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Strategies of a Wellness Champion #SayItForward

Kristian McElroy

Fighting for my mental wellness and resilience everyday tells me I’m making my overall well-being a priority; everyday, I’m intentionally choosing life, and becoming a champion of the life I am living -- whatever that looks like at any given moment.

With all of the upheaval that is going on in the world, in combination with the speed of each day and everything swirling all around us, it is easy to get stressed out just trying to take care of one aspect of well-being. I have been dealing with health issues of various kinds since childhood, including mental health issues. I was one of the people who entered adulthood in the mental and medical health system. I learned what it was like to turn 18 and become an adult through the lens of the healthcare system, a lot of doctors and treatments, trials and errors, successes and fails. It became second nature that well-being was taking care of your physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. But, it was the words and vocabulary that were second nature, not the experiences. It’s like that of a broken record playing in the background with only jagged pieces being taken away when things get bad enough.

Now that I’m in my thirties, some of my health conditions have progressed, new ones have arrived, some old ones have become better managed, and I have experienced and learned a lot along the way. That broken record vocabulary has turned into a centering, motivational track that is becoming more and more integrated into my daily living, and I no longer wait for crises to occur, but instead have taken what I’ve learned and experienced over the course of my life and incorporated it into an intentional, proactive game plan. Mental wellness, for me, is at the core of that game plan.

Sure, everyday doesn’t look the same, and the fight for well-being always seems to have a different unpredictable face, but everyday I fight to be a champion of each aspect of my well-being with my mental wellness being a core priority.

What I have learned along the way about mental wellness:

1. Mental wellness is not static nor is it the absence of negative emotion or thoughts.

Expressing and having outlets for negative emotions or thoughts, even acknowledging them, is an act of wellness. When I was younger, I saw all negative emotion and thoughts as bad, in addition to any type of wavering. I would hit the panic button as I thought it was a sign of relapse. Over the course of more than a decade, I learned to distinguish between signs that something was wrong and I need more help than I could give myself versus just normal negative emotions and thoughts that are a part of the human interaction and experience of living. Even today, I am still working on feeling and allowing change to come, and to acknowledge and express the negative emotions and thoughts in a positive way (such as adaptive sports, artistic creativity, talking, or writing.)

2. Mental health is like a taboo topic where the positives are uplifted and the negatives hidden and seen as weakness or faults.

How many times has someone asked, “How are you?” only to receive the quick answer from the short list of good, okay, and fine? Often the more positives that are spoken about how someone is doing, the more of a great mental health picture comes in mind. If the opposite is true for that person, and she or he shares a trouble are they are having, there is more often less time spent. But, allowing and giving space for both internally and externally is healthy. I still have to remind myself most days, a bad day, a decision, or even if I am depressed or symptomatic, it does not equal weakness or fault. I’m not alone in it, somewhere someone is experiencing similar things that I am. At the same time, would I hold someone else to the same things I judge myself on, especially when it comes to mental wellness and resilience? This is a self-check I have to do periodically to make sure I truly know how I’m doing and don’t have the rose-colored glasses view.

3. Take the time to find what works for you and be open to trying something new.

Whether it’s finding the right therapist, sticking it through to find the right medication combination, finding a new form of support, or even utilizing the best way to communicate what’s going on and what is needed or helpful or unhelpful -- it is essential to take time to find what works. Every person is different, so what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for my friend or sister. It’s like exercise:  if the activity does not fit one’s interests or, perhaps, is not adapted in a way to make it safe and enjoyable, the benefits are not going to reveal themselves or reach their potential. Explore and enjoy what works, developing a toolbox that will continue to build resilience and mental wellness.

4. Approach mental wellness with intention.

As with physical wellness, there is intention in exercise, healthy eating, and doctor visits. Mental wellness, oftentimes lacks that same level of intention. Start one step at a time. For me it was incorporating one enjoyable activity into my week. Then, I added time for rest and relaxation. Next, it was finding balance in my schedule. Now, I’m working on seeking more support and improving my communication.

5. Proactively prepare for trouble spots or times.

There are certain times of year I struggle more, such as the holidays or during times of lots of change and unpredictability. Knowing this helps me know I need to take out what I call, “my red alert kit”. It is a set of things I know helps me hang on through the rough tides. My kit includes the stuff I know that really helps me, such as planning activities and increasing things I enjoy, as well as the next six items on this list:

6. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

7. Connect.

8. Plan time for rest and recharge.

9. Take care of the other areas of your health because they are all interconnected.

10. Don’t be afraid to seek support and/or help.

11. Live. Intentionally choose life everyday.

This is the most important one for me, one that I hold close that is at the core of my mental wellness because without this I would not put in the effort to engage in any of the others on this list. When I am depressed or symptomatic, this becomes harder but the importance triples as I must choose life each moment and then, with each step, I do whatever I can to live. This includes reaching out for support or help, going to the doctor, using different coping skills, using affirmations, making one small goal and working towards it, or pursuing my hopes and dreams. Everyday I remind myself living can be enjoyable, hard and everything in between; but everyday I chose life. I am a fighter, a champion, and allow myself a chance to experience the treasure, whether in this day or a day ten years from now that I have yet to know. Anything is always possible and as long as I choose life, I am intentionally choosing hope through keeping the possibilities alive. That for me is resilience at its best.

Learn more about #BeBrainFit and #SayItForward at http://sayitforwardcampaign.org/

Comments

Wow... Your story really amazes me. It encourages me to choose to live myself. I was super depressed for quite a while not too long ago. I’m just now starting to feel good again but afraid to go too happy. I’ve been meaning to make a plan that works for me that includes some exercise, riding my bicicle, trying some art work and of course work a full time job. Thank you for sharing!

Love this! I absolutely enjoyed hearing your strategies! It's reassuring to know we are not alone and can move forward positively and intentionally! Keep it up!

Hi I am from Melbourne, Aus where stigma and discrimination never stops. If you have a diagnosis of a MI that's it as far as your working life. Irrelevant that you worked at an exemplary standard for years prior - once admitted than the ultimate intimidation commences - OMG have the audacity to express an emotion - off you go for a psych review because you are clearly mad - I at least get to find it somewhat amusing that I have worked all of these years with serious MH issues. So awful that the bigotry and discrimination continue.

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