Mental Health Monday – One For The Road

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While May’s Mental Health Awareness Month concluded last week that doesn’t conclude our need to be aware of our mental health and to remember to remain open to our feelings and release any stigma that remains in talking about our mental health, our ongoing recovery, and accepting our responsibility as allies to one another. I was made painfully aware of a Twitter friend’s struggle that he’s been very open about online. He has a good support system and he’s a somewhat well known personality, and he’s receiving complaints about his openness. That is not helpful when someone is going through a particularly depressive episode that’s lasting more than a week. We must remind those people that the stigma must be abolished; we are here for each other, and it is one reason that I try to be open with my own journey through depression, and my recovery through it (as I refer to it).

Posts and blogs like this (and Twitter) are no substitute for seeking professional help when its needed. As much as I offer my insight, I still have therapy and medication, and all of it combines in balancing my tools in coping. Remain vigilant and don’t be afraid to ask for help when it’s needed.

We’re also moving out of pandemic mode, many are not wearing masks, not keeping social distance especially as more and more of us receive the vaccine, so I would suggest being aware and accepting of other people’s boundaries.

About a week ago, I wrote about how beneficial lists can be, and that was proved again for myself today. I would not have survived today’s activities without my lists. I had no less than twelve things to get done. Some were drive-thrus, some were curbside pick ups, and one or two were phone calls, and I’m happy to say that I got it all done! Lists are your friend. Remember that as your days get a little busier.

And if you prefer not to get back into everything you did pre-pandemic, that’s okay too. Learn to be okay with saying no. I’m sorry, but I have another commitment. School is winding down, and my kids need me home. I can’t leave my dog alone (if you say cat, they’ll know you’re lying!)

But also normalize just saying that you need to stay home and take care of yourself, and then do that.

One of my plans for this week (or early next week) is taking some contemplative time at a local labyrinth. I’d like to do this before the kids are out of school, and I will wait until it’s not oppressively hot or expectant thunderstorms. I’ll bring my journal and clear my mind.

What’s something you can do for yourself this week?

Mental Health Monday – Lists

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Mental Health Monday is all about those little reminders that we all, no matter our circumstances, no matter our levels of anxiety, we all need to stay aware of our mental health. I had intended this to publish yesterday despite a busy morning, but at the end of the day (literally), I still could have gotten it in under midnight on Monday, rushed, and (in my mind) unfinished or I could wait until Tuesday and let that be a reminder that not everything is an urgency. Yes, some things are, but not everything.

Today I wanted to talk about the benefits of lists, and the first thing on any Mental Health Monday list is to let yourself take a break when you feel its needed.

I needed it yesterday and I ignored that feeling all day. After church and my lunch meeting, I went home fully intending to sit at my laptop and do the Monday post. I thought I’d take a short break, read a chapter in one of the books I’m in the middle of before I got started.

I fell asleep.

I woke up with a crick in my neck, so I stretched and pulled out my book again.

I fell asleep again.

This happened on and off throughout the afternoon (including the painful crick), and each time it happened I became more and more frustrated and angry at myself. I didn’t think that I must have needed the rest; I was just angry that I wasn’t getting done what I had planned on getting done.

Once I decided that I would intentionally postpone the post until today, my anger and my anxiety* went away.

[*I don’t mean that I was now suddenly free of my chronic anxiety. We all have anxiety that crops up from time to time depending on circumstances, and this was in additional to the anxiety I take medication for. It’s important to differentiate between the two, but it’s also important to treat each of them and not ignore either one.]

I’ve written previously about lists. I find them a great tool in all kinds of situations. When I was undiagnosed (for depression and anxiety) I was very forgetful. I couldn’t remember the simplest of things – did I have breakfast? Did I take a shower? Why aren’t the kids in school? Oh right, it’s Saturday. I found ways to cope – giving myself a schedule was one, getting diagnosed was a big one. I was trying so hard to not let my family know that there was a problem that I was in “fake it til you make it” mode and whatever slack I left behind, my family picked up – like cooking. I missed many school deadlines in this time and that led to all kinds of guilt, especially concerning my middle child.

One of the lifesaving tools I discovered and still utilize was making lists.

The lists range from important appointments and deadlines to seemingly mundane items like eating and showering. Some days those mundane ones are needed just to get through.

My list for yesterday was (with completed items crossed out):

  • Mass
  • See Father J.
  • Donation to St. Vincent de Paul (as part of Spark/GISH)
  • Meet M & E at bank
  • Meet M at Panera to go over information for my new (volunteer) job
  • Check in with home to see if we need groceries while I was outwe didn’t
  • Home to write MHM
  • Refill pill box for the next two week period
  • Continue reading two books.
  • Begin reading final two chapters for book club.
  • Attendance form for kids’ school.
  • Check calendar for next month’s writing assignments.
  • Find free write prompt for next week’s group that I’m leading.
  • Group rosary by phone.
  • Dinner.

It looks like I got a lot done, and I did. Even if you do one thing on your list, it is important to acknowledge that. That one thing could be everything (and some weeks, it is). I did also have a lot of little things on my list. They may seem little (even to me) but when I forget something it can be very frustrating. Why continue reading those two books? They’re library e-books, and often the library will take them back before I’ve finished, and I’ve tried to read them more regularly so I don’t have to go back on the waiting list, which can be quite long sometimes.

Today’s list was much smaller:

  • Mass – opted not to go.
  • Get gas.
  • Check out po box at new post office for new volunteer job.
  • This is where I am at the moment ——–>Lunch to write first draft of MHM-Lists
  • Pick up daughter and go to Target (with lists for home and school supplies she needs immediately of course)
  • Publish this MHM before dinner.
  • Dinner.
  • Read books.
  • Bed (hopefully early).

I think I can get through the remainder of today’s list and I know that I can make up some of the ones that I missed on Monday (like refilling my pill box and finding a free-write prompt) on Wednesday.

As we get back into the swing of things, as masks come off, and more people find their new normal, it’s okay to give yourself some time to readjust to public life. Personally, I’m still wearing masks, and I’m okay with that. And as the school year winds down, I’m making daily lists, making sure that nothing important falls through the cracks.

Try making your own lists, and let me know how you did with your week.

Be well.

Mental Health Monday – Take a Moment…And Lift

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For the early part of Mother’s Day weekend I went on an overnight retreat. It’s billed as a Girls Night Out/Day of Reflection and it was a wonderful event. They hold this every year and this was the first time I went. The theme is usually dictated by the presenter and so last week was titled Called to Wonder and Joy and the next day’s reflection continued that theme and included active listening and storytelling.

In the discussion and micro-journaling, we answered the question, “What calls you with wonder and joy? What creates wondrous and joyful moments in your life?

In this context, it’s not necessarily that joy equals happy. Joy is a much broader concept. It is only recently that I find that deep profundity that is rooted in joy. For me it was the references to joy in scripture and spiritual learning and practice. The joy that comes to me during mass or meditation. It’s not the happiness of a fun time with friends or a vacation; it is something deeper that I’ve only recognized more recently.

In the things that you like, you will find others that like similar things or extraordinarily different things, but you will discover that you are not alone. You will find things that lift you up. You will remember things that you did that might have been scary, but you got through it. You might even do them again. What are the things that lift you up?

I give all of this to you as a way of introducing a mental health exercise and to remind of the broad nature of words that we take for granted. We may hear the word “joy” and think, ‘oh, that isn’t me – I am not that kind of person,’ but if you broadened your concept you may find, as I gradually did that I can be joyful in ways and I can find joy in things, both physical and spiritual.

So, I ask you: Where do you find Wonder and Joy?

I will share ten of the moments of wonder and/or joy, some I discovered on the retreat and others that have come to me as I write.

What I would like you to do today is to write your own down. Begin with five and go for as many as you’d like. It doesn’t need a formal journal or a notebook. Just grab a sheet of paper or the back of an envelope and a pen.

Nothing should stand in your way.

When you discover and remind yourself of the things you find wondrous and joyful, you can refer back to this list on your down days, take a deep breath, and keep going.

Here are mine (currently):

the lilacs in my backyard

labyrinths

Wales

sitting quietly with a cup of tea

rainbow shoelaces

I get a deep well of peace (but also joy) thinking on the devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots

waterfalls

planning a trip

sitting in my front yard, eyes closed, feeling the cool air, and just being

the smell of freshly cut grass

early morning sunshine when the birds are noisy

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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Mental Health Monday – May 6th

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we’re kicking off Mental Health Monday with a few reminders and links:

Mental health affects EVERYONE. Mental Health is often confused with Mental Illness, and both are afflicted with social stigmas where we don’t acknowledge our issues, we don’t speak about them, and we ignore our friends and family who have them, regardless of the degree.

As a whole, we need to be more open and in that way, we encourage others around us that they can come to us, and they will receive support.
To start out this awareness month, check out my Mental Health Monday tag, an ongoing series of mental health stories and resources. I also have a Crisis Intervention Resource page that offers hotlines and some websites. I have already added the new Trans LifeLine to it.

Other resources to check out include:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
BetteruBetterUs on Instagram (helping people of color connect with therapists)
Project Ur Ok, on Instagram
The Carter Center: Mental Health
The Trevor Project
School of Awake (for young girls)

Five of My Personal Self-Care Practices

1. Take a Mental Health Day. This is especially helpful when you work full-time. Sometimes with all of the obligations and expectations, a day off is needed. I also allow my kids to do this if needed.

2. Tea. It is no lie that tea cures everything. And if it doesn’t cure it, it certainly helps put things in perspective. The time it takes to brew a cup of tea and drink it is often enough time to allow yourself to take a breathe, and it can be done anywhere – home, work, coffee shop on the corner.

3. Do something mundane. There are times when I get low and can’t focus even on relaxing, so I will put on a rerun of Supernatural and let that be my white noise. I’ve seen all of the episodes so I don’t need to pay strict attention to the plot, and I find comfort in the familiar voices.

4. Music. My go-to’s are the Hamilton soundtrack, Sign No More from Mumford & Sons, England Take My Bones from Frank Turner, and Adele plus the Supernatural soundtrack that I’ve put together.

5. Prayer. I know this isn’t for everyone, but if I can sit down and pray or read a spiritual book it does tend to re-center me so I can continue with my day.

Share 1 or 2 of yours in the comments!