World Mental Health Day: How I’m Working To Empower Myself

When you’re struggling with your mental health, every day becomes a battle to stay afloat. You never know which interaction is going to propel you forward with confidence, or which has the potential to stop you in your tracks. There are days when the smallest of set-backs can become roadblocks to your healing journey. I have learned that by doing a few little things each day to fortify myself for the bad days, getting back up from a fall can be easier than I previously thought possible.  In honor of World Mental Health Day, I want to share the little habits I’ve picked up that are really helping me to redefine my worth and move forward with a new kind of confidence that I have so been missing in my journey.

No more calling myself “crazy”

I think this is an easy habit to fall into, as anyone or anything deemed to be difficult is quickly smacked with this label. In particular, it is usually leveled at women who do not conform to what makes men comfortable.  There have been many times I’ve whispered this to myself with derision after failing to get this whole perfect life thing right. It’s not only unfair, but a particularly cruel way to invalidate the pains and triumphs of living with authentic vulnerability.  No more, I say!

I’m committed to talking about what I do – and don’t – need

I was raised by two very polite people who instilled in me an almost pathological desire to keep the boat from rocking. I’m thankful to them for the ways they’ve modeled kind and caring behavior, however now I am working to unwind myself ever so slightly from this fear of letting people down. Being a considerate person is a wonderful quality, yet when you’re unwilling to do what’s best for your mental health can anyone really win? Nowadays, I am doing my best to say yes when I mean it, and no even if it might disappoint the one making the request. It seems everyone in my life is better off because of it.

I say my name proudly

Folks with spicy names will get me when I say this: no more watering down my name to make others happy. I can scarcely remember a day that didn’t involve someone stumbling over the schematics of my first name. They get a confused look, turn up their noses, and sometimes even scoff at the ridiculousness of me not being named something easily digestible like Rachel (no shade to girls named Rachel). I used to get so embarrassed that I would quickly encourage people to call me Kasey or Kase, or I would laugh along with them. Can you imagine what that does to a young person, always trying to make others comfortable? It’s a nightmare. I can’t remember the exact moment things changed, but rather the growing rage that made me say enough is enough. My father carefully chose my name to honor his sisters, and I am happy to have it. Just that simple act of wearing my name with pride as changed the way I look at myself in the mornings and how I carry myself. There’s a wonderful kind of joy in reclaiming something so simple.

 

My journey has taught me that a lot of the struggles tied to my mental health involve the way others will perceive me and how those perceptions shape my confidence. It’s truly never too late to shake things up, especially when it comes to how you’re going to take care of yourself. These are just a few of the little ways I’m trying to help myself along each day, but they have made a marked difference in my life. I hope you are able to find ways in your own life to protect and foster your own mental health.

 

 

In Honor of Anthony Bourdain

I signed up for a History of Food course in college thinking I would finally be living the dream of stuffing my face with food for homework. Maybe we would take field trips to Chipotle, or – even better – I would get to taste test foods prepared by a professor every Tuesday and Thursday surrounded by other impoverished students for “free”. None of these things came to pass. Instead of acting out some bacchanalian fantasy of rolling around in a classroom-turned-hookah parlor eating grapes and giggling about carbs, I was reading a new book every week on the socio-economic impact of food culture, how trade shaped our modern Western palate and animal rights. All of these concepts proved very moving, though I never could quite give up McDonald’s.

Midway through the course we moved away from the medieval concepts of spices and how food moved our ancestors from one life to another, we finally got to the good stuff: modern food. Topics like Japanese fast food, the concept of authenticity in dishes, and Anthony Bourdain. He was a new face for me, I’m ashamed to say, but I was intrigued by what he did, how he plopped into fascinatingly familiar foreign locales like he just rounded the corner from his own home. To live a life like that, where everyone is a story, every meal a lesson, every new stop a chance to rediscover yourself, was what I wanted for my own journey. He spoke with such accessible eloquence about how the act of eating a bowl of noodles could change your outlook for the better. Could I live that life, I wondered? Could we all be a little more open to experience and discomfort for the promise of transcendence? What a world that would be.

My husband yelled to me from the kitchen this morning that Anthony Bourdain had died, that he’d ended his life at the age of 61. Three years older than my father. Young by our modern standards, still full of potential to continue changing us for the better. My heart sank. It was only a few days removed from the passing of Kate Spade, a designer whose products I still couldn’t really afford, but nonetheless enjoyed looking at. Two successful, wealthy, well-respected, and powerful people who seemed to have it all.

“Why?” Both my parents asked me when I called them to let them know, as though we’d lost a dear friend.

I didn’t have a clean and easy answer beyond my own experience with suicide, so I tried my best to lay it out without scaring them. Sometimes, I told them, when we can’t see a way out of the dark, when so many people rely on us to be put together, we think we’re doing them a favor by being silent. When your life revolves around making others feel joy or peace the last thing you want to do is alter that perception. Depression is a liar, an indiscriminate monster; the disease permeates through your bones and ripples through your brain, working hard to convince you the world would be better off without you. That is never the case, I assured them and myself, but the illness makes you believe the lie. Not even someone as bold and brave as Anthony could be safe without a support system.

 

I felt I knew the man who opened up many of us to the world through our bellies. In reality, I don’t know what Anthony Bourdain suffered, I don’t know who, if anyone, he told. All I know for certain is we can’t languish in silence any longer. We have to check on people, especially those who do their best to appear invincible. Caissie S. Onge captured this concept perfectly:

 

Before you do anything else, get help today if you struggle with your mental health. Don’t wait until the day you need it, nor the next free moment in your life. Get yourself help, heal your wounds.  Talk to a friend with a history of depression, let them know you’re there for them, because the road is long and hard alone. Then, go see the world through a lens like Anthony’s.