Celebrating Self-Care and the New Year


My trials and tribulations have proved that I have to be vigilant on a daily basis to maintain my mental wellness. I believe that we all do to some degree. One cannot be healthy without a combination of good mental health and good physical health. Either state is impossible to reach or attain without the other. As with all aspects of daily living, balance becomes a key element in the optimization of health. 

There was little conversation about mental health when I was growing up, and my exposure to mental health related issues was limited. Yes, I would do a brief mental wellness check-in periodically, but I do not recall anyone placing a lot of emphasis on mental wellness and mental health as a child or as an adolescent. It was always just assumed that things were good mentally, at least that’s how I perceive things looking back, and not talking about mental health issues just cemented this truth at the time.

Unless it was happening in your life on a personal level or with a family member, the Not In My Backyard (NIMB) philosophy prevailed. Although advancements have been made over the years regarding mental health and mental wellness, this still remains to be somewhat true in the 21st century. We have an easy time exploring and discussing physical ailments, but difficulties arise whenever the soundness of one’s mind is in question. 

I remember my days as a high school and college basketball player at Pomperaug High School (Southbury, CT) and the University of New England (Biddeford, ME). I mainly focused on my physical health and never really tuned into my mental health until my first manic episode when I was a senior in college. Almost everything that I did to become a better basketball player revolved around my physical being. Running daily, lifting weights at least five times per week, stretching, shooting free-throws, practicing my right/left baby hook and jump shot, practicing dribbling, practicing boxing out, practicing defense, and the list goes on ad infinitum.   

All of this work was done to become physically stronger, faster, a more accurate shooter, and a better defender. But basketball is not just a physical sport; there is also a large mental component to playing the game. I learned that building mental awareness was just as important as building physical strength. Training the mind became just as significant as training the body. For it is the mind that gives one focus and concentration, which are two essential factors leading to success on the court. Without mental toughness a player is incomplete and will not be successful regardless of their physical capabilities.  

I know that I was mentally tough as a high school and college basketball player, for I would not have been able to compete at the collegiate level without it. But mental toughness does not always equate to mental wellness. And this is where I stared mental illness directly in the eyes, for the first time, as a twenty-two-year-old kid. I was in the best physical shape of my life, I had experience with mental awareness, but I became mentally and emotionally unstable. And pulling myself up by the bootstraps just wouldn’t suffice this time around. 

So much emphasis is placed on the physical being in our society, while our mental and emotional well-being is so very often neglected. I’m not implying that the whole world is living with a mental illness because this is just not true, but I am implying that many people take their mental wellness for granted. I know because I did the exact same thing before being diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. 

I have always said from the very beginning that living with bipolar disorder has been a blessing and a curse. The blessings that I have been afforded with have changed my perspective about living life to the fullest forever, and have filled me with an endless well of gratitude. The curse is that I sometimes have to be awake during a hellish nightmare.

My experience with bipolar disorder has been like the phases of the moon or the ebb and flowing tide. Things get a little wobbly from time to time and then they straighten out depending on how proactive I am. Recovery is not a spectator sport; you can’t just sit on the sidelines and expect to get better. Action is needed and more action is needed to stay on the road to recovery. 

The same can be said about self-care in general, whether you are living with a mental illness or not. You can say that you are going to go for a hike in the woods or attend that morning yoga class day after day, but until you lace up your shoes and walk out your front door, not much is going to change. And if you are really feeling anxious and restless, your inaction is not going to lead you any closer to feeling better about yourself or your current situation.

The New Year and the holiday season can be a time of stress and anxiety for so many people, especially if we hold ourselves to rigid standards. But resolutions can be an opportunity to practice good overall self-care, and self-care can be broad and expansive and not just limited to the same old gym routine. Resolutions can also lead one to accountability and can remind us to be mindful and present in the here and now.

I hope that you have a happy and a healthy New Year!!! Much peace and love your way as always :) 

Alexandra Gross

eco-bites about all things food, farming & sustainability