May is mental health awareness month. I am glad there is a month dedicated to promoting mental health wellness, understanding mental illness and reducing the stigma. While, I think there should be a daily effort to ensure you have a healthy mental health status, I appreciate the influx of interest in this topic if even for one month.
In my blog posts in the past I have been pretty consistent in my approach around this discussion. I try to expand the discussion from what is sensationalized and often inaccurately portrayed regarding mental health in the media (e.g. movies, news outlets, etc.) to practical daily examples of how the functioning of your mental health status effects everything you do. People’s default position in a dialogue about mental health is often, “well I don’t have Schizophrenia, or Bipolar Disorders, or Major Depression, etc. so it doesn’t impact me”. I disagree, as there is much more to this dialogue and everyday reminders for us to be purposeful of in managing our own mental health wellness.
Let me share a story with you.
Over the past several months my dad has been dealing with a serious physical illness. He is preparing to move through a phase of treatment that will be a long, unpredictable and difficult road. I have been by his side throughout this process in ways that I never thought I would be faced with doing. I am a daddy’s girl and he is everything to me. For as long as I can remember he has always been my number 1 fan, always there for me, and always has the answer to whatever problem I brought to him. He is smart, hip, very active and one of the few people that really get me. He is responsible for the woman I have become and has spent my whole life making sure that I knew I was badass. Through his illness he has been strong, positive and everything that he would normally be in any difficult situation, as I have seen him face many obstacles before and he ALWAYS comes out on top in the end. I expect this time to be no different.
As he/we entered the phase of treatment he is embarking on now, I developed a plan of how I could continue to be there for him like I have been for the past 8 months. This time, though, new complexities are being introduced to the situation and one of them is his treatment will now require out of town travel. For the record, I am a planner. I like things to have a logical flow that makes sense to me. I prefer order over chaos and my brain short circuits when things fall outside of that. This situation with my dad is not allowing me to do any of those things! Instead I am forced to take it day by day, roll with the punches, and accept I am not in control of much here. *Insert not so silent scream*
True to form, I just couldn’t help myself (a serious intervention was totally needed at this point). I pulled out a calendar on one computer screen, had my meticulous notes about my dad's upcoming key dates on another screen, and my work calendar on a device in my hand. I began to plot out how I would take some time away from work to be there for my dad but still work (3 days away 2 days in the office). I had to come back a second time and update that original plan because I forgot to account for my family (you know that whole wife and mom thing….). Sigh. Nonetheless, I now had a plan that allowed me to meet the needs of everyone. I’d be able to be with my dad for all the key dates and time periods, keep up with my office work, and of course still run a household. Boom. Who is the woman!?!? ME!
Wait, something was missing. I had not scheduled in a key activity. At what point, in between my well thought out plan, was I going to take care of MONICA? Hmmm. Great question and one that I had not considered in my perfect plan. I had been running on auto pilot and tricked myself into thinking I could do it all. I realized, thankfully before it was too late, that I cannot. This was ok. I accepted this. (I credit a very dear friend of mine who actually pointed out the flaws in my plan and nudged me to acceptance 😊).
In order for me to be the best I can be for others who will need me, especially my dad, I need to not only make a list of things that needed to be done when mom (me) is gone for spurts of time, or delegate work tasks for just a few days out of the week while simultaneously juggling critical tasks from my I-Phone in between flights and doctor updates from a hospital….I needed to also make sure I was mentally ready and fit!
How the hell did I miss this? Better yet, how could I miss this? Trained professional here folks! SMH….
Fortunately, I caught it before it was too late. I noticed as the time was getting closer to new treatment phase, I was more edgy, more irritable, and ultimately was a ball of constant anxiety after making my original plan. Yes, that faulty plan that excluded managing my own mental health wellness was a problem. Huge, big, jumbo, problem. Ultimately, my “plan” was scrapped and I decided to take a leave from my job for an extended period of time to focus and narrow my priorities and scope. Had I not done this I would have fallen apart by the first week of this scary new journey.
I should know better. I should have done better in my planning. I am human and like many of us, I don’t always prioritize management of my mental health wellness, until I have already gone into full crisis mode and come completely undone. I speak about the importance of this, even train about it; but in my own crisis state I had no plan for self-care management. And I was told wine could not be my coping plan…so there’s that (I digress…). If I could be subject to this as a licensed clinical therapist, can’t we all? YES. The answer is heck yes.
I share this very personal story with you because it is my current reality and an example that mental health should matter to all of us because all of us are impacted not just during moments of unforeseen events, but on a daily basis. My challenge to you is that you start taking the time to add practices to your daily life that make management of your mental health wellness a routine “normal” thing that is embraced as a part of making you the best version of you that you can be. My challenge to myself is that over the next 2 months, I don’t forget to practice what I preach. Later this month, I will circle back with some tips you can use to incorporate a proactive approach to managing your mental health wellness. After all, I will be utilizing A LOT of it in the upcoming months. At least for now, I am mentally prepared for battle. Let's go Joe, we got this!
Now go and be WELL ya'll. – MJ