Take care of your mental health
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2020 (654 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I’ll never forget the first time I realized I needed help.
It was Christmas Eve, 1998. I was sitting in church with my family. And as the congregation stood to sing another joyous hymn, a terrifying sensation swept over me. My left arm went numb. My face was on fire. I was wobbly on my feet. And I truly thought, at the tender age of 23, that life was about to end.
Turns out I was having a panic attack, not a heart attack, and the entire episode passed almost as quickly as it appeared.
I remember sitting in a doctor’s office a few days later, a nervous ball of energy as I described symptoms I had been suppressing since childhood, robbing me of precious sleep as I would sweat under the covers, lamenting every awful thing my overactive imagination could come up with. Walking out of there with a plan of attack was a massive weight off my shoulders, having finally dealt with something I had put off for too long. As I came to discover, it wasn’t a sign of weakness, or that I was “broken.”
Don’t worry, folks. I usually do try to “stick to sports” around here. But I share this personal story with you today because I think it’s important to speak publicly as we head into a long, dark winter in the midst of a COVID-19 numbers that only seem to be getting worse around here, with bad news seemingly lurking around every corner.
Our collective mental health is taking a beating.
Many of our usual coping mechanisms are either not available or severely restricted, from large gatherings with family and friends, to taking in a live sporting event or theatre, dining out or sweating away the stress at the gym. Any such relief seems so fleeting these days.
A quick aside: I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a World Series game more than Saturday night’s instant classic between Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. It was sports at its chaotic, unpredictable best, a reminder of the great escape it can provide us from the often scary reality of real life. I wish it could have gone on forever. Unless, of course, you were one of the poor writers on deadline trying to crank out a coherent story.
Even if COVID-19 hasn’t hit you personally, we are all, in a way, grieving right now — about opportunities that have been lost, special occasions and milestones that have been missed, routines that have been rocked to their core; about a life we used to live that has been turned upside down, with no end in sight.
I was reminded of this the other day through Facebook, where someone posted about a particularly rough day she was having in the middle of a particularly rough week. None of her various experiences would be considered dire on their own, but collectively they felt crushing. And so she vented, which prompted an outpouring of her friends to respond with supportive messages and similar feelings.
There was one otherwise well-meaning individual, who suggested that none of what she described was actually all that bad in the grand scheme of things and reminded her that many people have it much worse. While that may be true, it’s also more hurtful than helpful.
Grief should never be a competition, where only those who have suffered the most profound losses are allowed to feel pain, while everyone else should simply suck it up. Everyone deals with grief differently and there is no right or wrong way. Nobody should feel guilty about that.
Admittedly, I’d always been Mr. “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff,” a product of two decades spent on the crime and justice beat where I had a daily front-row seat to some of the worst society had to offer. I personally found it difficult to get too worked up about little things in my own life when I saw others courageously coping with much worse.
But I’ve come to realize that kind of mentality is the same unhealthy approach I took to my anxiety for too long, simply trying to push it to the side.
Now 22 year since that scary Christmas Eve episode, my anxiety has remained largely under control, save for a few flare-ups over the years, including one about a decade ago that resulted in a temporary, rather minor bout of Bell’s palsy.
My regular routine includes a daily anti-anxiety pill and at least three weekly trips to the gym. Since adding a daily walk and tracking food intake through the Weight Watchers app starting last June, I’ve dropped 66 pounds. I’ve also developed a much better understanding of how to identify and manage potential stressors, and switching in 2016 to covering sports, a place I’ve often found solace, has been a game-changer.
I know others aren’t as fortunate to have things under control. For some, the anxiety is joined by a crippling depression, for which it can feel like there’s no escape. Which is why we should be cheering for people who speak up when they’re feeling down, rather than have them suffer in silence.
And then we need to find healthy ways to address it before it gets to a point of no return. This goes for everyone, but statistics show men are impacted disproportionately, with a suicide rate that is three times that of women. For Indigenous men, the rate is even higher.
Which brings us to the start on Sunday of men’s health month, otherwise known as “Movember.” What began as a way to promote awareness of physical issues such as prostate and testicular cancer, by raising funds through the growing of ugly lip sweaters, has evolved to take a broader approach towards the brain.
The organization has an ambitious goal: to reduce the national suicide rate by 25 per cent by 2030, which you can read more about at www.movember.com.
That’s not going to be easy, especially with the current state of the world. But I hope that by continuing to chip away at the stigma that often exists with mental health, by dealing with it openly and honestly, and hopefully by checking on your fellow man (and woman), we can all make the world a kinder, gentler place.
So yes, get out and go for that walk or run. Cuddle up with a favourite human or pet. Grab a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar. Lose yourself in a movie or what should be another thrilling World Series game Tuesday night. Vent on social media. Reach out and call a family member or friend. Grow that hideous moustache.
More than anything, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. And don’t ever forget that it’s okay to not be okay.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.