Sometimes it takes a little longer to get around to publishing things than I’d like to admit. Last year, around this time, I originally drafted this blog post. For whatever reason, I never published it. So today, in honour of #BellLetsTalk, I finally finished this post. I’m going to add a bonus at the end, something that I realised while reading the initial draft of this post. So, what do you say? Should we end this mental health stigma, already?
My Struggle with Mental Health
I’d like to treat you folks to a little story… literally just this morning as I was trying to get some work done at my desk I had a bit of a mental health crisis. As an “anxiety-haver” as I like to say, when I’m already feeling anxious, it doesn’t take much to tip that anxiety scale over the edge.
So, I have this really amazing tumbler that keeps my coffee hot all day. My only issue with it is that it’s taller than it really needs to be. So, it gets knocked over quite often. Which, really wouldn’t be an issue if I’d just keep the damn thing shut. My dilemma is that if I don’t pop the lid on it, my coffee would stay scalding hot far longer than I want it to.
I really try to keep a tidy work space, but things just pile up sometimes. This morning wasn’t an exception with the pile of sample products including a personal intimate portrait album from my own shoot I’d been showing to clients recently. The same album I’d given to Shawn for our anniversary last year. YES, you see where I’m going with this…
Shawn got home probably only a minute after I knocked that stupid tumbler directly onto my pile of samples. I’ll paint a little picture for you; Shawn arrives home and calls out “hello!”. I quietly choke out a “hi”. Tipping my coffee over onto the gift I’d given him had tipped me over that edge for whatever reason. Those of you with anxiety will understand that there’s often no reason whatsoever. So here I am, knelt down on the floor trying to wipe coffee off this album, sobbing, with my back to the entryway of our apartment.
Naturally Shawn’s first thought was that something awful had happened to one of the cats, and that I was sobbing while holding one of them. Not that his girlfriend was actually just sobbing over spilled coffee. Which brings me to #1 on the list of things that help my mental health;
1. A Supportive and Caring Partner or Friend
I really can’t stress the importance of this one, enough. Having supportive and caring partner that understands how my mental states work has been my biggest key to success in creating a space that I can thrive in. Having someone that I know I can rely on 100% of the time, that I can be vulnerable in front of, helps my mental health in a huge way.
Shawn knew what the fastest way to bring me back to my neutral zone was. He took the tear-and-coffee stained intimate portrait album out of my hands. He carefully went through and wiped it all down with the paper towel I’d been holding. Once he was satisfied there was no coffee left hidden between the pages of the book he turned his attention to me.
There’s something truly special when your partner knows exactly what to say to bring you back from that panic zone. I of course can’t really remember what he said to calm me down. Being able to let go of control of the situation and have someone else “take care of it” for me so I could start to wind back down.
I have tried a lot (and I mean a lot) of things to try to lessen my anxiety over the years. Literally nothing has helped as much as the one time I floated in a float therapy tank.
For my 29th birthday, Shawn and I went up to Saskatoon for the weekend. Don’t even GET me started about the amazing bed and breakfast we stayed at (THERE WERE GOATS!!!) because it’s amazing. The whole reason we went up to Saskatoon wasn’t just for the goat bed-and-breakfast, but also because I’d never done a float before, and Shawn’s friends own a float centre in Saskatoon. [When I wrote this originally, their Regina location hadn’t opened yet, but it’s open now!!]
I wouldn’t say my anxiety was out of control back then, but it was a lot more difficult for me to manage. I wasn’t sleeping well and I felt panicked often. That “hard to get a deep breath” symptom I get less often now, was an every day thing for me back then.
So, we walked in and both did a 90 minute float.
I could write an entire blog post on my experience inside the tank, but that’s for another day. Long story short, you get into the tank, close the door, and you’re in complete darkness and quiet. It sounds really scary, but the tank is so big and roomy inside it’s really just like standing in a pitch-black room. No biggie!
So, there’s so much Epsom salts in the water in these tanks, that you just float on top of the water. Seriously, you can actually fall asleep in these tanks (I’m pretty sure I did) without fear of drowning. The water is body-temperature, so after a while you sort of lose consciousness of your body.
After a little while of laying there, this really amazing thing happened. My mind was quiet.
[I’ve done a LOT of floats since then, and one thing remains the same; Floating has helped me work through a lot of my past drama and bullshit, and allows my mind to relax so much easier. I think back sometimes on the whirlwind that used to be my mind before I found floating. I wonder how I managed to function back then with so many anxious thoughts flying around all the time. Floating brought me peace.]
3. Weighted Blanket
There’s been this whole “weighted blanket” craze lately, or maybe it’s just the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. You’re introduced to something and suddenly you see it everywhere. Everywhere I looked, weighted blankets will help your anxiety! Weighted blankets will help you sleep! Weighted blankets for everyone! I knew I needed to try one.
Well, I’m a very very lucky gal. Remember #1 on the list, a supportive and caring partner or friend? Well, Shawn got me a weighted blanket for Christmas and I was so happy there were tears, folks. I am NOT kidding – this thing is pure fucking magic.
This puppy is 20 pounds of pure anxiety-be-gone. If I’m at home and not working on a client project, there’s a 99.9% chance you’ll find me either on the couch or in my bed, under this blanket.
Before my weighted blanket, I would often thrash in my sleep. Sometimes even punching, kicking, or hitting Shawn. Needless to say I felt pretty bad about that, because it was out of my control. My anxiety kept me up at night, and when I did sleep… well, it had been a real long time since I’d had a nice dream. The first night I slept under my weighted blanket, everything changed. I wasn’t hitting Shawn in my sleep anymore. I started sleeping through the night, and as a result, I felt better during the day. My anxiety lessened. I wasn’t chronically tired anymore. Things started to turn around.
4. (BONUS) Looking back at how far you’ve come
Something that also helps my mental health? Looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. How much my life has improved since I first sought help for the state of my mental health. Coming across this post today and re-reading what I wrote a year ago, really helped put into perspective that a journey to healing takes time. I’m slowly healing from my past, and recognising that my journey has only just begun. Because while I wouldn’t say I’m anxiety-free, these days, things sure are a hell of a lot better. ❤️
Photo: Alexandra Dugan Photography