Your mental health: Put it first

Mental health is an important but neglected issue, especially in ethnic minority communities where we tend to ignore symptoms of mental illness and cover up our anxieties out of fear of how we’ll be treated and misunderstood. There are so many cases of mental illness that go unreported and unaided yet we continue to live with them as if nothing were wrong. My experiences of depression have left me with some words of wisdom I hope will help someone else, whatever it is you are going through. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a painful break up, or a persisting mental illness. Your recovery is a personal struggle and the advice of others may not always be helpful especially when they don’t understand what you’re going through. It’s important to understand that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you and to cater your recovery towards yourself.

Over the four years I studied at university I suffered from depression three times, each ranging in severity. From the painful break up that left me unable to eat, sleep or function for weeks, to the most recent case where I could still function but lacked motivation to work and had uncontrollable feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Each delve into depression has left me whirling for months at a time, but each fall resulted in a greater recovery to the one before. And it was through these struggles that I found great strength in mindfulness. I was lucky enough to meet an amazing counsellor at my university who gave me support when I was at my most vulnerable, in addition to family and friends who have been there for me every step of the way. But not everyone has the same support system. What do we do when nothing seems to help? We ask ourselves why we feel this way and why aren’t we feeling better yet? What’s it going to take to make this stop? Or we give up completely and give in to the desolation engulfing our minds and withdraw from the world. Over the years I’ve developed coping mechanisms that have helped, along with a self-awareness of my triggers and how to handle each painful experience. But everyone’s experience is unique. If you’re currently in need of some guidance I hope you find this useful.

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your recovery is personal to you, take as much or little time as you need. Know yourself well enough to know what suits you and work at your own pace.
  2. Don’t let anyone dictate how you recover. Although they love you, sometimes those closest to you might not understand what you’re going through, this is to be expected. Their advice may not always help and having someone tell you you need to get out of the house just because they want to see you isn’t always in your best intentions. If you need to withdraw from the world for a while do so. Stay in, watch your favourite show, read a book and invest time in self-care. Having friends who force you to be social when you don’t want to be can be great usually, but when you’re feeling vulnerable would you rather be out partying or at home relaxing? Remember that your recovery is exactly that: yours.
  3. Write. The complex emotions your feeling may be hard to articulate and even harder to understand. Writing them down will help you analyse your feelings and also offers a feeling of catharsis at having them out in the open, even if it’s just you reading it back to yourself.
  4. Don’t look at the clock or calendar. Recovery takes time, you can’t force it. Getting frustrated at yourself for how long it’s taking won’t help and so it’s best to ignore how many months have passed and just focus on yourself in the present moment. How do you feel today? Any better than yesterday? How’s your week going? Live in the present and the future will take care of itself.
  5. Get back out there — in your own time. When you’re ready to take steps towards socialising again do so slowly. You may need a push, so arrange something you’d normally love to do, whether it’s dinner and a movie with your best friend or visiting a new abstract art exhibition. Whatever you choose to do, taking the time to get ready and get out may feel exhausting but will be worth it in helping your recovery along. Just make sure it’s on your own terms, that way it will feel like less of a chore and more fun.
  6. Don’t give up on yourself. You’re doing amazing.

Happy World Mental Health Day!

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