This week is both Mental Health Awareness Week and M.E. Awareness Week so I thought I’d try and write a post combing the two.
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is about turning the focus away from mental health struggles and onto how we can all thrive in life. We all have mental health, even if we’re not officially diagnosed with a mental illness, we all experience times in our life where we are just surviving instead of thriving. Someone suffering from M.E. is just surviving, sometimes barely. What can we do to turn this around? What can we do to help ourselves thrive? The Mental Health Foundation, who started Mental Health Awareness Week, suggests these top 10 tips:
- Talk about your feelings – it might feel awkward at first but it doesn’t need to be a big deal and it might encourage the person who is listening to you to open up as well.
- Keep active – this can be hard when you have M.E. or other conditions that affect your energy, such as depression, or anxiety which might make it difficult to go outside or to a gym class. Just do whatever feels right for you and that you enjoy. A short walk and some gentle stretching and breathing can work wonders.
- Eat well – this might mean different things for different people depending on food intolerances and health conditions but regular, balanced meals and snacks with plenty of water and not too much sugar, alcohol and caffeine is a good place to start.
- Drink sensibly – alcohol is not a great help when you’re suffering from mental health issues, along with drugs it creates more problems than it solves. Stick to the recommended daily limits or challenge yourself and your friends to a dry 6 weeks to help livers renew! Alcohol is best avoided when suffering from M.E.
- Keep in touch – it can be hard to keep the lines of communication open when you’re struggling with mental health issues and M.E. but try to connect with loved ones when you can. Some relationships can be more harm than good though and may need reassessing. Seek help if you’re suffering from bereavement and grief.
- Ask for help – from a friend or family member, from your GP, counsellor, self-help group, you are not alone in your struggles and there are people out there ready to help you to thrive.
- Take a break – have a walk at lunchtime, take some deep breaths, sleep when you feel the need. It is ok to say sometimes, in fact it is vital as you cannot help others until your help yourself.
- Do something you’re good at – chances are you enjoy it so it’ll make you feel good! It could be drawing, gardening, sport, crosswords, writing, cooking. Not sure what you’re good at yet? Try some new activities and see which one sticks! Just make sure you’re doing something you enjoy.
- Accept who you are – this can be a tough one but it is an essential state of mind to work towards but we are all wonderfully unique and that should be celebrated! If there is something you really want to change about yourself, perhaps a bad habit, then get help and plan small achievable steps to work towards that goal. It is important to accept that you have a mental illness or M.E. (if you have it) but you do not have to accept that you will always be this ill.
- Care for others – this could be as simple as making your loved one a cup of tea or walking your dog, or you might like to volunteer. Caring for others helps us feel useful which boosts our self-esteem.
It made me think about whether I’m surviving or thriving. There have definitely been times in my life when I really have just been surviving; when my M.E. was worse, when I was struggling with anorexia and anxiety, when depression made everything feel very dark, when I’ve lost touch with reality, when I’ve suffered from abuse. However, over the past year or more I’ve definitely been making some big steps towards thriving. I certainly talk more about my feelings to people, whether loved ones or counsellors and I try to use communicating my feelings to help other people with their issues, so that they know they’re not alone; such as writing this blog! This week I’ve had heart-to-hearts with my flatmate and my brother which has been really great. I still struggle to start some difficult conversations though!
Keeping active can be a tough one with M.E. but I find gentle yoga and walks in the woods very beneficial for my wellbeing. Whenever I start to feel bogged down, a walk does me the world of good as long as I don’t go too far! This week I played rounders for the first time in a decade, I actually ran! My legs did give up before too long but I did it! It was so much fun laughing with all my new work colleagues, but next time I think I’ll do more bowling than running! I was exhausted afterwards and I’ve been achey and tired today and yesterday but I think I’m doing pretty well considering!
I am eating like a horse! Doing more activity on my internship means that my appetite has gone through the roof! Living with other young women and seeing them happily eat whatever they like and cooking really good food has helped me to feel good about eating more. We’re going to host a dinner party for our work colleagues next week and I’m really looking forward to making everyone some Indian dishes. I’m a little anxious but I think it’ll be fine and I’ve told one of my flat mates about being an ‘ex-anorexic’ now as well. Drinking alcohol really doesn’t suit me and I’ve been working on being more assertive about saying no when I don’t want to drink and sticking to my guns. However I may choose to have a tipple on a special occasion and that is my choice and my right to change my mind.
Keeping in touch with people has been something I find difficult but I do make a concerted effort these days to do that. Still working on not feeling anxious and paranoid when people don’t reply straight away though! Since moving to Bristol I’ve got in touch with people who I know live here but I haven’t seen in a while, I’m anxious but looking forward to seeing them again and I’m proud of myself for doing that. I’ve also let go of people who don’t make me feel good. Living with the people I work with, on the site that I work, I can help but keep in touch with people but it’s been lovely. I haven’t laughed so much in years. It’s been great to lounge around watching terrible TV, eating ice cream or singing (and dancing) along to Footloose on Film 4 on a Wednesday night! I’m currently snuggled up in the blanket my lovely friend gave me on Sunday, so its definitely worth keeping in touch!
I’ve definitely got better at asking for help without feeling guilty or like a burden. I’ve had to do that a fair bit since being at my internship, asking for lifts in the car or help to carry something heavy. I also asked for help from a counselor before I moved to deal with some issues which were overwhelming me and I’m proud that I did that, it really helped. When I felt anxious the other week I messaged my friend who I knew would understand and she was really helpful reminding me of practical tips to overcome the feeling.
Taking a break without feeling guilty is something which has gradually got easier. I find it easier to do here as I’m more independent so no one will judge me if I lounge around in front of the TV for a few hours eating cashew butter from the tub…
Doing the internship and getting positive feedback from the people I work with and the children that come to visit has really helped my self-esteem. I had to lead a short activity on my own for the first time this week and when it went well I felt really good about myself. My manager has also praised me for my professionalism which felt good too. I enjoy cooking and get less stressed when doing it now and when people enjoy the food I’ve made that makes me feel great too. Plus my flatmate and I are planning on seeking out a pottery course to have a go at!
Being a Body Image Movement (see previous post) is all about accepting yourself and it’s definitely an area I’m improving in. I focus on what my body can do now rather than how it looks or what it can’t do. Even when I noticed that I’ve got a bit of a tummy now, my mind instantly started to criticise but I shut it up and gave myself a hug. My friend poked my tummy the other day and I just laughed when previously it could have upset me. Acceptance seems to be a snowball effect at the moment and this week I accepted something about myself which I’ve always struggled with when my brother started the conversation with me (it’s good to talk!) but that’s another story for another blog post!
I love caring for other people, but in the past I’ve been known to care too much, to love too much (see blog post ‘Lovesick’). However a little bit of care goes a long way to help your mental health. When I was really poorly with M.E. and anorexia looking after my dog was a life-saver, quite literally I think. My flatmates have already started calling me ‘flat mum’ when I advise them to drink some water or clean the bin! But we all take it in turns to look after each other and that’s really lovely.
You can find out more about the Mental Health Foundations 10 tips here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-mental-health
You can take their mental health survey here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/good-mental-health-survey
More information about M.E. can be found at:
My favourite people working with mental health issues creatively at the moment are:
Heads above the Waves, they make fantastic clothes and badges to raise awareness for depression and self-harm and run sessions in schools with practical tips http://hatw.co.uk/
Sad Ghost Club, more beautifully designed apparel, practical tips and brilliant workshops tackling anxiety and depression https://thesadghostclub.com/