Let me begin this by saying I’m a huge fan of the new open way in which we are starting, little tiny baby steps starting, to talk about mental health – trying little by little to shake the taboo. Encouraging more people to open up about how they are feeling and be honest about when they are not feeling ok.
I myself have a mental health issue and I know what it feels like to not be ok.
I know what it’s like to feel as though the world is conspiring against you and I know how it feels to believe you’ve truly failed not only those you love, but also yourself. I also know how hard it is to admit to yourself and others that you’re not ok and to ask for help.
The self doubt, the negative voices you hear in your head, the ‘what if’s’, the panic, anxiety and depression all spiral around and it becomes a vicious circle. You know you want help, you want to feel better, but the fear you have of being judged, of letting people down more than you believe you already have, makes asking for help and admitting what you’re feeling even more difficult.
If this sounds like you, trust me you are not alone. Take a breath and read on.
It’s ok to not be ok
Roughly 1 in 4 people in the UK experience an issue with their mental health at any one time. So think of your friends, family and colleagues – that’s quite a number of them who may be experiencing something right now. For some it could be a passing issue, for others it’s a lifelong battle.
Amongst my friends, colleagues and family I have people experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, bi polar, bereavement, self esteems issues, low confidence and more. I know some are going through a particularly rough time now, but are normally ‘fine’ and other people where this struggle has been ongoing. For others it’s snuck up on them out of the blue and they are having to come to terms with a whole random set of thoughts and feelings they don’t know how to cope with.
I’ve had PTSD since 2002 and for me it’s something that’s always with me. Some days it’s tough – the anxiety, the self doubt, the flashbacks, the triggers, the panic, the need to be in control – then I go for periods of time, weeks and sometimes months, where I’m in control of it all and all my coping techniques are working and I feel stronger than ever. Then, when it comes back, it often hits me harder or in a different way, or it jumps out on me as a total surprise with no warning.
I think one of the hardest things we all have to do is recognise when we and others around us are not ok. We need to feel and truly believe that it’s ok to tell people that we’re not feeling ok.
So right now, if you’re not feeling ok, tell someone. You can come back to reading this another time – but drop someone a text, a message, pick up your phone and please tell someone. Start that conversation.
If you’re worried about telling someone you know, or perhaps you feel you don’t have someone you could confide in – dial this number from any phone 116 123 and a truly incredible volunteer with the Samaritans will answer your call. No judgement, just someone there to listen to you right now.
If you’d prefer to see someone face to face, call your GP and tell them you’re worried about your mental health and need to be seen or if you’re local to Bournemouth you can pop along to The Retreat at Hahnemann House in Bournemouth town centre which offers a drop in for anyone who is not feeling ok. They are open Monday to Thursday from 16:30-00:00 and Friday to Sunday from 18:30-02:00. The service is run by volunteers and mental health professionals are on site to offer support, guidance and help you to find the right support you may need.
Tell someone today if you’re not ok.
It’s ok to want to be ok
For a lot of people, the negative feelings we have are because we feel like we’re failing, we’re not good enough and we’re worried about what others are thinking or feeling about us. So I think it’s also really important to truly believe that it’s ok to want to be ok. It’s ok to want to be loved, appreciated and respected. It’s ok to want to have a job, a better job, be an amazing partner, parent, friend and colleague. It’s ok to want to feel calm, in control, relaxed, confident – certainly more than you may do right now.
Some of the time when we’re wrapped up in the spiral our mind is creating it’s hard to see the positives through all the negatives. We miss the compliments, we see and tell ourselves about things which may not actually be happening, we doubt what people are saying and we guess what they are thinking, we worry about what could happen – even if the likelihood of it happening is very small.
Beyond recognising that you’re not feeling ok, there has to be a driver to help you to move forward and we need to be able to acknowledge and accept that it really is ok to want to be ok. The way you are feeling right now doesn’t need to be the way you feel later, tomorrow, next week or next year and it’s ok to want to have the right support to ensure you feel ok.
It’s sadly very easy for people around us to not understand and dismiss how we’re feeling. They tell us we have nothing to worry about, or should be grateful for the life we have. BUT if you’re not feeling ok and you want to feel better than you do right now, then THAT is the only thing that matters.
There are so many incredible services available which are there to help you overcome and deal with whatever you are facing.
Some are available through your GP or by self-referral to services such as Steps 2 Wellbeing, others are private and chargeable.
There is no right route and there is no guarantee that the first person you meet and the first technique you learn may solve all your problems in an instant. I’ve learnt that I’m a constant work in progress. Some techniques I’ve used for years and they have served me well, others not so. Some things I know work for friends of mine, but they leave me feeling more anxious. We are all different and our feelings, experiences and circumstances vary – so it is about finding the right person, the right service and the right toolkit to help you to feel ok.
It’s ok to want to be more than just ok
For me, my goal with how I feel has never been to want to be just ok. I want to have more good days than bad. I want to have days where I feel truly amazing. I want to believe that’s possible and those highs will help carry me through the lows. I want to have a toolkit of techniques and strategies that will help me manage how I feel and live my life with my mental health issue being part of it, but not dominating it.
Social media and the way we use it I feel has a lot to answer for. It provides us with constant images of other people’s supposedly perfect lives. The holidays, the gifts, the smiles, the worlds that look nothing like our own. It has also meant that our fear of failure is potentially even worse that it was if we were simply left to our own thoughts without all these images. We compare ourselves more to people now than we ever have before. Comparisons that are largely built on fake foundations.
Think back to the beginning of this blog where I mentioned that 1 in 4 people in the UK on average is suffering from a mental health issue right now. So if you’re friends with 400 people on Facebook – potentially 100 of those are facing an issue. How many of them are talking about it? Sharing the reality of their day? Sharing the lows as well as the highs? Or are they, like the rest of us, simply choosing the right image to portray or even posting nothing at all in order to hide behind our prefect social media mask?
As I’ve mentioned, I have PTSD. I don’t talk about it on social media though – so I’m as guilty as anyone else of selectively choosing the right image to show the world. I’ll share the positives, the cute moments with my family – but it would be much harder to also share the moments of doubt, the insecurities, the times where I feel panicked. I don’t even know how I would show them or what I would say.
I’ve never been embarrassed by my PTSD and overall I think it’s helped me to become the person I am today and shaped the life I’ve led. It’s just become a part of who I am. But I’ve needed along the way to learn that it’s ok to not be ok, it’s absolutely essential when I’m not ok to tell someone. It’s also ok to want to be ok – no matter what it is that’s making me not feel ok. Plus the most powerful driver I have is my dreams and ambitions. I know that it’s ok to want to be more than just ok and that whatever that is, is my choice. My dreams, my aspirations, my hopes for the future are built around what is truly important to me and not by what I ‘see’ others doing, posting and saying.
I have to balance in the highs, the lows, the challenges my mental health throws at me, but I also need to embrace it, accept it, understand it, manage it and thrive regardless of it.