Pushing The Envelope On Mental Health. How Real Is The Struggle?

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The struggle is so damn real. In my ideal world mental health would be much more openly addressed. We would put a microscope on true happiness and combat the violence and drug abuse that plagues so many of those near and dear to us. Unfortunately society seems to shift its focus on outer beauty. Physical health and fitness are the new fad that consumes each and every one of us, get that #thighgap girl, because until you have that you won’t amount to anything. Dismissing the importance of making sure your mind is resilient before your lungs are capable of taking on HIIT sessions 5X a week. Why is this completely okay? Self esteem is at an all-time low yet my news feed is filled with “selfies”. I like to play the devil’s advocate and say that posting selfies is something the confident and secure do. But you and I are no fools. While this may be true in some cases, it’s mainly that we are just seeking the reassurance that if on the outside we look alright we must be just as happy inside. And with each “like” the picture we paint on the outside of ourselves seems to feel a little more real. Imagine each selfie we posted showed the inside of our minds? The size of the “smile” in our hearts? ❤ But don’t worry homie, you can always count on me for a “like” on your selfie. I totally support that.

In my humble opinion: It is really freaking hard to grow up in my generation. Perhaps harder than previous generations, even though they had to walk miles in the snow to get to school. They were probably happier because they didn’t take a selfie each step of the way #OMGsoCold #CantWaitToChopWoodForTheFireToMakeDinner. By the age of 22 most of my generation has racked up so much debt they are basically drowning up to their eyeballs in mail from Sallie Mae reminding them to find a job 6 months after graduation. Causing so many people in turn to rush into careers without even knowing what they are getting themselves into. Ladies and Gents. Let the misery commence.

The pressure to build a career, stay in top shape, eat healthy and have a booming social life is in the unwritten manual each of us is handed by our silent “parents”, the mainstream media, or whatever society is calling itself these days. Everything else we really need to know about life, love and the pursuit of happiness is on social media, you can document weight loss of peers, follow the breakups and makeups of high school sweethearts and figure out the exact date an acquaintance got a nose job. Why would we need to have meaningful conversations when we “know” everything about everyone from their Twitter feed?!

The other night my friend and I talked about our goals in life. That was the first time in a long time anyone asked me a question that actually made me rethink so many of my life decisions. I spent the last 24 years rushing through life. Doubling up on math and sciences courses in high school. Taking AP and honors courses to build my transcript, working part time since I was 15 to make sure I had the trendiest outfits. Submitting early applications to my reach, target and safety colleges two months into my senior year. Choosing the perfect mesh of majors in college to graduate in 4 years, land an internship that would guarantee me a stellar resume to get a full-time offer before graduation. Starting grad school 2 months into my full-time career. When the hell did I enjoy my teen and young adult years? No wonder I am completely burnt out. I’ve been in this race with myself ever since I could remember. It took me 24 years to realize I was on the fast-track nowhere because I rushed through everything in life yet I am still unsure where I see myself in 5 years. I put myself through unneeded stress and anxiety- for, what? A piece of paper framed on the coffee table in my parent’s living room? A paycheck that goes to my student loan, cell phone bill, car insurance and to grow my shoe collection?

When did it become a dirty, shameful thing to address the state of our mental health? Why do I keep losing friends and acquaintances to drug addiction, domestic violence and suicide? Why do we teach our children in schools about the college application process, put them under pressure to over-achieve in grade school but not address their anxiety and depression? How awful it must feel to suffer from a panic attack, feel like someone is holding you by your throat, barely breathing and have no pre-built defense system to cope? In writing this I hope to reach at least one person. To say that you’re not alone. That it’s so important to address the importance of building a strong mind so that you don’t have this “quarter-life crisis” so many are going through. It makes me a little more hopeful to hear stories of friends taking control of their mental health. Seeking professional help, and this does not mean you need to take xanax or prozac, it means speaking to a certified professional about your mental well-being. I have stopped being surprised that when the topic of anxiety and depression comes up a friend or two openly admit they have struggled with one or a combination of both. I wish this could be more openly discussed. Because the reality is this, if you are comfortable enough talking about it, it means you have addressed it. It means you are one step closer to battling and overcoming it. And for that, I openly applaud you.

I envision a world where the aunties in the communities we grow up in would stop asking young girls when they are getting married and start asking them about their goals, dreams and ambitions. Let’s stop the taboo around mental health and put the focus on mental resilience and happiness! Let’s educate ourselves on mental health so we can address early signs in our children so they don’t have to struggle to find happiness later in life.

Here’s a challenge: try doing one positive thing a day that makes you happy. This is so much harder than it sounds. Especially if you are unsure what makes you happy to begin with!

Here’s are a few tips for the anxious: 

  • Look for a meditation playlist on YouTube and try to focus on your breathing and clearing your mind for 20 minutes once a day. If you’re as over-whelmed on any given day as I am you will probably struggle the first few times you try this because you will be making mental lists of all the things you need to accomplish once you finish. Psst. If you’re Muslim, try to truly focus during prayer and praying 5x a day. The magnitude of the blessings will be life-changing.
  • Practice gratitude. Make a list (yes, a list- refer to my last post on lists) of everything you are grateful for. This list could include things like family, a home or silly things like your daring ability to mix different prints in outfits! This is a true gift, don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. For real though. A friend and I recently caught ourselves being extremely ungrateful. We seemed to have lost sight of something important; we got so consumed complaining that we forgot there are people battling some real serious things out there. Take those suffering from incurable chronic illness. You feeling grateful yet? That’s what I thought.
  • Do something outside of your comfort zone. Ever have dinner alone? Try it! And when you do, listen to the dialogue in your mind and address the way you speak to yourself. You are most likely your own worst critic, change that. Be your biggest cheerleader.
  • It’s okay to cry. One of my biggest frustrations with society is the desensitization being programmed into so many at such a young age. Video games with murder and robbery make me cringe. Crying is taboo because it makes you less manly. No. Crying makes you human. If you don’t cry there’s a problem, seek help.
stop and smell the sunflowers. photo taken in Central London

stop and smell the sunflowers. photo taken in Central London this summer!

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Xx H

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Your List Doesn’t Exist.

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Saying I like lists would be an understatement. I am absolutely, positively obsessed with lists. I always feel as though I have one thousand and one things happening at once in my life. Putting things into lists always helps me organize my thoughts and gives me the impression that I may actually have my act together. It also gives me satisfaction to cross things off, as though I actually accomplished something significant when I perform that simple action. *check*

I make lists for grocery shopping. I make to-do lists at work. I make lists for my life plans. Wait. Literally. My life goals are a series of lists. When I was 14 I wrote out my high school schedules 4 years out. In college I made lists of the courses I needed to take to graduate with a double major on time. When I go on vacation I make lists of “must-do’s” and “should-do’s”, I probably drive my travel buddies crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way #sorrynotsorry.

And then. When I was 21 I had life all figured out (or so I thought). So I sat down one night in a rage of disappointment and typed a list that was probably the worst list I ever made. I made a list of qualities I wanted in a significant other and insisted I wouldn’t settle for anything less than that. How ridiculous am I? The list had things I wouldn’t compromise on, like “ambition” and other things that weren’t completely set in stone like: “has to be really tall so my kids don’t hate me.” It took me nearly three years to realize that things always seem better on paper. That some people pretend to be someone they aren’t just to get in your good graces. And most importantly, I realized that my list doesn’t exist. So, here’s the story that made me discover it.

Story Time:

As I was driving home from work one night I got a call from my friend. As I grabbed my phone to pick up the call and saw who it was I immediately knew why she was calling. “My husband wants to talk to you, he says he has the perfect guy for you”. In my head I was pulling up my list, ready to asses the situation and ready to be on the defensive because “guys these days suck”. I listened to my friend’s husband describe this “great” guy to me. “He’s going to add you on Facebook, just chat and see what happens.” He said. After a few days passed and I didn’t get a friend request I couldn’t help but feel stumped. Did I just get virtually rejected? I did. Wait. I’m supposed to do the rejecting, I always do. I felt exposed. I needed answers.

Well. Turns out, this guy had a list as well (and a girl he had been seriously seeing for several months). My friend’s husband eventually called to tell me how his friend had “checked out” my Facebook profile and made a “list” of all these great things about me. “She’s tan, check. Works out, check. Seems a little tough, check. Egyptian, check. etc. etc. Bro, you nailed it with this one.” These were some of the exact words via text this stranger sent my friend’s husband. Someone decided to make a decision about me as a person based on a few photos (even though he was already seriously seeing someone, now you see why I said guys suck these days? #thesehoesaintloyal #notheyaint). My Facebook photos don’t reflect my personality. My ambition. My sense of humor or the ridiculously quirky things I do.

This person turned me into a list based on his needs and desires. A list just like the one I had been using to asses every man that came my way. A list that probably didn’t exist. It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the spectrum that I realized how ridiculous I was being. That people set these expectations in their heads of qualities they want in a significant other without realizing that humans are humans. You can’t turn a human into a list. Check and cross things out, that’s just not how it works. I was so grateful that this happened because it made me see things in a completely different light. The reason I was so offended was because I was getting a taste of my own medicine and I was not having it.

So this is to me admitting the need to live outside my comfort zone, rolling with the punches and allowing fate to takes its course. This situation happened almost a year ago and I’m proud to say I stopped mentally using this list and I am doing just fine without it.

from my heart to yours! photo taken in Thessaloniki, Greece this summer  with #BadGirlDaiDai<3

from my heart to yours! photo taken in Thessaloniki, Greece this summer with #BadGirlDaiDai ❤

Don’t forget to share on social media, follow this blog and take the silly poll! Follow me on Instagram for a constant feed into my life: @Hodagram

Xx H