Not so long ago it was considered ‘not the done thing’ and highly frowned upon to talk openly about mental health issues people were facing.
It was seen as a sign of weakness and although there is till some way to go within this area, thankfully we have learned the importance of sharing and talking openly about our experiences – in a bid to help others with demons they may be facing and to give them the hope that they are not alone, that we’re in this together. Even the Prince’s are promoting the need to ‘Ditch the British stiff upper lip’ and talk about it or seek professional health!
Be a prince or a pauper, suffering mentally is still a dark, lonely and scary journey for those on that road. Thinking they are alone is a common problem and so its very important for people to speak out about their own experiences. It is also a very brave and inspiring thing to do.
Say it out loud
I recently read an article where a man was interviewed about ‘his story’. At first, he was reluctant to speak about his life – not because he was shy or private. He simply didn’t think his story was worth telling, or that anyone would find it particularly interesting for that matter.
After all, he was just an ordinary man with an ordinary life; he hadn’t done anything heroic for charity or country, he hadn’t been imprisoned for his beliefs, he hadn’t been an inspirational global business leader or developed some powerful anti-cancer drug – he was just an ordinary man. Thankfully he was persuaded to share his story and it’s one which resonates with many people the world over. Including me.
He spoke of his mental breakdown and the battle with depression he had after losing his business and his parents. And how he came out the other side stronger – and was able to start a new, profitable business. He showed real courage in his honesty; opening up and talking about his mental health, attempting to overcome the stigma in today’s society surrounding this topic.
Why is it seen as a weakness when it takes so much strength to come through it?
Displaying this vulnerability is often seen as a weakness. Why should this be? Many of the worlds leading business figures have spoken of how they lost everything and hit rock bottom, before they were driven on to succeed –experiencing more in life and business, as a result of their experience.
I have heard many people who have been on this journey speak of the isolation they have felt – how not even their families knew of their struggle with mental health. I’ve been there myself. You feel weak, ashamed almost. It’s not until you come through the other side – when you are feeling stronger and less in need of support, that you feel able to open up about it. Yet by us opening up and sharing stories of mental health battles it helps to remove the social stigma.
Talking about it isn’t about comparing battle scars. It’s about healing. And being comfortable in your own skin. It’s almost cathartic to share ones life experiences and to bear ones soul and, importantly, by doing so it helps break down barriers. We all have a story worth telling, whether WE think it interesting or not.
Every one has their own way of dealing with stress, anxiety, depression etc. Sharing our own story may help someone who is going through something similar. For me, I was bullied at work and ground down to the point I hit rock bottom before I even knew what was happening. It was terrifying and very internal. I felt very weak, totally alone and lost. I simply closed down. It truly was the darkest of places.
So how did I get through it?
My coping strategy of choice was Creative therapy. This is the use of creativity as a form of escape. The act of getting whatever is in your head onto paper is very therapeutic. There are various forms of creative therapy and it doesn’t matter which you use, because it’s the actual process of creation – the use of imagination – rather than any end product, that heals and helps. It’s allowing your mind the freedom to imagine and create.
This is a technique that some schools have adopted in order to communicate with children who may be struggling educationally, mentally or emotionally. But the grown ups amongst us can also reap the benefits. There are numerous adult colouring books and apps available now for this purpose. Although a blank piece of paper can be equally as useful.
I constantly had pen to paper: drawing pictures, doodles – whatever I felt like at the time. I also wrote poetry. This is something I had always done. I wrote on all manner of topics but what I have noticed looking back was the poetry written at this time was very dark and intense. I clearly wasn’t in a good place and was trying to find my way out.
Two such poems written at this time resonate with me even today: the first ‘How I feel today’ was terribly dark and foreboding. The second, ‘How I will feel tomorrow’ was bright and full of optimism and hope. These poems will always feel important to me because they were part of my journey to recovery. I’ve not been able to write poetry since, oddly.
Do what ignites your soul – for you
I had felt very weak, but by hitting rock bottom – when there’s nowhere left to fall, I somehow was able to find the strength to regain my life and bounce back; to find the courage to change my life. I jacked in the job I despised and followed my dreams; I went to Art college – against my families wishes – and then onto university – the only one in my family to do so and something I had always aspired to, but never knew how.
After 5 years design education I graduated with a highly sought-after 1st class BA Hons Design degree and my first design award to boot. I felt so proud of myself for having the courage to drive myself forwards. To say I had changed dramatically as a person, is an understatement. I was far braver and more determined to succeed. After coming so far, failure wasn’t an option. I wonder, would I have had that same drive to succeed if I hadn’t first fell so hard?
I haven’t shared my story before because I, like the author of the original piece which promoted this blog, didn’t think my story would be very interesting to others. It was just my life – in all its light and shade. It was just something that happened to me in the past. But now looking over the things I have achieved since those dark days, I realise that the human spirit can be very resilient and if by sharing my story I can inspire just one person to find their way out of their own ‘gloom’, then it has to be worth talking about. So I truly believe it IS good to talk, do you agree?
The road to recovery: Start with tiny little steps…
I’m no expert but I believe mental health is the body’s way of coping with the stress of life’s events and of feeling unfulfilled. Don’t leave it until your body tells you enough is enough – manifesting itself through ill health. Act now! Before you go further down that path. Change your life now. Small steps is all it takes to change your direction – and can make a big positive difference.
Do what ever makes you happy. Reconnect with what sets your soul on fire and ignites your confidence to live the full life that you deserve! Be patient: you have to go through the worst to get to the best
Focus on me
Give yourself some ‘me’ time. It’s something we don’t do enough. Everyone else is a priority but it’s crucial to your mental wellbeing to factor in a date with yourself. Do something you enjoy every day, whatever that may be: reading a book, watching a movie, having a bath, painting a picture.
Try to get some fresh air into your day; a walk at lunch time or after work. Doing some exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing. But it’s proven that is really works wonders at boosting your mood. It’s all those feel-good endorphins dashing around your body! Make sure you get to bed at a reasonable time as sleep not only recharges you but is fundamental to your mood the following day. Feed your body with nourishing food – not junk. If you only put junk in you’ll only get junk out. Some people find meditation useful – it’s a good way to slow your world down and gain some perspective.
Perhaps take up some creative therapy as I did. There are many adult colouring books and apps available, which can be therapeutic. Or get back to nature with some green therapy; growing something is proven to help with mental health problems. Many people find the act of writing a journal really beneficial. Don’t worry about the content, just put whatever comes to mind down. It’s the act of freeing up headspace that works.
It’s good to talk
The worst thing you can do is to just keep going, plodding through the fog. It will just add more pressure on you which will eventually crash down hard on you. Make sure you talk to people when you feel the need. Or seek professional help – this takes courage to do so don’t feel ashamed. Give yourself all the time you need to regain your strength.
One of my lifes motto’s since this happened to me is: “There’s a positive in every negative”. It may seem impossible to find a positive when you are in your darkest of times but there is one in there. Just like there was for me. You just have to seek it out. I learned both resilience and determination. It took me a long time to recover from this part of my life. In the aftermath I suffered crises of confidence and low self esteem. This can be a common side effect. But the determination I found I had within me, helped me to change the course of my life. That action I took equaled empowerment. It could so have been a different story – if I had let it.
How to help someone you think may be in distress
If someone is in distress, try to get them to talk. Just asking the simple question ‘Hey, are you OK?’ can make all the difference to them. It shows someone cares. I am very proud to support the #HeyAreYouOK? campaign whose mission is to promote a culture that teaches us to recognise distress and to talk about it openly and honestly. A culture that teaches us to ask for help without fear of being stigmatised. One which teaches us to see that sometimes we need to reach out to those we think may be finding life difficult to cope with. All it takes is to ask #HeyAreYouOK? It really can make all the difference.
The people behind this campaign are ‘Storm Skills Training’ who are a Community Interest Company. They are an organisation who are taking this message out to the business community, to employers and schools. This is to help create a responsive strategy for suicide prevention and self-harm. Their evidence-based training focuses on developing the skills needed by staff and teachers to help a person at risk of suicide or self-harm to stay safe.
Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments box below.
Take good care of yourself,