Last year, I wrote a very personal post about my experiences with anxiety and depression, in honor of mental health awareness month. It was the most difficult piece I’ve written, and I was scared and hesitant to share with the world. But I did it for two reasons: to break the stigma associated with mental health, to help anyone suffering like I did. If that person is you or someone you know, please read that post and reach out for help, because it is available (although it may not be as accessible as it should be).
I’m back this year to tell you that a light at the end of the tunnel exists. Despite often feeling the overwhelming dread that it did not, or feeling like it was so weak that anything could extinguish it, or feeling like I could only see it seconds at a time before going dark again, this light became brighter and warmer as I became stronger.
Today, I believe I am a better version of myself, not in spite of my anxiety and depression, but because I got through it. Which is…kind of unexpected.
On my path to feeling better, I’ve had to learn the basics of “how to human, 101”. More than anything, I’ve had to learn to be kind and gentle to myself, and that has affected every part of my life. Being kind meant offering an alternative to my mean and critical inner voice, being less rigid in expectations of myself and others, learning patience, setting boundaries, recognizing my own vulnerabilities and being okay with imperfection. I had to stop and figure out what was and wasn’t working, which helped me realize I needed to tend to my mind, body and spirit altogether. For me, this looks like:
Mind – Working with a therapist, medication, mindfulness / meditation, reading, learning
Body – Healthy eating, regular exercise, adequate sleep, resting when sick (minus guilt!)
Spirit – Creative expression through singing, guitar, writing, dancing, meaningful work, cultivating friendships, chasing my goals and dreamzzz, practicing gratitude.
Here are some books that gave me life.
My shit is much more together than it used to be. I am not perfect – sometimes I’m blue, stressed, hurt, sensitive. But sometimes I’m laughing my ass off at work, getting a mani / pedi with friends, learning the choreography for Bey’s Crazy in Love. It’s a balance now.
My intention in revealing so much of myself to you is to illuminate the humanity of mental illness that gets overshadowed by stigma. I am only one person who has been around the block and back, but there are 450 million people in the world who have or will experience a mental illness, many of them who suffer alone and silently, or may not have access to help, some of whom who will end their own lives in desperation. They are not strangers; they are your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, extended networks. They deserve a kind shoulder and some help. The very least we can all do is acknowledge mental illness exists, and its expression is through human beings and their experience.
The next best thing is to talk about it, in an openminded and openhearted way, no more sweeping it under the rug! Do your part in eliminating the shame, judgment or embarrassment so many of us feel, as if we did something to deserve such a vulnerability. Listen more than you talk. Be a supportive friend to someone going through a rough time, especially if that person is you. Encourage them to get help and assist them in the research to find it. Vote for people who make mental health treatment more widely accessible. And believe in the possibility of feeling better eventually, through your own path of treatment, self-care, patience and time.
With all the love in my heart,
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
National Institute of Mental Health