Everyone’s Concern

As I and my wonderful executive team my campus chapter of NAMI work to bring the organization on its feet and have a solid student backing, we’ve had plenty of time to brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other as to how to actually recruit new members.

You don’t realize how hard it is to start a student organization from basically scratch until you’re in that position. It’s hard to get your voice heard over the many other student organizations, all of which are more established, who are doing the same thing.

How do we make our group stand out? What should we do at meetings to entice more people to show up and be able to implement the many ideas we have? It’s kind of pointless to plan an event if nobody would actually show up.

Luckily, word of mouth is a powerful thing. Many students didn’t even know our group existed, me included until this semester. And when they do hear about us, then they definitely have interest to learn more. It’s just about getting our message across.

So what is that message? Why should people care and want to support another student organization when their schedules are already booked up? What makes us stand out from the crowd? And, probably most importantly, why should people besides those who regularly manage mental illness care? It’s not an immediate concern or high priority when there are so many other issues to think about…right?

It’s easy to brush over the fact that regardless if we have been diagnosed with a mental illness or not, we all have mental health. It’s not like it magically arises from thin air once neurotransmitters start malfunctioning. It’s not like everyone becomes aware of their exercise and diet only once they’re at risk for heart disease and diabetes. We make healthy choices now and maintain a level of health and fitness to prevent future diseases. And some of those diseases are genetic and inevitable, but we know that we should be eating more vegetables and sitting less often.

Why do we treat mental health differently? Rather than a complement to physical health habits, we probably don’t think of tracking our moods or stress levels like a food diary or workout schedule. Most likely, we only think about seeing a therapist or becoming more mindful in daily life until we hit rock bottom. We’re trying to backtrack rather than be proactive and prevent problems in the first place.

Because when we’re feeling content and happy, it’s hard to picture not being that way, or that to judge abruptly for no apparent reason. Let’s face it, it’s not fun to think about. It’s not as glamorous or exciting to promote hotlines and medications when we could be advertising some fun workout clothing and fad diets.

That’s the problem in of itself. Even as we make progress and become more open about our mental health, it still feels like this far-off concept that we consciously must bring forth, while physical health is just automatic. We still only bring up mental health when it “feels” appropriate, when we’re with people who probably also are concerned about their mental health. You wouldn’t think twice about someone saying they’re sick and can’t come to something, but we can’t feel that same ease if we need a mental health day.

Our ultimate goal then is to make everyone care about mental health, regardless of their own background and history. Mental illness is far too common to not talk about it. Heck, too often we deal with physical symptoms and try to treat them with typical medications, when the root of the symptoms are your mental health. Stress, anxiety, and depression can have dramatic effects on your body.

We care about curing and eradicating diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS. We don’t have to have diabetes or MS or other diseases to care about them. But we push mental illness under the radar and simply offer how to manage it, often with uncomfortable side effects. We think those who care about mental health are only those who have problems, but why should that be the case? Shouldn’t we all want to take care of each other? If we’re able to have a voice, shouldn’t we speak up for everybody, not just those with visible illness?

The more understanding we have, the better off we’ll be. The more we can openly fight for the health of every single person, not just a select group. The more we can prevent increasing cases of mental illness in the first place. The more we can be our best, balanced selves.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Bloated Idea

In this new stage of health, a change is of course something new to adapt to.

My IBS symptoms have stayed pretty consistent with what I expected and fall in line with the typical signs. While it’s nice to know there’s a reason why this is happening, it doesn’t make the effects any less annoying.

Because truly, my life has definitely changed since having digestive issues. You don’t realize how much your digestion affects every other part of your body, especially your mental health. On both ends, I’ve been honestly struggling. Off-balance in one aspect of health ends up throwing off the conditions you’ve already been trying to balance.

But on another note, besides the depression and anxiety, I now am reminded of the thoughts that I usually suppress and can manage but again, IBS isn’t helping.

Here’s the deal: especially when constipated or eating, after 3-4pm, I start seeing some major bloating. Sometimes so much it’s uncomfortable to move.

With disordered eating tendencies and body dysmorphia, being bloated COMPLETELY throws off the perception of myself. It shouldn’t be a big deal of how it looks, rationally I know that, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have doubts and concerns from seeing my stomach and body swell up, even if I know it (usually) is better in the morning.

We all bloat. Our stomaches expand after we eat. That’s basic biology. But knowing that doesn’t still make me uneasy over it and have harmful thoughts creep back, or magnify what is probably not even noticeable into something huge and obvious.

When IBS really affects how and what you eat, and you already have a relationship with food that is…unusual, it complicates how I approach everything. Now when I look at food, I luckily stress less about the numbers and nitty-gritty details, but now I worry about how my body will react to it. And knowing that my eating disorder most likely contributed to having IBS in the first place doesn’t help either.

I know I am privileged, to have the body and life and health I do. I just feel very overwhelmed by it all. It’s like an extra unexpected hurdle to learn how to jump over when I already feel tired. Not like any challenge is one that’s planned. What would the point of that be?

Not only do I speak to remind myself, but to anybody else who might feel uninspired or at a low point with their relationship to their body. It’s not a straight progression to self-acceptance. At times, it feels like the world is just asking you to revert back to default negativity. But you’re so much stronger than you believe.

Even if it seems like your body is working against you, that it’s angry at you for its current state and past pitfalls, this is when it so desperately needs positivity the most. For me, that’s looked like what is basic hygiene and activities, but when you’re depressed, they can be the greatest forms of self-care. Yes, brushing your teeth and taking a shower are big deals. Accomplishing just one assignment of the entire list you had planned out is a victory.

Make peace with your body. The simplest phrase yet the absolute hardest to believe and implement. I’m by no means at that point, but I’m much farther than I used to be. That’s all I can ask for is looking forward. Not beating myself up for eating a food that my body reacts negatively to. Not shaming myself for what can feel like a crippling disability at its worst. Not letting my thoughts control me and enslave me back into nasty habits.

It’s about taking little intentional steps each day to be my best. I avoid being hung up by my reflection because there’s no point in worrying and guessing what my body looks like when I honestly cannot accurately see it for what it is (still a work in progress…). I dress in whatever I feel comfortable on that day. I do my best in that moment and don’t beat myself up if I’m not up to my full capacity. I take each day at a time, trying not to look too ahead and stress about what has not come yet.

Again, this isn’t an easy process for me. I hope to have more answers as to better managing my IBS symptoms soon and potentially strengthening my antidepressants, but until then, all I have is right now. Whatever progress I envision making isn’t going to happen overnight as per usual for any illness, physical or mental. Even if I feel defeated in my self-image, I can still move forward in other aspects of my life, and that’s okay. Is it ideal to have your body and mind feeling like they’re playing off each other to sabotage you? Certainly not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the best of right now. It’s all we have, and an optimism for the future, a potential only possible by taking care of ourselves in this moment.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A Dog’s Lessons about Anxiety

Olive, my sweet four-month-old puppy, has a special purpose in my life, besides being my fur child.

She also will (hopefully) provide emotional support, keeping my mood afloat when it dives and soars.

But this keeps in mind that she is also a living being with emotions. And those emotions can sometimes be as unpredictable as mine.

Since she’s obviously a newcomer to this world, there are still many things she encounters that scare her. Just to name a few, she has barked and ran away from all other dogs, including her own reflection, small children, nightmares, squirrels, any fecal remnants stuck to her fur, vacuums, and, randomly enough, riding lawn mowers.

So rather than relying upon Olive to serve as constant support, the roles are often reversed. I’m the one to discipline and also to hold when she’s unsure of her surroundings.

Which got me thinking…if my dog also experiences bouts of fear and doubt, what can that outside perspective offer me and others about our own anxiety? This is all in general terms, of course. I don’t think Olive is qualified as a psychatrist, but hey, a puppy can dream.

When you realize the different influences in Olive’s life that provoke her fight-or-flight reaction, what do we probably think? Those are nothing. How can something so simple, like seeing your own reflection in a mirror, really be that big of a deal?

Well, we could say that about most things that can end up triggering full-on panic attacks in people. For me, it can be the simplest of things that build up and take me over the edge. Eating can make me anxious. Shopping for clothes. Severe weather. Being too early or late to an event. Going to any social event at all, especially a crowded, loud one.

I could go on. Life in general can make me uneasy. But when you look at it from an outside perspective, when you’re in not in the midst of your own tension, you see just how small these fears seem. In our heads, we build up our anxieties into huge, impossible demons when they’re only just common occurrences that everyone faces. Which honestly, that either is helpful to hear, or it makes me more anxious knowing I’m turning nothing into something huge without much thought otherwise. It’s just an automatic response.

But it’s helpful to know that regardless of how isolating our anxieties can feel trapped in our heads, especially those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, we all go through that. We aren’t alone in our doubts and fears and uncertainties. They might be toward different things, but we can relate and empathize with each other in a shared struggle.

Another thing I notice with Olive is that even when she’s barking at her own reflection or a piece of something stuck to her back-end fur, she is quite quick to come into my arms and hear me reassure her.

Because, unlike us, she probably doesn’t have any positive affirmations off the top of her head to remind herself in those anxious situations. Luckily, we do. We have a conscious ability to ground ourselves, escape from what is troubling us and remember that we are safe and okay.

Also, just like Olive, we have a support system to remind us those things, too. Our loved ones and the relationships we share are some of the most valuable resources out there, especially they personally know the feelings that arise. Our friends and family should be there for us with open arms to pick us up in our dark moments and surround us with good energy we so desperately need. If you don’t think you have that support system right now, or there’s anybody in your life who is not serving that purpose for you, maybe it’s important to consider that.

Naturally, all creatures have some inkling for curiosity. We jump or look around when we hear a noise, or go into a new environment with some hesitation. It’s when our lives are controlled by those jumpy reactions and hesitation that we need to reflect on our moods. Dogs depend on us to help them cope in thunderstorms and angry vacuums, but we must take our own responsibility to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and implementing what we need in life to cope and manage anxiety.

They call it the dog’s life, one that is relaxing and simple. But we don’t have to make our own lives so complicated when they don’t have to be. Maybe we can take a lesson or two from our furry friends, know when to be in the moment, and keep on keeping on.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie