World Mental Health day 2021 – lessons from the other side.

10th October 2021 brought us World Mental Health day, and it wouldn’t be so for me without sharing a few thoughts.

I’m a little late in sharing this as I spent yesterday catching up with life and spending time outdoors, I have been stuck in the dark for the majority of the week with a bad head. It was nice to see so many of my friends and family and other people I follow on social media sharing their support and their experiences, reaching out to others or just sharing a lovely quote or two – clearly time has bought more awareness and less stigma over this day as many moons ago, it was unheard of for so many people to speak out over their own personal sufferings.

So for this WMHD, I have decided to share some of the lessons and important musings I have had over the past ten years which have all led to providing emotional wellness and stability when it comes to my mental health.

  1. Speak Louder. Talking helps. There was a time in my life when I was very young where I felt ashamed to admit to anybody that I was struggling at risk of being singled out, labelled or rejected. As it turned out, the more I opened up about it the less I felt either of those things. The more people who talk, the more people realise they are not alone, the more it encourages others to speak out too.
  2. Recovery is not a straight road from A to B. How many times have I felt myself picking up and almost in reach of being 100% well, only to wake up the next day to have crashed down to rock bottom again? I have no idea. Way too many times to keep track of. I can only compare this to the illusion of the false summits of a mountain; just as you think you are about to reach the top you get over the peak to find it is not actually the summit and theres another humongous hill to climb (and more often than not, the second summit is yet again, another false summit). It’s frustrating as hell, but it’s normal, and it’s normal in everyone’s journey, not just yours. As one of my lovely therapists once said, ‘Count your stars not your failures’. We often focus on that one relapse, but forget we have had many successful days before that one slip. Healing will never be straight forward, because life doesn’t work that way. If it was we would all be self entitled idiots who never learn from anything.
  3. Be mindful of your environment. This is often an external factor that we can change, but most likely to forget that we have any control over it. Jobs, friendship circles, relationships. If they are dragging you down rather than raising you up, honestly, the worst thing I repeatedly did throughout my 20’s was tolerate it. There have been so many situational influences that have made my illness so much worse and I only had myself to blame in the end for not walking away because I thought it was more complex than it actually was to act on it. It’s really not THAT complicated that you are putting up with a job that has eventually lead to you having panic attacks on a grubby bathroom floor in between work projects. Or tolerating friendships in a bitching/bullying environment so that it shatters your self esteem. No one needs that. Unfortunately, young Megan must have thought that was exactly what I needed at one point, but they were lessons that led me to having a loving, supportive home life and close circle of people whom I trust today.
  4. Mental health isn’t an excuse. Own your mistakes. A bit of hard hitting advice but it’s true that too many people use their mental state to excuse their actions when it comes to hurting others. You suffer, yes, but we often forget that everyone around us do as a consequence. Depression, anxiety and other chronic conditions are hard to live with, yes, but it does not excuse shitty behaviour. Yes, your mental health state might be the reason that you said the wrong thing, let somebody down, hurt someone with your actions but it does not mean it’s a valid excuse. The same reason that being angry does not validate the right to scream in somebody’s face and make them step on eggshells around you; we still have a choice in how we deal with everyday situations. Every single person has hurt somebody in their life unintentional or not and even when we aren’t in our right mind at the time, we need to own up to those mistakes we make. Admit it. Apologise. Make amends if you have to. Learn from the situation. Try again. Which leads me to the next one…
  5. Forgive yourself. For crying, for putting up with more than you deserve. For resting. For taking medication. For making stupid mistakes. For showing yourself up. For being late multiple times. For saying no to people. For snoozing that alarm. For going home early on a night out. For letting somebody down. For being depressed. For feeling anxious, or guilty or bereaved. For being Bipolar. For having ADHD. For hallucinating, or obsessing or being so paranoid that it doesn’t shatter just your life but it hurts others too. You will never be able to move on or fully recover if you do not give the kindness you would give to others. Everybody needs forgiveness, and the easiest way forward is to start with yourself.
  6. People will only be ready to help themselves when they truly want to in their heart, not just in their head. There is a huge difference (which is also reflected in relapse rates) in just passively saying you are ready to give it a go versus truly feeling ready for it. An alcoholic is more likely to stay sober if they eliminate all the alcohol out of the cabinet, over when they say they are ready to give it up but are still secretly keeping it at the back of the cabinet ‘just in case’. You cannot rush healing in yourself, nor other people. It will come at a time when their heart says ‘okay, let’s do this’.
  7. Nobody is going to do it for you. It takes effort from you, and no one else. The first time I ever sat down to talk to a professional, I sat down looking for answers to my problems thinking the secret of my happiness was in that person. You can imagine the panic that arose in me when he sat there and did nothing but stare at me, smiling knowingly for what seemed like hours until I eventually cracked and was forced to talk to fill the awkward silence. It took a few more years until I finally learned that a therapist wasn’t there to provide the answers. They are there to give you a nudge to come up with them yourself. No one else can speak for you. No one else will make those appointments, take your medication for you, and you certainly won’t find the answers at the bottle of a bottle. I honestly feel this stalls getting well for many people, until they come to the conclusion that they themselves are their own greatest advocate.
  8. If they haven’t been through it themselves, they might not understand. And that’s okay. I’m sure we all have people in our lives that always want to listen and who truly seem to get it, but on the other hand it comes with knowing certain others who cannot seem to tolerate your struggles and look at you like you were born on Mars. Talk, but it might help to choose a selective few who you know can compassionately connect with you. Find yourself the strength to forgive the people who do ‘pass it off’ as nothing (it really isn’t their fault!) and hope the best for them that they do not ever experience similar.
  9. It will never truly go away. Another difficult one to deal with, but the more we accept this truth the more we will understand and accept it the next time it comes around. We know the value of discovering the tools and developing healthy coping methods for if we ever have another relapse, have a panic attack or ever fall in to a depression again. Mental health struggles really do change you as a person. So if we are to live with this, we might as well befriend it. This mentality has helped me deal with my panic attacks, instead now of trying to stop them, I sit with them and just let them be. They don’t last as long as they used to. I don’t kick myself down like I used to. I recover faster when they are over instead of staying in bed for days afraid of the next one. I embrace my brighter days more, and take them for granted less. This has helped me really, truly live my life, because being well and happy is not guaranteed, so we might as well embrace the joy we have whilst it is here.
  10. Nature is the best medicine. To conclude, I thought i’d slip in a very personal one. Being in touch with nature and the outdoors has really put things in to perspective for me. I get out as much as I can. Adventure. Feel the sun on my face. Go exploring. Feel the earth beneath my feet (literally, these days its not uncommon for me to step outside my house barefoot in the mornings just to feel the ground under my feet for a short while, and this is coming from someone who wore socks in the house permanently a few years back!). Chase the moon. Count the stars. Immerse myself in the universe and feel how tiny I actually am. It makes my worries and my struggles shrink so they feel more manageable. My favourite thing to do in my spare time is spend time in the mountains, get the cool air to my face and feel my heart beat from the effort of a long climb uphill. It is the quickest way for me to feel grounded both physically and mentally. You find something that can really make you appreciate your life and make all the fight seem worth it after all. It makes you want to stay. It really does.

Image: taken in 2020 on the summit of Y Garn, Snowdonia, Wales.