A massive anxiety attack and a few weeks of crippling depression were all it took for me to start taking my mental health seriously again. It’s an eye-opener when you literally can’t work or make phone calls or even get out of bed. It sucks. And now I’m dealing with the aftermath.
The guilt of being unemployed for the summer has been gnawing at me ever since I couldn’t pick up the damn phone and call the place I work. I am making no money, and I often feel like a bum who is mooching off their parents. I’m 20 years old; in my mind, that means I shouldn’t be sitting at home all day. I need more structure.
So I began applying to a bunch of volunteering opportunities, and a few paid gigs, too. (Panera, why won’t you hire me? I love bread!) That’s how I ended up volunteering at a public library not too far from my house. Sure, it’s only once a week. And, yeah, it’s not too difficult. (So far, I’ve played with a bunch of kids, taken a poll of people’s zip codes, and cut out paper shark teeth for a display.) But at least I’m forced to get out of bed and go somewhere every Thursday morning. I’m forced to interact and have a responsibility to someone other than myself. And if I have to be surrounded by books the whole time, well, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. 😉
In order to keep my mind active, I enrolled in an online sociology class (yay, general education requirements) and have set myself the goal of reading Ulysses by James Joyce. Let me tell you, I am 400 pages in to Ulysses, and it’s still hard to read. But I am plugging along, 25 pages a day. Slow and steady finishes the book. And have you ever taken an online class? Busywork! It’s all busywork. I guess if an entire course is consolidated into four weeks, it makes sense that it would be a lot of work. Even if I end up learning very little about sociology, I will at least have gotten one of my college’s requirements fulfilled for an easier fall semester. (Which means more time to take care of my mental health. See how I’m starting to think ahead?)
The third step in my attempt to manage my mental health better was to go back to exercising more than once a week. Two years ago, I would exercise five days a week. I used to lift weights, run super often, and occasionally try something new. But I fell off the wagon. I fell hard. Working out usually means running for me, and I was losing interest in running. My asthma has been bad and my motivation has been worse. No more excuses.
Running indoors makes me less inclined to actually run, so I’ve been running outdoors. (Even when it’s 98% humidity and I accidentally slept in, so, okay, it was more of a run-walk.) I tried out a super intense kickboxing class, which made me feel so powerful. My knuckles were bleeding afterward and my whole body hurt for three days, but oh boy, does punching a bag that weighs as much as you for an hour feel good. (Cross, jab, hook, uppercut!) I was like the Karate Kid! No can defense! (No can breathe, either.)
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the Karate Kid movies, it’s that everyday activities can teach you valuable lessons. I mow my parents’ lawn to make my arms stronger and to get moving on days I feel blegh. It’s not quite “wax on, wax off” or “paint the fence,” but I still feel accomplished after I mow the lawn because I’m acting on an important value—responsibility (to myself, my parents, and the house I’m living in for free).
Unfortunately, the kickboxing classes are too expensive to keep up, but I will be continuing them when I am back on campus and get student rates for classes at our rec center. I haven’t given up yet, and at the very least, I can pat myself on the back for trying something new. Trying new things has to be a part of my life, otherwise I get lulled into routines and everything seems to lose its luster. Not to mention my anxiety over the unknown gets worse the longer I avoid new things.
Other new things I’ve tried this summer: cooking a complicated recipe without my mom’s help, submitting writing to professional journals, dressing in a way that makes me comfortable in my body, meditating (okay, this isn’t new, but I stopped doing this for a long time), attending a Pride festival, and going to a psychiatrist.
Not all of these things have been successful, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something just by trying.
Johnny will not be putting me in a body bag. I’m gonna wax on and off until I beat the Cobra Kai! (Which is a great metaphor for my anxiety. I’m gonna kick its ass!)