We live in a time where people keep talking about the importance of mental health awareness and the need to ‘be kind’.
Yet, as soon as people find the courage to speak out about their own struggles with mental health, some suddenly feel justified in denying them their lived experience and even engaging in bullying behaviour.
When Meghan Markle spoke to Oprah about how isolated and even suicidal she’d felt when seemingly living the life of a princess, lots of white people were quick to deny any hint of racism in a family who are a living monument to the British Empire rather than accepting the invitation to explore, evolve and be better.
Simone Biles has also endured some ridiculous judgments from people who can’t possibly understand what it’s like to hurtle through the air and make it look easy for well over a decade. Let alone the othering she’s endured, the trauma she’s survived and more. But her position is already well established as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and I imagine that in possibly saving her own life this week (recognising the danger of continuing when she had the ‘twisties’), she’s possibly saving the life of countless others who’ll take inspiration from her courage and do what’s right for them rather than literally risking life and limb.
When I needed to involve others in my efforts to seek support for my own mental health, I was really fortunate to have an understanding boss. I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d encountered any pressure from her to carry on working regardless (I couldn’t have but that pressure would have made recovery harder). Let alone pressure from the world at large.
I hope the ideas in this post will help you prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing. No matter what external pressures you face. You matter.
Get to know yourself
What helps you know you’re experiencing GOOD mental health?
Often, we only pay attention when something is wrong. By getting to know what contributes to your enjoyment of good mental health and wellbeing rather than simply not thinking about it when it’s not a problem, you’ll be able to become a bit of a detective into what helps you, what doesn’t, and ways to recognise the warning signs at a much earlier stage.
This is more challenging for complex trauma survivors as it’s a matter of building brand new experiences of feeling good but it CAN be done. You can develop a range of resources to make life not just bearable but enjoyable.
When do you find it easy to concentrate and focus? When is your self talk kindest? When are you happiest? When do you feel most like yourself?
Know that you’re not alone
While Meghan was alone in her unique position, she had an understanding, loving husband to help her navigate the challenges. While Simone was the only (open) survivor of the hideous abuse by the team doctor who should have been helping rather than preying on hundreds of US gymnasts over such a long time at the Tokyo Olympics, she at least had experienced support from her teammates in the past and can hopefully still access that and much more.
You might have colleagues in similar situations to you. Maybe your support will need to come from outside. Either way, we need others to help us heal
You might want to make a list of all the support you WISH you had, in an ideal world. While it might feel sad in terms of any gulfs between this and your actual support network, it will also give you useful insights into ways in which you can make the most of your current situation.
Stop pushing yourself
Even for a minute.
You are not expendable. There’s only one you.
Whatever the pressures, they can be dealt with but give yourself a moment to let the treadmill of life slow down even if it feels impossible to step off without hurting yourself. Simone Biles has given the entire world an example of having the courage to say, Enough.
I remember worrying that I’d lose my job because I needed to see my doctor. The couple of weeks of being signed off with anxiety gave me space to think (and ultimately set up my coaching and complementary therapy practice as well as becoming a freelance journalist back in 2004).
Writing this, I realise that it sounds like it was an easy process, it wasn’t at ALL. But because my mind had FORCED me to seek help, it turned into an amazing gift and ultimately led to work and a life that I adore.
You only have one body. You only have one mind. When you prioritise your mental health and start feeling better, life and work will feel EASIER.
Access all available support
Maybe it’s time with a friend or loved one. Maybe a few of them. Maybe it’s therapy. You might be able to access it through your GP or an EAP through work. It might be private.
It might be a group. It might be a matter of phoning a confidential listening service. It might be a matter of going to your local emergency room.
Mental health support is essential yet woefully underfunded. You might be reading this thinking you can’t afford a therapist. I wish I could work with everyone who gets in touch with me but my practice is pretty much at capacity.
The Feel Better Every Day online membership programme isn’t right for everyone but it enables me to support more than I can through one to one work. You can also access an enormous range of free resources via the site and there’s the book, 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing
Explore the local and specialist support groups that are available for you. Be as gentle and protective of yourself as you’d be of anyone else you saw struggling.
Know that you’re worthy of support. Know that you deserve to feel better!
Identify what makes your heart sing
Simone Biles’ joy in gymnastics is what’s made the world (I’m Indian Irish, London born, now living in Ireland) warm to her. From her memoir, The Courage to Soar, and interviews she’s given over the years, as well as the joy that radiated from her during so many of her gravity defying routines, I hope that she’s able to connect with the singing heart JOY of gymnastics for herself and, should she ever choose to compete again, for us viewers.
Joy is her, and your, birth right. Joy makes a wonderful GPS for as many life and work decisions as possible. Perhaps you had turned your joy into work but now feel pressure around making music, writing or whatever it is.
What, right now, makes your heart sing? Find one thing (making learning to cook something you’ve never cooked before. Maybe something completely different) and you can build on that.
It might be a matter of giving yourself permission to be terrible at something you’ve always wanted to try (painting? DIY?) Notice the things that make your heart sing (or even lift a teeny tiny little bit) as well as what makes it feel heavier.
Remember that you’re so much more than your struggles
It might be too soon, things might feel too painful, to even ask yourself what lessons you might be learning, what emotional muscles you might be growing, what’s emerging from this situation at a soul level
Even so, remembering that there’s so much more to you than this issue can bring comfort and help you connect with the divinity in yourself, in nature and all around.
Simone Biles posted a beautiful and also sad message today and I’m delighted for her that she’s now experienced this love, care, acceptance and good will (she’s well able to ignore anyone who doesn’t deserve her attention or energy).
You might not know how you’ll ever connect with the part of yourself that is more than the traumas you’ve survived, insomnia, stress and anxiety but even giving space to the notion of yourself as a drop in the ocean or a star in the galaxy – unique and whole by yourself and part of something much greater – can bring a sense of comfort and strength.
Let your body move you
If you’re used to overriding how you feel and what you need to train hard, it might be about allowing rest.
If you’re used to being sedentary and hate the idea of any kind of exercise, it might be connecting with your inner cat and simply allowing yourself to stretch and find comfort in the warmth, shade or anything else that helps you feel a little better in any given moment.
Maybe you want to play something angry, cheerful or tear inducing (or any other emotion you want to give yourself permission to feel) and let yourself move, maybe even dance, around the living room. Maybe you want to curl up with a hot water bottle and let yourself wallow. Perhaps you want to do something more strenuous to burn off some stress hormones or build confidence and strength in your own wonderful, miraculous body.
Honour whatever your body needs and wants from you and learn to better understand its signals.
Find routines that support your mental health and wellbeing
For some people, self care is about indulgence and pampering. For me, it started out as an ongoing effort to save my own life.
Now it’s about maintaining feeling better than I ever have before.
Routines help make nourishing ourselves more habitual and sustainable. Think about the things that you do automatically when all is well and that feel like more of a struggle when times are tougher.
Your self care and mental health needs may be completely different.
You know what’s right for you
Self care and prioritising mental health is much simpler than many think. It’s about honouring what you need and want and trusting that you KNOW what you need and want.
Ask that highest, wisest, truest, most miraculous part of yourself right now and let yourself be surprised by all you already know.
I hope this post has helped you get a better sense of what you need right now and that you always remember that you matter, your mental health and wellbeing matters and that you deserve to feel better.