Mental health is not a trend

Recently I led a virtual team building activity intended to promote a “get-to-know-each-other” dialogue. It was over Zoom and before you roll your eyes, hear me out. My team, like many, has been remote for the last year and on top of the typical challenges of working through a global pandemic, we’ve also recently endured some organizational change. The team is a talented bunch and I’m proud to lead and work with them, but I also recognize our culture and camaraderie is slower to build given the circumstances of the last year. 

So when our team building discussion evolved into a conversation about mental health, it was fitting, timely and if I do say so myself…really wonderful.

The prompt was: Share a moment in your past that has shaped how you think or work now. 

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to set the tone with a personal example, so I shared my first experience having a panic attack. This was a time in my life when on paper I had everything together. I was 25, still in the honeymoon phase of my big-girl job, engaged and planning a wedding, and recently purchased my first home. So why, one evening was I driving home from work feeling completely out of control? My face began to tingle, eventually going completely numb, my heart was beating out of my chest and I remember gripping the steering wheel with my elbows locked, terrified of what was coming next. The absence of control (whoisdrivingthiscarandhowcanImakeitstop?!) was all consuming and I still don’t really remember the rest of the drive home.

I wrapped the story by emphasizing how much of a wakeup call that moment was for me to take care of myself. My journey facing my mental health challenges began after the panic attack, though the signs were there much earlier. I spent a lot of time convincing myself this was just life as an adult. But my personal encounter with anxiety is why I am so passionate about candid conversation and work-life balance being a reality for my team.

I expected to see some dropped jaws and wide eyes, but instead I noticed a lot of nodding heads and metaphorical light bulbs going off. Even if the members of my team had never personally experienced what I was describing, it gave them insight into who I am. It’s why I am constantly checking in on them personally and not only their projects. It’s why I recant stories of my disaster mornings with my rambunctious children— to let them know they aren’t alone. And it’s why I feel like being a (mostly) open book is so important to building trust (which generally opens the door for high performance, but that’s a conversation for another time).

In the 11 years since my panic attack, I’ve learned a lot. While I did seek help almost immediately, I kept much of the experience to myself. Aside from those closest to me I did not talk openly about my anxiety. It was a step in the right direction to acknowledge my challenges, but mostly I’d attempt to hide a trying time by getting in a (probably not-so-discreet) cry in the bathroom stall at work.

Eventually I moved to “owning it.” But what that really meant is while I would directly address my anxiety, I’d use self-deprecating humor and preface everything with, “I know I’m crazy or high strung (or insert any other negative, semi-offensive term), but…”

I believe living through the emergence of COVID-19 brought a huge awareness to those struggling with their mental health. I don’t know if more people began to experience symptoms or if we all just realized we can’t keep holding our emotions inside. Whatever the reason it’s been FREEING to me. I will preach self-care to anyone who will listen and openly tell them that my challenge is anxiety. It’s what I deal with and it’s part of who I am. Now I try to be intentional about using language that lets others know how I’m doing. It’s not that I need anything from them, but simply being able to articulate how I’m feeling creates more authenticity from me.

When I’m dealing with a bout of anxiety I now use a two-pronged approach:

  • Talk about it (“Hi, husband. This week has been rough. Here’s how I feel…”)
  • Do something positive about it. (“Hi, husband. Because this week has been rough I really need to go for a walk alone.”)

This strategy has been huge for me. And by working it into my everyday life it allows me to remember that mental health is not a trend. We are all living a real-life with real-life challenges and real-life reactions every single day.

As one of my favorite authors, speakers and mental health advocates, Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things.” It’s such a simple phrase, but reciting it has been a powerful reminder. It’s not that we’re making a big deal out of nothing. Whatever the “nothing” is, is a big deal to us. It’s about remembering we will get through it. The feeling, the decision, the moment…whatever the it is.

So, the evening after our team building activity, I went to yoga. After a sweaty hour of hard work, I prepared to lean in to savasana (this part of class may affectionately be referred to as ”nap time” for non-yogis). It’s the last few minutes of class designated for gratitude, rest and a clear head. But instead of being in the moment, I found myself replaying conversations I had during the work day, unable to shut off the internal chatter. At that moment I realized I had used my two-pronged approach and was still having an “off” day. 

I felt like a hypocrite. Here I was broadcasting my anxiety and my strategies of how I have it all figured out. How well I cope! Yet, in actuality I clearly wasn’t coping all that well. I relayed this frustration to a friend after class who reminded me it’s all a journey (not a trend, remember?). 

And she was right. 

I’m striving to be an example for my daughters, friends, family and colleagues. To be someone who is honest, authentic and who acknowledges when she isn’t at her best. Some days I may appear to have everything under control. Some days may be heavy, hard and obviously so.

I am an imperfect example. And that I realized, is perfectly okay.

Lots of things are hard. Here’s something that isn’t.

Excuse me while I have a little rant.

2020 is weird. We are living in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s confusing and scary and I’ll give you that in the beginning, information seemed to change by the day. But seven months in we seem to have a better understanding of what’s happening. Some of the best and brightest are navigating new findings and research as they work toward treatment and a vaccine for COVID-19.

Waiting is hard. However, we cannot simply throw up our hands with despair until then. There is currently (as in RIGHT NOW) a consensus among MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS on how to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We KNOW (as in not theorize or speculate or even perhaps THINK) that a COMBINATION of three things works to fend off the virus.

First, physically distance yourself from others. Ideally, six feet or more.

Then, wash your hands often and thoroughly. Sing the ABCs, Happy Birthday or if you’re in my house, Baby Shark, twice.

And finally, here’s the kicker, people. Wear a mask. And not over your chin or hanging around your neck. But rather, over the parts of your face that project germs onto other human beings, thus, potentially spreading the virus. This includes your nose (where mucus dwells) AND your mouth (where saliva resides).

Here’s what else we know:

This is not hard.

Much like the mantra I used to repeat before leaving the house, “phone, wallet, keys” now, there’s simply one more thing.

Phone. Wallet. Keys. Mask.

Four things. Instead of three. Not hard.

Also, wearing a mask to protect your fellow Americans is not political and is not about your personal rights. One more time…


Here’s a situation that’s become increasingly more common. Last week my husband was grocery shopping in an upper-middle class suburb of Ohio. I describe the socioeconomic status because, generally speaking, there are educated, informed people who reside and shop there.

While in the store, my husband came across a 30-something-year-old male with his mask pulled completely off his face, resting underneath his chin. I won’t tell you what the man’s hat said because that isn’t the point of my rant, but feel free to draw your own conclusions. My husband told me the exchange went something like this:

Husband: You’re supposed to wear that over your face.

Unmasked man, smirking: Yeah, I got it.

Husband: Ooh bad boy. You’re a real rebel.

Something to note about my husband. He’s never been a fan of conflict. He’s more of a “sweep it under the rug” kind of guy, preferring to internalize opposition versus facing it head on. Over the years I have embarrassed him on more than one occasion for not being able to keep my mouth shut. A few days before I gave birth to our first daughter, we went to the movies for one last outing. A couple of middle-aged women sat behind us and talked for a solid two hours comparing each scene in the movie to the book that it was based on. When I hissed at the women to KINDLY STOP THE COMMENTARY he wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

So, when my husband told me the grocery store confrontation didn’t end there, I knew he had had it.

I imagined him aggressively wheeling his cart to the checkout line to dramatically flag down someone in management, but in fairness, the most aggressive thing about him is probably his scowl.

Husband to grocery store manager: Why is it acceptable for people to take their mask off once inside the store?

Manager: Well, we aren’t going to say anything to cause a scene.

Husband: Would you say anything to me if I didn’t have a shirt on?

Manager: Probably, but I get where that guy is coming from. I’m an anti-masker.


End scene.

But really. How did we get here? When did caring about other people (also known as LOVE THY NEIGHBOR) become political? When did we lose empathy and compassion as a human race? How is preventing the spread of a harmful virus a polarizing notion?

Those refusing to wear a mask are openly saying they don’t care about other people. The scoffing attitude says it. The no mask says it. The reality is you can’t plead ignorance anymore. The virus will not magically go away on its own. We have resources and an understanding of what we need to do FOR EACH OTHER. Maybe you feel invincible. Fine. But there are plenty of people around you who aren’t. I, for one, would like to actually hug my parents sometime soon, instead of having to elbow bump them hello in the driveway. And I’d also like to keep them around for a while.

In case my use of all capitalized words sprinkled throughout this rant was lost on you, I’d like to clarify that I’m doing it to PROVE A POINT.

I hope you took a minute to reflect and think beyond yourself.

It’s only a mask. Put it on.


And thank you.