What my Anxiety has Taught Me + a Mental Health Link Library
It’s World Mental Health Day today. Fitting really, that it falls on a day where I’ve had to work from home, purely because my anxiety is so bad I can’t face leaving the house. Yep, that’s right. The thought of walking out of my front door and having to interact with people and get on trains and smile and be okay in all the other millions of moments that make up a day was filling me with such fear, dread and panic that, well, I just would not have been any good to anyone.
The older I get and the more wise and learned I become (lol) I realise that whilst my anxiety and mental health battles do not define me, they are a part of who I am. They’re not magically going to go away, so therefore I might as well learn how to live with it and how to learn from it. Here’s some of what I’ve learned, plus I thought I’d share my ‘Mental Health Link Library’ – a buttload of links I had saved on a draft email to myself compiled of articles, websites and resources I have found useful.
Bravery Takes Many Forms
Bravery is a many faceted thing. Maybe you don’t need to take huge risks in your career, or change the world, or stick it to the man, or slay dragons. Bravery can also mean asking for help, applying the right coping mechanisms to keep yourself safe, facing the world when inside you are crumbling, or just saying out loud, “I am not okay.” Dragons are one thing to overcome, but the brain can be an even mightier foe.
When we say ‘You’re so Strong’ to people who are battling illness, be it mental or physical, what we really mean is, ‘you are living’. Strength has nothing to do with fight, or battle or how much we push ourselves. Strength is simply about getting through each day, whether it’s been with tears or laughter. Life can be a really hard place to be sometimes so I admire the strength of everyone making it through each day. You’re awesome.
The energy and effort required to do small tasks astounds me. I have produced my own shows, I have survived entire months at the Edinburgh Fringe. I have taught hundreds of children, worked ten jobs at once and done Panto over Christmas six times. Yet on some days, it takes all of that energy and effort to simply shower. Or get dressed. Yesterday, it took an unbelievable amount of concentration and focus just to get myself home from work. Oh my god it was hard.
I am not a qualified mental health professional and I know that different things help different people. I have learnt that for me, doing things with my hands helps. Cooking, calligraphy and horticulture. I am lucky enough to have a garden and since moving in I have planted flowers, foliage, pots, a herb garden and just this weekend planted about a hundred bulbs ready for Spring. I have pruned, weeded, filled bird-feeders and cursed the slugs to the skies. It helps my brain so much to calm down. To be outside, with soil under my fingernails, looking after living things with my own hands and heart, and always finding new things to exclaim over (LOOK AN EARWIG!) makes me so calm.
Please talk. Talk about it all the time. It helps so much. Not just for you, but for everyone. Say stuff, be open and honest. Honesty is our most powerful weapon against mental health stigmas and taboos. This blog post is one way I’m talking about it. HI I AM KATIE AND I HAVE MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS LOVELY TO MEET YOU!
Conversations with workplaces can often go better than you think. As awareness increases, so does understanding. I am lucky enough to work somewhere supportive and caring so even though it’s still a bit hard for me to talk about my mental health in a professional environment, their response makes it a bit easier. I saw this today on twitter, from the company GDS that I thought was so ace I had to share. It’s pinned up on their team noticeboard and is given out to new members of staff in as the first page of their Induction Handbook.
If you know something is a trigger for you then you don’t have to always ‘be brave’ and face it. Like, I know crowds are a massive trigger for me. Oh god, they’re horrible. So, instead of it being a huge fear inducing effort for me to get onto the tube at rush hour each morning, I take the bus. It’s longer and a bit of a walk at the other end, but it’s infinitely more peaceful for my head. As long as avoiding a trigger isn’t stopping you from living your life, think creatively to find ways to wiggle around them.
One of the hardest things to deal with when you have an anxious brain is guilt. Slathered on top of all the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety is this big, fat juicy slab of shit. Guilt at not being able to attend social engagements you promised you’d be at, at having to say no, at bursting into tears randomly in the middle of Starbucks. Guilt for thinking you’re ‘not worried enough to say I have anxiety’, for knowing that ‘other people have it so much worse than me’, for not enjoying every single day of your short life. Guilt at not being able to be there, for everyone, all the time, for not eating healthily, for not exercising, for not reading more, for drinking too much, for being boring for not drinking enough, for forgetting someone’s birthday, for slightly burning the dinner, for not making the most of yourself, for letting yourself down, for giving up the piano when you were age 6, for letting everyone down, for having to call in sick to work, for feeling overwhelmed at work, for not being a better, more together, thoughtful person, for feeling unable to fucking well cope. I don’t really have any advice here on how to cut yourself some slack when it comes to that thick layer of guilt that gets spread lavishly over everything. I’m still trying to work that one out myself.
As I said, find your coping mechanisms- a new one for me when I’m panicking is to count to ten over and over again until I can do it slowly and with a big breath in-between each number. Some more of mine are here and here also here.
Above all things be kind. To yourself, to others, to those living with mental health conditions and to those who live with, help and support those people. I understand it’s hard to wholly comprehend what full-blown, constant, diagnosed, medicated anxiety is actually like if you’ve never experienced it (I tried to explain here if it helps) but the best ways to deal with it are with kindness, patience and love. And the world could always use a bit more of that, eh?
Mental Health Links Library
https://www.buzzfeed.com/ailbhemalone/self-care54?utm_term=.bvxQq9B1P#.img8oNvw9– I love this whole series