Yesterday, as I was cooking dinner, I turned away from the oven to walk towards the table when –OUCH – I stubbed my toe against the foot of the coffee hutch.
Would you believe it if I told you I internally flinched, but not from the pain? I flinched from the memory of this time last year, when I was living with someone who would have yelled and cursed at me for stubbing my toe.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s great to have a month dedicated to this cause, but please check in on your loved ones year-round. I say this as someone who needed to be checked in on for so long, but wasn’t.
Now I look back on the girl I was in May 2020, and I hardly recognize her, and that’s attributed to the way I started managing my mental health last year.
Here are my top six ways for keeping my mental health in check:
1.) Find a good therapist.
When I was in middle school, my parents took me to a few therapists because I was being bullied by mean girls and my self-confidence had suffered as a result. The first counselor worked out of our Southern Baptist church, and her kids – who were around my age – would always be sitting right outside the door when I walked out after each session. It made me feel insecure, so my parents then took me to a professional psychiatrist who refused to speak with me when I was five minutes late to my third session. I remember walking back out to the lobby where my dad was waiting, and telling him, “I’m never coming back here.” That was my final experience with a professional therapist until adulthood.
My life completely changed for the better when my first personal therapist in adulthood questioned why I was so afraid to leave my ex. She made me face those fears head-on, and assured me it was going to be okay, even if I had to be alone. With her help, I finally left a situation that honestly had died a long time ago, but was still taking me down with it.
My life improved even more when I found my current therapist after things didn’t work out with the first one. Tip: therapy is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Sometimes it takes several tries before you find the one you click with. My current therapist treats me like a friend she genuinely cares about, not someone who pays her bills. She was also the catalyst for me finally following my dreams of moving to and working in Manhattan.
2.) Don’t settle just so you can come home to someone.
I didn’t actually “date around” until the summer of 2020, after my last relationship officially ended. I jumped from one boyfriend to another and then stayed with the same guy for five years because, deep down, I didn’t want to be alone. That can wreak havoc on your life and mental health if the guy is a bad fit or verbally abusive, both of which my ex was.
I’m finally at a point in my life where I embrace being alone, and it doesn’t terrify me, because it’s not a bad thing. If you are strong enough to be alone both romantically and literally, you should applaud yourself.
3.) Try to work for a company that excites and respects you.
I’ve worked for a company in the past that valued me and consistently told me how grateful they were to have me on the team, but I felt like they didn’t truly respect me or my career goals. More often than not, I was left out of major projects and decisions, and only told about them after the fact. It also became clear very quickly that they had no room or intentions to make room for my career to flourish and grow. As wonderful as they had been to me in other ways, I had to follow my heart and dreams and search for an opportunity with a company that excited me and respected me as a team player.
4.) Stop seeking validation from everyone but the one person whose validation matters: you.
I’ve struggled with this my entire life.
I’ve always been of the opinion, “Why can’t everyone be friends?” But life doesn’t work that way.
At one job, it became clear that everyone separated into cliques at lunchtime when I tried to merge two groups of my friends into one table, but they wouldn’t have it.
To me, that felt so very “high school.” But I’ve learned through therapy that people are allowed not to like each other. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like me or if they reject me. I’ve always believed that if I follow a checklist of problem-solving techniques, I can make anyone like me. I’m very much a problem-solver in all other aspects of my life, so it comes naturally to me to try to problem-solve in relationships as well. But at the end of the day, if someone doesn’t like you, let them. And move on to people who love you.
People are allowed not to like me, just as I’m allowed not to like them (which at times I have to remind myself that, YES, there are people in this world I don’t like. Like the homeless man trying to scare people in the subway, or the mean girl who made my life hell in sixth grade.)
It’s okay to be rejected. It’s okay to reject. As long as you remain kind to everyone, it’s okay.
5.) Stay active on a weekly basis.
Exercise is the best natural release of serotonin you can get.
To quote Elle Woods from the classic film Legally Blonde, “I just don’t think that Brooke could’ve done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands, they just don’t.”
Since I’ve started consistently practicing yoga and taking long daily walks around the city, I’ve felt so much happier in general.
Even when I’ve had a long or bad day, I force myself to be active, and it never fails to lift my mood.
6.) Follow your heart and dreams. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true: life is short.
Life is too short to live in fear of stubbing your toe because your partner will criticize you for being clumsy. Life is too short to be embarrassed of society’s opinion of you seeing a therapist, or to be too afraid to live alone, or to remain at a job where there is no hope for your career goals. Follow your heart and your dreams. You can live the life you’ve always wanted, a life of joy, and I speak from experience as someone whose life is now filled with an overabundance of long-overdue joy.