This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and I took a moment to reflect on my mental health journey- how it has changed me as a person, and how that in turn has affected the world around me. The results of my reflections honestly surprised me, and I wanted to take a moment to share my story and my musings because I think it's important to help end the stigma around talking about mental health, but I also want to make a point, because I think if everyone was taking care of their mental health, the world would be a completely different place.
Think about it, we would all interact with each other differently- we'd be more empathetic, more inclusive, we'd make less hurtful decisions and lash out less. Hurt people hurt people. If we take that fact out of the equation of life, we'd be left with a lot more love and therefore a whole different world!
Is doing emotional work easy? No. Absolutely not. It may actually be one of the hardest things you ever do- but isn't the thought of a better life and a better world enough inspiration to get out there and do the work?
Like a lot of people, I've tried a laundry list of things in an effort to keep my mental health in a good place and stay balanced over the years, searching for what worked best and resonated the most with me. I've been on-and-off different pharmaceutical medications and I've tried several homeopathic remedies. I've made changes to my lifestyle, flirted with meditation (I'm not great at it, but really need to try harder if I'm being honest), and I've seen at least 5/6 therapists in different stages of my life when I needed extra help (starting when I was a kid, then as a young teen, then again during my late teens, with another stint in my early twenties, and yet another in my late twenties) and I imagine I'll probably see the inside of another therapists office before my time on earth is done -or at the very least try out or take up another habit (or twelve) to help me in my quest to stay balanced and mentally (and physically) healthy- and that's totally okay!
Looking back, I'm so grateful I put in the work and was able to find affordable ways to try new things and get the help I needed. If I hadn't tried all those different things and figured out what worked for me, and gathered the tools I needed I heal from trauma, get through the hard times and be my best self- I wouldn't be the person I am today. I would be angry, engage in unhealthy habits, patterns and behaviors, and possibly not be here at all -or at the very least I'd a wraith-like version of myself, and no offense to the self that could have been, but YUCK! That person doesn't sound like someone I would want to be friends with, let alone BE.
Growing up, it never occurred to me to think about how I was feeling or how I was dealing with hard things. I had no idea you could even be introspective- to step back and look at your life and feel your feelings and be honest about what you need to do to heal, or what you need to do to show up for yourself and meet your needs, or wonder if you need to learn new habits to be healthier or happier, or anything like that. I wasn't brought up that way at all. Introspection and self-care were totally foreign ideas to me when I first came upon them. I was brought up to just take it and carry on and get things done and be quiet about it, because that's how my parents were raised, and theirs before them, ad infinitum. Unknowingly I was taking in the messaging to suffer in silence- until my general practitioner asked me if I "might be depressed" at the tender age of 14. I literally hadn't even thought about it. I knew I was sad and mad and had a hard time keeping it together sometimes, but it didn't even register as a possibility for me. I was going to school, I was getting good grades, I was going out and living life- I was fine, right? Wrong. Turns out I was actually incredibly depressed and suffering from anxiety and acting out because I didn't know how to process things in a healthy way and I didn't even realize it.
This one question changed my whole life. Because of this moment I learned to be introspective, to repeatedly and regularly ask myself how I'm doing. To engage in self-care and get help if I need it.
Even now, sometimes I'm okay, and sometimes I need help (sometimes a LOT of help)- just like everyone else. Sometimes it's just that I've been overloaded with work or stress and I need a break or mental refresher. Sometimes I need someone to talk to. I may even realize that I new tools or need to pick up tools I've dropped to help me manage my mental health. Whatever it is, it all starts with taking a moment to ask myself what I need, and then following up and meeting that need -and I swear this has changed my life for the better in ways I can't even express. I could have gone down a very, very different path, one that was dark and unhealthy and dangerous, but I looked around, made some changes and redirected. Several times. (Like, a LOT of times.) I often fall back into old/bad habits and/or forget to stay on-top of the things that help me stay mentally healthy. Other times things happen that I have no control over. What I've learned is that it's okay. Things happen, things change, and we just observe and respond accordingly.
Checking in with yourself regularly and acting accordingly with the found results is soooo important in keeping yourself balanced and mentally (and physically) healthy and I can't encourage you enough to make this a regular practice in your life.
Think about it: the work we do on ourselves can have ripple effects that have the power to change the whole world.
I started the Fibro-Strong Collective when I was in a low place, to create the supportive, understanding community I didn't have but needed, because I figured if I felt alone and in need of a community, other people probably felt that way too- and it turns out I was right. I'm so proud that I learned to use my pain and feelings of isolation to bring light to myself and to others. Imagine if I never learned that that was even an option. Imagine if I continued to engage in self-destructive patterns when I was low or things were hard. Less light in the world, right? Now think about how much more love and light would be in the world if we all made sure we were able to burn brightly, for ourselves and for others, and if we then learned to keep that candle lit. That's a whole lotta love and light in the world right?
Long story short: if you've taken control of your mental health journey, be proud!! If you're working up to it, I'm proud of you for being introspective enough to ask yourself how you're doing!! No matter where you are on your journey, I want to encourage you to show up and do the work - because doing so will create a whole new world - for you, and everyone else too.
With love and light,