As I feared might happen, the pressure to always write a blog post in a structured way that attempts to be somewhat all-encompassing of complicated topics, has lately proven to be too daunting. And too daunting equals not writing. A whole crapload of nothingness. So here's my promise for this blog post: it will be better than nothing.
(Which, if you think about it for a minute, is a much higher standard for writing than it sounds like. Because, nothing is really just fine. The world will be ok without another blog post from an introspective white girl. So don't think about it for a minute, ok?...
How does she do this, you say?? Simple instructions on how to rapidly spiral into debilitating negative self-talk are available upon request... Ok wait, maybe lets not bury mental health issues in jokes. Today, at least. I'll change the subject to my dog instead).
This is a photo of my dog, along with some other adorable dogs. Her name is Kita and she's almost 11 and is the softest and fluffiest mutt you can imagine. Seriously, if your fingertips aren't currently tingling just imagining touching her fur, than you aren't thinking soft enough. She goes out with a dog pack on Fridays called Active Dog Adventure Club (I shit you not) and suddenly they now have amazing cameras, and their dog wrangler extraordinaire, Emily, is required to be a skilled photographer on top of everything else because what is a business these days without a kick-ass Instagram account? In this particular gorgeous shot, my Kita is leading the pack while squinting in the sun and happily sporting a mud-encrusted neck, because Emily never tells Kita to stop rolling on the ground like her uptight mother does. This photo has nothing to do with this post other than I need to include visuals so you'll come back, and because cute animal photos and videos help immensely on mental health days- especially if they are starring my perfect angel. May they help you too.
Today I want to focus on three holy truths:
Truth 1 is a focus today because it must be said over and over again that if you have- for instance- bipolar disorder, you are no less legitimately sick than someone who has breast cancer. And also because it is somehow still news that even if you don't have bipolar disorder, you must attend to nurturing your mental health. Just like every single person must attend to their physical health, even if they don't have breast cancer. Is it not obvious that we should have classes on stress reduction techniques, for instance, starting in elementary school, just like we have P.E.?!
Truths 2 and 3 are focal points (like, "foci"? really?? ew) because so many people are so singularly hell- bent on having more money and more power, that it's clear that they've forgotten that having the health and freedom to spend your life how you want is supposed to be the ultimate goal of all of that money and control anyway. On the other end of the spectrum, of course, there are those who cannot possibly make the mistake of always focusing on having "more more more", because they must always focus on striving just to have enough. On providing for the most basic needs of themselves and others. Which means that they may feel like holy truths 2 and 3 don't apply to them. Which doesn't make 2 and 3 any less true, but it does mean that those of us who are privileged enough to have enough, better recognize it. We'd better help others less fortunate, and quit our endless pursuits of an immeasurable quantity of material goods, leading to a disappearing quantity of empathy. (Seriously, just quit that shit. It's not making anyone happy anyway).
So I am home from work right now, even though I love my job and I wanted to go and I didn't even have any shitty meetings or legal paperwork on my to do list today. And even though I do not have a cold or the flu or a family emergency or an appointment. I am home from work because of my mental health disorders. Or my mental illnesses. Or because I need a mental health day. Whatever are the acceptable words of the moment. And though I haven't had a cold or the flu in a year- more in future posts on how I've helped my body achieve that- and I have an educator's schedule (summers off, two weeks off in the winter, one week for spring break, government holidays, etc.), I will generally use every one of the ten sick and personal days I get each year. And some years even a few more than my allotted days, which will cost me a bit of money, but thanks to my union and my contract, will not cost me my job. So when the previous night's or the early morning's combo of anxiety/panic attacks/depression/bloody BFRB (more on that below) has been overly debilitating, you're unlikely to find me at work.
I'd be lying if I said that I have completely let go of all guilt about missing days. If I said that I don't sometimes, on these days, still avoid telling friends and family who call that I'm not at work (guilty of that ten minutes ago, in fact. Sorry, Justin!). I'd be lying if I said I don't find it at all necessary to righteously and defensively tell you that it's ok, don't judge me, because as a classroom teacher I did thousands of unpaid hours. And that my salary is pretty shitty anyway- we're notoriously underpaid. And that my work is in service to others every day, which means even if I work fewer hours than people in some other jobs, I'm still contributing more to this world and the people in it. And that because I'm such an engaged-multi-tasking-flow-state kinda person, when I am at work, I'm usually three times more productive than the average worker.
But even though all those things are true, if they weren't, you probably still wouldn't see me at work when things were horrendous. Because working isn't always possible. Everyone should be able to stay at home when they are ill. But that's not the case- especially for poor folks, folks of color and LGBTQ folks- which is one of the many reasons the US has loads of misery and reduced productivity and early death and poverty and unemployment and folks on disability. Loads that are way disproportionate to our GDP.
If you have a mental illness:
The truth about sick days- mental or physical (aren't they all BOTH?)- is that some of those days you can concentrate on all kinds of healthy and healing practices, that will help get you back to the other things you want to do in life. And others of those days you spend lying on the bathroom floor in convulsions, wishing it would swallow you up. And many of those days are in-between. If you have mental health disorders like me, you sometimes have to carefully evaluate your decision on how to spend your days off. Maybe you can't see people, yet too much isolation will plummet your depressed heart even lower. Maybe seeing your therapist or psychiatrist is necessary and helpful, or maybe the traffic on the way there will just crush you, so you may need to just call them from the cocoon in your closet, or use half the money that an extra session would cost to order in some food, because you can't possibly cook right now. And on slightly better days, sometimes even going to work or to school or that other thing you need to do can absolutely be the best thing, and you just need someone to help motivate you or even literally prop you up to brush your teeth. (I live with mental health disorders EVERY. DAY. If I didn't ever leave the house on the days that I have to deal with my mental health disorders, I would NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE. And never get a chance to focus on the amazingness of not focusing on myself.)
If you don't have a mental illness:
There's space in many discussions for lists of things to do to help those with mental illnesses. Today I'll make it easier. Here's three things not to do. (Everyone likes lists of three in these things, right?) Even if you don't actively do anything for the cause of mental health, NOT doing these things can help us a lot.
Imagining you all out there, readers, has given me purpose and helped me through this scary and healing work of writing this on my day off. So thank you.
Teaser alert >>>>
Dermatillomania is a real, and awful, and humiliating thing, that is now finally in the DSM-V. It is not OCD, but is like a distant cousin of it. It is not popping a few zits and moving on. It's a destructive BFRB (Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior), often coupled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, that involves building neural pathways in the brain that associate self-destructive behaviors with triggering soothing feelings, or satisfaction. Those good feelings are what separate it from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviors. The positive feelings are short-lived, however. After the trance-like episode, debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts can move in. Skin-picking episodes can last several hours, and can end in blood loss that sends folks to the hospital in an ambulance, if veins are reached. I''ll discuss it more in my next post, but I want to reveal now that I have this condition. It' time to rip the Band-Aid off, so to speak. This is a photo I took after an episode in order to share- something I still can't believe I was able to do. But it's other folks sharing about this disorder that has helped me the most, so I want to do the same. I was convinced for many many years before that that I was the only person on Earth who had this problem. I took this selfie in October and it's taken me until now to share it. By no means my worst episode, but it ain't pretty, considering my skin was pretty much clear before it. Maybe a blemish or a couple blackheads. Nothing. Then hours. Then this. And the photo doesn't do the redness and swelling justice, which I'm kind of grateful for (and won't even fully download to complete clarity due to my dumb ass phone, hence the symbol in the corner). I"ve suffered from the disorder since I was 15, and have lost countless hours and days to it. I've done tons of self-work and studying over the years, and the information out there has increased. I understand it now more than ever. I feel I'm maybe close to defeating it. But I've never felt more scared about it than I do right now, because the number of folks who know is about to go from 7 to hundreds. Dayyuum. Truth-telling is difficult stuff...
is a health-seeker and health educator living in the US in San Francisco, California. She is also a former (and maybe future) high school English teacher, and she loves words. Maybe health seeker looks better with a hyphen, or maybe it doesn't. You should just get over it. Even if she cannot.