April Jeppson: It’s time to talk openly about mental health
Published 8:45 pm Friday, August 6, 2021
Every Little Thing by April Jeppson
Mental health has been all over the news in recent years. Between the COVID lockdown and now the Olympics, it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. Like most of my high energy, upbeat friends, I struggle. We are seen as optimistic and outgoing, which is true most the time. However, when a bad day or week hits, it hits hard. I tell people the bigger the high, the lower the low.
I had my last sip of alcohol on my 20th birthday. It wasn’t that I was a raging alcoholic, but I used it as a coping mechanism. I drank when I wanted to have fun or escape reality. I made horrible choices and then would have to deal with them the next day. I was not capable of just having a drink, I always seemed to take it too far. I made the decision to quit and next month marks 20 years sober. However, it hasn’t always been easy.
Twenty years ago I don’t recall people talking about mental health. My sophomore year in college was spent “riding the struggle bus” as I jokingly call it. As I look back, I see that my behavior was much more serious than that. When I quit drinking, some of my “friends” stopped wanting to hang out with me. I was also forced to cope with my feelings and deal with my problems. As an extrovert, I didn’t know how to be alone and process my emotions in a healthy way.
I rarely left my dorm room, hardly showered and would sit quietly in my bed ignoring my friends as they knocked on the door to check on me. I blankly stared out the window, smoked cigarettes and listened to Dashboard Confessionals on repeat for days on end. I went from being on the dean’s list my freshman year to academic probation and then suspension by the end of my second year of college.
I moved cities and switched degrees. The change in atmosphere helped a lot. New friends, new school and no one that was aware of my downward spiral. If you ask my college friends, they’d probably say I got distant. Only my roommate knew how hard that year was for me.
Years have passed and I’ve learned so much about myself. Occasionally my anxiety will stop me in my tracks. Sometimes I feel the desire to sit in a dark room with the curtains drawn and just ignore the world for a while tears stream down my face. I don’t know if these feelings every fully go away. I know enough now to see the warning signs approaching, and most of the time I can catch it and process the feelings in a healthy way. Occasionally though, I rely on a different unhealthy coping mechanism. I try not to beat myself up and just move forward.
I try really hard to count my blessings, see the good and have an eternal perspective. I find that switching my focus helps keep the bad days at a minimum. But as hard as I try, some days get the best of me. I get distant, won’t return messages and I’ll probably reach out to a close friend for a lunch date. I’m thankful that we live in a time where we can talk openly about our mental health. Once we start having these important conversations, less people will struggle silently and more people will feel comfortable getting the help they need.
Albert Lean April Jeppson is a wife, mom, coach and encourager of dreams. Her column appears every Saturday.