One would think that during Mental Health Awareness month, I would be inundating subscribers with thoughts, advice, and tidbits from my own journey. Perhaps if I were a medical professional looking at it from the outside of the experience, I’d have done that. As someone dealing with these issues though, I decided to take this month to actually focus on my own mental health and well-being and it has been eye opening to say the least.
Many days this month I’ve functioned quite capably and I’m putting that in the first position, because it deserves to be acknowledged and (dare I say) praised. I’m the type of person who tends to focus on my flaws first and am always awaiting with bated breath the moments where I can beat myself up for not attaining some ever-changing goal that I’ve either set for myself or that I feel that society at large expects us to attain. I’m slowly learning that this habit creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts that keeps me from my true goal of being well and content. So, kudos, self for being better more days than not. Here’s your gold star.
I’ve only had one spiraling event so far. Actually “event” isn’t the right word, because there was nothing tangible going on in my life to tie it to. It was more like a weighted cloud was resting just above me, neither touching me nor completely impeding my movement, but making everything more difficult. Kind of like trying to run on a humid day. You can do it, but breathing is more labored and every motion feels like it’s traveling through some thickened soup.
In the past on days like that, I would always keep it moving, and for some people that might be the best course of action. This process is different for everyone, and there’s no “one size fits all” to be found. In my case, however, pushing through generally resulted in me tapping myself to depletion and being useless for even more days than I would have had I just rested the first day I was struggling. Again, this is all trial and error. I’m trying to view it as a living experiment and taking mental notes on positive and negative results has helped me to learn more with each attempt about what works and what doesn’t.
Training myself out of bad habits that no longer work for me has likely been the most difficult part of this process. I’m a big fan of habits and rituals. There’s a comfort in reflexively knowing what the next step is without having to constantly run scenarios through my brain of potential outcomes. A lifetime of overthinking is how I got here after all, so any peace I can find in not thinking is welcome. Unfortunately, my brain didn’t come wired with an automatic rerouting kit when a road is closed or under construction.
Believe it or not, there once was a time when everyone didn’t have a portable GPS system in their smart phones. And while youngsters may readily imagine stumbling across a diplodocus or a brachiosaur along that pre-digital era path; in truth, it wasn’t that long ago.
Those years, which I promise were well after the Mesozoic period, were in a short lived time known as the Brick Phone era. Phones back then only made :gasp: PHONE CALLS. To successfully complete a journey from one destination to another required either previous knowledge of the route or some printed form of a map like a road atlas. In those days I happened to be working in a travel agency at AAA.
Aside from their unofficial role as the patron saints of roadside breakdowns, AAA was also known for their TripTiks. It was a narrow binder of route maps plotting your course from your home to your driving destination of choice. Even though it wasn’t my job, I often helped out my friends in that department when a holiday travel rush was upon us.
Members got them for free and likely had no idea how tedious a process it was just to map out their trip. There were pages and pages of routes that covered the entire country and you had to hand-pick the ones that applied to them while constantly cross-referencing faxed updates of construction and detours that their route contained. Hearing the squeal of the fax machine as you glanced at the stack of completed spiral bound pages filled you with the dread of having to tear them apart and insert the changes.
Before you think my cheese has slipped off my cracker completely, I’m sharing that as a way to explain what rewriting my own bad habits has been like. I have a course plotted that’s worked for years and then my depression or anxiety squeals to let me know I have to re-route. Just the alarm fills me with dread, but I either have to do the work to plot a new course, or I risk getting stranded along the way, not knowing where to go. And as anyone who has experienced anxiety knows, that’s the last place you want to be.
The detours and roadblocks on depression’s journey don’t always come before you’re underway though. There’s often an internal battle in my own head over who takes priority…depression or anxiety. For me, it’s whichever one is squealing the loudest in a given moment. I’ve been surprised to learn that helping one often calms down the other. Maybe it’s because they are often tied together, like a pair of fraternal twins. Or possibly it’s just bleeding steam off the pressure cooker that silences the high pitched whistle. Either way, the outcome is calmer and quieter.
As I wrap up this month and this entry, my main focus is to continue my efforts to reroute habits that have become unhealthy. Whether it’s evaluating relationships that do more harm than good, giving up crutches that keep me from moving under my own power, or changing the way I think about myself; they are impediments to my goals. Those pages need to be taken out and replaced with a smoother path. At least until my brain gets more advanced and does the re-routing for me.
I hope your month had more good days than bad and that you plug along toward whatever gives you the most contentment. Wishing blessings upon you until next time.