First, did you even know that May is Mental Health Month? I’m admittedly a little late in acknowledging it here on my blog, but for me, every month is mental health month.
I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life swaying between acceptance and denial on whether or not I have a mental illness.
After spending adolescence swallowing handfuls of pills on a daily basis and occasionally finding myself locked in a room with padded walls, I wanted nothing more than to free myself of the stigmatization such a label imposes.
Now that I’ve reached my 30s, that glorious stage in life when you’re free to shed all shame and doubt with no fucks given, I’m ready to re-approach my struggles to stay mentally balanced in a healthy way.
The most important thing I want people to understand about mental illness is that it’s a constant balancing act. It’s frustrating when people say, “I’m so glad you’re better,” when they have no idea I spent half the day crying and had to give myself a pep talk in the mirror just to get my ass out the door.
Two months ago, I lost a friend to suicide. I had no clue how much pain he was in. He was one of the most friendly, outgoing, cheerful dudes I’ve ever met.
His tragic loss was a brutal reminder that you never know what someone else is going through, so you better handle your own shit and focus on loving and supporting one another as much as possible.
Of course, handling your own shit is the most important part.
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Self-care isn’t an indulgence. It isn’t selfish. Self-care is critical for well-being on a global scale. It makes you a better friend, partner, student, and so on. Doing nice things for others can be part of your self-care plan. How’s that for a win-win?
I’m grateful Mental Health Month is a thing. (Apparently, it’s been a thing since 1949.)
I wish the resources and support outlined on the Mental Health America website were available when I was diagnosed with manic depression at age 13. I wish doctors had encouraged me to start running then, instead of pulling out the prescription pad over and over again.
And with that long-winded intro, I want to share with you some of my favorite self-care strategies for managing manic depression:
If you’re not meditating, you’re missing out! It’s as simple as setting a timer for 5 minutes and focusing on your breath. If you start to think about things, just gently remind yourself that this is your break from thinking and return to your breath.
Of course, it can be as complicated as you want. You can light candles, recite mantras, (like, “I am love,” “I am at peace,” “I am a badass, successful queen and ain’t no one gonna stop me,” etc.)
Side note- I found out about Mental Health Month from Terri Cole’s email list, which I highly recommend you join for free videos about self-love and relationship advice.
As an endurance athlete, nutrition is especially important. I need to make sure my body has everything it needs for the many demands I place upon it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t so easy. All too often, I forget meals and end up binging on snacks.
This not only makes me feel tired and sluggish, but it can also bring on an onslaught of mental illness symptoms, like irritability, mood swings, and fatigue.
In the 10 days since my last 50k, I’ve noticed my nutrition take a nosedive. I literally ate cookies for breakfast the next day.
After spending an entire day moping, I decided it’s time for a detox. I believe that annual, or even semi-annual cleanses are healthy for your body and a great way to transition into summer.
Hopefully, this will give my body the kick it needs to get back on track with a healthy diet full of greens.
Running is a huuuuuuuuge part of my mental health strategy. HUGE! A lot of people I run with have shared the same, and a bunch of famous ultrarunners, like Nikki Kimball and Rob Krar, talk openly about how distance running helps them cope with depression.
If you’re stressed out or anxious, try going for a run. If you think you hate running and have never tried it, just give it a fucking try. It’s NOT going to kill you.
If you’ve tried it and still hate it, there are about a million other ways to exercise. I love mixing it up with yoga, resistance training, and climbing. I also walk my dog for about an hour every day.
But if you’re more into swimming, kickboxing, or pole dancing, do that instead!
Alcohol in moderation
Drinking excessively is the fastest, easiest, and most reliable way to shatter my mental framework. I love beer, wine, and tequila, so I don’t completely cut these things out of my diet, but I remain acutely aware of their potential danger.
Since it’s way too easy to go overboard, I usually stop at two. Any more than that and I know I’m going to feel like shit the next day. It just isn’t worth it.
Instead, I’m a complete seltzer addict. I’ll order a fizzy water with lime at the bar and hydrate myself silly all night.
It wasn’t until I started using cannabis about 10 years ago that I slowly started coming off the many, many medications I was on.
Although there’s still a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding around this profoundly beneficial plant, I hope it continues to become more accessible to those who need it.
There’s no reason to be afraid of a plant that provides relief from pain, inflammation, and stress without any serious side effects.
Meds, on the other hand, caused countless side effects that negatively affected my quality of life. I gained over 60 pounds, experience severe cognitive difficulties, would nod off and start drooling mid-conversation, and struggled with bedwetting in my late teens.
Cannabis, on the other hand, has made me cough a few times.
I could write a book on how much better my life has been since I traded pills for pot.
This is an alternative healing modality I discovered a few years ago. Monthly Body Talk sessions with Amberlee have helped me manage stress, improve my focus, and heal deep traumas I’ve suppressed since childhood.
It’s good stuff.
On top of monthly sessions with the Deepening Wellness Circle, Amberlee provides helpful resources you can use any time to recenter yourself and restore a sense of peace.
It’s better than all the therapy at a fraction of the price. Check it out!
So, back to my original question: how do you honor Mental Health Month?
* cover illustration by Gemma Correll for Mental Health America