World Mental Health Day, observed on the 10th of October, is more than just a day to raise awareness about the importance of mental health. It's an international call to action, a reminder that despite significant advancements, there are still deeply entrenched issues in our approach to mental well-being that persistently refuse to fade.
One day to highlight a massive problem.
There are often no obvious signs that someone is suffering until their body complains, and it can feel like it is too late.
Stress, anxiety and depression can affect anyone.
In the corporate world, mental health was rarely discussed, but as a manager, I was very aware when people around me were not coping. Many a private conversation, a cuppa and a walk in the fresh air has helped someone have the space to be heard and empowered to take other action towards better health.
This is not always the case when you live alone or with others whose needs come first.
I want to share a story or at least a part of it. This story no longer feels like a part of me and certainly not who I am, but at the time, I was broken, and it took a while for me to heal. But I did, and so can you.
Many, many years ago, I found myself in front of the doctor complaining that despite the many miles I trudged every day with my dog, I couldn’t breathe. He asked me some questions, and suddenly, there was a space to be heard. He gave me time to talk and took action to ensure I received some support.
We talked about who I was living with, the relationship, work, general health and past issues. I explained that I'd struggled with sleep for over two years and tried everything I could think of. He laughed at the comprehensive list I handed over. He glanced over it and said quietly, ‘You have anxiety, and it is no wonder.’
Walking away with a prescription for Prozac felt like it was the end of the world – my world. I felt like a complete failure.
Two days into my new drug habit. I rang the doctor because I felt strange. I was panicking that this ‘stuff’ was destroying me. She calmly explained that I was probably coming down with something. I felt like a fool.
Before long, I was sleeping, and a calm descended. Deep inside, I was ashamed of giving in, and although I didn’t want anyone to know, I found myself sharing with two friends. Never before had I sought external validation, but now it was vital. I wanted them to tell me that it was okay. They did, and it was.
In accepting the prescription, I formulated an exit strategy. I also changed my diet and lifestyle and journaled even more than normal.
I was a bit silly with my diet. I cut practically everything that could possibly be an allergen to anyone, ever, in the history of humankind. Losing vast quantities of weight did nothing for my skin, and my skinny legs looked more match like every day. I didn’t love myself, so I couldn’t and didn’t look in the mirror. I tried but to no avail.
Christmas came, and we (ex and I) went to Spain to work on my house, which I now live in.
Shortly into the holiday, I took my daily pill and vomited. Staring into the bowl, I knew it was time for the exit strategy. I decided no more pills. There had to be a better way. I still felt a stigma attached to taking pills designed to help me.
Back home, I thought I could cope.
In February of the following year, my ex’s almost 90-year-old mother, who needed help with everything and had dementia, came to live. She hated me, was rude and nasty, and two months of living with a bully (him) and his mum was taking its toll. I needed help because I couldn’t cope. I had no purpose beyond being a battering ram, a cook and a carer. I didn’t know who I was when I looked in the mirror. My identity had gone.
The bullying never stopped. He was like a dog with a bone. He said he enjoyed finding someone’s weak spot and turning the knife. I decided to try and ignore him and his silly behaviour.
But because of his berating, he drove me nuts – literally. I found that I was losing my temper, which took me back to childhood and the anger I felt then. When I sat him down to tell him that I was unhappy and felt unloved, he managed possibly a day and then returned to his weird self.
And so it continued. I felt trapped and alone, and like many people, I couldn’t see a way out of the hell that my life had become. I had cut back on my business obligations and wanted to hide because, let’s face it, who would want to work with me?
The following Christmas saw us heading back to Spain. He planned to enjoy a drive while I took his mother on the plane. I coped because she couldn’t have done it without me, and I wanted this sad old lady who hated me to have some happiness.
The apartment we’d booked fell through, so his mum and I stayed with my mum while he caught up with us, and then we all went to my house in the hills. A house that was not ready for us to live in.
I can still see that one awful evening in my mind's eye when I knew it was time to die. While everyone slept, I Googled ways of dying. They all looked painful. What the fuck can I do? I screamed silently into the slumbering beams. I knew I wasn’t meant to die, but I was dead inside. I was nobody and so utterly broken. I went back to my little helpers.
Shortly after his mother’s death, I decided to wean myself off Prozac (again) and try to get back to some normality. I had given up a lovely training and coaching career to be a carer. I wanted some of that back, but he did everything he could to stand in my way, for what reason I don’t know. Everything seemed so far away and unattainable.
If hindsight were a currency, I would be rich. Slowly but surely, my sense of self had been eroded again. Despite the freedom I thought I had, I had become incarcerated and controlled, and I let it happen. I can now see that the stress from previous unresolved issues, looking after his mother, the Prozac and my endless romantic dreams of being in love (as it turns out with the notion of love) kept me dulled.
Without Prozac to blunt my senses, I realised this might not be the ideal place to be, which scared me. Clearly not enough to listen to my inner voice. I remained loyal, loving, kind and blind.
The Universe had other ideas for me. When I discovered he was and had always been living a highly promiscuous double life, I was catapulted into a new life and a way of being. Hence, I am living in Spain and enjoying a peaceful life with my dogs in the hills.
My story is not for sympathy; I have done much healing and am in a great place. I’m grateful for knowing what hell feels like because I can support others. And honestly, it feels like another lifetime, and another person experienced it.
Not everyone escapes an unhappy life or gets the help they need, so we need to look around, be kinder and more compassionate and listen to our friends who may need support. One of your friends could be where I was. You might be there now.
How I wish I’d known how to ask for help.
Tips for Navigating Mental Health and Personal Struggles
Aside from journaling and doing other things like exercise or taking a course to help you overcome stress and anxiety. These will help.
Seek Help Without Shame: Asking for and accepting help, especially medical intervention for mental health, is a sign of strength, not weakness. This was hard for me and might be for you. There is no shame in asking for help – please do it.
Validation is Natural: It's okay to seek reassurance and validation from trusted friends (and others) when facing challenging decisions about your well-being. All I needed was someone else to say yes, it’s a good idea to have help.
Open Up to People You Trust: Confide in trustworthy friends, family or others. Having a support system can guide you through difficult times. Yes. Yes, and yes. We all need our buddies.
Self-worth is Non-negotiable: Remember that your mental health struggles don’t define your value. Be gentle with yourself. I get that feeling like crap can be like a kick in the guts of your self-worth, but you are so worth the time and support to get yourself back to your beautiful self.
Trust Your Intuition: Always listen to your inner voice, especially if it signals that something might be amiss in your life or relationships. There were so many times in the early days I ignored the nudges, and then it was too late. Please listen; if your heart or gut says something is amiss, it probably is.
Believe in Positive Change: No matter how challenging things may seem, always remember that change is possible. Prioritise your well-being. I am living proof that change and a life of inner peace are possible.
Assess Your Relationships: It’s essential to periodically evaluate your relationships. Move away from those that are toxic or harmful to your mental health. OMG, get rid of the people with toxic behaviours. Declutter them from your life. You will feel so much happier.
Reach Out: If you're in a challenging situation or relationship, don't hesitate to reach out to helplines or organisations that can offer support and guidance.
Embrace Self-Care: Make self-care a priority. This can be through activities like journaling, altering your diet, or any other method that helps you feel better. Also, include in your self-care routine some daily self-love. I went on a massive self-love journey, and I even love my wrinkles and bits now.
Learn from the Past: Use hindsight as a tool for growth. While past insights can offer clarity, focus on using them to inform your future decisions. Remember, the past is a place for reference, not a place to dwell. Learn, and move on.
Navigating life’s challenges, especially when faced with mental health struggles and tumultuous (read horrible) relationships, can often feel overwhelming. However, by actively seeking help, trusting our intuition, and placing our well-being at the forefront, we can find our way out of the darkest tunnels. It's important to remember that change is possible, self-worth is invaluable, and our past does not define our future.
As we journey through the next stages of our life, take the lessons we’ve learned, the resilience we’ve built, the self-love we have cultivated and the hope that brighter days are on the horizon – because they are.