Today, January 31, is special for two reasons. The first is finally January is over. I’m sure every blogger has been saying this, and will continue to say this, but January has felt years long at this point.
The second reason why today is special is because in Canada, today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which enables us to donate money to mental health initiatives by doing relatively mundane things like texting, using #BellLetsTalk on social media, and sharing images on Facebook among others.
Today is one of my favourite days of the year not because of this initiative or because our month long solar-drought is nearing its end. I love today because it is one of the few days a year where everybody is transparent about their mental illness on social media.
Transparency is tough because when you get down to the nitty-gritty of any illness, it’s ugly. It’s hard to tell people that beyond the exterior of manicured social media is a real person who suffers and tries their hardest, and sometimes fails, every single day.
Mental illness looks different for everybody. My struggle won’t look like your struggle, and that’s why it’s so tough. It’s difficult to diagnose something when there is no one-size-fits-all set of symptoms. And, let’s be real, finding something you can relate to is everything when you’re struggling most.
I wanted to write a post today that wasn’t a list of how to treat yourself on a bad day. I’ve done those, and they can be helpful. But they’re helpful on a good day. What about the bad days? What do you read when you’re in the middle of a bitch of a week that just won’t let up? And your depression is worsening, and you’re stuck in that inevitable pit of mental illness with no ladder to get out? I would like to think this post is for that. The surface-level posts about meditating more and reading some self-help books, but they’re not real. I get it.
So, let’s be real about it. The bottom line is that struggling with any kind of mental illness is hard. I have trouble with anxiety and depression. I’m exhausted all the time. Morning to night. And it’s not because I’ve physically exhausted myself. I have tense muscles often and a sore back and neck because I’m always tightening up when I’m nervous. I suffer with headaches daily, something that isn’t always fixed by drinking lots of water. I would love to say that on a poor day, I just curl up on the couch with my laptop and a blanket. But, the reality is, on a poor mental health day, I’m angry, frustrated, exhausted, quiet, and I don’t take care of myself very well. It’s ugly.
The worst part of the physicality of a mental health concern is that the more you ignore your mental health, the worse all of it gets. At my lowest point three years ago now, I was falling asleep every single night at 6:00 pm. My partner would get home from work, see me passed out, and tell me that I looked off. I looked sick. It looked like I had no energy – and I quite literally did not. All of this was the result of ignoring my anxiety.
So how do you address it? Unfortunately, this looks different for everybody and that is why mental health is such a challenge. No one method of recovery works for the next person. Taking the first step into admitting that there is an issue is the toughest part of recovery, from my experience. But it is also the most significant. Going back to what I said above – I could tell you that addressing it relates to changing your lifestyle through exercise and eating well and yoga and meditation. All that is true. I do a lot of it too. But I’m also a few years into my own recovery by now, and so those things are easier for me.
You know what’s hard? Sitting quietly when your insides are breaking and you heart and soul feels a crushing weight of depression. Was meditation my go-to when I struggled the most? Absolutely not. In fact, I avoid it and I sometimes still do.
So, what worked? Let’s be real – it had nothing to do with meditation. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I can name a lot of things I did to recover, but this was the most important. Because it was with my therapist that I talked about the most personal struggles of my life. It was with her that I learned of my triggers and how to avoid them. And it was with her that I became more comfortable with the reality of myself – who I was at my core. Now, I’m better. But I’m not perfect.
The reality of mental illness is that it won’t ever leave you. It will be easier to maintain and you’ll find a routine that fits your personality. You’ll learn what helps you cope and what only makes the anxiety worse. It takes time, but it will happen. That I know for sure. But you’ll still have bad days sometimes. If you do, that’s okay too. It’s okay to slip into old behaviours and patterns. It’s fine to cry or break down. But to learn how to bring yourself back up again? That’s the real strength.
So, today, celebrate #BellLetsTalk by caring for yourself. Remind yourself that you deserve to be kind to yourself. You deserve love. You deserve to feel support. You deserve to get whatever treatment you need to live a full, happy, and healthy life.
If you feel so inclined, I would love for you to share your own mental health journey in the comments. You never know who will read it and relate!
Happy Wednesday, folks!