The Mental Health Muscle

I recently started working out three days a week (at 6:00am, prayers are welcome!) with a personal trainer. I have had 13 surgeries in the last four years and, as a result, I am overweight and out of shape.

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and Spinal Stenosis…all chronic pain disorders.

All this to say it is a struggle. A big, sometimes overwhelming, struggle. I’ve never been in really great shape but I have never been this out of shape.

Basically, my muscles are dead.

When I initially signed the contract with my trainer, I was thinking maybe 3-6 months. She quickly informed me I needed to commit to a minimum of one year if I really want to get my muscles back where their supposed to be. “We will have to work very slowly,” she said. “This is a marathon and not a sprint,” she said.

It has been about a month now and I realize, every day I work out, I am taking one step forward towards my goal of strengthening my muscles. I also realize now, every day I don’t work out, I am taking one step backward towards my goal of strengthening my muscles.

Over the last four years, I have taken more steps backward than even Isaac Newton can count!

As a result, I have to work through many layers of emotional and physical pain to get to my muscles.

My complacency has cost me greatly.

Now that I am beginning to work my muscles and taking steps forward, if I become complacent and don’t push myself for two days (taking two steps back), it will take me three days of working out to start making progress again. In short, if I want to succeed, I cannot accept the status quo. I must force myself to push past my comfort zone every. single. day.

This made me think other areas of my life where complacency could really cost me.

I have a 12-year old son who is Bipolar and an 11-year old son who has High-Functioning Autism and ADHD. Dealing with the multitude of symptoms, medications, and therapies these disorders necessitate is daunting. Some days it takes everything I have just to survive the day. I have nothing more to give than the bare minimum needed to get by and manage their disorders. As a result, it is easy to become complacent and forget about helping them exercise their Mental Health Muscles…but at what cost?

As a Mental Health Mom, of course I want to help my children work their “Mental Health Muscles” every. single. day. to help them take steps forward in managing their disorders. I think it is critical to their ability to succeed in life after I’m gone.

I need to help them work their Mental Health Muscles by doing a minimum of one of these brain exercises every. single. day:

Challenging them to do something outside their comfort zone.

Teaching them one new thing about their disorder.

Questioning them about their disorder/coping skills.

Engaging them to talk about their struggles.

Empowering them to embrace their normal.

It just seems like some days this is an impossible feat. If my bipolar son is having a day of rapid cycling, and raging, it is all I can do to manage what is happening in the moment. How am I supposed to figure out how to exercise his Mental Health Muscle in the midst of a rough day? Those dark days I don’t always want to talk about?

To start, I have to remember the wise words of my trainer…‘we will have to work slowly’ and ‘this is a marathon and not a sprint’. Every day I don’t ensure my children exercise their Mental Health Muscles even just a little bit, they take a step backward in their development. They take a step backward toward atrophy. They take a step backward in their cognitive ability to pilot their disorders successfully.

Quite frankly, this totally unacceptable. No matter how dark and stormy the day is, as a Mental Health Mom, I simply cannot allow this to happen. The cost is too grave. I have to recognize every opportunity (no matter how small), to mold and shape their Mental Health Muscles. This will ensure strength and stamina later in life when they try to succeed on their own.

I have to challenge Alex to walk up to the counter and order an ice cream cone by himself.  I have to teach Adam about the types of struggles he will face as he enters puberty in the coming months.  I have to question Adam to ensure he recognizes the errors in his decision making process prior to his moments of rage. I have to engage Alex to identify, and talk about, his feelings throughout the day. I have to empower Adam and a Alex to embrace their normal and truly understand God made them just the way they are for a very special purpose.

These types of mental health exercises have to become part of our daily routine. Each and every day, without fail.

Now, goodness knows when I workout, it ain’t pretty.

Some days it hurts so bad I lose hope. Some days I feel like there’s no point; one little workout isn’t going to put a dent in this body!

Oh, but it is. All the baby steps will add up and one day I will see the spoils of my efforts.

The same will happen for my children. I know if I commit to not skipping a day, and take every chance to work their Mental Health Muscles, all the baby steps will add up and the reward will be great.

It ain’t gonna be pretty some days.

Some days it will hurt so bad I will lose hope.

Some days I will feel like there’s no point. These mental health exercises with my kids aren’t going to fix them, or even really matter, in the long run.

Oh, but they will.  I just have to focus on the prize…




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