In an empty dimly lit car park I lay in the drivers seat of my mother’s car working my way through the contacts in my phone, calling anyone who could distract me from myself. My mind however, being the clever and all knowing thing that it is, had a better idea. My heart began to race, my body went numb, I could barely breathe and I was so dizzy that when the paramedics came to get me I couldn’t lift my head from the seat beneath me. I had an anxiety attack.
There were several contributing factors that lead me to my first adult anxiety attack and subsequent nervous breakdown. Grief, fear and instability were the three big players. I had taken on too much and on top of the things I had chosen to take on, life threw a couple of unexpected ones in the mix. I ignored the warning signs and pushed through because other people needed me. I was a bit stressed… “so what, other people say they’re stressed all the time and they seem to push through it just fine. I’ll go on a holiday when it’s all over.”
Here’s the thing about mental health. In the way that we notice the love handles developing on our sides, we also notice changing areas in our mind. One thing we do when we see those love handles is grab our Nikes and spend some time at the gym. People even change entire weekly schedules to make time for physical exercise and meal planning. It’s not as common for us to take time to understand what our mind is telling us or to schedule a time slot everyday to exercise it.
It sounds bizarre to talk about exercising the mind but all it really means is to take a moment to listen to it, observe your tension or lack of it and adjust accordingly. Neuroplasticity is a wonderful thing and when we start exercising and training our brain we are actually digging trenches for our brain to track, so when we are faced with a trigger or an unexpected situation our brain remembers where to go and what to do.
When my mind is unhealthy my body is unhealthy and as a disabled person, that can be problematic. Disability is just an added layer on top of everyday life so when I let myself get run down, the every day barriers I encounter become a little more difficult to juggle. The thing to remember is that “pushing through” doesn’t help the situation.
I have to say it as loud as possible! The stigma surrounding mental health is dated and unhelpful. There is nothing as refreshing as walking into a room, not having to worry about small talk or pleasantries and pouring your heart and mind out to someone who has genuine, unadulterated interest. There is also something very powerful about breaking the elements of your life down so a stranger can understand where you’re coming from. It provides you with a clearer understanding of yourself, your relationships and the world around you.
“You will never be able to experience everything. So, please, do poetical justice to your soul and simply experience yourself.”― Albert Camus
Incorporating meditation, physical exercise and quality time in nature into my schedule has helped calm my mind and assisted in developing skills to maintain it. The path back to well balanced mental health has been an interesting journey. It has been a lot of fun getting to know myself. My body, my relationships and my career have all been enriched by this process and I have myself to thank for it.