This week, I share a few of the things I have learned about my mental health as I have dug myself out of a hole.
It’s no secret that I’ve been feeling a bit rough round the edges of late. I wrote a bit about my mental health here a few months back, and I received a load of lovely messages of support from pals near and far. Since I wrote that piece, I have taken some concrete steps to address the issues I was struggling with, and – in the parlance of cheesy self-help – I am in a better place.
Here are a few things I have learned:
1 – It’s ok to say yes to drugs.
There’s so much stigma around medicating mental health issues. I am a serial over-sharer; for example, I’m happy to announce that I recently realised I have the makings of a third nipple (it’s just a patch of hair – boring.) I lay myself pretty bare on here at times, and even so, have felt anxious about telling people I am taking Prozac. That’s nonsense. If I had a chest infection, I wouldn’t be coy about the fact that I was taking antibiotics.
I tried counselling a few years back, when I felt low, and didn’t really get on all that well with it. This time round I went to the GP, who pulled out her prescription book. I was nervous about starting the meds. I worried that they would make me feel less like myself; that they would dull my emotional experience of the world. I am enthusiastic and excitable, and I didn’t want to lose that. I couldn’t find enough information online about how I’d feel, and I guess that’s because these things affect everyone differently.
For what it’s worth, my experience has been very positive so far. I took advice from two great friends with experience of mental health struggles and medication, and took the plunge. I felt shit for the first few weeks – nauseous and really tired (Cat thought I might be pregnant) – but once that subsided, I started to feel much more upbeat, and far less low and irritable. Despite my concerns, I actually feel more like myself. I am better equipped to control my emotions rather than feeling trapped by them. The omnipresent sense of impending doom has lifted, and I feel like I am a better dad and husband as a result.
(It is important to point out that things have been getting easier for me in more tangible ways too, and this has undoubtedly had a positive impact on my mental health. I finally got a permanent job, and look forward to starting in a few weeks, and I’ve also been getting fitter and living more healthily. Nonetheless, I really think the meds are working.)
2 – It’s ok to say no to drink.
I wrote about this here, and I won’t go on about it again, but stopping drinking has played an important role in sorting my head. I sleep better, I’ve lost weight, I’ve saved money, and I don’t get hangovers. With all the great non-alcoholic drinks options these days (new review post coming soon), it doesn’t even mean drinking coke or water all night. A mental health nurse recently told me that ‘alcohol is the biggest depressant’, and I can believe it.
3 – Exercise is not a panacea, but it comes bloody close.
I have been making time for exercise recently. I used to wait for the conditions to be perfect; and invariably, they rarely were. It was too wet, or too hot – I was too tired, or too busy. I didn’t really realise this until Cat pointed it out. It’s easy to make excuses – especially when you’re working full time and you have a kid – but exercise is just about the most important thing to keep up when you’re getting low.
I signed up for a triathlon (less than two weeks to go!) to force me to train, and have built most of my exercise into my commute. I dragged my bike out into the rain this morning, and trundled to work, getting soaked and filthy on the path. I was slow, and wet, and cold, and I loved it! Endorphins are magic. I blitzed home in PB time, and went straight out for a run. It’s been a good day.
I’ve lost a bit of weight, and it’s made a big difference to my body image. I feel stronger and more physically capable. Beyond that, though, it feels good to make time for myself, and to be proactive. Here’s hoping I can keep it up through winter (fingers crossed for less Beast from the East action this year)!
4 – So much strife can be avoided by asking: ‘will this matter tomorrow?’
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. My mental health nurse suggested asking myself this question, and I have put this into practice to great effect. When some plonker cuts you up on the commute, you can safely say ‘this won’t matter tomorrow,’ and turn up Boogie in the Morning (embarrassing local radio reference). Once I started thinking this way, I was better able to pick my battles – filtering out more of the petty nonsense buzzing in my head.
5 – Sharing is caring
Getting things out of my head and off my chest has helped me. Blogging about my minor struggles has been something of a cathartic process, and the solidarity which I felt as a result has helped me to deal with things. As I say, I’m an over-sharer. This isn’t the medium for everyone (and a lot of my most intimate and vulnerable conversations go on behind closed doors), but it strikes me that keeping things to yourself is rarely the answer.
There already seems to be something of a seismic shift in the way people are talking about mental health, and a greater awareness of the struggles that so many people endure. The stigma appears to have lifted a little, and I am pleased to feel able to talk openly about these things. Keep chatting to your pals, and checking in from time to time. One of the most important realisations for me recently has been that there is nothing to be ashamed of in feeling weak sometimes, and asking for help is the one of the strongest things you can do.
None of this is a magic bullet. There are no quick fixes, and meds alone can’t ‘mend’ you. However, by taking control of the situation, and making a few changes, I have managed to drag myself out of a hole. I’d love to hear some of your experiences and/or tips. Leave me a comment!