If someone had asked me back in middle school during health class if mental health were something I would grapple with in the future, I would’ve said “Not me.” I knew it was something important, but it was never anything I had to deal with. I tucked the names of the disorders, symptoms and coping mechanisms in the back of my mind and moved on with my life.
This week, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Besides having a week to discuss the importance of mental health, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This year in particular, I realized just how important this week and month earlier this year are. In the first issue of the year, I mentioned how over the summer my anxiety (which had been at bay for a long time) brought on the coupled symptom of depression and took a toll on my body. I felt off for days on end, physically, mentally and emotionally. It truly was like nothing I’d ever felt before.
I felt like I was in an illness from which I couldn’t escape. I felt nauseous constantly, my head felt like a river rushing with thoughts because I couldn’t focus and I fell out of touch with the activities I loved doing. My mood fluctuated from wanting to cry all the time and feeling numb, trying to remember when the last time I had genuinely laughed or smiled. I couldn’t recognize who I was anymore and I felt like I was playing a character in a show. Each day, I had to convince everyone around me that my mind was controlling me.
Since everything started back at the beginning of May, I’ve been seeing a therapist and on daily medication. While I knew friends who utilized these tools, initially I thought I could get through everything of my own free will. As my mental health grew worse, I realized it couldn’t hurt just to try and see if it would help. My therapist gave me helpful strategies such as a thought record to help me reframe my mindset and let me spill on how I’d been feeling. She encouraged me to start taking more time for myself and to keep up with yoga, meditations and mindfulness activities. My medication took a few weeks to kick in, but I noticed I didn’t feel as worn out as before.
I’ll be honest, I’m still recovering nearly five months later. Some days, I have to find the motivation to get out of bed and go through the motions of my schedule. On other days, I feel like I’m floating on cloud nine. I might want to spend a few days surrounded by friends doing fun activities and others I want to spend in solitude. On the days my mind spirals, I feel like I can’t focus on my schoolwork which just adds to the anxiety and those are the days where I have to prove to myself I can get through it.
So many people say, “Don’t think about it and it’ll get better.” Anxiety is not like the pain of a paper cut or waiting for a class to be over. It’s very real and it terrifies the hell out of us. We can’t always pinpoint why we feel this way or why our bodies choose to react with symptoms that replicate hundreds of illnesses. The best thing you could do for someone who has anxiety is to support and listen to them. By just being there for us and letting us tell you all our thoughts and lending a helping hand however you can mean so much to us. If you’ve had similar situations you’ve been through, tell us if you’re comfortable. Some of my most meaningful reassurances have been from people who I never knew had been through their own mental health struggles.
I’m very thankful to be living in a generation where it’s becoming more common to seek out help for mental health. Again, I’m beyond lucky to have such a great family that’s reassured me and been there for me. The same could be said for all my friends. Whether it’s just letting me sit with them in silence or unintentionally inviting me to do something such as getting ice cream when I was having an off-day have made me so grateful for them. We all have our own struggles and you never know how much a small act of kindness could mean to someone.
You are not alone. I guarantee someone you know is struggling or has struggled with mental health. There are several Instagram pages full of encouragement, websites like resilienttoday.org full of resources and even the Counseling Center and the Center for Rural Behavioral Health are here to help you. The more we talk about mental health, the more we can normalize it’s just another part of our health we need to focus on.
As Fitz and the Tantrums say in their song ‘Dark Days,’ “Just keep dreaming in these dark days because you never know…”
Header photo: Medication, mindfulness activities and encouragement from family and friends have been such a big help in getting me through my anxiety and depression. (Courtesy Emma Johnson)
Write to Emma Johnson at Emma.email@example.com