Living and Thriving with Mental Health Problems

Living and Thriving with Mental Health ProblemsIn the community surrounding me, lately there has been a lot of talk about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. There have also been multiple people who have either committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide. It seems the April showers may be bringing about more than just May flowers. Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness month and while many know some about depression and anxiety, there is still a certain stigma that surrounds it. Every time we talk about it though, we tear down that stigma, one thought at a time.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was in elementary school. I remember being in 5th grade and being so distraught about how mean my best friend had been to me that I wanted to kill myself. I hid as far as I could in my tiny closet and thought about how I could take the push pin that was holding up one of my posters and cut my wrists. I thought about how easy it would be to slip away, simply bleeding to death. To this day, I don’t think either of my parents know about those times spent in my closet thinking about suicide.

Then there were multiple times in my 20’s when I spent months, almost years, living in a deep pit of despair. I woke up and all I could think about was killing myself. I would sit in my cubicle at work and go back and forth between blank stares and a fountain of tears. I went to bed and tried to make plans about how I could kill myself without anyone ever knowing. I laid in bed and thought about what it would be like to actually die. What would I find on the other side. Would I even be aware of what happened? Every once in awhile I thought about my family and the pain I would cause them. I thought no one else would miss me. I felt I wasn’t really needed in the world.

The good news is that I am no longer in that dark place, and haven’t been for years. It doesn’t mean that I won’t ever deal with those issues again, but there is hope for life with joy and happiness too. I also know that my depression may look different than many others, and that’s okay. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety or suicide, here are some simple things that helped me.

Be Aware of Your Thought Patterns

This was probably one of the most important things that helped me. I was in a cyclical pattern of thinking horrible things all the time. While I couldn’t just stop thinking those thoughts, I could work towards replacing those thought patterns with different ones. For me, it started by taking each thought captive and studying it, deciding whether it was true or not. This was tough because some thoughts were false, some felt true but weren’t, and some were technically true. Then I started replacing those thoughts with the truth, and only positive truths. I often also accompanied rewriting the truth with a bible verse. This may not be for everyone, but having an uplifting phrase to repeat to myself made a huge difference. It’s like your mind is a giant white board with things constantly being written on it. My mind would generate this depressing thought, I had to erase it and write a better thought and then repeat a bible verse, over and over and over. It gave my brain a new baseline that I desperately needed.

You Can’t Trust Your Emotions

I hated my emotions during these depressing periods. I thought for awhile that it would be better to not feel at all, then to have these horrendous thoughts all the time. The problem I eventually realized is that if you don’t feel pain, you also don’t feel joy. Then it comes down to whether or not you want to feel both joy and pain, or none (or as little emotion as you can). The second thing I realized is that just because I feel something doesn’t make it true. When I took my thoughts captive, I realized there was a lot that I was feeling that simply wasn’t true. I felt like it was absolutely true at the time, but I could look back in my past and see that those feelings weren’t actually true. This is a hard lesson, but it’s a lesson I still try to carry with me every day.

Talk to a Professional

It took me a long time to actually see someone about the mental health issues I was having. I had worked through my second serious bout of depression mostly on my own, but when I hit my third I wasn’t ready for those suicidal thoughts to come at me. I thought I had conquered this. I decided to start seeing a counselor that my roommate had been seeing for her anxiety. While it was awkward and hard at times, my counselor taught me about different thoughts patterns that I hadn’t even realized I was using and how I could counteract those thought patterns in a new way. It took me a significantly shorter time to work through my depression with someone else helping to guide me.

Learn How to Be Sad, Not Depressed

This was something I had to re-learn after depression hit me hard. It is important to not deny yourself the right to be sad. It is natural to be sad at times. The problem is when you skip past sadness and jump right into depression. It takes time to train yourself to feel, but not feel too deeply. This can mean taking notice of your “triggers” and when you see them coming or they have happened, be diligently aware of the thoughts on your mind. Stop those thoughts that tend to bring you towards depression, and replace those thoughts with the truth.

Each person is unique and your journey to wholeness, may look differently. Some of these tips may help you a lot, some may not. That’s okay. While we encourage people to pre-plan their funerals and complete their estate plans, planning on how we can live and thrive even through mental health problems is even more important. If you or a friend are struggling with mental health problems, there are many resources for you to tap into.

Resources for those struggling with Mental Illnesses:

To Write Love On Her Arms - - To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

National Alliance on Mental Illness - - NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Mental Health Minnesota - - The mission of Mental Health Minnesota is to enhance mental health, promote individual empowerment, and increase access to treatment and services for persons with mental illnesses.