To close out the month of May, I'm closing out my thoughts on the two phases of mental health maintenance not covered in my previous post: wading in and the shallow end.
I'm particularly interested in the midpoint on the scale because it generally receives the least love. The heavy lifting is not all there is. In fact,
I stopped writing the above mid-sentence, and I'm picking it back up right where I left off as a reminder that giving myself grace has proved to be one of the best methods I've adopted to improve my mental health maintenance. I use the word maintenance with intention here, because so often, we seek instant gratification. We want the calm that follows a face mask application. We want the passion that follows the creation of a new art piece. We want the thrill that comes from booking a flight and planning a trip. But, these are moments, not maintenance. And there are levels to maintaining:
As I mentioned, this is a soft reset. It's the difference between instant gratification and long-term gain. When you think about wading in, think about undertaking activities that you would typically deem "out of reach." Within reach: bingeing a show, ordering your favorite meal, spilling tea with your people. Immediately past your reach: applying to serve as a volunteer, joining a committee at your church or within your extracurricular organization, journaling daily and actioning the dreams in your journal. There's a certain level of discomfort that accompanies each of these activities, and we experience discomfort when we find ourselves mentally, emotionally, and/or physically adjusting our being from one state to another.
Speaking of discomfort: adjusting the connotation is so impactful. What is growth without change (good or bad)? That's not a question I can answer with certainty, because in my experience, strengthening my mental health and physical health muscles involves change. It involves discomfort, but it yields outcomes that were worth the shift. When you reset the way you go about your average day, when you make the conscious decision to wade in and define a new normal for yourself, you open yourself up to the possibility of maintaining, and even thriving.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, I challenge you to jot down three ways you can stretch yourself, ways that you can start to wade into the deep end of mental health maintenance in increments. For me, therapy and medication aren't the first step, they're the culmination of activities at this level and at the shallow end. Once you identify three things that bring you joy, that challenge you to find joy on days when it seems difficult to come by, you give yourself permission to chase after those things - to reach.
"I don’t make it an option; self care and daily spiritual practices is my life. I have practiced this way of life for years to get to this point and intend to deepen and expand my daily practice of self care and spiritual connection. For me, prayer, meditation, and mindful practice can come in many forms."
Millana Snow, Blogher.com Interview
The Shallow End
That pause I took at the beginning of this post? That was easy. That was a way for me to remind myself that if something is not coming naturally to me in any given moment, it is within my power and in my best interest to pause. You have to start somewhere, true. But, what we often forget in the throes of goal-seeking is that the path to finishing is rarely accurately defined at the start.
This line of thinking applies to much more than writing blog posts. It applies to the way you structure your plan for a given day. Mental health maintenance at the shallow end is rooted deeply in this truth. At the shallow end, you're grasping for ways to strengthen your mental health that come with relative ease. You're practicing implementing decisions that create small ripples that eventually build to the waves that make up the deep end of mental health maintenance. I do love examples, so, here are a few:
Take a random act of kindness I derive joy from bringing joy to others; from making them feel loved by showing them love, by being warm by text and phone call even if I'm not feeling my warmest in that moment
Write free form or draw, or sing, or dance; sometimes, I impose structure where it isn't required, and in some ways, doing so takes the fun out of just being
Say yes to an activity you typically wouldn't; Shonda Rhimes taught us
Cry it out because giving into your emotions fully enables you to move through them in a healthy way
Put down the assignment and take an hour or two to do nothing, or at least something that requires no true effort from you
Honorable mentions to the list of 2019 self-care holy grail activities, including but not limited to skincare, meditation, exercising, lighting sage, and the like. One cannot learn to walk without taking baby steps; similarly, one cannot excel in therapy, or through the use of mental health medication, without some level of mastery (or at least dedication to) the shallow and wading levels of mental health maintenance.
"While rushing to yoga class, eating organic and meditating may not be your thing, it is essential to find — and commit to — a wellness practice that will center you in this increasingly maddening world. Wellness is not a game and we can’t ignore the truth: a healthy lifestyle that incorporates mental, physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing helps us cultivate a life of greater meaning, connection, fulfillment and purpose."
Leslie Gordon, Essence Magazine
So, for me, and maybe for you, too, that's what this month is all about: practice making perfect. Making small tweaks to my routine that improve my hours, which then build to better days, better months, better years, and a better outlook on the life I've been blessed with.
May your June be as mentally healthy as your Mental Health Awareness May. As you continue to discover new ways to maintain your own mental health, share them with me on Instagram.