Mental Health Monday – Back to School Edition

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For many places all across the country (and the world) it is back to school season. Some started at the very tail end of August and some of us began right after Labor Day. There is so much going on at this time of year – end of summer holidays, school days, fall weather and traditions, the Jewish Holidays, and of course, Christmas is a mere fourteen and a half weeks away. I just mentioned to my husband that between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day there are only four weekends for shopping! I’m sure that did nothing for his mental health!

Parents, teachers, and kids all have something going on in their heads that is taking control of their senses, their insecurities, theirs plans. Some things are insurmountable; at least they seem to be. Sometimes all we need is a little support, and sometimes just from ourselves.

We all have our little go-to’s to get through the day, the month, the school year, and I would love for you to share them in the comments below for the rest of us. We are a community, and we move forward by helping each other in our own little (big) ways.

Here are a few of mine:

  1. Every day is a new day. Don’t let yesterday beat you up. Forget it and move forward.
  2. At some point you realize that the supply list is a suggestion. Somethings can be substituted, especially if your family can’t afford an item. Speak to your teacher or school social worker. They are there to help you and not embarrass your child.
  3. Give your kids some time to unwind when they get home in the afternoon. There is something to be said for milk and cookies or an apple after school, including for your too cool teenagers. No one is too cool for milk and cookies. During this unwinding time you can ask non threatening questions like how was your day and do you have any homework. Save the pop psychology for dinner time – did you make any new friends, how did this thing go that you were worried about? A simple how was your day works also.
  4. This one is a tough one especially in our family: try not to have dinner too late in the evening. There are days that we’re eating dinner at 9pm and it is kind of rough for everyone. If dinner is that late, how late is bedtime? When is homework? Is there any downtime for television/family time? Sometimes you have no choice on the timing, but keep in mind the needed downtime, not only for your kids, but also for you.
  5. Be present. Whatever you’re doing in your day, if you’re home when your kids get home, be sure that you’re there for them 100% when they walk in the door. It won’t be for long – they’ll grow tired of you faster than you’ll grow tired of them and they’ll disapear into their rooms – for homework, video games, phone calls/texting with friends. For those of you not home, and there are many parents who are at work when their kids get off the bus, leave them notes, have a snack prepared and in the fridge or on the counter, call them from work (or have them call you) to check in on their day. You will hear them roll their eyes through the phone, but they will still appreciate it. Trust me.
  6. Keep your expectations in line. Be flexible. Things will not always go as planned. Work around it.

And screaming into your pillow is always a good technique.

We will all get through this time together, and we will be better for it.

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 – Bhangra

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On this last day of Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to reiterate that we can use everyday to be aware of our mental health and changes that happen in our lives.

Think about and use the tools that help you on those bad or not-great days. We each have so much to offer to ourselves and to each other. I went back over the /mentalhealthmonday tag and rediscovered tools I hadn’t thought about in months.

One positive thing that I’ve been doing for several weeks is watching the one minute videos of Gurdeep Pandher on Twitter dancing the Bhangra.

Bhangra is an energetic folk dance originating in the Punjab region of the subcontinent of India and Pakistan. Its beginnings are with farmers during the harvest. There is kicking, leaping, and hand movements that all combine to create something that I can’t look away from.

Although I don’t watch everyday I find that when I scroll past his posts, I always stop to watch the dance and listen to the music. I can always find the time to pause for one minute and these videos cause a deep welling of joy from inside. They are truly uplifting. When I do watch them, which is often, they make my day better; they inspire me, they bring my thoughts to contemplation rather than the dispiriting noise that usually finds me online.

In addition to the joy the videos bring, I have watched the seasons of the Yukon, where Gurdeep lives, change from deep frozen winter to spring and grass and blue skies. In the video below, the Takhini River and mountains behind him took my breath away, and was one of the reasons that I decided to share this one with you today.



The following may be triggering to some people so please continue through to the link below with caution.

To read more about the tragedy he mentions in his prayer of the children discovered in Kamloops this week, follow the link.

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 – 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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Mental Health Monday – Do One Thing

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It doesn’t need to be big.

It doesn’t need to be important.

It doesn’t even need to be political.

Or public.

Do one thing for you.

This morning my intention was to attend church. I woke up too late, but…I could still take a shower and attend church on FB Live, which I did, and then I went to Starbucks.

Three small things that loom large, but that’s okay. Any one of them would have been a success.

Your one thing matters to only one person: YOU.

Remember that everyone’s goals and wins are different from everyone else’s.

Own it.

Enjoy it.

Celebrate it.

Do one thing.

Mental Health Monday

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September is Suicide Prevention Month. Each year, too many people commit suicide and one thing that would prevent some of those suicides is knowing where to go to get help. Visit the websites of these three organizations and find out how you can get help or how you can help someone in crisis.

NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

The Trevor Project – for LGBTQ+ and Trans Youth.

The Trevor Project provides confidential support for LGBTQ youth in crisis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week