I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery and healing since January 1st of this year. Seeing as how there have only been 66 days since I’ve began, I would still consider myself to be in the early stages of the process. However, I am not the same person I was two months ago, but a better, more insightful version of myself.
Before I actively began my search for happiness, I found it very difficult to decide where to begin. The months after my suicide attempt were meant to be spent trying to get better, but unfortunately, just the opposite transpired. I refused to acknowledge that by continuing to do what I’ve always done, my results will always remain the same. I wanted to overcome my depression; I wanted to feel successful and happy, but I failed to change my habits. I made the assumption that my mental health would magically heal on its own overtime.
Knowing what I know now, I equate the approach to gaining greater mental health to the process we use to achieve better physical health. Whenever someone decides to lose weight, the obvious course of action is to actively change their current habits: filling their diets with nutritious food, increasing exercise, and becoming more conscious of the things they do overall. As a society, we have collectively concluded that by continuing to eat out frequently and living a stagnant lifestyle, the likelihood of losing any weight is very slim. So why is it that we think mental health can be restored solely with a pill?
I couldn’t give you an exact moment or a specific event that triggered this realization for me, but I am extremely grateful that it eventually did. With each new year comes the potential to start fresh, giving us the courage to set goals that allow us to better ourselves; I believe that it was this way of thinking that sparked my desire to change. The thought of starting the new year off with the ability to reinvent both myself and my mindset was extremely alluring.
I’m continuously undergoing this process and by no means have all of the answers. I am constantly being exposed to new ideas and methods for finding inner peace throughout my journey. There are still plenty of moments that I catch myself regressing towards my previous mentality. Nevertheless, I persist.
Looking back, it would have been helpful to have someone to “show me the way”, or to at least steer me towards creating my own way, after making the decision to work on strengthening my mental health. This reflection is what led me to write this post. I want to share with my readers some of the methods, habits, and changes that I have found to be the most beneficial during my evolution thus far.
Put on your positive pants:
As much as I hate to admit it, I used to be a really negative person. I would have categorized myself as a “glass half empty” kind of girl. I discovered that I solely focused on what was going wrong within my life instead of appreciating all of the marvelous things that were going right. Continuously fearing the worst possible outcomes has hindered my ability to accept numerous opportunities in life. Negative thoughts also make me question myself and my actions. My inner voice was quick to point out any and all mishaps throughout the day, no matter how insignificant, piling on the negativity until my cup
runneth over seeped through a tiny hole in the bottom. I never fully appreciated the power of positivity until I was being exposed to an environment that housed an overabundance of bad energy on a regular basis. I knew I was dealing with some pretty miserable people when they made me, the queen of pessimism, look like one of those obnoxious, overly optimistic television characters that viewers can’t help but groan at. As hard as I would try to maintain the good mood I appeared with, hours of exposure to the toxic atmosphere would erase any trace of it. Their attitudes eventually wore me down to the point that I felt it was useless to even fake a smile when I walked through the door. At this point, the negativity becomes an endless cycle, spilling its way into all other aspects of life.
One of the first significant changes I made was so minuscule, but profoundly effective; I simply put my rose-colored glasses on. By spinning my negative thoughts into positive ones, I instantly started to feel happier.
For example, walking to class recently, I caught myself growing increasingly grumpy and complaining about how cold it was. I turned my thought process around and reminded myself that it could be worse, it wasn’t raining or snowing.
This includes self-talk.
I can’t begin to describe the number of times my inner voice has turned out to be my own worst enemy. It’s puzzling how quick we are to spread kindness and positivity among those we interact with, but how difficult it is to show yourself the same kind of compassion. Start by becoming mindful of the way you talk to yourself. One recurrent trend I found myself guilty of was name-calling. Anytime I mad a mistake or caught myself in the process of a mishap, I would think, “Oh Kaitlyn, you idiot,” or, “I’m so stupid.” This can be extremely damaging to our self-confidence. I’ve since tried to become more mindful of my word choice, making sure to separate myself from my mistakes. “That was stupid.” “What I did was silly.” This is used as a reminder that I am not defined by my mistakes.
It’s amazing to me that a little tweak as simple as that can completely turn your day around.
Gratitude is an attitude
This practice goes hand-in-hand with positivity, but its importance can’t be stressed enough, therefore I’m giving it its own explanation. Like I previously mentioned, when we focus on all the things that go wrong, we overlook all of the beautiful things going right. Back to my previous example of walking to class on a cold day. After I caught myself complaining, I simply stated to myself all of the things I’m grateful for: my coat to shield me from the wind, my ability to afford gloves and scarves, that I have shelter to keep me warm, that I have the opportunity to pursue my education, and so on. There have been several days when I feel like everything is falling apart, forgetting about all of the gifts I am eternally grateful for. Days like that I challenge myself to write down ten things that I am grateful for. Being reminded of all of the magnificent things in your life is a quick way to ground yourself.
Don’t forget to share that gratitude with the those who appear on your list as well. You’ll brighten someone else’s day in the process of mending your own.
Journaling has become one of the most therapeutic habits I’ve picked up. After my attempt, both the doctors and my family insisted that I start therapy, but because of my anxiety, the thought of talking to a stranger about my feelings was too mortifying to even contemplate. Instead, I bought a journal and have written in it almost every day since. The first entry was written a week after I got out of the hospital and was exclusively about my depression, the thoughts leading up to my attempt, the events after, and all of the emotions I felt in between. Once I started writing, I couldn’t seem to stop. It was the first time I allowed myself to reflect on everything that had happened and openly express my thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement; I think I ended up filling about fifteen pages. It helped me try to understand what had gone wrong, and afterwards, I felt like a weight had been lifted.
To this point i’m sure readers are like, “okay, this is simple, I can do this.” PLEASE, DO NOT LET THIS ONE SCARE YOU, because I promise, promise, promise, it is honestly life-changing–meditation! I have been slacking recently, but usually I meditate twice a day, once when I wake up, and once before I go to bed. I personally enjoy doing guided sessions, which you can find on youtube or spotify. Full disclosure, you will feel absolutely ridiculous the first couple times you try it, but there is no wrong way to do it. I wish I could express the sense of euphoria it brings, but I can’t, which means you’ll just have to try it to find out what i’m talking about. You can find sessions that are 5, 10, 20, 60 minutes or even longer, and there are endless types to chose from for free…thanks, internet!
If you’re anything like me, more often than not, you start scrolling through social media only to realize you’ve wasted the last two hours opening and closing the same three apps, getting sucked into the black hole that is news-feeds. The endless news of what new chaos is brewing and an overabundant supply of opinions that make you want to rip your hair out, it’s enough to make a gal go crazy! (No, seriously…that shit definitely contributed to my mental break) Getting rid of Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook made such a huge impact on decreasing my anxiety. I eventually had to bring Facebook back to keep in contact with groups, but the app is still deleted and I try my best to avoid scrolling through my news feed. Getting rid of the unnecessary stress and negativity that come with online communities is one of the most satisfying feelings.
Sober up, Sally.
This one may not be relevant for some, but for me, it has been everything. Coming from a long-line of alcohol abusers, it’s almost as if addiction was genetically inherited or simply inevitable for me. I would drink much and often, usually to the point of incoherence. I used alcohol to self-medicate, and although I may have felt better for the moment, I was only hurting myself in the long run. Depressants while depressed can be deadly for the mind, which I can personally vouch for. I started by completely sustaining from alcohol for about three weeks. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished. While I do drink from time to time, it is now usually only a drink or two once every few weeks. I’ve learned to overcome the urge to have a drink when I’m stressed, angry, upset, or having a hard day with depression. I refuse to let myself drink as a method of coping and only allow myself to drink socially on occasion. I wholeheartedly believe the reduction of alcohol has been the biggest contributor to my improved mental health.
Use Your Passion to Find Your Purpose
One of the leading contributors to my break was the sense of hopelessness that accompanied my depression. I questioned my existence because I felt like I stood for nothing. My fear of rejection and failure has kept me from pursuing a lot of opportunities throughout my life. This was especially difficult when I moved to Effingham, away from the people I had known for a majority of my life. My everyday life went exactly as follows: work, home, school, home, get drunk on the weekends, repeat. When I wasn’t making a public appearance, I was numbing myself with mindless television and alcohol. My lack of involvement in my new hometown and university hindered me from making any new friends. I spent my free time isolated, my weekdays looking forward to the weekend and feeling miserably again by the time Monday rolled around. In my feeling of hopelessness, I found myself constantly asking the question, “what is the purpose of living?” I eventually expressed this thought to my fiance one night, and he said something that really stuck with me. He explained to me that we are in charge of finding our own purpose in this life, and that it’s up to us to make any meaning of it. After that, I started reflecting on the things that I’m passionate about. I love helping people; I enjoy making them happy, bringing joy to others’ days, and spreading kindness. I decided that my purpose in life is to help keep others from feeling the way I have and to make the lives of those around me a little bit brighter.
This has given me the confidence to pursue things outside of my comfort zone. I volunteer, joined several organizations, actively participate in campus events, and have even made several new friends all within the last semester.
This concludes some of the habits and methods that I have found to be the most beneficial throughout my process of healing. Like I mentioned previously, these are all things that I continue to work on and better myself at. I hope this advice helps inspire you to begin your own journey, and if it does, I would like to leave you with this piece of advice… be gentle with yourself. Don’t let perfectionism hinder your ability to appreciate your progress. Change takes time. We aren’t surprised when we don’t lose twenty pounds after exercising for a month, so don’t be discouraged if you aren’t feeling better mentally after a few weeks, and anytime you feel upset, just remember what a bad ass you are for even trying.