May is Mental Health Awareness Month and my main goal of this blog has always been to play a part in fighting stigma through my own transparency and vulnerability. Whether it’s through actively talking about the struggles I’m facing, or providing ideas of things that help me cope with my mental health struggles like books or music, it is all a part of a larger goal to make even just one person feel less alone in their struggles. Since this month is all about raising awareness and breaking stigma, I wanted to share five lessons I’ve learned along my mental health journey!
Struggling with your mental health does not make you inferior in any way.
This is the most important to remember. No matter what the mental health issue you are dealing with is, it doesn’t make you weak. I’d argue it shows your strength. Waking up and choosing to put one foot in front of the other when battling your own brain is so impressive. Choosing to get out of bed today when you couldn’t get up yesterday shows your resiliency. Every little thing you accomplish takes strength and it is important to remember that none of what you are battling mentally makes you inferior.
Therapy can help so much, but only if you’re honest.
I am a big advocate of therapy for literally anybody. Whether you are actively struggling with a diagnosable or diagnosed mental disorder, or not, I think it can be beneficial. Learning different techniques and tools to help combat my anxiety has been a game changer. I want to make it clear that therapy isn’t a cure. I still have anxiety, OCD, and have struggled with depression, but having someone to talk to who will not judge me and will give me some ideas on how best to cope, has helped me come a long way. The most important thing to keep in mind though is that in order for it to be even remotely helpful, you have to be honest. Even when you want to hold something you are feeling or thinking back in fear of judgment, it is important to share so that you can better understand how your brain processes things.
Taking mental health days is important.
I truly believe all companies should provide sick days and mental health days separately to their employees. I also believe that there should be excused absences in schools for mental health days. Taking care of your emotional and mental states is just as important as your physical health. Listening to your body and actually taking a day to mentally recharge and reset can make a huge difference in terms of stress level and productivity. Taking breaks isn’t lazy, it’s important.
Talking openly about your mental health struggles is powerful.
I think the tendency in most of us is to hide our struggles from people around us for various reasons. Maybe you don’t want family or friends to worry. Maybe you want to protect your image. Maybe you are just embarrassed that you are struggling when it seems like everyone else is fine. Well, one thing I have learned is that when you voice your problems out loud, often others will do the same. No one’s life is perfect. Whether they have a diagnosed disorder or are just dealing with stressors in their life, everyone is working through something. Once you believe that, talking about your mental health is so much easier. My friends often hear things about what Susan, my therapist, tells me. They know when I am having a particularly bad anxiety day. Talking about those things is freeing because it allows you to let go of some of that weight that accumulates from keeping it all in. And you never know when your own openness is going to make someone else realize that their struggles are valid and okay as well. Just talking about it helps fight stigma and makes an impact.
Boundaries are healthy.
Setting boundaries and sticking to them is a great way to positively impact your mental health. Whether that involves boundaries with other people, or just boundaries for yourself, they help keep you on a healthy path. For example, my friends know that whenever they go out drinking, I am not coming, unless it is for some special occasion. There was a time in my life when I felt like saying no to things made me a bad friend, but whenever I would push through to have the experience, I was miserable. The crowds made my anxiety worse. The drinking itself didn’t make me feel good physically. And I would end up regretting going. Now they know and I know that a boundary like that doesn’t mean I don’t love them or want to spend time with them. It just means I am protecting my own mental health and that’s okay. Learning what your boundaries are is part of growing up and listening to yourself and what you need to be your happiest and healthiest is important.
These are just some of the things I have learned along my own mental health journey, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more in the years to come. I hope they make you think about your relationship with your own mental health. I’d love to know what things you have learned in the comments below! Conversation and vulnerability are how we fight stigma and I look forward to continuing to do that with you here. Have a great day!