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.