I don’t know about you, but when something is wrong with me or with those I love, I want answers. I’m not one for burying my head in the sand. I want a logical explanation for what’s going on and then I want a solution. I want tools to get me through; advice and support; real action. I do not want to be told ambiguous statements, such as ‘ You’re garden variety Kiki, it happens to many people.’ This is fine. It may happen to many people. But it does not happen to me?!
Well it did. And so the search began.
Even when I was first diagnosed all those years ago, I needed a reason. My fighting spirit did not accept that this was just because I’d been through stress and bereavement. This left me cold. Many, many people suffer similar life experiences, but they do not suffer as painfully as I did. So why me? Why was this happening? I considered myself a strong female. I had an arsenal of skills behind me and a personality to match. So when I hit rock bottom I was as shocked as everyone around me.
What I have learnt since then, is that there is not just one factor that pushes you over the edge. There are many, many factors that add up. Including genetic makeup, environment, personal disposition, stress, perfectionism, a lack of essential brain chemicals, grief. The list is endless. So searching for one straight answer was not easy.
My thirst for answers has kept me searching for twenty years. And what I found has resulted in a knowledge of the ‘self’ that is full and rounded and gives me the tools each day to fight these diseases.
For me, having logical steps to take, to know that I’m supporting myself and my body, is crucial. I have to know that I am giving my brain a chance. It will always be my main motivator. I will always keep searching for more ways to improve my mental health, my well-being and my body.
The Beauty in the Darkness has already covered lots of steps to help you whilst going through depression or living with anxiety. But today I’m just giving you my top seven tools for addressing your mental health condition.
- Acknowledge what’s happening
Recognizing that there is a problem is half the battle. All too often we carry on as if nothing is wrong. I did. For many, many months before I broke, there were signs that I was burning out.
Quite often we become so accustomed to the stress in our minds and bodies that we accept it as normal. It is not normal. And in most cases we are living half a life; so caught up in our thoughts, that we miss many opportunities to live life to the fullest, because our mood and anxieties stop us from living.
Are you feeling sad a lot of the time? Are you crying for no reason? Have you noticed that you find little joy in the things that used to fill your soul? Do you avoid social events? Are you exhausted most of the time? The list goes on. But if you feel you relate to any of these, then you may be depressed.
Once you acknowledge that there is a problem, then you can start on the road to recovery. Remember, it is not you that is the problem, but the chemistry of your brain and many other factors. You are not weak. You are not crazy. Your body is screaming for attention.
- Educate yourself
Learning about depression and anxiety is key as far as recovery is concerned. You need to know what you’re dealing with. This also helps you to recognize symptoms and bring comfort to your tired mind and body. You are not alone. Far from it. You would be amazed at how many people can relate.
Realizing you are not unique in your struggle, can bring immeasurable comfort. Even if those closest to you have no idea what it’s like, because they have never have experienced this illness, there are literally millions of people out there, who feel exactly the same as you do.
Read books, read blogs, join forums or support groups. Learning more about your particular illness can only help in your recovery.
- Seek medical attention
If your depression and anxiety is at a level where it affects your ability to function on a daily basis, then it may be time to seek some help. It is easy to keep surviving at a mediocre level. But let me assure you, there is help out there and you need not live a half life. Life is for living. Living it only partially is a waste of your life. I am sure you have so much to bring to the world, so get the medical help you need to start living again.
Start with your GP. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. It’s normal to be afraid of taking this step. But the benefits of getting the right help far outweigh the fear you may have.
Medication can make all the difference if your depression has taken a hold. It has been my savior over the past 20 years. But it’s not the only answer. Counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy and many other holistic treatments, can aid your recovery. Do some research and find what fits you best. You may even try something and it doesn’t suit you. Try something else. At some point something will work for you.
- Talk it out
Talking it out is one of the first things to do to help you get better. Vocalizing your thoughts, feelings and fears will actually make you feel lighter. You may have carried your burdens for too long. Releasing them to another is incredibly helpful.
You can talk to loved ones if they understand. If not, then I recommend a therapist who is fully equipped to listen to your darkest fears, without fear of judgement. I can assure you they have heard it all! Either ask your GP for a referral or maybe someone you know can recommend someone. There is no shame in asking for help. It’s there to help you.
Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of talking therapies and each one has brought relief and benefits to my health.
- Self care and self love
During a depression is easy to feel lost, alone and sometimes worthless. Your love and care of yourself, quite often goes out the window. But it’s really the most important thing you can do for yourself. You have to take good care of yourself.
Remind yourself of your qualities, your strengths, and your kindness, whatever it may be. Then continue to remind yourself, repeatedly. Try not to be critical of yourself. Berating yourself for your illness will not help you. Be kind to yourself, treat yourself with kid gloves. You need all your loving right now.
Eat well. Eating refined sugars, junk food and anything comforting may be your first choice. You’re feeling awful and you’re getting comfort any way you can. I get it. I’ve done it. But at some point you have to take control. This control will give you immeasurable strength. You will feel good about yourself again. Look for food that is rich in nutrients, lean proteins and fresh veg and fruits. The evidence linked to good nutrition and better mental health is astounding. Make better choices with your foods and I guarantee you will feel better.
I personally have traveled every path in terms of eating. But I never feel so well as when I’m eating well.
Also, move more. If you can manage to get moving in the smallest way, then your body and soul will thank you for it. It’s the hardest thing though, when it takes all your energy to get out of bed. But even if it’s 5 minutes or just being more active around the house, you will feel better for it.
Take your supplements too. I’ve written a blog post all about nutrition.
- Remember it’s temporary
It’s so hard when you’re crippled by horrible thoughts, feelings and uncontrollable fear, to think you will ever feel like your old self again. You feel like it’s never going to end. That this is it. This is you. But I assure you it’s not. Know that the thoughts and feelings are not you. They are a symptom of your illness. Your brain chemistry is out of whack. As soon as you take steps to strengthen that chemistry again, I promise you the thoughts, feelings and fear will start to subside. It won’t happen over night, but with patience and perseverance you will get better. This is only temporary
I’ve saved the best for last. I will do a whole post on this, but in the mean time, I encourage you to read up on mindfulness techniques. These have, without doubt, been the most effective tool for dealing with my unrelenting mind.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. About not thinking of what’s been and not worrying about what is to come. It is literally being in the now. There are many variations on how to bring your focus to the present moment. You can focus on your breath, or sound or sight. As long as you are in the present moment, you are not allowing your mind to be pulled back and forth with negative thoughts.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of your thoughts, but not attaching any feeling or judgement to them. You simple let them float along and observe. No attempts to change them or get rid of them.
Daily meditation brings about a sense of peace for a frazzled mind. Now it might come across as a bit hippy or airy fairy, but believe me, it allows you to sit with your thoughts and not be reactive to them. You can actually see them for the nonsense that they are. It has given me so much peace. And there are countless research studies to show that by being mindful, you can actually strengthen neural pathways and increase your brains grey matter. By building new pathways you can actually alter how your brain reacts, and even stop the thoughts and feelings. It can allow you a freedom and detachment from your mind that you never thought possible. All of which will bring peace and calm.
There are a number of resources I could recommend. But start with reading Ruby Wax’s books: ‘Sane New World: Taming the Mind’ and ‘A Mindfulness Guide for The Frazzled’. Both are completely brilliant and offer sound explanations as to why our minds are so busy. But more importantly, she offers sound and brilliant tools for calming the mind, in a step-by-step guide. They are a must read for anyone suffering depression or anxiety.
Also, if you do want to try meditation for the first time, then I highly recommend then ‘Headspace’ app. It is available for I Phone and Android. It’s been so valuable for me in my quest for ‘headspace’.
I hope these points help. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. But I do believe that with the right attitude and approach, you can come to terms with your mental health, and recover. And not only recover, but become an even better version of yourself.
Onwards my loves, Kiki xox
” You are smart, you are kind, you are beautiful and you are important.”
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