Mental Health Awareness Deserves More Than One Day or Month

Mental health awareness day (October 10) and month (May) always hits me a little strangely. For most of us, every month and every day is dedicated to mental health awareness, because the fight never fades. To those who may not be aware, this might sound overdramatic. I can assure you, it’s not. Some people carry their loads more effectively than others and may not understand that for mental health sufferers, every second can be a burden–especially on a bad day.

I don’t typically like publically delving into the state of my mental health, but providing a snapshot could help people understand what their loved ones may be struggling with. As with most people who fight battles within their brains on the regular, I’m a productive citizen who easily socializes with people. I love talking with and helping others, and I love teaching. Though, if something adverse were to happen during the day, my anxiety has the tendency to agonize about it long after an appropriate length of time. At its worst, my anxiety can cause me to second guess and over analyze every single social interaction and nonverbal cue. With some cognitive behavioral therapy and conditioning, this has dramatically decreased in frequency over time. It’s actually nice to think that this part of my mental health is no longer nearly as big a burden.

When I’m alone, things are typically worse. First there’s the health anxiety (which we would traditionally call hypochondria) which leads me to believe that everyone I love along with myself is going to die of a terminal illness…in the near future. Kid’s got a cough? Lymphoma. The other kid has a persistent rash? Leukemia. Husband has a mole? Melanoma. I have stomach discomfort and back pain? Ovarian cancer. Every single moment of fussiness and health anomaly is transformed into a dire worry. This is something we’re clearly still working on in my therapy sessions (there is no shame in this), and staying mentally occupied with projects along with self-talk and evidence based fact charts are mostly effective for now. 

Daily routines are especially difficult. If I fall into too much monotony, there’s more room for anxious thoughts and worry to creep in. However, when I plan activities, there’s more room for error, as unplanned tantrums and needs can occur with my children. What if I miss an ideal nap time? What if someone needs to eat? Oh well, might as well just wait to go somewhere after the kids are asleep. When they’re asleep, I’m exhausted, so it’s best to just stay home entirely. Then there’s the fun activity of self deprecation after I do stay home because I feel like a complete failure.

Even typing this seems ridiculous to me, because I know there are simple remedies to these issues. I do worry about disturbing naptime frequently, though, because naptimes are SACRED. That’s beside the point. At its worst, my anxiety can cause me to make a lot of excuses for not going out with my kids. This is a hurdle I frequently have to talk myself through.

Most issues are ones of which I can get through with some affirming self talk and some quick journaling. The problem is that these obstacles are constant in someone who suffers from anxiety. Medication can definitely help take the edge off in that they are not quite as debilitating. (For example, I can remember feeling literally paralyzed by my anxiety when I was younger and so full of worry and dread that I couldn’t move. Thankfully this is no longer the case.) 

For now, there is just a tremendous amount of daily mental work to be done. To stay healthy, I must get adequate sleep. Having two kids under four makes that challenging. Having an empathetic and understanding husband with a more flexible work schedule helps. I also need to exercise, take my medicine regularly, see a therapist, and stay on top of things at a reasonable pace so I don’t feel like I’m completely overwhelmed by the daily grind in addition to my anxiety. Yoga helps. Writing helps. 

When my immune system decided to rebel against my body last year, self care grew more difficult. Lengthy flare ups of exhaustion and pain made for a body that could not keep up with a racing mind. I’m still learning how to deal with it–another new hurdle. Planning and staying motivated by projects for others or around the house can keep my mind in a healthy frame whether or not my body cooperates. Planning projects surrounding my kids are even better.

Simply put, mental health is a never ending journey. Parts of my life that improved with time yielded to other aspects that only worsened. I’m working on it all at once. And I am ACTIVELY  working on it too…on top of being that productive citizen with two children. Most people who suffer from mental health issues are. Many are doing a ton more than I am. They deserve all the respect and all the awareness. Mental health awareness deserves more than a day or month.

The Aftershock

Most of my morning was spent in silence, my thoughts like a blank page. I played with our youngest, and her smiles and laughs helped some; but the shock of the news of 29 people dead in less than 24 hours could not be waved away with some laughter and smiles. These events that continue to occur uniquely in our country are so unbelievably heavy for us to bear. They’re too heavy. With them come fears and lasting anxiety with every venture into public, whether it be a mundane shopping trip, a church, or a crowded festival. Even though the odds are still in our favor to die of numerous other causes, the statistics are overwhelming–251 mass shootings in the 216 days of this year (according to USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/03/el-paso-walmart-shooting-250th-mass-shooting-this-year/1913486001/ ), 292 in 216 days (according to Quartz https://qz.com/1681082/the-292-mass-shootings-in-the-us-so-far-this-year-mapped/).

 I don’t care about the difference in numbers. It’s still too damn many.

I needed to talk about it today but didn’t know how. I wanted to talk about the fears. I wanted to know how to raise my kids in this world. I couldn’t even get the words out. No one else seems to want to discuss it either. I posted a question in a SAHM’s forum about how individual families address these issues with their children, if at all, and my post wasn’t even approved for the public.

I get it. People don’t want it to get political. They want to go on living their lives. They don’t want to be brought down. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we as a public can go on with our heads in the sand. I don’t think that over 1,300 fatalities from mass shootings in 2019 is political either (Quartz, 2019). I think it’s a public health crisis. I think it’s a domestic terror crisis. There needs to be more action in our government in the name of public safety, but unfortunately public safety clashes with money, guns, and power. I could easily elaborate here, but this is not the place.

I’m here to navigate motherhood. I’m here to continue living life in the face of fear. That’s what we all have to do. Work still goes on. Life still happens in the tragic face of sudden death.

We can’t quit. 

It’s just difficult to continue at the same pace, venturing out fearlessly. There aren’t many readers here, but I will still send my questions out into the void. How do you do it? How do you show your kids that this world can be beautiful–that life can be beautiful–even when there are people sitting behind screens, seething, plotting to take all of it away from as many people as possible? 

My sister and mom are phenomenal role models. My mother, without any hesitation, responded to my question, “No. You can’t live your life in fear. Yes, it is a really scary world. But it’s also a beautiful world that we should enjoy.” My sister responded similarly but with decidedly more caution in regard to her children, “My plan is to point out that for all the scary things they hear about, there are so many more good things that happen everyday, and go with that. I mean, I don’t need them burdened with all that at their ages. I have to tell myself that too.”

So that’s what I will attempt as well. And that’s what I’m guessing we all should attempt. Yes, we should have plans in place for safety, but we should also keep showing our kids the beauty and pleasure we can experience in this world (while we are fighting with our government for a safer country). Even though we as parents may carry the burden of fear, we should let our children be free in their ability to experience life as it happens–wherever it happens–without a second thought.