Mental Health Awareness Week…an 11-year old confession
This is a really odd piece for me to write, not least because it’s something I’ve only ever talked about to my closest friends. But I do so in the hope that if nothing else, just one more post on this most important of subjects in this most important of weeks might get cut-through and provide a piece of assurance, some ‘pixels of hope’ if you will, to just one person who feels that they simply cannot cope.
And I do so, from someone who, in 2005 was in the same boat. Long-story short, circumstances changed on so many fronts within a very short space of time that I just didn’t know what to do. I never saw it coming, wasn’t prepared and certainly never had any experience of what to do next. I can only describe it as a feeling of drowning — flailing around with no real clue what to do to get my head above water. And that of my family’s heads too.
To all intents and purposes, I felt like I had pretty spectacularly failed at life. It wasn’t an easy thing to admit and what sort of message did that send to my two year old son?
But getting help was the BEST thing I ever did and has shaped my life immeasurably ever since.
The most amazing thing is that the support I received taught me so many invaluable lessons in perspective, and if anyone reading this, is or has been in the same boat, I can’t reiterate this strongly enough — perspective is everything.
For me, writing things (problems) down in boxes made a huge difference to being able to see and then deal with what felt like an infinite number of problems. In my circumstances, the quantity of positives actually FAR outweighed the negatives and gave a sense of something to work through.
Being able to create a figurative distance from the thick mist of negativity with was a huge start in perspective. You KNOW what you’re dealing with — and the clarity this view brings was a huge relief.
The next step was what I think I ended up calling something ridiculous like ‘Doctor Logic’ and going through what can only amount to be a set of ‘what if’ processes. Mindmapping became my friend!
This was the hardest part, trying to be objective about the consequences of various actions. If ‘A’ doesn’t happen, what are the consequences…if ‘A’ does happen, what will this mean for ‘X’? I simplify, of course, but as with all of these scribblings, the most important thing wasn’t necessarily about having the right answers, as it was forcing me to be practical about the negative things on the list and more importantly removing the emotion from them.
What spawned was a list of options and questions, some of them dreamed up, others extremes of both good and bad consequences, but all encouraged me to busy myself finding answers and fill the gaps in my ever growing list of potential solutions. I soon learned to ask organisations and people, without shame, questions I would have previously considered to be deeply humiliating — although the day we drove past the job centre and my 3-year old son said ‘look, there’s Daddy’s office’ still gets me today!
Like all ‘good’ mindfulness, focussing entirely on one thing means you’re not focussing on the others, and in my case, focussing on finding answers and options busied the mind from the worry. On reflection, I now realise that what this did was empower me. The ‘shit list’ as it became known, wasn’t going away any time soon but knowing I was flat out working on options to reduce the list made a huge difference and put the power back in my hands.
Slowly but surely, things kinda worked out (not without that professional support I might add!) — but without that sense of perspective and empowerment I don’t know how long we’d have taken to get back on track.
But whilst I don’t want to sound preachy, here’s what I learned and I hope if you’re reading this and find yourself in a similar situation, you’ll take some comfort from the words:
1.Things are never as bad as you think
2.There really IS no shame, it is NOT a weakness
3.Everyone has shit to deal with, it’s just our ability to manage it that differs. You CAN learn
4.Professionals are there to help — a dentist is a tooth professional, so why not use one for your mind?
5.You DO have the ability to change things — and (4) can help with that
6.Support comes from the most unlikely places (and conversely, leaves too!)
7.‘Hey, how are you doing’ can be the most powerful question you can ask someone who is struggling
Whilst I’d never wish anyone to go through what we did, the experience fundamentally changed my life, and I have a newfound appreciation of everything, with a set of skills to deal with anything that life throws at me. Sure, there are dark days but I feel better equipped than ever to deal with them. Truly — what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
So, it’s taken 11-years to share this, but in this week of raising awareness of mental health, I hope it gives some hope to someone, somewhere.
And if you need more support, try these links: