As most millennials, I live with a couple of mental illnesses and I live in New York City, a city designed to stress people out and give them major panic attacks. I’m broke. I pay over a thousand dollars in rent every month. I’m in the middle of looking for a new roommate. Looking for a job. And looking for my mental stability.
I’ve always been fairly anxious. I’m prone to major anxiety attacks and depressive episodes. I also have no means to get any mental health assistance. There are days where I physically can’t get out of my bed. I’ll spend all day lying there with my television playing softly in the background. Some mindless sitcom just to make sure that I can’t hear the noise from outside my Brooklyn apartment window. I don’t turn any of the lights on in my apartment and I pray that my roommate went to work that morning so I’m alone. I’ve spent hours crying on my bathroom floor after having a huge break down because I can't stand back up. I feel like I loose all the strength in my body.
I used skip classes because I couldn’t breathe and would collapse in the corner. Luckily I went to an acting school where the instructors understood my mental state and always allowed me to sit out or miss a class or two. But missing class because of my anxiety gave me anxiety because I hated missing my acting classes. It was a vicious cycle while I was at school. Now it’s just there. I’m always feeling it. I’m always stressed and on the verge of a total breakdown. I’ve spent many recent Saturdays locked in my bedroom in the dark sleeping all day. Avoiding having those feelings. That’s how I usually deal with it. I sleep. If I’m asleep I don’t feel those feelings. Now I don’t actually suggest sleeping to avoid your feelings of anxiety or depression. That’s probably not healthy.
What I do suggest, especially if you cannot see a therapist, is adjust a few aspects of your life. Literally just two things. And it’s hard, I know. Both of my simple suggestions are connected to physical health. For me, at least, it helps with my mental health if my physical body is feeling better. Inside and out.
First: Workout. I love doing kickboxing as my cardio every day. I found a bunch of YouTube videos that I LOVE! I think why the kickboxing helps is I give my anxiety a face. A face I recognize. A face that I may have some unresolved feelings for. I stand in my living room punching and kicking this imaginary being in front of me. And this way I get out so many feelings of anxiety and anger and sadness during my workouts. I’ve often been on the verge of a huge anxiety attack. I can always feel it coming. And I knew that if I let it take over I wouldn’t get out of bed for three days and I always have something I need to do. I like to think I have a handle on my anxiety. So, sometimes I may pretend like I do and I have a system to stop the attack before it takes over my body. I stop as I start walking to my bedroom to sleep and hide from my feelings. I take three or four really deep soothing breaths and try to clear my head. Turn back to my living room. I throw on my workout playlist full of upbeat empowering songs on full blast and turn on my video. Depending on the feeling of the impending attack I’ll put on a short video of twenty-five minutes or I’ll go for the full hour. And getting through any of these workouts makes me feel so much better. I am able to actually work through the attacks instead of letting them dictate my life.
Two: Eat. I indulge. I indulge a lot. I like cookies and ice cream and copious amounts of French fries and I allow myself to eat those things. But when I’m having an episode I try to avoid it because that stuff if so bad for me and if I allow myself to indulge while I’m feeling so horrible I’ll never stop eating and that will negate my workouts. But I also realized that when I’m eating healthy I tend to feel better mentally. I don’t know if this is something that will help other people, but it’s helped me and sometimes anything is worth a shot. It could very well be tied into my digestive problems, which give me a lot of issues mentally and physically. Because in my experience when you’re feeling good physically, it can help with your mental state. But that can also be tied to my horrible body dysmorphia and incredibly low self-esteem.
And sometimes, you just gotta ride it out. Let it take over your body and in a day or so you’ll feel a little better. Of course none of these things will take care of mental health on the same level as seeking help and maybe taking medication, but for those who don’t have that option, like myself, these simple little things can help. They’re a temporary fix for me. For a little while my intense kickboxing and a salad for lunch help me manage my attacks. And trying things like this never hurts. It may help or may not, but anything is worth a shot.
I also make sure that I surround myself with people who understand my state. They know that sometimes I’m just not mentally capable of doing something or going somewhere. That’s one of the most important things. Making sure the people around you don’t push you into situations that you aren’t comfortable in or you know will send you into a spiral.
I’ve worked for so long fighting my mental illnesses, hiding it from everyone because I thought something was horribly wrong with me. I was being told that I just have to get over it like it’s that simple. If it were that simple, mental illness wouldn’t be the issue that it is.
Living with mental illness is a fight. Every day could be an epic battle. Literally fighting for your life. Some battles may not go so well. Some might kick you in the ass and make you want to wave the white flag in surrender. But if you just keep fighting those battles, eventually; you’ll win the war.