ColumnsHealth & WellnessThe Seeker

The Seeker: No One Can Care For Your Mental Health Like You Can

Make it OK

Katie Grant looks ahead and smiles
Katie Grant, The Seeker. (Photo by Lauren Mazzella)

If you follow along with my monthly Charlotte adventures in this column, you know that I aspired to carry out my first Dry January. I regrettably fell off the wagon halfway through the month thanks to Snowmageddon and I highly doubt I was the only one. We were snowed in, my neighbors offered a build-your-own bloody mary bar, and we played Cards Against Humanity — innocent enough, right? And with the social hour doing good for my soul, I mounted the wagon again the next day without regret. 

During my month of semi-sobriety, I experienced many clear-headed revelations — one of which is this: Being sober doesn’t have to be boring. There are so many fulfilling things to do around Charlotte that don’t involve alcohol!

My husband and I ventured out for a “date day” on a rainy Sunday afternoon. He manages a restaurant, which means he works most weekends. Our downtime together is limited and therefore precious, so we sought out local activities to spend our quality time on sans-alcohol.

First stop, a caffeinated pick-me-up from Coco and the Director in Uptown. As I write this, I can’t help but feel ashamed that I have never visited this industrial-chic coffee shop before, despite working Uptown for years within a mile of its vicinity. I unjustly speculated that it would be dull, corporate, and cookie-cutter due to the nature of the Uptown location alone, but I was surprised to find the opposite. 

Not only do they support local artisans and locally sourced products, but they also offer a casual meeting space for one-on-one meetings or larger groups, locally roasted coffee, freshly baked bread and pastries, lunch items to-go. And yes, free Wi-Fi.

Our next agenda item was the new special exhibition Mental Health: MIND MATTERS at Discovery Place, presented by Atrium Health. The exhibit explores the stigma of mental illness, illustrating that it is actually quite common — it can happen to anyone, and it is treatable. The exhibit explores the science behind our feelings and how we experience the world around us. It also features hands-on activities and multimedia experiences.

Some of the experiences are labeled as “empathy-building” with the intention of demonstrating what some people who live with mental illnesses may experience, including but not limited to depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia. One empathy-building component, for example, asked patrons to answer simple questions while speakers simulated the experience of hearing voices detached voices in their head (Spoiler alert: It’s frustrating).

The exhibit’s #MakeItOK feature also seeks to normalize discussions around mental health, with wall art and journals that allow folks to interact and engage with the exhibit, sharing their own stories. 

Make It OK is a campaign to remove the stigma that shrouds mental health. You may have seen some campaign posters in public places. They typically feature two people facing each other with a blank dialogue bubble creating a barrier, the message being that people’s unwillingness to talk about mental health furthers stigma.

Curious to learn more, I visited the campaign’s website, where I found it’s possible to become a Make It OK ambassador, someone who has a passion for reducing mental illness stigma in their community. I felt this opportunity was speaking to me directly, given that I am intentionally working to get a hold of my previously unbridled anxiety. So, I’m excited to announce I will be taking ambassador training this month!

A key takeaway from the exhibit was learning how mental health can often be precarious, but it doesn’t have to be. 

One thing I discovered during Dry January was that alcohol, no matter the minimal pour, was affecting my sleep and would almost always exasperate my anxiety the following day — sometimes referred to as hangxiety. Does anyone else relate? For me, hangxiety manifests as irritability, inability to concentrate, quickened heart rate, and intrusive thoughts, to name a few. It has also materialized as disordered eating not once, but two separate times in my life.

Anxiety disorders are a type of mental health condition that can make it incredibly difficult to get through the day, and it’s not “just in your head” as some people claim. On this journey I’ve learned that anxiety can’t be cured because a person’s tendency toward anxiety is part of their genetic makeup (thanks, mom!). Still, I am learning certain management techniques like yoga, breathwork, and limiting alcohol intake are immediately accessible, and in doing so I am becoming a stronger self-advocate in a stigmatizing world.

Caring for my mind and body is my number one job, because no one else will do it for me.

So, does Dry January lead to Sober February? For me it does. If you are sober-curious like me, February is an ideal time to try it on because, after all, it’s the shortest month. While the month is almost over now, your journey into sobriety doesn’t have to be tied to a calendar. I invite you to see how many non-boring ways you can maintain your social life, because challenges may be difficult, but they should never be boring!

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