These are the typical responses I give when someone asks me how I’m doing. No one thinks twice about the response because it’s seen as “normal.” An early day at work? Of course she could be tired. I smile and say, “I’m just tired,” maybe even give a little laugh. In response, they may say, “Yeah, me too.” But my definition of tired may not be the same as yours, the same as the general definition of what it means to be tired. It’s usually lack of sleep, early mornings, late nights. But my tired is not just a lack of sleep.
It’s a tired that brings me down, with no energy and no motivation. The feeling that it would be better not to move from the bed or the couch than to do something with my day. Not getting anything done. Not having the will to eat, clean, study for school, or even go out with friends. The dread that comes with knowing I need to get stuff done, but having the feeling that I can’t. I just don’t have the energy.
It’s the kind of tired that cannot be fixed by getting 12 hours of catch-up sleep on the weekend. It’s the kind of tired I can only get away from by actually sleeping. Sleeping is the only time where I can’t feel or think. Coming home from work and sleeping, all evening and night. Yet I still continue to wake up every morning, still continue to feel that tired, numb feeling throughout my entire day. I go through the motions of my day to day life, so exhausted by the end of the day that I can’t do anything but lie here, close my eyes and sleep.
The words “I’m tired” always seem to come out of my mouth. My mind is screaming that I’m not OK. I’m not just tired. I’m numb. I’m alone. I’m physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I’m just tired of life. But it can be hard for me to tell you that.
There were meetings where people would make sweeping generalizations based on a diagnosis alone. People would talk as if it were impossible that anyone else in the room could have a diagnosis (despite the statistical improbability of that.) There was an advisor who shared her shock and horror upon finding out that a prior student had BPD.
This was before Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of dialetical behavioral therapy, famously came out as a person who struggled with BPD. This was also before I discovered there are people who are trained to draw on their experience of mental health recovery to support others and shape programs and policies. Peer Specialists serve as living, breathing proof that people can get better.
The first time I shared my recovery story was at a meeting of our statewide peer-run agency, The Transformation Center. I was shaky and choked on the words, but when I finished talking, people clapped and cheered. I will never forget how supported and understood I felt in that moment. It’s a powerful experience to be in a room of people who are open about their experiences.
When people ask, “How are you doing?” “I’m trying a new medication,” is a perfectly acceptable response. People will likely commiserate. There are a lot of negative beliefs associated with mental health conditions. We know this. We can change this.
3. It’s OK to explore until you find a good fit.
Our Human Services aren’t perfect. Even in the best setting, you will likely bump up against service gaps, policy failures and other constraints of the larger system. Ideally, you will find a way to channel that frustration into positive change. Yet, there may be times when you find yourself in a job that just isn’t working out.
For me, it was the hospice job that made me cry (in bathroom stalls, at home after work and, finally, openly during a staff meeting). Then, there was a workplace with uncomfortable power dynamics between the staff and people served. This was particularly painful, and at the time, I lacked the internal and external resources to cope. With so little work experience under my belt, at each of these junctures, I doubted myself. Yet, when I look back, I see how these experiences led to something better.
If your own well-being is at stake, then look for another setting. Social work jobs are plentiful. You might lose a few battles, but you can win the war.
4. We are all faking it until we make it.
One morning during my first year internship at a high school, I was running late. I was still trying to figure out how to dress “like a professional.” I wore pants from the juniors department that dragged on the ground and heels I’d bought, even though they were more than a size too big because they were on sale. I rushed through the halls with a box of doughnut holes and a coffee, tripped and literally fell out of my too big shoes. I lied face down on the floor in my socks, a river of coffee running through doughnut holes scattered on the floor.
When I told some other interns about it later, they shared their own stories of missteps. If you’ve been told that there is something wrong with you, then it can feel like these things only happen to you. They don’t. Imposter syndrome is real, even for the most seemingly put together people. If you fall down, then take a few moments on the floor if you need to. Then, dust yourself off and get back in the game!
5. Wellness is a process.
It’s not our job to be perfect. We are all doing this work together. With any luck, what you get back will be so much more than you give.
For the past seven years, I have worked with older adults living in the community. I have listened to stories of World War II and Vietnam, firsthand accounts of Doors and Beatles concerts, fighting for civil rights and of what life was like in other counties. I have heard stories of triumphs and defeats, of love lost and gained. I have taken trainings on mindfulness and breathing practices for anxiety and depression, where I learned powerful ways of clearing racing thoughts and slowing a speeding pulse that can be done anytime, anywhere. I recently completed a postgraduate certificate in Expressive Art Therapy. My work experience and training have helped me grow and heal in ways I could never have imagined.
6. By owning your experiences, we empower ourselves and others.
It takes guts, strength and determination to put yourself out there. Yet, if you are living with a mental health condition or in recovery, then you’ve got that. On the horizon, there is new day of mental health and wellness supports that foster hope and healing, where we can all look beyond diagnostic axis to see people’s hidden strength and dreams. You — yes, you — have a vital role to play.
Tell your story. Organize a panel from a local peer organization organization at your workplace or get trained as a speaker from a program like NAMI In Our Own Voice. Become a certified Peer Specialist. Each state has different requirements and trainings. Look up details of your state’s program online or find local consumer-driven organizations.
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It’s Thanksgiving, and I have spent the last week trying to mentally prepare myself for this.
Since August, I have been in a treatment facility for my mental illness. I haven’t seen my family since they came to see me in the ICU following my last suicide attempt. I wasn’t planning on being home for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t even planning on being alive for Thanksgiving. I never thought I would survive this long.
The thought of having to put on an act, of having to pretend I’m OK and that the treatment worked, is so incredibly exhausting for me. I know I could just be honest, but that is even more terrifying for me. Despite all I have been through over the past two years, I still try to keep my pain hidden. I still try to act as if everything is fine. I am still ashamed.
Ashamed. Why am I ashamed? I know mental illness is a disease. I know it is not my fault. I just can’t help but feel guilty that I cannot be happy, that I cannot be thankful I am still here for the holidays.
I know the holidays can be a very difficult time for many. I want to remind those of you struggling this holiday season to please remember to take care of yourself. Cancel plans if you need to. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. It’s OK to grieve. You deserve happiness and healing, and that is my holiday wish for you.
Tis the season to be giving gifts, but just because you’re shopping for your family and friends doesn’t mean you can’t support the mental health community too. Here are 10 companies which feature either products created by people living with mental illnesses or use part of their proceeds to support mental health causes.
Sad Ghost Club, started by Lize Meddings and Laura Cox, is a club for anyone who feels sad, lost or like they don’t fit in. The club started several years ago with a series of mental health inspired comics, and has since branched out to include accessories, stationary and clothing items. Proceeds from the Sad Ghost store help fund mental health workshops around Bristol, U.K. where Meddings and Cox are from. With wonderfully designed products like these, the recipient of your gift is sure to be the raddest ghost in town.
Perfect for: Friends managing depression or anxiety, your very hip niece, ghost enthusiasts and that friend who loves Snapchat a little too much.
Don’t feel like posing for the family Christmas card this year? Send a Hope Street Card instead. Started by sisters Sam and Trudy, Hope Street Cards are greeting cards designed for people with mental illnesses. Current cards range from greeting cards for people living with mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder to humorous holiday cards. And, to make the season (and your purchase) bright, Hope Street Cards will donate 10 percent of its holiday card profits to the Black Dog Institute – a nonprofit organization in Australia that diagnoses, treats and prevents mood disorders and depression.
Perfect for: Everyone in your address book, your coworkers, anyone who thrilled 2016 is almost over and Ebenezer Scrooge.
Missing that holiday cheer? Look no further than Kate Allan and her brightly colored animal designs. Allan draws motivational comics for people living with depression and anxiety. The majority of her designs feature brightly colored images with motivational quotes that contrast the negative thoughts many people with anxiety and depression experience.
Perfect for: Animal lovers, the grandkids and that friend who needs a little extra love and encouragement.
If you can’t see your loved ones this holiday season, consider sending them a hug in a box. Blurt, a U.K. nonprofit organization that works to increase awareness and understanding of depression, offers BuddyBoxes, which they describe as a “hug in a box.” Boxes can be purchased as either a one-time order or recurring subscription. The boxes are designed to promote self-care and are inclusive, gender neutral and ageless. In addition to sending a hug, you’ll also be helping Blurt fund their peer support program.
Perfect for: Your secret santa, friends and family who live out of town, college students and anyone who could use less stress in their life.
Our picks: BuddyBox ($26.73)or BuddyBox Lite ($14.92). BuddyBox prices are in pounds and have been recalculated above based on the current conversion rates. Products ship throughout Europe and internationally.
Looking for a gift for the person who has everything? Buy them something from the We Are Lions store, which features the work of artists living with mental illnesses and disabilities. Original artwork is printed on men and women’s apparel as well as household items. We Are Lions shares 50 percent of its profits with its artist and nonprofit partners. Rather than supporting big businesses, you’re shopping small and supporting individual artists – that’s an original gift worth giving.
Perfect for: Vegans, tough to buy for family and friends, your child’s teacher, new homeowners and your partner.
Have a stigma-free season with a gift from Wear Your Label. Designed to foster a discussion about mental health, this clothing line is a perfect choice for fashionable family and friends. All Wear Your Label items are designed by Canadian cofounders, Kayley Reed and Kyle MacNevin, who both live with mental illnesses. In addition to fighting stigma, 10 percent of all profits are donated to mental health initiatives.
Perfect for: Fashion forward friends, stigma fighters, mental health advocates and those who love activewear.
Coloring books are a great self-care exercise, and now, with the Mind Your Mind coloring book, they are also a great way to promote mental health literacy. The coloring book was created by Active Minds club members and students at the University of California, Los Angeles. The book features UCLA artists and presents non-stigmatizing images of each mental illness. All coloring book proceeds are donated to mental health advocacy efforts.
Perfect for: College students, teachers, family and friends who could use some brushing up on their mental health lingo.
A donation to a nonprofit organization is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. Whether it’s a local nonprofit or one that operates nationwide, every donation –no matter how big or small – is appreciated. And, with a donation, you don’t have to worry about ordering the wrong size.
This is time of year for family, friends and loved ones to get together and reflect on the year that has been. While the holiday season is welcomed by many, it can also come with a lot of stress. Here are five tips to get through the holiday season, especially if you have a mental illness:
1. Take space if you need it.
It’s OK to get away from the gathering for a little bit so you can have some quiet time for yourself. It can be difficult and stressful to be around so many people with all of that noise and activity, especially if you have anxiety. Don’t be afraid to take some quiet time alone.
2. Don’t be afraid to indulge, but don’t overdo it.
While it can be tempting to eat all of the amazing food and sweets during the holiday season, don’t over do it. The holidays are typically known as a time to gain weight as many of our holidays are centered around food. It can be stressful for those of us who are trying to lose or maintain weight. By no means am I saying deprive yourself of food or indulging, but simply don’t overdo it.
The holidays can be especially hard on those of us who have lost loved ones or have depression or anxiety. They can be hard on anyone, but there are people out there who are more depressed during the holiday season, especially if they have nowhere to go and no one to spend the holidays with. If you have a friend who is spending the holidays alone, invite them to your gathering. It can make all of the difference in the world to them.
4. Be respectful of your limits.
Be respectful of your limits and the limits of those around you. Listen to your body and listen to your thoughts. Don’t push yourself past your limits, as we may end up paying dearly for it later.
5. Don’t go into debt buying presents.
I know everyone loves surprising their loved ones with gifts, especially large, expensive gifts. However, this can only bring a lot stress at the beginning of the new year. As January and February roll around, we begin to feel the pinch in our wallet of all of the money we spent for presents. Be conscious of the purchases you make and set a budget for yourself. Make sure you stick to the budget, too!
While the holidays are a time of joy for many, they can also bring stress to all of us. Keep these things in mind as the holidays approach, and, most importantly, listen to your gut and intuition. You know yourself, your body and your limits better than anyone.
You know that feeling you get when you win a board game? The pure innocent joy of succeeding at rolling some dice and lucking into a few good cards… it’s really something special. It shows how simple it is to enjoy the small things in life.
Sunrises and sunsets
A good cup of coffee
The first snowfall in the winter and the first bloom in the spring
Coupons, discounts, and bargains
The lines in the carpet after vacuuming
Eating yummy foods
Watching an excellent movie
Freshly washed bed sheets
The feeling of trust and the feeling of love
Finding money in a pocket
That clean feeling after a shower
The excitement of checking the mail and actually getting something other than junk
Living with a mental illness can truly suck. Like really suck. And it isn’t always possible to do, but when it is – enjoy the little things in life. We all have something to be a thankful for. I encourage you to spread the cheer by sharing what you are thankful for, no matter how small. Your list of joys just might bring joy to someone else. We’re all in this together.
This is dedicated to my three main guys who always remind me that there is something to smile about.
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