Strong because of it

Depression and anxiety have been part of my life since childhood. Threads of mental illness are woven through my ancestry. And there’s the environmental factors of an abusive childhood and marriage, dysfunctional relationships, and the hardships of having been a single mom raising three kids while running a business. To add to it, I’m a creative empath who literally “feels” the energy in my surroundings. I’ve been so low I was near suicide three times in my life. And I still use the survival tactic of entertaining death as an option – the notion gives me sick hope when I feel there is none. I know it’s a survival tool, so it doesn’t scare me as much as it used to.

There are things I’ve learned to take care of myself:

• Most importantly, I made a commitment to myself that suicide it NOT an option. I would NEVER do that to my kids, sister or friends. I believe in God and that my purpose is to serve and contribute, so really, it isn’t my life to take.

• I can sense when I’m going too deep on the dark side and reach out to my therapist.

• If I fall into a funk, I’ll acknowledge it and allow it – but only for a few days. It’s weird but this gives me the ability to snap out of it quicker. I’ve learned the difference between a “funk” and depression which helps me know what I need.

• So many things about mental health self-care we already know, but learning to live with this disease means taking responsibility and doing them whether you like it or not:

– Exercise. It’s hard when it gets cold out. I’ll bundle up and sit on the bottom step grumbling but go anyway.

– Drink water. I definitely see a correlation between getting dehydrated and my mood.

– The gut/brain relationship. This is a BIG one and it’s a vicious cycle because one effects the other.

– Manage stress. The above things help with stress, and if work has been too much and I find myself angry or frustrated

– I’ll take a sick or mental health day if I can. Working from home this past year allows me to take a break and go outside or for a walk.

– Live in the moment. Taking care of my animals, training and walking them is the most grounding thing I’ve found. Putting my hands in dirt gardening or potting plants is cool because I notice stuff I normally wouldn’t. And cooking if I’m not feeling too anxious. Getting in the “zone” of illustrating or designing something I’m excited about gets endorphins flowing.

– Pets. When I cry one of my dogs comes and sits on me, I hold her tight, she’ll give me kisses and won’t leave me until I’m okay. This is huge because I live alone, and it gives me a connection to another living creature.

– Comfort. When I’m not functioning very well, I’ll do very simple things like wear soft, cozy clothes, sip tea, stream shows to keep distracted from my thoughts, getting out in nature really helps. I like going to the nature preserve with the dogs.

There probably isn’t a soul on earth that hasn’t experienced some level of depression or melancholy this past year. A silver lining to all we’ve been through would be a break-through in mental health stigma. I’ve had some bad work experiences that I’ve forgiven but will never forget. Looking back on my life I’ve been through a hell of a lot and know I’m strong because of it.