Looking After Yourself

In this post I’m going to discuss managing your mental health and include some of the methods which have worked best for me. This is not to say they’ll be for everyone. For more creative people than me, art and music therapy may me of benefit. The important thing is finding the coping tools that work best for you.

Reading and Writing 

I find reading a fictional book to be helpful. I can soon get lost in the story line and forget about my issues in the real world. A good film or favourite television program can have the same effect. I’ve always been uncomfortable talking about my emotions and instead found writing things in a journal to be equally beneficial. I’m finding writing this blog to be very useful too. As well as it helping me continue to work through and understand my own illness, its also given me a purpose and its keeping my mind occupied which is essential at the moment.

Sports and Fitness

Any type of exercise can be used as a great coping tool. I like to keep myself fit and its a fact that when you take part in physical fitness, chemicals are released in your brain that make you feel good and therefore will help to boost your self-esteem( that’s about as technical as I get! ). Hence the saying Healthy body Healthy mind. If your a competitive person it can also give a goal to work towards. For example I got myself a pedometer, which measures how many steps you take when you’re out and about. I always try to beat my record from the previous week, which gives me more of an incentive to leave the house. 2500 steps equates to one mile, which means if you do roughly 66,500 steps you’ve completed a full marathon!

Walking in the countryside and the peacefulness that comes with this is a great aid for switching off, completely unwinding and being one with nature. There is no better therapy than this for me. Its always been important for me to feel in control. Exercise helps me to take control back of my body and this in turn can give me the confidence to start taking charge of other situations in my life.

I enjoy playing numerous sports and I use each of them as a way to escape from the every day pressures of life. Its amazing how great it feels to smash a golf ball down the middle of the fairway or kick a football into the roof of the net. As well as the obvious benefits the exercise brings, I also find sports to be an effective way to release tension. I’ve played competitive table tennis in local leagues for several years now and I find the camaraderie and strength you get from being part of a team, to be immeasurable. you’re trying to win, not just for yourself but for the other lads too. I had to have a little break away from the league due to my illness but I’m happy to say I’m back playing and everyone’s been fantastic. I’ve been made to feel valued and significant, all of which has increased my self-worth.

Talking Therapy

I have received both counselling and psychology sessions. I started the process very tentatively, I found it extremely difficult to open up to a stranger. I also felt undeserving of the help, like there were people much more in need than me and I was potentially taking up their space. For the first few weeks I was very defensive and looking for hidden agendas in everything Nancy said to me. I spent half the time attempting to convince her I was ok and the other half apologising for being there. Over the years I have become a master of repressing my feelings. Bottling up emotions has always seemed the best and safest option and therefore its become the norm for me. I now know that this is extremely unhealthy. In counselling sessions you have to be prepared to be stripped bare (figurately speaking). To open up and share some of your inner most feelings takes time and only works if you have complete trust in your counsellor. It took me five months to get to this stage. This might sound a long time but with my trust issues, Its a miracle I found anyone I could open up to at all. Once I began to share things, all of a sudden everything just started pouring out of me. I was able to be completely honest including talking about my suicidal thoughts. Just to be able to tell someone that I didn’t want to be here anymore was such a massive relief. Every time I got something off my chest, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

In counselling you have an environment were you can feel completely safe. Your able to share what ever is on your mind with the knowledge that it will stay in the room. So how ever cynical you are about talking therapies, please don’t dismiss them as an option cause you might be pleasantly surprised.

Medication

For a short time I needed sleeping tablets but now I’m just taking my antidepressants. It took me a while to come to terms with needing long term medication. In the past I wouldn’t even take paracetemol for a headache! But I soon realised the tablets are just a necessary fix and its no big deal really. It did take a while to get on the right medication, I tried a few that disagreed with me but now I’m on the correct tablet and dosage for me. If you’re struggling with your meds remember to persevere, they do sometimes take a while to get into your system and have the desired effect. Other than that be honest with your doctor about how your feeling.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be and remain in the present. Being aware of your body and mind and your environment in that exact moment. Its not as easy as it sounds, the human mind naturally wanders off and its very difficult to concentrate on one thing at once. That’s my understanding of it anyway but I’m far from being an expert and I’m new to practising the mindful meditations. I practice them for twenty minutes every day in a quiet space with no distractions, this might not be easy to find for some people but it is necessary. Due to my limited knowledge on the subject I’m not going to advise but I will recommend a book called ‘Mindfulness for dummies’ or you could always look up the therapies on line. What I will say is the various breathing exercises been a huge benefit to me and recently even helped to bring me back from having a panic attack.

Positive Mantras 

If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told to be kind to myself and take one small step at a time, I’d be a rich man! You might get sick of people saying these things to you but the reason why its repeated so often is because its actually great advice! I now have a few additional methods which are giving me the positive reinforcement I need right now. I have a mantra which I repeat every day, even more so when I’m in situations that make me anxious. Some of the most common ones are listed below.

  • I am what I am
  • Action conquers fears
  • I am enough
  • This too shall pass
  • I love and approve of myself
  • Keep calm and carry on
  • I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
  • Keep your head up and your heart open

Obviously these are just a few, it’s what works best for you. You might want to invent a completely new saying that’s unique to you. When I’m stressed I repeat the phrase ‘nil nil and all is well’, when I’m about to start a game of table tennis and the umpire says nil nil, I manage to switch off all other distractions and just focus on the job in hand. This inner calm has proven helpful when trying to accomplish any given task.

One big thing I miss about my counsellor is the constant reassurance she gave me. Helping me realise I was on the right track, that I wasn’t a bad person and actually had a lot to offer. The way I’ve chosen to emulate this is by writing positive reminders that relate to different situations. For example if I’m about to go out with friends and I’m feeling anxious I look at a certain page in my notebook, which emphasis that I’m well liked and good company, that I’ve no need to rehearse or force conversations. Instead I should just be myself and go with the flow. These simple scripts help me to continue to leave the house and manage my every day life. As time goes on and I continue to be more assured and comfortable in my own skin, I will need to read them less and less.

Graded Exposure

If you have somewhere to go or just want to get out for a little while, the first thing to remember is there’s no shame in asking someone to go with you. everybody needs a bit of a prop from time to time. If the only way you’re leaving the house is to be accompanied then so be it, its better than staying in and feeling sorry for yourself.

Sometimes if you picture a full length journey somewhere or focus on a task in its entirety, it can soon become overwhelming. Therefore a good idea is to break things down into more manageable segments. This is where Graded exposure comes in as a really productive tool to help you get your independence back. In my case I had a carer who took me out. If you haven’t got this option or find yourself on a waiting list, a close friend or family member will do just fine. For a long period I didn’t leave my house on my own due to my anxiety levels. First and foremost I wanted to be able to get to the local shop on my own to get necessities and avoid having to rely so much on other people. The shop is a ten minute walk away (I don’t drive). We split the journey up into 6 checkpoints. For the first few weeks we kept repeating the journey together but then eventually I managed to meet my carer at the first checkpoint. Over time I was able to go further distances on my own until eventually I achieved my goal. I have achieved larger challenges since including getting to the local swimming baths and playing table tennis in the league. All of which I have done through graded exposure.

Gardening

This interest is an unusual one for me to include in this list. Unusual because until the last couple of years I hated it. It was a chore I could well do without! But I now see it as an important distraction for when I’m having a bad day with my depression. The back garden is a quiet secluded spot were I can practice my mindfulness and feel completely safe. There’s always plenty to do planting, weeding and generally tidying up and making the area look nice. Its a perfect place to go when I’m feeling sorry for myself and it nearly always brings me out of my slump. Plants are very similar to us in many respects. If they receive plenty of love and nurturing there happy and they blossom.

 

Finally but not least give yourself a break and celebrate your achievements how ever small they might seem. I met a friend the other day and he was buzzing because he’d just got a big promotion at work. I was delighted that I’d managed to walk in Aldi by myself and buy a loaf of bread, an equally huge achievement for me! I wasn’t going to mention it cause it seemed insignificant in comparison but I did and he was really pleased for me. We celebrated both together.