Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, I’ve seen so much content talking about mental health and anxiety. Great content that sheds light on a topic that many are afraid or ashamed to talk about.
I value any opportunity to talk about mental health. I think it’s interesting that people categorise it as you’re either okay or you’re not and there’s not really much in between. However, it’s important to remember that everyday, the way you feel can change. Life isn’t static, it’s continuous and so are our emotions.
I think Mellow Doodles is one of the best accounts on Instagram and her approach to mental health is beautiful and refreshing. Check her out. She’s amazing. I was actually turned onto her by my best friend who commissioned an illustration from her as an engagement gift. This women is incredibly talented.
My Reflections On My Own Mental Health
When I reflect on myself and how I handled my own mental health over the past few years – I know I did a great job of hiding how I was feeling, telling everyone that I was fine and yet within myself, I was over analysing every conversation – wondering if I said the wrong thing, behaved in a ‘weird’ way or showed myself up. Constantly questioning if I was too quiet, too forthright, too opinionated, too passive, too loud, too full on, not assertive enough… a constant never-ending internal battle. And while that battle raged on, I took on more work so I could show everyone how well I coped with pressure, I hid my anxiety and shame surrounding the racism I was suffering at work and I tried to be all for everyone…. until I got to a point where I was so overwhelmed that I felt that I had no choice but to go off sick from work, isolate from my friends and family and just shut down so I could quieten down the noise.
I remember when this happened… I was so angry at myself – people were going to see how weak I was and finally they were going to see the pathetic person that I really was, the person I had spent so long hiding from them. This hatred that I was showing to myself, this unfair punishment, was so damaging. As I sit here now, typing away – I realise that I was so unkind to myself. Here I was, suffering because I was so afraid to let myself show any weakness or a plea for help and then when it had gotten too much for me.. I lashed out at myself, hurting myself more.
Let’s examine what was going on with me at this time…
- I had hives – they were so itchy and uncomfortable. That made me miserable and even more angry at everything.
- My acne had returned and I hated looking at myself in the mirror.
- I felt tired all the time – partly because I wasn’t sleeping properly, partly because my brain was in over drive and partly because I wasn’t taking care of my health.
- I was eating everything and anything in sight – not the right foods either and so I was piling on weight and that made me again, hate to look at myself in the mirror.
- I wouldn’t talk to anyone properly and when I did, I was ratty and really quite mean. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. I couldn’t see that they cared and were just trying to help me in their own way.
- I watched hours of TV to drown out reality. I was only watching programmes and films that I’d seen before. The sense of familiarity made me feel at ease and meant that I didn’t have to think too much about plot lines.
- I didn’t sleep properly – instead staying up till the early hours of the morning, running through things I should have done differently or conversations I wished I’d had.
- I didn’t want to exercise or do anything other than sit or lay down which meant that my body actually ached.
- I didn’t want to ‘learn anything’ or try any ‘new experiences’ so my mind was not stimulated. I’m one of these people that get bored easily and so having new tasks or learning opportunities meant that I was always hungry for more knowledge. But not then.. I wanted nothing more than to hide away from anything that I had to think about. The thought of doing anything was just so overwhelming and frightening.
- I’d stopped studying – in the middle of my doctorate, I paused as I could no longer face it. This labour of love – I chose to walk away from.
While I was going through all of this, my family were confused. I’m not someone who shies away from a challenge or is overly mean to anyone, I don’t take breaks from work or studies and I certainly never used to sit and watch excessive amounts of TV. I’m Type A, always on a mission to change the world and make a difference…and for them, my behaviour was odd and abnormal. I could see them getting frustrated, having gone through the gentle approach and now they were teetering on tough love to get my out of my ‘funk’. I just couldn’t climb out.
There was one moment/behaviour that I would call my turning point. It scared not just my loved ones but also it scared me enough to realise, that I needed help.
- I contemplated what it would be like to crash into a tree – drive right into it without slowing down. I genuinely didn’t believe I had suicidal thoughts at the time. I guess, on reflection that is what they were though. I know that I didn’t want to end my life but I do believe I was considering any mechanism that would shut off the world for a little while. I remember telling my fiancé this and I saw the colour drain out of his face. I remember him telling me that it wasn’t normal to think like that and that’s when something shifted in me. He looked so scared. It was at that point that I chose to seek professional help and speak to someone who could help me. I’m not someone who gives up on anything, I am a finisher and for me to get to a point where I just wanted to shut off the world, that’s when I knew that I couldn’t fix myself.
How did I come out the other side?
I took five weeks out and essentially took myself off with the sole intention of learning ‘how’ to cope with my emotions, away from everything that felt like a trigger. I went to a retreat with people who were in their own way, dealing with demons and I channeled my anxiety and my fear into activities that benefitted me. But alongside that – I went to see a professional – and it’s with them that I was able to develop simply strategies to help me recognise the signs that I wasn’t feeling okay within myself. These included daily check ins, a reflective journal, creative activities focused around drawing my feelings and so many other small easy to manage tools… kindness being one of those tools.
Kindness really is underrated.
Being kind to yourself is one of the most powerful things that I learned.
Sometimes, that kindness is seen as being selfish to others – it’s not. It’s setting boundaries so that you protect yourself.
I never used to set boundaries, I used to give continuously because I had a desperate need to be liked and seen as the best. But that pressure to be perfect, it’s suffocating and unbearable. I know now that I can’t be everything to everyone and that I can’t give my all to others and neglect my own wants and needs.
I know that I have to say no even though I struggle to get that word out. I know that it is also okay to say no too.
I know that I have to remove myself from situations that make me feel like I can’t cope, even if it may seem odd to the people that are there with me.
I know that I can turn my phone off and the world will keep on turning.
I know that social media doesn’t serve me as it forces me to compare and show others that I am equal or better to them. It’s destructive.
It’s a constant struggle and some days are easy and some days are so hard. But now, I choose to be kind to myself. My self talk was awful, the things I used to say to myself and the way that I used to see myself was not reality. I would focus in on a small thing and make that my entire identity instead of focussing on who I was overall and all that I had achieved in my life.
My biggest revelation was taking time to stop and reflect, meditate and breathe. Every time, I stop and I focus on my breath, I find myself letting go and able to cope that little bit more.
Don’t get me wrong, some days are so hard and I have to find every ounce of strength within me to just get out of bed… but I praise that, because I actually got out of bed. I actually did it. We forget to celebrate what we do achieve.
I often think that we expect everyday to be one hundred miles per hour, where we achieve everything we needed to and we’re living ‘our best life’ but life doesn’t work like that. Some days are just harder and you have to accept them as they are and celebrate what you were able to do.
I practice gratitude daily. Reading back what I thankful for reminds me that I have a lot to be thankful for. I write a victory log on a daily basis too… this is a record of my achievements for the day. Sometimes it is as simple as ‘I showered’ and while that may be something that others would see as a normal daily occurrence.. sometimes the effort to taking care of yourself can seem too much.
I also write a list but I will add no more than three things on that list. Two of those things will be for me and one of those may be for someone else. And while I am a little slower at getting things done, I still support others but I put myself first so that I can be there for them when they need me.
So what’s the takeaway from this post?
We all have good and bad days. That’s normal. Anyone that tells you otherwise, should not be listened to.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with what you feel. However, whatever you choose to do… put kindness right at the centre of it.
I recommend reading The Kindness Method by Sharoo Izadi. It brings being kind to yourself to the forefront of what you do and I think that everyone should read this book at least once in their lifetime. The exercises in it are invaluable in my opinion.