nov. 1: when you’re having a bad day with your mental health, what do you do to help yourself?
this was the first november 2016 blogher prompt, which i skipped entirely in favor of sharing my own thoughts. but i am circling back around to it because there’s something hidden in here that i think is important; finding strength amid a perception of weakness.
we all have “bad days with our mental health.” every single human, categorized in the dsm or not, has a depressed day now and then. or an event that triggers anxiety. or difficulty enforcing boundaries in a relationship. the list goes on. difficult mental health days are not owned only by those we would diagnose as mentally ill. of course, this shows two things. 1) to have these days is normal (within limits), and 2) it’s not that they happen, but how you respond that ultimately counts. developing strategies for not only surviving but thriving through the inevitability of these tough days is the basis of a lot of therapy and motivational speaking. and not all healthy coping strategies come naturally. often they need to be taught, always practiced, and constantly worked on.
but let’s say you’re past that point. you know it’s normal to have a bad day and you know you get to choose how you’ll respond. well what if your response is also seen as weakness? certain behaviors, like anything in excess (drinking, gambling, eating, etc), are obviously problems because they can affect your health or financial security. these behaviors can also lead to addiction, which is another problem in and of itself. society regularly portrays addicts as weak, perhaps due to a desire to believe that if you are strong enough, you can cope with your bad mental health days however you want without putting yourself at risk for addiction. for being “one of those people.” this perception is dangerous because it often prevents people from seeking help when they know they need it. perhaps an addiction was triggered by poor initial choices, but often these people were managing their bad mental health days and weren’t ever taught or able to practice more successful coping strategies. but this is another topic entirely.
for me, my coping strategy is also often seen as weakness, though it’s not as often hung out on the cross as a failure of character. actually i myself struggle at times with how to perceive my handling of bad mental health days. because the truth is, i need other people.
when i am having a bad mental health day, i help myself with friends, family, even sometimes just any kind of social contact. this may be seen as an extroverted tendency, and we all know the world is extrovert friendly. but more often it’s seen as a lack of self-sufficiency. i need other people to help me re-frame. i need them to hold me accountable. i need them to remind me of my value. i need them to remind me not to sweat the small stuff. i need them to listen, so i feel wanted, and to share their own experiences and ask my advice, so i feel needed. i need them to call me out when i’m being an idiot. i need them to motivate me when i am not strong enough to motivate myself. and this is how i feel like the world, and sometimes i too, feel like this dependency is weakness.
but my opinion about this has changed, and i’ll tell you why. because i am no stronger or weaker than anyone else on my own. but with other people, my strength is unlimited. here is an example from my own life. 4 years ago i was running the baltimore half marathon. during training i over-did it, and ended up with exertional compartment syndrome in my legs. i had to stop running for almost a month before the race. other people told me i probably wouldn’t be able to finish. here is the first way in which other people helped me. i love to prove someone wrong about me (for the better, of course) 🙂 so i told myself i dang well would finish, even if i walked the whole way. on the day of the race i told myself i would pace well and i would walk when i needed to, but i would get to the finish line. so i started at a nice jog. and i kept going. and i kept going. i kept it up longer than i had in any training run, floating on the positive energy of the people around me. but of course after a while i was feeling fatigued. my legs were doing well, but i was just tired. i gave myself a visual landmark at the bottom of the next hill and said when i got there, i would walk. but before i did, i saw a man with a below knee amputation having already completed the loop in front of me coming Up that very hill. holy crap. my legs aren’t hurting, so there is NO way i am walking yet. and you know what? i was able to motivate and inspire myself with the strength of other people through the entire race. and i ran slow as heck, but i didn’t walk once. and i made it across the finish line. all thanks to other people.
here is another example that is not (yet) from my own life, but that i have been blessed enough to witness over 200 times. and that is women giving birth. for starters, women at baseline are just strong as hell. i mean really. every single time, c/s, vaginal, epidural or not, i am blown away by the strength and grace i see women exhibit when they become mothers. it’s quite literally awesome. but here’s what’s even awesomeR. women use the strength of those around them to become even stronger. their husbands, partners, family members, midwives, doulas, and i personally believe the feminine spirit of the universe. they pull in the strength of their whole team like some kind of amazing transformer, and they become capable of things they said themselves they could not do on their own. they show mental and physical control that is almost super human. it’s true. i have seen it with my own eyes.
in less than 1/4 of these photos is the woman shown “alone,” and even in those photos she is not alone because she has life inside her that gives her strength.
so what’s the take home message here? mainly, don’t judge yourself so harshly. “we’re all just walking each other home” (ram dass), trying to get by in this sometimes crazy world. but if we keep our minds open to learning better ways to cope, our eyes open to seeing the truth of our own amazing strength, and our hearts open to the strength others can lend us when we’re running low… we will come to realize that the power of the human spirit is truly limitless.