May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And while I’m an avid proponent of building awareness and ending the stigma, unfortunately, the goings-on in May tend to make my own mental health a little too hard to ignore.
I just got home from a short trip to the mall because I had to escape my house for an hour. (No need to dissect the mall as my choice of respite; we’ll save analysis of my small compulsive shopping problem for another day.) I needed that little escape from my house because I could feel the anxiety building, the physical effects starting to take hold.
I could feel my breathing become shallow and sweat start to form on my forehead, despite the air conditioning. The swarm of thoughts that start to build too quickly to really register swirled. I couldn’t focus and the irritability was right at the surface.
Why? Because being “Mom” became overwhelming. Despite the fact that I’m a ghoul who finds their children’s attention anxiety-inducing sometimes, I’m the center of their universe. And sometimes that spotlight is too much.
The subsequent guilt at realizing what was causing the anxiety piled on more. After all, how ungrateful can I be? I have two healthy daughters whom I don’t have to worry about feeding or clothing, and they go to an amazing school. My husband is a hands-on dad, one who is often available when I need to take a break.
In short, what the hell do I have to be running from?
But the thing is, like any other illness, mental illness does not give a f*ck about any of those things. I have battled anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, and yet I still have to remind myself that I can’t rationalize my way through an episode. I was, however, able to catch it before it became an anxiety attack, but I’ve been playing that game all month.
My husband and oldest daughter have May birthdays, and we just celebrated my daughter’s First Communion. If you’re not familiar, that’s one of the biggest moments in a Catholic’s life, and as such, involves no small amount of preparation or celebration. Additionally, my husband’s grandmother also passed away, and we had to travel to Miami for the funeral services.
But really, May is a LOT for everyone. The end of the school year, whether the year ends in May itself like it does in Florida, or June like it does in other parts of the country, you’re busy with the related projects, exams, awards ceremonies, proms, graduations, end-of-the-year parties and summer planning. I’m not just talking about planning for fun summer vacations. There’s also planning for summer childcare, daycare or camps. You’re shelling out money left and right.
Even people who aren’t parents or students can be affected by the ripple effect, maybe having to work around a boss’s schedule. Maybe you’re part of a professional society or volunteer organization that breaks for the summer and has end-of-year events.
There’s Mother’s Day in the US and many other countries, bringing with it plans and gift shopping, or maybe the grief of a lost mother or child, anxiety over fertility struggles, anger at an estranged family member.
You get the idea.
If you’re like me, the logistics of handling everyone’s schedules and making plans at this time of year is on par with the stress level around the Christmas holidays.
Then again, you might be reading this and have no idea what I’m talking about. After all, I DO suffer from anxiety!
But this is the reason why I’m grateful for Mental Health Awareness Month and awareness campaigns like Bring Change to Mind and Okay to Say (for which I used to handle PR) in the US, Heads Together in the UK and many more. The aim of things like an awareness month is to create more touch points where people feel they can talk about mental health and mental illness. It’s an opportunity carved out to hear people share their experiences or to offer support.
Talking or writing it out isn’t always enough (thank you, Cymbalta and Xanax), but sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s enough to help you identify what you’re feeling, and sometimes that’s enough to move on from the “moment” (using that word loosely, as moment can be hours or days).
“Building awareness” is often knocked as not being action- or results-oriented enough, and that can be true, especially in my industry. But with an issue that affects so many millions of Americans and millions more around the world, yet is still so taboo to discuss, making people aware that mental health is as important as physical health and should be okay to discuss is a pretty worthy goal.
As we finish out May, let’s strive for that.