What Do You Look Forward To?

Like everyone, the Schlossberg family has just had a grand ole time with adjusting to quarantine life. I’ve been legislating from my office, voting on bills from my bedroom, and trying to help desperate individuals try to access government benefits like unemployment. Brenna is trying to adjust to online teaching and constantly worries about her students or whether or not they are safe, eating well and being cared for. The kids are doing better than us, mostly, but Lord knows they miss their friends and their school lives. I’m just grateful they aren’t older and haven’t quite lost the idea that this is just an adventure with the family.

Life is hard. It’s hard for all of us, and you don’t need me to tell you that. And let me acknowledge again, I have it a hell of a lot better than many. Brenna, the kids and I are safe and healthy. We have food. We have shelter and we face no immediate economic thread as a result of this. There are so many people in worse shape than us. I don’t say that to devalue our pain or that of others, but to acknowledge that we have good fortune that others don’t.

But, I want to take a second to share a piece of advice that I have found incredibly useful as the days drag on, and this goes for everyone, no matter what your circumstances or levels of comfort are.

Every day, when the kids go to bed, I have a huge piece of cheesecake. I mean, we’re talking a piece of cheesecake the size of my head. It’s cherry cheesecake and from the Amish Bakery at the Allentown Farmer’s Market. Yes, I’d like several pieces, right now. Cheesecake and a big glass of milk.

Why am I writing about this on a blog about mental health?

I didn’t mean to do it, but at some point, I realized that the cheesecake became something I’d look forward to towards the end of the day. A goal. A point of relaxation. Like many of you, the lines between my work and professional life have always been relatively blurred, but even more so now that my home is also my office. The cheesecake was the ultimate sign of relaxation for me. It became something I’d look forward to. A nightly ritual I could enjoy that marked the end of the day.

At moments I was stressed, anxious or tired, I’d say to myself, “Just keep going. There’s cheesecake at the end of the day.”

This is probably useful for more than just a pandemic, but I have absolutely found that setting a ritual, adhering to that ritual, and enjoying that ritual can be very useful during the more stressful moments of a day. It gives me something to strive to – a little treat. It doesn’t have to be much. It doesn’t have to be cheesecake. But I have absolutely found that giving myself a pleasant reward at the end of a stressful day can make a world of difference.

So, that’s my advice to you. Set a goal. Stick to it. And find what works for you.

Have a wonderful day, everyone. Take care of yourselves and each other!

Depression and resilience

This is a topic that is near and dear to me: The concept on resilience and mental health.

One of the things that I try to talk with people about when it comes to mental health is the concept that you cannot just “power your way through” it.  I mean, when you’re depressed, you can’t just “man up” or “pray it away,” right?  If you are depressed, and you cross that magical clinical threshold, you need professional help.  This is part of the mantra of countless professionals and experts in this arena – go get help if you need it, and don’t be stupid and think that you can defeat depression on your own.

And yet….

Most estimates say that 1 in 5 Americans experienced a “mental health condition” over the past year.  That number is very high – I’d argue higher than most Americans realize.  But, as high as it is – it still means that 4 in 5 Americans don’t have a mental health condition.  That, obviously, begs this question: Why?

That’s a broader topic than a layman like me can tackle in a 750 word blog entry.  There are, of course, countless reasons, including genetics, living situations, access to health care and more.  But, for now, there’s one topic I want to explore: The concept of resilience and mental health.

Resilience, as it pertains to mental health, is defined by the American Psychological Association as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” The APA website I link to contains a variety of information on the concept on resilience, including how to build it.

Why do I mention it now?  Well, being resilient, as it pertains to mental health, seems an awful lot like “powering through” a difficulty.  If someone is resilient, doesn’t that mean that they have the ability to get through a mental health challenge?  Is it then possible to “tough it out” and avoid professional help?  And, conversely, is someone who just isn’t resilient enough just lacking a fundamental trait?

I think the above paragraph is pretty thought provoking, mainly because it sort of flies in the face of everything that those of us who are on anti-stigma campaigns preach.  We tell people to not allow the depression to win – if you are suffering, seek professional help.  And yet, if you can just be “resilient” enough, is it possible to get through your mental illness without needing help?

Interestingly, the APA website provides a perfect answer for that question.

The rest of the page has some subheaders, such as “Staying flexible,” “Learning from your past,” and “10 ways to build resilience.”  In other words…how to learn it.

Resilience, or the process of basically facing down’s life challenges, is vital to keeping yourself from being overwhelmed and slipping into depression, anxiety or addiction.  There’s also this amazing metaphor:

To help summarize several of the main points in this brochure, think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.

On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.

In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.

The river is life, and resilience is the boat.  Sometimes, the river can be so strong that it can overwhelm the strongest craft.  Other times, the boat can be leaky or fail to float for any number of reasons.

Here’s the crux of my entry: Resilience is unquestionably important when it comes to mental health.  But, it can’t be viewed as some magical skill that just exists or doesn’t, and that’s it.  It should be viewed as a critical component to any coping strategy, and a skill that can be both taught and learned.  With resilience, someone can get through life.  And someone can be taught the resilience to get through life and a mental health challenge…with therapy.

Does this make any sense?  I sure hope so.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment below and tlel me if you think I am dead on or have lost my mind – more than usual!