Let’s talk about… Self Care

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Self care is about feeling better and this is a story about getting better at feeling better. Let’s just get this out there. I am terrible at self care. I could say that I don’t have enough time between work and kids and everything else. I could say it’s because I was never taught the importance of self care. Regardless, the fact that I am writing this means that I am about 100 times better that where I started (nowhere).

I don’t at all know all there is to know. But here’s what I’ve learned so far…

  • There are some prerequisites. First of all. you have to want to feel better and be well. If you don’t, it won’t work. Also, you need to have some self-awareness. You just do. You need to be able to recognize that you aren’t well or that you are feeling stressed or whatever else you may feel…
  • Self care is different for everyone. What regulates or recharges one person may be completely different than another. I am the kind of person that has a hard time sitting still, relaxing, being chill. I also have a lot of anxiety surrounding my environment. There is no way that I can recharge in a messy room. It just won’t happen. Just knowing there are things that need to be done even will prevent me from relaxing. So, for me a huge self care activity is making a list of to-dos (i.e. straightening the house, cleaning the kitchen, taking out the trash) and then identifying an activity I want to do (i.e. writing, reading, etc.) and completing my to-do list so I can enjoy the activity.
  • You have to put yourself above everything else. In the world of family, kids, work, and more, it is easy put yourself aside due to (lack of) time, others’ needs, or whatever else. For me, I have to remind myself that without (the well version of) myself, those other things will start to fall apart, I won’t do my best work, I’ll get snippy with the kids, my relationships will suffer.
  • Self care takes time and practice. At least for me, you don’t just decide in your head one day that you are going to practice good self care and poof, it happens. It can take time to figure out what activities will help. For me, it depends on the moment, the mood, the level of stress, anxiety, depression.
  • People don’t talk about self care. Well, too bad. I’m talking about it.

So, here’s what it really looks like for me. I’m chugging along in life. Slowly, almost unnoticed, I start to develop a tiny bit of worry. It’s not even there really. But, it is. My every interaction is framed by it. Maybe a petty argument occurs. My mood is affected by these little negative things that are happening. I start to get preoccupied. It doesn’t matter what the tiny bit of worry was that started this whole thing. It’s now a different and much bigger bit of worry. It may even be full on anxiety. Maybe my wife asks me, “What’s wrong?” I say, “Nothing.” A couple of days pass and this is usually where I start to realize that I need to do something for myself (I aspire to realize this about eight sentences back). So, I make time. I tell my wife I need it (she’s painfully supportive every time, mostly because she knew two days ago). Alas, I take a walk. I read a book or paint a picture. Sometimes I put together puzzles or read comic books. I do whatever it is that I need to do to feel better.

What do you do to help yourself? Do you experience a similar cycle? How do you take care of your mental health?

Trip to Remember

The last Friday in 2016, I got some pretty rotten news. My grandmother had cancer. She was given six months, maybe. Once we knew her plan for treatment, we booked a flight to Atlanta, a hotel, and a rental car. Having not been back to my hometown, the state of Georgia, or anywhere in “the south” (FL doesn’t count) in over five years, it was strange to think about. We knew it would be the last visit with my grandmother with the kids. It was timed so that she would be feeling well enough to enjoy seeing us, but as I’ve learned, things don’t always go as planned.

After we moved to Vermont, my grandmother, who the kids affectionately called “Gran Gran,” came to visit us twice a year. At 80 years old, she got herself to the airport, on a plane, changed planes somewhere, and after a full day of travel she would finally arrive excited and energetic as ever.

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The last time that she came, just three months before she died, she told me that she had been having some “spells” of dizziness and weakness. With her usual stubbornness, she also said that she hadn’t told anyone about it. A couple months later, after some questionably unnecessary medical intervention and assessment, we found out the cause. She was diagnosed with very advanced stage lung cancer which had spread to her liver. Just four days after we booked our trip, she died from an infection that she had gotten during her hospital stay. She was was septic and it happened very fast, just as she would have wanted.

She didn’t want a funeral and made me promise long ago that I wouldn’t spend money to send flowers or fly down for a service. Instead she wanted us to take the money we would have spent and go on a trip. So, that is exactly what we did. We already had one booked so it wasn’t difficult to decide where to go.

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Ocmulgee National Monument
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Vermont boy hiking Stone Mountain
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GA Hiking
little girl and old man walking on paved path to front porch or house in sunny weather
Joey with Pa
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Kids headed home (Babyland General)

We saw family, took the kids on a tour of the town that I grew up in, and visited the sites including the Ocmulgee National Monument, Stone Mountain, and Babyland General. It was a trip for fun and family. It was a trip for Gran Gran. A trip to remember.

Stigma, it must go…

So May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Do you know anyone with mental health issues? And I’m not just talking about people with Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, and any of the other more publicly known mental illnesses. I’m talking about your friend that struggles with depression, your sibling who has a drug or alcohol addiction, your neighbor who suffers from anxiety. You get the idea. Mental health issues affect everyone in some way. And they affect the LGBTQ+ community even more (image below from the American Psychiatric Association data on Diversity).

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Why, then, is there such stigma around this topic?

We must be able to talk openly and honestly about our mental health.

I say this with such confidence, but here is some back story… Like many baby gays (and I use that term to mean any LGBTQ+ individuals), I struggled with figuring out and accepting myself. This struggle was a lonely and sad place to be for a long time. But, I didn’t talk about it. It was (and still is) customary in my family to not talk about our problems. Some delusional assumption that if we don’t say it out loud, it isn’t really happening or true. Unfortunately, the only thing that creates in my experience is shame and fear (and depression and a load of other problems).

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Baby Gay

I was born and raised in Macon, GA and I grew up attending a southern Baptist church. Some of the people that I was most nervous to come out to, were the most supportive, including my (at the time) 75-year-old grandmother who was also born and raised in Macon and an avid church going Christian. I remember being incredibly nervous. I worried about what might happen for weeks, probably months, before telling her. But I had decided that if I was going to continue to be close to her and share my life with her, I had to tell her. She called me when I was driving home from work one day and I remember her reaction very clearly. She told me that everyone had to live their own life and no one on this earth has a right to judge other people. It made no difference to her. She never blinked an eye at me, my wife, our family.

Coming out can be a truly exhausting process. One that I hope one day is not necessary. But what I gained when I came out to my close friends, and then family, and then co-workers is the realization that you don’t have to live in that place of secrecy and fear. In fact, I found through coming out that communication about things that were rarely discussed is very powerful. It is more powerful than the absence of communication.The way to end stigma, stigma of any kind, is to talk about it. So, let’s talk about it… This is something that I have done for many years as it relates to LGBTQ+ issues. I’ve taken the stance that if I am open and honest about who I am and that impacts just one person’s acceptance of the gay community in a positive way, then it was worth it. It’s time to take that stance for mental health issues also, which I personally find even more difficult.

Below are some fantastic resources for anyone who is looking for support, interested in providing support, or just looking to learn more about LGBTQ+ and mental health issues… I challenge us all to talk more about mental health. How is your mental health today?

Resources:

The Trevor Project

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Mental Health America