The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week, ‘Surviving or Thriving’, has been going round my head ever since I first heard about it a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve been sat here trying to decide on what to write. Do I write a post explaining how hard it can be to survive, at times, let alone thrive? Do I write about how cuts to mental health services have reached the point where many I know are struggling for the support they need to survive – with thriving being a distant memory and a seemingly impossible dream? Do I talk about the stigma and shame associated with decisions I’ve made, and things I have to do, to give myself a chance at survival in the hope that one day I might thrive?
I’ve decided against writing about any of those things. Some, I’m not really ready to write about. Others I feel too angry about at the moment to be able to form a coherent sentence. Apart from that, I don’t want this to turn into a ‘woe is me’ scenario.
I thought what I’d do this week, is share some of the things that help me thrive, in the hope that it might help others, too. Some of these things are still very new to me, and the things that help me thrive are forever evolving and changing. I’m also not necessarily thriving at the moment – I’m getting there, I’m trying my best, but it is going to take time. I am determined to get there, though. I’m sick of just surviving, it’s gone on long enough, it’s time I begin to focus on thriving.
A Safe Space
I have to have a safe space. For me, that’s my bedroom. I pop on my colour-changing lamp, have low-level music, multiple blankets, and a chance to breathe. It’s a place I can retreat to when the world feels too much, or when I need to cry. It’s a place where my true introvert/hermit self can be released and my brain can stop buzzing so much.
An Amazing GP Surgery
My GP surgery are brilliant. The staff are lovely and go out of their way to help me time after time.
The healthcare assistants are all lovely and make going for appointments feel less like a chore and more like catching up with a friendly person (with the slightly awkward addition of being stabbed with a needle/having sticky pads stuck on you). All of the GPs I’ve seen there have been patient, have given me time, and have made me feel safe and looked after. The GP I see most often knows me as well as anyone, and genuinely cares. She never rushes me, she communicates with me on my level, she listens, and she helps. I trust her implicitly.
Even the chemist (who aren’t associated with the GP, but I’ll pop them in here anyway) are so helpful and lovely. I walk in and they know me, they are kind, they are helpful, they are on top of all my prescriptions and they don’t make me feel like the inconvenience I often think I am.
Appreciating the Little Things
When you’ve had depression for a long time, you lose out on so much of the world. Emerging out of it is almost like emerging from a cave where you’ve been sat in the dark eating cold porridge for a number of months. You begin to notice little things that you haven’t seen before, things taste different, too. I try and hold onto the little things – my friend’s cat splatting itself on my lap, bubbles, the taste of Fanta zero fruit twist, etc., and try to use those things to carry me through the less good days/weeks.
My art journal is one of my favourite things at the moment. It started so small and prescriptive and it’s grown and evolved with me. I now do it daily – sometimes it’s quotes, sometimes it’s feelings, it usually involves paint.
Through doing it, I feel like a communication door has been opened to me. I’ve realised that I haven’t been communicating all that well with my GP (and services more generally) – not because I haven’t tried or haven’t wanted to, I just haven’t been able to. Some days, now, I sit down in front of a blank page with no clue what to paint or draw and it just sort of happens.
I still don’t feel like I’m communicating fully, I still feel very stuck at times and get very frustrated that I don’t have the words or the ability to express myself (just last week I sat in front of my GP and cried because it can be so lonely and frustrating when you feel locked off from the rest of the world), but it is helping. I take my journal to my GP each week now and we go through it. It’s becoming a really useful communication tool as well as helping me to express myself (and improving my artyfarty skills!).
Back To Basics
Some things I really struggle with when very low/anxious/buzzy, are the very basic ‘looking after yourself’ tasks. The teeth cleaning, hair washing, clothes-putting-on type of tasks. But in order to be the best person I can be, I need to get these basics straightened out a little. When everything feels up in the air and impossible to cope with, I try to wind it back and focus on the basic little tasks, then build up from there.
Being Inspired By People
There are certain people who really inspire me. Some are people I work with in both jobs (both colleagues and students), others are those around me who face battles every day that people know nothing about, and continue to smile and be kind despite it all. There are one or two people in the media who also give me hope. I think it’s really important to have these amazing people to look up to, and to be inspired by. They give me hope. They give me a reason to believe that I might be able to have a future.
Friends, family, and other amazing people
I’m lucky to have people around me who listen to me, craft with me, sit with me, drink tea with me, hug me, build me up and basically allow me to keep going. They allow me to cry, to laugh, to dream, to create and to believe. They prompt glimmers of ‘okay’, glimmers of ‘maybe I can have a future’ and glimmers of hope. They come in many forms of human and are all amazing; I don’t know where I’d be without them.
I am on a lot of medication for various things – much more than I’d like to be. However, without it, at the moment, I can’t function. It’s not an easy thing to accept, but it’s something I’ve had to accept because without it, I am an uncommunicative shell of a person who struggles to walk/talk/sleep/move/be. It’s not the best – it puts certain limits on my life and sometimes I want to throw it across the room, but in order to be the person I’m trying to be, at least for the time being, I have to take my meds. It’s non-negotiable.
I’ve always loved nature for walks, bike rides and photos. I’ve never been a gardening lover, mainly because I’m useless at it! Lately, I’ve done a bit of gardening and really enjoyed feeling the mud, making friends with worms, and connecting back in with the world around me. I’ve felt very claustrophobic lately because for a few reasons, I’m unable to walk much or cycle or run, but I’ve been working out other ways to get my nature fix. Even things like pootling down to the local garden centre and watching the fish have really helped. I think nature can show us the beauty that the world has to offer, and put our problems in perspective a little bit.
This is not something I’m good at, but it’s something I’m working on. I’ve always gone out of my way to do things for others, which is fine, until it reaches the point where it’s at the detriment to my own wellbeing.
Setting boundaries, for me, involves things like not replying to emails/social media the minute they arrive (whatever time of day that might be!), but turning my phone on silent, having a break from it, and setting time aside to replying to things instead. It’s things like saying no to meeting up with someone/someone coming over, if actually I’m really tired and need an early night, or have jobs to do, or need some peopleless time.
It’s really hard (and can often make me feel like crap in the short term), but I think it’s a really important thing to do and hopefully will begin to get a little easier as time goes ok.
I’ve said it before, but sleep routine, and sleep hygiene are so important. Our bodies get confused if we start going to bed at 9pm one night and 1am the next. They also get confused if we wake up at a vastly different time each day. Having similar sleep/wake times every day (including the weekends!) helps our bodies to know what’s going on and allows us to sleep better.
Taking Time Out
Never has taking time out felt more relevant than recently. I keep getting very ‘peopled out’, to the point where the noise of my breathing can make me cry because it hurts so much. In a world that expects immediate replies and a permanent connection to the internet, taking time out is so important. I turn my phone on silent, switch off, and just have time to wind-down and re-group. It’s something absolutely necessary to enable to be my best self at work, and in other areas of my life.
Trying To Work Out What *I* Want
I have spent so much of my life trying to be the person I thought everyone wanted me to be. I’ve chosen the subjects I’ve studied based on that, I’ve applied for jobs and volunteering based on that, I’ve based clothing choices, music choices, hair choices… pretty much everything, based on that. And it’s not made me happy, in fact it’s made me pretty miserable.
Lately, I’ve been slowly coming to the realisation that I can’t live that way anymore. It’s killing me. So, I have to start working out what *I* want, and following that as best I can. It’s not easy ay all, and it has and will upset people, but it’s essential I try to keep at it, or I’m never going to be happy.
I’m lucky to have some wonderful people around me who are helping me work out who I am and what I want (I might write a bit more about this at a later date), and it’s going to be a slow process, but I will get there. I have to.
I am in an incredibly lucky position to have two jobs which I love.
One is with the NHS, connecting people who’ve experienced mental illness to educational opportunities anywhere in York. We’re linked with Converge, who provide creative courses for people who’ve experienced mental illness. It’s an incredible job, my colleagues such a lovely bunch of people, and I’m constantly inspired by the people we work with. It’s such a forward-facing job, and we’re just constantly building each other up, which is a welcome relief from a world which seems to delight in tearing people down. I also get to use paint as part of my job sometimes – and you can never go wrong when covered in paint.
My other job is working for Blurt writing their blogs. Again, my colleagues are so lovely and kind. I learn new things about depression with every blog I write, and I’m beginning to enjoy the process of learning and discovering new things again – something I haven’t felt since my teens when the education system squished that curiosity and joy out of me in the name of achieving good grades.
So there’s a very disorganised bundle of things which help me thrive. Who help me to become the best person I can be. I’d love to hear the things which help others thrive – I feel like through sharing these things, we can give each other ideas of things to try and help each other to keep on thriving, rather than just surviving.