Taking better care of my mental health isn’t really a “new year’s resolution.” It’s more of a thing that I’ve known I had to take care of for years but didn’t, for many different reasons. Like finances, it’s become important to me to be more open about my mental health because it currently isn’t something that I talk to anyone about.
For example, I only told my mom that I was going to therapy after nearly 5 months of seeing my therapist – and even then, I was nervous to tell her! Nervous! I am very proud to work with a lot of mental health providers, and I respect their work immensely, but I’m still a bit shy to discuss my own mental health with others. Why am I so nervous about talking about mental health?
There’s a ton of reasons – social judgement being the big one – but part of my mental self-care has been adopting a “fuck it” attitude, and this feels like a great place to start.
I’m planning much more in-depth posts throughout October about my mental health care journey, but there are a couple of lessons that I’ve specifically learned during quarantine that I want to bring with me into the rest of this “new year” – read about them after the break!
As a generally introverted person, at first, quarantine seemed to be a godsend – I can’t hang out with people? Oh no!!! I occasionally joined in on Zoom calls with my boyfriend, but loved that I could just leave at any point and sit on the other side of the room with headphones on if I didn’t feel like being social anymore.
Like an elimination diet, being able to pick-and-choose who I interact with has helped me learn which friends genuinely bring me joy and which ones are there out of convenience, or worse, obligation, who don’t give me much in return. I’ve even had video chats with friends that I hadn’t been actively keeping in touch with before quarantine and found that I still enjoyed talking to them, and secretly was grateful for ~this fucked up situation~ for bringing us back together.
I’ve also taken full advantage of limited opportunities for in-person interaction to examine my own boundaries and comfort levels with other people, even outside of quarantine precautions. I’ve learned that I do really need in-person interaction once in a while, as much as I want to pretend like texting people or Zoom calls are good enough for me. I’ve realized that I prefer smaller interactions, like one or two other couples, to large group settings. I even noticed that I miss house parties and going out to bars, another type of situation that I thought I was “over” back in the before times.
I started going to therapy about a year ago because I was having a lot of trouble with many of my relationships, and actually stopped my sessions early on in quarantine because, frankly, I didn’t have to deal with people anymore! So I’m good! That being said, I am still a bit nervous about returning to regular life and having those stresses come rushing back, likely very quickly, and promised my therapist that I’d return to her once those problems come back again. (That is, what do I do if I can’t just log out of a Zoom to remove myself from a situation?)
I’m the type of person that just lets stuff stew. In a nutshell, I’ll let things build up and let things overflow and release it all at once, instead of addressing things as they come up like a more emotionally-balanced person would probably do.
Unfortunately, this has gotten me in hot water more times than I’d care to admit, and has caused a lot of harm for myself and the people around me.
I’ve done a lot of self-examination about this over the past couple of months. (What else has quarantine given us, if not too much time to overthink about everything?) Through Instagram (of all places!), I have found many therapy and mental-health themed posts that have caused me to question my own behavior. Through this self-reflection, I’ve learned a lot about myself, especially what triggers such outbursts and how to keep my thoughts from bubbling up in damaging ways.
While it’s difficult for me to put these lessons into practice without actually putting myself in potentially triggering situations (which, kind of thankfully, don’t really exist at the moment), I’m trying my best to learn different coping mechanisms now, before they’re really needed. These can really just be summarized as “letting shit go” – deep breathing techniques, not always needing to be right, mentally reframing situations, and removing myself from uncomfortable situations if needed.
Will these strategies work? Only time will tell!
Cutting Back on Alcohol
Alcohol has been a source of stress for me for a long, long time. Growing up, before I started drinking, I was around adults who drank irresponsibly. As I got older, I experimented with how drinking affects me and the people around me. I drank at a lot of social situations, but generally tended to avoid drinking by myself.
(I learned the hard way that having even just one beer every day can raise my blood sugar to dangerous levels – who knew???)
Because I wasn’t drinking much outside of certain social situations, I had a tendency to over-drink if the opportunity called for it. Sometimes, this turned out fun and fine. Other times, this turned out to cause more stress than anticipated (see: the Anger Management section above). Even if I didn’t actually do anything bad, I would wake up the next morning in an anxious ball, worrying that I said something to someone, or did something embarrassing that friends would rub in my face for the next few days. This almost never happened, but that didn’t stop me from endlessly worrying about it!
Because of the lack of social situations in quarantine, I’ve been drinking less often. In the past, I’ve cut down on my drinking for strictly health reasons, like my blood sugar (as mentioned above) or while training for a race. However, I’ve only recently felt empowered to drink less during social situations in quarantine, where people can’t physically see that I’m not holding a drink in my hand and question me for it, or convince me to take a shot that I don’t want to take by waving it in my face.
All that said, I have no desire to give up alcohol completely. I love drinking beer! I love drinking whisky! I legitimately think that they just taste good! I want to appreciate a well-made cocktail! I still enjoy a good buzz now and then!
To juggle both of these desires – wanting to drink less, but not stopping completely – I’ve had to really dig down into my reasons for both in order to set my own firm boundaries and develop my own “thick skin” to help resist drinking culture as a whole. I didn’t realize how often my peers talk about or present themselves drinking, especially to excess, until I firmly decided it was not for me! Additionally, I didn’t realize how much it would bother me that other people weren’t holding themselves to the same standard and values that I had set for myself, in my own head, without telling them – ha??!! (Let’s just say that the anger management techniques that I mentioned above – especially just letting shit go – have come in quite handy!)
Again, the situations haven’t really presented themselves recently, but I know first-hand that it’s easy to go to a bar expecting to only have one drink, but actually having many more as the night progresses. Because of this, I know it’s important to fully form and feel secure in my own reasons so that I am comfortable when ~life starts again~ and my boundaries might get tested.
Again, will these strategies work? Only time will tell!
Mental Health October Preview
Taking care of my mental health has been quite a project, and I am actually going to devote my entire next month of blog posts to talking about my journey! I definitely don’t mean to speak as an authority, but I do know the power of opening up about my own struggles and experiences. If I can inspire even one more person to re-examine their behavior, or teach even just one person a coping technique that I’ve found helpful – then I want to do it.