Friday, 12 May 2017

Here's to tough weeks and perseverance...

Okay, so this week is mental health awareness week. You're probably thinking 'oh no. Not another post on mental health'. But I love weeks like this. Weeks that highlight mental health make me happy and comfortable. It's as though there are these days and weeks throughout the year where it is more socially acceptable to admit that you're struggling with anxiety, depression, and similar conditions.

I cannot stress enough how important raising awareness of these issues is. There is so much stigma that still surrounds them and I do not know why. I am sure that a lot of people would consider themselves to have a good standard of awareness of mental health issues. But I very much beg to differ. If we were as aware as we needed to be, then the world would not need shows like Thirteen Reasons Why. I have been so many pictures, tweets, and posts this week, and I started writing this post on Monday. I have read so much that the world has posted in support of this week. And it has made me feel so very happy and supported and I wanted to join in. I found Matt Haig the best at putting things into words.  This particular tweet was my favourite. It really sums me up as a person and I was very grateful for it. Matt Haig has a wonderful habit of making me feel very normal (I still hate this word).

I am much more open about my mental health than I used to be. When I was younger I couldn't even imagine being in a position where I wasn't hurting myself on a daily basis, never mind being able to reflect upon this so positively. Apparently being this open is a tad unusual and my lecturer informed me that I am much more open than he was at my age. But I had a teacher in high school that used to tell me that my experiences would one day come in useful. I don't know whether they are useful, per say. But I am not ashamed anymore. So why not write about it? I see no sense in hiding something that has contributed to my character. I would like to note that they have contributed, not defined, however.

I suppose you could count what I did this week as research. And I discovered something that I know I am very guilty of. I often separate my mental health from my physical health. But I think we all do! Okay, so if I get a cold it's a physical condition and it's just a cold. But if I'm having a day in which panic attacks are frequent, even though they physically affect me, I refer to it as a 'bad mental health day' or something alike. I wish that it were socially acceptable to state that 'I am having a bad anxiety day'. However frequent, or extensive these periods are, I would sure as hell be grateful for the opportunity and room in which to say it. Mental Health is more important, I think, than the majority think. In some places and situations, I do feel comfortable sharing. I have a wonderful group of friends at university, and I know I could turn to Chelsey or Lauren at any point and inform them of my anxiety. I am grateful for this. I just wish that I could do this more widely, and that other people could.

I have a friend at work who suffers with small bouts of anxiety. A couple of weeks ago we started to refer to these sudden, sometimes unexplainable, bouts as 'having a Walter'. Now, having a Walter can refer to anything from the smallest feeling of anxiety to the biggest panic attack one can have in the middle of a shift. Even if this friend and I do not share what is bothering us or what's caused the anxiety/panic, it is very helpful to be able to share what I am feeling and have somebody understand. More often than not, we hug and go about our shifts. This definetly makes me feel better and makes things more bearable. I know that it seems silly that the smallest acts of kindness can have the most impact, but it's true. It's the little things.

I know that I talk about self love and care a lot these days. But not so long ago I realised how important they were to prolonging a period of good mental health. Right now, self love for me is binge watching some series on Netflix in my room and eating some good food. Tonight, my poison is Pretty Little Liars and iced buns. I understand that it isn't always easy to provide love and care for your body, especially with a mental illness. But I also understand that because of this, it's important that I recognise my own small victories. I know that I am way too hard on myself, all the time. I am my toughest critic and I had another high school teacher that used to say that I was guilty of catastrophizing situations. This was my biggest problem. But now, at twenty years old, I would like to think I am better at being rational.

I know that I do not give myself or my body enough credit, and weeks such as these remind me that I am wrong for this. My body does a great job in keeping me going, and after the shit I have put it through it really deserves some love. As soon as my exams are over in six days time, I will be exercising regularly and eating properly and maybe even sleeping a bit better. I can't wait.

But I wish that more people knew that healing is the furthest thing from linear. I wish I could have planned out my recovery from self harm. I wish it had been smoother. It sounds clich├ęd but life does not work like that and recovery doesn't either. Some days are always going to be harder than others, whether you are recovering form something or coping with anxiety and/or depression. But the best advice I can give to anybody is to be gentle with themselves. Any mental health condition can make a person feel alone but it is so so important to remember that you're not. I think here is a good time to drop in one of my favourite Jennifer Niven quotes:

“Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader” 

If you're into poetry, then Rupi Kaur has a hell of a lot to say about self love and in some ways has inspired me. Also, I wholeheartedly recommend The Mighty! It has so much on there including personal accounts of experiences with mental illness and that help me feel a little bit more normal. (A few paragraphs down, still hating that word!) I know that I suggested Rupi Kaur and The Mighty but I wanted to share a picture of helpful books. Of course I am going to recommend both of Jennifer Niven's young adult novels. But there are books such as Liz Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, Gayle Forman's I Was Here, Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive, Holly Bourne, The Bell Jar and even The Catcher in the Rye.

I guess what I've been trying to say in this post is that I am not okay. I am not okay more than I care to admit. But that is okay. I am not a failure, or a mess, or crazy because of it.

This week is tough for me and full of varying degrees of Walters for a number of reasons. But most deadlines and a lack of sleep. I am getting there though and every day that I do a little bit of prep for my exam is an achievement. I was really happy with my Shakespeare essay. Who knows what it will come back as though. Honestly the terms feel so so short these days and that does not help with anxiety.

Okay, last couple of things before I return to my university work. If you can do one thing consistently, then be kind. It can save lives. If you can remember one thing, it should be that you are not alone and you are worth more than you think.

We must step away from this sickening ignorance and stop the stigma.

To all of you having a tough week, students and beyond, you can do this.

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