Today is World Mental Health Day; a day intended to raise awareness about mental health and mobilize support worldwide.
In recent years, the stigma surrounding mental health has begun to fade, but misunderstandings still prevail and many are too ashamed to seek the help they need. Sadly, many become so hopeless that they feel suicide is the only escape from their pain. As I learned at a conference yesterday, suicide just became the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 in the U.S.
To join the educational efforts, the Boozy Gardener has decided to take a break from our normal programming to discuss her own struggles with mental health (a topic I’m wrestling with in my work-in-progress memoir, ‘My Therapist Mansplained Me, and Other Horrors I’ve Met on the Road to Happiness.’)
For those of you who don’t know, that’s me. I’m one of the 260 million people in the world who suffer from anxiety (among other things). At this point in my life, after years of therapy, mindfulness practice, and yoga, I feel great on most days. My brain functions as it should, and I don’t suffer a single bout of fight-or-flight panic. I kill it while giving presentations in front of large crowds and can make it through stressful meetings with merely an eye roll to a trusted coworker.
Not so long ago, I could barely sleep more than a few hours a night and often had to escape to the bathroom to cry at work–just to get some relief from the swarm of emotions and thoughts running through my brain.
A number of tools helped me get my anxiety under control–many of which I’ve started to detail in this blog. Therapy was massively important, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (which the cool kids call CBT). A healthy diet. Exercise, which for me includes cycling and yoga, though I always tell people they should do what they find fun. Breathing exercises and mindfulness have also helped me rewire my brain and cope when faced with small bouts of anxiety.
Of course, when faced with intense stress, there are days when I revert to my previous state. What makes those bad days tolerable is the knowledge that I feel fine most days and will feel normal again soon. That rational voice may be a quiet one in the back of my mind, but that whisper stops me from spiraling too far out of control.
If you’re having a bad day, my friend, practice as much self-care as possible. I cuddle with my dogs. Watch TV in my pajamas. Go for long walks. Read in bed. Take a bath and drink a glass of wine.
What’s the most important tool at your disposal when suffering from any mental illness, whether it’s anxiety, depression, OCD, grief, PTSD, or the myriad other conditions that can silently strike us? Trusted friends or family members. The times that I have felt the absolute worst in my life were the times when I thought I was totally alone. Times when I felt ashamed about my irrational thoughts. Times when I thought no one could possibly understand. Times when I thought I was so batshit insane I didn’t deserve a shoulder to cry on. Of course, I was wrong. Lots of people were ready, willing, and able to help.
If you are feeling alone, reach out to someone, anyone. Maybe you are not close to your family, so call or text a friend. Email the coworker who makes you laugh at the coffee machine. People will surprise you, if you give them a chance.
If you can’t bring yourself to call someone you know, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Even if you are not suicidal, visit their website. They have a number of resources, including links to help you find a therapist or support group.
I’d also like to plug a great free resource called 7Cups where you can learn a number of coping techniques for a plethora of problems, talk to others in forums, and speak to a trained listener who can help you through a tough time.
Again, remember that MILLIONS of us suffer from some sort of mental health issue. That person who seems so put together on the street may be fighting the same battle that you are, so you are NEVER alone.