New year, new start. Dave talks about what he plans to do in 2015 to get 'mental healthy'.
I was in a bar when I heard it. Two blokes having a drink a couple of days into the New Year.
"Any resolutions this year Steve?"
"The usual. I’ve signed up to a gym. This year I want to get mental healthy!"
I couldn’t help but laugh at the phrase. That is exactly what I am doing too.
We think about health more at the start of the year than any other time. People talk about getting physically healthy, but hardly anyone talks about thinking healthily. Up until last year it was something I’d never considered either, but recently that's changed.
I’d always assumed people with mental illness knew they were ill. But when it happened to me, I didn’t. I was trapped in the day-to-day. It was like trying to look at a massive picture when you’re only inches from it.
Unknowingly I sunk lower and lower into depression. It happened without me realising. Slowly I became numb to everything. The world became intimidating. I felt trapped with no way out.
Looking back, it’s really hard to find the words for what I felt. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what. That's the problem with mental illness, it is entirely subjective - you only ever see its effects and as I could never compare my mind with anyone else’s, how did I know I was mentally ill?
This made getting help daunting. People are generally reluctant to go to the doctors anyway and I am no exception. Each morning I’d go to call but convince myself I wasn’t that ill. I never felt ‘ill enough’. I didn’t have any bruises I could point to or any cuts I could show off. I wasn’t covered in bandages or have a cast anyone could sign. So, I was worried people wouldn’t take me seriously.
It was this fear that stopped me getting help sooner. Fear I was a fraud, attention seeking or unable to cope like everyone else. I was waiting for something to happen so I could class myself as ‘ill’. If I found a lump on my body, I wouldn’t wait for it to be the size of a melon before I went to the GP. So, what was I waiting for?
In the end, when I did get help, it was a massive relief. I have anorexia which lead to my depression and for me getting a diagnosis made it so much easier. It means I now know I am not attention seeking.
If you are looking to get 'mental healthy' in 2015, and you haven't talked to anyone about how you're feeling, I recommend that as a first step. It doesn't have to be from your GP if that feels too scary, maybe you could first of all talk to you parents, your partner or a friend you trust?
If you're a little bit further on in your journey, or perhaps like many people you're on a waiting list for treatment and are looking for ways you can help yourself, here are some of my tips for 2015. Enjoy!
Meditation – I clean my teeth twice a day, so why would I not clear my mind twice a day? It’s easy and doesn’t have to involve candles, incense and whale music! There are loads of different types – transcendental, musical, mindful – and there are loads of free websites, podcasts and drop in sessions you can go and try. Find out more about Mindfulness from Be Mindful.
Honesty – nobody can ever truly know what’s going on in your mind so give them a helping hand. If you’re having a bad day, tell them. If you are feeling tired, say it. Letting people know how you are feeling is as difficult as it is rewarding. Believe me, once you start it gets a whole lot easier.
Socialising – believe it or not chronic loneliness poses as significant risk for your long term health as cigarette smoking! Meet up for a coffee with a friend, go to the cinema, do something you used to love doing. Anything.
Advice – in the words of an amazing song, ‘advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it’. Look anywhere and everywhere for people who've been through similar things to you and listen to their advice. Find what works for you. And when you do share it!