A reminder on RUOK? Day

Today is RUOK? Day in Australia, a day all about suicide prevention. It’s a day that’s pretty important because it is dedicated to trying to break down a stigma that can sometimes seem impenetrable.

For the mental health community it’s a day to show how strong we are. No matter how uncomfortable the conversations around mental health may be, we’re still pushing towards breaking the stigma.

For me it is a day to reflect on how far I’ve come in my own battles with mental health. It reminds me just how brave I am and how much resilience I’ve developed over the past few years. It reminds me that I am lucky because I’ve never tried to take my own life.

However, to say that I’ve never thought about taking my own life would be a lie.

Fortunately, I’ve always been able to dismiss the thoughts by remembering how my decision could affect those around me.

But not everyone is that lucky.

There are some people so clouded by the emptiness they feel and so consumed by how much they want to stop feeling anything that taking their own life is the only option and unfortunately we are still losing people to mental illness every single day.

We lose fathers and brothers and other young men who are constantly told they shouldn’t show their emotions because it doesn’t fit the notion of ‘being a man’. We lose those in the LBTQI community because they are so tired of being discriminated against everyday. We lose young people who are feeling so empty and alone and vulnerable but are too afraid to reach out because they don’t want to be called attention seekers.

We have these beautiful people taken from us by a terrible but preventable illness because they feel like no one cares.

We are reminded today to be kind. To reach out and talk to the people in your life. To accept people. To try and understand what they are going through and to stop stigmatising mental health.

But to be honest, it’s going to take more than just a day of asking if someone is okay. We need to make an effort to be kinder, to be more accepting and to reach out and check in everyday with those we know are struggling.

I encourage you to reach out today, and everything other day, to a loved one, a parent, a sibling, a friend or a colleague and ask if they are actually okay. And if they aren’t then listen.

To anyone who is struggling, I want to remind you that you don’t always have to be strong. You don’t always have to have everything together. It really is okay not to be okay.

And to anyone who feels like they can’t do it anymore, I encourage you to reach out and talk to someone. It might not be an easy conversation, but it is the most important one you may ever have. Even thought it seems like you’re alone in the world, there is someone out there who cares, and who wants you to share the burden of your pain with them.

So if you only take away one thing from today, it should be this. One conversation could change someones life – yours or theirs.

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Don’t let it destroy you.

Hi world. Long time no blog post.

I haven’t deliberately been ignoring my blog (or the pages of my notebooks) its just that every time I pick up a pen to write or open my blog to a new post, my brain just goes blank.

Maybe blank isn’t actually the right way to describe it. It’s more fuzzy; the thoughts are there and I can make sense of it in my head but when I try to get them out they get stuck and jumbled and I can’t get anything decent or worth reading out.

Writers tend to refer to this as writers block – the inability for one to create any new work. The cause of writers block usually come down to some kind of pressure, either from a looming deadline or pressure from oneself or the lack of inspiration or creativity around a topic. Somewhat of a disinterest in the topic you are writing about.

I have no deadlines. I am not disinterested in the topics I am writing about. There is certainly no lack of inspiration – I am living the subjects that I’m talking about.

So maybe it comes down to pressure. The pressure to create perfect blog posts. The pressure to post regularly. The pressure to write for other people, not for myself. But why, I hear you ask. Why do I place so much pressure of myself when no one really cares how much I post or what I post? Heck, how can I even be sure how much of what I write is read by the outside world?

Ultimately I think it comes down to being engulfed by the concept of being perfect – to seek a version of myself that is seemingly unobtainable.

It’s funny isn’t it? Perfectionism is a trait that so many people desire but for me it’s the cause of so much unhappiness and self loathing. The idea of not being able to do things to the standard that I want sends me into a spiral of panic. It leads me to procrastinate which also sends my anxiety skyrocketing. This makes simple tasks such as writing a blog post seem like incredibly daunting activities.

I know I cannot be the as perfect as the person I’ve created in my mind and pushing myself to that standard is damaging – mentally and physically. It’s stripping the joy from so many things that I once took solace in. Writing. Exercise. Food. Everything has become a competition and yet I’m only competing against myself, or the ‘perfect self’ my brain has created. And yet no matter how hard I try to stop that voice in the back of my mind reminding me how important it is to do things perfectly, I just can’t.

But I can do something else. I can persist. I can ignore the voice in my head telling me I must be perfect. I can keep writing, no matter how many times I hit delete on a sentence. I can keep reminding myself that it’s okay not to be perfect (in fact, there is no such thing). I can keep rolling with the punches.

I can keep living, no matter how hard it seems and how alone I feel.

 

Exhaustion.

There is one overwhelmingly negative aspect to having a mental illness. This is obviously aside from the whole other range of negative things such as the multitude of symptoms of a mental illness, side effects that come from medication and ridiculously emotional therapy sessions. But I digress…

The very worst thing about mental illness is that it is exhausting.

The energy that it takes every day. The energy it takes to survive. The feelings of sadness and worry and that feeling that’s worse than sadness that you can’t quite explain that physically drain you. That anxiety that keeps you on edge and then sends you crashing down from the most euphoric high. The racing heart. The sweaty palms. The brain that can’t stop overthinking everything. The need to control everything and plan and go over every detail again and again. It quite literally takes the life from you.

But the most exhausting part? 

Pretending.

Pretending that none of this is going on. Pretending that your heart isn’t beating a million miles an hour and that you aren’t sweating through another shirt. Pretending that you aren’t thinking about something you said three weeks ago. Pretending that being surrounded by strangers and acquaintances and friends doesn’t terrify you still.  Pretending that you didn’t break down again last night. Pretending that you weren’t on the edge of hurting yourself for the first time in months.

The most exhausting part of mental illness is the mask you put on every single fucking day to hide your real self from the world, and really, to hide from yourself.

It’s a mask made up of so many different elements. It’s the makeup that covers up the sleepless nights because of the nightmares and panic attacks. The smile permanently pasted on your face to hide the fear of not being liked or wanted or loved.

It’s the mask that makes playing pretends so much easier. And for a little while I can trick my own brain into thinking everything is okay.

Playing pretend used to be fun. And now it is a part of my life.

But why should it be? Why do I need to present a perfect, happy, smiling face day in and out? Is it because I’ve been convinced by society that I need to hide things I am ashamed of? But what should I be ashamed of?

I am sick. I have a condition that affects the way my brain works. It might always be there but it does not have to define me. I don’t want to feel ashamed. I don’t want to play pretend. I don’t want to hide behind a mask that has been there for as long as I can remember. I want to feel okay about my mental illness and realise how strong and resilient and fearless it has made me, because if I can get through the darkest moments what is stopping me from getting through everything else? I want everyone else to understand that is okay not to hide and not to pretend and most of all its okay not to be okay.

Most of all I don’t want to be exhausted anymore. Because honestly, I am sick and tired of it.

 

Self care tips – the non cutesy kind.

When you go through a shitty time the first thing anyone will tell you is that you need to take care of yourself.

But what does self care really mean? I think people sometimes think that self care just means lighting some candles, having a long bath, drinking a glass of wine or going to a day spa (all of which are very nice) but for the people that are really struggling self care can mean so much more.

Sometimes I think we need to dig a little deeper than a Pinterest quote or a Lush bath bomb.

So if your feeling down, or if you’ve just had your heartbroken, or you are grieving here are some non cutesy self care tips. I hope they help.

Talk it out or write it down.
Tell someone about how you feel. Tell them you feel overwhelmed or depressed or anxious. Tell someone you trust. Call Lifeline or beyondblue. There is always someone to listen no matter how small or insignificant the issue seems.
Sometimes it is hard to talk about something going on in our lives. We may feel like there is no one to talk too, that no one will understand or maybe you just don’t want to talk about it right now. In this case it always helps to write down your thoughts. Get a blank piece of paper and just VENT. Write it all down. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? As long as it is therapeutic for you.

Breathe.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Slow. Deep. 4 breaths in, 4 breaths out. If you’re into meditation, meditate. Just do it. Taking a few deep breaths will calm your heartbeat and make you feel more calm overall.

Vitamin D.
Go outside and get some sunshine! If you can’t will yourself to go outside, even opening the curtains on a dark room will help improve your mood. Only 15 minutes of sunshine can increase our serotonin levels thus improving our mood.

Water.
Have a big class of water. Use it to regenerate yourself. It may seem like a small thing, but it always helps me feel so much better when I’m feeling crap. I also find having a mug of green or chamomile tea helpful. Both just make me feel so calm.
Your skin will also thank you for it!

Hygiene.
When was the last time you showered? Have you brushed your teeth today?  When was the last time you put on a fresh pair of underwear? The first thing that tends to slip when we’re feeling low is our hygiene. So have a shower. Brush your teeth. Get into a fresh pair of clothes. Then get back into bed.

Eat a healthy meal.
Put aside the family block of chocolate and prepare a healthy meal. You know the one, full of protein and greens and all the good things. I can guarantee you that junk food is not going to make you feel better. The action of preparing food will also make you feel more put together (it’s the act of achieving something!) You can always eat the chocolate later.

Say no.
I know, I know. This isn’t as easy as it sounds but sometimes the main reason that you are feeling so down and depressed is because you’re feeling overwhelmed. In this instance you really need to start saying no to things you really can’t deal with. Can’t bring yourself to go out with friends? Say no if you think it will help.

Do something you enjoy.
Take a day to do the things you love to do. It doesn’t matter if you do it alone or with someone just makes sure it’s things you love. Personally, I like to go for a long walk, read a book I’ve been putting off, visit a museum or art gallery and take myself out for a meal.

Switch off.
Take some time to log off social media. The constant comparisons, the light of the screen and the mindless scrolling is not good for your mental health. Don’t completely switch off from social media (unless you really want), just delete the app for a few hours or limit yourself to checking your phone a few times a day.

Get active.
This can come into the Vitamin D point or even in the Do something you enjoy point but I also think it deserves its own. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is go do some exercise. This might mean a walk, a run, yoga or a Kayla Itsines workout (whatever floats your boat!) Just 30 minutes of exercise can release so many good hormones and leave you feeling so much better.

De-clutter.
When I get stressed I clean, it helps calm me down and focus on something other than the anxiety rising in my chest. But when I’m feeling low, cleaning is the first thing I stop doing. For me, decluttering or cleaning an area in my house is one of the MOST therapeutic things I can do. So take a moment to tidy up a space. It could mean doing the dishes and wiping down the benches. It could mean putting away your floordrobe. It might just be sorting out the pile of mess gathering on the kitchen table.

Please remember these things may not work for everyone – they are what works for me. You may need to find your own ways of coping. You might be the kind of person who does find that watching netflix all day in bed is good for your self care (I am so jealous!) Self care is all about what works for you. 

-M xo

What things do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed? Tell me in the comments below. 

So, what’s it like living with social anxiety?

Did you know that 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety throughout their lifetime? Specifically, anxiety will affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men.

There are a number of different types of anxiety – generalised anxiety, social phobia, specific phobias, OCD, panic disorders and post traumatic stress disorders. The reasons that people experience anxiety are endless – family history, personality, traumatic events, ongoing stressful situations.. The list goes on.

So, what is it like living with anxiety? Or more specifically, social anxiety? Well I can’t speak for everyone with an anxiety disorder but this is how it’s like for me.

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety in 2015. It wasn’t until I found a decent psychologist that it was actually found to be social anxiety – an anxiety disorder that specifically relates to a fear of most social situations. According to the psychologist I’ve had anxiety and depression for a number of years, dating back to when I started high school.

For me the anxiety developed as a result of a few things.

1. My personality and family history – I am a complete perfectionist. I always have been. I never really saw it as an issue until it was explained to me how closely linked it was with my anxiety.

2. Other mental health issues – my anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. Which, if you happen to experience either one or even both, is a bloody huge struggle.

3. Prolonged stressful environments – hello relationship breakdowns, being cheated on and simultaneous trust issues, having your parents move state. There is tonnes more things I could mention here, but that’d be a whole other blog post.

Back to the point of this post – what is it like living with social anxiety?

For me, this changes day to day. Sometimes my anxiety levels are so bad that I attempt to avoid every single social situation I can. This makes things like going to work, going to the supermarket or even talking to my housemate extremely difficult. And sometimes the anxiety is barely there.

My anxiety has definitely been tested at the moment. I’ve just moved to a new town, started a new job and had to learn what it’s like to be away from your main support network. It’s hard, especially when you are terrified of most social situations.

There can be bad days.

On the bad days I can have as many as 10 panic attacks in a day. This may not seem like a huge number, but for someone with anxiety it is pretty scary.

On the bad days my heart rate sits at an increased rate. I sweat a lot. I constantly fidget. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else except the negative thoughts going on in my head – things like: “don’t ask that question, they’ll think you are dumb,” or “why are people staring at me? Did I do something wrong?”

On the bad days I second guess everything. I worry about needing to get my work done but procrastinate because I can’t start anything as I’m terrified it will be wrong. I’m scared to ask questions to my managers or colleagues because I fear I’ll be judged.

On the bad days I can text love ones multiple times if they don’t reply. I need the constant reassurance from my boyfriend that he loves me and needs me. My mind races if the response to a text or an email is not instantaneous.

“Has something happened?”
“Why won’t they reply?”
“What did I do wrong?”

I essentially shut down and yet from the outside I seem fine. Unless you notice the fidgeting, the inability to sit still, the need to be doing something with my hands at all times. Despite the fear inside there is constantly a smile on the outside.

But then there can be good days.

The good days are managing to go have brunch with friends, go out for drinks. It is being able to socialise in general.

The good days are the days without panic attacks, sweaty hands, a heart that beats too quickly. It is the smile that I can believe. Being able to concentrate on work and not having an underlying fear that I am going to muck things up.

The good days are not second guessing everything or everyone. They are the days without the nagging voice inside my head, the questions going over and over again.

I definitely wouldn’t say that at the moment my weeks are an equal split between the good days and bad days – it is definitely more 70% bad, 30% good. But what I am trying to say is that it is possible to have both. People who have these debilitating mental illnesses can struggle to see out the other side (and I can say this honestly because I have been there). With the correct treatments and help there is the chance to get better and to somewhat function day to day.

The correct treatment for me may be different from someone else who deals with these challenges. I personally rely on both my amazing psychologist and antidepressants. I also have a strong support network, I journal, I exercise and I meditate. I have tried to find balance.

I think if you are someone who also experiences a mental illness it is important to remember it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it is a messy and scary storm. What helps is putting one foot in front of another and having tactics to deal with the bad day.

If you were troubled by this post or experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636 or visit lifeline.org.au or beyondblue.com.au