A Realistic Way to Set Goals for Mental Health

It’s after the new year, just about that time where people drop their resolutions. It may be hard to keep up with what you set out for yourself if the resolution is too big, too vague, too strict, or without a plan. But maybe you’re still going strong. Go you! And if not, that’s ok.

I don’t set a resolution in January, but throughout the year, I set goals with month-long deadlines. It really depends on where I wish to be with something, if it will cost me money, and how long I think it will take. For example, if I want to take a course in the summer, I look up the cost, note the start and end date, and save up the appropriate amount. Very simple example.

Sometimes, things don’t go as planned, but that’s all right. Still, if you think this way of structuring goals is a good idea, here are some examples geared toward managing your mental health that you can make:

  • Start therapy on March 2, once a month. Cost: $100/month.
  • Write a daily log of my feelings for a year.
  • Save $80 for anxiety management workshop on July 1.

For me, big goals don’t have deadlines. That’s important for me because it reduces stress around meeting that goal at a certain time, and eliminates the possibility of disappointment if it isn’t met. It also gives me the proper time to transform and heal because life is not a race. But also, sometimes it’s just a life-long lifestyle change I want to make. Here are some examples (inspired by my own):

  • Go to Reiki 2x/month and do inner child work in between. (Specific but no deadline)
  • Manage stress with exercise. (Lifestyle change)
  • Watch the sunrise every morning before work. (Lifestyle change)

So, I hope this gave you some clear ideas of how you can manage your mental health in an achievable way! Don’t let the new year be a reason to start something you really want to do; begin anytime!

Dear POC: We Get Depressed Too

*I was inspired by a part in the interview I did with Anna from Repsychl about mental health. My interview is part of a series on her blog, please check it out!

When I was in the 11th grade, my father told me that during his meeting with the school principals, they suggested I see a counselor. My father refused. He said I didn’t need to speak to anyone about my problems because I am African, and Africans don’t get depressed. Africans don’t get depressed because, despite a post-colonial history of poverty and war, Africans manage to find happiness at the end of the day, my father said.

I was a little upset; it was a new school, and I didn’t know what to make of how I was feeling. I didn’t know much about depression but I did think I had experienced it as a 13-year-old angry little girl, upset over the passing of a loved one and feeling misunderstood her entire childhood. But every day of my 16-year-old life, I woke up feeling meek and totally empty. Sometimes, I’d wake up so angry, barely a word would come out of my mouth the entire day at school. No friends: people weren’t interested and neither was I. There was a false rumor about me going around, too. So, yes, I would have liked to have somebody to trust at school. But I believed my father’s opinion and denied my emotions.

My father is a wonderful man, he just could not relate. My immigrant parents have been through a lot. They left their origin country by boat to the neighboring Angola, where they fled a war and came to Canada. My mother was sick all of my life, and today here I am, scathed but healed. Anyway, I do understand where my father is coming from. Despite economic shifts due to colonialism and government corruption, and ancestral trauma, Africans have never lost the aspect of community in our nations. There is a communal state of mind where people share with one another, help raise each other’s children, among other things. When we are sick or have experienced trauma, friends and family are there for us until we get better. You are never alone. African immigrants have carried this state of mind with them in the communities we’ve found in the west. But they are far from being perfect communities, and it doesn’t mean that Africans don’t get affected by problems. Poverty, trauma and the like… it’s complicated. Plus, we have to factor in other issues that the individual is personally going through, maybe secretly due to cultural taboos. Even if you can stand up on your own two feet again, negative emotions can creep up at any time.

I used to feel ashamed and selfish about being depressed. Here, in Canada, I have so many opportunities and great healthcare. But I no longer feel that way. I’m also in a much better place now after seeking a lot of help. I had to train myself to believe that my experiences and emotions were valid, especially if physical imbalances may contribute to mental illness. Here, in the West, black communities and other POC communities still carry a taboo around mental health issues, but I believe that’s starting to break down slowly. My hope is that more people of color become open to the fact that the state of your overall health depends on how you feel inside just as much as your physical health. Wherever you live in the world, that place comes with its own set of issues which affect everyone. And I don’t even know what you have had to deal with at home. How you feel, you know, it’s completely valid.

I like to adopt the practice of helping someone out until they can get back on their feet, and including others to do the same because a lot of the time, a depressed person will feel alone and like they don’t want to bother anybody. It hasn’t always worked out in my experience, though, for a few reasons: one time the person kept rejecting my hand, while another person was too individualist and just believed they were alone in this no matter what. Despite these two instances, there were more breakthroughs. There are many people who can appreciate and benefit from having people around them. This doesn’t have to be for when your friend or loved one is ill; you could be there for a new mom, a new immigrant, whomever! Try it, and see what happens.

When You’re too Depressed to Stay in School

I spent five years kind of confused in university. I could easily say they were wasted, but the last five years have witnessed the biggest personal growth of my life thus far.

When this blog first started, I wrote that I was frozen with fear about dropping out of school. I nearly finished the program but I was struggling to get certain credits. And last winter, there I lay, stiff in bed, curled under layers of sheets protecting a body of glass. I wondered, “would I disappoint my father and myself by taking a break from school? Would I be a fool if I decided never to go back?” I was also very embarrassed for taking too long to finish school. These were all mind-traps created by me, inspired by expectations of my environment.

I gave myself an entire summer to think it over. Didn’t take long to decide; I was mostly building up the courage to tell my family I’d be putting my education on pause. When I’d find the strength to get out of bed, I was on the floor in a deep squat, sitting or laying down. Nerves flying through the roof. Frantically mapping out my year in plans A, B, C, and D, until I exhausted my options. It was a very sad time.

Proven Coping Methods

While I was in school, there were ways I tried to cope with the stress. I lessened my courseload from five classes per semester to four. I sought help from therapists at the health & wellness centre. Once, I asked an instructor for more time on a project. I ended up speaking with the centre for disabilities at my school, and they offered to help in various ways: providing a quiet space to do exams, allowing extra time for all tests and assignments, getting tested for learning disabilities if you think you have one (costs $$$ though, but is partially covered by the school’s health insurance), and other things that I can’t remember now. You surely have a centre for students with disabilities at your school. You don’t have to have a recorded disability to ask for help, but they help students who are really struggling. Rules might be different at each school, though. These methods all helped me. What ultimately led to my demise was a matter of not having any more money for my education and my basic needs.

Evaluating the Situation

Maybe you’re slipping through coursework. It’s not due to laziness, but because you’re stressed out or feel lost. Maybe your body is present in class but your mind is not, despite not having any distractions in front of you. Perhaps you’re not even sure that you want to continue with school at all. Well then, it’s okay to give yourself a break. Things need to be thought through thoroughly. But you also need to breathe, and not think at all about your worries every moment of every day. When we’re anxious and depressed we think a lot. Our brains have a hard time shutting off. And that can be hard. But it’s worth a try.

Be Extra Careful

I can’t stress enough the importance of planning out your schedule or your leave with an academic advisor. It may be in your best interest to also speak with a therapist at school about everything that is going on. Weighing out the pros and cons of staying and leaving is also best. Thinking decisions through thoroughly and seeking guidance is crucial.

The best lesson I learned from my break is to never get caught in pressures put on by our environment–family, society, friends, coworkers, etc. We must make decisions to the benefit of ourselves. We might have been put on this earth for a reason, but pleasing others isn’t one of them.