When You're Afraid to Take a Break to Deal With Your Mental Health
It would be a little bit of an understatement to call me “over committed.” I actively participate in a wide range of activities that take up a lot of my daily life, such as rowing practices every morning, (supposedly) practicing the flute daily, and volunteering in various manners. This, along with keeping up with school, can get to be a lot.
I was diagnosed with both anxiety and depression half a year ago, but I can’t remember a time where I haven’t experienced my symptoms. I have pretty frequent low periods that can last as little as a few days to as much as a full month. In between those periods, going to school, sport practices, music rehearsals, and volunteering is manageable. In fact, these commitments tend to fuel me and push me to be the best I can be. But during my low periods, everything I’m normally able to do becomes a crushing weight that keeps me in bed and convinces me to push everyone around me away. This turns into a vicious cycle, where I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that occupies my daily life, then tear myself apart about not being able to keep up and feeling weak. A constant reel of “you’re just being lazy, you should be able to handle this, other people have it worse” plays in my mind, pushing me deeper into a low mood and further away from everything I love. I begin to dread waking up and going to rowing practice, I put off practicing the flute, my school work is haphazardly done, and volunteering feels more like a chore than a fun co-curricular.
For months my life was in a turmoil. All of my after-school activities used to be what I turned to for stress relief, but they began to be the things causing almost unbearable amounts of stress and anxiety. Missing practices, rehearsals, and volunteer sessions didn’t feel like an option to me. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to upset my coach, my teammates, my music teacher, my friends, the grade three classroom I volunteer with. I didn’t want to appear weak. I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t handle all of my commitments because I didn’t want to be forced to quit anything. I ran myself ragged trying to keep up, when all of me just wanted to quit everything and disappear.
What I didn’t understand then (and what I often forget now) is that no one is going to blame me for taking time off for myself. The phrase “your mental health is what’s most important” still sounds fake, as I’m sure it sounds to a lot of people, but I have to keep repeating it to myself (with the help of the lovely people in my life) until it feels true. What I’m trying to learn is that resting during the worst part of a low period is just as important as taking time off during a physical illness. It’s OK to miss a rehearsal. It’s OK to skip an early morning workout. It’s OK to sleep in when the world is just too rough to face at five in the morning. The judgment and anger I was afraid to face from the people in my life is exactly the opposite. There is nothing but concern and care for my well-being from everyone around me. While I still often become easily overwhelmed with the amount of commitments I have dedicated myself to, one day I will have grown enough to realize I do what I do because I love it, and it shouldn’t be something I stress over or dread. Until then, I just need to know that cutting myself some slack is more than OK.
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