*Trigger warning: This post discusses difficult topics like drugs, alcohol, suicide, and self-harm.*
Everyone has mental health. Just like we have physical health, like bone health and cardiovascular health, we have mental health.
Poor mental health runs in my family just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease can run in one’s family. From the outside, that may not seem apparent. No one in my family has ever lost their battle with mental illness by suicide – at least none that we know of in recent generations. But plenty of people in my family have battled mental illness with food, drugs, alcohol, and work. As a result, many have died prematurely from heart attacks, complications from obesity, type 2 diabetes, stress, cancer, and what we like to call “hard living”.
We don’t talk about these things like mental health issues. We don’t say, “Oh, she really really struggled with mental illness, which ultimately took her life.” No, we don’t say that. We say, “Oh, she struggled with obesity her whole life, which led to a life-ending heart attack at age 60.” But what really happened is, she lived a hard life because she was raised feeling unworthy, which caused her mental health to break down. And because we don’t talk about the hard things in our life – the mistakes, broken dreams, the painful things done to us, and our lack of love for ourselves – it grows like a cancer inside of us. And because there’s a stigma around getting real help from therapy or just saying, “I’m not okay”, we medicate.
Food makes us feel better. Alcohol and drugs dull everything around us – the bad stuff and the good stuff. Work helps us ignore it. These medications aren’t initially seen as an issue because they are the things we would do in a healthy life too. No stigma.
We have to eat and work. These are essentials in our lives, so they can’t be that bad. Alcohol is something we use to socialize or unwind on occasion, but it’s not used every day or all day for the average person. They are socially acceptable.
But, the truth is, I come from a long line of people who use these things to feel better when our mental health is suffering. If left unchecked, we use them to the point of addiction – to the point of abuse. And I’m not alone.
Remember, mental illness doesn’t always mean suicide or self-harm. It’s not always that final or that obvious. In fact, it almost never starts there. It starts somewhere much smaller and less defined – in the gray areas.
This is why self-love is so important. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You must love yourself and take care of yourself. Take time for you. Take a walk, a bubble bath, a nap, a yoga class. Meditate, read, write. Visit a friend, take yourself out for coffee. Take a mental health day or a whole weekend! Tell people no.
And – encourage this behavior in others. Give people permission to tell you no, or to take a day off. Give them permission to have bad days and love them anyway.
Let’s be advocates for self-love: for ourselves and for others.
How are you going to practice self-care this week? Let me know in the comments!