It was nearly a year ago today that I opened up about my struggles with depression and anxiety. Today has been on my mind a lot. I’ve thought a lot about what to write, how I want to move forward, and how to encourage others to use this day as the beginning of their road to good mental health.
So, here are the top lessons I have learned from opening my mouth on #BellLetsTalk Day.
Opening Up is the Hardest Part
Admitting you need support is difficult. I waited until I was 29 to tell the world what I was going through. Before then, it was reserved only for partners and maybe a couple friends. Even then, no one knew the true depth of my pain. It’s easy to come up with conversations and scenarios in your mind of how you will tell people. The worst part of having anxiety, though, is that your mind will then come up with 100 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut: “Everyone will think you’re lying”, “no one will want to be your friend anymore”, “you won’t be loved anymore”, “you’ll be made fun of behind your back”, “people at work will think less of you and you won’t get promoted”, “nothing will change anyways, you’ll always be like this”, “your problems are stupid, there are people out there with REAL problems”, and it goes on and on. Before you know it, you’re crying into a bag of chips and feel a lot worse about yourself than when you started. I even know that feeling where you desperately want to say the words “I need help” but your lips feel like they’re sealed shut. I know it feels like you’d rather jump out of your skin and run away forever than have to actually verbalize those words. It’s horrible. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. Once you get over that hurdle, you will find your journey will begin, and you will be so happy to have the weight of the world off your shoulders.
(Side note, those “reasons” your mind comes up with are all why it’s so important for us to change the conversation around mental illness. Stigma kills and hurts in so many ways. By speaking up, and being supportive, you may not change the entire world, but you will change a small part of it.)
You Will Stumble, and Fall
No one is perfect, and no one is cured immediately. Sadly, getting to a place of good mental health takes a lot of work and dedication. I wish it were easy. I’d give anything to just snap my fingers and have all of my obsessive thoughts disappear. But remember, this is why you are strong for getting help, and not weak. The most important thing, though, I have really begun to learn is to not be too hard on myself. The key, for me, when I fall down is to have a plan for getting back up. For example, I am now keeping an Exercise Journal to hold myself accountable for getting back into shape. I mark off days in the calendar with a giant X so I can look back at the month and go “YEAH – Look at what I’ve achieved!”. That sense of accomplishment will help erase your feelings of failure. Will I miss a workout some days? Of course. Will I eat a cupcake instead of fruit? You bet. Just remember to step back, and forgive yourself. You’re not the only one to stumble.
Find hobbies, and things to help calm your mind. I love my colouring books for example. I can’t meditate – my brain is always in overdrive and I can’t turn it off long enough to meditate properly. But colouring does force me to focus and not think about anything else except which marker to use next. I have also bought some knitting needles and plan to start giving that a try! I like being creative, so those options work best for me. Maybe you will find comfort in something else. You will find that the more you find joy in a small hobby, the less time you find wrapped in pain. And keep a journal! Write down your fears and challenge them when they don’t come true. Write down what made you happy each day. Write down something new you did, or learned. Write, write, write. Remind yourself each and everyday that it isn’t always bad. That even on the darkest days you can find a small bit of light. Even writing “I didn’t cry today” should be remembered as a big moment for a lot of us with depression and anxiety. Write it down so you don’t forget the good.
Turn Off Your Phone
This year, I am making a conscious effort to be checking my phone less and less after I get home from work. Instead of wasting time on social media, I am now researching new recipes, ideas for a balcony garden, or colouring. Now that I am spending less time comparing my life to others, I find myself much happier with who I am. And also, you can’t freak out and get upset over some random Instagram post when you never saw it to begin with. Social media is like gasoline to mental illness’ fire. Turn it off, and you’ll immediately notice a benefit.
If you ever find yourself in those never-ending thought cycles, the best way to break it is to instantly focus on exactly what you are doing in that moment. I used to find I would start to have anxious thoughts when doing the dishes. I would mull over moments from the day, and start to get worried about the next day. So I started forcing myself to stop those thoughts and instead think “Now I am washing this butter knife. Now I am rinsing it. It goes into the utensil holder on the drying rack”. It sounds tedious. It sounds boring. And it is, but it works. Do that for the remainder of the activity and you will forget about what was bothering you in the first place. And if it comes back, start it all over again. It also means re-engaging yourself in conversations with friends, loved ones, and co-workers. Start to make memories again. I know that when I spend so much time absorbed in my own thoughts, I find I barely remember where the days go.
Exercise in any shape or form can do wonders for depression and anxiety. There’s endless studies about the science behind why, and I’ll leave you to Google, but you really can’t beat a good workout to help calm your brain and unleash a lot of pent up energy. I know for depression, it’s often hard enough to get out of bed let alone go for a run, but maybe start small and promise yourself you’ll go for a walk each day, or do some yoga in the living room. Whatever you do, I’ve always found that it makes the biggest difference in my life.
Remind Yourself You are Valuable
I used to write myself really intense motivational messages like “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE STRONG. YOU ARE HEALTHY” and read them over and over again before bed. You might laugh, but it works. Repeating those mantras that YOU have value as a person and that YOU deserve happiness will help you see that you are worth fighting for. For a long time I didn’t think I was any of those things. I thought I was a worthless loser. But here I am, stronger than ever before with a purpose in life. Write down what you need to tell yourself to kick yourself into gear and find your confidence. And read it until you believe it deep into your core.
And finally, and this one is the most important: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
The moment I started talking, people starting sharing their struggles with me. It was incredible. And also very sad to know how many people I knew were also hurting. But there’s a strange comfort in numbers. It means you have people in your corner. It means that someone else can understand. It means someone else can help. There’s nothing defective about YOU. We’ve all comes across some form of mental illness in our lifetime. YOU are not broken beyond repair. WE are all here for you.
So in a year, I’ve turned things around little by little. I still have my down days, and I still have those nagging thoughts that sometimes rear their ugly heads. But I battle through and move forward. I find happiness. I find purpose. You can to. Just take everything one step at a time.
Please don’t be afraid to talk, and also don’t be afraid to listen. We all need to change the way we view mental illness. It’s time we all find the love, comfort, and happiness we deserve.
Thank you for reading, and please share and spread the word to help those suffering in silence. Show them you care.
I’ll be tweeting about #BellLetsTalk all day today, join me and let’s raise some money for mental health initiatives in Canada.