For as long as I can remember, the word health or being “healthy” only meant physical health. When someone said “I’m focusing on my health” or “I need to be healthier,” I always tagged it to eating foods that were rich in nutrients, keeping a healthy exercise regimen, drinking lots of water, cutting out carbs, or anything that had to do with a “healthy” physical state of being.
While physical health is imperative to a good, long life, I never realized it was not the only type of health we should all be worrying about, until I was 15. This is when I first began to question my mental health.
I had struggled with self confidence issues for years, and I became extremely confused about why it was happening. I was and always have been an extroverted, adventurous, and outgoing person, so I became frustrated with myself when all of those qualities within me vanished. Instead of hanging out with friends, making memories, and enjoying life, I had no energy to see anyone or do anything, let alone get out of bed in the morning.
I have struggled with my self image as long as I can remember. I was athletic in elementary school, middle school, and high school, but I never looked like the girl beside me. I always had bigger legs, broader shoulders and a wider torso.
The thought of being athletic never crossed my mind. I immediately thought there was something wrong with me. When all my friends were fitting into size 0 and 2 jeans, I instantly thought I was my own worst enemy and blamed myself.
Self confidence issues continued throughout my high school career, but it did not stop there. That state of mind would lay a foundation for my mental illness throughout the years.
I went from being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, then it manifesting into depression, then to anorexia, then to bulimia, all before I was even 18. Instead of reaching out and getting the help I so desperately needed, I blamed and punished myself for something, I know now, I could not control.
It never occurred to me until I was a freshman in college at 19 that blaming myself for something out of my control was quite honestly ruining my chance at a happy and healthy life. I never allowed myself to take a breath, take a step back and realize all I had been missing out on because of my mental illness.
That decision, as easy as it sounds to someone else, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Once I allowed myself to rest and took the first steps to let myself heal, I never looked back.
In America, mental illness is the second leading cause of death from ages 13 to 36. Too many people see mental illness as an “excuse” or a “burden,” and they will never be able to allow themselves to reach out and get the proper help they desperately need.
Both physical health and mental health share a common importance to one’s quality of life. Without one or the other, a person may feel like they’re living their life at 50%.
The feeling of living life halfway is not only a burden, but it gives off the feeling of unworthiness, loneliness, as if someone does not deserve the life they have been given.
I know that feeling. It breaks my heart to admit that it cut a huge chunk out of my life. I wasted about five years of my life being broken when I never took the time to take a step back and ask myself the question, “What am I doing with my life?”
What people fail to realize is that it is OK to not be OK sometimes. Absolutely no one is at the top of their game every minute of every day. It is OK to have some “me time.”
In fact, being strong enough to treasure mental health and keeping it healthy is admirable. There is no specific regimen, no calorie limiting diet, no cardio blast workout. Doing whatever it may be to relax, breathe, and clear my mind at that moment is my medicine.
Now, because I take care of my mental health, I could not be happier. I allow myself to make memories, have fun, and hopefully I can inspire others with my story. It may not be much, but it has changed my life forever.