I wanted to write a few words on the subject of mental health. Today it’s #BellLetsTalk day in Canada where people are encouraged to Tweet, text message or otherwise use services to talk about mental health issues and awareness using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. For each of these posts (and they could be about anything, really, if they have the right hashtag), Bell in Canada donates 5 cents towards mental health initiatives. A number of celebrities and notables have lent their likenesses and words to the campaign. It looks like Bell will be donating another big pile of money this year based on the activity so far.
I’ve participated during the past couple of years by Tweeting and reTweeting some things. This year, I started to talk on Twitter about some of my own struggles during the past 46 years I’ve been around. I normally avoid talking about my own experiences because there’s a lot of pain and embarrassment tied up with them and I’m a naturally private person. On the other hand, I’ve been pretty lucky with how things turned out for me and I do have a good life, although it’s easy to take it for granted when you work through the day to day challenges and responsibilities that life spews in front of you in its wake.
So, in the spirit of taking additional steps, I thought I’d share a few things, some of which I’ve already shared on Twitter today, but without the 140 character limit:
- I’ve been taking an anti-depressant for almost 22 years. My life got kind of bad before that. Life is never perfect, but it’s much better these days and overall it’s pretty good.
- I updated some social media profiles today to mention that I use an anti-depressant because in the end, it’s a medication. Lots of us take all kinds of medications. Zoloft is my insulin for my brain. Like diabetics, I take my Zoloft to keep healthy. I can still have an awful, dreadful day (because life) but I take comfort in the fact that it’s usually just a matter of time and effort to get to a better emotional place. There are days that I’ve felt like I’m walking through a vast swimming pool of Jello but most days are good if not great.
- I don’t know if I have seasonal affective disorder but for a number of years I’ve found that my mood plummets during the period between September through December. There’s a bit of a pick up after Christmas Day and then there’s Jan/Feb to get through. By then the days are getting noticeably longer, the winter is less harsh, and my mood seems to lift into what I’d call a normal state.
- I’m fortunate that I’ve almost never had a day that I couldn’t get out of bed due to mental illness but I know it’s a struggle for a number of people.
- Even now, the hardest things are to admit if I’m not feeling well and to seek help.
- I regret that there have been times when I have not been very supportive of other people who have mental illness issues. Part of it is the whole “secure your own oxygen mask first” philosophy but other times I just have not put the effort due to my own feelings of discomfort and, yes, I need to work through my own stigma issues at times.
- I can’t say enough about the value of running and other cardiovascular exercise for lifting the mood and overall health. Endorphins are wonderful (although lack of same creates its own problems).
- I’ve found that it can help to write about your thoughts and feelings in a private journal. Just don’t live in the journal: see if you can use your writing to spur some helpful action in your life, even if it’s just a baby step. Keep taking another step.
- I also recommend working with your hands. I started handmaking notebooks and journals recently – great, useful distraction. I’ll probably be talking more about this subject in subsequent posts.
- I’m happy that kids have more mental health options and awareness than I was aware of as a teen – please, use them if needed.
- Never underestimate the power of healthy habits and routines for improving your mental health. I know this is very hard for many people who really struggle to adopt these anchors to normalcy because there is some uncontrollable chaos in their lives. Start small. Very small, even it’s a simple checklist to say that you brushed your teeth twice per day. I’m currently following some daily habits which are almost at that very level of detail. Sometimes you can’t fully commit to something like a New Year’s Resolution but there are always small steps you can take. There is great power in the accumulation of small accomplishments.
I don’t have a lot of answers for you but I can tell you that I have had (and sometimes continue to have) my own struggles. But I do have a good life and good support is there for me when I need it. If nothing else, maybe knowing that there are people out there who do cope and have good lives is worth something to you. As for me, in 2016 I started a daily practice of finding something to feel grateful about and writing about it. So today I am grateful that someone managed to create a national campaign focused on mental health issues and that so many people have responded positively to it. Grateful, I am!