as saying “don’t think about the anxiety”. It is a very strange and distressing phenomenon I have experienced before, but it quite terrifying to say the least. There are a lot of scary existential thoughts that accompany it, along with increased difficulty in connecting with people, and since it is so uncommonly talked about it is really scary trying to figure out what it is. Like any other perceived illness with anxiety, your mind goes to the worst-case scenario. I kept telling my mom I needed to get a brain scan or go to the doctor. I was so worried that something else was wrong that when my doctor said it was just anxiety, I didn’t believe them. Technically they are not wrong in saying it is just anxiety since it is a symptom of anxiety, but when you’re in the moment and in an episode it can feel like the end of the world. I have had times where I have fully convinced myself that the world does not actually exist and that I made everything up. My point in this blog is not to share all of my mental health journeys, but to remind you that people surrounding you, or maybe you yourself are on your own journey that needs support and guidance in order to be successful. We like to think that we can do everything on our own, and yes to a certain extent you can, BUT it is more than okay to reach out for help. Asking for help does not make you weak. It makes you so strong. It takes so much courage to look inside yourself and say “hey, I’m not okay right now, but I want to get better” and ask for someone to reach out to their hand. Conditions like depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD have been made so mainstream in our society that we use the names of them as synonyms of sad, worried, organized and reminded. These illnesses, along with others, are extremely tough to get through by yourself, especially when you do not have people around to relate to. Be there for others whenever you can and ask how you can help them. There is a power in numbers and the more we join together, the quicker we can end stigma around mental illness. If you yourself are experiencing a struggle with mental illness, here are three things that have really helped me: Practice Self Care. This is different for everyone and does not just consist of face masks and tea. Do things that make you happy. I mean things that bring you pure joy, whether it be exercising, writing, talking with a friend, taking yourself on a date, watching a show, etc. Treat yourself to the happiness you know you deserve by doing the (healthy) things you want to do.
Check-in with yourself. Look inside yourself and notice what you are feeling. For some mental illnesses, this is actually counterproductive, but for a good majority of the common ones, this is actually quite helpful. Think critically about your feelings and make sure you are doing okay. Writing always helps me do this and frame things in a positive light as it is so easy to just focus on the negative things and blow them out of proportion. Three years ago I started a journal when I was in a pretty deep depressive episode. I was to write about my day every day but to only write about the good things. The goal was to find the good in every day. Even if a day was absolutely terrible, I was determined to find one good thing. In the last three years, I have had some days where I can only muster up a sentence about my day and other days where I write up to five pages about my day. The truth is (regardless of how cheesy it is) not every day is good, but there is good in every day. Don’t be ignorant about the bad, but know that both the good and the bad are temporary.
Be patient. Recovery is not linear. This not only goes for mental illnesses but for eating disorders and addictions as well. There will be good and bad days, but do not let either define you. One bad day should not control your life, just as one good day should not control your life. Be patient because it takes time and effort. It may take longer than you would like, but you will get there one day if you stick with it. There are so many resources available if you need additional help. Seeking help was one of the best ideas I have ever had and it takes a lot of courage. Whether it be through personal therapy, an organization, or a supportive friend, anything helps. Remember to always be kinder than necessary because everyone is fighting their own battles.