8 Things My Birthday Taught Me About Mental Health
Last week, I turned 28. To me, it was a milestone birthday because I’m no longer in my early twenties and I’m quickly approaching 30. It left me thinking things like,
- “How the hell did it come so fast?”
- “Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?”
- “What do I even have to show for this time?”
- “Please make it stop!”
Turning 28 was kind of scary for me. I realized that my life, as it is today, is nothing close to what I thought it would be by the time I was 28. When I was younger, I always thought maybe I’d have a family by this age, maybe I’d own my own house, and maybe I’d have my own thriving business that I could live off of and not have to supplement it with other income.
Well… None of those things are the case right now. For a moment, it felt very disappointing. I felt like I had let myself down and completely failed at being an adult. I felt like I had failed and that my dreams were never going to come true.
Failed. Can you believe that? Despite accomplishing a fair amount of goals I had set out over the years, I still felt like I was nothing and would never be able to accomplish anything. Failed at 28.
It wasn’t until my sister sent me a text reminding me of the New Moon that was approaching (which happened to fall right on my birthday, May 15th) that I realized how ridiculous I was sounding. Turning 28 on the New Moon was the perfect time to reset my goals and intentions. I mean, I’ve always been a little melodramatic, but this was just down right stupid of me to think so negatively about my entire life.
I had let society’s imposed rules and limitations (some of which I don’t even subscribe to) get so deeply ingrained in my head that I had convinced myself I was a complete failure at age 28 for not meeting those preposterous expectations and should just give up. Not only had I let myself be fooled by these absurd “rules,” but the fact that I wasn’t achieving them was aggressively feeding into my anxiety and depression.
If you deal with anxiety and depression like I do, this might not sound too far off for you. It’s so easy to get sucked into that black hole of negativity when you feel like you can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s easy to feel like you haven’t accomplished anything when you have that voice in your head telling you it’s still not enough. The key to the puzzle is having the right tools to help pull yourself out of it so you can start to see the light.
Now...hear me out: I’m no anxiety, depression, or mental health expert. I haven’t cracked the code on how to get rid of it and I still deal with my anxieties on a daily basis. But I do feel like my journey with it has led me to finding keys, tools, and healthy coping mechanisms for me to mitigate the effects of it from time to time. It’s these very tools that helped me pull myself out of that “Help me, I’m 28 and my world is ending” negative bubble I felt trapped in.
If you’re feeling down, alone in your struggles, or just looking for a glimmer of light, I invite you to explore some of these tools and ideas, if you aren’t already, and know that you are not alone!
1. Take Care of #1
Like the legendary RuPaul always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” This is SO important that I had to put it at the top of the list. Whenever I’m having a meltdown, 99% of the time, I’ve also been neglecting to taking care of myself and my personal needs. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, it’s easy for the rest of your life to feel like a hot mess. You have got to take care of #1!
Ask yourself what self care and self love means to you. Is it hitting the gym? Is it getting a mani/pedi? Is it getting 7-9 hours of sleep at night? Is it spending 10 minutes a day journaling? Is it going for a walk in nature? Whatever it is, you need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Take some time to write a list of things that you can do to take care of yourself on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis. It can be as big as taking a vacation or as small as doing your hair differently.
2. Consider Therapy (or talking to someone)
It’s time to take away the stigmas that surround mental health and therapy. Seeing a therapist is not shameful or something to be embarrassed about. It is something to celebrate and be proud of yourself for taking the steps to explore! Therapy offers a safe space to learn new tools and healing techniques that can guide you towards living a happier, more fulfilled life.
I’m a HUGE advocate for therapy and taking care of your mental health. Right now, I actually see a therapist twice a week (one by myself and one with my partner) and can honestly say that it has changed my life for the better. I’ve been going to therapy on and off for the last 5 years and still feel like there is so much to explore and learn. It helps me in times when I’m feeling down and gives me someone to talk to who I know will listen and be impartial with their feedback.
I speak openly about going to therapy and highly recommend it to anyone who is considering it. Therapy provides you with a non-judgmental individual who helps show you the tools to make yourself a better person. You can learn to heal from past experiences, gain new communication techniques, or discover a new way of thinking. What’s not to love about that?
If you don’t feel ready to take the leap into therapy, that’s totally fine too! If you have an person in your life who is willing to hear you out and talk with you about your struggles, by all means, do that! It is healthier to talk with someone as opposed to keeping all your emotions bottled up only for them to erupt in an ugly manner one day. Talking to someone also helps us remember that we are not alone in these struggles or moments of hardship.
3. Know and Understand Your Triggers
This one seems pretty straightforward. If you can pinpoint what is triggering your anxieties and why, it might give you the space to heal them. This is a great exercise that you can do either alone, with a therapist, or with a safe person that you feel comfortable opening up with.
I usually turn to my journal or therapist for figuring out what is triggering me. Once I start to feel anxious, I ask myself what is happening and what is causing this. Usually writing lists of all the things that are running through my head help quiet the noise and get down to the issue. It helps to know what the triggers are in order to avoid them or learn to deal with them in a healthy manner. Once you can know and understand what your triggers are, it makes usually makes that “big bad monster” (aka your fears) not seem so real.
4. Make Time to Express Your Creative Energy
We are all creative, passionate beings and it’s important for us to remember to exercise those imaginative muscles as often as we can. It is my belief that our creative energy is something that needs to be expressed instead of suppressed. If this beautiful energy gets suppressed, it could manifest itself in unhealthy ways throughout our beings.
Take some time each week to express your creativity in whatever way you feel called to! Maybe you love painting, dancing, acting, writing, playing music, or visiting museums. Whatever it is, do something! Feel free to safely express and explore that creative energy in a way that brings you life. You don’t even need to share it with others, but do something to get that energy out of your system.
5. Make Small & Large Goals for Yourself
Nothing helps get me out of a funk more than knowing I am working towards a goal. If I don’t have a goal or if I feel like I’m not working to achieve something, I tend to have a meltdown and feel like I’m aimlessly floating around on this Earth. Having goals and dreams to work towards make this whole life experience more enjoyable after all.
Create goals for yourself--both big and small! Give yourself the permission to dream and dream big. Remarkable things rarely happen without visions, dreams, or goals in place to achieve them. Write them down, keep them close, and remind yourself of those goals as often as possible.
To that, I also want to say that it is totally ok if your goals change from time to time. Life changes, people change, circumstances change, so it’s perfectly fine for your goals and dreams to change too!
6. Do What Makes You Happy + Stop Comparing
I’m pretty much adding this in here to remind myself...
Life is short! Do whatever the hell it is that makes you happy and stop comparing yourself to other people because you don’t owe them a damn thing!
I think that sums it up, right?
But seriously, we could all afford to take this one to heart more often. I can’t count how many times I’ve been crippled by fear and anxiety and hesitated to create something out of fear that someone else has already done it and how could I do it better? UGH. Screw that thought train! I’m so sick of that negative self-destructive nonsense talk that we get smashed into our brains from a young age. It’s time we stop comparing ourselves to others and do what makes us blissfully happy in this life.
7. Forgive Yourself
I've gone through ups and downs of anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I have streaks of rough patches and streaks of fantastic patches. As a result, my creative work sometimes takes a hit because of these swings. I've become overwhelmed with self consciousness, anxiety, negativity, and thoughts of hopelessness in my work to the point that I just can't bring myself to doing anything (sometimes it's hard to even get out of bed). But through it all, there has been one thing that kept me going through those rough times: knowing that this, too, shall pass.
When I was younger, I came across a quote from Mick Jagger that said, "It's all right letting yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back."
While I'm sure the meaning behind this was probably not intended to refer to anxiety or depression at all, I sure took it that way. I mean, why not? It was a positive statement that helped me know, "Hey, just because you're feeling like a literal bag of poo right now doesn't mean you have to feel this way forever!" And it always helped me move forward towards that light and positivity.
I had to learn to forgive myself for taking the time and energy I needed to come back to myself. If you don't take away anything else from this post, please let it be this.
For so long, I would beat myself up and feel down for "not feeling myself." I would feel shitty because of my situation and then I would take it a step further and guilt/shame myself for feeling that way. Talk about an ugly, dark, spiral out of control. It's exhausting!
As soon as I started to feel like I was gaining control over my life again, I've also had to look myself in the mirror and say, "Hey...I forgive you. It's 100% OK to take time for YOU!" And you know what? That is what has helped me feel like I'm coming back to myself. Giving myself the space, time, and permission to get back to me.
Be more kind and gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself. Be unapologetically you.
Well you didn’t think I was going to leave this one out, did you? I believe that travel is one of the best medicines we can give ourselves to come out of those dark places and negative feelings. Traveling gets us out of our comfort zones and into new spaces that open our minds to exploring things we aren’t familiar with.
If you’re feeling stuck or down, consider traveling somewhere to get your mind, body, and soul moving. It doesn’t even have to be a far away exotic country. You could travel to the town next to yours for the afternoon to simply explore what they have to offer. Get creative with it and make it happen!
If you've made it to the end with me here, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and continue to support me + The City Sidewalks. My intention for writing this wasn't to have anyone feeling sorry for me or pity me, but rather to express these vulnerable emotions and share how I'm getting through it in hopes that it might help one of you feel like you're not alone. It's people like you that make this awesome thing possible.
Love You All,
PS--I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any tips or tools that you use to deal with anxiety, depression, fear, guilt, shame, etc.? Please feel free to comment below!