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So you’re having a blip with your mental health

Good mental health isn’t about being perfect all the time, but learning how to ride choppier waters too.

I wish this was a post where I could give you a magical 10-point list to get you back to the thriving version of yourself. I wish I could tell you some universal truths that make you heal in 5 seconds flat and it all would go away.

But I don’t have those answers. No one is able to give that to you. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is, as we would say from my neck of the woods, mugging you off big time.

I won’t try to convince you that a blip in your mental health is a great opportunity to learn that you should be grateful for. I mean it is, but let’s get real. Before you can gain an understanding of yourself from this experience, it will fucking suck.

And that part is unavoidable. Sorry ‘bout it.

If you’ve been on a journey with your mental health, a blip can feel like a step back. To go from a place where you feel like yourself again to getting a visit from old wounds and emotions, is like receiving a text from that ex who won’t quit it.

“I thought I was done with you, why are you back?”

You’re allowed to feel a little shook by this.

If you’re on a journey to own your mental health, you need to own all of it. Even these bits. Avoidance keeps you where you are. Denying a part of your journey or papering over it with an edit to your emotions won’t help. The only way through a tough time is to keep going.

Allow yourself to feel the way you do

On a macro level we live in a society that has taught us to deny our emotions. Whether it’s toxic idioms like ‘boys don’t cry’ or the knee jerk reaction to say “Oh, don’t be upset, cheer up”, we are regularly told that negative emotions are the wrong way to react. On a micro level, I think all of us are still learning the radical practice of just being able to feel our emotions.

Even with ‘the self-improvement’ community, the intentions are often noble, but so much advice focuses on how to move you through your present state with blind positivity. Looking on the bright side and practicing gratitude are powerful practices but they are not replacements for experiencing your emotions.

Forced optimism is another form of denying the way you feel. It won’t equip you with the skills to deal with your unique story and the way it can creep up on you. The only way is to move through the eye of the storm.

With a recent blip in my own mental health, I realised I had been attempting to drown out my negative thoughts.

I was so frustrated by feeling low again and frightened of ‘taking a step back’ that I did anything I could to feel other than the way I did. I drowned myself in podcasts about being present. I tried to yoga-it away. I thought maybe I needed to get out more and have some fun. I attempted to meditate to make all the emotions and feelings just stop until I asked myself, ‘What would happen if I just faced the way i felt?’

Taken from Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky”. A powerful song that perfectly describes trying to escape difficult emotions

Mindfulness teaches the belief that we are not our thoughts. Your feelings are not facts but interpretations of your situation. But that doesn’t mean you should just brush them away. By trying to observe them, we can choose not to get attached but simply notice they are there and feel them. From there you can work through them. That’s where the real change will occur.

If we know what beast we’re working with, it’s the start of getting back to ourselves.

Admittedly, this is monstrously fucking difficult when you’re feeling low and you are struggling to cope

When you can’t get through a day without getting teary, when your life feels like it is completely out of control and someone telling you, that you don’t have to be swept away by your thoughts — it’s enough to make you want to punch them.

p.s Please don’t punch me.

I’m not going to skirt that truth. But if part of you, maybe the part of you reading this article, could attempt to face the scary shit you’re going through, it’s the start of working through it.

I started to think about the idea of bad weather. When there’s a thunderstorm, you don’t run outdoors in your pants pretending it’s glorious sunshine. You acknowledge the weather is shit, but you know it won’t always be that way. Maybe you adjust your plans or put on some protective clothing…. We’re kind to ourselves when it comes to the elements so can we extend that to the storms brewing in our minds?

If we could learn to interpret our feelings this same way, and not suppress or edit them, we find a much kinder way of experiencing our low points. I believe that it leaves us free to take some action and to cut ourselves a bit of slack. Maybe the headspace you’re in means you need a break.

You’re in charge of yourself. Only you can interpret and listen to what you need. If we embrace this truth, it can give us a powerful sense of agency.

Maybe your thunderstorm is shaking the fabric of your house and you’re not sure if there’s going to be one left by the morning. Please hold on. Accept what is happening and do something small to help yourself.

I can’t tell you how long it will take for it to pass, but waiting it out is the only cure I know for low points. I can tell you however, that one day you will be doing something mundane like riding the bus and a small, but wise, part of yourself will let you know you’re ok.

Emergency things in my self-care tool kit — maybe they can help you too

  • Booking an appointment with my therapist. Using my support network. Some things I’ve found are too big, too personal and too messy to talk to friends and family about. Know who is a good person to turn to for the dark stuff.
  • MOVE. For me it’s running, yoga, going for a walk or doing a bit of mad dancing/shaking it out to a playlist. I like this one made by Rebecca Wilson. Moving your body can take you out of your head and in to the moment. p.s all of these things are free
  • Journaling. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to read well. Just pick up that damn pen and get it out. Pretend that notepad is the least judgemental and private individual you know. Let it ALL go, don’t hold back. Burn it after if you want to.
  • Take a day to yourself. Take a mental health day, turn your phone off and dial up the self care. Tell the people who need to know that you need a break for a day and focus on looking after yourself.

Do something for someone else. I’ve found trying to be there for a friend, doing something in the communal areas of your house or calling someone who’d like to hear from you can put things back into perspective. Don’t get swept up in being at service to others but a bit of selflessnesses is a good reminder that we are just one tiny part of a big wider world that’s ticking on regardless.