Wednesday 16 May 2018

A couple of years ago, turning down plans because you needed a day to yourself was probably seen as you being lazy or making excuses to not see someone. We've got a bit better at understanding that life can be stressful enough during the week and sometimes we just need a day or two to put our own needs first or to have a break from reality. I thought this would be a good time to share this post as it is Mental Health Awareness Week and their campaign this year is particularly focusing on stress, which 2/3 of us know a thing or two about. I just want to also point out that protecting your mental health is not only necessary if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness. No matter the reason or situation, your wellbeing should come before your career, your social relationships and other unimportant commitments.  

mental health

Before I go further into this post, I just want to make a disclaimer that I am not an expert, nor do I claim to know everything there is to know about every mental illness under the sun. All I can base this on is my experience, knowledge from the people who have had MH problems around me, and my a-level in Psychology. 

Firstly, I'd like to start with my own story. 

When I was 16, I had a jaw operation in Wales just after having started my AS levels and was out of school for a month. As you can imagine, my faced morphed into Chip and Dale for about 8 months because I had had my top and bottom jaw realigned and my face was swollen, very swollen. When I eventually went back to school, I was greeted with laughs and stares in the corridor by people who I didn't know. I expected this because well, my face looked like I'd been punched in the face but this continued on for a couple of months, inside and outside of school. 

I became incredibly lonely because I didn't want to go out on Friday nights, so whilst my friends were out partying I'd be in my room watching One Direction videos on Youtube, which is fun for a while but there's only so many Harry Style interviews you can find online. I began missing classes and would lie to my mum that I had 'free periods' when really I just didn't want to leave my bed. I was spiralling into a circle of depression without even knowing what it was at the time. I kept it from everyone because it wasn't a thing that was discussed and I didn't really know anyone who felt the same way and I feared people would just tell me I was 'sad and it would pass'. 

I kept putting on a brave face until February, where I had my parents evening meeting at school. One teacher started off the session with a witch hunt about how I was slacking and there was a gap between me and the rest of the class, despite having not received any additional support after I'd been absent from school. After this the water works started, because I knew it wasn't the case that I wasn't capable, but because of all the issues that I'd been facing privately the last couple of months. I then spoke to one of my other teachers who also taught me at GCSE, and she had realised something had changed and guessed what the cause may be. After talks with her and my mother, I had to make the decision whether to finish the term and sit my AS exams, or leave school and restart the year in September. I still remember her telling me that, my mental health came before school and I knew that if I were to sit my exams, I would not do well. 

So there I decided, I'd leave and start again in September and take time to heal. This decision didn't come easy, I knew I was essentially being held back a year, wouldn't finish school with my friends and wasted 6 months. It wasn't easy after either, there were of course rumours as to why I had left school, even by people who I had considered my close friends. I saw a Psychologist for a few sessions and after a while started feeling like myself again and even got a tattoo to mark the occasion. Looking back, it was probably the best decision I made and I am thankful that I had a good support system around me. Had I not done that I wouldn't have met half of my best friends now, would have been stuck with different subjects and probably kept spiralling down into a very dark place.  

What we can do for ourselves. 

I think the first thing we all need to know is what is it we need most? Is it a change of scenery, a day with a good book, a swim in the ocean, a friendship or social media detox, or a night cooking with your S/O listening to your favourite playlist. The internet is a good place when you need to research any problems you're facing and remedies for them. If you don't think you need to see a doctor yet, then there are some good articles on the internet for reducing anxiety and stress and coping with depression.  

If you need to relax,

Put all your chores on hold and take a day to do the things you actually enjoy and calm your mind. Whether it be lounging in front of the TV all day or going on a Yoga retreat, you know what your happy place is. For me, it's sitting in a garden in summer with good company or a good book, some Pimm's and my 'sunny days' playlist. 

If you need some fun, 

Think back to what made you laugh and brought you joy when you were younger, theme (and water) parks, dancing, picnics and games are always safe choices. A lot of stressors are caused because we spend too much time working and not enough time playing, so it's all about finding that right balance. I don't know about you, but after a week of work I feel like I need to dance away my high cortisol levels, even if it's just in my room. I know sometimes when you get into a slump the last thing you want to do is move or socialise, but it helps I promise. 

If you need a break, 

You don't need to plan a vacation to Bali, but if you have the budget for it, please bring me with you. Whether it's a staycation, a day off work or just a disruption in your monotonous routine, do it. However if you think you're burning out and need more direction than a day off can fix, then seeing a professional might be helpful. 

If you need to talk to someone, 

This is probably the hardest part, for me I felt like after my cousin died I didn't want to pester anyone with my sadness and grief. Chances are that at least one person in your life is probably feeling or has felt a similar sort of pain to what you're going through and can empathise. Even when that's not the case, it's always a weight off your chest when you don't bottle everything in, and sometimes we give the people around us less credit than they deserve when it comes to them lending a helping hand or being shoulder to cry on. If you really feel that you can't speak to anyone you know about it then GibSams (Gibraltar) are there to listen, and so are these guys (UK). If you're looking for mental health support "check out for more information or BetterHelp where you can seek online counseling

Our role to play. 

As great as the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek campaign is, what we need is more to be done to help. We can't change the world, but we can start by helping those who are closest to us. 

  • Never undermine someones condition, or tell them to 'cheer up' 
  • Sometimes all someone needs is someone to listen or keep them company, and that can be enough
  • Keep in touch. Reach out to people and ask them how they genuinely are doing. 
  • Don't take it personal if they don't want to be around you or say things that seem out of character.
  • You can't fix someone else's problems, but you can help them. 


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