May is Mental Health awareness month.
It just so happens to align with this little project. There really was no bigger idea at work at that time. Now, however, they seem to be here, at this time for a reason. These little survivors of several steps in a process, all of which could ruin the whole, very much represent a personal journey with mental health.
Never being one to share my own struggles with mental health (occasionally trying, but always retreating with regret) - mostly because the stigma is real, this is all kinds of uncomfortable. Running into depression and anxiety for most of my adult life (and now understanding much earlier), it always made me feel weak. I never wanted people to think of me that way - as if I wasn’t capable of handling just as much as everyone else. Thinking I could power my way through it, and that medication was - I don’t know, masking things - instead of addressing them, I avoided it. But when physical pain started, pain I could’t ignore, every single day - I had to face it. The hard part was, I had no idea that so much of my mental health was at the root of my physical pain.
The pain persisted, and became relentless. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t handle stress, my mind felt gray and disconnected. I couldn’t humor myself or others anymore. I left my job let it all fall down. Fortunately, I had incredibly supportive employers, friends and family that encouraged me to take the time I needed to figure it all out. And some that made me feel like a hypochondriac and a drama queen too. Equally as motivating. Because, that was the most frustrating part. Not really knowing what was causing the pain. Thinking it was all in my head. Hearing from doctors that it was all in my head. But feeling it all for real in my body. Finding new doctors. Working with multiple doctors. Running tests, scanning my brain, food testing, physical therapy. Finding nothing. Trying different doctors.
Eventually, I found myself connected to Dr. Michele Renee at Stockheart Whole Health. Funny enough, she came to me as a client. As I started working with her to build a new brand for her new business, I learned quickly that I needed her too. First things first, she got me to sleep. To give my body a chance to heal itself. When I told her I thought it was caused by stress, she said “When your body is healthy, it can handle stress.”
So, I let myself be weak. I didn’t really have a choice. I started taking pottery classes as a way to try to cope with stress and fatigue, and found within the process, an escape from so much of what I let wear me down. I quit doing so much. I quit expecting so much from myself. I said no a lot. I tried to stop worrying about things that just weren’t important. Worked on finding what was. I let myself rest. And things did start to change. Very, very slowly. Just like the many-layered, slow and quietness of making each little piece of pottery - it’s fragile and full of unpredictable variables.
I’ve spent the last few years learning how to work, how to live, and how to balance my limitations. How to recover and pace myself. Along the way I learned about “The Spoon Theory”. A personal story by Christine Miserandino, popular among many people dealing with chronic illness. It describes perfectly this idea of limited energy, using “spoons” as a unit of energy. Worth a read if want to better understand what it’s like living with chronic illness.
I’ve read a lot of books and learned a lot about my introverted, empath, highly-sensitive self. I’ve become so much more aware of what I need and what I need to do without. A bustling office is never going to be a place where I thrive. It’s not a failure, it’s just a fact. So, I’m making the work I do and the energy I expend matter. And I keep the pottery around as a place where I can’t be reached, I can’t be on a phone or computer, where it’s quiet, and where the only thing I can focus on, is what’s right in front of me.
The stigma surrounding mental health is what keeps people from seeking help. I feel it. I feel it right now, thinking I’m “over sharing” and that I should probably just suck it up and keep it to myself. Who wants people to think they are “crazy”? That kind of thinking is what keeps mental health taboo. I’m not ok with that. I am imperfect, and so are you. And gosh-darnnit. That’s ok.
behind the scenes: