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Mental Strength

widow Oct 15, 2019

Originally Published on 5/23/19

Friends, it’s mental health month. It’s also the 12th month after my husfriend suddenly died, meaning we’re almost full circle at a year past the moment my life changed forever. You could say I’ve had my fair share of mental breakdowns, road blocks and difficulties this year. It’s really the first time in my life I’ve experienced the true depths of mental darkness, and I want to share what I’ve done over the past few months to pull myself out of that darkness.

I’ve always been able to take a lot. In February of 2018, I was working 50+ hour weeks at my full time job managing a corporate creative and marketing team. I was also taking 2 grad school classes at a time. I was running a side hustle on Etsy and working with freelance clients to build my portfolio, working out, cooking dinner and prepping lunches for my family of 7, plus caring for my mother in law, who was living with us. I went to every kid event I could with my husfriend and we had date night every other week. I was certainly busy, but happy. Jason and I were each other’s comfort and the banter and good attitude we had during the difficult and busy moments somehow made them less difficult. Thinking back, this time in our lives was actually pretty great.

Some time between then and a few months later after Jason died, I stopped being able to handle so much at once. And, looking back, that’s actually a good thing because I was forced to prioritize my focus and set boundaries for myself and others. At first, it was everything I could do to open my eyes in the morning to face the day. If I didn’t get a full 8 hours of sleep, then my day would almost certainly be terrible. So first, I focused on getting plenty of sleep. As weeks and months passed, I started to pay attention to what I needed to do to get my mental strength back. My brain wasn’t the same as it was before and I was in completely new territory. I felt weak and drained, and I hated it, but I couldn’t get away from it. So I leaned in to figure out what I needed to do to feel better.

At first:

In the first 2-3 months after Jason died, I sought distraction. I hustled my ass off and threw myself into work, working all day and night because that’s what I used to do, so I sort of reverted to my “normal” mode to try to escape my reality. I thought that if I could just force myself into working at any given time, that I could trick my brain into not dealing with my shit. Plus, every waking moment was a slap in the face reminding me that Jason wasn’t there, so the distraction-seeking was partly out of self-preservation. Ultimately, this didn’t work and honestly probably just postponed the feelings I should have just let in and felt.

Here’s what ultimately pulled me out of my funk, and continues to help me gain mental strength:

Gratitude. By focusing on what I have and what I’m thankful for, I was able to pull my brain into a positive headspace. Every day I consciously thought about what I was grateful for, from big, obvious things like having a roof over my head and my kid’s health to smaller, less obvious things like the fact that my milk was still in date so I could have a bowl of cereal. I still do this.

Accomplishments. I wrote down my accomplishments nest to my to-do list on a big whiteboard so I saw them every day. At first, they were things like “I cooked dinner today” or “I got dressed today”, then they slowly progressed into bigger things like “I pulled weeds out of the flower bed” and “I changed the air filters in my car”. At the end of the week or month, it helped me realize I was doing things. I was getting better and figuring everything out, and I had a list of accomplishments to prove it. I still do this.

Sleep. I realized that I need 8 hours of sleep to be my best self, worker, mom, etc. I had to be my best self because even at my best, I was still struggling. So I started going to bed earlier so that even on days I have to wake up early, I got at least 8 hours of sleep. To help me fall asleep, I started to take a melatonin supplement – it’s gummy because I’m a grown-ass woman and I still prefer gummy vitamins, fight me. I still prioritize sleep to this day, and I’m much better at it now than I was a year ago.

Rest/self care. I give myself downtime. I paint. I draw. I zone out in a Netflix binge. I ask for quiet time from my son. I take a bath or do a face mask. Y’all, I LOVE a face mask. I take time away from things I “have” to do – both for work and in life – to give my brain a break. I still do this every single week.

Side note:
Here’s my favorite cleansing face mask: Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask. Yes. The green one we all used as teenagers. I love how it cleanses my skin, and it’s legit my favorite mask to do to feel like I thoroughly cleaned my face.

And here’s my favorite hydrating face mask – Dr. Brandt Magnetight – it gets bonus points because it’s magnetic and it’s SO COOL to take off! It’s a bit pricey, yes. That link is for a bundle, because it’s the same price as the regular jar so why not get some freebies thrown in? Holla. Here’s a smaller more affordable version if you want to try it without full-on committing. I get it, but I think you’ll think it’s as awesome as I do!

That was a bit of a detour, but I literally do face masks every weekend because I love them. It’s such a simple way to make myself feel good, and that’s what it’s all about, friends.

Cardio. As I was getting back to a new-normal life, I realized I still wasn’t where I wanted to be mentally. I did some research and found that when someone goes through intense grief, their brain is constantly being bombarded with it, leaving very little space and energy to process other things. Time is the only way to get through it, but a way to help your brain recover faster is by doing cardiovascular activity. So I run/walk, I do a HIIT class, I get on my Bowflex Max Trainer. Anything to get my blood pumping, and I aim to do something every day. I’m not always successful, but the days I get my cardio in in the morning are the days I feel the best and do the most.

New Habits. Over time, I developed new habits and discovered tools to help figure my brain out. I use my Happy Light on cloudy days – it’s a light that mimics sunlight to trick your brain into producing serotonin, therefore putting you in a better mood. I’ve had my Happy Light for years, because I can’t handle gray, cloudy weather, but I have used it almost religiously over the past few months, especially on cloudy days.

I get dressed every day. Working from home, I don’t have to do that, but getting dressed in “real” clothes, aka not workout clothes, helps me feel like I’m ready to start my day. I also make an effort to leave my house once a week and interact with other adults.

I listen to podcasts and audio books every day that help me mentally, financially and in my business. Jim Kwik has a cool podcast about how the brain works – and it’s in short, easily digestible segments, which I love.

I asked the masses on Instagram what your favorite self-help, finance and business books are – and boy did y’all fill up my queue! Here’s the top three y’all love:

#1: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
#2: You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero
#3: Literally anything by Brene Brown, but I’m specifically linking Daring Greatly because it was mentioned by name a couple of times.

And here’s a link for a free trial of Audible for audio books that includes 2 free books, y’all! Knock out 2/3 of the list for free right here, friends! If you’re a solid-hold-it-in-your-hands book person, I get it. Just trying to help y’all out. I kind of waffle back and forth between audio books and hard copies. You do you.

This past year has been almost fully focused on mental health for me, because I fell into such a deep hole of darkness that was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Building new habits, honing in on what makes me feel good and baby steps along the way have helped me gain a lot of ground over the past few months, and I’m hoping that this info helps you try some new ideas – even if you can’t relate to the feeling of deep grief, you could try a new face mask. There’s something for everyone here!

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