On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”

While going on trips and posting photos of the great times I had has been fun, I need to bring it back to something a little more serious.

Something that’s been brewing in my mind and in my heart for quite some time now. Brewing like some good coffee. Okay, sorry …

On October 10th, I discovered that it was World Mental Health Day and since then have come across numerous stories about people’s struggles with their mental health.

Actually, since starting here on WordPress, I’ve come across many blogs that serve as outlets for people’s experiences with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, drug addiction, and so on.

As I learn more and more about other people’s struggles with achieving good mental health — including people in my everyday life — I realize that it’s more rare to find someone who really has it all together than someone who feels like they’re nowhere near society’s standard of “normal.”

I didn’t feel this way for a long time though. I really felt like I was one of the few in life who wasn’t normal. Ever since I could remember, as a young girl, I would get into frequent spells of feeling down and depressed and wouldn’t know why.

It never turned into anything where I couldn’t get myself out of bed or thought of hurting myself, but it was a constant cycle of sadness, loneliness and anger that went on for years.

And maybe that’s why I was even more confused about whether I had a problem and if so, what that problem was.

It seems that so many people go through their days feeling down about life, feeling like they’re not good enough, feeling angry, feeling misunderstood. And many don’t know how to deal with that in a healthy way.

It’s so easy to push those awful feelings deep down inside where we don’t have to face them, or turn to things like drinking or drugs to escape.

I found myself doing just that — using alcohol as my security blanket to hide from my problems and all of the anger, sadness and insecurity that was making me feel like a complete wreck during my younger years.

At first, it seemed as though I was just drinking to be social — I probably told myself that “everyone’s doing it.” But at some point, it appeared that I could no longer have any fun on the weekend, and sometimes even during the week, without alcohol — and usually, a lot of it.

Then, I started drinking at home by myself. I also first justified this as simply “taking the edge off” after a long day at work. But eventually, I had to face the fact that it had become my immediate “go-to” solution whenever I started feeling depressed or cycling in overwhelmingly negative thoughts.

All I wanted to do was numb myself in those moments when I felt like a war was raging in my own head. And so, I would instinctively pour myself another and another until I felt that numbness sink in.

Of course, I never felt better about my problems — but I didn’t know what the alternative answer was.

My thoughts from various journal entries over the years.

I can’t tell you the number of times I said I would never drink again — or at least not let it get out of hand. And the number of times I broke that promise.

There was one time I got to “5 months of (drinking) soberdom”, but during that period I just found myself experimenting with other drugs instead. Anything to escape life as I knew it.

I don’t think I would have met the criteria for physical addiction to alcohol (although perhaps I was psychologically dependent on it). And I don’t say that in an attempt to avoid shame — rather, to explain that you don’t need to be at the extreme end and wearing a label in order to know that your drinking is a problem.

During part of that tumultuous time, I was also in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship, which obviously didn’t help in getting me to a healthy place where I could start dealing with the issues I already had.

My mental health was hurt badly through that experience, to the point where I felt very worthless as a person. It took a long time before I could get it to a state where I felt safe and good about myself. But perhaps more on that another time.

Part of a poem I wrote during my struggle to get my mental health to a better place.

I can write about all of this now because I’ve come such a long way in my thinking since then. And because I realize now that so many others go through the same thing.

I am by no means alone in feeling like I am not perfect and have a lot of things I need to work on.

The impression I give on this blog as a positive, life-loving person is genuine. But I want you to realize that I’ve gotten here through mistakes, lessons learned, and many ups-and-downs that make me appreciate life and the positive influences I now have around me so much more than I would have otherwise.

And it still, and always will be, a work in progress.

I encourage you to understand that everyone is different and that we’ve all had our share of life experiences that have impacted on us negatively and led to our own individual mental health issues, no matter how big or small.

Whether you are diagnosed with a mental illness or just have a feeling that things aren’t completely okay in your head, remember that no one is “perfect” and no one feels like they’re society’s unattainable standard of “normal” all, or even any, of the time.

And that’s totally okay.

The more we talk about our own mental health challenges, issues, fears, insecurities, and imperfections with those around us, the more it will become normalized and the less afraid people will be of just being themselves.

Thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

– Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

Blog post: October 10th, 2012 — World Mental Health Day by littleburstsofinspiration
Blog Post: Perfectly Imperfect by vinnylanni
Blog Post: Stop hating yourself for everything that you are not and start Loving yourself for everything you are. by sexandmiami
Blog Post: I am not a loser by bipolarblogging
Photo Credits: We all got issues, Normal is boring

*This post was updated on January 20, 2016

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Learning What Beauty Means

A few months before I went to visit Korea, I wrote a post called “Korean 101: Do You Look Good Enough?” that talked about the obsession with looks that Korean society seems to be currently undergoing.

It was something that I was afraid to be confronted with in the Motherland. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I know what it feels like to be looked down on and made fun of just because of physical appearances. I did not want to have to see others being subjected to the same kind of pressures they didn’t deserve.

I don’t know if I ended up being as constantly bombarded with it as I thought I’d be, but in any case, I still saw plenty of ads of young celebrities who have all probably had plastic surgery to make their faces look “perfect.” And the before- and after-surgery shots of both young girls’ and guys’ faces displayed in the subways and magazines just made my heart wrench into a knot.

Not too long after landing in Korea …

One day, someone said something in response to one of my protests that made me think really hard. They pointed out that for some of these girls, getting their faces done can give them a confidence that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

And it’s really not a point to just dismiss.

I started to think, am I really one to judge? Am I one to believe that this kind of pressure isn’t everywhere, including in my own country, and that I don’t succumb in some way or another to externally prescribed standards of what is considered “beautiful”? Don’t most of us?

Advertising “beauty” in the city

Here is my issue in particular with the Korea plastic surgery craze: it seems, from what I’ve learned, that girls at an extremely young age are told that looking “beautiful” is one of the — perhaps, the most — important things in life.

It is what you need to be successful, as is actually the case when you have to submit your headshot with a job or college application. Friends and mothers will be the first to tell you what’s wrong with your face and what you need to get fixed. Their celebrity “role models” all look like the “after” shots that you too can look like if you just book an appointment with the surgeon.

Basically, these young people don’t stand a chance to learn any other standard of beauty.

I feel that at least when I was growing up, I had time to develop my own personality and consider things like being creative, funny, and smart as what made me a cool person. My mom thought I was so cute with my chubby face and never put me down for having on a few extra pounds.

It was only when people started commenting that the way I looked was “wrong,” that I started looking at myself differently and feeling insecure.

Flipping through a magazine at a Korean restaurant

I think that having started out with different standards of what being an attractive person means has helped me to not totally lose myself in society’s standards of attractiveness.

I don’t know what’s going on with young kids here (in Canada) today. Are the pressures mounting against them to look a certain way to fit in and feel happy with themselves? Are they being bombarded at an ever-younger age than my generation was?

Whatever the case, my hope is that young people growing up get a chance to develop other standards of beauty and success — their own standards. Because once the real pressures start coming on full-force, they will need some powerful weapons to battle those outside voices with.

– Cafe <3

What are your experiences in learning what “beauty” means? How do you think we can help young people grow up with a more positive self-image?

A great blog post I read that speaks to this issue: http://louisepageblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-pressure-to-be-thin/