MENTAL HEALTH: A JOURNEY OF SNAKES AND LADDERS
*Trigger warning - suicide*
This post is written from the heart to anyone who is looking for external help and guidance with mental health. Again, this is from personal experience and it is important to note that everyone is completely different so what works for me may not work for others.
I was in a terrible place a few years ago. I was feeling suicidal over a death of a loved one which happened at the same time as a break up, which happened at the same time as leaving university, which happened at the same time as moving back in with my parents, which happened at the same time as getting plenty of job application rejections. I wanted to die most days for about 9 months and didn’t really have much interest in getting better. This post is two-fold: how I got out of that period of my life and how I now maintain good mental health for the time being.
When I didn’t want to be on this earth, I didn’t cope well. It’s such an annoying thing to say, but time was a great healer - those raw emotions eventually dulled. This was coupled with the constant and unrelenting support and love of those close to me. I wasn’t a nice person to be around, yet they stayed. Finally, a lot of crying in the bath - just letting the emotions out rather than bottling them up could be quite therapeutic. Unfortunately at that time I did not have the answers. I did not seek help. I took each day at a time because I couldn’t see a future for myself. I buried myself in work and Lana Del Rey and slowly, slowly things got better. I got a job. I moved out. I found myself.
I am currently in very good mental health. I have good and bad days but on the whole I am a very contented person. Here is how I stay that way from day to day…
Get up if you can
I’ve had some days where I just lack any kind of motivation to get out of bed, however on doing so and getting changed, having some breakfast, my mood is instantly better. That change of scenery can break the funk that you’ve woken up in.
Sunshine and fresh air
It is good for you. Coronavirus situations are different all over the world. If the sun is shining and you’re able to, go for a walk with social distancing, sunbathe in the garden or poke your head out of the window. On a sunny day I am happy, productive and motivated. On a grey day I feel a bit gloomy. (My Dad calls me a solar panel). I hate that my mood can change with an external factor like this but it does. One tip I have heard is to get a SAD lamp. I haven’t tried this yet but I hear great things so thought I would share.
Surround yourself with people that care about you
This is necessary more than ever. You may not be able to surround yourself physically with loved ones. However with technology we are able to stay connected. Make even more of an effort. Have quiz nights, craft nights, game nights, watch a film whilst on Zoom, have virtual dates, call in on every single loved one, still attend work meetings on Skype, join live yoga classes, watch live events. As an extrovert I was worried about the lack of human contact during this time, however I haven’t lost that sense of connection.
Phase out people who make you feel bad about yourself
People who are unkind to you or mistreat you might be going through some things themselves but when you’re struggling with your own mental health you are allowed to be selfish. If you can, create a toxic-free environment, or reduce time spent with toxic people.
This could be a book, a game, a TV series. It can be dangerous if that fantasy becomes more real to you than your reality. However sometimes this is what I need to feel better. Escaping into something comforting and familiar - for me this is Agatha Christie’s Poirot. It’s a comfort blanket and the familiar characters feel like a warm hug.
I know people who this doesn’t work for. However for me, I always feel uplifted after a fun workout. Figure out if there’s a particular type of exercise that you enjoy and do that! Make the time for it. For me it’s dancing and yoga. Running is my idea of hell so I don’t even entertain that thought.
‘Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands’ - Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
Get off social media or curate it
You can waste a lot of time mindlessly scrolling. People generally only put the highlights of their life on their feed so I find scrolling through pages of people’s weight loss achievements, perfect breakfasts or holiday snaps can subconsciously reinforce the thought that everyone’s life is better than yours. Either limit the time you spend on it (there are some apps that can do this for you), or curate your social media feed. Mute or unfollow accounts that don’t serve you, it is your platform, your feed. Follow uplifting accounts instead.
I first thought about therapy when Jasmine revealed that she was a therapist and said I could take her up on her services. I was in a relatively stable place at the time, and felt guilty that I was there. She said that absolutely everyone feels like they are not bad enough of a case to deserve therapy but that we should reframe it as an essential part of our self care. I had one session and have been in therapy for nearly a year now. I think it’s important to note it will only work if you find the right person for you (like any relationship). You need to feel safe enough with the person to slowly open up. Jasmine has the perfect approach, she never judges or makes me feel bad about emotions yet challenges me and gets to the root of a lot of my issues. We set action points, she gives things to think about, little wisdoms that make my life clearer, to rationalise certain behaviours. One day I had a 15 minute session because life was perfect that week and I cried with happiness at my progress. I’m a fan.
Journal it out
Everything you’re feeling, get it out on paper, so it’s out of your head. I also got into a habit of writing 5 things I was grateful for each morning in a notebook. It forces you to start the day with some positives and can shift your mindset. It’s also such a lovely thing to look back on when you’re feeling low.
Check in with yourself. Are you getting enough sleep, water and nutritious food and are you limiting stress? Different life circumstances can affect all of these but if you’re able to, start with the basics and see if that can shift your mind and body.
Some days will just be bad. I am sure I will go through more crises in my life and dip again. You can try every trick in the book and sometimes it won’t work. That’s okay. Tomorrow is another day. And you will survive and thrive! And one day you’ll reflect back on this time and be so grateful for your progress.
If you need extra mental health support please check out this link which is a list of many mental health hotlines compiled by the NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/