can we talk about this?!
Growing up we were taught to brush our teeth three times a day. I actually remember the first time my mom helped me brush my teeth, it was a soft bristle brush and I remember giggling because it tickled (note: I am very much on the ticklish side).
We are also taught to shower, to be polite, and to take care of ourselves when we are “sick”. These are common lessons we are taught as children.
By sick, I mean the common head cold, flu, or maybe something a bit more serious, but in any case, ailments that are visible externally.
Can we talk about mental health? Let’s just get it out in the open, shall we? It is said that every person, will suffer from a mental health problem at least once in their lifetime. In fact, at any given moment, one in five humans are suffering from a mental health illness, right now.
Now, while I am fairly certain that you might know more than five people, in the case you don’t know anyone who has ever struggled with mental illness, I’m going to tell you some of my experience with mental health.
I think that there was a time that I was a little confused about what “mental illness” meant, or if I was “defective” forever, because my mind wasn’t working for a time the way I was used to it working.
The truth is, I’m stronger for having gone through it. I learned so much about myself.
I’m coming up on one year, and it has taken me that long to process it, and I don’t think I am even half way done working through it.
I was sad - a consistent and constant feeling of sadness. Things that brought me such joy, and very much do today, I couldn’t find the joy in. Generally speaking, I’m a fairly joyous person, and thankfully since, that time, my spirit and love of life has come back ten-fold.
The simplest things, getting out of bed, making myself meals, showering, getting dressed, showing up for work, these things, all of a sudden, felt very hard to do. I forced myself. I have vivid memories of dragging myself to work, getting my mind to focus just long enough to accomplish my days work, and then getting back home in just enough time to crawl back into bed, sometimes sleeping so much I would wake up the next morning still in my work clothes from the day before.
It felt like the flu, but only worse. My insides felt sore, my body ached, and I didn’t know how to make it stop. My mind raced, my thoughts played over and over, loud noises felt like sledgehammers in my head, like I was hung-over, but never had any alcohol.
I remember my Dr. saying “mental illness”, it got my attention. Through a series of tough events in my life, I was experiencing mental illness - anxiety, panic attacks, and what the Dr. described as “temporary” post-traumatic stress.
Getting my mind to think other thoughts, and moving from this place, was a very deep dig for me. I listened, I got quiet with myself I found routine to be something that I found comfort in. I stuck to my running, a tool that has been with me for over 20 years, and of course, my yoga practice, another comfort that has been with me for about 10 years. These are my tools.
I attended the classes where I was comfortable with the instructor, and I knew that they would be okay with me if I cried, or slept, or just laid in savasana and listened – and I did all of these things (to my teachers – if you are reading this, deep bow to you).
Looking back it was this toggle back and forth of leaning on the people I knew I could talk to about it and spending precious time alone, dimmed lights, quiet, with just my thoughts.
Eventually, this quiet time became mediation, and I learned to sit with my thoughts for up to 45 minutes to an hour, and I hold this space and practice with myself still, daily. It is part of my daily routine, the same way I brush my teeth, shower, wash my face, and do any other routine for self-care. You see, mental health / mental wellness, and checking in with how you feel, is self-care. I have a meditation teacher that says “if we brush our teeth for 2 minutes a day, what is wrong with brushing our mind?” I believe him.
So, why am I telling you all of this? This phrase “mental illness” seems to me, to have a stigma attached to it that can make us feel broken. You are not broken. Just like we brush our teeth, we need to take the time to cleanse our mind. It requires slowing down, listening to your thoughts, cleansing them of the ones that are not healthy or no longer serving you, and replacing them with ones that are more productive.
If you do suffer from mental illness, or have in the past, you are not alone. My mostly bad days have been replaced by good days far outweighing the bad, but I still have days where my mental health check in, turns out to be a day where I need a little more flossing than normal, or an extra scrub.
We need to be able to talk about it, we need to be able to trust each other with our thoughts - even the dark, scary ones that you can’t even believe you are having. Your voice, your sharing, might just help someone else that is struggling be validated, and not feel so alone and scared.
Mental illness does not equal defective, it does not equal broken - you are having a human experience! You are not alone in this experience, you are surrounded by other humans, willing to share their similar experience.
Be an advocate for your mental health, just like you would your teeth, hair, skin, and other parts of your physical body. Start off by spending 2 minutes a day, brushing your thoughts. Maybe try downloading a meditation app, ones like Headspace, or Oprah&Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience are a good place to start.
The thoughts in your mind are temporary, and your ability to change them is actually within you, practice mental health, and keep looking for the joy, keep doing the best you can, know that it is enough.