Happy Summer Solstice. On this day, the longest day of the year, I thought I might shed some light on something I’m sure a good number of us experience or have experienced.
The seed for this desire to share was planted a few months ago, when I learned of the tragic loss of YouTuber Lee MacMillan, whom I’d been following on and off over the years. After a brave battle with depression caused largely by the impact of the pandemic, and after having seemingly recovered to a large extent, determined to spread awareness about the importance of mental health, she sadly took her life in late March of this year. It was a devastating blow, even to me, a distant admirer of her strength and courage, because she shone with so much light. Even from listening to just a few minutes of her speaking on a podcast or watching a few minutes of her on video, you could sense her vibrancy and how she embraced life to its fullest.
After her loss, her family and friends started a campaign, #SpeakUpForLee. To encourage others to speak up about mental health and end the stigma once and for all. Lee was also affected by cyberbullying, being a public online figure, so the movement also aims to educate on and combat cyberbullying.
Anyway, I thought I would do my part to #SpeakUpForLee. And for many others who aren’t able to express themselves or find help.
Mental health has been something I have struggled with since college. I tend to be an anxious overthinker, and have experienced depression on and off over the years. I think some of us are naturally more temperamentally inclined to experience mental health difficulties, while others are affected by life experiences or their environment. For me it’s been a combination of both.
The pandemic has affected many, whether through job loss, loss of a family member or friend, loss or delay of their dreams, loss of a lifestyle. While I’ve been fortunate to not have to weather any large, insurmountable loss, I have had my share of mental health struggles. Dealing with any transition is hard, especially when it is unforeseen and when you seem to have no control over it. And especially when it is unprecedented and the end is a target that’s ever shifting and elusive.
If you’ve also struggled with mental health for any period of time over the past year, you are not alone. In fact, more people than you may think have likely been feeling “blah”, uninspired, or unmotivated – this experience has been termed languishing.
I don’t want to linger on descriptions of the experience of depression, because you can easily Google and find many related resources. What I do want to do is break the silence and do my part in releasing the tight hold the stigma surrounding mental health has on me and on society. Because the health of our minds is so important – just as important as the health of our bodies. Just because symptoms of mental health difficulties are not as visible as the symptoms of a physical ailment doesn’t mean they are not as real. They are very real, and often more menacing because we don’t feel free to discuss them with others.
I thought I would share some things I’ve learned that may help you regain your mental health:
- Get some sunshine. Go for a short walk outside if you are able. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. We are not meant to be cooped up indoors. Think of vitamin D as a nutrient your skin can drink in when you’re outside. Going for a walk can help clear your mind, or at least help you focus on something outside of yourself, even if just for a moment or two. Getting exposure to sunlight can also help regulate your sleep.
- Journal. Write your thoughts down. I know this may suit some people more than others, but I’ve found it helpful to put thoughts down on paper, even though it may feel like they’re all over the place. If you can read and learn about cognitive distortions and how they may be affecting your negative perspective on life, even better. Learn to recognize these distorted thoughts and correct them with more realistic ones. Be kind to yourself if you continue to have negative thoughts. Humans are wired to look for the negative – without this instinct we wouldn’t have survived for so long. Shifting your habitual ways of thinking is a process that will likely last a lifetime. Celebrate small wins along the way when you are able to catch the distortions in your thoughts.
- Try to talk to someone about what you’re going through. If you don’t have a trusted friend or family member you feel safe to confide in, call a mental health hotline, join a support group, or if you’re able, find a therapist. What we don’t take hold of takes hold of us. When you share your worries with someone, their weight on you lightens. I know firsthand the hesitancy you may feel toward sharing your deepest fears with someone, but trust me when I say some relief is always waiting on the other side.
- If you can, engage in activities that you can lose yourself in. Whether that’s reading a book, listening to music or a podcast, engaging in a hobby you’ve forgotten about for some time. Even watching a movie or TV show. Yes, this latter suggestion may be negatively viewed as a way to escape your feelings, but it’s okay. Any activity that can help you lose track of time and get you in some form of flow can provide relief. Perhaps bingeing multiple seasons of a show is exactly what you need. Don’t feel guilty, because if it brings you joy, it can’t be so harmful. Maybe you’ll even find inspiration in what you watch to try something new in your life. Be easy on yourself.
I’m sure I still have much more to learn when it comes to maintaining a healthy mind, but I think part of my learning is also in sharing what I’ve gained through experience.
May we all support one another by sharing openly instead of closing ourselves off and pretending everything is fine. I look forward to the day when speaking about mental health is as mundane as talking about having a sore throat or stomach ache.
If you’d like to learn more about the #SpeakUpForLee movement, here is a link to their fundraiser: