Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mental Health Awareness Week: Surviving or Thriving?


May is Mental Health Awareness month, and this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with a focus on Surviving or Thriving? Earlier this week, one of my favourite people, Abbey Louisa Rose, wrote a brilliant post on this topic and tagged me to share my own views. Turns out, I've got quite a lot to say!

Mental Health vs Mental Illness
The topic for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is really interesting in my opinion, as it is more focused on mental health in general rather than specifically on mental illness. My husband was a little confused about the concept though, as he wasn't really sure of the difference. It's a really important distinction to make though. Everyone has mental health, but not everyone has a mental illness, just like everyone has physical health but not everyone has a physical illness. Just as you can feel a little run-down, tired or sore physically without having a physical illness, your mental health can have ups and downs without necessarily becoming a mental illness.

For too long, there has been a clear divide between those who have mental illnesses, and those who don't: a kind of 'us versus them' feeling. There's so much stigma surrounding mental illness that it is understandable that some people would be reluctant to discuss their own struggles. But everyone does struggle at times. In fact, mentalhealth.org found that only 13% of people report living with high levels of good mental health (you can compare your good mental health score to the UK average here). They also suggest that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of illness worldwide. There's clearly a lot of work to be done, and that's what the campaign of Surviving or Thriving is all about.



Surviving or Thriving?
All too often, I find myself sleepwalking through life - in fact, I'd definitely say I'm in a stage of this just now. I may not be at my very worst, but that doesn't mean that I'm happy. It doesn't mean that I'm reaching my full potential, and it doesn't mean that I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I'm getting by, and that's it. I don't particularly look after myself: perhaps I'm eating badly (let's be real, I'm always eating badly), maybe I'm not bothering to brush my hair (again...), my sleep pattern is erratic at best, or I find myself spending entire days in my house, just scrolling through Twitter. Hardly the life I'd imagined for myself in my 20s.

I know that at some points, thriving is outside of what I'm capable of, but I also know that it's something I am continually striving towards. I am building up my understanding of what good mental health looks like, and how I can achieve it for myself.



Things That Help Me Thrive
Without a doubt, the main thing that has helped me has been talking. Even though I've been married two years, it's only recently that I've felt fully able to open up and share the darkest parts of my mind with my husband. I can't tell you what a difference it makes to not have to carry them around with me, entirely on my own, anymore. By talking about how I feel, I am able to sort out what issues I've exacerbated in my head, what things I do need to work on, and what I can (and should) be asking for help with. I'm not alone, despite what my brain likes to tell me, and I don't have to do it all by myself.

Self-care is another thing that definitely helps my mental health - and I've talked before about my favourite methods. I am definitely guilty of self-neglect, something Vix Meldrew articulated perfectly. Because of this, taking the time to really look after myself becomes much more than just a lovely indulgence. Having a nice long bath with a bath bomb, washing my hair and brushing out all the knots, having a face mask and actually following my skincare routine - it actually contributes to making me feel more like a human. It reminds me that I deserve a lot more respect than I often give myself, and not to take my body and what it does for me for granted.

The last thing that helps me thrive has taken years of my life to even identify a need for, never mind get into the habit of doing. Learning to let things go has honestly changed my life. I am the type of person who takes everything personally, who worries constantly over every indirect on Twitter, and who can't stand to be disliked. I've hated myself because I've truly believed other peoples' opinions of me were all that mattered. All that time and all those thoughts wasted on people who wouldn't have given me either of theirs. Letting go of that has been magical. I can't spend my life treading water while I try and prove a point to people who won't change their minds. Accepting that I'm not everyone's cup of tea, that I can't win every argument, and that actually most of this shit isn't even important has allowed me the room to focus on what does matter.



How I Know I'm Thriving
When I'm feeling particularly hopeless, I find it hard to remember what the good times even felt like. And what's the point of fighting for better, if you can't even remember if it's worth it? So I thought I'd put together a short list of things that let me know that I'm doing well, so I stop being such a bloody pessimist.

  • I can go outside. On my own. I can make the 20+ minute walk into town. It sounds stupid, but this is a huge thing for me and not something I can do daily.
  • I care about the food I eat, the way I look after myself, the amount of sleep I get. I cook, I clean.
  • I am excited about the future. I book trips away, days out, or events. I look forward.
  • I feel able to cope with small, everyday issues that might arise. Phoning to book an appointment is possible, answering the door to the postman isn't terrifying.
  • I put things in perspective, and don't let small annoyances or worries overwhelm me.
  • I'm social, and I make an effort to get in contact with people. Maybe I'll even suggest meeting up (surely not?!)
  • I put my bloody phone down. For some reason, my anxiety and my phone are closely linked - social media makes me anxious, but when I'm away from it I can worry I'll lose followers, miss conversations or the people I like will 'abandon' me. If I can put my phone down for a few hours and not feel the temptation to pick it up, it's a big deal!
  • I feel competent and I don't immediately ask my husband to help me with something before I've given it a shot myself.
  • I get outdoors, into the countryside, or to the beach, and I just am in awe of how beautiful everything is.
  • I laugh. A lot.


Surviving Isn't Failing
I think it's important to say - if you're at a stage where all you can do right now is survive, that's okay! Surviving isn't failing to thrive - it's an act of self-preservation, it's an important tool in building resilience and as long as you remember that it's not the end goal, it is perfectly fine to 'just survive' for now. The journey to good mental health is not going to be easy, or quick. Putting too much pressure on yourself to get there is counter-productive, and is just an added stressor that you don't need. Seek the help of your GP, and utilise support networks like Mind and the Samaritans - and remember that you are capable of so much more than just surviving.

 If you feel you need urgent help, please reach out to the Samaritans on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org, and seek medical assistance as soon as you can.

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4 comments

  1. Really good post lovely! You have such a way with words, it's a pleasure to read your posts. Thank you for sharing this and all the advice too! Xx

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  2. Thank you so much for articulating so perfectly the difference between mental health and mental illness, it's such an important distinction and very often, the two pieces of terminology are used interchangably, so it was really useful to read this in order to give me clarity in my own head! I completely agree that surviving isn't failing too, it's such an important thing to remember, as getting down on yourself for "not thriving" is another way to perpetuate not living life to the full! I think that compiling a list, as you have here, of your personal signs of thriving is a great idea, I'm sure that you achieve more of them than you think! Fantastic post, one of the best I've read for #MHAW!

    Abbey 🌟 www.abbeylouisarose.co.uk

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  3. Only the strongest fight these battles… but there are brighter days definitely ahead and being so well acquainted with darkness only makes them all the brighter. Stay strong xX

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  4. The most important reason is changing the lives of those people you have helped and probably even saved. Adaline Taylor

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