Maintaining Your Mental Well Being

Posted By: Dee Wilson Blog,

Maintaining your mental well being

The first thought I had when I sat down to write this article is, “How transparent should I be?”, which is the exact problem we have when it comes to discussing mental health disorders. We don’t talk about it, it’s still taboo, and it continues to be seen as a weakness, so I decided I would be the exception because not being completely transparent would be counterproductive to the change that needs to happen in this world. 

The first signs I experienced were when I was around 13 years old at Summer camp. One morning I felt an overwhelming feeling, my chest felt tight, and my head felt light, it was such an unfamilar feeling, I had no idea what was happening, and then it was lights out. When I came to I was surrounded by people, my head was on a female counselor's lap, and I had three wet rags on my head and neck. I was immediately taken to the on-site clinic where the nurses diagnosed me as perfectly fine, she said it was probably due to me not eating that morning as I often skipped breakfast and still do to this day. Over the years I continued to experience similar symptoms, sometimes completely manageable, and sometimes not. 

Growing up in an Asian household anxiety wasn’t a legitimate topic, it just wasn't real, so you can imagine how shocked my mom was when the doctor said my fainting spells could be related to anxiety.

So naturally she made me cut out all caffeine, because anxiety wasn’t a real thing.  My mom was convinced I drank too much caffeine which was causing all of my symptoms.  I loved caffeine, and still do, so I learned to manage it and never bring it up again so I wouldn’t be deprived of the thing I loved most.  As I got older I could notice the signs, I became good at listening to my body, it didn’t exist for me either. This is where we mess up as a society, as a world, as a culture, I continued to live with it instead of seeking help and learning more about it.

I was in my mid 20’s when it started to show up again, the best way to describe what I was constantly feeling was that feeling you had as a child when you knew you were in trouble and had a knot in your stomach, it was like that, just the knot never went away. This was the first time as an adult that I had any conversations with a physician about what I was feeling and immediately received two medications, one that was fast acting and to be taken as needed and one that was a daily slow-release medication.  I couldn’t wait to see if it worked, so that evening after picking up my prescription I tried my first fast-acting anxiety medication and I felt ten foot tall and bulletproof.  I had one re-occurring thought, "is this what regular people feel like?"  It felt like someone had gone directly into my stomach and unraveled that knot, like someone had walked up to me and lifted the tons of bricks sitting on my shoulder and back.  My relief was interrupted by yet another anxious thought…this can’t be good for me, or anyone, this was too good to be true but it fixed me and that’s all I wanted…or so I thought. 

Medication is only one part of maintaining mental health, and when you look at the big picture medication is one minimal part of maintaining your mental health, I learned this the hard way.  I was on anxiety medication for 6 years before I received a proper diagnosis for what I was battling.  I had dealt with weight gain, immunity to medication, switching medication, night sweats, fatigue, filters on my emotions and so much more, yet I thought I was healed. On the inside I was still struggling, I was still in pain, and I was still covering up and dealing with the things the medication didn’t make go away, this is why I said medication is only a small part of maintaining mental health.


Six years after starting anxiety medication, I was officially diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. People don’t talk enough about what happens to you when you receive your official diagnosis.  Something about someone confirming how screwed up you are is hard, realizing how pain and experiences have affected your entire life is defeating, this is a process all on its own, a process that requires a very strong support system.  The real work happens when the pain reappears, therapy is tough, I tell everyone therapy sucks before it ever makes you feel better, but it’s supposed to.  Your body and brain have a natural way of protecting themselves, sometimes that involves shielding and suppressing memories, and therapy makes you face those all head-on.  I can’t explain how many times I left my therapist's office thinking “I thought this was supposed to make me feel better”, but eventually it did.  After years of crawling through and out of memories and pain in one-hour increments, I started to notice a major change in myself, it was nothing anyone else could see but everything I could feel.  The voice inside of me started to sound different, my narrative started to change and I felt more enlightened than I had ever felt before. 


Therapy doesn’t make anything go away, it teaches you about why you react and feel the way you do. I noticed I was able to understand my myself more, I was able to understand why I was feeling a certain way but most importantly I started to understand the alarms and messages my body sent me.  These feelings are instincts and created to protect us, to alarm us and to get our attention. For some of us, those alarms go off a lot more than others, sometimes completely irrational, sometimes completely rational.  Therapy allowed me to learn more about myself and my defensive reactions so much that after three years I made a big decision to go off my medication.  Medication helps, in some situations medications are required to keep us alive and healthy but for the most part medication isn’t supposed to be a permanent fix, it’s the bridge that takes you from one side to the other, and I felt I had reached the other side.  Here's something else a lot of people don’t talk about, when you stop taking anxiety, or depression medication you’re going to feel.  You’ll feel a lot of things, you’ll feel things you should’ve felt in the moment, and you’ll feel things that you should’ve felt in the past.  Anxiety and depression medications suppress a lot, and that’s not always healthy, the best thing I learned through my journey with therapy is you’re supposed to feel things. You’re supposed to be angry, mad, sad, happy and you’re supposed to feel them all the way through.


I needed something positive to replace the medication I was on, so I started running. Running helped to eliminate the feeling of stress and anxiety in my body, lifting weights helped me reduce feelings of aggression, and working out created endorphins that battled the feeling of depression.  I had to learn how to be bigger, better, and smarter than my triggers, and what that meant for me was being able to walk away from things, people, and situations that weren't good for me. I had to be able to recognize a toxic situation instead of trying to challenge myself that I’m strong enough to stay in one. I had to know when to turn the world off, I had to learn when I needed to get off social media because I was already looping negative thoughts. I had to learn when I could be a sounding board and when I didn’t have the mental capacity to be there for others, I had to learn when to rest, I had to learn to say no, I had to learn my toxic traits, and I had to be stronger than that too.

I stopped fighting my mental health disorders and started working with them but along side working with them I realized as much as it feels like a negative in my life my mental health disorders do come with a lot of positives. 


My PTSD increases my level of affective empathy, meaning I’m better equipped to understand the mental state of others and respond appropriately, I have found this to be particularly helpful when I was in a leadership role, and as a speaker and trainer. One of my character traits is being a problem solver, as soon as something happens I’m on to “what’s the next step?” instead of dwelling on the problem, this is often a trait employers look for in leadership roles.  Data shows that those who suffer from anxiety process threats differently, using areas of the brain that are responsible for taking action. Anxious people tend to react quickly in times of danger and tend to be more comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. Everyone has some anxiety, this can normally serve as an internal alarm system, I just have a more sensitive alarm that makes me hyperaware of things happening around me. I can often notice a shift in  energy and as a trainer this is especially helpful because people won’t always say they are overwhelmed or that they don’t understand something in front of a large group.  That hypersensitivity allows me to check on that person one-on-one which often opens them up to talk to me. There have also been studies that have found people with diagnosed depression were less likely to make social misjudgments and tend to reduce biases. While the human mind tends to believe that what people do fundamentally reflects who they are, symptoms of depression seem to counteract that, possibly by appreciating that there’s more to other people than their external behavior — a critical perspective for healthy relationships.


None of my mental health disorders restricts me from living a normal life, being a good person, or a hard worker, in fact for me it does the complete opposite but I had to learn a lot about myself and my disorders to figure that out.  Everyone's battle with mental health is their own, this is just my experience.  One day I hope we can live in a world where we stop seeing mental health disorders as a weakness and instead lean on those people for their strength, their ideas, their understanding, and their ability to connect with others.