Sunday, 23 April 2017

Mental Health + Relationships - with No Space for Milk!


You should probably be aware that I'm trying really hard not to fangirl too much right now, but it's very difficult as today's post features my absolute favourite blogger, Rachel. Ever since I started chatting away to her on Twitter, I've been in awe of Rachel's blog, which features some of the most well-written and thought-provoking posts on mental health, lifestyle and wellbeing that I've ever read. Not only that but she's just the loveliest person too.

As a mental health nursing student, I've always really valued Rachel's perspective on the topic. I always find myself nodding along to her posts because she hits the nail on the head every single time. In fact, I'm always stalking her on Twitter too and sometimes I've had to stop myself from liking all of her tweets... I'm surprised I haven't been blocked yet! I'd also highly recommend you check out her pictures on Instagram - it's an envy-inducing mix of wanderlust-inducing scenery, delicious looking food and drink, and perfect selfies (I told you I was fangirling...)



1. Introduce yourself! Tell us about your blog, tell us which post you're most proud of, and tell us about your mental health story!


Hello, I'm Rachel and I'll be turning that dreaded quarter of a century this year. I'm a mental health nursing student who loves languages, literature and music and I spend most days drinking coffee and wishing I owned lots of dogs.

My blog, No Space for Milk is a bit of a mishmash really. I write posts on mental health, wellbeing and those oh so vague 'lifestyle' posts. One of the posts I'm proudest of is this one on social anxiety - You're So Quiet - where I tried to explain what living with social anxiety feels like on a day-to-day basis. I first noticed I was having mental health problems when I suffered severe depression as a side effect of the contraceptive pill I had been taking for 4 years. Since then I have been diagnosed with social anxiety as well. The two combined mean that I have a lot more bad days than good days but this is slowly changing.

2. Have you discussed your MH with your loved ones? If yes, how did you start that conversation, and if not, why not?


I am not really a great sharer of my personal issues. So despite talking relatively openly about my mental health on my blog, I struggle to open up in real life with my loved ones. Other than what they can read online my parents know very little of my mental health. And even on my blog I rarely open up to the full extent of my mental health. Even without social anxiety, I imagine I would still be an introverted, private person and I don't like to share my feelings for fear of being ridiculed or asked the dreaded "what do you have to be sad about?" question. Sometimes it's just easier to stay quiet than open yourself up to scrutiny. 

My boyfriend, however, knows almost the full extent of my anxiety, although I still keep some of the what I deem to be 'silly' parts to myself. On the days where I struggle to leave the house, I'm much less likely to share anything about my mental health, because how does saying you're scared to go to the shop sound to someone who has never felt that way?

3. How have those closest to you reacted? Any particularly positive or negative feedback?


As I have never really spoken openly about my mental health to my loved ones, my anxiety is often met with negative reactions. It's understandable because I have never really voiced how I'm feeling, only that certain situations make me anxious, which obviously is difficult to understand if you haven't experienced it yourself.

To the people I have told, the reactions have been largely positive, although anxiety is a difficult concept to get your head around. So usually it's met with "everyone feels worried about things sometimes."

4. How has your mental health affected your relationships (whether with a partner, friends, family)?


My anxiety means that my relationships are minimal at best with lots of people. I often worry that I have nothing to say to people and so I usually stay quiet in social situations leaving me with few friends. For the last 6 years, I've lived in houses of up to 7 people during my time at uni. In all honesty, it's only made my social anxiety worse. Darting around so that I don't spend any time in the kitchen with others, or making sure I only leave my room when I'm certain that no one is about just makes me look a bit weird.

I haven't really told any of my close friends about my mental health and aside from my parents, my family have no clue of it. One side of my family doesn't even 'believe' in mental health which makes it really difficult to feel okay about it.

5. In the reverse, how have your relationships affected your mental health?


My relationship with my boyfriend has only ever affected my mental health positively. He is so supportive of me, even when it's difficult for him and has pushed me (in a good way) to fight my anxiety head on. 

My close friends are great for my mental health. Although they don't know how I feel, being around them makes me feel more confident.

6. Is your mental health something you actively talk about with your loved ones, or do you prefer not to discuss it? Are there any pros or cons to your approach?


Like I said above, it's something I rarely talk about in real life. On the one hand, it helps me because I know that I can't ever use my anxiety as an excuse not to do something, but on the other hand, when I'm really struggling I don't open up to anyone, which is often a trigger for depression and something that I'm trying to get out of the habit of.

7. Is there anything you wish you could tell those closest to you or wish that they understood? What is stopping you from telling them?


All I really would like to say is "I have anxiety, but you don't need to treat me any differently." I'm not sure I've ever really considered why I don't tell anyone about my mental health so thanks Beth for making me think about it! I think the main thing is that I don't want anyone to pussyfoot around me in case they make me anxious. Hell, I'll be anxious regardless so I just want to be treated as I am now.

8. What advice would you give to people who want to tell their loved ones about their mental health?


I would say that if you have a good support system then go ahead and open up. As a stubborn little Scorpio, I have the mindset that I don't need anyone else's help (not true) so my advice would be not to suffer in silence. Of the people I have told, most have been really supportive so it's likely that whoever you tell will be supportive too! And if they're not, then they're not worth having in your life!

9. What advice would you give non-sufferers who want to support their loved one with their MH?


Just to 'be there'. You don't need to understand, you don't necessarily need to do anything but just let that person know they can talk to you. And if they do start to open up about it then just listen. You can't solve their mental health issues but you can be a support and that's the most valuable thing.

10. Are there any support systems (other than loved ones) you use that you'd recommend for those who may need them?


My blog and the Twitter community are the best support systems I've ever had. Not only are there people who understand but people that I can actually connect with and form friendships with, which for me is invaluable. It's nice to be judged on personality and not on the fact that I'm shy.

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Social anxiety is one of those diagnoses that are so easily misunderstood. As Rachel said, people are quick to declare that "everyone feels like that sometimes", but they are spectacularly missing the point. It is more than just feeling nervous about meeting new people, and I know that by sharing her experiences, Rachel has helped to break down some of the misconceptions! 
I think a lot of us struggle to admit we need help or to open up to those around us. It can be exhausting trying to explain why you struggle with things other people may consider 'easy'. It can be daunting to discuss your feelings when you aren't sure what reaction you'll get. I loved that Rachel suggested using the Twitter mental health community as a resource - it's definitely been a huge help to me too, and is a great way of opening up without fear of judgement. 

I also just want to say how much Rachel's answer to question 9 resonated with me. I've met some people who had their hearts in the right place but treated my mental illness as a problem that needed fixing. Obviously, recovery is a great thing to aim for, but you aren't helping someone if you treat them as broken just because they think differently. I love Rachel's advice - just be a support and you're making the biggest difference possible.

As always, a massive thank you to Rachel for taking the time to answer my questions and share her thoughts with us all. I always really value seeing a different perspective on mental health, and I think it's so interesting to hear how someone who tends not to share too much actually feels, so thank you so much for getting involved Rachel!


RACHEL'S LINKS:

To check out the other interviews in this collab series, click here!

If you'd like to be involved in this project, feel free to email me, chat to me on Twitter or leave a comment below.

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