It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so this week’s Self-Love-Ninja blog is a little different. Mental Health is something that is hugely relevant in my own consciousness due to having mental health conditions in the shape of eating disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something I cover in my forthcoming book, Enough.
My own mental health is something I have only felt able to talk about more recently, partly because the conditions failed to be diagnosed for almost 30 years and partly because I spent years feeling ashamed of the fact I couldn’t ‘snap out of it’. I guess there was another contributing factor that led to my prolonged silence and that is how acutely aware I am of the amount of eye-rolling that takes place when people talk about conditions like anxiety, depression or OCD let alone bulimia or PTSD. Mental Health conditions are still so misunderstood.
There will be, and in my case there are, people who treat me differently because I have been open about my conditions. It’s as if it suddenly means I am incapable or difficult to talk to. I remind myself that this may be down to the way they have been conditioned to view mental health, rather than a display of ignorance.
Let me try and explain…
When I was a little girl, there was a lady who lived in our street who was described by the locals as ‘mental’. She wore red lip-stick beyond her lip-line, bright blue eye shadow up to her drawn-on eyebrows, a crumpled, brown trench coat (whatever the weather) and she muttered to herself as she walked along the street, sometimes even shouting out loud. This, in the eyes of society, meant that she was ‘mental’ and this also meant that people would cross the street the avoid her. I watched this happen time and time again through my 8-year-old eyes.
The negative connotations surrounding the word ‘mental’ were set in stone from an early age and continued to be reinforced through further examples of individuals being described as ‘a sandwich short of a picnic’, a phrase often used to describe anybody who dared to be different or anybody who behaved in way that wasn’t considered the norm.
I wonder now, as an adult, whether the term mental health is appropriate and please bare with me whilst I expand on this. Whilst I would love to think we live in a world where the stigma surrounding mental health will subside, I don’t, at the moment, believe it to be true. I think the stigma is reducing as awareness is raised through charities such as Mind, but it’s a long way from being eliminated anytime soon. How much of this is because my generation, and probably the one before, has been brought up believing the word ‘mental’ is negative? Perhaps if we called mental health ‘brain health’ it would attract the same respect as physical health. Or, maybe we could just stick to physical health as a descriptor, after all, the mind is part of the body.
If we are sticking with the term Mental Health, it’s worth nothing that it exists on a spectrum and has a range of conditions and severity levels. I must add that I speak as a layman here, with only experience to draw on, rather than specific expertise. The way I see it, in the same way physical health can be debilitated by a toothache or annihilated by Cancer, mental health can be impacted by anything from a bad day at the office to a traumatic horror such as the murder of a family member. Whilst the latter, we hope, will only impact a minority due to its rarity, any one of us can experience mental health blips in the same way as we can catch a cold and it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, in many ways, it provides an awakening which allows us to evaluate what is important and often leads to a prioritization of goals and a search for the things that will lead to happiness.
Have you ever been in a situation were everyone around you seems to be doing well whilst in your world everything is falling apart?
Little things like spilling a drink or dropping a plate feel like a major failing and you seem powerless to rationalise them as an accident.
You feel unhappy, stressed and irritable.
You have goals but you don’t believe you are capable of reaching them.
You know a change is needed. In some cases you even know how to do it, yet feel paralysed to make it happen.
You struggle to lift your head off the pillow in the morning, let alone face the day and you want the rest of the world to do one! (and that’s putting it mildly)
These feelings can quickly spiral into shutting off, not answering the phone, scrolling mindlessly through social media, comparing yourself to wonder-women and super-men (see last week’s Blog), eating junk, drinking too much, curling up under the duvet and not wanting to face reality. For most people, all (or any combination) of these things might last for a day or two, for others it can go on and on and on until it reaches the point where even the simplest task is insurmountable.
In some cases, you may be fighting the need to to shut off whilst trying too hard to continue with your daily life. This produces a pressure cooker environment which one day can go pop! The simple fact is, if you need to shut down, you can’t carry on as normal, at some point, you have to stop and get off the merry-go-round.
The key thing is awareness. If you feel yourself reaching the point where you don’t want to face the world today, this is when your self-love-ninja really needs to kick ass. Treat yourself with the same kindness you would if you were suffering with physical illnesses. I love the advice of Happiful Magazine which advocates taking mental health days off work without guilt. You may simply require a day or two hibernating, eating nutritious food, watching comedy films, taking long walks and listening to music before you feel back to your usual self and able to carry on as before.
Or, you may need to seek help from a professional who can steer you in the right direction and provide you with the care you need.
Deep down most of us know what we need to do, we are often afraid to do it for fear of being branded ‘mental’. But we are not mental, we are incredible and we are taking the brave steps to bring ourselves back to full, vibrant health.
So during this mental health week, consider how you respond to people around you who might be suffering. What language do you use? Do you roll your eyes? Because how you respond to others will be how you respond to yourself tenfold.
Next time you have a mental health blip, or if you are experiencing one now, treat yourself with the care, kindness and compassion you would show a loved one suffering with a physical illness and seek help. Ultimately, you deserve to be well in all aspects of mind and body and you can be safe in the knowledge that there is always a way out from under the duvet.
‘Enough’ is out on 17th June via Amazon.
Follow Self-Love-Ninja for daily affirmations https://www.instagram.com/self_love_ninja/