Almost 2 years ago, I wrote a blog post called “I have anxiety, so I bought a sassy mug.” It was, I think, my first time publicly writing about my mental health issues—the mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety that have dogged me most of my life.
At times, I’ve worried that, although responses to that blog showed that people resonated with it, I might have been doing just what I confessed I often do—downplaying my struggles, looking for quick and easy solutions. Since it’s apparently World Mental Health Day, I figured it was time for me to update that old post and admit to its shortcomings.
The sassy mug I reference in that post—it says “Do the Damn Thing”—still sits on my desk and can help push me out of the paralysis that often comes when I’m seized with fear. But since writing that post, I’ve had to do more. I went back on anti-depressants for almost a year—I came off them when I realized they had been causing persistent nausea and vomiting for about 9 months (no fun), but I’m realizing that whether I’m on meds or not, this is going to be a lifelong journey of learning and growing and coping.
I recently had a conversation with a loved one who was wrestling with anxiety. When I asked what they did for stress, it was clear they lacked concrete coping mechanisms. In a way, this person admitted, they were waiting for some grand epiphany that would fix all the broken parts of their brain and make everything fall into place.
I, too, have been guilty of searching for the silver bullet that will destroy all my problems, perceived or real, in one fell swoop. I have been and still am guilty of avoiding or resisting the hard work that is necessary to cope with any form of mental illness or emotional struggle.
So I told this person what I have to remind myself on a daily basis: dealing with anxiety and depression is hard work, work that must be done over and over, every day, sometimes every minute. Often, it requires a diversified portfolio of coping mechanisms.
Let’s say running helps you. Physical activity actually can control anxiety better than medication or therapy, so that’s a good one. But what if you get injured and aren’t able to run? This is actually right along the lines of what the person I was talking to was dealing with. The one thing that had always helped was no longer an option, and suddenly they were floundering in deep, dark water with no life preserver.
My “Do the Damn Thing” mug is one little thing that helps me—but it helps, not because it’s inherently anti-anxiety, but because it has become attached mentally to the many steps I’ve taken to combat my anxiety.
At the time of that last blog post, “Do the Damn Thing” meant, basically, buck up. Sometimes, if I’m pouting or feeling sorry for myself or just being lazy, that’s the message I need. But it’s had to mean much more than that in the last 2 years. Here’s what “Do the Damn Thing” has come to mean to me:
- Find a good counselor.
- Find a good psychiatrist.
- Take your medication (or do whatever your psychiatrist tells you to do).
- Eat healthy food.
- Eat comfort food.
- Talk to friends and family.
- Get outside.
- Read and write.
- Stop crying.
- Get busy.
- Play with the dogs.
- Clean the house.
- Learn something new.
- Do something for someone else.
That last one is often the hardest. I’ve had to learn that sometimes the best thing I can do is simply accept that I feel anxious on a given day, that there may be nothing to do about it. I’ve had to learn that my coping mechanisms may not immediately make me feel better, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t bother with them or that they aren’t helping in the long run.
I’ve learned and experienced a lot in the last 2 years in relation to my mental health, and although I’m not where I want to be, at least I’m not where I was. I am deeply grateful to have mental health professionals who receive and challenge me, family and friends who listen to my story and share about their own experiences with me, a husband who supports and encourages me, colleagues who endure and uplift me, and dogs who intuit my emotional state better than I sometimes do and respond with attentiveness and loyalty. And I’m cognizant of my privilege—I wrestle with these things without worrying where I’m sleeping at night, where my next meal is coming from, or whether I will be able to access healthcare.
What’s the “Damn Thing” you need to do to be OK on this World Mental Health Day?