Self-care

Today I had to come home early from work because my anxiety was extremely high and I could not focus. I had experienced a night terror last night which disturbed my sleep a lot and left me feeling extremely anxious and scared. I was so frustrated with myself for having to come home since I had just had two weeks off for the holidays, I was criticising myself saying I don’t deserve to go back because I had two weeks to rest and relax, I am now undeserving of a day off to care for myself.

I was so frustrated with myself with how high my anxiety was with just having two weeks off; I forgot to be kind to myself and understanding. I forgot to rationalise it out and think I just had a night terror last night which can be incredibly traumatic and triggering for someone and disturbs your sleep; thus I was processing my night terror with little sleep and high anxiety while also putting myself down and not at all being compassionate to myself.

I had a big reminder to myself that mental illness does not discriminate and will creep up when it wants to even if you have just come back from holidays and your well rested. Just because I have had two weeks off does not mean I am not deserving of caring for my mental health and taking time out when I can feel it getting out of hand.

I found today to be an essential lesson in taking care of my mental health no matter what stage of recovery I am at or what I was doing last week or right now. I am almost a year into recovery and can sometimes get frustrated with myself when I do have these bad days, and I feel like I am going backwards. However, days like these are a reminder that I am human and it’s okay to be sad, anxious and tired! Today reminded me that it is so important to take care of myself and listen to my body when it needs a break even if I don’t think it does, it is not worth pushing yourself all day to exhaustion and worsens your mental health in the process.

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Do we know how to address the problem?

When becoming open about my mental health with my friends, some of them did mention that particularly this year they did see a shift in my behaviour and mood but were not sure how to address the issue. One of my friends (god bless her) wanted to organise an intervention because she had noticed I was avoiding food and not eating regularly, however she did not say anything in fear that I would be angry or hate her. Another friend mentioned that she saw the self-harm scars on my knees at Christmas time but did not know how to bring it up or talk about it, also again I assume there would be fear that I may become angry.

I am definitely not angry at any of my friends for not coming straight out and saying why are you not eating, or what is happening to you. Honestly it is a scary thing to have a friend who is not eating or making themselves sick and try and address that with them. I mean I may have become defensive if someone did pull me up on not eating because the eating disorder brain can become quite defensive when someone tries to challenge the thinking and point out that it may be wrong.

However, this does speak volumes and raised the issue for me that do any of us really know how to approach a situation when we are concerned about a friend? I am lucky in my career I have been given training and experience to address those awkward conversations about how someone is going and express your concerns, but this is not something we get taught about on the daily from a young age to not only acknowledge your friends happiness but also their sadness and how to talk about it. I do not remember in school learning about how to have those conversations with people that you are worried about and how to see the warning signs for not only people around you but for yourself. What would be great is to start talking about mental health from a young age and how to notice yours and others different emotions besides from happiness, I think as a child we are taught that happiness is the only good emotion and other emotions such as sadness are bad. I remember being in primary school crying being told: “don’t be sad” or “you’re being a crybaby” by teachers and other adults in my life, it was as if sadness was this horrible emotion that no one wanted to see or talk about. As I got older, I remember just feeling so confused and alone when I was upset and not exactly sure how to deal with these emotions, it was as if I was disappointed in myself for feeling down and not being happy. The thing is that life is not black and white and either is our emotions this is something I started to learn particularly this year, it’s okay to be sad, angry, frustrated etc.  and to acknowledge those emotions, sometimes we need to cry and let it out and there is nothing wrong with that.

I have learnt to acknowledge and embrace my emotions, instead of trying to ignore them and bolt them away. When I am talking to friends and family who may be going through a difficult time, I often hear them say “I’m really sorry for being down or sad” I now tell them not to apologise or ever be sorry for how they are feeling, because those are their emotions and they are valid.

Medication

At the start of the year, I agreed with my psychiatrist to go on medication to assist with my mental health. At the time I was terrified and unsure of what to think, I had always been so against medication, but at that point, it just felt like I was hitting a wall and nothing was helping. I went on antidepressants for my depression and mood stabilisers to help me sleep at night. The first few weeks on this medication was a nightmare, what they sometimes don’t tell you is that sometimes in the first two weeks of going on medication you can become more depressed before it starts to work, and boy was that true! So, I went into a deeper depression than I thought I was before and then thought there was no hope for me now, not even medication can fix me.

Slowly I did see some benefits of the medication, I was able to sleep at night without waking up throughout, my mind wasn’t as clouded as before, and I could have clearer thoughts.  Of course, it has had its downsides, one being the very low sex drive which isn’t always great in a relationship but I am lucky I have a very supportive partner! Another thing has been that my mouth is always dry and I need to drink a lot more water than before, which could also be a good thing, I am now always very hydrated! It has meant I have not been able to consume alcohol, most of my friends understood this and were completely accepting of the fact that I could not, but it did fracture some relationships because I couldn’t go out and get wasted. Not that I went out a lot before and drunk a lot all the time, but while I have not been drinking at all I have got used to it and quite like it, I realised that I don’t need to get wasted to have fun and have a good time. When I was in a very dark place in my life when I did go out I would sometimes drink way too much, and that’s how I thought you had a good time, but now I have learnt there are other healthier ways.

I did expect the medication to make me better straightway and was confused when my anxiety was still around and I was still depressed. I for some reason had this rosy idea that my anxiety and depression would somehow just disappear once I started taking the medication. But that it is not true, it has helped lower my anxiety and improved my depression but I still have down days and can get anxious over different situations. I realised that the medication is there to assist as a tool for me to get better, but it is my own hard work that has seen me recover not the medication. At the start, I thought I owed it all to the medication for my improvement and didn’t give myself any credit for all the hard work and effort I had been putting in.

My psychiatrist now would like me to start going off my medication in December slowly, I didn’t realise how scary and anxiety provoking that would be for me. When she told me this, I did go home and cried because I was so scared I would go back into a relapse and be how I was before. It took a lot for me to realise that it has not just been the medication that has helped me get to this point. It has been myself as well wanting to get help, going to therapy regularly making changes and practising skills to improve my mental health. Yes, the medication-assisted when I was in a very low point in my life, but it does not deserve all the credit for how well I have been going.

To anyone out there who is going through their mental health journey, on medication or not remember to give yourself more credit for everything you have been doing for yourself, it is a lot of hard work to go through recovery, and you deserve to be recognised!

Follow YOUR dreams not others

Just last month I made the big decision to drop out of my master’s course, past halfway through the semester with one assignment left. Why would I do this you ask? Because I realised it was not what I wanted in my heart to do, I had this empowering moment where I realised I wasn’t studying for me but studying to prove to other people that I was smart and capable. I would love to go back to study again someday, but I want to study something that I want to do not what I think will make others impressed. My whole life has been about trying to impress others and prove to them I am worthy, but I forgot to impress that most important person myself. I have been so caught up trying to please people and show them how smart I am that I forgot to stop and reflect on if this is what I want to be happy or is this what I want because it will make people think highly of me. I need to reevaluate my whole life goals now because I don’t know if what I was aiming for is what I wanted. Even down to my job aspirations, I had job positions I wanted, and I purely wanted them because I thought they would make me look better and people would think highly of me.

I could have finished off the last unit, but I quite honestly did not have it in me to complete it, and I kept wondering what was stopping me from doing the last assignment and I realised it was the fact that I quite honestly did not want to do it and wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. For the first time in my life, I listened to myself and trusted my gut instincts which told me to leave.

I used to think you receive love through achievements, but this is not true, I now know my mother and loved ones will have love for me no matter what. I used to think all my achievements would make people love me more but it doesn’t.

I now need to work out what my next steps in life are; I am looking at completing an eating disorder recovery coaching course in the next few years once I am fully recovered. I am not sure what my life will hold for me right now, but I now know I will be focusing on what I want to make myself happy in life.

Being open with the ones you love about your mental health

I decided this year to be completely open with the closest people in my life about my struggles with my mental health, this wasn’t a decision I decided overnight, and it took a lot for me to tell everyone what is going on. Like many other individuals who have a mental illness, there is a lot of shame that comes with it, and there was this fear for me that I would burden people if I told them or if they knew I was struggling. Although there was a lot of fear and anxiety around telling everyone, I am so happy I did, I felt like for the first time in my life I was transparent with how I felt. For so long I have tried to hide my real emotions and pretend like everything was fine, and I can handle everything, it honestly felt like a significant weight off my shoulders when I finally opened up. It did come with it the revelation that this has been something I have been struggling with for years. My friends were shocked that I had kept so much to myself, there is, of course, things they knew, or they saw me struggling but were unaware to the extent of how badly I was struggling.

Since being honest with my loved ones I have had a fantastic support system from all of them, and it has been beneficial in helping me on those days that I feel like just quitting and going back to old behaviours. I will be honest it can be overwhelming having so many people worried about you and checking in on you and making sure you eat, but it’s so much better than being alone with my eating disorder and depression. Having people in your life supporting you through your recovery can make a difference, I feel like by having people in my life know what I am going through, I am taking power away from my eating disorder that thrived on secrecy and lies. I am now reclaiming my power back without my eating disorder in my life with the help and support of my loved ones.

The hardest person to tell was my mum; I tossed up for ages whether I should tell her or not and how too precisely to tell her. The reason I found it so difficult to decide whether to tell my mum was that she has and continues to experience her own mental illness, and I was concerned at how she may react and if it may upset her. My mum is going through her own recovery and is in a great place right now, but I was still concerned about putting too much on her while she goes through the motions of her own recovery. Another reason I found it difficult to tell my mum was because when I was 17, I tried to seek help for my eating disorder. However unfortunately at the time, there was not as much talk and information on eating disorders and mental health in general, so my mum did not understand at the time I had a problem because I looked fine and I appeared healthy. I do not blame my mum for how she reacted to the situation it was not her fault she was not given the resources to understand mental health and eating disorders back then, but it did discourage me and make me worried that I would not be taken seriously again. Ultimately though I did decide to tell my mum because I thought she deserved to know, and I also thought it was important that she sees more to me than just her happy put together daughter. In my family, I am the strong one who keeps everything together, and I thought it was important for my mum to see that I am not always strong and can be broken at times as well. It was really hard to open up to my mum and explain to her what is going on, but I am glad I did, I think with my mum now experiencing her own mental health issues it has made her more open and understanding to mental health and the struggles that come with it.

I have no regrets about telling the ones closest to me about my struggles with mental health, the only regrets I have is that I did not do it sooner and I tried to do it on my own when I had people around me ready to support me. By being more open about my mental health, it has stripped a lot of the shame I was carrying around for years about suffering from a mental illness and has encouraged me to speak openly not only to the people closest to me but also the whole of society and challenge how we view mental illnesses. I would not be ashamed for having a broken leg so I should not be ashamed for suffering from a mental illness, this is something I am still learning to do, but it feels so empowering to slowly throw away that shame and embrace my experiences.

Today wasn’t a good day but that’s okay

Today wasn’t a good day for me I felt really low and terrible I woke up not wanting to get out of bed, and honestly, I didn’t for a few hours. I laid in bed wondering why I felt so terrible and started thinking what’s the point, I was really feeding into those negative thoughts and it started to take over me. I was beginning to become paralysed from the negative thoughts within in me and I felt so hopeless and alone.

Although I am still feeling a bit low and today wasn’t what I had planned that is okay and I am going to celebrate the fact that I managed to get out of bed, I managed to even get myself to eat something. I am even more proud and going to celebrate the fact that I reached out to a friend for help and opened up to them, instead of keeping it to myself and trying to manage everything on my own. There is strength in asking for help and letting people know when you aren’t feeling so good, and I am going to acknowledge that in myself and say for once that I am proud of myself for not saying I am fine and actually asking for support and talking it out with a friend. There have been too many times where I have ignored my emotions and said I was fine or never told anyone I was sinking and slowly breaking inside, so I am going to celebrate and see this as a stepping stone in recovery for me being able to open up to people and not dealing with everything on my own.

I think as a society we often promote this ideal lifestyle where there is no problems or sadness and everyone needs to be happy, however when we face a crisis or are just having a low time we often feel shame for that like there is something wrong with feeling an emotion other than happiness. We carry this shame and don’t want anyone else to know because god forbid someone found out we weren’t happy or things weren’t going so great in our life, it’s almost like there’s this fear that people will judge us and perhaps think we are weak or not successful. I have often felt this way and dealt with it most of my life, I was too afraid to tell my friends there was something wrong in fear of judgement and being perceived as ‘weak’, I wanted to be seen as strong and someone who did not need to depend on anyone. However now I am learning that there is strength in telling people you are close to that there is a problem, I have also found that often when you open up about having a problem you can also empower someone in your life to talk about problems that may be going on in their life. I realised that the fear of being judged and being seen as weak by others was from me judging myself and seeing myself as weak, I thought so negatively about myself that I thought surely other people would think the same. Now I am slowly learning how important it is to challenge those negative thoughts of how I think about myself, which is really hard I will be honest it is definitely not easy to do however when you start doing it you realise another side yourself and learn that there may be more to you than what those negative thoughts say.

So if you are having a bad day today remember it is okay! It is okay to have bad days, we are allowed not to be perfect and to not always be happy. Just remember to think about the small things you did in your day, even if it was just getting out of bed, or eating, that’s still something to celebrate and acknowledge that you still did that. Remember that recovery isn’t easy and there are going to be bad days, but we can always try and find our strengths and positives in those bad days even if they seem so small to everyone else, it could mean so much to your recovery and yourself.