Today I’m sharing Three Ways You Can Get Help With Your Mental Health. Why? It's #mentalhealthawarenessweek and a lot of us struggle with our mental health. Whether we're struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar, eating disorders, addiction or any mental illness, it is hard. Every day is hard. There can be good days and there can be bad days and it's important that we know where to get help when we need it.
For far too many years this hasn't been talked about and it's only recently that the stigma on mental illness is starting to lift. There is a conversation happening around it. People are becoming more aware. That doesn't fix it, and it doesn't take it away but it does mean that it is getting easier to get the help you need and to talk about it.
My own mental health journey is rooted in anxiety and depression. I struggled in silence for years - forever trying to curate a vision of a happy person that I wanted everyone to see. I didn't want to be a burden and let anyone know how much I was struggling inside when these waves of depression hit. I can remember when I had my first panic attack at 14. My vision started to blur and each blink felt like my world was narrowing in. I remember feeling like someone had their hands around my throat and I couldn't get my breath in. My chest felt heavy. I was stumbling and I felt like I was going to pass out. I felt frozen. I remember feeling embarrassed about what people must think of me. Worried that they would think I was drunk or had taken drugs. That made it even worse. I remember feeling like I was going to die and being quite convinced that that was exactly what was happening. I sat down on some grass, I put my head between my knees and I tried my best to breathe. It passed. I still remember the coolness of the grass on my legs. I remember really focusing on that grass. I managed to get myself out of wherever it was I had ended up in my head and into the present. I haven't always been able to do that as easily as I've gotten older.
I've gone through some really low periods and although it never felt like I would at the time, I've always made it out the other side. I'm here. I remind myself of how lucky I am for that.
It has only been these last couple years of my life, after a particularly rough patch, that I decided enough was enough and I had to face it and fight it if I wanted to make it out this time. I remember what it was that did it. What made me feel like I should fight. I was the lowest I'd been and it didn't feel like anything was going to change. I was pushing my closest friends away because I didn't want to be a burden. I didn't want to bore them with my issues. I couldn't open up properly. I had convinced myself they didn't care or want me as a friend. One day they invited me on a walk to the forest. I got in the car and my friend said, "I'm really glad you're here." When we arrived and met another friend that friend gave me a big hug and said how happy they were to see me. It was like someone turned a light on. The sky was blue. The grass was the greenest I'd ever seen it. The sounds of all the birds in the forest were the most perfect they'd been. I was surrounded by people who cared about me. I wasn't all alone.
If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know I've mentioned changes I've made to my life to help take care of my mental health. I've been at my best in as long as I can remember these last couple years since I've made these changes. I'm happier, healthier and my brain is much more on my side. It hasn't been easy. I've had to really prioritise it. When I discussed it with a friend about how silly I felt sometimes because I was no longer able to stay up late and go out and get wasted (for various reasons and because the way I felt after was no longer worth it) she reminded me that if I had a physical ailment I'd be doing what I could to look after it. When I spoke to another friend after a counselling session she reminded me of how far I'd come. All the steps I'd made in my life to get to where I was and how brave it was what I was doing. I had decided to fight. I had decided to take charge. Are my friends emotional geniuses? I think so.
I've got a lot to look forward to now and although I know there is always a risk of those low days coming back I feel much better equipped now to deal with them. I've tried a number of different types of therapies, some which I found great and some which didn't really gel with me. There are so many services out there to help you so it's worth giving a few a try. Here are three quick things I wish I'd known sooner when I was really struggling to cope.
- It is ok to open up and talk about it. A problem shared is a problem halved. When my anxiety or depression is really bad I get inside my head. I build things up and make myself feel worse. Simply saying out loud how I was feeling to a friend was a life saver. It made it real. It got the bully out of my head and out into the open. I always imagined the negative thoughts in my head to be a bit like a monster. Like a bully that liked to hide in the dark corners of my brain, but it was a bully who shrunk more and more when I talked about it.
- You are not alone. You may feel crushingly alone, but you are not alone. You have people who care about you. You have people who want you around. You have people who will notice if you're not there. You have people who love you.
- You are not a burden and you are allowed to feel how you feel. You don't have to have a big problem in your life to be depressed. You don't have to have had a "valid reason" for your anxiety. These things happen sometimes for no reason. Just because there are other people in the world that are worse off than you doesn't mean you can't ask for help with your struggle.
You can chat to someone on the phone, via email, through letter or by visiting them in branch. You will not be judged by the person on the other end. You don't need to be suicidal to call them. They are there to support people having a hard time. In the UK phone 116 123, all calls are free.
Mind is a brilliant mental health charity. Their website is packed full of information that is well worth reading through. They have great guides about mental illness, how to get help, talking to your GP and many more.
Talk to your GP.
Sometimes if you're really struggling it can be a good idea to discuss your options with a GP. They may advise medication or therapy services that are available in your area. It can be really hard to discuss your mental health with a GP, invite a friend to come along with you if that helps and remember that GPs are there to help.
Maybe you are concerned about a friend? Let them know you are there for them. Let them know they can open up. It doesn't always have to be about that friend reaching out, as often times, this won't happen. You can also reach in and be there for them.
Have you had help with mental illness? What worked best for you?