The conversation surrounding mental health, and particularly mental illness and self-care, is typically pretty shallow. How many posts have you seen that just talk about how bath bombs are helpful and a good night’s rest is a need, not an option? As a society, we get uncomfortable when we start to talk about how we as individuals handle our mental health, particularly when that mental health isn’t in tip-top condition. So what do we do when we recognize our routines or rituals aren’t actually helpful? What happens when we get to college, or something else happens to make us realize that we actually need a ritual, or are just trying to understand our mental health better?
As much as we can talk to other people (and as much as we should), those conversations are scary, awkward, and usually not super in-depth. They’re brief and surface-level, which is totally understand. because who wants to look their friend in the face and honestly explain how their mental illness manifests? (Probably a good number of people, but you know what I mean.) Everyone has a different, complex relationship with one’s own mental health, but how can we learn to take better care of ourselves when we have no tangible, real world examples of other approaches to mental health? The following answers to these questions are from real people, talking about their own, personal relationship to their mental health. Not every individual answered every question, so to clarify whose answer is whose, they’ve each been assigned a letter to indicate their personal answer.
How would you define your relationship with your mental health?
A) “Constantly evolving. I have taken real steps lately to improve my overall mental health, but there are more steps I know that I should be taking, and genuinely want to take, but I just don’t feel I’m in the space where I feel like I can. Some days are really good, and I feel healthy and proud and like I have substantial, tangible evidence of my progress, and other days I feel like I’m back where I was in the first place.”
B) “Love-hate. Sometimes I am grateful to know what I am feeling and what I am going through and other times I’m mad at myself for allowing my mental health to control me.”
C) “Not always the best, but getting better.”
D) “I acknowledge my mental health. We have come a long way. From denial to acceptance.”
E) “Weird!!! It’s definitely got its weird and, like, Aristotelian plot structure, and last year around this time I had the rising action, and climax around the end of the semester where my therapist was like, ‘Look, you’re going to hurt yourself if you aren’t institutionalized,’ and long story short I WASN’T, but it did force me to tell my parents what was happening and move home and it was a big thing. Now I’m living in the weird space between I Have Depression and I Have Depression 2: The Reckoning.”
How do you typically approach self-care when your mental health is good?
A) “My approach to self-care when I feel healthy is honestly taking steps to helping Future Me when I’m in a bad place. This self-care usually shows up in taking time to be alone with myself, taking steps to making myself feel comfortable and safe. If I have enough time to get ready in the morning, or if I keep my room tidy, that’s how I practice self-care. I feel like I am usually taking advantage of my good mental health in order to make my life easier when it is not good.”
B) “I normally do small tasks that will make me feel even better! Like taking a bath, or doing my makeup all nice. Small stuff like that, that I know will improve my mental health even more.”
C) “Basic stuff like face masks and bubble baths.”
D) “I approach self-care in simple ways. Whether it be treating myself to a new face mask, or drinking a hot cup of relaxing tea before bed. Any little thing helps!”
E) “I always self-care all the time!! It keeps me sane!! I take baths almost nightly, and watch a lot of movies, and play a lot of Mario Kart.”
How do you typically approach self-care when your mental health is bad?
A) “I usually don’t. One of the ways my bad mental state manifests is in sabotaging myself. If I’m staying up until 3 AM even when I’m exhausted, or not showering for days even when I feel gross, or leaving my room a mess then I am (typically) in a really unhealthy state of mind, because it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel gross and tired and ugly (and by my own doing), so I hat myself more, and that makes it harder to take care of myself. I try to combat this by actively fighting against these tendencies – I force myself to clean up, or take a shower, or go to bed early – and that usually helps me feel at least a little better.”
B) “I talk about it. I have made a pact with myself to never hide how I’m feeling and tell people about it. It makes me feel better and it is so important to be open with how you feel.”
C) “I usually don’t practice self-care when I’m feeling depressed.”
D) “Oh man, when my mental health is bad I become pretty dead inside. I just kind of live my life in a haze.”
E) “I don’t know if my self-care when my mental health is bad is really self-care. It’s a lot of binging and crying to sad music?”
How do people typically handle your mental health?
A) “I don’t have a good, concise way to explain my mental health to people. I don’t talk much about my sadness one-on-one because I am afraid that I am overwhelming people. However, when it is really obvious that I am in a bad place (or when I drunkenly bring it up), people are usually somewhat uncomfortable, while still being supportive. I’m surrounded by a good number of mentally healthy individuals, so I think it’s hard for them to really understand what I’m going through.”
B) “Honestly, very well, my parents especially. They didn’t really know much about depression until I told them and they were VERY supportive.”
C) “When I’m in a bad place, they usually check in with me, ask me to come hang or ask to come over to see me.”
D) “I honestly don’t feel like many people feel comfortable with my mental health issues. Even with friends that also have mental health issues, it can be too much for them and it is really frustrating.”
E) “I’m very vocal about it, so I think most people know my Big Sads are just a piece of me even if it’s uncomfortable.”
Are there any TV shows/books/movies/music that you feel present mental health issues in a way you relate to or a way you find helpful?
A) “BoJack Horseman is one of the closest examples I have of what my sadness really feels like. While the show doesn’t necessarily make me feel better about my mental health, it definitely makes me feel less like all of it is just in my head. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is another really poignant (and socially relevant) example of what my state of mind can sometimes feel like, too.”
B) “This is kind of weird but I really like Bob’s Burgers. Tina really reminds me of me as a pre-pubescent teen, and I can really relate to her.”
E) “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! This show is everything and makes me feel not alone.”
How do you feel mental health is handled in mainstream media and the world at large?
A) I don’t think we’ve struck the right balance just yet. While plenty of people are talking about mental health and are taking real strides towards acceptance, there are just as many people who are either ignoring what’s happening in our heads or romanticizing mental illness when they don’t really know what they’re talking about.”
B) “Honestly it’s not good. When I see how mental health is depicted in some movies it’s so scary and it makes me feel like mentally ill people are dangerous, which is not true.”
C) “I think it’s misrepresented.”
D) “I think we have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. We can say ‘I have a mental illness,’ but we struggle with being comfortable with it. I see very few people be truly open with others about their situation.”
E) “It’s definitely a mixed bag. Like, on one hand, brokenness is definitely given this romantic glamour, right? Like, obviously. But also we live in a moment in time where people TALK ABOUT IT and it’s not taboo and I think that definitely puts this generation at an advantage compared to all of our fucked up parents.”
What would be the ideal for practicing self-care when your mental health is good?
A) “Really going out of my way to take care of myself past getting ready for whenever my next episode is. As good as it is to put in effort my future Sad Self, I don’t want to be living like a Doomsday Prepper whenever I feel healthy.”
B) “Taking time to enjoy things more, helping others with their struggles, and really just being grateful that things are going well.”
D) “I think I am at a place where I am practicing the ideal self-care when I am in good mental health. Like I said, it is the little things that count.”
What would be the ideal for practicing self-care when your mental health is bad?
A) “Finding better coping mechanisms. The self-sabotage has got to go. Recognizing that self-care is simple, and important.”
B) “Reassuring yourself that you ARE NOT ALONE. That is my biggest problem and I often feel so alone in the world but I know that I am not and so many others are feeling the way I feel.”
C) “Doing what I do now when my mental health is good.”
D) “Definitely accepting that I need help. For some reason when I am in a bad mental state, I think I am okay on my own. It is really hard to get me to go back into therapy. I am not the strongest person alive and I need to accept that I need tune-ups every once in a while.”
What would be the ideal for people around you to help with your mental health?
A) “For my friends with good mental health, try not to get too overwhelmed by what I’m saying, and try to understand where I’m coming from. For my friends with similar mental health issues, try not to stew in our mutual unhappiness. As good as it is to talk to each other about what we’re feeling, no good comes out of us just sitting around being miserable together.”
B) “Just to get educated, and listen to how I feel. No need to try and fix anything, just listen.”
C) “Don’t come on too strong and try to be fake nice.”
D) “Just be understanding and validate that I am not in the best place right now. I would love to see more patience from others towards me.”
E) “I think communication about our problems and struggles (THAT DOESN’T GLAMORIZE IT OR MAKE IT A COMPETITION OF WHO’S MORE FUCKED) is so so so valuable.”
What would be the ideal for how mental health is handled in the world at large?
A) “We have to find a balance between being in love with mental illness and ignoring it altogether. We need to understand the nuances of health, the brain, and our own actions. This is going to take time, but it is also going to take effort, and it’s going to take us talking about it in relation to ourselves.”
B) “Everyone needs to get educated. People need to realize what mental illness looks like and to not equate it with danger. It is more common than they think and they need to know that.”
C) “Just for it to be talked about and not seen as weak.”
D) “Getting rid of the stigma of going to therapy x10. Therapy is still something we don’t talk about and it drives me nuts. Yes, it’s not for everyone, but it could help so many people if it was more widely accepted.”
E) “Open – honest – without shame.”
How do you recommend people approach their loved ones in regards to their mental health?
A) “If you’re approaching someone about it, try to understand that not everyone will be able to grasp what you mean or what you’re saying. Everyone’s brain works differently. For those being approached, try to relieve the person you care about of some of their burden of responsibility. I always feel like me presenting my issues to others is something I have to carefully weigh the repercussions of, and I feel like I have to take steps not to say too much or say too little. If you as the listener approach the situation with open arms and allow your loved one to speak freely without fear of judgment or analysis, the whole interaction will be much less uncomfortable.”
B) “If you’re approaching, come prepared. Often times, loved ones will need definitions and examples. Having concrete evidence will show them that what you are going through is serious.”
C) “If you’re being approached, just let them now you care, and ask what they need.”
D) “Be patient with the person who has approached them, and validate them. Really do their research on how they can help their loved one through this time.”
E) “With an abundance of love and, ideally, pizza.”
Do you have any advice for people struggling with their mental health?
A) “This is a process. Everyone is constantly learning and growing. Be patient with yourself – Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
B) “Seek therapy. If you don’t like your therapist get a different one. You have no idea how much it helps talking to someone about your problems whose job is to listen to you.”
C) “Reach out! There are always ways to feel better, don’t just stop after one specific thing doesn’t work! Therapy didn’t work for me at first, but I’m not immediately saying therapy doesn’t work for me and never will.”
D) “Don’t be afraid to seek help, it doesn’t make you weak. Therapy does not mean you are crazy. It means you realize you need some help and want to improve your life.”
On a final, lighter note, what’s one thing that never fails to make you smile?
A) “Animated movies made for kids. The nostalgia is real.”
C) “Videos of capybaras relaxing in water.”
D) “Interacting with animals. Whenever I am in a deep hole of depression, visiting the animal shelter or a friend’s place to pet some cats and walk dogs just brings the biggest smile to my face.”
E) “Videos of baby elephants playing!”
So while all of our stories are different, mental health is still a cause we need to fight for together, no matter what our coping mechanisms or depression food of choice may be. Most importantly, we all absolutely must work towards the end of stigmatization of mental health. To do so, we must share our stories. Share our struggles. It may just save someone’s life.