Let’s Get Through This: Mental Health and Transitions

zenrunner165written by CHC staff member Mike Navarrete

Summer is a time to relax, recharge and have fun. But for many, these months are also a complex time of transition between the freedom of ending one school year and the anticipation of entering the next. These transitions can be especially challenging for those struggling with a mental health condition.

Mental illness does not discriminate. You can fall under any socioeconomic class, race or ethnicity and still experience mental health challenges. You can be any kind of person going through a subset of emotions that persists longer than what may be considered healthy. Working in the mental health field without a clinical background allows me to see mental health issues through a different lens—my own.

As a kid I was always curious. I remember my mom would eventually tire from the ridiculously repetitive questions I would bombard her with, especially around back-to-school time. What will first grade be like? Will the kids like me? What is my teacher like? Will I fit in? With each new transition, I would ask different versions of the same questions. It wasn’t until college that I started to realize that the inquisition usually stemmed from anxiety and fear of the unknown.

Changes become less intimidating as we work through them, propelling ourselves forward towards more positive thinking and feeling. When experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression, particularly with lingering questions of uncertainty, I’ve learned to give myself the gift of time. While instant gratification has become a societal norm, time makes the difference between a reaction and a response:

A reaction is instant. It’s driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. . .  A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious mind and unconscious mind.”
Dr. Matt James

With the ever-changing landscape of life, I have learned how much healthier it is to respond, not react, whenever possible. Time allows us to make healthier choices, and gives us the freedom to decide whether to live our truth or deny reality.

During a particularly challenging period in my life, when I was broken up with, learned my friend was addicted to drugs, and got kicked out of my apartment during finals week, I found my own mental health dwindling. The emotions compounded and the load became too much to bear. It felt like the spiral was never going to end.

I wish I had known then what I know now. Years later, I was at work, teaching a class on interdependence to adults with developmental differences. A man with cerebral palsy said, “you are capable of doing anything, and you make me so happy to be here.” There was a stark sense of irony in providing contentment for someone else while I had completely shut myself down from the idea that I could be happy. I realized my mental health is something I have power of managing with the right tools, the right help, and surrounding myself with the right people. And running.

Running is a great analogy for life’s challenges. Imagine you’re running a race. You’ve run races your entire life, but this one is different. It has many steep hills, you’re dehydrated, you didn’t get enough sleep or eat the right breakfast. To an inexperienced runner, the race might seem like there is no end in sight. But over time, you gain the perspective to know that even if you need to slow down, the only way to the finish line is by continuing the race.

Here are a few other pieces of advice I’ve picked up along the race route:
  1. Address to accept. The only way out is through. By addressing what you are feeling or going through, you are working towards accepting yourself.
  2. Self-reflect. Reflect on experiences, and distinguish between what is in your control and what isn’t. Be patient with yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed. Go outside. Go for a walk. Exercise. Eat well. Talk to a friend or family member. Do what you love.
  3. Be honest. By being honest, you will start to develop a trusting relationship with yourself, by far one of the most important relationships there is.
  4. Speak up. Advocate for yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are wondering whether you need help, talk to a trusted adult or mental health care professional to explore your options. You are not alone.

Now that I’m out of school and working full-time, life’s transitions are less predictable or dependent on the time of year. But as the days get shorter and colleagues start talking about their summer in past tense, I can’t help but wonder what adventures life has in store for me next.

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