Depression feels like a loyal acquaintance. The friction of its presence sands me down gently, sometimes roughly. The gentle whittling of its character, transforms my physical self into sediment rock – unyielding yet fragile. My shoulders hunch forward and my chest draws in, as I protect my heart from the pain in my mind.
When we talk about mental health in a casual or in depth way, are we considering our audience?
If we imagine walking into a meeting in the cabinet office, we’ll see a committee of representatives discussing issues that may or may not impact us directly. In that case, we better sit down and try and make sense of the discussion in hand. We leave with a better grasp about what is going on but do that thing when something has been explained five times and we just nod our head in confusion with the fear of looking silly if we ask for it to be explained one more time.
Recently, you may have noticed that there are more discussions and public posts regarding mental health. You may have also heard the phrase ‘mental health effects all of us’, well sure, having a physical body effects all of us, but what is your point? When we post or discuss mental health, most often we assume people understand what we are talking about or agree with us. The reality is that for many individuals, they will not recognise that they are being effected by mental health issues, instead they may put those feelings down to the current circumstances and expect it will all just pass with time. This may be due to many varying factors, such as culture, generation or gender for example.
If this is the case, we must begin talking about mental health in a less general and intimidating way. If we are going nurture and care for our dynamic communities, we must first understand who we are talking to. This doesn’t mean we should generalise as a result about our assumptions about others, but what we should be doing is enable ’empathy’ and ‘accommodating’ mode in our communication.
An example of this (emphasis on example), we may encounter a friend or work colleague who may be acting energetically, excitedly and perhaps erratically towards their work or daily tasks. We may respond by saying something witty like “someone’s in a good mood today”. Okay let’s pause here and understand the concept that excitement and anxiety cause almost identical physical reactions. I’m not suggesting a few energetic days in work or home mean there’s an underlying issue, but it is responsible to recognise those changes that continue over a longer period of time or reoccur.
There are a wealth of resources available to us now regarding mental health, including blogs. By reading, hearing the stories and reflections of others, we can educate the judgements of our subconscious to see that mental health is more than depression and anxiety. Mental health is as dynamic as our physical bodies are. You know that intense pain that occurs when you stub your little toe on the coffee table, well we wouldn’t say days later “I’ve got this really bad pain in my arm… it must be from when I stubbed my toe”. We need to approach our own mental health and the mental health of others creatively and dynamically. As a result, we cease trying to fit into societies understanding of mental health and begin to accept that areas within our health existed before the pandemic and we can react accordingly.
Read a blog, visit the NHS website, write a journal, speak to a counsellor… wherever you are at there is no harm in expanding our perspective about mental health. If not for ourselves but for our families and communities.
When we think about weaknesses, do we ever delve deep enough to truly make a fair and productive reflection?. When I reflect upon my own weaknesses, I find myself contemplating outside opinions mostly and what the world has narrated to me from school, work to motherhood. Majority of the time we allow our understanding of ourselves to be defined by outward influences. Although this is a very common, human thing to do, we have to find a careful balance when processing opinions and feelings to the final output understanding. This is easier said than done, mind you.
As much as I love the processing systems of a computer, we as humans hold far more responsibility to come up with opinions which consider many emotional complexities and factors. Very recently, I came to the conclusion that for majority of my life, I have actively defined myself as a tired person. There is part of me that feels silly even saying this, but as I mentioned earlier… We are only human.
When I say I actively defined myself as a tired person, this came in many forms. Being a Mum of three, I fully immersed myself in the coffee for survival generation. As much as I love a good cup of coffee, this small perk throughout the day only gave me minor mental energy… “Oh, time for a cuppa now!”. I don’t know why it took me so many years to realise that coffee was a mere comfort throughout the day and not this magic potion that would pull me through am to pm. That’s the thing with the age we live in, we are surrounded with an array of tips, tricks and lifestyles that should make us everyday super heroes.The reality is though that as we lean on such comforts or tips, we mask over our own reality and strengths. Often, we are left with a fancy coffee pot and a wardrobe full of gym wear. I mean these things do work to a certain extent, but eventually we do have to step back and do a bit of self analysis. Being described by many family members as “a girl who needs herWe are only human. When I say I actively defined myself as a tired person, this came in many forms. Being a Mum of three, I fully immersed myself in the coffee for survival generation. As much as I love a good cup of coffee, this small perk throughout the day only gave me minor mental energy… “Oh, time for a cuppa now!”. I don’t know why it took me so many years to realise that coffee was a mere comfort throughout the day and not this magic potion that would pull me through am to pm. That’s the thing with the age we live in, we are surrounded with an array of tips, tricks and lifestyles that should make us everyday super heroes.The reality is though that as we lean on such comforts or tips, we mask over our own reality and strengths. Often, we are left with a fancy coffee pot and a wardrobe full of gym wear.
I mean these things do work to a certain extent, but eventually we do have to step back and do a bit of self analysis. Being described by many family members as “a girl who needs her sleep” left me feeling pretty lacking in self confidence and if they see it too, the it must be true. By allowing this to define me, I began to fear late nights and built up so much frustration with being a tired person. But for me, it isn’t enough to just accept something that has been hindering me slyly for many years.This was when I accepted that tiredness is my weakness and held a lot of unentitled control over me. Now I’m in a position where I’m working on building up my resistance against tirerdness and the fear of fatigue. By actively altering my mindset in small ways, I’m now able to recognise the difference between physical tierdness and mental fatigue. Both things that previously defined me, no longer have control over my everyday life. I motivate myself by accepting my responsibilities with a target of having time to write and be creative when the children are asleep at the end of the day. By having that I begin to strengthen myself mentally and physically.
Coffee no longer gets the pat on the back… but I do. My self understanding is my control and power bank. This is my personal experience of battling with a weakness and it all began with recognising it. Your Situation may be similar or polar opposite, I do however encourage delving deeper into understanding yourself more. It may seem a bit nit-picky to begin with, but that silly old thing that blends into your every day, could be impacting you more than you know.
Another school pick up, another opportunity for the Hope’s and fears to sneak in…”did he do well today? Or was it time out?”.
I never truly saw the capacity for anxiety to dwell in my mind until I had my children.
Sure, the concerns differ as my experience grows but my heart has found a vulnerability that only a Mother experiences. I should know how to deal with this by now! I thought I solved that problem? I’m exhausted and the kids are at a sleepover, I miss them so much. Being a Mum is both a joy and a confusion, it’s the most complicated relationship you’ll probably ever find yourself in.
They say you truly learn how to drive when you’ve passed your test and out on the real roads! The same goes for Motherhood. We have a period of preparation where we read, we discuss nappies and feeding bottles with experienced Mama’s over coffee, we attend antenatal talks that give us an insight in the life of a newborn. That’s right, just the newborn stuff. I have debated with myself on so many occasions, whether if I was taught more at the beginning, would it have made the slightest difference to the way I am dealing with things now? Practically, I think it would be time wasted. Mentally, I think I would be less shocked by the experiences I have had, being a Mum.
We all have different ways of thinking, feeling and being, so to assume that every Mum will face anxiety could create issues that didn’t have to be there. I do believe however, in order to inspire new Mum’s; we have to show care of the physical and mental health from the very beginning. Whatever their perspective about their own mental health may be, I want to strive to see the next generation of Mum’s equipt with the knowledge and tools that will nuture their mental wellbeing, good or bad. Antenatal care is a key time for Mum’s, whether it’s the first baby or fourth. We can stitch into the fabric of education strategies that equalise the anxiety capacity; we may just begin to combat postnatal depression.
With mental health becoming more spoken about, I think it’s essential for parents to accept that there will be moments where seeking help is the best option. It is also essential that in a generation where the public health care counselling waiting lists are more than 6 months long (UK), we cannot ignore a problem that may or may not occur. In the same way communities equip their houses with damage control where floods are likely, we have to equip ourselves for the challenges ahead that may or may not cause us to suffer with anxiety, worry or depression.
Training with the Family Institute in South Wales taught me so much about my perspective of mental health. One realisation I came to, is that sitting down and having a good conversation with someone, working through challenging topics is actually pretty normal. Mental health is as normal as the body we sit in. It’s just harder for us to comprehend the unseen, but I challenge you today to imagine your mental health as an image in your mind. Whether by using colour, picture, numbers, words, shapes etc. If it helps to mark this down on paper, do so. Let’s get to know our own mental health, whatever position it may be in. Begin the process of welcoming and loving its diversity, that way we may start to understand that it isn’t to be feared, but nurtured.
“Deeply rooted heartache that falls over me when I’m lost in my parenting, it washes me up like a tidal wave. But continue moving on this wave, trusting that the shore will soon be in sight.”
Have you ever heard the phrase “sleep when you die”? What do you think of when you hear it?
As a counsellor by trade and an all round sensitive soul; words impact me greatly. I recall being taught in university that every word and phrase is valuable in the process of communication and therapy. I tapped into this as I truly believe that the words we choose or our subconscious chooses to use, expresses more about what’s being said. This effected my practice and relationships in a way that was both a curse and a cure.
If you didn’t already know, I’m Welsh by heritage. In Wales it’s quite common to see individuals speaking with their hands and using phrases that although spoken in English are a bit trivial and sound like a joke. “I’ll be there now, in a minute” as amusing as it sounds, when determining an ETA this makes complete sense to me. Not quite now, not quite in a minute but very soon!
Wherever you come from, we can agree that communication from destination to destination and from one relationship to another. Being understood is the difference between our personal opinions and emotions being valued and undervalued. As I’ve blogged about before, our personal stories are to be treasured and not to be thrown out into the open sea to be caught by any wave passing by. The same goes for the reverse of this. If we catch on to any opinion, trend or emotion that flies our way, we open ourselves up to be deeply affected by things that hold no benefit or positive outcome both ways.
In real time, imagine being a parent in the school yard who socially attracts many individuals! You are unoffcially the friend, the Mum, the teacher assistant, the governor, the mediator and the taxi! How exhausting. Your capacity to offer quality understanding and support to each of these roles fluctuate, people will feel let down and you will burn out emotionally. The same goes for the content we expose ourselves too on a daily basis.
The phrase “sleep when you die” to me is a backwards motivation to get stuff done. It bothered me for a while, with 2 kids at the time and one on the way, all I wanted to do was sleep! Even now with 3 young children, sleep in my constant goal. I had this pressure taunting me though, that people were achieving more with their time, while I was cleaning up after kids and craving sleep.
These type of phrases communicate to a very impressionable generation, that you are going to miss out if you don’t chase that money or promotion! In reality, in order to create a smooth path of wellbeing and professional success you will need more than lack of sleep.
By surrounding yourself with stimulation for your mind, whether this is reading a new book or blog! Creating a daily space to find peace through meditation and prayer, eating well and most importantly listening to your bodies call to rest. We may not be able to control all the trends or communication we come in contact with, but how we react is down to each of us. We may have to feel the pressure of fire phrases before we understand if it’s relevant or not, but the next time we know to do a U turn and seek positivity in our interactions with this world.
As we move into December, there’s the usual sense of winding down, pressing pause and signing off another year.
Yet this year has been a rollercoaster of pausing and winding down… with not much of the life we know in sight. 2020 has been defined by… well you know, I don’t even have to say whatever you’re reading this from.
It’s all sort of shaken up my perspective of the way I’m approaching my time and the things I do with it. There is a common view that the start of the year is where we place our annual goals and the end of the year is where we start thinking about the whole process again.
With a year of so much negative potential, we may feel like not much has been achieved. The new normal is definitely made itself at home but there is a sense of determination to push through, back to the normality we knew way before 2020 began.
In this season when workplaces would be on Christmas outings, schools performing live Nativities and families gathering to eat, drink, laugh and celebrate together… we have the prospect of a slow end of the year. For someone who is an introvert; I can deal with a quiet season but even for me… I’m craving the frantic buzz of last minute shopping, busy restaurants and the comedy of the school play. In the back of my mind, I’m aware that in a year of so much suffering for many many people, we are prompted by our own good human nature to be grateful for each day as it comes.
With a grateful heart for life and breath and thoughts of “I wish we could…” we have an opportunity to view next year, next month, next week, tomorrow in this new normal that I believe many of us are experiencing. Whether we like it or not, we’ve all been exposed to the reality that we are not invincible and have had real moments of fearing for our lives this year whether that be physically or mentally. Being grateful doesn’t have to lessen our goals, there’s no need to undermine our dreams just because our conscience is more aware of the value of life. Instead, we can use this understanding of value to enrich our short and long term goals.
We also can’t ignore the sense of community that has occurred from this year. In everything we do, we are encouraged to respect each other and be safe. Although this may differ from country to country, we can grasp this idea of looking up and recognising that we’re not the only ones going through this. What can we give back into our communities? Whether this is county wide, in the school yard, in work or even when we’re out and about. What difference do you want to stay or design into tomorrow?
With a grateful heart and determination for life, what is your tomorrow going to look like?
During the moments of life when we feel our opportunities are being stripped away by our responsibilities, we create an opening for negativity to dwell.
Imagine being in work and a patient, client, customer or system has a complaint… we’ve all thrown a mental tantrum wanting to tell that complaint where to go. But imagine if we lived out that “mental tantrum”, a grown adult kicking and screaming because that complaint messed up their plan for the day. Well, you’d probably get sent home, probably embarrass a fair few people and probably would result in a disciplinary meeting.
When responsibility and integrity stand in our way, we sometimes feel hard done by. As if we deserve to do what we want, we deserve that promotion, we deserve that day off, we deserve that cup of coffee! When we carry this deserving belief around with us, we give ourselves a complex that is damaging to our life experiences and to those around us.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be motivated in reaching our goals but by taking aspects of being selfish and selfless, we may just get the right balance. One of the challenges I have faced since having children is finding time for myself… but rather it’s more about finding a way to accept that there will be times when I will be disrupted, I won’t get to complete tasks and overall have little control over my “break time”. And do you know what, that’s ok with me! It took time and developing maturity to get to this point. I no longer freak out if the kids don’t go to sleep on time, I care more for being a patient Mum who engages in conversations my 4 year old (even if I don’t know what’s going on!) It has taught me to value the everyday moments and I am learning more and more about myself and what I am capable of. It’s cliche to say this, but by living for the now… we don’t just get to value the experiences but we nuture our character to be patient, in control and focused on the needs of others.
We are now coming to the end of half term, it’s been seven days of rain, seven days of tantrums, seven days of “I need a snack” immediately after a meal. To top it all off we’re currently in lockdown and with the prospect of two inset day…(two!!) I am frazzled.
But despite all of this, yesterday we had one window of dry weather. I chucked clothes on the kids and we ran over to the park, which was the same idea of many other families in the area. I have to be honest, with three kids I’m past that point of being eager to make Mum friends at the park but just being around other human beings and having brief conversations we realise we need social interaction to survive this.
Being outside in nature is also essential and when I say nature I do mean the road side path on our return from Lidl. All four of us looked up and saw these magnificent trees that we had not noticed before. We collected pine cones to decorate and spoke about what little christmas character decorations we could produce from these common treasures found on cars and the pine grass.
We all have different coping mechanisms for times of stress, some of us are extremely disciplined when it comes to dealing with stress… others of us lack motivation. Whatever person you find yourself to be, don’t be restricted by the pressures that we hold in our chests. Like ripping off a plaster, close your eyes and run into the opportunity to be outside with no plan or expectations. Always have a coat with pockets, with a bottle of hand sanitizer and water for the kids. No baggage, no concerns about forgetting something. Survive a mini outing with minimal resources, this will train you to let go of a few minor concerns. Nature heals and so does incorporating doable activities into the daily routine, this could be as simple as putting your phone or washing up down and singing silly songs with the kids for 10 minutes. The kids will probably want to do activities all day or evening then but don’t be ashamed to pause and explain that it’s time to move on to something else now. We need to manage our own limits and similarly teach our children to manage theirs.
After a non stop day and a non stop evening, the biggest favour you can do yourself is aim for the simple things. We all know that feeling of lugging ourselves up the stairs to bedfordshire, wishing for the kids to be neatly tucked up in bed ready for a full night sleep, instead we enter the battlefield. Bedding, toys, cups, paper and books everywhere, the moment the kids realise that they do actually have stuff to play with and all of sudden they have to read, do that puzzle or writing for school. The angelic Mum in me says “These are precious moments, opportunities to let the kids express themselves” but more often than not the dragon Mum in me blows an imaginary whistle telling the prisoners to get back to their cells. Okay maybe that is a bit harsh, but in reality we all have to draw a line under the activities of the day by letting go of that Mum guilt and allow time for recuperation. After battling with the kids, my husband is already catching some Z’s before his night shift. At this stage it is all too easy for me to just fall into bed like someone has got me with a tranquilizer. But the house is the quietest its been all day and I could do something really productive like watch that episode of Our Girl while Googling ‘Join the Army’ and swiftly agreeing that it’s probably a bad idea as I may lose my glasses in combat. We can waste our time on so many irrelevant things that in that moment we believe is the right thing to do in order to focus on ourselves.
The world has so much to offer to help us get a better night sleep and we are surrounded by dreamy celebrity nighttime routines, but how often do we start those routines only to see it as another chore? There’s no shame in accepting that a 10 step routine is just too long! unless going to the toilet is counted? which I might add is an excellent opportunity for that peace and quiet we all crave… unless the kids are still awake, then you’re just on your porcelain stage and they’re all clapping. This is not toilet humour, but reality people. Continuing… Overtime I’ve learnt that the best rest comes not just when I’m sleeping but in the moments of peace beforehand. The call of bed is strong to me, I’ve always been a woman who needs her sleep but I make an effort now to at the very least cleanse my face and moisturise it before sleep. I can rest easy then that I wont awake to a face of smudged mascara… asking my reflection “did we go out last night??”. Rest is more than just sleep, so however many things you could be doing it’s vital that we stop and remind ourselves that if we wind down to bed, we often gain better quality sleep and therefore gain a tad more energy for the day ahead. You can check out my top tips for good rest below.
My top tips for getting that good good rest are:
Don’t overwhelm yourself with beauty products, just have the everyday essentials in clear view (save face masks, hair removal, conditioning etc for another opportunity for self care).
Keep a pack of cleansing wipes next to your bed, just in case. I use Simple Biodegradable facial wipes, they’re mild on the skin and the environment! Good feels before sleep.
Learn a few basic facial techniques (I often find slapping myself in the face a couple times before bed to be quite relaxing) In all seriousness, it makes me slow down and become mindful of how my body is feeling.
Have a hot drink, I just love a good cup of English tea but I occasionally enjoy some warm/hot milk with grated nutmeg and cinnamon mixed in.
Do a few basic stretches just to shake that day off.
(Please check with your Dr if you’re unsure if any of this is suitable, especially if you’re pregnant).