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The Best Thing I've Learned to Do for My Mental Health

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The best thing I’ve ever learned to do for my mental health is also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever learned to do: practicing self-compassion.

I first learned about self-compassion through reading “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion” by Christopher Germer. Since then, the concept has become my refuge in the tumultuous journey of anxiety and depression. In some ways, it has even formed the basis of my spirituality. I love knowing no matter what life throws my way, the experience can be softened by simply treating myself kindly.

That being said, practicing self-compassion is often difficult for me because it goes against the grain of how I’ve treated myself for so long. My anxiety is almost the antithesis to self-compassion. Although I think my anxious thoughts are trying to “protect” me by preparing me for the worst, they end up being abusive by the constant way they make me feel like crap. For me, anxiety also coexists with negative self-talk, making me think I’m a horrible person and can’t handle what comes my way. Beyond just learning about self-compassion, I’ve had to practice it repeatedly, almost as if it’s a new musical instrument I’m trying to learn from the very beginning. Thankfully, when I remember to practice it, I tend to feel a sense of softening and relief almost immediately.

The biggest way I practice self-compassion is through letting it seep into my self-talk. I try to notice when I’m struggling and when I do, I usually realize I’m also having negative thoughts about myself. Then, I’ll try to say something kind to myself, like “Ouch, this really hurts,” or “I’m sorry, sweetie.” Sometimes I don’t even have to say anything to myself. I can just put a hand on my heart, or even just having the intention to be kind to myself makes me soften a little bit. It doesn’t take the pain away by any means — sometimes it actually makes me more aware of the aching in my heart — but it makes me feel like I’m not the enemy, that I’m not fighting myself. It helps me remember I’m here with myself, I’m my own friend and we’re in this together. It gives a little bit of breathing space to the painful experience.

When I’m really struggling, sometimes it’s hard to change my self-talk. When that’s the case, and when I remember to do it, I’ll try to practice self-compassion by doing soothing activities. This can mean taking a bubble bath, watching a show, cuddling up under lots of blankets, drinking a hot mug of coffee or tea, getting into comfy clothes, putting a heat pack on my stomach, writing a message to a friend — anything that makes me feel like I’m being a mother to myself.

Self-compassion has given me a completely new way to relate to myself and to my struggle. It helps me open up to the pain, accept it and most importantly, to be kind to myself while I’m feeling it. It helps give me a shred of peace and comfort when things get really hard, no matter how hard things may be.

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend beginning here.

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Thinkstock photo via dariooo.

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The Ways Depression Affects My Personal Hygiene

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One thing about mental health that doesn’t seem to be mentioned a lot is hygiene. So, let’s talk about hygiene!

I haven’t brushed my teeth in at least a month. To most people, that seems disgusting… and it is disgusting. But to me it’s the norm. Not brushing my teeth, not combing my hair, not showering is all completely normal behaviur in my book. Living with a mental illness is a challenge at the best of times, so let’s add personal hygiene into the equation. I wake up every morning thinking the same thing I do every day. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” but tomorrow never comes. Everyday is the same — how can I even get out of bed, let alone take a shower and brush my teeth? It’s like there is a black fog above me, pushing me further and further down into my bed… I cannot get up. I cannot stand in the shower and wash myself. Of course, I know I need to get up and clean myself, but it’s easier said than done. Each simple tasks (to most people) become the most impossible missions, and I’m no Tom Cruise. So I go back to bed.

When this black fog is pushing you further down into your bed, you may start to think, what does it matter if I don’t get dressed? Why do I need to get dressed if I want to kill myself? Why change my underwear if I’m going to stay in bed all day? So you get yourself into this rut. Your mind is racing with all these thoughts that hygiene just doesn’t cut into the top 10. Now I’m not saying everyone with a mental illness has poor hygiene, but it is very common. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it does not make us “lazy” or “dirty.” It makes us human. We are battling an invisible illness, we are battling with our own minds every day, and we just want your understanding, not your judgment.

My mom is the first person to tell me when I need to shower. I will go days without even thinking about it, ignoring that I smell, ignoring that my teeth are yellow, ignoring that my hair is greasy. The last thing I want is people to know I smell. Obviously on the rare occasion that I am going out, I sometimes won’t even shower. I’ll just wash my armpits with makeup wipes or soap. This is very hard for me to admit. But like I said, I am ill. These tasks that people do without even thinking are mountains for me to climb, and sometimes I can’t even climb the first few steps.

There are days in which I do climb that mountain — actually I climb the shit out of that mountain. Those are my good days. I get in the shower, I brush my teeth, I comb my hair. I’m working on making those days more current. It’s a slow process, but I’m slowly getting there.

To anyone who reads this and doesn’t understand… open your mind. Open your mind to the fact that everyone is different and reacts to things differently. People are fighting for there lives every day, and if today is the day you made it to the shower, well done!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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What You Don’t Know When You Say I Watch a Lot of Netflix

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I love Netflix. I mean, who doesn’t? When I talk about Netflix shows, I can go on for hours. Days, probably. The amount of shows I’ve watched over and over is innumerable. You name it, I’ve probably seen it.

Due to my social anxiety, I tend to struggle to relate to others and find myself coming up with mundane topics to bring up in conversation when there’s a lull. Netflix is on the top of my list because the majority of people can relate. When I start talking about my Netflix habits with someone, the typical response is “Wow, you watch a lot of Netflix.”

Yes. Yes, I do, and it’s not for the reason you may think.

Of course, I enjoy a good story line full of twists, turns, and maybe even a love interest or two, but, to me, Netflix is my escape.

I started my sophomore year of college pretty much just like everyone else. I reunited with friends, took new classes, and joined more clubs on campus. But my second year was extremely different than my first: I was horribly depressed.

I felt like I was drowning. Suffocating. I didn’t want to be at school, but I didn’t want to be at home. I was stuck in a situation that I felt I had no control over. Eventually, I went to my University’s counseling center and realized the wonders of psychotherapy. Crying for an hour to some dude I had just met was frankly the best thing ever to happen to me. I was instantly hooked and was at the counseling center at least once a week from that point on.

But, obviously, there is no magic cure to depression. Therefore, most of my days consisted of lying in bed, crying and sleeping. I didn’t want to be around people, and I didn’t really want to be alive at that point. During these times of pure despair, I needed something to distract me.

And along came Netflix.

Those shows were my hideaway from my dark, scary thoughts. I needed Netflix to keep me sane; to keep me from drowning. The characters were the friends and family I was too depressed to reach out to in real life. They were my solace during my most fragile time. Netflix was how I coped.

I’m not saying that Netflix is what saved me throughout the beginnings of my depression. I worked hard in my therapy sessions, took antidepressants and put a lot of time into myself. But Netflix was one of the few things that made me calm and happy during that horrible, tumultuous time. I am honestly so thankful for it.

Yes, many of us love Netflix. But I needed Netflix as a vital tool in my recovery. Some people choose to read, knit, listen to music or work out. Everyone’s recovery is different.

For me, I choose Netflix.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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To the Person Who Listens When I Cry

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Dear you,

It’s true that you’ve never dealt with anyone who has depression and anxiety before. It’s true that you have no experience, and you have no idea what to do exactly if the cloudy days come. It’s true that even though your only intention was to make me feel better, sometimes you make me feel worse.

I want to let you know that it’s OK.

It’s OK if you don’t know the right words to soothe me right away. It’s OK if you can’t make my bad days go away with a sweet and well-thought message. It’s OK if your words of encouragement and support fling off of me. It’s OK if your comforting actions don’t fulfill their purpose. It’s OK if you don’t know what it’s like to have depression and anxiety.

It’s OK because I know you’re trying. I know you’re trying your best, and that’s more than I could hope for.

Today I had a panic attack and felt like I was going to die. My anxiety kicked in, and even though I was safely tucked in my bed at home, I had the irrational fear that I was somehow going to die. That happens. I told you about it and you came flying to the rescue with your words of encouragement and support. Your messages full of hope and so much love. They were so beautiful, but I couldn’t see the beauty in them because of my depression. It clouds my mind.

I cried. I cried so much.

My chest was aching, and I couldn’t really breathe. I just cried.

But you were there. You were still there. Chiming in with sweet words once in awhile. You listened to me cry for minutes, and you told me it was going to be OK. That I was going to be OK. The world will keep on spinning and I will get through this and I will be OK.

Eventually it happened.

I wanted to thank you. For listening to me cry. Sometimes words fail you and they don’t really fulfill their purpose. As the saying goes, “When words fail, actions speak.” Sometimes what you need more than words filled with love is a reminder that someone is there. Someone cares for you. Someone loves you. Someone is willing to listen to you.

Thank you for being that someone to me, C.

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What Not to Say to a Person With Depression and Anxiety

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It can be hard to know what to say to someone when they confide in you about their mental illness. Even as someone who lives with my own issues, I sometimes need to pull myself back from saying something that could be hurtful instead of helpful. I hope it would be obvious to others that any insensitivity on my part would be unintentional and without malice, but when someone is in the grip of depression or anxiety it can be hard to understand and feel that. Certainly, I have been guilty of taking a well-meaning but thoughtless comment deeply to heart and been greatly hurt by it.

I like to hope, as time has gone on, I have become more accepting and less hasty when replying to those who choose to confide in me. Here are a few suggestions on what to say, what not to say, and my personal reasoning based on personal experience.

What to say: “I don’t know what to say, but can I give you a hug? Is there anything I could do to help you other than being here to listen?”

What not to say: “I don’t understand what it is you’re so upset about. You just need to start being more positive.”

Why: Judgment is not going to help. Maybe the depression is talking and the person sounds unreasonable to you, but their feelings are real and deep to them. The nature of their illness means they cannot think in the logical and positive way you may be able to — the kindest thing you can do for them is to just listen.

What to say: “I know it is really hard to it believe right now, but things will get better. I can’t tell you when that will happen, but I will do my best to be here for you. Don’t give up!”

What not to say: “You need to snap out of it, things aren’t that bad! There are millions of people out there who have it worse than you do.”

Why: To the person living with depression and anxiety, things are that bad to them. In fact, it is likely your friend is only confiding a small amount of how bad things feel to them — assure them things will get better, but don’t expect them to believe it right now. Do your best to just be present and remind them that there are those who care for them and want them to keep going.

What to say: “I understand you are feeling lonely, but you are not alone. I am here for you.”

What not to say: “You have so many friends, what do you mean you are lonely? You’re so ungrateful!”

Why: Loneliness doesn’t always mean that someone is alone. Those who are struggling with mental illnesses often report feelings of loneliness. It is hard to feel connected to others when your illness makes you feel unlovable — you could have 100 friends and still feel lonely. Recognize that it is not about you or anything you have done wrong; it is about how they feel about themselves that is making them feel this way.

Personally, I know I have often let people down in the past by replying without deep thought. I’ve used the “you need to think positively” line, and I’ve wondered how someone who seems to be popular can say they are lonely when they obviously are surrounded by people who care. I feel a lot of guilt for that and hope those people know I was well-intentioned at the time.

I also know the pain it caused me when I let others in and had them tell me “it could be worse.” The thing is, they had no idea what had gone on in my past, nor the things that were happening which led me to break down. This is the lesson for us all, myself included — we rarely know what is happening to another person enough to judge their feelings.

Every person is entitled to feel their feelings the way they feel them (how is that for a tongue twister?) — all we can do is our best to be there for each other, to love each other, to support one another and to somehow muddle through.

Follow this journey on The Art of Broken.

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Things I Want to Tell You When You Ask Me if I'm Doing OK

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You ask me if I am doing OK and I want to tell you how I am feeling but the words get stuck on my tongue, my teeth barricading them in. I planned on being honest and upfront with you. And even though I rehearsed this conversation 78 different times in my head, when I open my mouth, nothing comes out — not even a squeak.

Nevertheless, I persist. I try again and again until my heart is threatening to beat out of my chest and my mouth is so dry that I think I went to the Sahara. My palms are damp from sweat and I swear I have a flush. My head is pounding and I feel tears threatening to escape.

You ask me again and this time I simply nod my head. You say,“Are you sure? Because you don’t look OK.” I take a deep breath to center myself and I tell you I am doing OK.

What I don’t tell you, what I wanted to tell you, what I needed to tell you is that for me, OK is relative.

I am doing OK because I don’t go out and get drunk only to cry. Because alcohol is a depressant and depression has taken up residency in the dark corners of my mind again.

I am doing OK because until this moment, anxiety was simply at the background level I am used to. It was allowing me to function.

I am doing OK because I didn’t cry today.

I am doing OK because I genuinely smiled today.

I am doing OK relative to my worst days.

I am doing OK.

What I don’t tell you is I think I should take up gardening because maybe then I would be able to use the dead, decaying parts of myself to grow something beautiful. Something meaningful. Maybe then I would finally be able to breathe again.

What I wanted to tell you is I could write a dissertation on loneliness. Defend the supporting facts and conclusions that I have drawn from my research. And by research, I mean the experiments that are the tragedies in my life. Because I have reached the same conclusion reproducibly and reliably. There is no statistically significant evidence that I will stop feeling this way anytime soon.

What I needed to tell you is I don’t know how to stop this tsunami of feelings. And I don’t know why I insist on trying to use natural disasters to explain myself because I will never be a hurricane or a tornado. I only destroy myself, not the things in my path. I want to believe one day it will rain without pouring, but I am so lost right now.

But instead of telling you any of this, I tell you I am doing OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

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