March 03, 2021

POV: Prioritizing Your Mental Health

Timeline check – almost one full year of navigating this new existence that COVID-19 has forced upon us. I was recently shocked with a strange realization that while I have created new routines and have come to be comfortable with how my life has changed, I am actually experiencing a void that is really hard to pinpoint.  

And a little bit about me before I hop into that–I have struggled with heavy insomnia for years. Since October 2020, I’ve been seeing a sleep psychologist and together we have implemented Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as part of my treatment. As a result of CBT, along with consistent exercise (at least 5 times per week), my insomnia is, for the first time in a decade, under control.  

I explain that as a caveat because of what comes next. In spite of the best sleep I’ve received in years and the consistent infusion of endorphins in my body I am still struggling.  

The other week I was listening to a podcast from Marketing for Good and the host, Erica, was interviewing a fellow nonprofit executive about the impact stigma has on discussing our mental health needs. Additionally a thought (either from a conversation or another podcast) kept swimming in my head around burnout. The gist was that if you find yourself consistently irritated, annoyed, frustrated, or otherwise out-of-sorts you’re probably on the verge burnout and need a break.  

Within days I then found myself in a conversation with one of my staff. I was super salty about everything. Not toward them but certainly ornery and negative. I realized what was happening and even mentioned the podcast I just listened to (while apologizing for my behavior). The next day, another staff person approached me and genuinely asked how I was doing. This person noted that I have been communicating the need for work-life-balance and the use of PTO among the team yet also knew I wasn’t taking any time for myself.  

It was such a lightning bolt moment for me and I immediately took a 4-day weekend. I certainly needed the break and I am not going to lie, I am nowhere near ‘recovered’. I am however recognizing that my position as UNA’s leader puts extra responsibility on me to lead by example. It also opens up a rare opportunity for me to communicate when and how I am struggling as a way to reduce the stigma around opening up about the things that are not jiving for me.  

I am far from a mental health professional and don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I can say this, during our staff meeting this morning (as I revealed my own struggles) we had such a great team dialogue and it reinforced how we can support each other. I am also incredibly proud of my team for allowing me to be vulnerable and for showing up for themselves and for our mission.  

I appreciated the podcast (Ian Adain: On Being Stronger than Stigma) because it helped me see that this pandemic is only one layer of things we are all navigating. And there shouldn’t be any shame in being honest about how you’re adjusting (or not). If anything opening up to the people you spend most of your time with (at home and work) can be liberating. 

I really do believe that reducing the stigma around mental health begins with each of us. And I want to do my part to help our families and communities heal from the many things that tug at their lives. I am part of the vast majority of people who have been impacted by suicide, depression, bi-polar disorder and others. I am also part of a minority of people who seek counseling and therapy. If for nothing else I hope this blog serves as a window for each of you to take steps toward prioritizing your own mental health. When we are solid, we can be extra solid for others!