Mental health and body health. The two aren’t often tied together, but as any practicing yogi would tell you, the mind and the body are fused more intensely than we might want to admit. If you follow Noya, you know that we talk about body positivity a lot. We don’t often dig into the mental and emotional challenges intertwined with body perception.
Joe Ray is a body positive advocate, mental health activist, yogi, and family woman. She has worked in emergency services for over a decade, went through an abusive relationship as a young woman, and to this day struggles with anxiety and depression. If there’s anyone who will compassionately relate or at least listen to a personal issue you are facing, it’s Joe.
Up until her early 20’s Joe weighed in at about 110 pounds. She was in an abusive relationship where she felt she had to fit a certain mold. She was unhealthy and unhappy, and mental health issues began to arise. She started taking medicine to help with her depression and suddenly gained more weight than she’d ever carried. After discovering yoga, a new man and a renewed relationship with herself, she’s never looked back. She’s happier, healthier, and yes, heavier. But her days aren’t perfect and she still struggles with mental illness.
The point of this blog and Joe’s new project called Illuminated By U is to find the commonalities between the challenges we face and bring a voice to them. Neither Joe nor I know a single person who hasn’t struggled with anxiety, acceptance, worthiness, body-image issues, or depression. The problem is, we don’t talk about it.
Joe defines mental illness as anything from a struggle with anxiety all the way to a chemical imbalance in the brain. From her perspective, basically anyone and everyone has struggled with mental illness at some point in their life. But no matter how common it may be, we all tend to pretend like we’re as close to perfect as we can convince the person next to us. We also tend to believe that the people around us don’t have issues, or if they do, they’re handling them better than we are handling our own. The fact is, these taboo issues are issues we all face and one of the best bit of truth we could understand about these issues is that it is OKAY to have them. It’s normal. You are not alone by a long shot.
During Joe’s abusive relationship she felt alone. She was worried that she’d be judged or ostracized by others if she reached out and made her problems known. Looking back she contemplates if this feeling of loneliness was actually more detrimental than the abusive relationship itself. That’s how bad loneliness, especially in times of challenge, can affect us.
I struggle with anxiety enough that it warrants another blog post. But for now, suffice to say that I can relate to feelings of loneliness around my own anxiety and a constant nagging feeling that I’m not good enough. If I was right and you too can relate on some level, here are a few suggestions of steps to take to help reduce and live with these inward battles:
Know it’s normal.
Whatever you’re going through, someone else has gone through something similar. It’s possible that tons of people have gone through it before. Even if you are convinced that you are alone on this one, you’re wrong.
Reach out to someone.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. It’s not easy to reach out to people with issues that we feel are so incredibly sensitive and perhaps bizarre to others. If you feel like you cannot talk about it with a loved one or friend, find a community like Illuminated By U.
Challenges do not discriminate.
Anxiety, depression, negative body image, and low self-esteem can happen to anyone. Don’t let outward appearance fool you. This applies not only to when you’re looking at someone else’s situation, but also for your own. Even though you may be perceived as having the perfect body or the perfect home or people tell you how good you have it, you are allowed to have struggles.
There’s no quick fix.
Like most things in life, it’s a process. Don’t freak out when your problems don’t quickly disappear or when new problems arise. It was sometime during or just after college when I realized that this life thing is a little harder than I had originally anticipated. Although there is so much good that I try to focus on, challenges are inevitable and they will never stop whirling into your universe no matter how hard you try. Be patient and trust that you can work through it.
People are more understanding than you think (because they’re more like you than you think).
When Joe started telling more of her story through blogs and her Instagram she saw an incredible response from people all over the world. It was a happy surprise that led her to committing to speaking her truth and creating a community where others can go to speak their own truth. She found her purpose in an area where she originally had so much doubt. Take a chance on people. It might be the best move you ever make.