Taking care of yourself, according to an LGBTQ mental health educator

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As a mental wellness coach, consultant, speaker and founder of Archie cares, an organization that offers virtual and in-person mental health awareness programs, Archie Messersmith-Bunting has built a business around feelings.

He thinks it is so important to talk about feelings that he strikes up conversations with the question “How are you feeling today?” Rather than “How are you?” “

Archie Cares’ goal is to talk more about mental illness, suicide and addiction – to normalize talking about it, says Messersmith-Bunting, a certified mental health educator in first aid. in Mental Health from the National Council for Mental Well-being. And it starts with having honest, open conversations about how we feel.

“I believe the only way to normalize having a mental illness is to make it normal. I am a human presenting with mental illness. I am a recovering drug addict and a suicide attempt survivor, ”says Messersmith-Bunting. “I give mental illness and addiction a real face and openly share my struggles. Unless you have a conversation, there is no hope of understanding it.

Messersmith-Bunting has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a mental disorder that affects an estimated 17.3 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Messersmith-Bunting has treated feelings and thoughts that he now recognizes as symptoms of depression all his life. Growing up as a gay man presented him with difficult feelings that he didn’t know how to deal with. “Growing up in a time when it was not okay to be who you are has an impact on mental health issues,” he says.

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He started using drugs after graduating from college and faced addiction in his twenties while living in New York City and pursuing an acting career.

“To be an actor in New York is to be judged. It’s the nature of the industry, but it started to weigh on me, ”says Messersmith-Bunting. He felt a pressure to live up to a certain image. “I certainly did a lot of comparison and desperation. There’s been a lot of internalized trauma of not being able to be who I really am, ”he says.

He struggled to cope, describing “a slow snowball that turned into an avalanche”.

Finally, he decided to get help. “I did the work to overcome these challenges. I have been – and still will – in therapy. I dig. I listen to my feelings. I’m talking about my feelings. I don’t bottle things anymore, ”says Messersmith-Bunting.

He hopes his work with Archie Cares will help others overcome the same types of challenges he has and take the first step to open up, recognize their struggles, and get help.

“I never want anyone to suffer as much as I did the day I didn’t want to be here anymore. It’s a very lonely, scary and terrifying feeling, ”Messersmith-Bunting says, adding that there is a way out and knowing how to talk about how you feel and what you need can help. “I want people to understand how to help others find this path even if it’s uncomfortable,” he says.

Messersmith-Bunting, who is 45 and lives with her husband and 3-year-old son in Charlottesville, Virginia, still suffers from bouts of depression from time to time. Prioritizing and caring for himself during these times helps him cope – and helps him be better able to help others, he says.

In these cases, he says, taking care of yourself is the exact opposite of being selfish.

“In fact, I believe taking care of yourself is altruistic, because if we don’t take care of ourselves, then there is no way we can be there for someone else,” he says. he.

Here’s what Messersmith-Bunting looks like to him and how he’s making it a priority.

Daily health: What self-care practices are part of your daily routine?

Archie Messersmith-Bunting: I practice gratitude and mindfulness, and set my intentions for the day. I think people have confused intentions with a to-do list, but intentions focus on how I want to present myself to the world today.

Also, I never encountered a nap that I didn’t like.

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EH: In what ways – or have you ever struggled to take care of yourself and take the time to take care of your own well-being?

AMB: I’m not even sure I knew what self-care was from the start. I thought that meant buying myself a nice shirt. I didn’t really learn what real personal care was until much later in life.

What I’ve learned to do now is find self-care that works for me. For me, taking care of yourself recharges your mind, spirit and soul. I would challenge people to reinvent what personal care is.

You don’t need to fit into some kind of perfect self-care box. For example, I am not one of those who practice meditation in its truest form. It’s not something that works for me. So trying to fit into that perfect little box was a challenge.

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EH: How do you prioritize personal care when other things are in your way?

AMB: I see myself as a helper, but I also have to help myself. I work with organizations that lose people to suicide. It takes a lot out of me, because I feel myself reliving some of my past wounds. So I really have to listen to my heart and my mind.

If at the start of the day when I brush my teeth, if the most important person in the world is not the person looking at me, then something is wrong. If I don’t take care of myself, I have nothing to give you.

Taking care of yourself sometimes means turning off the world for a second and letting the brain do something else. For me, it’s playing with my kid or doing something that doesn’t require any mental energy.

I’ve also found that when I fall asleep at night, if I think about gratitude before I fall asleep, and don’t go to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and compare my inside to someone’s outside. ‘another, it actually allows me to sleep.

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EH: You’ve talked a lot about overcoming drug addiction and other mental health issues on your own. What self-care practices have helped you overcome these challenges?

AMB: I participated in the 12-step program, but I believe that everyone has to find their own path. I met someone who shared grace and compassion and gave much of their life to me, my godfather. He’s a guy from New York who really helped save my life. I also went to therapy.

For each of these things, the self-care practice you need to learn to do is learn to love yourself. Self-care is literally self-love.

But it’s really hard for someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction because they often have a lot of negative feelings about themselves. I suggest trying to get to a place where you love yourself first, and then you can start loving yourself.

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