I think one of the most helpful things I’ve done in trying to maintain my mental health is to become aware of my own personal red flags.
There are certain things, when they start happening, that make me suddenly wonder if something is off. Suddenly I’ll realize, “oh, I’m not handling things well anymore.”
For me, some of those red flags are:
- Getting overly emotional at everything (more crying than usual)
- Feeling tired and fatigued all the time (wanting to sleep as a coping mechanism)
- The stopping of activities I normally enjoy (lack of motivation to do them)
- Becoming extra critical and annoyed with others
- Being extremely bothered by clutter (feeling obsessive about needing to have the house clean)
A few weeks ago I was at work reading one of my daily news emails that I subscribe to, and that day it was focused on the war in Ukraine. As I read about numerous innocent people dying, I suddenly felt so overwhelmed. I just wanted to start sobbing about the injustice of it all – literally, I was having trouble keeping it together. Now, I’m not saying that the war in Ukraine isn’t something worth crying about or getting emotional over. Obviously, it’s a very serious situation. But the reaction I was having was more extreme than was normal for me. That was hint #1 to me that maybe I was dealing with some extra anxiety, or even depression, settling in.
I thought over the previous weeks, and realized I had gotten out of some of my normal routines. I wasn’t writing or blogging anymore. I wasn’t taking time to pray or do other spiritually-focused activities. I certainly wasn’t taking time to exercise either. So what was I doing with all my time? I was sleeping a lot more, going to bed early and waking up late, despite setting my alarm for 5:30 each morning in the hopes that I would actually get up and write (which wasn’t happening). No matter how much I slept, I still felt tired. I was wasting a lot more time on Netflix and social media. It felt like I was busy all day, but I wasn’t really doing anything of substance.
And yes, I felt extra annoyed with people, especially the people I lived with. In my mind, the house was a disaster. Why did it feel like I was the only one in our family who pulled their own weight? How could everyone else stand to ignore the mess and clutter and go about their happy little lives? I had blown up a few times at my husband Dean, and had made it loud and clear that I was tired of being the “only one” who took care of things.
Basically, ALL of my red flags were showing. But this didn’t even occur to me until that day in my office when I was struggling to not have an emotional breakdown over the current news about Ukraine.
It’s amazing how quickly your mental health can shift. In just a few weeks’ time, I had gone from functioning pretty well to feeling like I may be going through some depression. Depression can be sneaky that way.
Initially when I realize that I’m not doing as okay as I’d like to be, I feel guilty. Who am I to be feeling depressed or anxious? There’s a freaking war in Ukraine right now, where people are literally dying – and yet here I am, in middle-class America, having a possible depressive episode.
I also feel disappointed in myself. Disappointed for not catching the signs sooner, for not avoiding the whole episode in the first place.
And I feel embarrassed. How could I let this happen again? I literally blog about my mental health all the time, my husband is a licensed therapist for crying out loud… It almost feels hypocritical to be saying I’m experiencing some depression.
But those initial feelings are stemming from fake truths. Fake or not however, the feelings are still very real.
Yes, there will always be people who have it worse than I do – but that doesn’t mean my feelings are invalid, or that I’m not allowed to be anxious or depressed because my life isn’t literally in danger. Mental health doesn’t work like that.
Instead of being disappointed in myself, I need to give myself grace. It took a few weeks, but I did eventually recognize my red flags. And while I’d like it to be true that if I just educated myself enough on mental health, that I’d cure myself for good and never go through another difficult episode… mental health just doesn’t work like that.
When I think about the stuff I am going through right now – infertility being one huge stressor at the moment – I can be compassionate with myself and understand why I’m not always doing okay. As my therapist used to say to me, it makes sense why I’d feel like that. I can validate my feelings and understand why my anxiety and depression may be flaring up.
So what now? The sucky thing is, just because I’m aware that I may be starting to spiral down into depression, that awareness alone does not fix things. Interventions need to be made. And the even suckier thing is that the activities that will be the most likely to help me get out of this depression spiral, are the things I have very little motivation to do at the moment (hobbies, exercising, etc.)
So what are my next steps? In my next post, I’ll share some of the things I find helpful for myself when I start to sense that I may be going through a mental health slump.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. When I say “mental health slump” or reference going through a “depressive episode,” I do not mean an extreme mental health crisis like having suicidal thoughts. If you feel that you are in a mental health emergency or are having suicidal thoughts, reach out to a local or national crisis hotline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.