Meditating On My Mental Health

I remember when I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety that I was a wreck showing up to work that night. I spoke to a co-worker about it because I didn’t know how I was going to make it through that shift. I was a waitress then, and I really didn’t know how I was going to be able to fake a smile and interact with my customers. He did his best to reassure me, telling me that it was all going to be ok and that he would do his best to support me and to help me make it through the night. He also told me that everything was going to be ok because his mother also suffered from depression and anxiety, and she was doing just fine. He gave me a pep talk about how I just had to find the right way to manage my symptoms. He asked what my doctor suggested, and I told him that although we had discussed medication, I wasn’t going to be going that route just yet. My doctor had recommended a self-help book instead to see if that would help. At this, my co-worker’s face lit up as he told me that that was a great approach to dealing with my mental health as his mother used a combination of self-help books and meditation to help her manage her symptoms.

At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about meditation and self-help books. I was new to dealing with mental health and didn’t properly understand all of the options available to me at the time. I thought medication was a bad choice, therapy seemed scary and intimidating, self-help books seemed cheesy and ineffective, and meditation was something crazy hippies did. I think a lot of my misconceptions came from the way these things are treated in pop culture, as well as the biases from people close to me. But, now that I’m more informed, and now that I’ve prioritized my mental health, I have found myself using all four of these options to help manage my anxiety and depression.

I’m still not entirely sure how I stumbled along all those years without actually doing anything to fix the problem. I tried a bit to learn and grow, but I was always just distracting myself with the next big life goal, rather than dealing with my issues head on. Although it did help that when Mark and I started dating, his support meant that I was able to make even greater improvements in my mental health journey. He pushed me to take care of myself and to do my best.

About a year and a half ago, it became clear that my anxiety was negatively impacting my IBS, so my doctor and I decided it was time to try medication. Then, when the stress of the pandemic began to sink in during the spring, I turned to self help books. When I realized I needed a little extra help, I added mindfulness and meditation to my roster. And this past fall, I finally started seeing a therapist.

Obviously, therapy and medication have been truly beneficial. It’s the self-help books and meditation that really surprised me. Starting with the two untouched self-help books I had in my collection, I used those to help me deal with the anxieties I had already been living with, as well as the anxieties brought about by the pandemic. I found that they were so helpful that I started buying books to help me cope with difficult family relationships. And were those successful? Well, after almost six years of no contact, I have slowly been reintroducing my estranged father back into my life in a way that feels safe for me. So far, so good.

The meditation was something I also didn’t expect to be as helpful as it ended up being. After a particularly bad anxiety attack, I downloaded the Headspace app as it seemed to have good reviews and a decent selection of free content. Not only did I find it immensely helpful, but I have found it to be incredibly useful in many different ways. It’s one of the apps that I use every single day. After making it through all of the free content, I went ahead and paid for the full membership. For anyone else thinking of giving it a try, in addition to the free content through the app, there is free content on their YouTube channel, as well as a new Netflix series. I watched the series all last week and enjoyed the lessons and the meditation. Each episode begins with anecdotes and insights about the benefits of meditation. Then, the last half of the episode is a short meditation that showcases different mindfulness techniques. From someone who uses the app almost religiously, the Netflix series is nice little overview of everything Headspace has to offer. Also, the animations are nicely done. I Highly recommend checking out the Netflix series if you’re thinking of trying out mindfulness and meditation.

So now, years later, I completely understand how my co-worker’s mother was able to manage her mental health through the use of self-help books and meditation. But, I also understand that different things work for different people. Personally, I don’t think that it would be beneficial at this point in my life to only rely on self-help books and meditation, but I think I could probably get to that point further into the future. I certainly won’t be giving up therapy or medication any time soon.

If anyone else is struggling with mental health issues at the moment, I hope this gives you comfort that you’re not alone, or inspires you to take the next step in your mental health journey. This kind of thing is hard enough to deal with, even when life is “normal”. We’ve all just had an exhausting year and, based on recent events, it looks like we might have another big year ahead. Take care of yourselves this year. And good luck!

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