berniekyne Uncategorized October 9, 2018 8 Minutes
This week is mental health awareness week and it’s got me thinking a little bit about my own thoughts, feelings and experiences around mental health. I’ve kind of alluded to mental health in a few of my other blogs and it is quite central to a lot of my ideas and things that I’ve been thinking about over the past few months. (Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health expert nor do I claim to be, these are just my thoughts and not intended to be medical advice!)
I like to think of mental health as a spectrum, and I believe that everyone is always at some point on that spectrum. Sometimes we only stop to consider our mental health when it slips down the spectrum and starts to affect us in negative ways, but the truth is that it is always there, we all have a brain, so we all have mental health. Therefore I think we should all be concerned and invested in learning and understanding mental health and how to take care of ourselves and others.
How many times have we heard it said, “it’s ok not to be ok”? It’s become the catch phrase for mental health in our country. And I want to say first and foremost that I totally agree and support that it is ok not to be ok. But I also want to challenge that we say it with meaning behind it. That we stop saying “it’s ok not to be ok” but then continue to treat people differently, holding them at arm’s length, or judging them for not being ok. I think it has become such throw around language that we don’t actually realise what we are saying sometimes. When someone opens up to you, makes themselves vulnerable and explains their struggles, that is often a cry for help. When you say “it’s ok not to be ok”, you are actually (hopefully) saying, what you are experiencing is normal, and although it is difficult, you are doing ok, you will be ok, and I will support you. You are saying I don’t judge you. I don’t think less of you. I don’t see it as a weakness. There isn’t something “wrong” with you. You aren’t broken beyond repair. Its part of the human journey. It’s ok.
While I have never actually had a diagnosis of a mental illness and so I can’t speak for that and the no doubt incredibly difficult time that it is, I’ve definitely had times where I’ve known “I’m not ok” (and probably some undiagnosed stuff going on for a while there.) And there were times when I made myself vulnerable and told people I trusted that I felt that way, and I was met with no response. This was damaging for me at a time where I was struggling, and discouraged me from telling anyone else how I was feeling for fear of being met with the same response. Hello prolonged and deepened state of feeling that way and feeling that no one cared about it. So I feel pretty passionately that one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, our friends and our family is learn a little bit about mental health, recognising issues, the right questions to ask and where to get help. You don’t have to become a trained psychologist but knowing a few simple yet important questions and then supporting them to seek further help (this part is key, it isn’t on you to “fix” someone), could be the best thing you ever do for someone you love and care about. None of us are exempt from mental health issues entering our lives in some shape or form at some point along our journey, whether it’s us directly, our best friend, girlfriend, uncle, grandma, brother, colleague. We are all just human, and it is ok not to be ok. Say it, but really make sure you believe it and you mean it when you do, and act accordingly.
I’d also like to add to the list of things we should say, with meaning, to ourselves and to others: it’s ok to be ok. This one has been huge for me this year. To give myself permission to be happy, to grow, to change, to accept myself and be content with who I am and where I’m at in all aspects of my life. The death of a great friend, the break up of a long and central relationship in my life, was actually the catalyst (read: kick up the bum) I needed to wake up, stop floating along in my own life and take some responsibility for myself and my own mental and emotional health. Would I wish those events on anyone? Absolutely not. It was the hardest time in my life by a million miles. But am I proud of the way I’ve handled it? Absolutely yes. I turned sadness, grief and almost incomprehensible loss, into growth, acceptance, love and joy. Did I feel guilty about it? Heck yes. Sometimes I still do. I have to tell myself every day that it is ok to be ok. It doesn’t mean I loved anyone any less, that I didn’t care, or that that friendship and that relationship meant nothing to me. It doesn’t mean I can’t still be sad about all that has happened. Those things couldn’t be further from the truth. But I also have no control over either of those events. Very early on in the grief process I wrote two lists, one of things I could not control, and one of the things I could control. Featured on the list of things I could not control, things such as the death of my friend, the choice of my boyfriend to break up with me and all of his choices forward from there, what other people were going to think and say about me following the break up, how our friends were going to react, and the weather (even in grief I’m a comedian). But more importantly on the list of things I could control: my own actions and reactions to the events happening in my life, the way I spoke about the relationship, the break up, and the people involved, what I chose to share, and where I choose to invest my time moving forward. I took that control and I ran with it. I would recommend this process to anyone dealing with anything they find overwhelming. Write the list, accept what you can’t control, and commit to working on what you can. I sought help from a counsellor, I read books, I started writing daily, I made myself vulnerable to my friends, I explained where I had been and where I was going. I apologised to people that I felt I needed to make amends with. I made a commitment to myself that I was going to stand by myself, invest time in myself and love myself through every day of grief and loss and pain. I promised myself that I would do the things that make me happy and bring me joy. And that I would be ok, and that that would be ok. The result? It wasn’t all smooth sailing, it was hard, I had and still have, rough days. But overall I now have the healthiest mindset and outlook on life I have had as far back as I can remember, an ability to process what I’m feeling and deal with it, stronger friendships, deeper insight and much more contentment with my life and myself. For those things and more, I’m grateful.
Sometimes it can feel like mental health issues are consuming our generation and our society. Sometimes I look around and feel like I know more people that are struggling than are not. Like I said in the beginning, it is ok not to be ok. But it’s also ok to look after yourself, to not get pulled in and dragged down, and to put yourself first. You don’t have to be struggling with your mental health to be “normal”. You don’t need to feel guilty if the people around you are struggling and you feel fine. Cherish it, and keep working on it even when you do feel fine. I love the five ways to wellbeing endorsed by the Mental Health Foundation of NZ. I was sitting at work and noticed a leaflet on the table and when I read them, I realised that without having actively known the specified five ways, they were all things that had helped me over the last few months. If you aren’t familiar with the five ways to wellbeing, they are:
1. Give- your time, your words, your presence.
2. Be active- do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood.
3. Keep learning- encourage new experiences, see opportunities, surprise yourself.
4. Connect- talk and listen, be there, feel connected.
5. Take notice- remember the simple things that give you joy.
No matter if you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, on a downward spiral, coming out of some struggles or like you’ve reached the peak, implementing even just one of these five ways is bound to improve your wellbeing to some extent. I would encourage you to read each one and think of examples of how you have done this in the last week or two, and if you can’t think of any, then how are you going to over the next week? Do it for you, because you are worth investing time and effort into.
Like I said, not a mental health expert but from my own experiences and from the experiences of people around me, sometimes improving your mental health can be a bit like being stuck on a see-saw that doesn’t quite touch down on either side. You are on the path to wanting to be better, but you fear change and moving on. Maybe it is because you feel like you get attention from the people you love when you are facing problems. Maybe it is because you just don’t know what it’s like to not have the struggles to focus on. Or maybe you feel like your mental health issues have become part of your identity and just “how you are”. There are so many reasons we fear letting go. But can I tell you something? You are loved and you are worthy, even when you are ok, and even when you are not ok. Too often it seems like our worth is based on how we are. People want to be around you because you are happy, people give you attention because you are sad. It can be hard for us to disconnect this from controlling how we are or how we present ourselves and just let ourselves be. You are not and will never be defined by your mental health. The people who really love and care for you should be there for you regardless of the highs and lows. And all they will want is for you to live to your fullest potential. So surround yourself with people who are happy for your happiness and sad for your sadness, but allow you to feel what you feel and don’t make you feel bad or try and project how they think you should be feeling. This is the importance of honesty and vulnerability, you are the only one who really knows how you are. Ask for help when you need it, share your highs and lows with people you trust, and commit to your own journey.
Be brave, ask the people you care about if they are ok this week, and respect the answer that they give you. If you have been waiting for a sign that you need to reach out and tell someone you are not ok, consider this your sign. Make yourself vulnerable, I know it’s scary, but you can do it. And if you truly don’t feel like you have someone you can be vulnerable with or that you can trust, we even have a solution for that in New Zealand! To avoid feeling like a Stuff article, I won’t post them all here, but for a start you can free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you take the time this week to reflect on your own mental health journey.