10 Fundamental Lessons On Mental Wellness I Learned In Young Adulthood
Fighting for my mental wellness/resilience every day tells me I’m making my overall well-being a priority. Every day, I’m intentionally choosing life, and becoming a champion of the life I am living – whatever that looks like at any given moment. I still have to take a moment to pause as this has not always been the case in my life. I have been dealing with health issues of various kinds since childhood, including mental health issues like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and addiction.
I learned what it was like to become an adult through the lens of the healthcare system, including the mental health system when I had my first hospitalization away from home and everything I knew 3 ½ months after my 18th birthday. Over a decade full of doctors and treatments, trials and errors, successes and failures; it became second nature being able to recite that well-being meant taking care of your physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
However, how this translated to being a part of everyday living was a different story. The message was more like that of a broken record playing in the background with only jagged pieces being taken away when things and life got rough, which for me felt like often. My late teens and 20’s were a roller coaster of struggles, pain, suicidal ideation, addiction, recovery, and relapse. Full of frustration, mixed with guilt, hope, and shame as I did all the support groups, followed all the tools, and yet I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get better even though I was doing everything I thought I was supposed to do as I watch more of my dreams become farther out of reach.
Stepping in a new chapter
So many things needed to change, I had just turned 30 and I was determined to live the upcoming decade differently. Some of my health conditions have progressed, new ones have arrived, some old ones have become better managed.
I decided to start by looking within myself leading me to give space to all I had experienced in life and learned along the way up to that moment. With all the upheaval that is going on in the world, in combination with the speed of each day and everything swirling all around me, it is easy to lose balance and get stressed out just trying to take care of one aspect of well-being. I needed to find a way to create a center from my life experiences and lessons learned, so I could find balance whenever I needed it.
That broken record vocabulary has turned into a centering, motivational track that is becoming more and more integrated into my daily living, and I no longer wait for crises to occur. Additionally, I decided to get help taking what I’ve learned and experienced over the course of my life and incorporated it into an intentional, proactive game plan. Mental wellness, for me, is at the core of that game plan. Sure, every day doesn’t look the same, and the fight for well-being always seems to have a different unpredictable face; but every day I fight to be a champion of each aspect of my well-being with my mental wellness/resilience being a core priority.
This whole process has left me with 10 lessons on mental wellness that life has taught me that are now a part of a reminder to help me find my balance.
10 lessons on mental wellness
1. Mental wellness is not static nor is it the absence of negative emotion or thoughts.
Expressing and having outlets for negative emotions or thoughts, even acknowledging them, is an act of wellness. When I was younger, I saw all negative emotions and thoughts as bad, in addition to any type of wavering. I would hit the panic button as I thought it was a sign of relapse.
Over the course of more than a decade, I learned to distinguish between signs that something was wrong and I need more help than I could give myself, versus just normal negative emotions and thoughts that are a part of the human interaction and experience of living. Even today, I am still working on feeling and allowing change to come, and to acknowledge and express the negative emotions and thoughts in a positive way (such as adaptive sports, artistic creativity, talking, or writing).
2. Mental health is like a taboo topic where the positives are uplifted and the negatives hidden and seen as weaknesses or faults.
How many times has someone asked, “How are you”, only to receive the quick answer from the shortlist of ‘good’, ‘okay’, and ‘fine’? Often the more positives that are spoken about how someone is doing, the more of a great mental health picture comes in mind. If the opposite is true for that person, and she or he shares a trouble they are having, there is more often less time spent. But, allowing and giving space for both internally and externally is healthy.
I still have to remind myself most days, a bad day, a decision, or even if I am depressed or symptomatic, it does not equal weakness or fault. I’m not alone in it, somewhere someone is experiencing similar things I am. At the same time, would I hold someone else to the same things I judge myself on, especially when it comes to mental wellness and resilience? It is a self-check I have to do periodically to make sure I truly know how I’m doing and don’t have the rose-colored glasses view.
3. Take the time to find what works for you and be open to trying something new.
Whether it’s finding the right therapist, sticking it through to find the right medication combination, finding a new form of support, or even utilizing the best way to communicate what’s going on and what is needed/helpful/unhelpful – it’s essential to take the time to find what works. Each person is different, so what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for my friend or sister.
It’s like exercise. If the activity does not fit one’s interests or, perhaps, is not adapted in a way to make it safe and enjoyable, the benefits are not going to reveal themselves or reach their potential. Explore and enjoy what works developing a toolbox that will continue to build resilience and mental wellness.
4. Approach mental wellness with intention.
As with physical wellness, there is intention in exercise, healthy eating, and doctor visits. Mental wellness, oftentimes lacks that same level of intention. Start one step at a time. For me it was incorporating one enjoyable activity into my week. Then, I added time for rest and relaxation. Next, it was finding balance in my schedule. Now, I’m working on seeking more support and improving my communication.
5. Proactively prepare for trouble spots or times.
There are certain times of year I struggle more, such as the holidays or during times of lots of change and unpredictability. Knowing this helps me know that I need to take out what I call, “my red alert kit”. It is a set of things I know helps me hang on through the rough tides. My kit includes the stuff I know that really helps me, such as planning activities and increasing things I enjoy, as well as the next six items on this list:
6. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
7. Plan time for rest and recharge.
8. Take care of the other areas of your health because they are all interconnected.
9. Don’t be afraid to seek support and/or help.
10. Live. Intentionally choose life every day.
This is the most important one for me, one that I hold close that is at the core of my mental wellness/resilience because without this I would not put the effort or engage in any of the others in this list. When I am depressed or symptomatic, this becomes harder but the importance triples as I must choose life each moment, and then, with each step, I do whatever I can to live. This includes reaching out for support/help, going to the doctor, using different coping skills, using affirmations, making one small goal, and working towards it, or pursuing my hopes and dreams.
Every day, I remind myself living can be enjoyable, hard, and everything in between. But every day I choose life. I am a fighter, a champion, and allow myself a chance to experience the treasure, whether in this day or a day ten years from now that I have yet to know.
Anything is always possible and as long as I choose life, I am intentionally choosing hope through keeping the possibilities alive. That for me is resilience at its best.
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