Celebrate what you want to see more of.
– Tom Peters
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m not sure if that’s meant to be that we should be aware of the mental health struggles going on for the people around us and to give some space and grace or if it’s also supposed to be for ourselves to recognize our own struggles and be aware and self-aware of our own mental health and the triggers as well as the coping tools we carry with us on a daily basis.
It is so appropriate that today of all days, the first of May, and the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month that my day got unexpectedly set on its head. It was nothing outlandish or incapacitating, but change is hard, especially for people like me who like their lists and like their day mostly planned out.
Today was my non-day. I was going to sleep in late and then attend to the mess that is my dining room table. That’s where I work and the last two weeks have been filled with so many things the table got away from me. Again. As always. And then I was to tackle the list my daughter and I made last night.
I awoke to a poke in my side and my son standing over me.
Son: Do you want to drive me to school?
Me: Do I want to drive you to school? No. But I will, I laughed. When do you need to be there?
Son: 2 minutes.
Needless to say while his school is not far, it is also not two minutes away.
His regular ride hadn’t come and he couldn’t reach him by phone. These things happen. Of course, growing up a not-popular, bullied kid, my first reaction is to wonder if they’re still friends because his friend can’t have simply overslept or forgot; he must hate my son for some unknown reason and now they’re no longer friends. I did not express any of this out loud. Even in my internal despair for my kids, I know how irrational this is.
I did break the land-speed record for getting dressed and got to the car. He drove. He was a few minutes late, but he drove under the speed limit; he’s a careful driver and he’s still learning. (As an aside, he’s the exact opposite of my daughter who is also learning to drive – she drives a bit faster, stops a bit too slow, and just is more cavalier about the whole thing. Not that she’s unsafe; she’s not, but their personalities really show through on their driving styles.)
Once he was at school, I could go straight home and begin work (and know that I’d get nothing written) or make a different plan.
I made a different plan.
I grabbed breakfast through the drive-thru, and went to the library, where I am currently sitting in the new local history room typing on my Kindle.
I could have let the sudden change defeat me, I could have gone back home, curled up on the sofa, and went back to sleep, and it would have still been okay. Even though I was interrupted, I had planned on sleeping late. I could have gone back to sleep and not even felt an ounce of guilt. I could have started over tomorrow and that also would have been okay. But I made a different choice, and that was because I reevaluated my day, my priorities, and my mental health.
I admit to being hyper self-aware of how I’m feeling and what my triggers are when they happen, but you can recognize the things that set you off down a path of stress and anxiety and readjust. Use your tools. Think about what tools you have in your own mental health toolbox. Some of mine that I used today include:
1. Take a deep breath and reevaluate. In today’s scenario, I wasn’t able to do that until my son was dropped off at school, so I sat in the parking lot for five minutes to regroup (and readjust the mirrors).
2. Did I want to buy breakfast or eat at home? If I ate at home (whether or not I bought breakfast), would I be able to eat and then seamlessly move into my day’s work? I didn’t think so.
3. What were my alternatives?
a. Eat at McDonald’s (or elsewhere)?
b. Eat in the car?
c. Eat somewhere else?
d. I chose to eat in the car and then drive to the library.
4. I found a nice quiet corner in a new room and I’m writing.
5. Before I leave, I’ll make the plan for the rest of the day. Dinner, two kids off to work, put my teaching stuff in storage until the end of summer. It’s not much, but it’s doable, and today that’s the most important part. My list would include a master of everything that needs to be done, and then sort out what is the most important and what can be done easily and quickly.
And of course, all of these coping tools and compromises will depend on how stressed and anxious you are. I have an underlying anxiety about not having a therapist. I think I’ve decided to look for another one because it was helpful, but is that because of seeing a therapist or seeing that therapist for eleven years? I’ll need to figure that out.
Every Monday this month will be a Mental Health Monday on the website, and there will be other posts throughout the month talking about mental health – yours and mine. I am always happy to give voice to the readers so if you have something that works for you, please add it in the comments. While this isn’t a social media, it is a community, and especially where mental health is concerned, we need to support one another for wherever we are in our continuing journeys.
Awareness is half the battle.