When you’re a kid, people will invariably ask you what you want to be “when you grow up”. My answer always varied from scientist to artist to writer and whatnot, but one thing that never changed was my desire to make an impact on the world (even though that sounds clichéd).
At a young age, whenever something was bad or wrong in the world, I’d look to my favorite role models or figureheads to speak on the issue. And I told myself that if one day I ever had a platform, I would use it to speak on the same issues, too. Well, at this point in my life I’m lucky to have cultivated a humble following in this little corner of the internet, and it’s about time I used it to speak up and make a difference.
When I wrote about my struggles with mental health in this post, so many of you commented, emailed, and messaged me describing your struggles with the same. I was blown away by the level of feedback, but I shouldn’t have been surprised – considering 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. has experienced a mental health issue in a given year. So for everyone reading this, it is statistically certain that either you or someone close to you has struggled with their mental health this year.
But despite the prevalence of mental health issues, there is a lingering stigma surrounding them. This stigma can cause social isolation, hopelessness, and the inability for people to get the medical help they need.
It’s time to end the stigma.
This new series, Mental Health Mondays, seeks to do just that. Each week, I’ll be interviewing another blogger “over a smoothie” to talk about mental health. They’ll be sharing their journeys, thoughts, and ideas surrounding this complex issue. But before we get started, let’s lay a few ground rules:
- This is a 100% judgement-free zone.
- All those who participate in this discussion in good faith deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
- This discussion is not limited to those who have suffered from a mental health issue themselves. Caregivers, medical professionals, friends and family, and allies are welcome too.
- Questions are welcome. Stigma is not.
So, without further ado, let’s take it over to Ashley of Blissful Basil, who is our inaugural interviewee!
Welcome to Mental Health Mondays with Well and Full! This series is intended to be an open, honest, inclusive, and respectful dialogue about mental health from people of all walks of life. Thank you so much for sharing your experience in hopes to further the conversation about mental health.
Tell me a little about yourself!
I’m Ashley, a psychologist and the author, photographer, and recipe creator behind the plant-based food blog Blissful Basil. I’ve been blogging for a little over seven years now and my debut cookbook was released last December. I have a passion for transforming whole, plant-based ingredients into dishes that are just as satisfying as they are nourishing, all with the hope of empowering others to take charge of their mental, emotional, and physical well-being by incorporating more close-to-the-earth foods into their lives.
So, where did your mental health journey start?
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I really, truly grabbed the reins on my personal mental health journey. However, I’d have to say that the journey, as a whole, actually began the first time I experienced feelings of separation from my overall sense of wellness, and that was when I was just eight years old. It was then that I encountered my first bout of seasonal depression and anxiety. Those feelings intensified and returned for annual visits from that point on until I finally turned to face and grapple with them about a decade ago.
What do you think is something that most people don’t realize about mental health?
It’s always a journey and never a destination. Most of us are able to achieve momentary and fleeting states of good mental health without much trouble; however, it’s a stable, sturdy, and consistent state of mental wellness that we most desire. And maintaining a state of good mental health requires daily dedication and effort. We certainly wouldn’t expect our bodies to remain in good physical health if we stopped nourishing and moving them, and we shouldn’t expect that of our minds either. Also, there’s no quick fix or shortcut when it comes to mental health—we have to be willing to work and reflect day in and day out.
What are some of the ways – conventional and holistic – that you work on your mental health?
One of the driving forces in writing the cookbook I wrote was to share the message that we can use plant-based eating as one of many means to infuse a greater sense of wellness into our lives. More than anything though, I believe it’s the cumulative effects of all our daily habits—what we eat, think, do, and say (not only to others but even more importantly ourselves) each and every day—that ultimately define our state of mental health. There are habits that foster a sense of well-being in our lives just as there are habits that undermine it. We don’t have to be perfectly guided in our adherence to these “good” habits in order to reap benefits, but simply aware of how the behaviors we’re engaging in most consistently are shaping our lives (for better or for worse).
Once we’re willing to examine and reflect on our daily habits, and I speak from experience here, we enlighten ourselves with the information we need to more closely align the life we’re living with the life we’re destined to live. When we choose the habits that reinforce our mental well-being, we get out of our own way. We say, “I love myself enough to vote in favor of me.” We can look at these positive habits as a metaphorical pat on the back, a nudge in the right direction each and every day.
The catch, of course, is that the habits that are best for us are usually the hardest ones to choose. The habits that support us, the ones that lift us up are usually not the shiny, I’ll-make-you-feel-better-right-now ones. They’re the ones that require a bit of strength to choose, some real tenacity to stick with. Sometimes they’re even the boring ones. These are the habits that often don’t reward us up front, yet in the long run they provide us with a profound and stable sense of well-being. A sort of foundation beneath our feet upon which we can build an inspired, contented life.
For me, eating (mostly) real, whole, plant-based foods as well as regularly exercising and meditating have been and continue to be the three most transformative habits when it comes to my mental health.
But again, it’s equally important to maintain a sense of flexibility and self-compassion as it is to align with these supportive, well-intentioned habits. This isn’t about perfection or pristine living, it’s about doing the best we can as often as we can given our daily circumstances.
Have you ever received or seen any stigma about mental health?
When it comes to mental health, oftentimes the stigma we assume we’ll receive causes us far more pain and suffering than the actual stigma we experience from others once we open up and share. This isn’t to say that a stigma around mental health doesn’t exist—it most certainly does—but it does seem to be lessening. And the more people own and embrace their stories, the less powerful that stigma becomes.
Even as a mental health professional, it took decades of silent suffering for me to summon the courage to share my story with others. Of course, I happened to do so in a very public, permanently printed way by etching it into the introduction of my cookbook, but even those closest to me hadn’t known the depths of what I experienced until they read it on those pages.
As scared as I was to share my experience, something in me healed the very moment those final words were written. For the first time ever, I held the necessary emotional space for my journey without judgment for it. The process released a sense of shame I’d accumulated over the years. A self-imposed shame I’d built up in my mind that made me feel like a bit of a fraud for being a psychologist who also dealt with her own tough stuff. For years, I’d placed this pressure on myself to have it all figured out, because I believed it was the only way I could help others. I felt I must have all the answers to do any good. Now I know that the only way we can truly help others is to first fully embrace the journey we’ve been on ourselves—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And even then, “helping” isn’t about having all the answers or giving advice from an all-knowing place. In fact, forget the advice-giving altogether! If there’s anything I’ve learned in my work as a psychologist, it’s that we’re of the greatest service to others when we compassionately guide them to intuit and identify their own answers. After all, mental health is a personal journey of self-reflection and discovery, and no two stories are exactly alike.
Thank you, Ashley!
Stomach Soother Smoothie
This stomach soother smoothie is loaded with natural ingredients to help calm an upset stomach, including ginger and mint.
Mint Tea Concentrate
- 2 Tea Bags Peppermint or Spearmint Tea
- 1 Cup Water almost boiling
The Rest of the Smoothie
- 1/2 Inch Knob of Ginger peeled
- 1 Pear sliced into smaller chunks
- 1/2 Avocado pitted
- 1 Cup Spinach
- 4-5 Ice Cubes
To make the mint tea concentrate, bring a water to almost boiling in a pot or tea kettle. Measure out a cup, and then steep the two tea bags for 3-4 minutes. When done, remove teabags.
In a blender, add in the mint tea concentrate, ginger, pear, avocado, spinach, and ice cubes. If you do not have ice cubes, add in a little cold water to thin.
Blend on high until everything is smooth and creamy.
This has been the first in a series of many interviews regarding Mental Health on Well and Full. Next week we’ll be taking a break for The 2017 Virtual Pumpkin Party, but stay tuned for the next interview on Monday, 10/30.
If you have ever struggled with a mental health issue, or are interested in learning more about this topic, please feel free to leave a comment here or send me an email. Likewise, if you have any specific issues you’d like to see addressed here, or any bloggers you’re interested in hearing from, please feel free to do the same. Love, Sarah.