Let's talk mental health
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Beetroot face and sweat dripping down my brow. Legs and heels aching from years of pounding concrete and carelessness with post-exercise stretching. Heart rate pumping, body exhausted, but I’m calm. So incredibly calm.
As a young child and during my early adult years I suffered from anxiety. How it presented itself varied, but most of the time I experienced periodic bursts of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and negative thoughts. Most of the time, I could manage it myself, other times I needed professional help and visited psychologists.
According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians experience some form of mental illness in any year. A devastating statistic that’s destroying the lives of so many.
I have found, once you start the conversation about mental health, people start talking freely. It’s like a dark shadow hangs over this area of our lives and we daren’t reveal that sometimes, we’re actually not doing that great.
Over the years, I’ve learnt to recognise when I’m not feeling right. I’ll label it and openly tell my husband that I’m not feeling my usual self. When this happens, I stop what I’m doing and do a health check. Sounds a bit weird, but it works for me.
Here’s what I ask myself?
Have I been eating a healthy diet?
Have I been drinking too much alcohol?
Have I done enough exercise?
Am I drinking enough water?
Am I getting enough sleep?
Have I made time for social connections?
Have I made time to write material that’s not work related?
Have I treated myself lately?
Have I been celebrating my achievements?
Have I been doing my daily gratitude diary?
Have I learnt a new song on the piano lately?
Is the cold weather impacting my mood?
I prioritise my mental health. When you read that sentence aloud it sounds so incredibly selfish, but what I’ve discovered is that if I’m struggling, my whole family is affected. We all have bad days but when bad days turn into weeks, it’s time to seek help. If I notice that, despite my best efforts, I’m still not great, I seek help.
I’m also hoping that by prioritising my mental health, I’ll be instilling some extremely useful skills my children can adopt. Let’s be honest, every little trick up our sleeves to help us feel happier, is a positive one. Start young and it’s very likely they’ll see these positive actions as a normal way of living.
Most of the time, after doing a health check, I can see very clearly why things are out of balance and where I need to make some changes in order to feel better. As a freelancer, when I’m not meeting a client, I spend most of my working hours with two dogs and a laptop. And, there’s no doubt that the lack of human interaction can play a large part in how I’m feeling. So, I prioritise weekly catch-ups with family and friends in an effort to maintain social connections.
Social interaction beyond the immediate family environment makes us feel good. Feeling a strong sense of connection with friends and in our community is extremely important for our mental health. Over the years my friendship circles have changed and evolved. I’ve embraced these changes with open arms and believe wholeheartedly that we can build connections very easily if we just learn to let stuff go.
Some of my greatest conversations are with my dog lover friends. We’ll see each other on walks, stop for a chat, discuss upcoming local events or news and say goodbye. I’ll have you know, age is not a barrier, nor gender or skin colour. The more you look, the more you’ll see, people are actually very very keen to say hello and build a connection.
I’ve also made a concerted effort to practice daily gratitude with my family. We do this as a family during dinner times and the children love it. Not only does this force us all to reflect on those things that bring us joy, it’s also a great conversation starter (especially with tweens)!
According to Harvard Medical School, gratitude is strongly and consistently linked with much greater happiness. So, the mere act of expressing thanks on a daily basis, has a profoundly positive impact on our wellbeing.
While pounding the concrete or throwing a kettlebell around, isn’t likely to please everyone, it has certainly been my go-to for over 20 years. When I move my body and raise a nasty sweat, the feeling that follows calms me. When my head is foggy, I’m feeling stressed, I’ll block out time (rain, hail or shine) and exercise. To this day, this commitment has been my saving grace.
And, the dreaded topic of sleep! We all need it to survive, yet most of us aren’t getting enough of it. Harvard Medical School highlights that sleep deprivation affects both your mental health and psychological state. Undeniably, I can tell you firsthand, raising young children who continually wake, bingeing on Netflix until midnight and consuming too much alcohol for a school night, takes its toll.
Since the birth of my first child, I can genuinely say, I’ve never functioned on so little sleep. Nothing stuffs your mental health around more than months on end with very little sleep. And, when they finally do learn to sleep, you can’t sleep properly out of fear they’ll wake you up in the night. An awful cycle of pain.
My mum once told me I was an easy child to put to bed because I would so openly tell her I was tired and wanted to sleep. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with such a characteristic in any of my children, but I’m proud to say, I am still very much sleep obsessed. If I have a bad sleep, I’ll make sure I have an early night. If children have been up and down all night, and my head is pounding from lack of quality sleep, I’ll take a nap after lunch. I’m a big napper and strong advocate for good quality sleep.
It might appear that my individual efforts to maintain a good quality of life and look after my mental health are simplistic, I can assure you, it’s come after years of practise and professional care. While mental health is not an easy space to navigate, the more openly we talk about our own struggles, the less likely we are to see others suffer in silence. I’m laying bare some of my personal tricks and tips that have enabled me to have a relatively happy life.
“Moooooooo” I bellowed, puffing and panting past a field of cows munching down on fresh green grass. My sixteen-year-old body gliding through the air. One hand grasping a cd walkman ever so tightly, the other hand clenching a Ventolin puffer, just in case. I could feel the fresh air touch my cheeks, my legs outstretched with each running stride and my mind clearing. The cows, none the wiser to my greeting. I was free! A smile from ear to ear and an energy from within pushing me forward. Thought by thought. Event by event. Moment by moment. Until there was nothing. Nothing but calm.
If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to Lifeline.
Phone: 131114 or visit their website: Lifeline