The Spiral of Mental Health

I don’t claim to know all there is about mental health or the lack thereof. I don’t seem to even understand my own mental health, let alone try to comprehend that of another. I do understand the magnitude of differences in what contributes to one’s mental health or lack thereof. I also recognize the vast differences in degrees of mental health issues, in that the actual mental anguish and pain threshold in each person can be more or less, and can change daily. I think of the way our mental health changes to be like a spiral, much like a screw where one moves up and down on that spiral path, but may not recognize it happening because it is a spiral path; a path that the place one is today doesn’t really look different from yesterday. And I believe we all go through it at some point, to some degree.


Life is a tangled mess sometimes.

A few months ago, we went on a great vacation. Things in our world were stressful and for me, there were many things pulling at my time. Going on a trip is always a good elixir for the things that ail a person’s mind. You get away from it all, relax, enjoy…and then you return to all that ail’s a person’s mind plus what added up while you were gone and not taking care of it. The post vacation blues is a recognized phenomenon. It feels great to get home to your own bed, but reality of life sets in once again.

There were other people (my husband and our partners) who were going through much the same things in particular areas of life, but each of us were all wearing different hats in the areas in which we worked together, and completely other hats in all the other areas of our lives that did not intertwine. That, and I have no idea what they were going through on the inside while working so hard to get life done, so I will speak only of my perspective and my mental health.

Let me preface a little with physical health. I am at that age when peri-menopause and menopause plays a role in physical and mental health. This started a couple of years ago. The hormonal changes occurring in a body, whether young or old, female or male, will play a role in what is happening in your mind. It may be that you are more hungry, more agitated, have more energy or less (like when you are growing and need more sleep), or maybe you just feel weaker (like muscle depletion as you age), or countless other things that you may not recognize. For me, menopause caused a weight gain I couldn’t control and remiss to work harder at due to lack of energy and stressors in other areas of life. Excuse…maybe, my reality…definitely. I bring this up because over a year ago, I had a wise friend tell me it is normal and I just need to do what I need to do to ride it out in my most healthy way, which was to continue being active and continue to eat healthy as much as possible, but not to sweat the stuff I couldn’t control. That kind of encouragement meant a lot and made me feel more ‘normal’ as in not the only one who experiences those things. And, I did some research too :-).

Back to our return from vacation. There was a lot going on. I won’t go into details but I felt I was being pulled in a hundred directions. I felt that one area had priority due to timelines and that took me away from home, it took me away from the other parts of the job that were on my table (and who likes paper work anyway) and every day when I came home, not only was that work on my table but I had a messy table which in itself can cause me angst. It didn’t stop at my table. There were the messy kitchen counters much of the time, there were the messy floors, the laundry and the outside chores. There were also my other businesses I was paying too little attention to. In my mind, my life was spiralling out of control.

It is all well and good to say, “This too shall pass”. Like a kidney stone, it eventually did. Like a kidney stone, the pain is just as real while you go through it and until it passes. Part of the problem with what is happening in a person’s mind is the invisibility of it to others. Unlike a kidney stone that one would go to a doctor for and be diagnosed and treated, sometimes the beginning of depression or the middle of depression are just swept under the rug as moodiness or a bad attitude even by the person experiencing it and especially if you are a person who is generally positive and studies mindset. To add to that, people who study those things, usually gather like-minded people around them and it becomes that much more frustrating when you start to think there is something terribly wrong with you.

I complained a lot! I got frustrated and complained about my situation. I created my situation in most ways and in other ways not (although, I know, I know, that to is something we create, again making us feel crappy). We are not an island; our lives intertwine with those around us and those around us contribute to the mesh of pathways, expectations, commitments, problems and their solutions, and a gamut of other influences in your life based on what is going on in their lives, even when it has absolutely nothing to do with you. I made choices as some would point out, to start 3 different types of businesses/education/steep learning curves within a period of 6 months. Squirrel! Maybe, but also opportunity that happened quickly. Life happens like that sometimes, in different areas too, opportunity to go on a vacation, then another one, or opportunity to get a deal on this, then another thing and then and then…we can be more discerning or we can think when it happens, “This won’t be easy but it will be worth it when the hard part passes”. Or as often happens with me, “I can do that on that date because my calendar is free for the whole week before and after, then as the date approaches, there is sickness, appointments, emergencies, pet problems, a need to get groceries, something breaks down, weather making things more important today, you know the drill. We are not an island in a bubble.

The spiral begins, and it progresses at different rates. Slowly at first, then more quickly, then, wait…up the spiral a bit. Wait…ouch that was a quick drop. That is just life getting out of control.

The spiral begins, and it progresses pretty slowly at first. It can continue pretty slowly too. At first I was a little frustrated, but I was having fun in all the things I was doing. At first I could say it will pass. At first I would be a bit overwhelmed but then I would get my bearings. I would also just do a little here and a little there so it wouldn’t get out of hand. I got a little tired, I got a lot tired but then I had more energy.

The spiral continued and I didn’t see it coming really. Others likely saw a change, but didn’t know my complaining was my way of saying something was wrong, something was wrong with me and maybe I needed help. Something was wrong with me but to tell me that wouldn’t help. I didn’t even recognize it while it was happening.

Then… I did. Then I did something. Then I did something different.

Before I go on, there are a couple of things I want to clarify. First, I am in no way comparing my experience to anyone else or to anyone who suffers from mental illnesses, just like I would never compare the common cold to someones battle with cancer. My experience is probably as common as the common cold and I believe people can relate to feeling that way at times. I also believe as common as it is, it is not as recognizable as the common cold and still people don’t talk about it. I now recognize it as burnout.

The other thing I want to clarify is that some of what pulled me away were things that were essential to my health. I continued bootcamp, wallyball and basketball. I was sad that I didn’t feel I had the time to go snowboarding even once in the winter and that my cycling didn’t happen until well into the summer. Eating was more difficult because I would be out well into the evening so we ate out more that normal but I still tried to eat vegetables and appropriate meals and amounts. I continued my morning practice of drinking water when I woke up and thinking of the things I am thankful for. I believe those things really helped me to not spiral more quickly nor to the extent I could have.

So back to “then…I did something different”. I found some relief in a supplement for my mood (please, seek medical help if you need it; I knew where I was on the spiral and knew I had time to try something before that step), and it helped immediately. I also started working on my sleep, getting just a little more. I had quit taking vitamins regularly a year ago thinking it was causing me to sleep restless, but started taking them again and started sleeping less restless again. It helped that the main part of the project was done (the proverbial ‘passing’ of the stone)¬†and I could devote more time to my space and other things. Sunshine and warm weather are great; I got my garden in just in time but with great effort (early morning, later evenings). I delved into more podcasts while doing my physical work, I started reading again, just a chapter a day. I devoted more time to my other businesses, very slowly. I didn’t over commit. I didn’t even jump into the things I wanted to do.

I slowly started moving up the spiral. I started to feel like myself again. I started to see how far down I went; because when you are on the spiral, you may not even know you are there. For me, there are times when I feel flu-like symptoms and I brush them off as not enough sleep or just under the weather and I continue on with my day lacking energy and drive and feeling lazy (oh don’t get me started on that mind issue), only to find out in a day or two when I feel good that someone in the family is feeling the same way and to think back and realize, ‘wow, now that I feel normal, I was actually quite sick’. Yep, same with my mental health.

I can’t say I am 100%; I often feel I am, but I definitely have days or hours where I know I am probably closer to 80% on average. Those times when I just want to cry for no reason, those times when something small sets me off to being really sad, those times when something small makes my eyes watery. I know it has a lot to do with the hormones. I know this too shall pass. I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train. I know that the spiral will always be there, because it is so dependant on physical health, what is going on around and my own choices and thoughts. The first, I have some control over, the second I have little control over and the last, in theory, I have complete control over…except, the last is really influenced by the first two whether we like it or not and the belief that we have total control over it can ruin our chances of recognizing when we are on the spiral. It can also make us feel we are flawed because we can’t fix it. And that is the worst stigma yet.

I wrote this a few hours ago, not posting because I like to come back to proofread with fresh eyes. I went out to feed chickens and for some reason my old iPhone I listen to podcasts on started playing old ones from before I subscribed to a few of them. Interestingly enough, one of the ones that came up was on burnout. The other was on clutter. Weird! Here are the links to those if you are looking for something to give you inspiration:

Happiness of Pursuit #64

Happiness of Pursuit #63

Finally, it is good to know our limits. It is good to push our limits too. In our athletic endeavours after pushing our limits we need to rest appropriately so we don’t suffer overtraining syndrome. With our mental/physical/emotional health, when we can push our limits, (it’s how we grow), we also have to rest appropriately to reduce the chance of burnout. And if we do end up in that place of burnout, take time to heal as well.