Taking A Break for Better Mental Health 

Blood Clot Awareness Month, recognized each March, came and went like the whirlwind it always is. It is as a critical time to share information about blood clot risks, signs and symptoms, and prevention. For me, it’s also an important time to acknowledge and share what recovery from blood clots can be like, including mental health challenges. 

I have been sharing my story, and my resources, with the clotting community for over ten years. While I don’t feel any less drive or commitment to shining a light on blood clot recovery, I am in a different place now than I was at the beginning of my journey. I consider myself physically recovered from what I went through, but I still manage a disease, antiphospholipid syndrome, that won’t just go away. I still take anticoagulants (blood thinners), which require regular monitoring, and I still see my hematologist every few months. Thankfully, I have not experienced any further clotting incidents. Physically, I feel fine most days, but taking long-term medications that require constant mindfulness and monitoring can be emotionally draining. 

When March ended this year, I took a step back to focus on my own health, which included following up on routine check-ups and appointments. A suspected growth in my uterus that needed further investigation sent me down a dark path emotionally. Previous trauma was exposed again, and it was raw and relentless. I experienced a bleeding incident and emergency surgery in 2020 during the height of the pandemic connected to a ruptured ovarian cyst, which was frightening since I take blood thinners. While I had hoped my gynecological issues were behind me, my mind constructed the worst possible outcome as I waited for my follow-up exam and test results. I spent the month of April on a hiatus and mostly worried.

Thankfully, I received great news at my gynecology appointment and no further steps need to be taken. Everything was fine. I was elated, but I realized that even though my physical health was okay, my mental health was spiraling. The past few years of pandemic living felt like treading water in a constant cycle of anxiety, depression, grief, and fear. “What’s next, and will I survive it?” was an ever-present question in my mind all day and night. I said out loud to someone one day, “My nervous system hasn’t really recovered from any of this,” and I realized how true that actually was.

I decided I needed to take a break for better mental health. I know there are things we all have to do and that we can’t set on the back burner. Maybe it’s work or school, caring for our families or pets, or obligations and commitments that can’t be broken. But what about the things we can take a break from? Sometimes doing just that can make a difference and set us back on the path to better mental health. So for me, this meant stepping away from being present online all the time, saying no to the things that weren’t a necessity, and finding time to reconnect with things that bring me joy.

You may be feeling similarly. Blood clots and blood clot recovery can be emotionally challenging. It is not uncommon to experience anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder after a traumatic medical experience. Yet, your emotional and mental health is no less important than your physical health. Consider how taking a break can help you feel better. 

Five Tips for Taking A Mental Health Break

  • Disconnect to reconnect. Unplug and unwind. However you choose to frame it, disconnecting from screens (social media, blogging, gaming, and even TV/streaming) can be a big part of taking a mental health break. I limited my time spent scrolling online. Instead, I read books, went for walks, and planted a flower garden in my yard. Now, after work, I go outside to work in my garden rather than leave my computer screen at the office and immediately start looking at my phone screen on the couch.
  • It’s okay to say no. If it doesn’t feel good to you or you don’t want to do it, you can say no with no reason required. Feel confident to say no to people, plans, places, or activities if it means you can instead focus on feeling better or taking care of yourself.
  • Don’t force yourself to do what doesn’t feel good. This was a “tough love” lesson for me. If it doesn’t make me feel good or feel at peace, I’m not doing it anymore. This involved setting some boundaries for myself (online) and with others for things I have to do, but may not be entirely comfortable for me to do.
  • Do what makes you happy. When you’re focusing on mental health, it may or may not be a great time to try something new. You can either start a new hobby or interest or pick up something you may have lost sight of or enthusiasm for in the past. It can be as simple or as involved as you need or want it to be, and the possibilities are as endless as your creativity and skills.
  • Ask for help if you need it. While taking a break for better mental health can involve spending a little more time alone for some people, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help if you need it. You can join my group on Facebook for peer support. If you’re facing a mental health crisis, considering suicide or just need a listening ear, you can call or text 988 and reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for free and confidential support. 

If you aren’t feeling your best, you are not alone. Creating a path to better mental health is all about what you need or want it to be. Taking a break can be an important part of your plans if you aren’t feeling well emotionally and can help you heal. Consider the tips I have shared here and how you can integrate them into your own life, or add your own. In either case, I hope taking a break can help you feel better on your journey. 

There is hope for healing from blood clots, and you are not alone.

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