On October 10, aka World Mental Health Day, we have an opportunity to focus on the importance of mental health. Each year, the World Health Organization chooses a mental illness to give its attention to, in the hopes of erasing the stigma that is too often attached to mental illness. This year, the focus is on how to live a healthy and productive life with schizophrenia, but of course, we could use more awareness around all types of mental illness.
World Mental Health Day is particularly important to me as someone who suffers from depression. Mental illness affects everyone, either directly or indirectly, and those afflicted need to be treated with the same compassion and respect as sufferers of any other illness out there. But above all mental illness needs to be discussed, openly, as opposed to being hidden away like a dirty secret. There’s nothing dirty about it.
That said, dealing with a mental illness takes a lot of work. I see a therapist and take my meds religiously, but I've learned that’s not enough. Maintaining my psychological health requires being proactive and making decisions that have positive effects on my life. While I know everyone has different ways of managing their own challenges, I hope that perhaps sharing our techniques with each other can be beneficial.
Here are seven ways I take care of my mental health.
I make sure to GET OUT OF BED EVERY MORNING
It sounds like the most basic thing in the world, but when you've struggled with depression, it's not so basic. No matter how I’m feeling, I force myself to get out of bed each and every morning. The action of getting up, getting dressed, and going out to get coffee — even though I work from home — makes a huge difference for me.
From there, I look at my schedule and start in on my day. I find that keeping a routine is what helps me stay positive and keeps my head clear. If I fall behind on deadlines or struggle with an assignment, I don’t get down on myself for it. I remain focused and don’t give up. For me, any day where I’m not running for the blankets is a good day.
I STAY AWAY FROM ALCOHOL AND DRUGS WHEN I’M FEELING DOWN
I like to drink more than I should. And I used to drink not just to have fun, but to numb my depression. I thought that it somehow made life bearable to be so numb, but I’ve since realized that it was just making everything 10 times worse.
These days, I absolutely, positively, will not touch a drop of alcohol if I’m having a down day. I’ll pass on any recreational substances that might be offered to me, and even keep myself out of situations that I know will cause unnecessary drama, like being around other intoxicated people. Besides, for me, an awesome Friday night in means watching John Hughes films until dawn, so it’s not a major loss.
I’M NOT AFRAID TO REACH OUT TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY FOR HELP
My depression is no secret to my friends and family. I’m vocal about it, and when I’m not feeling in my right mind, I never hesitate to reach out to those closest to me. Talking things through with my sister, or just having my mom on speakerphone while I’m home makes a huge difference for me. I also know that I don’t need to apologize for my mental illness; I can be at my worst, and it’s OK.
I MAKE LOTS OF TIME FOR ME
As a loner, I need space. It’s when I’m alone that I can truly reflect on things. I can work out problems in my head, rehash conversations or situations that I wish had gone differently, or just wander around the city in silence with my headphones supplying my escape soundtrack.
I think it’s important to step away and focus on what makes you happy and to learn how to love yourself solo, on your own terms. You’ll always have friends, but you need to be able to count on yourself before anyone else.
I CHANGE MY SCENERY — OFTEN
I have found that if I’m not changing my surroundings and scenery, I tend to feel stagnant and trapped. When I’m not moving forward or am tied to a place or a situation, my depression tends to bother me more than usual.
Whether it means doing an apartment swap with someone in another country or just going to my parents’ house for the weekend, it’s essential for me to move about and have a different view of the world. I love where I live, but I love going away so I can get a better perspective on things.
I DO ONE THING THAT SCARES ME EVERY DAY
When I first heard the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "Do one thing everyday that scares you" when I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what it meant. But decades later, I get it: It makes you feel alive. I’ve found that doing things that shake me to my core puts me in touch with how precious life is. I know it might sound silly, but it’s true.
When I hung from a zip line high above the White Mountains this past weekend, I was terrified. But each time I let myself fall off the platform onto another zip line, I felt relieved and even proud. Whether it’s a zip line or pitching a controversial story idea to magazine, pushing myself outside my comfort zone helps me stay healthy.
I COOK AND BAKE
In my ideal world, I’d only consume pizza — and lots of it. In the real world, I know that maintaining a healthy diet is important for my mental health.
I may not be a Julia Child, but I’m very much at peace and genuinely happy when I’m cooking or baking. If I’ve had a day that has really done a number on me, I’ll hit up the Whole Foods with a recipe I’ve found and just let that part of my creativity loose. Cooking also allows me to focus on something else, providing a distraction that results in food (who doesn’t want that?). It's a nice way to close out the day and prepare for the next morning, whatever it may bring.