May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I’d like to take the opportunity to bring this very important cause to your attention before the month is through. As you might know, one in four American adults will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes, so if it doesn’t impact you directly, a family member, friend, or loved one will deal with mental illness — and your care and support matters! And because I have greatly benefitted from the care and kindness of others as I have managed mental illness, I like to take an opportunity each May to express my gratitude and encourage you if you are dealing with mental illness too.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2014 (and just for fun, all of the photos in this post are from that first year). I also go through periods of panic attacks and insomnia related to my anxiety. And, like many people who have anxiety, I also have IBS and microscopic colitis.
Writing it like this makes it sound like quite a list. I’ve accepted that my mind and my body can be a little complex and quite sensitive to the environment around me. But this year, as the last, has been a time where I have worked on my relationship to my mental illness and thought about it in a different way. Rather than observing it with judgment, the past two years have helped me to soften my focus and see how mental illness is just one of the many parts of me. I have grown to appreciate it while remembering that it is one of the many things that make me Sarah, and this integration has helped me spend time observing it, not just living in it.
If you’ve been a long-time reader of my blog you might have noticed that I haven’t blogged much about anxiety this year. The pandemic has been a challenging time for our collective mental health — a time where some people are experiencing mental illness for the first time or where others feel that it has worsened. My experience has been the opposite— I have felt more mentally well than I can remember in a long time. I’ve had fewer panic attacks and fewer sleepless nights than ever before which fills me with gratitude.
Creating a bubble for sixteen months hasn’t been the worst outcome for introverted and anxious me. Much of the unpredictability, noise, movement, and interactions of life feel muted, which has created a sense of calm. This has also come at a great loss for things that I knew and loved — travel, my previous office working environment, spending time with friends, and experiencing new things. Thus, this bubble doesn’t feel like a long-term solution.
But now that I am one day shy of Immunity Day (two weeks post-vaccination!) the time has come to slowly start my re-integration. I am a little anxious, a little excited, and a little curious for what will happen. Lowering my expectations as well as planning for different scenarios are helping me to build my confidence. Managing mental illness over a longer time period has taught me that I will have challenges on this journey and that I am capable enough to handle them when they arise.
If you are new to managing mental illness, my wish for you is peace and wellness, however you define that for yourself (you can also check out a previous post I wrote about what I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed). Because I feel safe and loved as my whole self, I am happy to talk with you if you need the support on this journey as so many people did for me when I felt discouraged and lost.
If you know a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor who is struggling, you can be a part of their support network. Building this network was one of the more challenging aspects of my mental health journey because many people have misconceptions about mental illness and how to help someone who is dealing with it, especially when it is new. But there are many positive ways you can support someone:
- Consider signing up for a Mental Health First Aid course to learn how to help in a moment of crisis.
- Find your own support network to manage your thoughts and feelings (therapy — great for everyone!) outside of the person who is dealing with mental illness (they are not there to treat you).
- Learn more about mental illness. The internet is filled with unreliable sources, so why not start with a good one, like NAMI?
- Understand what is and is not helpful to your family member or friend. This means you have to ask them instead of assuming (but here are three things I recommend that you do not say to an anxious person to prime the pump — and what you might say instead).
So at this seven-year+ junction, I wish you wellness for you and those you love. Mental health matters — I’m going to keep writing about it.
P.S. I’m just finishing up a massive second-half of COVID post that I can’t wait to share with you! There is food, there is fun, and there are silly cat photos!