CONTENT WARNING – Mental health, anxiety, depression
The story of my mental health journey isn’t a short one (no one’s is) and I don’t want to unpack all of my issues here all at once, so I’ll start slowly with a bit of background, and my interim guide to feeling a bit better and soldiering on.
2016 and most of 2017 were pretty horrific for me. I was caught in a spiral of undiagnosed anxiety, low self-esteem and mild depression. I’m not sure what the sliding scale of mild to severe looks like and I’m not a healthcare professional, so I’ll just say I felt pretty shit about myself most of the time, the drop of a hat could set off a panic attack, I wasn’t eating properly and I cried all the time.
“Chin up.” I lost count of how many times, from how many people and in how many ways this was said to me in that time. As advice goes, it’s probably the most British thing you can hear. It’s right up there with “Get Over It”, “Don’t Worry” and “Time Is A Healer”. They can all “Fuck off”. But actually… try it. Tip your head up just a little. Breathe in. Breathe out. Do that again. Keep doing it.
Look forward. Not back, not down, forward. Physically look in front of yourself. See what’s there, notice it. Think about it, turn it over in in your mind. Take yourself away from the Thing. Mentally, imagine a time before the Thing, I know – this is technically looking back, but there’s a point. The point is you didn’t always feel this way, so there’s now no reason to think you always will. Now look forward again, the Thing will pass and you’ll still be able to remember it, but you won’t feel it like this, it’ll be like looking at an old picture and you can’t quite remember where it was taken.
Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Again. And again. And again. Count it. Count the number of seconds you breath in, then count them back out. Concentrate on it. It surprised me when I started counting my breath how quickly I forgot about the Thing. My heart stopped racing, my throat opened up again. It works in the moment when the Thing threatens to overwhelm you.
It’s especially useful at work if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like crying at their desk. It never really bothered me. I cried at my desk all the time, for about two years. People in offices are very good at pretending not to notice. On buses too – it’s one of the things I was grateful for in London, being able to sob openly on a bus in private.
Smile. In the mirror. Force it on, even with tears on your cheeks, even though it looks more like a grimace, pull it on with your hands if you must, but do it. Do it several times a day, when you’re alone, when you feel the worst, smile anyway. Let your face know that the muscles are still working. One day those muscles will work themselves and you’ll be so glad you didn’t let your face forget how.
Be Brave. I know it’s a bit vague, I’m not even really sure what it means, but it was my mantra. I said it to myself at least 20 times a day for two, maybe three years. Get a mantra. You can use mine if you like, it’s not copywritten. Use whatever words connect you to the ground. Could be “Be Brave”, could be “Chin Up”, could be song lyrics, or someone’s name, or something your granny used to say to you (get your shoes off the couch, stop annoying the dog). Say it out loud. Remind yourself there are other things, outside of this feeling, outside of the Thing.
Part of Being Brave is talking about the Thing. Tell someone in person, or call them, text it to them, put it on your Instagram story. Say it out loud. Tell a stranger, sometimes it’s easier. Tell me, I won’t even write about it. Unless you ask me to, in which case I’m happy to help you tell your story. Sometimes helping someone else is the thing we need to help ourselves. It helps us stop thinking about the Thing, and it’s often easier to Be Brave for someone else than it is for ourselves.
There it is, my short guide to feeling a bit better. It’s not a replacement for dealing with the Thing, but it’s how I made it through the time before someone who loves me told me I needed proper professional help.
Look forward. Breathe, Smile and Be Brave.
It’s important to point out here that I am not an expert on mental health. What I’ve described here are the things that worked for me, in the hope that they might help you feel a little bit better in the moment, but they’re in no way intended to replace professional support (and medication if you’ve been prescribed).
If you think you need help with a mental health issue, make an appointment with your GP, dial 111 or call the Samaritans. If you feel you’re in immediate life-threatening danger from a mental health emergency, please call 999 right away.
If you feel you’re in immediate life-threatening danger, call 999 now.
Here are some additional resources;