May is Mental Health Awareness Month

If you struggle with mental health concerns, you’re in really good company. Justin Timberlake  has OCD and ADD and yours truly is a highly anxious lady. I mean, between me and JT, you should feel kind of GOOD about being in this camp. 🙂

All joking aside, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And I have spent the past couple of weeks really thinking about what I wanted to write. And while I rarely do this on my blog, I thought it might be helpful to share a little bit about my work around managing my own anxiety. I do this with some trepidation, as I fear that my sharing might be distracting or unhelpful to my clients. But my intention is that my sharing removes some of the stigma associated with mental health struggles.

I’m pretty sure that when I was born I was anxious about whether the doctor was cutting my umbilical cord correctly, the temperature of the room, and when I was going to be able to eat. As a baby I was a pretty crumby sleeper. I was colicky, cried a lot, and I was difficult to sooth. In my early childhood years I threw some pretty wicked tantrums. And by the time I was 6, I was writing notes and posting them on my bedroom door that read “Stay out, I’m organizing!” Fortunately I had my nice moments as well; it wasn’t all tears and frustration. In my early elementary school years I would lay in bed crying at night, worried that my carpool wasn’t going to run on time or that I wouldn’t get enough sleep and would be tired the next day.

As I look back on some of these touchstone moments of my early years I realize, these are indicators that I was a highly anxious kid! And I arrived, totally wired that way. There are some real downsides to being anxious. One of them is that it’s exhausting. Your antennae are turned outward and the volume and quantity of information you process is extraordinarily high! The constant anticipation of potential threats can totally wear you down.

But the optimist in me knows, that there have also been some benefits to my wiring. Some of the traits that make me vulnerable to anxiety are also absolute assets in my life. It’s the same stuff that has allowed me to build a thriving professional practice and enhances my capacity to listen and feel what my clients share with me. It increases my ability to be a loving, feeling, giving, present human being. I’m pretty sure that Justin Timberlake’s OCD and ADD factor into his amazing successes.

As I have gotten older, I have become much more skilled at managing my anxiety. I am more effective at channeling it in a productive way and coaching myself through moments when those feelings of panic rear their ugly head. I’m super grateful to be in a place where I feel pretty grounded and steady most of the time! But it is an on-going practice of learning and work.

Here are a couple of things that I would like you to know about mental illness:

1. It is not a choice and it is strongly rooted in our biology.

2. People with mental health challenges often struggle silently. The lack of a physical manifestation of a problem is confusing and painful.

3. If you are not a mental health expert or have not had personal experience with mental health challenges, don’t offer advice to people in your life who are suffering. Instead you can say, “I don’t understand what you are going through but I am so sorry you are in pain. I love you and I am right here by your side.”

4. Know that despite the immense pain that mental health struggles can bring, they may also shape you in ways that are positive and wonderful. I really love this quote by Emma Thompson and have often found this to be true. “Its unfortunate and I really wish I wouldn’t have to say this, but I really like human beings who have suffered. They’re kinder.” In my experience, my suffering has made me a kinder, gentler person.

5. Working on managing your own inner struggles is a process and it will look different for you than it does for anyone else. But one thing I know, you cannot “go it” alone. Silence, secrecy, and shame will worsen your pain and your illness. So know you are worthy of support but be wise about how you enlist it and from whom.

I hope my experience and advice are helpful in some way. Given the fact that 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year, let’s commit to being a little kinder and a little less judgmental. We never know the battles that those around us might be facing.

Do you suffer from some form of mental illness? How have you learned to manage it on a day to day basis?