And the 5 steps I am taking to get back to “OK”.
Boy oh boy, do I have an admission to make.
So as many of you may know, not only am I blogging on here now but myself and my best friend Steph do a podcast on mental health and how important it is to be opennnnnnn and honesttttttttt…. So can you imagine my surprise when I realised that I am totally, completely, and utterly NOT OK!?
It was like the bit in the horror movie where the to-be victim has been pottering around the kitchen in a cloud of ignorant bliss, unaware of the viewers building suspense, going about their day thinking about the pleasantries of their life and marveling at how damn well they are doing, then… BAM out pops a serial killer wearing a terrifying mask and brandishing a machete.
Well that was me at the end of last week, except the machete weilding maniac is depression, and I really shouldnt have been that shocked to be completely honest, tiredly underwhelmed would have been a more appropriate reaction.
I have spent approximately the last 2 months telling everyone how well I am, it was going something like this:
“Yeah, I have a lot going on at work at the moment, I’m kinda behind actually and I feel like I’m not doing a very good job. Oh yeah, and now I have been stood down due to Covid-19. Buuuuut I think it will be fine. It’s fine. And yeah I just separated from my husband who I have been with for 10 years too which should really be overwhelming me but I am actually fine, I feel totally fine. Oh my sleep hygeine? Shocking, I am having so much trouble sleeping, the first time in over a year my insomnia has kicked back in, but yeah nah yeah it is actually OK, I don’t feel that bad and I’m sure I will start sleeping properly again soon. When was the last time I meditated or did any form of self care? Gosh, a while back, I have just been so busy and tired, but I’m actually fine and I am sure I will get back to it soon.”
So why. Why oh why was it a shock to me when I found myself bawling my eyes out at work, coming down with tonsillitus and having a complete breakdown?
I will tell you exactly why.
Because I broke the cardinal rule of good mental health:
Never stop flexing your mental health muscles.
As my idol (pun definitely intended, sorry Andrew G) Osher Gunsberg has said on multiple occasions; you don’t stop going to the gym because you have finally got the muscles you always wanted, you keep going so you can maintain them. I had stopped listening to Osher’s advice, as well as the advice I was preaching on the weekly to my lovely listeners. Oops.
So how did I come to the conclusion I am not OK? Surely there were signs along the way?
Yep, there were, signs that I ignored. Like the simple fact I was so behind at work, red flag. That I had stopped shaving my legs or washing my hair? Not a huge deal but… red flag. That when I looked in the mirror everything was distorted and confusing and had me thinking about starving myself. And most recently that Steph had to ask me why it was that I had worn the same dress for about 2 weeks straight (for comfort, I said).
It’s hard to not get angry at myself for letting my mental health go, again, however I think those of us who have long term struggles need to be able to pause and reflect. I think back to when I was around 18-19 and I hit my (to-date) rock bottom. I could barely function, I couldn’t communicate to those around me what was wrong, or ask for help. I couldn’t conceive of a way life would ever get better… This time around I could stop myself in my tracks, recognise what was happening, and say (both to myself, and out-loud) “I am not ok. I will be ok, but right now I am not and I need some help”.
This is why I think that the harder times in our life, whatever that may be for you, need to be followed with reflective periods. We need to be recognising that while there is nothing pleasant about these times, if we are able to get through them then we gain more insight, and more tools going forward. That with these challenges come learning experiences, and every little thing we do to improve our mental health adds to our mental health practice.
And as we say: it is a PRACTICE, not a PERFECT!
So… what is the point of this rambling? I have decided to put in place my 5 must do things. (Most of which can be done in self-isolation life!) These things may seem simple, however they can be very difficult for those in the middle of a depressive episode. These steps are enormously important to being able to get through these times, and I would love to share this insight with others who may need a bit of advice.
Savour a shower.
When I am not feeling great mentally, the first thing that goes belly up is my hygeine routine. Luckily, because I usually have a full time job (pre-corona) and can’t get away with it I haven’t stopped showering all together, however a quick rinse everyday is not good enough.
I make sure I have a shower speaker for some tunes, and products that make me feel good ready to go (I love a good coffee scrub), and see shower time as a luxury rather than a chore. This is easier said than done sometimes, but on those days where the only thing I manage is a shower, at least it was a good one!
Bite sized bits
One of my worst habits when I am in the DEPTHS OF DESPAIR is to then wallow in the feelings of total inadeqacy and failure and get totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “things to do”. The advice that I ignored for years is to just pick one thing, and make it your mission for the day. Sure, a fully functioning adult can knock out their to-do list within an hour or two, but guess what? If you have a mental illness, you are not fully functioning, and your capacity is different to when you are well… I know, a revelation for me too! Now do not misunderstand me, I do not in any way mean that since I have depression, I don’t have to do anything. BUT it is about understanding that you cannot go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds.
So, back to picking one thing: Pick one single thing on your to-do list, and make sure you do it. Maybe nothing else will get done, but you did something. Which is surprisingly difficult sometimes.
One of the worst things about the fatigue that comes along with depression is that it feeds right into our feelings of worthlessness. You can’t do anything, so you feel worthless, which makes you more fatigued, making you less likely to do anything… Ya feel me?
By breaking this cycle in any way you possibly can, you are making it more possible to somehow work your way out of the spiral. For example, a few weeks ago on a Saturday I made it my mission that I would clean my bedside table off by the end of the day. That was my one and only commitment I made to myself. It took me around 2 hours to muster up the energy, but once I had done that, I also found myself going through the draws and tidying those, then all of a sudden I was vacumming the bedroom floor. Sure there were some pretty sizeable naps in between, and other people may have cleaned their whole house top to bottom in this time, but I went to bed feeling like I had actually done something, sound in the knowledge I very easily could have napped the day away.
I am absolutely shithouse at asking for help or admitting I need help, or realising I need help if we are being totally honest…
My dad, sister, and I use the mental health number system which I find super helpful, knowing I don’t need to reach out for help in a way that feels daunting, I can just shoot them a message saying something along the lines of “Feeling closer to a 5 today…” and they will talk me through things. With others, it’s knowing which people I can say “Not feeling good today” to and they won’t spiral into panic mode, or jump into problem solving or action, they will just question me a little and gently talk me through things. I am lucky enough to have a pretty big support system including not just my sister and dad, but also my mum aaaaand BEST FRIEND STEPH!
Go outside, and move your body
I’m rejecting the “Just go for a 40km run every day, the endorphines will cure you” sentiment.
Take it back to bite sized chunks; Whatever length of time you can manage, go stand outside, let the sun touch your skin, breathe some fresh air. 30 seconds, 2 hours, whatever you can manage. When you have had your fill of the fresh air and potential sunshine (I’m not going to try to guess the weather) it is time to move your body. On worse days for me this can even just look like me lying on the ground in front of the TV on my back stretching out my legs, arms, and back. On a medium day perhaps a little yoga, working up toward a good day I may muster up the energy for a walk with my dogs, or even the elusive full gym sesh!
And finally… give yourself a damn break!
Honestly the most important and in my humble opinion, most difficult self care step. Those of us who suffer from bad mental health, or mental illness love to beat ourselves up about what we can’t control.
We are not going to feel well 100% of the time, mentally OR physically, and that HAS to be ok. The more I have accepted that I am going to have bad days, weeks, months etc the shorter and more manageable these times get. Know that if you just do the little things, practice some self love if you can, seek help from a professional if you haven’t already, things can get better.
Of course sometimes I get stuck in these negative thought patterns (obviously, or I wouldnt be writing this right now), of course I forget to follow my own advice, of course I f*** up my own mental and physical health from time to time, but hating on myself for that doesn’t help.
So one thing I constantly try to do better: Focus on what you can control, and practice accepting the rest. Try not to beat yourself up when you *shock horror* don’t manage to vanquish depression in a single day. Don’t hate yourself for something that is NOT your choice and instead make a choice about what you will do with this funny brain you have.
I believe in you.
I love you.
I accept you.
You can do this.
Good luck, and sleep well, xxEm