**Trigger: I discuss anxiety, depression, and eating disorders here**
This one is a little deeper than some of the others have been. Since I've started this blog, I've vowed to be honest. You can't talk about mental health, title your blog "Mentally Healthy Mom," and then hold back when referring to your own experiences with mental health. I've dealt with mental health issues my entire life, and until recently, I would often try to keep my experiences at arm's length. As I've accepted it as PART of my identity, I've actually noticed it has lost some of its power to control me. But, that is not to say that I still don't have days when its powerful grip doesn't wrap itself around me and convinces me I'm going to suffocate.
Day 7: Remind Yourself That You Are Worthy
I recently started writing my chapter/essay about mental health for my "book." I've written chapters about my trauma, and for some reason, this chapter about mental health has been really hard to write. I hypothesize that it's difficult for me to write because I've never really sat down and processed how many parts of my life have been touched by my anxiety, depression, or disordered eating (yep, I'm coming out and publicly saying that I have had seasons of life when I've certainly punished my body in an extraordinarily unhealthy way).
I believe my brain is hard-wired to be anxious because I can't remember a time when I wasn't. My parents didn't cause it. Trauma didn't cause it (though, it has certainly amplified it in my life). It's just the way I was built. I can remember having panic attacks in grade school, but since it was the early 2000s and we hadn't had the wave of acceptance and understanding of mental health issues, I was often told to "Get over it" or to "Go back to class." And sadly, I know that this is sometimes still commonplace today. When you tell someone with anxiety to "calm down," no matter how well-meaning you may be, it causes an anxious person to associate shame with their anxiety. As an elementary student, the people around me were communicating a message that said, "Your feelings are within your control," when, in fact, they weren't. I began to develop mostly unhealthy coping mechanisms (internalizing my anxiety) so that I was able to function as "normally" as possible. **Sidenote: my wonderful parents did take me to a counselor growing up, so don't throw any shade there.**
As I got older, and experienced some trauma, the anxiety increased exponentially, depression started to creep in, and my coping mechanisms matured into dangerous habits. Everyone wanted me to "control" my emotions, and I couldn't. So to cope, I grabbed everything I could control, and I buckled down on those. And what can you control the most in your life? What you consume. My disordered eating in college was rooted in my anxiety. I could control what I did and did not put into my body. It became quite a slippery slope.
I'm aware that none of what I said above is motivating, but I have multiple purposes in sharing it: 1) I know for a fact there are people reading who have a similar story, 2) it shapes the way I interact with my children and young people, and 3) I have fostered habits and HEALTHY coping mechanisms that assist me in keeping those villainous thoughts as I've transitioned into adulthood.
The greatest residual effect of my battles with mental illness as an adolescent is that it taints many of my memories, and if I'm not careful, my brain convinces me that it's my WHOLE identity. I ruminate over everything I lost in my mental health battle, and it keeps me from appreciating what I have now. Some days, I don't feel worthy of the life I have because I feel like such a damaged individual. This brings me to my tip for today: Remind yourself you're worthy.
From encouraging post-it notes to surrounding myself with inspiring people, I have a lot of healthy coping mechanisms I use now (but for the record, I'm not perfect, and I have people who are honest and help ground me when I start to slip - find those people). One of my more specific and favorite habits is carrying one of my daughter's bows around with me. I keep it in my coat pocket. Some days my anxiety starts to win. It tells me, "You're failing. You can't do this. Why did you even try?" And in those moments, I can stick my hand in my pocket and remember that I've been given a life, a purpose, and a reason to always combat those invisible enemies. It tells me, "You have this tiny human who loves you unconditionally and sees you for the person you truly are." It also reminds me to be the adult I needed when I was struggling. To be patient. To empathize when possible. To say, "I hear you. Your worries are valid."
You might be struggling today. You might struggle tomorrow. I encourage you to find what makes you feel worthy, and implant a symbol of that worthiness somewhere you can always find it. That little bow has become quite a weapon for me to use as I battle some of my intrusive thoughts. Find your weapon, friends, because sometimes it's dangerous out there.