“The day I woke up with a burning desire in my heart to give my life its best chance, is the moment that I walked away from fear and into the arms of hope. I am the face of many suicide attempts, depression and anxiety, and I am the stigma that society fears. But above all else, I choose not to be the face of the person who gave up."
The above quote is an excerpt from my book Rivers Are Coming, a collection of essays and poems on healing from emotional wounds inflicted by depression and trauma. This quote was originally a note that I wrote to myself during a time of hardship and tragedy in my life. Yellow sticky notes hang above my headboard and decorate my bedroom walls as a way to keep positive affirmations alive within my space.
I'm sure we've all been in deep dark spaces and hit roadblocks as we've tried to journey and evolve through the phases of life.
When I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with severe depression. But that was no surprise to me.
I knew I had struggled with something all my life, but I never knew the vocabulary for what it is that I was struggling with. As a child, I was a victim of intense bullying and I grew up carrying the lies that people said over me. I allowed this burden to weigh me down and it took my confidence and self-esteem right along with it. At 16 years old, this heaviness broke me down, and I attempted suicide, not once, but twice.
I hid myself behind my wounds and blanketed myself in my sorrows. My suicide attempts led to my struggle with cutting and I began to engage in self-destructive behaviors. I never knew how to talk to people about the issues that I was dealing with in private because learning how to speak up about my mental health was not a language that I was taught. It ended up being something that I had to teach myself.
I spent years in therapy learning how to unlearn my negative thought patterns and healing from my addictive tendencies. My life flourished in so many ways and I learned that, as people, we cannot hide ourselves and expect to be seen. Hiding was how I lived. I covered up all the ugly parts of me because I tried so hard to be perfect and meet other people's standards. That just turned into burn out and pure misery.
The process of going to therapy took place through my whole entire time in undergrad and, after graduating with my BA in business, I decided that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life toward something that I was passionate about and I knew I wanted to be in the helping field. So I continued on to get my Master's from NYU in social work. And since then, I've been working as a therapist treating clients with mental illnesses and helping clients sustain their mental health.
I come across so many clients in my field that will flat out tell me that they don't have mental health. Uhmm, yes you do! We all do!
And this shows me that as a culture, we still have so much work to do on deconstructing negative stereotypes associated with mental health, and oppose those systems and people, that try to make us believe that we don't.
It's time for the narrative in communities to change when it comes to our emotional wellbeing or we are not going to prosper to our fullest potential if we continue on thinking that our environment, social interactions, upbringing, and relationships don't impact us on a mental and emotional level.
So how can you pay more attention to your mental health?
Know what your body is telling you.
The body has its own way of talking to us about how it's feeling and the damage that we are causing it. You might feel tension in your neck or back, swelling in your feet, struggling with sleep, tense or tight muscles, rapid heartbeats, shallow breathing and more — all of these things are signs that there is something deeper happening, possibly related to your emotions. These reactions are actually a blessing, because when we are unaware of what our emotions are doing for us, our bodies will let us know, and that is a gateway to seeking management for our symptoms.
Don't turn a blind eye to your mental health.
According to NAMI, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5% — experiences mental illness in a given year. It's important to understand these numbers because the reality is, humans are susceptible to experiencing issues that are beyond our control, and there shouldn't be shame around that. In an effort to be mentally real, you must notice the signs and symptoms that have significantly impacted your day-to-day functions. If they last beyond a two-week period, this could possibly be a mental health issue and deserves professional attention.
Exercise positive affirmations.
Often, the mind is wired by negative thinking. Self-pitying, self-shaming, and judgmental thoughts constantly interfere with our ability to accept ourselves for who we are and stand tall in our worth and glory. Negativity has a way of sticking to our minds because our brains are actually much more aroused by negative stimuli, which is why it's important to balance out those negative frequencies with positive ones. Filling your mind with positive affirmations is a great way to reshape your internal world and rid yourself of negative belief systems. Begin your morning by affirming that you are loved and that you are enough. Exercise your right to live a wholehearted life.
Exercise your brain.
How do you keep your brain stimulated? Netflix is great, but you might not want to make soaking up hours worth of television the whole goal of your wellness plan. Doing things like reading books or writing is a great way to enhance memory and brain activity. Problem-solving, such as exploring new ways and opportunities to diffuse difficult or stressful situations is also a great way to self reflect, and offers a greater sense of self-awareness. Playing strategic or tactical games such as Sudoku, chess, or crossword puzzles can add some fun to the moment while also giving your mind the space to absorb knowledge and not sit on autopilot.
Get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation can impair your judgment. It can cause you to develop false memories, and terrifyingly, it can actually trigger psychosis. And if you are like me and you struggle with depression, a lack of sleep can enhance its symptoms. Your sleep is giving you the rest and relaxation that you need for a new and better day. Don' take it for granted. Get those 6-8 hours!
Be mindful of what you are absorbing.
Everything that you partake in is either uplifting or detrimental to your spirit. It's important to silence the inner and outer negative critic – and what you are allowing in your atmosphere can actually play a role in shaping your mindsets and beliefs, which in effect disrupts your actions. Everything from conversations, music, movies, and more, can alter your worth from the inside out. Your mind is a very fragile and sacred place. The same way you watch the foods you eat because you are trying to take better care of your health and body, be just as mindful when it comes to who and what you invite into your atmosphere that can bring a plague to your mind.
So reflect and be honest with yourself. Do you really think that you don't have mental health? Do you really think that you don't have a social, emotional and physical wellbeing?
The conversation starts with you, along with the change in our mental health epidemic.
Understand that the best preventive medicine for a successful lifestyle is being in tune with your wellbeing, and creating a wellness plan that offers sustainability and is edifying for your soul.
What do you do to pay more attention to your mental health? Let us know in the comments below!
Minaa B. is a mental health advocate and author of the book, Rivers Are Coming. She is currently working as a mental wellness therapist in Queens, NYC and you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a session. Minaa also shares tips on wellness and healthy living through her website www.minaab.com and on her Instagram account @minaa_b.
Featured image by Getty Images.