(image via www.maqoba.com)
How’s everyone handling day 18 (For me… I think? It feels like days and time no longer exist so I could be wrong) of quarantine? If we put aside the actual virus and fear of ourselves and our loved ones contracting it.. I kind of thought I would be unaffected by this, if I’m being honest. I work from home already and I’m an introverted person who doesn’t enjoy being social or going outdoors which means I basically already live the self-isolation lifestyle so what could change? I’m not sure if it’s the stress of the situation, if I’m somehow absorbing the collective emotions of others, or if I’m just going through a rough patch mentally and it has nothing to do with the pandemic at all but it turns out the answer is A LOT. Work has slowed down but so has my motivation to accomplish the tasks that I still have and continue to recieve. I’ve been feeling aimless, exhausted, hungry (so hungry), shut off, etc. which is strange because like I said, my actual day to day life has barely changed at all. It’s been more of a mental shift, I guess. I’m trying to give myself a break, allow myself to rest and recuperate, allow myself to be unproductive, and let myself actually enjoy ‘me’ time which, so far, has just been eating junk and watching TV. (Shout out to Ben & Jerry’s and Netflix for keeping me going. 😂) I have literally nothing to update you guys on, I just wanted to check in and remind even my introverted, socially anxious friends who work from home that it’s ok if you’re feeling this way and that you’re allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling even if you didn’t think you would feel anything at all like me or you think someone else has more of a right to feel it. If you’re struggling, I did an interview with @maqobainc listing my top 5 mental health tips before this happened that might be helpful so I decided to share them here!
1. GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
Okay so for full transparency I’m someone who suffers with anxiety (general and social), depression, and agoraphobia with panic disorder. That is my official diagnosis but my psychiatrist is semi-unsure at this point if I also have OCD and PTSD. I’m also a highly sensitive person, according to my therapist, which is apparently a real thing and not just a label that’s been used as an insult against me a million times before, lol. I work from home and started doing so years ago because of my mental health issues. I had a feeling I had anxiety and depression my whole life but I was just trying to push through life and get over it on my own. Needless to say, I failed. Tip number one is to ALWAYS reach out for help if you think you are struggling with a mental illness because no amount of yoga, baths or whatever else someone recommends you is going to treat the very real, very dangerous chemical imbalances in your brain and the mental and physical symptoms you are experiencing. Period. I tried for years until I broke and started self-medicating with alcohol to the point of it ruining my life. After I hit rock bottom I called a suicide prevention line and they talked to me and asked me if I needed or wanted someone to come out and help me. (It’s anonymous, they don’t trace your location so don’t be afraid to call them if you’re scared and need someone to talk to!) I said yes and so began my long (and never ending, because mental illnesses are not something you can cure, you can only treat and cope with them) journey. I was put into a psychiatric hospital (the first of many) and given a (inaccurate) diagnosis and medication was started. It’s important to know that medication is not a cure and cannot make you feel better right away. Sometimes, it can even take years for your doctors to find the right medication mixture and dosage levels that work for you so it’s important to be open and honest with psychiatrists and to not give up on the process. I also see a therapist weekly (by request, you can set up your own appointment schedule!) to help and that’s also been a huge help but just like medications, it might not work immediately. It’s important to click with your therapist and feel comfortable with them. Know that you can request a transfer or just get a new therapist if you’re not meshing well with yours. Think of it as buying a car! You wouldn’t just settle on the first one you found even though the seat is uncomfortable and there’s not enough cup holders, it’s the same with therapists! Shop around. You won’t hurt their feelings, I promise. They want to help you as much as you want to be helped. That is also important, as cheesy as it sounds, you cannot get help unless you want it. If you lie to your therapist, withhold information, shut down, etc. in your sessions you’re just going to be wasting your time and theirs. They cannot help you if you’re not willing to cooperate so go in with an open mind and be ready to start working on building a trusting, friendly relationship with your therapist so that you can be as open, honest, and vulnerable with them as possible and they can do the same with you. That was really long but I wanted to include it all because these two very obvious tips (medication and therapy) are mentioned in passing a lot of the time and not given enough thought, in my opinion, when people write about how to cope with mental health issues. Those two things really are key. Once you’ve at least started doing those things (if you can, of course, because not everyone can and in that case do A LOT of research on ways to get help online for free), you’re going to be miles away from where you started. The rest of my tips are all helpful and will probably help even if you’re not seeking professional help, but nothing is as effective (in my personal opinion) as a team of psychologists and psychiatrists to help you on your mental health journey.
For anyone struggling with depression or many other mental health conditions you know how difficult it can be to get out of bed, get things done, not procrastinate, not lose track of things, feel “normal,” etc. Keeping myself on track with physical itineraries and a set routine has been so helpful. Even if I KNOW that I have to brush my teeth in the morning (obviously), I write it down anyway. It’s easy to lose track of things and do them late or not at all. It’s even easier to go to bed feeling like you’ve done nothing and you’re worthless for that. If you write out a detailed to-do list of every single thing you need to and want to accomplish in a day, you won’t be able to forget anything and crossing off so many tasks is physical proof that your brain cannot deny that you have done enough. You were productive. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment to be able to have that. It also eliminates the worry you might experience with anxiety that there’s something more to do, something important you’re forgetting, or anything else. And be strict about it, if you can! If work ends for you at 5pm and your daily walk starts at 5:30pm but you have more work to complete, don’t. Close your laptop and go for your walk. Stick to your schedule/routine. It alleviates the burden of feeling like you’re not working enough and helps stop you from over-working or maybe even just getting sidetracked on social media for hours. I know it sounds very rigid and unhappy but I cannot tell you how much peace and stability this has given me!
3. MANDATORY FUN
Remember when we were talking about lists and routines? It can be really easy to get lost in that routine and work too much. For me, if I don’t give myself breaks, my brain decides that it’s taking over and giving itself a break. Then, I experience disassociating which can be scary but is really just your body’s way of coping and taking care of you when you’re not doing that for yourself. It’s easy to feel guilty about having fun or doing something that seems frivolous. Something just for you and nobody else is absolutely essential for everyone. Think of it as school recess. Imagine if you were ten years old and had to go to school for 7-8 hours straight with no lunch break or recess! There’s a reason that time is mandatory when you’re a kid. It should still be prioritized and still be seen as mandatory. You may not enjoy the monkey bars as much anymore, but it really doesn’t matter what you do with your recess as long as you find it enjoyable. For me, that means I get to take time to watch TV, draw, do DIY projects, sit on social media, play with my cats, read, or anything else I feel like doing! Pencil it into your schedule and MAKE TIME for that every single day no matter what. It’s not a task that can be pushed off until the next day, it’s a top priority. I also make sure that I get one full day off a week. (I tried for 2 once, that was a nightmare so 1 works for me but figure out what works best for you.) And by full I mean FULL. No checking emails, no catching up, nothing. It’s a full day of recess. At first, it might make you anxious or feel useless. I definitely recommend doing something productive that is still enjoyable for you like writing, organizing, drawing, etc. because that can kind of ease you into a full day of not working and doing things for yourself. It may take some time but I promise, eventually you will be able to binge watch Netflix without constantly reaching for your phone, picking something up, or multi-tasking. It’s very important to learn and practice how to relax if you’re not someone who’s comfortable with it. If you are already and you think this entire concept sounds insane, great! Good for you, I’ll refer you back to tip #1 because you’re probably someone who has a harder time with productivity than resting and there’s nothing wrong with that! I am just one of the lucky few who struggle with both. 😂
4. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY/EMOTIONAL CHECK-INS
If you’re even half as upset about the idea of exercising as I am, this one is really easy to write off as a non-option. I get it, I put it off for years and told myself that something I so thoroughly dislike COULDN’T make me happier and even added in the excuse of having asthma so it probably wasn’t good for me anyway and off I went on my way to ignore this tip for years. Then, in 2017 my doctor told me I had pre-diabetes and if I didn’t start to lose weight, I would develop the condition and be forced to take a shot every day. I have a huge phobia of needles so that wasn’t an option for me. I started to diet at first trying to avoid physical activity as much as possible but that just wasn’t working. While looking up fitness “hacks” online I came across two apps: MyFitnessPal and Pacer. Both are completely free (unless you pay for upgrades but I’ve been using them for years and have never felt the need to) and they’re super helpful when it comes to tracking your calories, macros (short for macro nutrients, something I didn’t know existed before the app), and the amount of steps you take during the day. At first I only used Pacer because I wanted to score some more calories by syncing it to MyFitnessPal which would count it as exercise and give me a bigger allowance. Eventually, I didn’t like my small portions anymore and I missed junk food so I thought, “How hard could it really be to walk 10,000 steps a day like Pacer CLAIMS is the least amount of steps a human being should be taking?” and I decided to try it out. I don’t like being outside (agoraphobic, hi) and I don’t like running (asthmatic, hi) so I started taking slow walks at sundown when there would be less people out. At first I absolutely hated it because I was anxious, my mind would wander into dark territories and if it wasn’t I was just bored and kept checking my phone only to realize I had only taken 20 steps since the last time I checked it. Then, eventually, I started to love it. It became something I looked forward to. I started listening to more music than I had since I was a teenager, I started listening to audio books (strongly advise against True Crime if you’re walking at night like me, lol.) and sometimes I would just use the 1-2 hour time to think about things that had happened that day, make a plan for the next day, solve a situation I was experiencing, think about what was discussed in therapy, etc. I stuck to it diligently (I mean, I didn’t let rain, my period, or even the flu stop me from walking which is unhealthy and I wouldn’t recommend going that far) for about a year and I lost 100 lbs. which was great for my body obviously but learning that even light activity can help my mental health was what I really gained in that time. Before long I was definitely happier and healthier, but I also had a lighter mood, I had more energy, I was sleeping better at night, I had something to look forward to, I was doing something for me, and there’s a bunch of other benefits that I’m sure you’ve read a million times and are sick of hearing so I’ll stop talking about it but if you’re on the fence or have been about physical activity and spending time with your thoughts… here’s one more reminder that it’s a very helpful tool. I still walk to this day and try to track my food, just not as diligently because I’m no longer doing this to lose weight or reach a goal. I’m doing it for my mental health which for me has nothing to do with food, weight, or appearances.
5. ALLOW YOURSELF TO FAIL, GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK.
One thing I talk a lot about and is probably littered through-out all of these tips is being rigid, being diligent, being tough, sticking to it, following through, etc. etc. you get the point. Self-discipline is really important to me and I’m VERY good at it (probably too good) but over the years I’ve learned that failing, falling off the wagon, taking breaks, having bad days, and feeling sorry for yourself when you need to are all ok things to do as long as you’re not allowing yourself to let those things take over. It’s just as important to rest as it is to be productive– it’s just as important to ALLOW YOURSELF to fail and to have bad days as it is to succeed and have good days. Have you ever woken up in a bad mood and you just weren’t able to shake it no matter how many tasks you crossed off your to-do list, how many fun activities you tried to distract yourself with, how much exercise you did or even how many pints of ice cream you ate? Yeah, that happens. Sometimes you’re just not going to feel better and it’s important and sometimes necessary to sit with those “bad” feelings and allow yourself to feel them FULLY. Whether that means dissecting them or just crying all day, let them come so they can go. One of my favorite poems is called “The Guest House” by Rumi and YES, I’M GOING TO BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO RECITES POETRY TO YOU WHEN YOU’RE SAD LIKE YOU’RE AT SOME SORT OF MINDFULNESS RETREAT, BEAR WITH ME.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
Okay, now I’m not one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason and I’m not too sure about any “beyond” (unless we’re talking about the Mysterious Beyond from The Land Before Time because I’ve seen it with my own eyes) BUT I love this poem because of the way I personally interpret it. You are your mind. Your mind is your home. Your thoughts and your feelings are NOT you, they’re just visitors. Every single one will come and every single one will leave. Some will stay longer than others (and overstay their welcome if I’m being honest), some will only stop by for a quick hello (HAPPINESS, COME OVER MORE OFTEN PLEASE) and some will be frequent visitors. For people who suffer with mental illnesses, the negative visitors are going to come to your house pretty often. And you can use my tips, someone else’s, every coping skill ever written on the internet or spoken by a therapist to board up your windows, nail your doors shut, and try to keep them out but they’re more persistent than other visitors and they need their attention just like the rest so sometimes, it’s best not to shut them out. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is let them in, sit with them, and let them say and do what they need to. If you allow them to do that, they won’t need to break your door down, they won’t need to smash your windows open, they won’t be angry and destructive in your space. They will calmly do what they came to do and it will be sad and it will be hard but that visitor is a guest in your home and ultimately they’re your friend and they need you to be there for them, so be there for them. Sit with them, tend to them, coddle them if they need it. In doing so, you’ll be doing all of those things for yourself and preventing catastrophic damage to your home which, obviously, is your mind and your emotional well being. As much as people like to say “Positive Vibes Only” that isn’t healthy for you and it’s one of the things that can lead to disassociating, depersonalization, derealization, outbursts, mood swings, panic attacks, and so many other things that I and a lot of you experience when we don’t take care of ourselves. Now obviously this doesn’t mean every time you have a negative thought or feel sad you should break down and have a bad day. You know what’s best for you. You know how bad things are inside of your head. You need to check in with yourself and figure out what YOU need, what you can move past, and what you need time to sit with. And again, this can be REALLY hard for me, it’s not as easy as I make it out to be. I have that giant to-do list of mine just sitting there! I was so motivated to do so much last night when I went to sleep! But you have to learn to give yourself a break. To let yourself be unproductive, let yourself be sad, let yourself feel sympathy for yourself, treat yourself like a friend and learn how to not beat yourself up when you’re having a bad day or when you try your best but you still fail at something (we were 👌 close to a Coldplay lyric before I stopped myself and changed the wording, you’re welcome). All of that is hard to accept, hard to learn, hard to actually accomplish, and takes a lot of thought re-direction but if you practice, it’s possible, and it’s immensely helpful.
(image via www.maqoba.com)
Okay that’s it, that’s all five tips. Sorry it was so long, I literally cannot ever make anything short and sweet. I write full length essays when someone asks me for a sentence no matter what the topic but especially mental health. I don’t want to come off as some kind of know-it-all or a professional IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM. I have a tendency to speak with authority on topics surrounding mental health because it’s something I’ve experienced and struggled with for so long, something I’ve worked on for so long, something I’ve studied/researched for so long, and something I’ve been able to manage and find REAL tips for that work for me. But like almost anything else, just because these tips work for me does not mean they will work for you. I’m not an expert, this is not the mental health equivalent of the ten commandments, and you may find all of these tips completely useless to you and that’s ok. It’s completely up to you to find out what works best for you and all of our mental health journeys are not going to be identical.
(image via www.maqoba.com)
Now lets talk a little bit about MAQOBA who reached out to me to ask for these tips in the first place because I think what they’re doing is pretty great and I wanted to share! They (and I) believe everyone, regardless of race, gender, or social class should have access to mental health initiatives and treatment so they started this website that sells TONS of cute stuff and all of the proceeds made from their sales helps those who can’t afford mental health treatment by providing therapy sessions, meals, care packages, leisure activities and much more! They’ve partnered with some great organizations to make this possible so I would highly recommend making a purchase from their website (if you can)
(images via www.maqoba.com)