By Heather Nelson

Note: this article is part of a series. Heather shares her journey into a healthy lifestyle — body and mind — and invites you to take part in your own. 

If you’re thinking about or have thoughts of suicide or are concerned about someone you know or just need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with their counselors here. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering through an eating disorder please check out the resources here or call the National Eating Disorder Hotline 1-800-931-2237. (All resources are FREE.)

I remember the sun. It was hot. Bright. A promise of another day. A fresh start.

The people, too, were like that Florida summer sun. Bright, glowing, never-changing, full of hope…. And me? I felt dark. Like the black sheep. An anomaly.

Didn’t I trust God?

1,600 miles from the comfort of home, the uncertainty started to wear on me. I never felt so desperate before. I looked for any answer, a solution. I never needed a sleep-aid. Now, I took a handful of night-time pain relievers to fall asleep. I felt numb. The weight of a life-changing decision hung on my shoulders. “I’m too busy to worry about this,” I thought. I tried my hardest not to worry — I “trusted” in God.

For five weeks, I stayed busy: collecting phone numbers, sifting through passages of scripture, kneeling for hours in the chapel, note-taking, and, occasionally, lounging on the beach. I thought long walks in the chokingly-humid air or staring at the sunset would clear my mind. Or maybe ignoring the problem would suffice? How about speaking with a few trusted friends? A priest? Nothing seemed to fix what I was feeling, and I convinced myself that it was normal and that I should move on.

I convinced myself that becoming a missionary was something that I needed to do. I’ve always wanted to help people, and becoming a missionary seemed like the perfect fit. I’d devoted the latter half of my college career to bible studies, spending time in prayer, and hoping to transform lives through God’s word. I started to think that I made the wrong decision. My declining mental health and the uncertainty fueled the increased worry. Why couldn’t I just be happy like everyone else? Why couldn’t I stop worrying? Why couldn’t I turn my brain off?

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Vanderbilt Beach in Florida, just one of the beaches where the missionaries of FOCUS spent weekends. 

***

Three days until the end of training. Three days until I’d return home. Three days until I could no longer hide.

“I’m thinking…I think I might want to die, like, I want to kill myself,” I whispered to a friend. Moments passed.

My friend looked at me, sadness in her eyes, paused, and asked, “Why are you feeling this way?” I sat for a moment, tears welling up, a choking feeling in my throat.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “It’s, like, I think about death a lot, and how much easier it’d be if I just didn’t wake up one morning.” I told my friend about the sleepless nights, about the weariness…. Later, I spoke to a priest and explained the same thing. And then, confided in another friend about the extreme sadness I felt.

The consensus following my consultations: Trust in God. You can do this.

One month later, I’d finally become tired from lying to my boss about the amount of work I’d completed (and how lousy I felt). I wasn’t ready to support myself on campus: financially or emotionally. One night I answered his call ready to talk about everything. I told him about the suicidal thoughts, the lack of motivation, my inability to merely move from bed. And still, I was convinced that a drive to Springfield, Mo. would change my mind. It didn’t.

Several conversations (and days) later, I’d:

  • quit my job
  • spilled the whole story to my mom
  • called a therapist

The weight of not knowing slowly slipped away. I decided to take care of myself first. I finally trusted myself to make my own decisions. I slowly learned to care for myself (mentally, physically, emotionally) again. With the help of my therapist, I understood the inner workings of my anxious brain and how to care for myself. And I began to live a happier life again.

To be continued…

The change didn’t happen overnight. I’d felt these feelings of despair before, but I thought it was “normal” to contemplate death often. I didn’t know that I was anxious or depressed. I figured I’d always feel rundown or unable to function.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Through the years, I’ve discovered what sets me off, or sends me into a frenzy. I fear not knowing what the future holds. I stress when I’m unorganized. I lose sleep when there’s “too much” to do.

I’ve learned the different tools and forms of self-care that I need to calmly move on or to prepare for when crisis strikes.

Whether you suffer from a mental illness or occasionally feel rundown, here are some forms of self-care I’ve found the most beneficial:

  • a hot bath, with a calming Spotify playlist
  • lounging on a couch (or lawn chair) with a book
  • physical exercise (for me: running or weight lifting, yoga)
  • meditation (via headspace)
  • baking / trying a new recipe
  • meal planning/prepping
  • spending time with a friend
  • making a to do list of small tasks — checking them off is satisfying!!
  • booking a massage

You may share my forms of self-care, and you will certainly have your own.

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My forms of self-care include reading, trips to Trader Joe’s, and heading to the gym.

Below is this week’s call to action! 

You may’ve heard the word “self-care.” Maybe you’ve heard it described as treating yourself to a shopping spree or something of that nature. Self-care is much more than that. It’s an activity meant to take care of our well-being, our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. A good self-care routine means improved mood and less anxiety. It’s a way to “refuel” ourselves.

If you don’t have a self-care routine, create one. It’s important to take a few minutes for yourself each day — yes, even if you’re busy. You must actively plan for self-care — it’s not meant to be random. When you plan things out, you’re able to respond to situations instead of react. It’s also beneficial to have a mapped out routine before you’re in a time of crisis.

    1. Ask, “Am I taking care of myself? Do I take the time to care for my own needs before anyone else’s?”
    2. Consider the areas of your health: physical, mental, emotional. Start listing out a few things you can do to care for yourself in each category. An activity may even overlap between the three categories. (Example: exercising is my form of self-care for my physical and mental wellbeing.)
    3. If you already have a routine, take time to assess. What’s something small you’re doing for yourself each day? How could improve or add to your current routine.
    4. Reach out to a trusted friend. Find an accountability buddy. Check in with them (and have them check in with you) as often as you need. Change takes time, but it feels a little easier with structured plan to guide you.

 

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