How did I miss that May is Mental Health Awareness month? Seriously, I am a May baby and this designation has been around since 1949, but somehow I only just caught wind of it a few days ago.
The color of the ribbon is green and hashtag is “#breakthestigma."
I suppose I can take the opportunity here to share “my story” as pertains to mental health, and if you’re new to me, spoiler alert: it’s a doozy!
Mostly it’s a drama with comedic moments, plus a hint of fantasy and dose of action/adventure. The hero is me.
I am the hero.
Growing up, I had no real signs foreshadowing what would hit me when I went to college.
Or, I did not see the signs.
I developed an eating disorder that nearly killed and definitely (temporarily) destroyed my life. In an effort to get better I elected to try inpatient treatment (my idea, I wanted to get an A plus in recovery!), outpatient treatment, individual therapy, group therapy, medication, life coaching, 12-step programs…
I was mired in misguided treatments for a decade. Finally in 2005, I looked around at the hospital setting expected to get me well, swallowed a cocktail of psychiatric medications I was being prescribed (let’s add sci-fi to the genre listing because that is what it felt like to be a gerbil in experimental “off label” medication protocols to treat eating disorders) and vowed after getting out of there, I would heal myself and never return again.
Not to oversimplify, but that is kind of what happened.
Over the last 14 years, the only medications I’ve taken have been Oxy and Vicodin for pain after ankle and knee surgeries (seven in total, we’ll save that for another post), plus Advil and very recently Tylenol Cold + Sinus, because of my NY to LA transition congestion.
I have learned through much trial-and-error what works to keep me healthy, not only mentally and physically, but emotionally and spiritually. I’ve never fought harder for anything in my life than I’ve fought for my recovery.
I have shared before that while I do not take medications to support my mental health, I am glad it works for many, many people.
In an attempt to be efficient, I will bust FIVE myths re: mental health right here right now:
Good mental health means waking up feeling great every day. Nope. Most days, I have a jolt of anxiety before my feet hit the ground. There are some aches in my body. My head does not feel ready to take on the world. I want to eat everything or I want to eat nothing. This is why morning rituals are SO important! Waking up early enough to do any number of things like stretch, pray/meditate, journal, read a motivational or spiritual text, hang with a pet all help with getting aligned before leaving the house.
Unless you’re suicidal or curled up on the floor in a fetal position, you’re not depressed. Like most forms of illness, depression exists on a spectrum. When I was in my 20s, my eating disorder and depression were completely debilitating. It helped me to realize I was still contending with a low grade depression well into my 30s, even though it wasn’t as obvious. Then I could take steps every day to help lift my mood, which I did and still do.
If you get upset after going on social media, it means you are weak and if you had better mental health you’d be happy and inspired from it all the time. :) I had to throw this one in there because I am concerned for us all. No matter how secure in yourself, your life and your choices you are it can still trigger “compare and despair,” so I say limit your uses (especially in moments you’re feeling sensitive). Also, be mindful of the illusion that if someone is thin and pretty and outwardly successful they’ve got it together. Influence thyself.
You will feel better only after you get what you want. This was a big one for me. For years I considered myself “situationally depressed” and believed that only when my situations and stations in life improved, I wouldn’t be depressed anymore. This would include but not be limited to: having bigger breaks in my career, meeting the man of my dreams + getting married, making much more money, and losing weight. A huge turning point for me was realizing I had to put much more of an effort into taking care of myself and that self love, healing and growth will happen independent of these things. Feeling like a failure was and continues to be one of my biggest triggers, so I often guard against that by how I choose to define success.
If someone says they are fine, believe them. Of all the masks we wear, the “I’m fine” / “I’m doing great” / “all is well” / “things are good” / “I’ve been busy” / or an impressive social feed should not be taken at face value. We are all magicians, sometimes.
I have been talking about these topics for a long time and I am SO EXCITED more people getting in on the fun. There are so many threads and ways to approach the topic of mental health, to think about and analyze what it means to be human, going behind the veil to expose how we live our lives, and express what goes on below the surface.
As I write this underneath a canopy of trees and sunshine, it is hard to believe how far I’ve come even as I also recognize my room for improvement.
Never abandon yourself. xo