I talk a lot around here about how frustrated I get with the promotion of activities and endeavors that “decrease depression and anxiety” and “promote good mental health” – activities that require a certain level of good mental health to begin with! When I’ve been my most anxious or depressed no part of me wanted to exercise or keep a gratitude journal or do yoga or spend time outside or…
You get the point.
Every day we see articles and listen to podcasts and read self-help books that put our mental health in our hands and I’m not against that at all. But I want to see more disclaimers and reminders for people in serious mental health distress. I want to see more like this…
“Doing something creative for 15 minutes a day can decrease anxiety and depression! Of course, if your mental health is such that you struggle to even consider activities like this, you may be in a mental health crisis and you should reach out to a professional.”
I just know that when I’ve been at my darkest downswings, articles telling me to get outside to cure my depression or to practice journaling to ease my anxiety, just made me feel even more worthless.
Consider two people who ran the same long race this weekend. One of them crossed the finish-line with standard level of exhaustion and soreness. The other one crossed with stress fracture in their foot. (I have a friend who did just that at a 25K trail race one time.) They both read articles about hydrating and getting extra protein and doing yoga and getting massages to ease recovery after their event. And for the first runner, with no real injuries, all of this is great. But with the second runner, if they don’t address the stress fracture first, no amount of stretching is going to make themselves feel better. Especially if they’re in a lot of pain.
There are often caveats in articles about physical health, “If there’s bruising or swelling you may need to get an x-ray!” to remind the reader that there are extreme situations to consider…I want to see the same in articles about self-care and mental health.
All of that said – I know I’m doing better because I’m able to make all of those good decisions regarding my mental health. If you haven’t heard, north Alabama sustained record levels of rain last week and we’ve had flooding and downed trees and it’s just been a mess. Tuesday and Wednesday had me staying inside with no exercising or even time outdoors because the weather was just terrible. Then, Wednesday night it hit me: I’m falling…fast. My mental health was already starting to decline after just two days of missing out on some sort of daily activity and I decided I would watch the weather Thursday and do my best to find a break to get outside.
And I did. I decided to double-dose my self-care and not only do something active, but do it in the woods where I often feel revived. I just walked out my front door and headed to the trail-head near my house and explored all of my favorite water spots. It definitely helped a lot.
Because I was able to reset a little bit on Thursday, I knew I’d need to do the same thing Friday and Saturday so I watched for breaks in the rain and got out for 3-4 miles both days. It wasn’t the best but it got me through the rest of the week’s depressing weather without further downward spirals.
I also started journaling last week. I started each morning with some reflections and affirmations and ended each day with some gratitude. If you haven’t heard, gratitude journaling is the newest thing that everyone tells you can “improve your mental health!” And they’re right! As long as you’ve gotten your broken foot looked at first. And since my mental health is better lately I can read these articles about setting aside time for exercise and gratitude and I can really see the benefits of those activities to promoting well-being in my heart and my soul.
That’s the thing, the articles have a lot of truth to them, and now that I’ve been out of my own mental health distress for awhile I can finally really see all of that. I can drive my own mental health bus and refuse my daily beer and force myself to run and eat for my heart and my body and all of those healthy things that release serotonin and dopamine and all of the other happy chemicals in my brain, as opposed to relying on the unhealthy things that might do some of the same…live the novelty bias from spending too much time on social media.
I definitely want to support all of these things as they’ve been helping me immensely, but only because I focused on the bigger issues for awhile first with the help of therapy and medication and trips to see professionals like my therapist and my psychiatrist.
So if you see my words about how much better exercise and journaling make me feel and how much better I feel logging my food and eating better and you think, “Uggg. I don’t even have the desire to do any of that stuff. I’m too depressed or anxious,” then you may need to get that foot x-rayed first. And don’t feel shame in that. I can’t choose joy or anything remotely healthy or positive when I’m in a dark spiral. I veg in front of social media and drink too much and switch out vegetables for chips and dip and when I’m in a mental health crisis I choose the worst instead of the best and that is how I know it’s time to seek help. I hope you can too.
But for now I’m still in control of this bus and I’m getting much better at stopping the spirals before they get out of my control. I don’t know if I’ll have this power forever but I’m enjoying it for now.