How fitting that the anniversary of the acceptance of my depression would fall around Mental Health Awareness Month. Last year, I had paid no attention to it; this year, I am excited to pay homage to it. However, like most celebrations over the past couple of months, this will be spent with the looming effects of the global pandemic COVID-19. It’s hard to believe that it has almost been a year since I’ve had one of the most pivotal conversations of my young adult life—and it started with one simple question from a coworker:
“How are you really doing?”
This led me to admit to something I had been resisting for almost 10 years: I have depression and I need professional help in order to overcome it. I had mastered the art of masking my mental distress, but I eventually learned that masking is not a cure. It was a painful combination of fear, shame, and resistance.
As a health fitness specialist in the San Francisco/Bay Area, I am supposed to be the hype (wo)man. The one who motivates others to want to make changes to increase their quality of life, but that goes far beyond a number on a scale. It also entails the social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life. I realized that if I wanted to be authentic in my career, it was going to require me to step outside of myself and seek help. In order to celebrate change, and to encourage it in others, I needed to embrace it wholeheartedly in my own life first.
I remember sitting in the waiting room of my therapist’s office and filling out the initial assessment forms.
Circle what applies to you.
Circling depression is what made it all real.
Overcoming the Stigmas Around Mental Health
Depression is something that I’ve known has always lived inside of me, but I was too afraid to say it out loud. I was afraid of the stigma that comes with the words: depression, anxiety, and therapy.
After a handful of sessions, my therapist helped me realize that those stigmas would only become a reality if I chose to breathe life into them. I have to constantly remind myself that I am on a journey of self-discovery, understanding, and self-compassion.
As a “recovering perfectionist and an aspiring ‘good-enoughist’” (thank you, Brené Brown), this has been an incredibly difficult year for me. Taking the time to chip away these walls I have built and become comfortable with openness and transparency is one of the scariest things I have ever done, but knowing that I have been able to overcome each fall by embracing and learning from each situation were signs of growth.
That growth has been tested daily since the start of this pandemic. Not only have I had to call on existing tools to preserve the progress that I’ve made, but I have also been pushed to develop new tools to help overcome the challenges that have risen over the past seven weeks. The biggest question that needed to be addressed: What if I can’t handle this anymore? Will that mean that all the progress I’ve made over the past year will have been for nothing?
In an attempt to calm my anxious mind, I have been able to uncover one of the most important tools: reflection. Now is the time to reflect on just how far I’ve come and to start actively developing a routine that utilizes each of the tools I have learned over the past year. While everyone is different and deals with their journeys of self-discovery and mental health differently, these are some tools that have helped me when I’ve recognized it’s time for action.
By reading an hour before bed, I am able to give my mind an opportunity to escape our crazy pandemic reality and to start exploring new techniques to facilitate growth. These are some books that have helped to provide that for me:
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
- A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
- Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (currently reading)
I found a journal that has “BLOOM” written across the cover. For me, this serves as a reminder that the “blooming” process takes time, and that the environment I create will determine whether I will wilt or bloom. I don’t journal every day because a strict regimen in regard to self-expression creates a toxic perfectionist monster in my mind. Instead, I use this tool when I need a place to vent, to remind myself that I am strong, but that I don’t need to have everything figured out right now.
Today, not only is fitness my career, but it has also become a physical representation of growth and success. I have a personal trainer. He and the rest of the Red Dot Fitness community have helped me uncover strength that I didn’t realize I had. By having a place where I can be surrounded by inspiring and passionate individuals, I always walked out of there feeling renewed.
During these weeks of quarantine, they have still been able to provide this sense of revival for me through live workouts and personal training sessions. They have been able to provide a sense of community even during this time of social distancing.
In the past, I had tried to implement meditation into my routine, but it never worked because my approach to meditation was all wrong. The idea of being and remaining present is difficult for a naturally anxious perfectionist like me, but the guided meditations from Headspace have taught me that it is natural for the mind to go off track. Actively navigating my thoughts and emotions, when times get hard, is something I never thought I had the strength to do.
Every tool in my toolbox may seem quite simple, but what makes them highly effective is that I’ve discovered how and why they give me strength. I’ve allowed myself to gain a better sense of self-compassion, a working understanding of the importance of communication, and the power that arises when you take the time to slow down and breathe—and it’s hard to believe that it all started with one simple question of how am I really doing?
Recognizing your mental state, and then healing, doesn’t happen overnight; it is an ever-growing process. I hope that by sharing in my story you might allow others some room to breathe and practice being kind to yourself--especially during these trying times. While I may be celebrating one year of healing this month, practicing and respecting your mental health is a lifelong commitment, and I will forever be walking that journey alongside you.