Happy World Mental Health Day! And I really do believe it’s something to be happy about.
Fifty or so years ago, talking about your feelings wasn’t a thing. Like, at all. The post war generation firmly adopted a ‘brush yourself off and get on with it attitude,’ which, in many ways, I respect them for. Some of my great aunties and uncles, who were children of the war, are some of the most emotionally strong people I know.
However, as I’m sure you can imagine, the focus on mental health just wasn’t there. Because it was invisible. I say was. It always has been… always will be.
But, what we have now is the conversation. The conversation that will never stop.
Mental health is being talked about more than it ever has before, and even though there is such a long way to go, it makes me happy to think that for many people, help is being offered.
Help, of course, doesn’t have to be therapy, counselling or even medication. Help can be as simple as someone saying, ‘I know what you’re going through, and I’m here if you need me.’ Trust me, that means more than anything.
Nevertheless, therapy, counselling and medication all have their benefits. I’d know – I’ve used them all!
I’ve had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for my depression. I had it when I was 17 and struggling with depression and anxiety surrounding my A Levels, and also earlier this year, when the pressure I put myself under to be the ‘perfect’ writer was literally crippling me.
CBT is a talking therapy where you address your negative cognitions (thoughts) and learn how to change your attitude to them. It’s all based on the concept that your thoughts, physical, emotional and behavioural reactions are interlinked. Think of it like one big chain. So when you think negatively, you get trapped in a vicious cycle, because your body reacts in a certain way, then that influences how you behave, and so on.
But, with CBT, you learn how to break down your problems into smaller parts and change these negative thought patterns. You learn the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts, and the evidence to support them. You do exercises and have assigned ‘homework,’ with the intention that the more you practice changing your thoughts, the easier it will become.
I’d really recommend CBT. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. When you’re stuck in the darkness, all you want is for someone to pull you out and show you the light. You can’t even really comprehend what the light feels like. I remember I couldn’t. But you know that anything is better than the cloud that hangs over your head, your heart, your every move, every day.
And CBT will help you get there. But you’ve got to want to put in the hard work to get better. There are no quick fixes with any mental health condition, and CBT requires time, patience and persistence.
Why am I telling you this? Because even though we talk more about mental health, we don’t talk about it in enough depth. In my opinion, there’s so much fannying about (my favourite phrase) with the whole spreading awareness and starting the conversation about mental health, that the process of recovery is bypassed.
It’s mad though, when you think about it. I can openly say that I’ve had depression, but if I say I’ve been on antidepressants for four years and probably won’t be coming off them any time soon, I know I’ll get judged.
If you read this blog regularly, first of all, LOVE YOU, and second, you’ll know how I feel towards the stigma surrounding antidepressants. It’s ridiculous. We’re encouraged to get help for our mental health, but apparently taking antidepressants is the coward’s way out. “Oh, I’d never take antidepressants, like ever.”
Bollocks my friend, absolute bollocks.
Apologies for the language, I won’t harp on. But I do think that as part of spreading awareness, we need to be 100% real. That doesn’t mean completely opening up to the world and sharing your life story.
For me, being 100% real is not being afraid if I’m vlogging and my anti-depressants just so happen to be in the background. Being 100% real is being proud to openly admit that early last year, I had hypnotherapy to aid exam related anxiety. And my god did it work (another blog will come soon about that – and trust me, there’s no dangling pocket watches or anything like that involved!).
But equally, being real is me admitting that there are things holding be back with my mental health. Or at least trying to. Most nights for the last few months, I’ve had a recurring dream that I’m sitting an exam I know nothing about. I’ve literally got no academic pressure in my life at the moment, but since day one of primary school, I put myself under pressure to be the best. No exaggeration. So, it’s kind of understandable that now when I’m happy, my mind tries to revert back to that pressure.
You might think this is over sharing, Hell, I kind of think this is over sharing. But I want to be honest. I want to share an ongoing journey with mental health. Not just a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot. There’s no before and after shot with mental health.
Yes I’m better than I was, but I have my ups and downs, and it’s not just smooth sailing.
I also want to be able to say that this is what I do for my mental health. Not just the standard Instagram ‘I have bubble baths and light expensive candles’ bullshit.
Because let’s face it, mental health isn’t pretty, and I’m sure the demon on my shoulder wouldn’t get many likes on Instagram. She ain’t no beauty.
To me, my mental health is like a caterpillar, slowly becoming a butterfly. Imperfect. In the works. But do you know what? I’m rooting for it, whatever it needs to do to become that butterfly. And I hope you are rooting for yours too.
Here’s some musings for you this World Mental Health Day. What do you think about our attitudes to mental health? As a society, are we as accepting as we make out?