Concrete Action

I took a break from poetry for a few days to work on this, something that’s been on my mind lately, and that something is concrete action.

I can dream with the best of ’em, and brainstorm ideas and click “like” on inspiring social media posts, but as I age, I’ve been increasingly drawn to concrete action. What is feasible? Practical? Reasonable? Actionable?

This is an unprecedented time for anyone under the age of 103. And navigating the new landscape is tricky and exhausting. I see platitudes blasted on social media from a cross-section of people, and the one thing many of those responses lack is concrete action.

Example: Telling college and high school students that their #1 priority is their mental health and not school.

I absolutely agree. As someone who works like mad every single day to keep the depression under control, this is true. Keeping your mental health in check is vital right now.

What I see lacking in these posts is feasible, practical, reasonable, and actionable steps to make mental health their #1 priority. And as a high school teacher, I know it’s not enough to just tell kids “make this a priority.” They need some structure, some guidance, some ideas as to what that actually means. So let me throw some things out there.

Many health systems have offered telecounseling. My insurance company uses an app called AmWell that offers mental health services. A local hospital system has a counseling hotline. Boys Town offers emergency intervention via phone, email, or text, even in non-pandemic times.

But what if you aren’t quite at that point? You either feel weak (PLEASE DON’T) or that someone else needs it more (NOT TRUE) so you hesitate to utilize those services? What then?

I am not a mental health professional. I must be clear about that. But if you are feeling like your mental health is teetering, there are less soul-baring resources for you to try.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness has a video library, including stories from people sharing their own experiences, as well as other educational resources on their website. Sometimes just knowing other people have been where you are can help you feel less alone.

The CDC has a list of recommendations, including meditation (Simple Habit and Headspace are my favorite meditation apps), checking your diet, exercising, and connecting with others. These might seem too simple, or some days they might seem like too much. These things alone do not “cure” my depression, but they do help keep it at bay.

I’m currently taking a class from Yale University on Coursera called The Science of Well-Being, and holy buckets is it fantastic. My preferred method to manage my depression is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and this course is all about meta-cognition, looking at how our brains are wired by culture and then trying to challenge that wiring. It’s fantastic, and not for nothing: on the days I do anything with the class, I feel more relaxed.

Something else I’ve done is reach out to people. This is not easy for me. My depression brain tells me that I’m a burden and other people have bigger problems than mine and I shouldn’t add to them. But in the past three weeks, I’ve arranged several virtual meetings to connect with people–a couple whom I haven’t talked to in years. It’s been great to catch up in those cases, and it’s been good to maintain the relationships I never let lapse in the first place. And seeing their faces while we talk has been a thousand percent better than texting.

The platitudes are nice, and I do feel relieved to see them; an acknowledgment that none of *this* is normal does help. But following up those platitudes with how to live by them is equally important.

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