After three-decades of struggling with life, then almost taking my life, and living a life that was not fulfilling my soul and passions – I finally found my courage to reach out for help, and was diagnosed with acute anxiety and PTSD in 2014, and then manic depression, aka bipolar disorder in 2016.
As strange as it may sound, I was super pumped about being placed in a category. When so many others were trying so hard not to be labeled – I was busy running towards it so I could give what I had been fighting so hard with – an actual name. I think I was so afraid of ‘that’, what all ‘that’ actually meant – being diagnosed, being branded – staring down my mental illnesses and calling them by their true name – but ultimately -that is what’s helping me most.
I am now filled with knowledge nuggets about my mental health and am learning, and in my own special to me way – how to cope. One of the biggest takeaways since I began this journey, something I believe so strongly in – is sharing your story and being vulnerable with others lifts burdens on both sides. So, I would like to share with you how I manage my depression and my anxiety – but on the most basic of levels, my day-to-day activities and rituals.
In prior posts, I have shared the alternative therapies I use to cope – Cycling, Painting, Tattoos, Puppy love, Writing, and my work within the Military and Mental Health communities. Those are the big picture – they are what are literally saving my life and what brings me the most joy – they are my journey medicine.
But what are those smaller things I do on a daily or weekly basis that have become routine for me, that directly support the big picture therapies? I know what depression and anxiety are, what they feel like, what they mean to my fear level, what they do to my joy bubble, and how either of them can completely saturate and threaten my wellness, create emotional crisis, negate my hope, and my ability to participate in everyday activities. So here are eight things I do on a regular basis that help me thrive while living with mental illnesses:
1. FITNESS AND THE OUTDOORS.
Fitness kicks mental illnesses ass, and Mother Nature heals. Yes, I am a cyclist – and if I miss a day of riding, I can get gloomy – but there are other fitness behaviors that get my mind right and allow me to soak in the beauty of the outdoors – which we all know is naturally cleansing to the mind, body and soul. When you put physical exertion and nature together, it completely changes your perspective on healing and will settle your mind allowing it to purge the stresses of the day. My recommendation – take whatever you can do in a gym, and take it outside! Do anything that takes you out of the house or a stuffy atmosphere, breathe in fresh air, calm the mind, and do anything that reminds you that your body is a living breathing free spirit waiting to both release and collect different types of energies.
2. MENTAL HEALTH NOMNOM.
You truly are what you eat, and your mental health suffers when you eat like crap. Sure, take a cheat day here and there – but if you’re serious about getting healthy everywhere else – make sure your grub intake is nutrient-based and fills not only your belly, but your brain and its memory, and especially your mood. Stay away from highly processed foods, go more natural. Stick to fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fall in love with seaweed, walnuts, and flaxseed that are also high in good for you fats. Omega-3s help produce neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for our moods), including dopamine and serotonin. Fill your cart with complex carbs, whole grains for energy, lean proteins, and leafy greens like spinach, romaine, and broccoli, and don’t forget about the beets and lentils – which all work to counteract anxiety, fatigue, stress and depression, even reducing symptoms of schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental disorders. These foods help to manage folic acids, tryptophan and serotonin levels and more – and all of this is so important to how your mind feels and behaves. This just touches the surface people – there is so much yummy nomnom for your mind, and you will be amazed at how good you feel once you begin eating this way – and how much you love and crave this these types of food as you move forward.
3. NAMASTE IT OUT.
These days we have so many online resources and apps on deliberate breathing and meditation, you do not need to be a yogi to add this to your routine – and you certainly don’t need to spend any money. I like these three apps recently – Headspace: Guided Meditation & Mindfulness – Stop, Breathe, Think – and Simply Yoga – these are all free. I also suggest taking yourself and your earbuds outside, listening to these apps in Mother Nature in a quiet safe space outdoors.
4. REACH OUT.
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety or suicidal tendencies (just to name a few), don’t hesitate to get support. Many times, we suppress what we feel, and think we can handle it on our own – and that creates a self-denial routine. Realize you are never alone, and always remember someone is willing to listen, and find the resources that will make you feel better. For those who know someone who may be struggling – get off your ass, eradicate the stigma, and ask them if they are doing okay, if they need to talk, if they need a resource. If your gut says someone is in trouble – they usually are – and the worst thing if the person says they are happy and just having a bad day, you know you did your part – and that person also knows you care.
5. PURGE BABY PURGE.
Sure, purging material items that no longer serve a purpose or bring you joy is a great thing – but what I really mean are relationships, friendships, jobs, commitments, activities that are not growing or lifting your spirit. Anything toxic to your growth game compass needs to go. If it makes you happy, keep it around – everything else – let that shit go and don’t look back. Also – drop the guilt – you are your longest commitment, don’t feel guilty about saying goodbye to something that doesn’t support or add depth to your journey. Bye Felicia.
6. SAY YES AND SAY NO.
It is time to say yes to new adventures, new challenges, and new opportunities that present themselves – do this once a month, or weekly. Make a big decision, or many small ones – the more open you are to change, to experience, to widening your joy bubble – the better life you will lead, and the more able you will be to cope. Here’s the catch – if the things you are saying yes to start becoming a burden, weigh you down or turn into something that denies you time to self-care – then it is time to say no. And just like purge baby purge, never feel guilty saying no to things that simply fill your plate, and not your heart.
7. COMPASSIONATE POSSIBILITARIAN.
Depression tends to place our focus on our loneliness and our emotional rollercoaster. Break this habit by offering that energy to something greater than yourself. Find a cause, find people who inspire you – use your journey as way to help others. Be open to the natural vibes this universe creates, and open your mind to the possibility of something raw and life-shifting. Do not be afraid of open doors, and advocate for yourself and wellbeing. Show others compassion even when you are struggling – the force and bond that is created from that outreach is one of the greatest gifts. Be vulnerable, and realize the power of healing also heals others.
8. LITTLE JOYS.
These are the little things in your day-to-day life that many take advantage of. Listen – the majority of us can’t just pick up and go, change our lives drastically, or even a little bit – so it is time to focus on the things that are already in your joy bubble, your life as a whole – that bring a smile to your face. Do more of that, bring more of that into your wheelhouse, share that with others, and enjoy what could add up to be something much bigger than you had allowed yourself to see before.
In the Army, we call it Hunt the Good Stuff – when you start out, think about two or three things that happened in a day that made that day easier or better. Over time, this will become natural to you, and I promise you will find more happiness in your life, you will want to share that with those you care about, and people will start mimicking your behavior. Noticing your little joys will become a ripple, growing your enthusiasm and lust for life. There is beauty and hope and healing and joy everywhere….if you just pay attention.