In honour of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Mental Health Week (May 1st-7th, 2017), I wanted to write a blog post about my own experiences, as well as this topic in general. I am a strong advocate for taking care of one's mental health, but it's not always easy to speak publicly about this topic. Though it's something that I'm very passionate about, I still get a little uncomfortable talking about my own experiences - however, one of my goals is to help end the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues/illnesses, so I'll be brave and continue to write this post.
About 5 years ago, as a nursing student, I had the opportunity to do a mental health clinical rotation, and work with patients that were diagnosed with conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder (among others). This rotation was much different from my previous ones, as these individuals often didn't have any obvious visual indicators that anything was causing them discomfort, distress or pain. This was a huge learning curve for me, and I recall learning from my clinical instructor about how to create authentic conversations with my patients, in order to glean more information about what was going on with them, so that I could create a care plan to best suit their needs.
My experiences in nursing, coupled with my own personal experiences (more on that in a bit), have taught me so much about mental health. First and foremost, I learned that you can never assume that someone is doing "ok" by just looking at them. Mental health issues and illnesses don't work that way. Through my own research, I've learned that there are so many people out there who live with things such as "high-functioning depression" or "high-functioning anxiety" - they could seem fine at school, work, or social events, but in reality they are still suffering a great deal, often in private. This is why it's so important to never judge a book by it's cover. You can never truly know what someone is going through unless they tell you - even then, it's hard to grasp and understand the full picture.
As I start to write this next part about myself, I'm a little uncomfortable, but as I've learned through my blogging experiences, while social media can be great, it's often filled with picture perfect images and a lack of authenticity. I can definitely be guilty of presenting my best self on social media a lot of the time, but was perfection my goal when I started my blog? Absolutely not - I wanted to empower others to be healthier, happier, and more in touch with their bodies and minds, and to be able to start honest conversations about health and wellness. So, in the name of all that, I'm happy to share my story :)
If you've been following my blog/Instagram account for a while now, you likely know that I have chronic pain issues from a car accident in 2015 (I'm pretty tired of talking about it, but it's a very big part of my life currently, and the main reason that I'm writing this article in the first place). After this accident, I've dealt with neck, shoulder, back, and foot pain, and have ultimately been unable to work as a registered nurse, as of present.
Each day, I struggle with pain to some degree, and it's pretty frustrating. Don't get me wrong - I practice positivity and gratitude every day, but it's not a cure for my physical discomfort. Even though I am doing multiple things to attempt to combat/stop the pain, nothing has provided me with full relief (trying out cupping and acupuncture for the first time next week - wish me luck!)
Since 2015, I have been off work three separate times (this is the 3rd time), and I've repeatedly had to build myself back up from rock bottom. I've also suffered from depression and anxiety (related to driving) - it sometimes feels like I don't have full control over my own life, which is really hard to deal with after I worked so hard to establish my career and independence as an adult. It's a daily battle to try and heal myself each day, but I am constantly working on strengthening myself both physically and mentally.
So, there's my backstory for the last 1.5 years. As someone who is extremely passionate about health and wellness, it's really tough for me to not feel 100%, or even 75% on a regular basis. It's also tough when people say "well, you don't look like you're in too much pain". This is likely because I take very good care of myself in every other aspect of my life (i.e. through nutrition, whatever exercise I'm able to do, self-care), so I might look pretty "put-together" most of the time. Trust me, I tried not putting in any effort - spending the whole day on the couch in pyjamas made my pain worse. So, in order to stay as balanced and comfortable as I can in my current condition, I carry out these 10 activities regularly:
1. Proper nutrition - this looks different for each individual - for me, this means a mostly gluten, dairy and refined sugar free diet that is high in fresh produce, superfoods, supplements, healthy fats, and quality sources of protein. I also indulge in treats every now and then, so that I don't feel deprived.
2. Exercise - since 2013, I have absolutely loved going to the gym, or for hikes/walks - anything active, really. Obviously, my gym routine has been greatly modified and reduced in intensity because of my injuries, but I still do what I can, when I can as, it helps keep my pain at a lower level than if I'm sedentary
3. Blogging - blogging has been a form of journaling for me, and I've found it quite therapeutic. Sharing nutrition and health/wellness information through social media and my website has also been great, as it helps me feel like I'm still able to help others and be involved in health promotion, which is something that I'm very passionate about
4. Cooking/baking - this has been wonderful for me because I enjoy it so much, and as weird as it might sound, being in the kitchen for a short amount of time each day has helped improve my strength and stamina a little
5. Netflix - oh, wonderful Netflix. From Family Guy to The Mindy Project, it's nice to have a little escape from reality and to laugh at some really funny shows
6. Self-care - it might sound silly, but simple things like having an Epsom salt bath, doing weekly face masks, painting my nails, hanging out with friends, or throwing on some winged eyeliner can really help boost my mood and self-esteem, as well as help me relax and de-stress so my muscles aren't stiff, sore, and locked up
7. Seeing a registered psychologist - this has been great for me. I used to be embarrassed to share this fact with people, but not anymore. I have talked through several things with my psychologist - she's also a chronic pain specialist, and it's just really helpful to have an objective third party mental health professional to chat about my situation with
8. Spending time in nature - there have been many studies that show the positive benefits that nature has on mental health. Even if I'm only able to go on a walk for 10-15 minutes, I still make a point to try and spend time in nature whenever I can
9. Rest - I used to feel so guilty for resting. Whether it was napping, excusing myself for some down time, or turning down an invite to something I didn't feel up to doing, I always thought there was something wrong with me for feeling this way, because I never used to. Nope! With everything going on in my life right now, I have realized that this is my body's way of protecting itself. Hopefully one day soon I'll be back to my normal self, but for now I'm just going to listen to my body's cues
10. Surround yourself with as much positivity as you can - from my wonderful family to my amazing friends to the accounts I follow on social media, I am constantly making a conscious effort to surround myself with as much love and light as I can
Wow, that was a lot more than I thought I was going to write. If you made it down to the end of this, thank you so much for reading! If this post helps or resonates with even one person, I'll be so happy. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and I hope one day soon that more accessible treatments and services will be available to the individuals who need it. Not everyone wishes to talk about their mental health and that's totally fine, but remember - if you do choose to talk about it, that doesn't make you any less of a person. On the contrary, I think it makes you amazing, brave, and strong.