Mental health awareness week: There’s never been a better time to be open

What can I say about mental health and my experiences?

Gosh, it’s been such a journey. When you’re used to dealing with adversity, you almost create a barrier around yourself that leaves you numb from feeling. This is what makes it difficult at times to talk about your state of mind. The reality is, if you fail to acknowledge your thoughts and your feelings and ignore the impact this could have, you will not be able to recognise when you’re spiralling.

Many of us only realise things have gotten out of control when we reach that cliff edge. Ok, I’m going to get a tad dramatic and philosophical but stick with me… It’s common to hear from people who’ve had a near death experience say their life ‘flashed before their eyes’. In that one moment, decades become condensed into milliseconds.

The openness around mental health in the recent times is refreshing and well overdue. Serious issues such as suicide, substance abuse, criminal activity are all symptoms of mental health. Too often, mental health has come with an overbearing stigma which leads to individuals being ignored, judged or even chastised when revealing their struggles. In past times, society hasn’t had the time to deal with this issue – basically, you’d better get over it, participate in toxic positivity, and dare not rustle any feathers. Only those experiencing difficulties and the people close to them, see the devastating impact that this approach has in reality.

Charities such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness work tirelessly to shout call out these destructive views and remind us that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.

My regular readers are about to call me a broken record because I’m about to talk about George Floyd again. I won’t apologise for this; the day we saw the callousness of George’s murder was a turning point in my life. For black people, that moment showed us that if we didn’t stop and acknowledge the true vulnerability that surrounds us, any of us could be George at any point in our lives.

Gone were the strategies of staying ‘strong’ and active pretence, it was time to take control. George made many of us realise just how much we’d been dangerously flirting with that cliff edge and only when we saw his life stolen in front of us, did our own lives flash before our eyes. Any one of us could have been George. For me, all that I’d consciously and unconsciously suppressed over my lifetime bubbled to the surface.

My mental health was tested to its ultimate. Compounded by Covid and other factors (which I have shared with you in the past), I experienced my first (and hopefully my last) mental breakdown. I was lost, broken and unrecognisable. Let me just tell you, losing your identity is one of the scariest things you could ever go through. I can only explain mental health challenges from my own experience, but for the first time, I saw how easy it is for things to go horribly wrong.

I nearly lost my career, which is such a huge part of my life; I wasn’t able to care for my children in the way I always had; and I couldn’t bear to speak to anyone. If it wasn’t for having a rock solid support network, I don’t know where I’d be today.

I learned so much from my own situation; I want to share some of the nuggets I picked up that may help others facing challenges with their mental wellbeing.

  1. Take time out

I was blessed to receive incredible support from my employers. I took time off so that I could have some timeout. Creating space and peace is imperative for anyone on a healing journey.

I now see ‘breakdown’ not as a bad thing, but as an opportunity to create a new foundation to rebuild you; not a new version, but the true version. Liberate yourself.

  • Recognise that you are on your own journey

Societal ‘norms’, social media, media influences; all can have a negative effect in measuring your self-worth. We put too may expectations on ourselves. We’re told things are meant to go a certain way right? Wrong.

Your journey is your journey! We must have faith and trust that we are meant to be where we are when we are there. This acceptance will allow us to move forward with an attitude that will help us progress. Not being kind to ourselves because we didn’t get that promotion, or our relationship didn’t work out, doesn’t signal the end of the world; in fact, it gives us a new beginning. Appreciating this, will help us to make balanced decisions what will serve us well.

  • Practice gratitude

I talk more about this in my Count your blessings article, but in a nutshell, look around you and see just how blessed you are. The little things make the biggest differences. I’m not saying that you won’t get triggered or feel affected when things go wrong, I’m stating that balancing the good with the bad will help to simmer any boiling situation (trust me I’ve been there!)

  • Do what brings you joy

Don’t underestimate the power of being intentional in your quest for happiness (that what it’s all about right?). You cannot rely on the premise that happiness will arrive on your doorstep; you’ll be old, grey and bitter before that happens! You are in charge of your joy. Revere in your empowerment; be shameless and unapologetic; you deserve to be happy – allow yourself to have the starring role in this.

Set aside time to practice your hobby, go for a walk, take a long relaxing bath, go out with friends; whatever it may be, just do it.

  • Be kind to yourself

Avoid being negative about yourself. So often we pick out our faults rather than highlighting our strengths. There’s a perception that if we love ourselves too much then we’re conceited; again wrong! You’re not full of yourself – you appreciate and recognise your positives. You acknowledge the facts (that you are awesome) and communicate this when necessary.

I highly recommend practising affirmations in the mirror; this will help you to believe in your hype and build your confidence which is so important in helping you know yourself. Build yourself a robust identity that can weather the challenges that chip away at our mental stability. It is worth the effort, trust me.

  • Surround yourself with the right people

Close the door on those that bring out the worse in you, trigger you, unfairly criticise you, bully you, and everything in-between. We are only human and naturally absorb the energy of our surroundings.

Spend time with people who show you love, make you laugh, take a genuine interest in who you are, show you kind gestures and check in on how you are. It’s these people who see quirks instead of faults, who see potential rather than incompetence

You are more likely to feel secure to open-up and talk about the things you may be grabbling with. Talking is such a vital part of this journey. Being in a trusting environment will enable you to this successfully.

I wish you all the best in your mental wellbeing.

Sending light and love always.

DiDi x

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