There is a lot of talk about minding our mental health through exercise, being with friends, self-care etc. and I’d like to share how, over the years, I have prepared for dips in my mental health.
Crucially, I have learnt what my ‘normal’ feels like to have a baseline against which I can measure my thoughts, feelings and actions. I have learnt how to recognise a day when I am less well. Consider the thoughts that rush into your head when you first wake up. If I’m feeling well it would include noticing the light in the room, a hint of the nice day to come. However, if I’m feeling a bit ‘off’ it’s not wanting to move, to stay under the duvet, not wanting to get started. The longest I have remained immobile hoping to hold the day at bay is 2 hours. Usually the need for a pee gets me up – a physical not mental trigger.
When I’m low everything is viewed in terms of effort and how to not expend any. It’s easier to stay dirty than take a shower, being dirty also gives power to my desire to remain hidden, to not go out. I can’t, I haven’t had a shower – so I stay put. Eating is another area that is measured in terms of effort – anything other than eating a banana is too involved. Heating up soup is too much. So I sleepwalk through the day, waiting for an acceptable time to go back to bed, to turn off the lights. Once there, despite being tired all day when I’m back in bed I’m wide awake. I beat myself up for wasting a day, for not being grateful for all the things I should be acknowledging. This piles on more guilt and the voice in my head, the spiralling ruminations keep me awake until at some point I fall asleep.
I used to have many days like the ones I just described and whilst I’m still prone to days when my mood is low and I become overwhelmed I have found safeguards and routines that work for me.
I awake to my clock radio (not my phone), tuned to an upbeat radio station and I give myself only 10 minutes before I swing my feet onto the floor. I say the Serenity Prayer to set my intentions for the day and do some stretching or dance fitness to get my body moving and raise my energy levels. I make showering a treat now using a more luxurious shower gel, smelling of coconut to remind me of beach holidays and wrap myself up in a heated towel. I often make up my breakfast the night before – either a smoothie or porridge or fruit. Eating healthily makes me feel ‘m worth the time it takes and is another way to improve my energy.
I take 10 minute breaks from work every hour to stretch my neck and shoulders, to walk to the kitchen for a cup of tea. After work I ring a friend or family member a day, I need the connection and hearing how someone else is doing prevents me from becoming too self-absorbed, from my thoughts turning inwards to being all about me.
I have to keep my inner critic as quiet as possible and champion myself to get through the day. Some days are easier than others, some when I have to ‘fake it to make it’ but I now have experience that tells me to just get to that next checkpoint in the day, then the next one and the one after. I actively engage with the fight to stay well and it isn’t always obvious to those around me just how much of my emotional reserves are being drawn among. For those others that bravely dig deep everyday – I salute you.
Nicola McCarthy Peer Support Coach
The Wellbeing & Performance Company
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