We're coming to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week so it felt like an appropriate time to finally write this post. I've wanted to talk about mental health in a more honest way for the past few months, but there's been one thing holding me back. Which is subsequently what this entire post is about. I'm so pleased that mental health is being spoken about more and more but it does worry me that people are becoming critical of their own well-being because it might not look like the stereotypical depiction of a mental health illness. So then they deem their symptoms not enough because it doesn't look like what's being spoken about and brush it to the side even when it's something that's really affecting them. So today I wanted to open up a conversation about mental health and why it's ok if yours looks different to someone else's.
IT'S NOT A CONTEST & EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
I could be completely alone in this feeling but so often when mental health is discussed it almost feels like there is a competition element to it, of whose might be worse. Of course, that's a generalisation and there is an incredible community online for mental health but sometimes there can be a lot of judgement there too. If there is one area of our lives where we don't need to compete and compare it's with the state of our minds. Just because someone else's symptoms or coping mechanisms might not look like the norm or what you do then that doesn't mean they should be discounted or ignored because all mental health struggles are serious no matter how big or small they might appear to someone else.
If we see that someone we believe to be fine from the outside come out and say that they're struggling and it's met with judgement and dismissal it's incredibly damaging. And it's easy to do because taking things at face value is all too easy but nothing is ever how it might look and deep down we probably all know that but snap judgements still cloud our brain. The best thing about the internet is that it lets us connect with others and there has never been a more important time to create a safe environment where people can speak openly and safely without the fear that they're going to be judged or compared.
WHY THE CONVERSATION IS SO IMPORTANT
When I was growing up, mental health wasn't something that was ever discussed. And I mean, never. It wasn't until I was 19 that I heard someone say they had anxiety and that's terrifying to think about now. There was talk around some eating disorders but we never learnt how serious they were and they were mostly thrown around as insults. I'm sure if you're a child who grew up in the 90's and early 00's you might be able to relate to this. My entire life I just thought my brain was 'normal' that everyone worried themselves sick or would go and check the door into double digit figures before leaving just in case. And it's taken me until the middle of my twenties to realise that they are problematic.
And whilst we have a huge way to go with mental health, in terms of discussion as well as it becoming more accepted in the world. We've come on leaps and bounds which is incredible for the upcoming generations. I'm so glad that they won't have to hear things like 'oh, he's just a bit funny in the head' because phrases like that are incredibly damaging and prevent people from getting the help that they more than likely really need. Talking about your struggle is so hard, it's something that is still so widely misunderstood and finding the people who you feel comfortable to talk to is a whole other issue. But we're making good progress and not only making people more aware of mental health but making them aware that MH illnesses come in such a huge array of shapes and sizes and no-one goes through the same thing is integral.
IT'S NOT A ONE SIZE FITS ALL TYPE OF DEAL
If you struggle with mental health or know someone who does then they've probably had to deal with somebody saying 'oh you must do this then'. And that's not the case...
- OCD doesn't always look like someone needs to constantly clean.
- Depression doesn't always look like not leaving the house.
- Panic attacks don't always involve hyperventilating.
- Anxiety doesn't always make you feel panicked.
- Tic disorders aren't always vocal.
And that's just a small example, of course, there are so many mental health disorders. We live in a world of stereotypes and it's easy to understand why as it makes it easy for others to put us into a neat little box in their mind. But we all come in different shapes and sizes and so do our mental health struggles. And I do believe that when your mental health doesn't look like what other people are talking about it can be problematic as it makes those people feel inferior or that theirs isn't as serious as someone else. Which isn't the case at all.
WE ALL HAVE OUR OWN COPING MECHANISMS
Just like mental health doesn't come in a one size fits all type of deal the same goes for how we cope with it. Here are things I've found to work incredibly well for me and the things that haven't;
THINGS THAT HAVE HELPED
- Being honest and open with the right people and not sugar coating how I'm actually feeling.
- Making room for it in my life whilst not letting it take over.
- Taking time out when it's really necessary, it doesn't have to be days. Just a couple of hours can work well.
- Learning and educating myself.
- Cutting back on refined sugar.
- Not working until I burn out.
WHAT HASN'T WORKED FOR ME
These are two things that are mostly recommended when it comes to mental health and some people have had incredible results with both of them. And just because something doesn't work for you it's so important not to discount it or write it off for others.
PLACES WHERE MENTAL HEALTH IS DISCUSSED ONLINE
I'd really love to know any thoughts you have on mental health