It’s mental health awareness day today, and that means a lot to me, in a lot of different ways. Mental health issues have framed my whole life – my own issues, and ones of friends, family, relationships.
And, though I have a lot to say on my own mental health, today just doesn’t feel like the day for emotional outpouring. I’m just not in that space right now.
Instead, I wanted to talk about taking responsiblity. Taking responsibilty for your own mental health. Because you’re in charge, no matter what that little voice says. And also, not taking responsibility for others’ mental health. Because being somebody’s support is not the same as being somebody’s crutch.
Sometimes taking care of ourselves is a conscious effort. On dip days/weeks/months you can feel a bit helpless. Often once you’re in a spiral that can be it, and you can’t do much to help yourself. This is why, if you know that it can get bad, preparation is important.
What do you mean, prepare?
When you’re in a good space it’s important to enjoy it. You don’t want to be thinking about “when am I gonna next feel like the worst” all of the time. But, but but but… it is important to utilise some of your productive clarity time to help out future-not-okay-you.
Knowing your signs
For some of us, it feels like we fall into the pit of despair so fast we have no chance to stop it from happening.
Yes, sometimes, it is fast. But sometimes there are early signs to let you know that you’re about to feel nooooooot ok. Are you feeling quieter than usual? Losing your appetite? Sleep patterns differing? I know that, personally, I begin feeling like everything I’ve done in life is average before the suicidal thoughts come a’calling.
After noticing these little signs, it can sometimes give you enough time to let somebody know how you’re feeling, and begin putting into practice your ‘NOT TODAY’ plan.
What makes you feel ‘better’
I know. A bath isn’t going to fix your depression. Ten minutes of meditation isn’t going to say goodbye to your anxiety episode. I know, trust me. But look at your past and when you’ve been recovering: what things did you do? Who did you spend time with? Did it take gentle nudges or a big event to change things for the more positive?
By actively doing things that you know have a track record of making you feel better, you’re already on your way to avoiding a major spiral.
Write it down
For reasons like the above. Even if it’s just bullet points, notes on a calendar, poetry, whatever. Things tend to get blurred when you’re having an episode and you might not remember the things that kept you going, kept you alive, helped with your recovery. Write them down as much as you can.
Don’t don’t don’t isolate yourself!
This is a big, big one. Especially for me. When I’m starting to dip I decide that nobody can or will help, and I begin to ignore everybody. The time between my replies grows, I begin cancelling plans in advance because I feel I’m not up to them, and I convince myself that I’ll be awful company anyway.
Try and find a comfortable balance for yourself. You may not be ready for some full-scale socialising with a group of friends. Perhaps start small: commit to messaging a couple of friends consistently, go out somewhere with people at least once in the week. Spend time with your favourite person. If you’re feeling alone and like you have nobody to talk to (it happens, and that’s okay) join a Meetup group – there’s loads and some of them are awesome. Meetup.com is the whole reason I started writing group and rock climbing -I couldn’t be more thankful this site exists.
Your actions are still your actions
It’s horrible to hear. But you can’t always get a free pass. If you said something hurtful to somebody during an episode, you still said it. They were still hurt. And this is where communication with the people around you is so, so important. Letting people know you’re spiraling or about to spiral or at rock bottom is sometimes enough to avoid arguments and confrontations. Not always. But letting people know means they can understand when you need some space, or more hugs, or a very particular type of vegan chocolate bar.
Apologise sincerely. Talk about how the arguments made you feel. Come up with solutions together.
I’ve been in too many damaging romantic relationships, just because the words “it’s just because of their [insert mental health problem here]” have been uttered too many times.
And, I guess that leads me to…
Not taking responsibility
This goes both ways. Nobody is responsible for your mental health problems. It’s nobody’s job to ‘fix’ you. You should embrace the positive support of the people around them, let them help you, let people in. But it’s important to remember that you are always strong, and always in charge of yourself, no matter how much you feel that’s not true sometimes.
And, especially if you have a mental health issue yourself, don’t take on the responsibility of somebody elses issues. You are not their crutch. You don’t need to fix them. You can only give a limited amount of support before you exhaust and damage yourself. It’s taken me so many years to realise this, but it’s been a hugely important one for me. Please make sure you are healthily helping people, rather than becoming an emotional sponge for other people’s issues. You owe yourself more than that.
This article has been written from personal experiences of severe depression, and may not be helpful for everybody, as mental health issues differ wildly from person to person. My universally good advice, though, is just to communicate. Talking about how you feel is sometimes the absolute last thing you want to do, I know, but it really is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your mental health.