In Jacob Baranski’s experience, it takes every single person a lot of effort just to believe in themselves.
The public conversation surrounding mental health has changed radically over the past few years, mostly for the better. Although stigmas surrounding both mental health issues and the people that endure them still linger, more and more people are talking openly and honestly about their struggles, which can only be a good thing in a society that often regards mental health issues as a weakness, or something to be ‘cured’. There are still people who respond to depression with useless statements like “snap out of it” or “just go outside”, but the movement overall has been a positive one.
Increasingly, mental disorders are accepted and understood as real problems that can linger, unknown and undiagnosed, for years or decades in some cases, and that the circumstances of each person’s problems are unique. Empathy for those enduring mental health issues should be given generously. To me, suffering isn’t and should never be a contest. The real question is this: Now that we’ve started the conversation, how do we keep it going? What can individuals do to help others, and themselves? And where do we go from here?
Start With Support
If there’s one thing I can say with certainty, it is that believing in yourself can be a constant struggle. And that’s as true for me as it is for anyone else. As stated, the conversation is improving, and people are much more accepting of mental health issues than before. But actually living with them, either in yourself or your loved ones, is still work. And there will always people in this world whose judgmental dismissiveness can linger far longer than the kind words of family and friends.
That is why it is so important to have a strong, consistent network of support. Everyone needs someone to talk to about their issues and difficulties. Connection to others is simply a basic human need. However, many dealing with depression or anxiety feel as if they are burdening their loved ones if they speak too frankly or openly about their problems. While this is rarely actually true, the perception can be a real barrier to relief. This is where professional help can, well, help.
Professional therapists and counselors allow patients to be brutally honest, especially with themselves. It lets them deal with their problems and circumstances without fear or judgment. The relationship a patient has with a mental health professional is simply unlike any other relationship. Keeping things wrapped up and hidden can become a vicious cycle, making things worse, and leaving someone less likely to reach out, leading to more acute manifestations of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Mental health pros can provide the outlet that prevents disorders from going out of control.
Dealing With A Chronic Problem
One of the hardest things to accept about mental health issues is the fact that they may not ever go away. Some issues, like a period of depression after the passing of a loved one, may dissipate over time or as circumstances in life change. For many, however, mental health disorders have to be accepted as a permanent, if manageable, aspect of life.
Too often people regard mental health as a binary, almost on-or-off proposition. It’s why we still use language like ‘cure’ or ‘get better’ when it comes to mental health disorders and the like. As mentioned above, some people treat eating healthier, getting enough sleep, or exercising more as some sort of cure-all for mental health issues.
While good habits for your physical health can improve your mental health, just remember two things: First, they are a help, not a cure. And second, don’t be disappointed in yourself if it doesn’t work, or can’t get the habit going. Mental health issues are often wildly complex. Depression, for example, is notorious for its ability to interfere with good sleep patterns. Anyone claiming there is ‘one weird trick’ to solving them is lying, selling something, or both.
Creating Better Patterns
I think the most useful thing a person can do is explore what works for them, while avoiding self-incrimination when something fails. People should identify which habits and routines are helping, and which ones are hurting. In my experience, it was very useful to break up some of my normal routines and try new things. Getting stuck in a rut can lead to feelings of low self-worth, and stepping out of certain cycles provides a fresh, clearer perspective that can lessen the burdens of day-to-day life.
I am no therapist, and I don’t want what I’m saying to be mistaken for any actual medical or therapeutic advice. Professional treatment should be left to the professionals, and anyone dealing with a serious mental health issue should seek it out if they feel it is necessary. With that caveat, I did want to convey my own personal experience about some things that have helped me through hard times, with the hope that some may find them useful.
The first, for me, was very difficult, because it required that I examine myself honestly, yet without judgment. Like many, I can be my own harshest critic, but this was very useful: Just before bed or just after waking up, I would examine my own actions of the previous day to better understand their meaning and impact. Did I withhold a truth I shouldn’t have? Did I hurt anyone with my actions or words, knowingly or unknowingly?
This may seem like a bad habit, a way to inventory your own failures, but it can be very helpful. Many times, especially when dealing with anxiety or depression, we get a false sense of how we are affecting others. The mind sometimes can skew things. What, in the moment, seems like a harsh or uncomfortable interaction with a friend, family member, or coworker is actually, on reflection, a positive or neutral conversation.
Additionally, I tried to see the respect, trust, and empathy that my friends and family granted me for what it was. Too often we see such things in an almost cynical fashion (“They’re family, they have to care about me. It’s an obligation.”) and not through the care and love with which it is given. I implored myself not to take it for granted, and accept it with a generous heart.
Managing The Impossible Day-to-Day
Some of the most useful habits are the smallest ones. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the burden of what you are facing, parse things out into small, manageable tasks. Fixing a mental health disorder completely and permanently feels impossible, but focusing on one behavior, one helpful habit? Anyone can do that. There’s a reason the phrase “one day at a time” is so useful to addicts in recovery.
A method proven to be useful for dealing with dissatisfaction is a gratitude journal. The simple act of writing down the good and appreciated things in one’s own life can be ab uplifting experience. It can be the glue that keeps things in perspective, and allows you to track your own progress. I know for a fact that it is harder to give in to despair when you have an enumerated list of all the wonderful things in your life that you can reference any time you need it.
Another highly beneficial habit is to reach out and help others. With my own struggles, I’ve found that I sometimes need to just get away from myself, and an effective way to do this is service. Devoting some of your time and resources to volunteering, or a charity in need can allow you to move away from the cycle of endless self-focus that often comes with mental health issues.
Most of all, do your best to remain connected with other people. The disruption of life that comes with mental health issues can leave you isolated, and in less of a position to remain in good social contact with the people that give you perspective and lift you up in life. It may seem scary in the midst of the mental health issues that you are dealing with, but calling a friend, spending time with family, and helping someone else can keep you on the right track.
Perspective can be hard to come by in an increasingly busy, noisy world. Issues with mental health can feel like yet another problem to deal with among so many others. But perspective is often desperately needed to keep mental health issues from feeling overwhelming.
In my own life, I always try to remember what I have. That doesn’t mean discounting or ignoring my own problems, but it does mean remembering what’s truly important. I appreciate the roof over my head, the food I have to eat, and most importantly, the friends and family that I love. I wish for everyone to have the perspective to appreciate what they have as well.