Taking care of your mental health, selfish or not?

Wed, May 12th 2021, 12:00 AM

By: Jhanae Winter

The simple answer is no. But let's go a little deeper.

The conversation concerning mental health in The Bahamas is improving but there is still a long way to go. There needs to be more serious, informative and non-judgmental conversations about mental health. 

More are inquiring about their mental health, but are still faced with ridicule, disbelief or not taken as seriously. It's very uncommon for Bahamians to admit they need help mentally and even less common to seek professional help. They might know something is wrong but many will try to “tuff it out”. 

But it is this mentality that is hurting so many individuals who deal with sadness, depression, anxiety, OCD, intrusive thoughts and the list goes on. This “I straight” attitude causes many to tackle serious issues alone, or feel as though they have no one to reach out to. Yes we all go through something and life is full of surprises, but we have to stop glorifying pain and suffering in silence. There is help out there from a range of professionals in the medical field who are willing to work with you and help you as best as they can. 

Bahamians endured the monster of Dorian in 2019, that took a toll on the minds of many Grand Bahamians and Abacoians who were traumatized from the experience. And although the rest of the Islands did not encounter such wrath from the storm, many still had families who lived on those two main islands. The fear of waking up each morning, not knowing if their family was missing, dead or alive can damage a person's psyche in more ways than one. Likewise, many suffered with survivors' guilt and were scarred by the videos and pictures surfacing on social media of fellow Bahamians’ dismembered, swollen or burnt bodies.

As if that was not enough the Covid-19 pandemic spread through each nation in 2020, affecting their most precious industries and The Bahamas was no different. The industry we rely on the most, tourism, fell to its knees under the guise of the pandemic. Many Bahamians in and outside the tourism industry lost their jobs. Businesses downsized, or closed for good. Those who thought they would never have to depend on the government for a morsel of food, found themselves on long lines to receive bags of food, financial assistance from NIB or waiting for whatever handout the government could give at that time.

All of these national catastrophes happening right after each other, coupled with the average day to day stressors many go through in their lives, can begin to weigh on the mind.

Bahamians are resilient people, there is no doubt about that. Whatever we go through as a people, we manage to bounce back and can find humor in even the hardest situations. 

But it’s okay to not be strong all the time. It's okay to fall apart. It’s okay to not be okay. 

Taking care of your mental health does not make you weak, quite the contrary. Reflecting on your emotions, assessing what you need to do to get back on track and dealing with your mental state is no light matter.

It takes courage, maturity, responsibility and accountability. 

This is the narrative that needs to be pushed when tackling mental health in The Bahamas. Not one that is laced with condescending tones, mocking, bullying or name calling, using words such as “crazy”, “lazy” or “selfish”.

Putting you first

This can be challenging and strange, especially if you are not used to doing it. But there is nothing to feel guilty about. 

Think of it as a version of self-care, except this one isn't filled with spas, bubble baths, candles and all the luxurious spending. 

A 2010 study published in JBI Library of Systematic Reviews defined self-care as “engaging in self-care is a process involving being aware of self, acquiring knowledge and taking responsibility for meeting needs at whatever level they are presented”.

This is the real kind of self care, the type that not just affects you but everyone you love too.In order for you to be the best version of yourself, you have to take care of your person.

What does taking care of your mental health look like?

The goal is not perfection, which is the opposite of promoting mental health because perfection encourages stress, obsessive behaviour, low self esteem and even paranoia. 

But instead taking care of your mental health may require relearning behaviours and habits along with making some adjustments to your surroundings and the people in your life.

Get to the root - Everyone has different triggers, issues and traumas that affect them. In order to properly deal with them, one must begin to look deep within themselves to figure out “the whys”. Some things are simple and easy to solve while others have layers and are complex. You can not control what happened to you in your life, the good, the bad and the ugly. But what you can do is decide whether you are going to allow it to affect and hinder you. This step takes accountability, because you are no longer blaming the world for your problems, but looking at what you do. Which speaking from experience, no one likes to do. Once you do this, find what works for you to fix it. This differs for everyone and there is no right or wrong way. What works for one may not work for the other. 

Set boundaries - The more people in your life, the more you might have to do this. Everyone cannot and should not have access to you. Are you a people pleaser? Well the hard truth is, you can not be there for everyone all the time. It’s okay to say no and not wear yourself out thin. This causes a plethora of issues that can be avoided. This might not be easy, especially if people around you are used to you saying yes. But practice makes perfect, set your boundaries and keep them. Furthermore, some people are triggers, and as you embark on this journey, it is important to know who triggers what. If you need to distance yourself from them, once that is properly communicated, by all means do so. Would you surround yourself with junk food if you were trying to lose weight? No right, same concept.

Take time off - We all need a break, a time to recharge and catch ourselves. It's not being lazy or not wanting to do any work. It’s about ensuring you are performing at your best levels. If you're emotionally burnout, stressed, depressed, unmotivated how can you do what is required of you? We use phones all day and they serve us well, but eventually we have to charge them, as life drains out. But for many life is draining them, but they are never recharging. And not to be dramatic but what happens to your phone when you use and never put it on charge? OK! The pressures of life can sometimes be so consuming and we are constantly going and going. But life is about balance. Allocate more times in your day or week to simply rest and this is not exclusive to sleeping. Go for a walk and give your body some vitamin D or like the saying goes; stop and smell the roses. Many of us have sick days at work, if you can use them, for “physical” sick days, why not use them for your mental health as well. Take the rest you deserve. And this applies to every aspect of your life, whenever it is needed, simply take a break.

“Self care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel." ~Eleanor Brownn.

Your mental health is health too. It should not be avoided, or treated as nothing because it’s not visible. Whatever you are feeling is real to you whether people understand it or not. 

In order for you to perform all roles in your life, for example: mother, father, brother, sister, friend, business partner, lawyer, journalist, uncle and the list goes on, you need to be in shape.

Taking care of your mental health is not a “one and done” scenario. It's a journey and process like anything in life. On this journey you may discover unresolved issues, heal from past wounds and awaken to a new perspective on how to handle life, your way. All of this makes you, YOU. And there is nothing selfish about that.

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