The New Year usually brings with it a slew of resolutions. I will eat healthier. I will exercise more. I will spend less. I will be a better person. The list goes on, and on, and on. As we strive to become better versions of ourselves, and sadly sometimes fall short of who we think we should be (or who society tells us we should be), remember this: you are enough.
Yes, you heard me right. You are enough, just as you are.
As a society, we tend to focus on what we need to “fix.” How we can be “new and improved.” We are not a laundry detergent, sporting a new and improved formula. We are decidedly human. What that means this time of year is that we put undue pressure on ourselves to meet an ideal that is nearly impossible to attain. What happens as a result for many of us is that we get down on ourselves, we beat ourselves up for not reaching our goals for the New Year, and we get sad, depressed, anxious, and feel unworthy. Now, I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but many of us go through this sad ritual at the start of a new year.
It’s time to stop the madness. Improving our lives is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s a process. One where we make progress, fail and make progress again. Rinse, repeat and so on. You get the idea. We are constantly striving to be “good enough” for our spouse, our kids, our employers, our community; heck, for society at large. That’s a lot of pressure. As military spouses, the ideal is stretched further. There is this image of the perfect spouse, holding down the Homefront, who is strong, unbreakable and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It is unrealistic. The pressure to be perfect is intense.
So, what happens when we feel all of this pressure to be that perfect military spouse? What happens when real life intrudes, your child is sick, you can’t find a job, you struggle to maintain your home as a solo parent while your spouse is deployed or away for training? You feel overwhelmed, alone, and sad. You see changes in your day to day, you begin to feel unmotivated, it’s hard to get up in the morning, you are tired, stressed and you retreat.
Here’s the thing. The last thing you need to do when you are feeling down is to isolate. You see, mental health, as taboo as it is to acknowledge or talk about, is just as important as our physical health. I would venture to say even more so. This is why knowing the signs that you may be struggling with your mental health is important.
So, what are the signs? I’m glad you asked!
If you suddenly don’t enjoy doing the things that you used to love to do, notice a change in sleeping and eating patterns, you feel increasingly tired, worry more than usual, or find that you feel out of sorts, this could mean you are struggling with your mental health. The key is any change from your normal. That is what you need to watch out for.
Now, not all struggles with our mental health are signs of mental illness. Like most things, our mental health is on a continuum. On one end, you have your moments of feeling down, worried about an event that is coming up or feeling blue. But, if someone stops by or you watch a program that you enjoy, you are able to snap out of the mood and move on. It may come back, but not for long. On the other end, you have feelings such as depression, sadness, worry that just won’t go away no matter how hard you try. It starts affecting your life, the way you move in the world. You may suddenly stop attending events, find excuses to stop seeing friends and family. You may even feel like life is a burden or that others would be better off without you in the picture. This is a warning sign; you may be suffering from major depression or other mental health issues.
Here’s the thing: You are not alone. Did you know that approximately 61.5 million Americans struggle with a mental illness every year? Let me put that in perspective, that’s about 1 in every 4 adults who have experienced mental health issues in a given year. So, for those who are suffering, know you are decidedly not alone. Your experiences: good, bad, ugly, indifferent, matter.
Be extra good to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you didn’t reach that goal for yourself, don’t beat yourself up. Get up and start again. The road to success is never straight. It curves, takes you back and forth, up, down, and around again. Know that this is the norm. Take heart; believe in yourself, in your journey. You got this.
An important note as you go about your day and fight the good fight. If you are ever struggling to the point where it is affecting your day to day life, don’t hesitate to seek help. Contrary to popular belief, seeing someone in therapy is not a sign that you are weak or crazy. It is a sign of strength. It shows you are willing to do whatever it takes to take care of yourself. Remember, your spouse, your family and friends need you, heck you need you to be at your best. Seeking help is the healthiest thing you could do for yourself.
Don’t know where to get started? Contact your health insurance company to inquire about getting an appointment to see a counselor. Another great resource is Military OneSource. It will help to connect you with therapy for free. If you are feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to seek out help through your local hospital emergency room. There are also hotlines to call if you are struggling. You can call 800-273-8255; then press 1 to reach the Veteran’s Crisis Line – a free, confidential line for veterans and their family members who need support.
Above all, enjoy the New Year and take care of your mental as well as your physical health, because you are worth it.
About the Author: Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee is a National Guard spouse, psychologist, researcher and policy wonk working in DC. When she’s not fighting for military spouse clinicians through her organization, and for military mental health, she is balancing things at home as the mother of three boys and a German Shepherd Puppy.