Mental Health Monday – Not Always According to Plan

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Sometimes what you planned doesn’t work.

Take today for example.

My plan was to get up at my regular time – 8:30 – go to mass, maybe get some breakfast, and mail my taxes. And then come home and write and publish today’s Mental Health Monday.

I woke up at 8:30. That part happened. But I was exhausted. And I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired. While I didn’t get a lot of sleep on Friday, I did get a regular amount on Saturday, and I thought I did on Sunday as well. But at 8:30 this morning, I just felt tired and I had a low throbbing tired headache.

I reset my alarm for 8:50, and while I woke up at 8:50, I didn’t feel any less tired.

I made the choice to remain home and sleep. I would miss mass and that was going to have to be okay.

Sometimes it’s like that. You need to make that intentional decision not to do something. Even if that something is something that you really wanted to do, or thought you needed to do in order to have your day get started on the right foot.

This is one way that I care for my mental health.

When I did get up, my day was completely changed. It wasn’t just that I didn’t attend mass, but because I was still in bed, my daughter came in between classes and we had a nice conversation. We made some plans for the weekend.

I went downstairs and got dressed, ate breakfast, and thought I’d read a little before I went to the post office and mailed my taxes.

I did read for a short time, but I was again, just so, so tired. I didn’t nap, but I didn’t read. I alternated this way for quite some time.

But I was exhausted.

I made photocopies of the taxes and got them ready for the mail. It was then that I noticed that there was a major mistake on one of them. I got the white-out, made the corrections, redid those copies, and got them ready. I’ll mail them tomorrow.

My day feels like a failure. I didn’t get anything done that I wanted to do.

But was it a failure though?

But in the big picture, I took care of myself by sleeping a little later (and I can go to mass tomorrow). Since I was home, I took one more look at the taxes and was able to correct them. I’m almost finished with the book I’m reading, and I’m finishing this up for publication so I can attend my weekly rosary group.

What are some of the ways that you can proactively take care of your mental health?

If you’re in an office space, take a short walk to the restroom. Walk up a flight of stairs if you are able. Step outside for a moment for a breath of fresh air. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths.

What are your suggestions?

Mental Health Monday – Mental Health Awareness

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’re kicking it off with the first of a series of Mental Health Mondays.

Mental Health isn’t simply an awareness tool for those with mental illness or issues, but for all of us. We all have mental health, and we consistently ignore it, and as we’ve found during this last pandemic year, ignoring our mental health isn’t good for our…mental health. Or our physical health for that matter.

Right before I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety I was having knee problems. I went once a week (it should have been three times a week, but I couldn’t afford that even with “good” insurance) for physical therapy, and it did help a little bit, but it was really the action of going to the physical therapy building and having the schedule more than doing the exercises. I’m sure the exercises helped my knee, but the schedule of the appointment helped just as much. Once I began talk therapy, medication, and discovering my own self-help tools, my knee pain virtually disappeared.

I’m not suggesting that taking care of your mental health is all on your shoulders. I could not have come out on the other side without medication and therapy. Depression and anxiety (and a host of other mental health issues that I’m not qualified to speak on) are almost all chemical imbalance, and oftentimes, regardless of what some may insist, the only option is medication. And that’s okay. I take medicine for my diabetes and my high blood pressure. No one would suggest not taking it and just “relaxing” and/or “cheering up.” That’s not how recovery works.

And everything that’s working for me now may not work in the future. Being self-aware is important to know when to ask for changes, whether it’s for more therapy in the week or month or a change in medication. Schedule changes, eating habits, stress – all of these can contribute to changes in your mental health and may necessitate changes in your treatment.

For this first week of Mental Health Awareness Month, I would suggest sitting down with yourself in a quiet space and reflecting on what your feelings lately are. Take the time to sit with it and see if things are better or worse than they were a few weeks or months ago. It’s also important to accept that there may be temporary changes that will go away, especially if those changes developed during and because of the pandemic and the lockdowns. In your isolation, what worked for you? If you continued working, how did that effect you? Do you have needs that need addressing?

A really useful graphic appears below (with attribution). Read through it and ask yourself the questions that apply. Think about the suggestions, and seek out a professional for help. I am not a professional; I can only share what I’ve done, and what has worked and not worked for me. It may not seem it but our mental health is a community effort. As I heard on a retreat last week: Take what you need; leave the rest.

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What’s Missing?

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Back in July, I published a list of the five things I missed most during the pandemic. It was a way of putting down on paper/screen some of the “normal” things that had been interrupted in what is becoming this lost year. They were mostly superficial, little things that I wouldn’t normally notice throughout the day or week, but that by July were obviously missing from my life.

Online, I saw parents in chaos as they tried to juggle their work from home, their lack of day care, and homeschooling their kids with and without wifi and other resources. I couldn’t relate to that experience either. My two youngest children are teenagers in high school. We are fortunate, in more ways than one, that they no longer share a room. They went to their respective corners, closed the door, and went to class (if there was online class) and did their homework. We’d see them each once a day as they emerged from their cocoon of isolation for lunch. I kind of missed them.

We cooked more, and our kids cooked more. We did takeout now and again, but it wasn’t special anymore. It felt like more work. Masks on, rush in, rush out, masks off. Eat, clean, repeat.

Television was postponed when filming was postponed. We signed up for a bunch of streaming services and watched things we’d missed on the first go-round. Hamilton came to Disney+ early. Wonder Woman 1984 came to HBOMax. Supernatural returned (finally) and then finished its series run seven episodes later.

Glancing back at my original list, I was able to get most of it back in the summer and fall when covid numbers fell. Our Chinese take out place re-opened. My town’s new Starbucks was the only Starbucks in the area that had indoor seating. I was thrilled. Target was my getaway – we were always looking for toilet paper and soap. I mean with four people home twenty-four hours a day, we were always in need of one or the other. We stayed in our state, one of the safest and were able to actually go on vacation before school started again. I returned to in person mass on Mondays, although therapy remained by phone. My retreat house went hybrid and I was able to enjoy a few retreat days and two weekends before they closed again due to an increase in covid numbers.

Recently, I realized what I was really missing. The lingering.

It wasn’t church that I missed, although I definitely missed the sacraments and the liturgy and the homily, but it was the standing around talking to people I only saw once or twice a week. Our Cursillo group stopped meeting when the parish center closed. All our community events were cancelled. No parish picnic, no in person day of service, no hospitality at Sunday mass, no Lenten fish fry, no Holy Thursday lasagna dinner.

I couldn’t go to the library to work on things in different surroundings.

When my writing group met in the park after weeks of not meeting, we sat far apart. It was hard to hear. It was cold. We didn’t linger. And then winter came.

Even when I was able to go to Starbucks, before they closed the indoor seating, I’d go for a limited amount of time: eat breakfast, write for an hour (which does seem like a lot, but I was used to going for two or three at a time), and then either head directly home or get groceries and then go home.

I stopped taking myself out to writing lunches, which in my pre-pandemic days I didn’t realize how much I relished and needed.

I had one telemedicine visit, which was convenient and helpful, but I did that in my dining room. I wanted to get in the car and go somewhere else after the appointment. I didn’t.

My retreat house moved to Zoom, which was great in many aspects, but in others, the camaraderie was missing; no compliments on my scarf or my earrings. No handshakes or hugs. No breaking bread and no chapel prayer.

The word lingering came to me the other day, and it summed it up so succinctly that as I thought more about it, and what it meant, it just clicked and created a small space of melancholy and understanding.

I began to linger in the mornings in bed. Not the same thing, not a great idea either, although with my Kindle, I listened to my daily morning podcast, I took my medicine, I paid the bills, and read and replied to emails, I scheduled appointments. It became an office space, and that led to sleepless nights. My actual office became overrun with papers and pocketbooks and receipts, and was unusable. I commandeered a space in the dining room and now I work in there, although my time is spent organizing and decorating. Not helpful for a writer.

And I don’t linger there.

I work. I move to another chair to read. I move back to work some more; to write. And then I move again.
Rinse. Repeat.

I want to linger. I want a weekend to write and rejuvenate. To reenergize and reemerge a better person; a better writer perhaps. I don’t mind being home so much, but I mind not having the choice; not having anywhere to linger anymore. I dislike going out only with a purpose and losing that freedom of myself, alone with my thoughts or my own brand of quiet.

When will I be able to linger again without rushing off to the next thing?

Gratitude Scavenger Hunt – #1

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Refer to the original post for the list.

1. Find something that makes you happy.

As with most of these lists, answers will vary depending on the time of year, my mood, and whatever else is going on in my life, so YMMV on these.

With Nanowrimo, spending some time at my local Starbucks makes me happy. It’s right in town, so I’m nearby if my family needs me to return home for any reason since we have only one car.

So what is that something that makes me happy?

My usual. And the cup says it all – That first sip feeling. (c)2020

Finding the Joy

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Several months ago, April to be precise, I was given a series of reflection questions related to the losses I’ve had since the March 17th lockdown. I may have mentioned this in my original post, In the Midst of Loss about that retreat session and over the course of the month following that first hour I would bring up the subject to myself and think about those losses, the reasons for them, as well as trying to name my feelings about them, and then question how to say goodbye to what’s been lost. It is obviously much harder to say goodbye to a loved one who has died during this pandemic; that loss is astronomically deeper and more upsetting than the loss of work or routine or our regular habits, although the loss of work is catastrophic in its own way and those of us struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and others will feel that some of our losses are also catastrophic. How do we accept the losses we are experiencing and move forward even in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, a pandemic that will continue to be with us for many more months to come, if not at least another year or more? What strategies can be adopted and adapted to move on; to create a new ordinary for our lives?

There were two additional, important and hard to answer questions broached during that session. The first was do we really want back what we’ve lost? All of it? Are there some things that we have lost that we kind of want to stay lost? The second was to ask ourselves what was good about this time.

While we’ve all had losses, we’ve also had gains. There were good things that were perhaps only seen in retrospect. How do we find joy in the confusion and chaos of today?

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