Mental Health Days v. Mental Health Daze

(I’m writing this blog because yesterday was a DAZE DAY.)

Which one is really happening?

I’ve always been a fairly open book about my struggles with mental health issues. Depression and anxiety hang out at the top of my diagnosis list, and they switch places as the dominant diagnosis in a terrible cycle.

It’s this dance between feeling depressed and feeling anxious, with moments of clarity and steadiness in between, that make it so important to take care of myself. We live in a culture full of self-help books, memes and posters about self-care and taking “mental health days.” (I have pinned many of the affirmation memes, read some of the books, and some of them help. Some of them are not helpful at all.)

That brings me back to my title. When am I taking an actual mental health day (a day that I dedicate to improving my mental status through meditation, reading, getting a manicure, clearing out my paper/inbox, and generally avoiding WORK or anthing that will bring on stress)? When am I allowing myself to be in a mental health DAZE (that fog that we float through, in and out of sleep, not showering, not eating, OVER eating, staring at the phone, scrolling through the lives of others and playing the comparison game – a bad thing for us artists – then feeling like sh*t because nothing of consequence got accomplished).

Self Portrait – Back of my head

I do a pretty good job in the mornings. I’m the mom that gets up, takes her meds, gets lunches ready for school, helps braid hair, tells the kiddos that it will be a great day, hugs at the bus stop, smiling, drinking coffee. Then I go home to the quiet office. Little black and white dog running around my feet, reminding me that somebody really needs me right now. I get some work done – answer emails, talk to potential clients and send info to actual clients, make sketches on new conceptual pieces and make plans and lists.

You’re asking yourself right now why they hell that would be stressful? Sounds like a freaking dream job, right?

Well, it’s not. Hands down, I’m the worst boss I’ve ever had. I’m hypercritical of the work I do. I don’t give myself boundaries and specific work hours. I allow myself to get overwhelmed by small things. Minutia. Hyperfocus on the problems, not what’s going well. Feel defeated and then just don’t do anything.

Of course, it’s important to identify problems and solve them. I’m simply not doing it in a healthy way. That’s anxiety at work, causing more feelings of depression. (There’s the cycle.)

What do I do about it?

I visit my psychologist and my psychiatrist. The former gives me behavioral tools to help give myself some grace, to figure out when I’m projecting and when I’m “mind-reading.” He allows me to speak without judgment. The latter talks through problems, looks at my overall health, and sometimes adjusts medications. Mostly, he listens and reassures. Recently, he started me on light therapy, and that has been helping tremendously.

I decided to start to write down when I have a “daze day.” What leads up to it, what have I been eating and drinking, how has my body been feeling… it helps me to differentiate between getting sick and being in a brain fog, and it helps me to avoid them in the future. (These things will be different for everyone, so if you’d like to track your own daze days, your reasons and factors would probably not be the same as mine.)

I also use my art to work through complex feelings. The first real conceptual series I did was an underwater series, to help me work through my feelings of overwhelm and helplessness. Like I was drowning.

I’m not close to drowning anymore. I have a support system that would be envied by many. I can be the mom that does the good job in the morning. That is waiting at the bus stop in the afternoon, smiling and ready with snacks. I can show my kids that I’m not perfect, but that I can find and use tools to help me be the best I can be.

If you need mental health help, you can visit the National Institute for Mental Health online for resources. You don’t have to do it alone.

We are all in this together.

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