Mental Health May
She just disappeared from school one day. She had always been quiet in class, but her absence spoke loudly to me. She wasn’t someone I would have been concerned about struggling with emotions. But I should have been concerned.
But it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.
And the ones who smile every day.
And the ones who act normal.
And the ones who act withdrawn.
And the ones who act out.
And the ones who conform.
And the ones who continue to go, go, go.
Because May is Mental Health Awareness month. And truthfully, everyone needs to be aware of mental health issues. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t struggled at one time or another. I know people who struggle with mental health, but would never admit it.
In some ways, the church has dropped the ball on mental health. In some ways, the church is a huge asset and support system to those with mental health issues.
In honor of May, I wanted to share some of my own mental health tips.
- Watch the white noise. Mental white noise is composed of the thoughts that distract you from thinking clearly and efficiently. It can be a pervasive sense of guilt, shame, or anxiety. It could be worries that are running on a constant loop. Mental white noise is normal, but it can increase until it clouds your brain. That’s your cue to talk to someone. Even if that person just listens and does not try to fix anything, you can benefit from emptying your tank of mental white noise.
- Self-care. My high school students are very, very fond of the phrase “treat yo’self.” But self-care is not the same as treating yourself, although they may overlap at times. Self-care means being aware of when your emotional battery is drained and finding ways to recharge it. It’s different for different people. One of the best ways to practice self-care on a regular basis is to anticipate events or activities that will be emotionally draining, and plan for a restorative activity afterwards. My husband never allows me to schedule anything taxing for a Friday night, because he knows that after a 40 hour week with teenagers, followed by four kids at home every night, I will be spent. I will need to recharge, which includes pj pants, comfort food, and not leaving the house. Likewise, when I see his emotional battery running low, I will send him on a “date with himself” which is a dinner and a library trip alone while I do dinner and bedtime with the kids.
- Boundaries. I can’t recommend the book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend highly enough for mental health. It’s revolutionary. I plan on re-reading it this summer and teaching it at our church in the fall as a book-study. But in the most basic sense, it is peace of mind knowing when to say yes, and when to say no, what to take responsibility for and what to not feel guilty about.
- Through not Around. It is what it is. This is not a fatalistic approach to life, but it is honestly facing the challenges you have, looking them in the eye, and choosing what to accept and what to change. One of the things that keeps us from mental health is always attaching judgment to what we feel. We don’t voice it to others or even acknowledge it within ourselves if we feel badly about feeling that way. You feel what you feel. That doesn’t mean that you have to act on it, if you think it represents a bad moral choice. But the feeling itself is what it is. Sometimes it seems like we celebrate the stoic person with perfectly balanced emotions. But emotions are God’s creation. Jesus was angry, demonstrative, sad, hangry, down-cast, depleted. We feel all these things, too. Let’s stop attaching judgment to the feeling itself and figure out how to move through it instead of around it.
I am pretty passionate about mental health. For me, the stigma is gone. I know people in all walks of life who struggle. It’s not only for the sensitive ones. It’s not only for the weak ones. It’s for everyone.