Mental Health Doesn’t Need You To Romanticize It, It Needs You To Talk About Improving It

Mental Health Doesn’t Need You To Romanticize It, It Needs You To Talk About Improving It

"My point here is to remind us all to think about what messages we're sending to other people -- how what we say and do affects those around us."

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While I believe we as a society have taken steps towards encouraging mental health, self-care, and breaking stigma, we still have a long way to go. After Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died by suicide, many people tweeted about the well-meaning hypocrisy that inevitably arises after these moments in history. People talk about mental health for a couple of days, repost the Suicide Hotline, and talk about how tragic the loss was.

There is nothing wrong with this. I've definitely done it. However, this is not enough. Steps like these are good; they make us feel better about ourselves. They very well may help someone. But they're only a start.

As many people have said, reaching out isn't easy, and even the people who seem the strongest need help. As allies, we have to reach out to others, we have to make ourselves available, and we have to educate ourselves and show empathy.

Getting trained in Mental Health First Aid is an awesome step. Making notes to yourself to check in on each of your friends, especially when a lot is going on, and then following through with that is a good step. Having discussions with affected communities about how mental health intersects with issues such as homelessness, politics, sexuality, gender, various age groups, and so much more is a good step.

We have to learn about and discuss these issues and intersections. We have to use non-stigmatizing language in our daily talk -- also known as not saying statements like "the weather is bipolar" or "she's crazy" or "he's bulimic" or "I'm so OCD." It's also known as people-first language and empathy, which is different than sympathy.

But still, this is not everything. One of the most frustrating things is the romanticization and glamorization of mental illness, which we can easily find everywhere: TV shows, magazines, movies, books, people's commentary, Tumblr posts. Mental illness isn't beautiful or trendy. We are not more or less of people for being more or less sick. We are beautiful and whole people, and mental illness cannot affect that one way or another.

At the center of this prevalent issue is the Netflix's "Thirteen Reasons Why." While the creators meant well and it has great potential, I as well as many others have found problems with the way it portrays suicide, its lack of true discussion about mental health, and its lack of content warnings for very graphic scenes.

Since posts that romanticize and glamorize mental illness can be triggering and just generally unhelpful, I don't want to include anything too specific. In Embody Carolina trainings, one of our ground rules is no mention of numbers, such as weights, calorie counts, pounds lost, or miles run. Putting an eating disorder down to a mere number reduces the vastness, intensity, far-reaching, and harmful nature of it.

Numbers can also trigger people to engage in behaviors and make people who didn't reach that point feel less valid. And if you know me, you know I talk about validity (or the lack of it) at least three to five times a day. Feeling and helping others feel valid in their emotions and experiences is so crucial. I could talk about this for hours.

So if you choose to share your eating disorder story, for example, please share responsibly. Follow the guidelines set by the National Eating Disorders Association, spread encouraging messages of recovery, and don't tell us about the amount of times you were hospitalized, how much weight you lost, how you almost died, how sick you were, or anything similar. It's not helpful and you don't need it for your story to be valid, I promise you. Your eating disorder isn't the point -- your recovery is.

While eating disorders -- specifically anorexia -- are often glamorized in the media, throwing around buzzwords like "control" and "thin" and "waif," and movie after movie is about a young white girl who suffers from anorexia, gets access to treatment easily, and eventually recovers -- many other mental health challenges are romanticized and thrown around harmfully as well.

I've come across pictures of self-harm and people's poetic language about its "beauty." I've seen posts that make suicide seem like the beautiful, easy, and only option. I've seen jokes about social anxiety. I've heard jokes that make light of suicidality, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I've heard jokes about how people want eating disorders. It's sickening and it's sad and it's simply not okay.

I do not at all mean to imply that people who deal with self-harm aren't beautiful or that they should be ashamed of their scars, and I understand that some people make jokes about their own problems with mental health as a defense mechanism. My point here is to remind us all to think about what messages we're sending to other people -- how what we say and do affects those around us.

Depression, in and of itself, isn't trendy. Depression is a cinder block roped to your feet. It's the voice that tells you that you aren't worthy of love. It keeps you from being around your friends and family.

Self-harm, in and of itself, isn't beautiful. Self-harm is dealing with so much pain that you hurt your own body. It goes against our instincts; it endangers our lives.

Anxiety, in and of itself, isn't cute. It's a racing heartbeat. It's losing participation points in class. It's exhaustion from a mind that's constantly racing itself while simultaneously never getting anywhere.

These few issues embody only a few of the many mental health challenges and only a few portrayals of its ugliness.

We are people, not problems. We are too good of people with too much going for us to be reduced down to a disorder that is smaller than us, that did not come before us. We are bigger than our struggles; we are worthy of support. By making mental illnesses seem "fun," the definition of ourselves, or "a beauty to seek," we encourage people to be sick, to not understand that a better life is out there for them, and that mental illnesses aren't valid problems deserving of compassion and care.

Read and remember this: your struggle is valid, and you don't need to use numbers or side effects or a list of your symptoms to prove it. Practice validating yourself when others do not. Know that you are not a problem to be solved, but a person to be cared for. Mental illness isn't pretty, and by trying to make it pretty, we're hurting others -- and ourselves -- in a multitude of ways. Have discussions about how mental illness affects people from all walks of life. Share your story responsibly. Think about the impacts of what you say and how you act. Check in with friends and family and people you hardly know. Love and be empathetic and educated always. Love yourself and everyone else as if it's the last day on Earth. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Cover Image Credit:

@cash.forgold

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

From an outside perspective, suicidal thoughts are rarely looked into deeper than the surface level. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is that people live in between those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead.

You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Buying New Clothes Every Month Has Been The Key To Helping Me Become Happy With My Body Again

Loving my body in new outfits has boosted my self image so much.

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Being body-positive has been really hard for me to do throughout 2019, despite there being an overwhelming surge in body-positivity around me, whether through my friends and family or YouTube. I look in the mirror and what I see is someone I want to make a jean size or two smaller like in the past. That being said, I've slowly been coming around to accepting the body I have now, instead of bashing it constantly. A key way I've come to accept the body I'm in now is through buying myself something new every month, like a new T-shirt or a pair of jeans or sneakers that help me see myself in a positive light. When I'm in a new outfit, I feel invincible. I don't think about how pudgy my stomach is, or about the hair I have growing in random places, like my neck or on my nose (yes, not just in, but ON too).

My bank account tends to suffer as of recently because of this, but it's worth it when I can genuinely feel good in what I am wearing every day. I like to wake up and think about how many outfits I can put together, ready to post my #OOTD for Snapchat without caring what anyone thinks. I've let social media dictate how I feel about myself more than I care to admit. I see how perfect all the models are in everything they're wearing from brands I know and love, yet when I try the same thing on, it's a whole different ugly story.

I don't enjoy trying things on to avoid the shame I feel when things don't fit me right, or if something that I thought would flatter me actually makes me look like a sack of potatoes. Instagram has really hurt my body image a lot — enough to make me delete it for a week after one post sent me spiraling. Going through those bumps made me finally realize it's not my fault if something doesn't fit. Sizes range depending on the item, it's the clothing items fault, not mine. Now that I see that, it's easier to brush off something not fitting me as it should. I know my size very well in the stores I frequent the most, so it's easier for me to pick out things I know will look good and not have to worry about the sizing issue.

Buying yourself something new is not something you should limit to every few months or longer. You shouldn't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone price wise every once and a while either. Coupons exist, stories always offer you them when you first sign up to receive emails and even texts. You can be crafty and still get a high price item for less. If you treat yourself to cheap things, you won't feel half as good as you want to. Granted, sticking to a limit is important but there's no shame in going over the limit every once and a while.

I love shopping as much as I love country music and writing short stories — a lot. Yes, I get yelled at almost every time I get something new. I need to save my money for important things, like for my sorority or for medical issues that could suddenly arise, or for utilities at my house next year off campus.

However, my mental well-being is not something I can ignore.

I can't push the good feelings aside to save 30 or 40 bucks a month. I don't want to feel as low as I've felt about myself anymore. I'm tired of feeling sad or angry at who I am, and I want to learn how to accept myself as I am. Buying myself something new, like clothes, is what offers a positive light to view myself under.

Whether you treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant, or to face masks, or to a new movie when it comes out — don't be afraid to do it. Put yourself first and you'll realize your worth and how much you've been ignoring it in the face of poor confidence.

My confidence isn't back up to where it used to be, but it's getting there.

It may not be the most cash efficient method of self-love, but my body positivity is better than it was a few months ago. Aerie and American Eagle have really helped me become happier with my body, and I can't thank them enough for being more inclusive for people like me who are learning to love themselves again in a new body.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us hoping to promote our own body positivity, and it could all start with a simple purchase from your favorite store after you read this.

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