Friday, May 8, 2020

My Continuing Mental Health Water Voyage

As we mark Mental Health Month in May, I thought it'd be a good time to revisit some of my past writings on this topic as it pertains to diabetes and mental health.

For me, the struggles were most pronounced in 2011-2013. Here is what I wrote on it at the time:

I was like a ship in the darkened night-time waters trying to find my way to shore. The light house wasn't easy to find, but I knew it was there. The choppy waters of depression and diabetes and life stresses were all crashing against me, slowing down my journey and pushing me even further off course.

But a fellow Person With Diabetes (PWD) who happened to be a therapist helped me conquer those waters. I actually dubbed her "Mind Ninja" because of her nimble "ninja skills" to get into into my psyche. Mind Ninja became my navigational guide, allowing me to talk openly about how I really felt and the fears I had, while encouraging me to interact with people and confront my feelings. She prompted me to retrain my brain to replace negative thinking with positive thoughts, and move forward one day at a time. She emphasized that I should not view sharing my story or taking meds as weaknesses, but necessary steps forward.

With her help, I was able to find that beacon to help me reach the calm mental "shoreline" where I needed to be.

For the most part since then, I've been safely anchored to shore, with moments of storm weather where medication has helped keep me afloat in particular choppy waters.

Over the years, it feels as though I've been on the same voyage with varying degrees of water-roughness. I may have swapped ships a couple times, especially navigating a move between states, but generally I am still afloat and navigating this water journey.

Even now, when it feels we're treading water during a pandemic and public health crisis. Every day can feel overwhelming and at times more recently, I have been feeling like I'm on the verge of going underwater. Finding balance is a key, and it's so important to step away from the world's weight and my own mental mess to focus on some good — in whatever healthy ways I can find them.

The toughest part, in the beginning, was seeking help. I'd kept telling myself: "No, I'm not depressed. I just need to deal. This isn't anything I can't manage on my own. If I can't, then I must be weak and ill-equipped to simply handle my own life!"

But through hearing the stories of several others in the DOC, I was able to see that it wasn't a weakness to share these personal struggles... these emotional and mental hurdles that I wasn't able to deal with on my own. These people opened my eyes.

And I hope that other PWDs who need it most can find that strength and courage now, to reach out if they are feeling down in the depths.

There's nothing wrong with that, nothing to be ashamed of.

Since starting to work in the professional diabetes writing space almost a decade ago, I've also had to pay special attention to gradually weaning myself off of being connected online all the time. Personal and professional diabetes advocacy take up most of my time, and I realize that I do need to draw a line between my personal and professional lives in order to avoid being overwhelmed.

Really, we can't do it ourselves all the time and often we need some friends to help shoulder a burden -- or a good therapist who really "gets" what you're going through. The first step is knowing that it's OK to not have to carry our burdens all by ourselves...

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