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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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

Stuck in the Middle

Do you ever feel like you’re going about your day, being productive in your work, but feeling like you’re…off? That the work you’re doing isn’t engaging you like you think it should? That if you weren’t required to do a certain task, you’d be off doing something completely different?

Because that’s where I’m at right now. And it’s a place that I have to be in, unfortunately, and I know I’m not alone in that. I think anybody in their educational career have at least one (or probably many) time(s) where you’re asking, “What is the point? I’m not interested in this. This doesn’t feel relevant to me.”

Whether it’s taking a required math class you despise, applying for a job you know you wouldn’t like, or scheduling a yearly doctor’s appointment when your health is a-okay, there are those moments where we look at the grand scheme of our lives and wonder why all of these seemingly minute details, ones that seem to not serve you, really matter. Shouldn’t we be using our precious time and energy always trying to better ourselves, fuel our passions, and make the most of what we have and are? That’s certainly the message drilled into our heads: no moment is guaranteed. Life is precious. You only live once.

Here’s my current example. I am in the midst of my second to last semester of my undergraduate career. The only classes I have left to graduate are those that are required for my Mass Communication major. As my mind has changed to recenter my focus on what I truly love and feel passionate about, I have felt very drained from taking classes about social research, writing for digital and broadcast media, and media law and ethics. Especially when I have a religion class that resonates with me so much more, going from that to all of my other classes is no comparison. I sit in the classroom just thinking, “This is so minuscule. How truly productive is this? I could be doing -insert other things here- instead.”

When you struggle to find that purpose in the seemingly dull, tiresome tasks, they just become even more strenuous. Our perspectives turn those tasks into mountains to climb every day, continually becoming steeper. If we can’t find a purpose, then it’s virtually impossible to find a motivation.

It’s easy to say, just find the reason you’re doing it in the first place and then you’ll be set, but if only life were that easy. Rarely can we just snap ourselves into a new head space and suddenly see the world with fresh eyes. Especially in the mundane tasks, classes and responsibilities, the reason you might see in going or doing what you need to do, doesn’t necessarily change your attitude toward it. Sure, you’re paying to be in class and you need to take these classes to graduate, but in the present moment? Fifty minutes is dragging on for what feels like hours.

So instead of taking a robotic approach to switching motivation on and off, be gentle and gradual with yourself. Practice mindfulness in becoming aware of your body, position and circumstances, putting more thought into what you’re doing instead of daydreaming about other “more exciting” things. Even just a single reason to go, even if that is to see a friend or silently criticize the relevance of a topic (which, in my case, has been my go-to reason), can ease you into a different perspective.

Cliche, I know, but we are truly so blessed, so when in doubt, find gratitude in whatever you’re dreading because chances are, there are people vying for such an opportunity. Like the ability to receive an education. Or have access to certain resources. Or just any little luxuries that we don’t think about when we’re finding every little detail to complain about.

Because maybe yes, right now, this less enjoyable task isn’t of end-all importance. But in the grand scheme, if it fits into your goals, then it’s a necessary step to take. I have the goal of graduating from college with solid grades in three years, and by taking the classes I am now, I will be able to achieve that. Even if I look back and cannot remember a single detail of what was discussed in those classes, I can be proud knowing that I did it, despite my reservations about it at the time. Same goes for graduating high school, or taking care of mental health, or going through eating disorder recovery.

Everything is intentional. Sometimes it isn’t very obvious. Heck, it can be downright frustrating and defeating thinking you might be wasting your time on something. Accept your current emotions, but know that you’re in the right place at the right time. There’s a purpose, obvious or not, for everything. The lesson you learn from it might not be listed on the syllabus. And at the end of the day, be proud of how far you’ve come, where you are right now, and where you’re going.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie