March 8, 2012

International Women's Day logoI've started and re-started this blog entry four times now, getting more and more frustrated each time. Trying to encapsulate the female experience is like trying to pluck the moon out of the night sky - you can hold your hand up to it, but can never actually accomplish the feat. What I need to remember, what we all need to remember, is that we can't cover everything having to do with being a woman in a web page, or a day, or even a lifetime. We can only try in our own small way to do the best for each other, and for ourselves.

And yet, for some reason we as women feel guilty if we admit we need assistance. I'm not talking about feminism or politics here. I'm talking about each individual person taking stock of themselves, realizing that they need a little help when it comes to their mental well-being, and then for whatever reason, not asking for support. Do we close ourselves off because we want to be Wonder Women, capable of doing it all (while looking impeccably fabulous, of course)? Do we think if we show weakness, we won't be taken seriously as equals, be it in the workplace or in our personal lives? Or do we just not think we're worth someone spending time on us?

If you are currently struggling with your mental well-being, I want to let you know I have been there, continue to be there, and will be there a long way down the road. While I am very open and honest about my mental illness, there are days I want to 'do it all' without worrying that my husband is worried about me. I want to brush off red flags that I logically know are indicators of an impending mood swing not because I don't trust myself, but because I don't want to seem weak. I want to self-ostracize and box myself in, all so I can look polished and put together to the outside world. And while I know these behaviours are dangerous, I do them anyway, because frankly, some days I'd rather be sick and pretty than blemished and honest.

So what can you and I do today, on International Women's Day, to invest in ourselves?

1. Take stock of yourself. How are you feeling, really? If something is going on, be it a short episode of depression or something more permanent, now is the time to be really honest with yourself. No one can help you if they don't know what is wrong.

2. Understand that, while mental illness can be very difficult, being open about your condition is better for you in the long run. I won't lie to you - I know people who have come out about their mental illness and faced stigma in the workplace and in their home lives. I'm not saying it will necessarily be a walk in the park. I am saying for the healing to begin, you have to take the first step.

3. Understand that it is not your job to do it ALL. I'm a mother, a wife, a writer, a grad student, and a million other things. However, I have learned that I cannot do everything, all at once, all on top of each other. Which leads me to point 4...

4. The world will not stop spinning if you take a break. I know this may be hard for you to hear, but you *can* relax every once in awhile without life as we know it ending. Go for a walk, put some music on, lay down for 5 minutes - do some small thing for yourself once a day to help recharge your batteries.

5. Talk to someone. If you are struggling with 'coming out' with your mental illness, call a help line like the Samaritans. You can contact them by phone: 08457 909090 or by email and speak anonymously without fear of someone recognizing you. When you are ready, you can begin to talk to your family and friends about how you are feeling. At first, I had a lot of trepidation about talking to my loved ones about my bipolar (see some of my older blogs for the details), but they are now my biggest supporters.

I hope you take this day to truly celebrate yourself, and remember - you don't have to be Wonder Woman. The woman you are is wonderful enough.


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