As Mental Health Week draws to a close, I thought I'd take this time to share a few things I've learned through living with, studying and helping others with mental health difficulties.
- Your mental health struggles are very personal. That's not to say that you should keep your experiences to yourself, but realize that no matter how many people experience depression, anxiety, OCD, bi-polar disorder, the way you feel and the way it affects you is unique to you. I don't say this to isolate you, but to help you realize that you don't have to feel the way someone else does and you don't have to check every box on your psychiatrist's check-list to be experiencing something powerful. My depression may not look anything like yours, but it does not make my experience any more or less significant than yours. A brief case of the blues can sometimes be just as traumatic as a major depressive disorder. Perhaps that seems like a contradiction and may technically be incorrect, but I've experienced both many times and for me, it's the truth.
- Sometimes it is all in your head. Again, this does not make it any less real. Our thoughts affect our feelings and they also affect our physical well being. Never feel like you just need to "toughen up" or "get over it". The results of what you are experiencing are no less legitimate than a deeper psychological disorder. That's not to say that a change-up in thinking can't help. For me, I've become very aware when my anxiety is coming from my head or somewhere else and that helps me to assess and control things. As you gain experience, you may learn these things too. There are also many treatments that can help us with our thought processes and how they affect us including coaching, neuro-linguistic programming, bahavoiral therapy, and psychotherapy.
- Sometimes your thoughts have nothing to do with it. While we don't fully understand the cause of most mental health disorders, many stem from biological function. And it's not just a matter of serotonin. There are many other factors that contribute to good mental health and there are multiple considerations for every illness. Understanding and treating your mental health issues may take a great deal of time and effort, but please don't ever give up. Remember too that every treatment does not work for everyone and some treatments may make your symptoms worse, so please be aware and talk to your doctor about any changes you experience.
- Diet and exercise do play a role, but it may be more than just eating right and working out. Nutritional deficiencies or excesses, food allergies, gut health and blood sugar imbalances can all play a role in mental health. In addition, hormones and hormone fluctuation including thyroid hormone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and virtually every other communicator in your body can affect your mood and mental health.
- Alternative and complementary therapies don't have to be a last resort. They were for me and in the end, they saved my life. But I believe I waited too long to reach out mostly because I didn't understand the impact it could have. I'd tried a few things here and there, but had this notion that if every anti-depressant du jour hadn't helped, holistic stuff couldn't work either. Hell, I didn't even make the appointment for my first visit, I had long since given up on getting better, but my Mom called around and made an appointment I reluctantly went to. I was several weeks into treatment before I started to realize that it could work, because, as I've mentioned above, there is often more at play than just a need for talk therapy and anti-depressants. That's not to dismiss their role, but I needed more and I needed different treatment and I'm glad I finally found it.
As I write I'm starting to realize that I could go on forever with this. It's been just over 10 years since my first diagnosis, but looking back, I think I lived with a lot of my mental health problems most of my life, I just didn't realize it. And in that time, I believe I've learned and experienced a lot. I may have to do a follow-up piece to prevent this from going on and on. I do hope that you found this to be helpful and informative. And please, if you are struggling with a mental health problem and don't know where to turn or don't know what to do next, do reach out to me or to someone else. I don't have all the answers, but if I can't help you directly, I'm sure I can point you in the right direction.