mental wellness

In the feels

When my good friend passed away last year, something struck me, related to my mental health journey. Whenever any of my colleagues, and family have approached me to express their condolences, and support, my response was, “I feel sad, because I miss her, but I’m glad she is no longer suffering.”

And that is what I realized the day after she passed. I’d been feeling sad. And I’ve been able to acknowledge that. And as I was walking into the office on that Monday, I was thinking about it. People will often say, “I feel so depressed…” but what you’re actually feeling is sadness. And while yes, I was going through a depressive episode at the same time, but, regarding my friend’s passing, I felt sad. And I was able to differentiate between the two emotions.

And while that may seem so minor, for someone who struggles to express emotion because for her entire life she was told that nice girls don’t get angry, and good girls don’t feel bad emotions, it’s a massive step to tease out sadness from depression. To be able to say that yes, I am depressed, but what depression feels like is a weight on my body, resulting in me not being able to get out of bed, or wash my hair, or eat. Whereas sadness, is a feeling of sorrow, of wanting to be around my friend, or wishing to hear her jokes, or spend time dancing with her, or looking at old photos, and realizing we will never have another photo together, nor share a birthday together again. It’s a feeling of longing.

Yes, this is a small win, but if this is you, give yourself a pat on the back. A lot of us have grown up being told things like,  “Do not throw a temper tantrum” (when you did not have enough words to express your anger as a toddler), or “Oh come on, it’s just high school, it will be over soon” (when something made you sad as a teenager). And of course, “Nice girls don’t get angry” and “You would be much prettier if you smiled”. Let’s not forget, “Man up” and “Boys don’t cry”.

We’ve been taught, especially as women, that we always need to be happy, and that nice girls don’t get angry, so we never learn how to express anger in an appropriate way. And boys are taught that you need to man up, and that the best way to resolve a conflict is to fight it out, so they never learn the appropriate way to express anger either.  And the same goes for other emotions. “Boys don’t cry”, but also, women shouldn’t be “too emotional”. How do I know what too emotional is? If I never learnt what the correct amount of emotion to express is?

And then as adults, we don’t even understand what is going on in our bodies when we feel emotion. And we have to re-learn how emotions feel, and how to express them, and the words for the different emotions, and also, how emotions feel in our bodies.

Last year, I learnt about expressing different emotions, and how to differentiate them from thoughts. So I may be mentally exhausted from working too hard, so it feels like tired, but instead of taking a nap, maybe I need to watch a silly show on TV to rest my brain. Or, know that I think that you your actions are unfair, but the emotion I am feeling is rejection.

The next step that I’m currently learning, is how my emotions feel in my body. We feel anger long before it erupts in shouting, for example. I have acknowledged that my anxiety is in my gut, and in the tension in my jaw and in my shoulders. But what I am learning is to pick up on the building of the anxiety before it’s a full-blown panic attack and then I have to take a lot more drastic measures to return to normal functioning, rather than picking it up while it’s still manageable. And maybe all I need to do is roll my shoulders or breathe deeply three times.

Another example, is knowing that when your partner starts making a statement that is a trigger for you  and before he’s completed the sentence, your stomach is already in knots, and reading that feeling in your body, and being able to say to yourself that you are feeling anger, and frustration. So that instead of responding in anger, you respond by expressing the emotion that you are feeling, and stating that you cannot respond to the content of what he is saying, until you have a moment to calm down and think rationally again.

What’s also important to know, is that we don’t just experience emotions in our heads. Emotions are felt throughout our bodies, and we can pick up the signs in our bodies first sometimes. A small tingling in your fingertips, to suggest that you don’t feel comfortable somewhere. Before it becomes panic in your mind, and a sinking sensation in your gut, before you are in full-blown fight or flight mode. So start paying attention to your body, it’s more intone than you think. And it alerts you to your emotional state before you recognize the emotion.

It’s so important to be able to express emotions, and that means being able to name them, and to know the difference between sadness, and anger. And to know that expressing emotion is not bad, if done correctly. What we’ve convoluted, as a society, is expressing emotion with how that emotion is expressed. And that is where the problem lies.   

Photo Credit: The Mighty

It’s acknowledging that your partner, for example, is allowed to be angry with you for something you said or did, but not allowing them to degrade you, or violate you because of their anger. And then for you to depersonalize the anger, by saying to yourself that they are angry with something you did as it upsets them, and it has nothing to do with who you are as a person. It’s feeling anger yourself, but not allowing the anger to forever colour your feelings towards another person.

All feelings are ok. It’s what we do with them that matters.

Useful Resources:

The emotions wheel (useful for identifying emotions):

https://themighty.com/2018/11/i-feel-nothing-wheel-of-emotions/

love yoself · mental wellness

Have an attitude of gratitude

The love yoself series part 2

    I had a few sessions with an ADHD coach about 2 years ago, and one of the things that stood out for me in one of our first sessions was when we were in the middle of our session, and my kids came rushing into the lounge and climbed all over me to greet me when they got home from school. I immediately apologised for the interruption and in response, the coach said to me, “Don’t apologise. Be grateful that you have children who can interrupt you to show you love”. That, as they say, was a watershed moment for me.

    As a person who struggles with clinical depression, remembering what I am grateful for in this life is helpful, having a list of things I’m grateful for that I can refer to when I’m really low is mental health first aid for me. My gratitude log (which is what I call it in my bullet journal) is a list of things in my life that I’m grateful for, but also reminders about me as a person and what I like about myself and that I’m grateful for.

    Gratitude is the best attitude, surrounded by leaves

    According to Psychology Today, the 7 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude are:

    Although I can see the surface level benefits for myself, I have wondered what is the psychology behind gratitude, is there any scientific benefit to it? Because it can feel really pointless, or fake, if you cannot see the value in it.

    1. Having gratitude helps build connection and relationships.

    Acknowledging someone’s contribution to your life, even if it’s something small, like holding a door open, makes an acquaintance desire to seek an ongoing relationship. So being thankful can help you make friends (it really is a magic word)

    • Gratitude improves physical health.

    Grateful people are less likely to experience health challenges and are more likely to take care of themselves (which is probably why they are less likely to experience health difficulties). That’s reason enough for me, I’m grateful that I am able to participate in sports like triathlon, because I don’t get bored, and it’s always a challenge for me.

    • Gratitude improves psychological health

    Being grateful can reduce the experience of emotions like envy, resentment and regret as it’s been known to reduce depression. It makes sense because if you are looking at your own life and what is great in your life, it’s very hard to be jealous of what others have because maybe they make more money, but they don’t have a family, for example. Also, it’s very hard to feel regret if you are grateful for the life you have experienced, instead of longing for a life you don’t have.

    • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression

    Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner (also going to win you some friends). In the studies where they have measured gratitude, they found that grateful people are more likely to behave more kindly even when others aren’t showing the same type of behaviour. And I guess, if you start your day being thankful for life’s small mercies, it only matters what you do, and not how others choose to live?

    • Grateful people sleep better

    People who write in gratitude journal before bed have found to experience better and longer sleep. I may have to try this one out, because I sometimes forget what sleep feels like. I don’t know when last I woke up well-rested, so on some days, I need to end my day with gratitude.

    • Gratitude improves self-esteem

    Gratitude has been known to reduce social comparisons, which in tern, helps build self-esteem, because the focus goes from envying someone else’s life, to appreciating your own life, and being able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments, without feeling resentment.

    • Gratitude increases mental strength

    Grateful people have been found to be more resilient in the face of trauma. The basis of this is that being able to recognize what you have to be thankful in your life helps you to build resilience for those moments when you are struggling with a really challenging situation.

    The key message I have taken out of all the reading I have been doing on gratitude and self-love, is the renewed focus on yourself, and teaching yourself to appreciate who you are and what you have achieved, what you have in this life. It’s something small, you can do it when you wake up.

    I challenge you, for at least 30 days, to write down one thing that you are grateful for each day. Find those things in your life that will remind you why you should love yourself.

    Blank page, with header "Gratitude log" and pen lying on the page

    Resources:

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

    christmas · mental health

    It’s beginning to look a lot like F*%@ this

    I’m going to be honest. I love Christmas. I am one of those nerds who loves the magic of Christmas. And I try and make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year for my kids. We bake, we do secret Santa, we wrap our Christmas presents, we decorate the tree together, and Elfie runs amok at night. Christmas is magical, and family-oriented, and based in Christianity (for us).

    Elf on the shelf on candy cane sled on staircase bannister
    Elfie running amok

    And if you had to ask me about Christmas growing up, I will tell you the same. Christmas was a magical time. We went to Noddy parties, we decorated the tree (including fake snow), we listened to Christmas music, we wrapped gifts for our family, and the Christmas food was untouchable.

    But the truth is, as a child in my family, all credit for experiencing the magic of Christmas is on my mom. She made it special. There were a lot of challenges in my childhood, a lot of sadness around Christmas. We lost my grandfather a week before Christmas, most of my family is divorced, or blended families, family members have been ostracized for bad life choices. It’s a hotbed of family dysfunction. But all I remember is magic.

    But being an adult, and having the ability to see that, is very different. So, although I would always come home for Christmas when I lived away from home as an adult, I did so because of my love of Christmas. But as an adult, I know there is no Christmas magic, so yes, it’s a lot harder.

    Christmas as an adult means spending time with people we don’t necessarily get along with for the sake of “family”. It means returning to toxic environments and situations and being catapulted back to all those challenging childhood feelings – regressing almost. Adults have expectations loaded onto us, and responsibilities to be a grown up in all situations.

    Needless to say, what I’m getting at, is that Christmas, or the festive season, is hard for many people. For some it’s not the obligation of seeing family you don’t want to, but actually, the loneliness of not having a family around, or grieving loved ones, financial burdens, fatigue from a hard year. The end of the year is an emotional minefield.

    With this in mind, I have curated some tips for surviving festive (with your mental health intact)

    • Plan ahead

    I used to love, and I mean love, shopping on Christmas Eve. It gave me a rush, which I now know was actually related to ADHD and needing that dopamine hit, by gamifying my Christmas shopping – will I have all my gifts by the time the shops close or not? But in reality, the buzz and overwhelm of all the Christmas specials, the decorations, the people, is a lot. So, it’s best to plan out your shopping, and give yourself a deadline early in December to finish your Christmas stuff, and then you can sit back and relax while the rush continues around you.

    Also, plan out your time, so that you don’t have to accept every social event that comes across your whatsapp – make time for the people you want to see, but also time for yourself to rest and recuperate. And if you don’t want to host Christmas lunch because it will give you too much anxiety, don’t say yes out of obligation. Hold yourself accountable to yourself and say no for your own mental health.

    Gift in Christmas wrapping
    Secret Santa gifts
    • Set a budget and stick to it.

    We all joke about Janu-worry, because we all overspend at Christmas time and then don’t know how we are going to make it to the end of January. We feel obligated to buy everyone gifts, and big gifts (I mean, it’s Christmas). We also feel obligated to go to all the social events we are invited to. So, budget your resources so that you don’t have the post-Christmas financial burden stressing you out, and also your own time and energy to rest and recover before you return to work/school/university in the new year

    Christmas plates with biscuits, hot chocolate and apple
    Treats for Santa and his reindeer
    • Tis the season

    It’s festive! Which gives us reason to eat and drink more than we should, but it doesn’t count because it’s over the festive period. And then 1 January hits, and we are hit with guilt for putting on weight, and all the things you said at the work year end, or to your mother-in-law because you did take on Christmas lunch and got drunk to manage your stress.

    So two things, we all know our limits, and how they make us feel. If you don’t want to stay in bed for an entire day, don’t drink so much that you are forced to, but if you do, don’t feel guilty, because what’s done is done, all you can do is rest, recuperate, and remember that tomorrow is another day. What I’m saying is that don’t beat yourself up for a few extra kilos, or one too many drinks. Just remember to be true to you, and what is good for you.

    I’m sure you would have read it all over the internet when it comes to advice about looking after yourself: Set your boundaries, and stay true to them – don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Remember that even if the festive season is hard, it does have an end, this is not forever. And think of that when you are spiraling because of negative interactions. Also, make sure you make time for yourself – you can take proper time out like going to a movie, take yourself to coffee, go for a run, read a book. Do things that take you out of your head.

    • Manage relationships

    Like I said before, Christmas can be challenging because you may be forced to interact with family you don’t necessarily want to. There are, however, ways of managing difficult family members, and difficult conversations that you don’t want to answer about your weight, non-spouse, lack of children, lack of success at work etc.

    Think of answers to questions you expect to get, in advance, so you are prepared to answer and aren’t thrown off by questions out of left field. If you do get stuck in a difficult conversation about topics you’d rather not talk about, prepare exit statements, or ways of changing the subject. If you really cannot get out of the topic, suggest an activity to be able to move on, like ‘hey I need to go help set the table’ for example.

    Mom and daughter with painted nails in red and green
    Me and my daughter getting our nails done together

    You can also start your own traditions, things that make you happy. Once my kids were old enough, I was able to start my own family traditions. Through this I’ve been able to preserve the magic of Christmas, as an adult. But your tradition could be watching a movie by yourself on the 26th. Getting a special coffee by yourself on the 23rd of December. It can be anything.

    At the end of the day, Christmas is punted as a special magical happy family time, but for a lot of people it’s stressful, and lonely, and triggering. All we can do if we are obligated to be in situations we don’t want to be is to remember that we are in control of ourselves. We don’t have to engage in conversations or with people that we don’t want to. If we have left an event feeling deflated, we need to take time out for ourselves to return to ourselves, no matter what that looks like.

    Be you, do you, love you.

    Woman with earrings that look like baubles

    Resources:

    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/christmas-and-mental-health/christmas-coping-tips/

    feelings · mental health

    Get real

    I recently went on a bit of a rant with a friend, complaining about people who are not transparent or open, and how I’m just authentic to a fault and it’s important to me but maybe not to everyone else. But what I’ve learnt though, in the last few months, is the importance of authenticity within your mental health journey.

    It was in a moment where I was joking with a colleague (followed by me questioning why I was oversharing to such a degree), about how I keep myself so busy to avoid my feelings. And then my psychologist red-carded me for doing the same with my therapy. So there it was. I avoid my feelings. And that is one of the things that was making my mental health journey inauthentic and stagnated.

    I put a lot of work into my self-esteem and self-love journey, but for me to start healing in a big way, I need to stop running and start acknowledging those feelings.

    Cartoon of characters representing different emotions in Inside Out movie.
    Inside Out movie

    We always hear how we have to be true to ourselves, but what exactly does that even mean? I was called out for not have “self-integrity” and while I consider myself to have a lot of integrity in normal everyday life, I was forced to admit that that was true.

    It comes from being a people pleaser. We do and say whatever we think the other person wants to hear. And we deny ourselves. Zero integrity for self. Because what if what they are saying is against your values? What if it’s in direct contravention of your beliefs? Why are you not standing up for what you believe in?

    And when it comes to your feelings, and your needs – are you denying these? Are you allowing the feelings and needs of others to be more important to yours, and thereby, denying yourself feeling your feelings? Are your behaviours in line with your values, and what you believe in and your needs and feelings?

    For example, I hurt my wrist recently, and instead of resting, I have been doing all the things, because I don’t want people to think that I’m lazy or unhelpful. But the reality is, I am denying myself the healing process.

    Woman posing with flowing dress.
    What depression looks like – me looking happy just before a psychiatric clinic admission

    And it’s the same with being our authentic selves and staying true to what we need. If we go against what we truly need in a moment, we are not being authentic towards ourselves. We are denying ourselves. And we don’t always consciously do it, sometimes, we do it out of habit, fears of rocking the boat, fears of not being liked. But if it costs our mental health, it’s not worth it.

    And it’s not about being mean, or cruel, or hurting others – it’s just about staying true to yourself. So, if you need to rest on the weekend, and a friend invites you out, say that you cannot join, because your need is for rest and recovery. And that is more important than doing something for someone else’s reasons, and neglecting yourself.

    A couple of years ago, a movie poster had the subtitle, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, and while it’s a cliché, I’ve never forgotten it. I was forced to remember it in this moment where I realized that the people pleaser within me was falling for anything. And for someone who has convictions as strong as I do, that was a hard pill to swallow.

    Standing up for ourselves feels mean to us, because we spent our entire lives being mean to ourselves, by not standing up for ourselves.

    I am pledging to look after my own needs and emotions. If I feel down, I am going to allow myself the space to feel that emotion, even though it may not be accepted by the people around me. I am not going to pretend to be happy just to appease everyone else. I need to experience the emotion to work through it.

    I pledge to be truly authentic.

    love yoself

    To know yourself is to love yourself

    Love yo’self series

    The first step in learning to love myself, was getting to know myself. To start doing all the things that I enjoy, to go back to my childhood to all those things that I did because I loved them but maybe stopped them because someone judged me for it. To think of things that I like, if no one knew I was doing them. What would I do, if I was completely free of judgement? What would I do if I knew no one would find out?

    All these questions to truly find out what makes me tick, without fear of anyone shaming me, or putting my interests down, no fear of not being interesting enough or cool enough or good enough. Just me, figuring out who I am.

    Woman in front of sign that says "love"
    Me and all my quirky

    Part of this journey, and to gain self-knowledge, meant that I had to start spending time by myself, to figure out who I am, and what I like. It’s almost like dating, you go out with a person, and over a series of outings you learn about who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, and whether or not you are comfortable with this person. And self-knowledge is exactly like that.

    You spend some time with yourself. Talk about your past, how you grew up. So with yourself, you think back to your childhood, and who you were, and what energized you and what you were passionate about. What could you do, or talk about, for hours without getting bored.

    As a mother of two, with a time-consuming job, it’s not always easy for me to find these moments, but I try and create them where I can. If I have 30 minutes spare on my weekend, I’ll go for coffee by myself, and journal, or colour in. Or if one of my kids has a party, I drop them off, and then use the next two hours to be by myself, and figure her out.

    Also, think about what is important to you – just you, whether or not society, your family, and friends will agree with them, or think they are bad or good. None of that is important – it’s just about what is important to you. Later on, you can decide if this is the person you want to be and you can always readjust your values. People are always growing and changing, and while you are on a journey to know yourself, doesn’t mean that who that person is static and unchanging.

    Last year, I was lucky enough to have an ADHD coach and we went through my values, and there were a lot of values that I thought I had, but when she asked me to write down all the things that I wanted to do with my life, frankly I had to admit that wanting to go snowboarding, and complete an Ironman 70.3 had nothing to do with humility. And for someone as health conscious as I am with a strong interest in how the body works, and keeping fit, and wanting to be a triathlete again, not once did I mention health as one of my values.

    We worked through a lot of self-limiting beliefs I had, especially around money, and unpacking my thoughts around “the love of money is the root of all evil”. A lot of my values had to be re-thought because the good girl people pleaser in me wrote down my first set of values, and I had to go back and be real about who I am, not who I want people to think I am. It was not easy. And I’m still working on it.

    Are there any activities, or things you have always wanted to try but didn’t because of whatever self-limiting beliefs, or judgement from others? If you have the means, try these things out, see if you like them. See if they fit into who you want to be. Do you enjoy them? Then roll with it.

    Towards the end of last year, I had a random thought about wanting to do tennis. And because my kids were interested in doing tennis, I thought I may as well, because then it can be a fun activity that we can play together. I started Tennis coaching, and it was like a light went on. I had so much fun, and I had clearly forgotten how much I enjoyed playing tennis as a kid. I recalled that I had played from about the age of 10, all the way to the end of high school. I didn’t place any value on my enjoyment of the sport because I only played socially, I never tried out for the team. But, I had to admit to myself that this is something I really enjoyed.

    This journey of self-knowledge has been a hard one, and I’m still learning new things about myself every day. Sometimes it’s this great feeling of learning something really positive about yourself that you hadn’t realized before, and other times you have to admit to yourself that you have qualities that are maybe not that likeable. And you can keep them, or put them in the self-improvement bucket, but as long as you acknowledge all your parts… and we’ll get into the self-love and acceptance part later. But for now, all we need to know is who am I?

    love yoself

    Love yoself:

    Self love is the best kind of love

    Cartoon woman dancing surrounded by butterflies with text stating self love is the best love

    I recently had a breakthrough in therapy, which, to be honest, while I’m going through it, feels like a breakdown. As I was speaking, all my psychologist said was, you can cry here, and as she spoke those words, I thought, ‘But I don’t need to cry’, and before I knew it, I was bawling about why I don’t matter.

    But more important, than my incredibly vulnerable admission, is what came next. The realization that I do not love myself (more vulnerable admissions), and while for the longest time, I ‘knew’ this, I didn’t actually know it.

    Following our appointment, where she allowed me to cry and talk for 15 minutes after my allocated time, she sent me multiple links about self-love, and how to develop self-love, which I then binge watched when I got home.

    I think I had spent a lot of brain power rationalizing and trying to understand the origins of self-hatred and what happens when you don’t love yourself, and what it looks like. And a lot of cerebral thought analysing my behaviour, and relating it back to feelings of self-hatred. It was all educational and in my head.

    But finally, in the month of love (when I said recently, I meant February), I realized what it felt like to not love yourself. And why I didn’t love myself. And how I allowed myself to remain in situations that continued to validate my feelings of self-unlove.

    "A new start and way to go" with stars at the top and bottom

    But the real work begins now. I bought myself a beautiful journal with a motivational message about thriving on the cover, etched into a colourful image of plants and flowers (always start with a beautiful journal). And I took copious notes from the youtube videos from my psychologist. I did some desk research on sites like psychologies, and school of life, and this is what I learnt so far:

    The academic stuff

    According to Psychology today, self-love is comprised of four elements: self-awareness, self-worth, self-esteem, and self-care. What this means, is that we need to become aware of our bodies, and our feelings, and how they are expressed within us, and how to identify our emotions. Self-worth is then acknowledging what the good parts of us are – we all have them, but the world we grew up in tells us that it’s not enough, it’s reconnecting with what you deem to be your good parts (they’re in there). A high self-worth leads to a high self-esteem. Self-esteem is all about how comfortable you are with yourself and where you are in life. It’s being ok with yourself and your good (and bad) parts. Finally, self-care is all the activity we do to keep ourselves (both body and mind) healthy.

    A journey starts with the first step

    Pink background, with woman hugging herself, surrounded by bed of flowers, with text saying welcome to my self love journey

    I’m in the beginning of my self-love journey, and so far, I’ve been focusing on getting to know myself, by doing things that I enjoy, or enjoyed in the past. It’s almost like starting to “date myself”, well at least, using the same principles of dating. When you start dating someone, you spend a lot of time getting to know them, and what makes them tick, figuring out if you like them or not. So, I need to spend time with myself, to learn who I am, and what I like and don’t like.  

    Feel free to follow my monthly series of “Love yoself” posts, as I continue along my self-love journey, and share what I learn. Watch out for the first post of each month.  

    Some further reading:

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/the-upside-things/201911/self-love

    Uncategorized

    Hustle hard, Rest harder

    We live in a culture of always being hustling, of rest being for the weak, of being busy as the sign of a fulfilled life. And every year, we make New Years resolutions or SMART goals for everything that we are going to achieve, we have bucket lists and 30 before 30 lists, all focused on achieving things.

    Text saying Stay Humble Hustle Hard

    Don’t get me wrong, self-improvement, and living a goal-oriented and purposeful life is good. Wanting success and having that desire driving you forward can be good for you. Provided that you are doing it for the right reasons.

    Living in a capitalist society has taught us that we always have to be working and that rest is for the underperformers. And that is where the problem with a goal-oriented life lies. Not having the goals or living with purpose or wanting success, but when hustling and being driven start impacting your life in negative ways. We should be wanting all these things because we want them, and not at the expense of our physical and mental health.

    I usually start out my year with goals in all the different areas of my life, and I always start the year hopeful and full of optimism, and as the year draws on, I get further and further from achieving those goals. And I blame the busyness which I have traditionally imposed on myself.

    Woman in yoga pose

    What I have been learning is the value of resting and being mindful. And while mindfulness has been a buzz word for a while now, there is so much information and research backing the value in mindfulness. It has been shown that there are definitive changes in our brains as a result of being more mindful. And just as other mental illness impact the brain function, mindfulness can counter this.

    Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a big activity, such as an hour long meditation. It can be slowing down as you make your coffee or tea, and only thinking about what you’re doing, as you put the coffee in the cup, add the sugar, add the milk, and so forth. It can be putting on your favourite song and dancing for 1 minute. Spending 30 minutes colouring in when you have more time. Having your morning coffee outside in the garden. All it requires is for you to be in the present moment.

    And as you spend more time in mindfulness, you will slowly start to see the impact, like when you get angry, as you experience the fire filling up your belly, and your jaw tightening, you will have more time to process the anger and decide how you want to express it. And that is just one of the benefits, being able to be present with emotions, and feel them and express them instead of reacting to them.

    Heart and brain doing yoga, with text stating Balance your life

    Being mindful has been shown to work wonders for anxiety and depression because instead of focusing on the past or the future (or both, in my case), you focus on the present moment, and what you can achieve now, and in that way, you are able to break down your goals, and what you want to achieve, into more manageable tasks, and feel less overwhelmed, and more in control of your time, your emotions and yourself.

    While it may be counterintuitive when talking about goalsetting, let’s make one of our goals for this year to be more mindful.

    mental health · mental wellness · Self-harm

    Your words cut deeper than a knife

    Self-injury or self-harm, or cutting, is such a complex topic to discuss. It’s confusing if you don’t engage in it but you find out that your friends, or children, or loved ones engage in the act. Is it a suicide attempt? Is it attention seeking? Are they trying to follow some trend from social media? Why would anyone want to harm themselves?

    And the simple answer is that self-harm is a way of releasing overwhelming emotion or a way of feeling something in the absence of emotion.

    bandaged wrists, pulling sleeves down to hide

    What is self-harm?

    In moments of deep distress or emotional pain, some people engage in an act of self-injury. The type of act varies, and it can be cutting themselves, scratching at skin, burning skin, preventing an old injury from healing, hitting themselves against walls, pulling hair, getting into fights knowing they’ll get hurt, or any manner of causing harm to themselves. Any act, in fact that causes some sort of physical harm, it can even include the misuse of alcohol and drugs and unsafe sexual behaviour, or overeating and undereating.

    Self-injury isn’t in and of itself a mental illness, but it is usually a behaviour resulting from depression, anxiety, or trauma, which would need professional help. And because there is a lot of shame and guilt and embarrassment in the act of self-injury, the person might not be able to open up at all about the behaviour out of fear of judgement or angering or disappointing family and friends, but in fact they may need to so that they can get the help they need.

    Why do people self-harm?

    One of the most common reasons for engaging in self-injury is deal with difficult emotions like guilt, self-hatred or emptiness. Related to this, people engage in self-harm to express feelings that cannot be put into words or to release pain or tension.

    Sometimes, this is an act to feel something, anything, when the person is struggling with emotional numbness, or is feeling derealization (which is a feeling disconnected from the world), or feelings of dissociation (feeling disconnected from themself).

    Other reasons are for a person to distract themselves from challenging life circumstances, or to prevent themselves from doing something that is more damaging. It’s also a way for them to feel in control of out-of-control life circumstances. Another reason can be a way for people to punish themselves.

    Whatever the reason for a person wanting to harm themselves, we need to validate these feelings, and learn what is the reason for self-injury, and understand what is causing them to engage in this behaviour. Ultimately whether it is to feel control, to communicate emotion, to punish or to feel something, we need to help them feel seen, and understood. It’s important for them to have someone they can turn to because then next time, maybe they won’t need to engage in self-harm to release the pain, maybe they can speak to someone to address what is at the core of the need to hurt themselves, or to get professional help.

    There are a number of difficult experiences that can result in a person using self-injury to manage their emotional distress. For example, work or school pressures, bullying, low self-esteem, financial difficulties, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), bereavement, homophobia or transphobia, relationship difficulties, loss of a job, stress etc.

    Myths debunked

    Myth: It’s attention-seeking

    Fact: While the area of self-injury may be visible to others, the act itself causes a lot of shame and embarrassment, so no it’s not attention-seeking. No one who engages in self-harm actually wants you to notice. That being said, what I have come to realise in my therapeutic journey, is that yes, maybe the person is “seeking attention”, but not in the negative connotated way we understand. When someone engages in self-harm, there is trauma there, or some kind of emotional distress, and maybe they don’t have the words to say I need help, and this act is all they can do to say, please see that I am hurting and in need of help.

    Myth: They want to kill themselves

    Fact: Usually the injury is too minor to actually cause any mortal harm, and the reason for self-injury is to release emotional pain, or address emotional numbing, or punishment, not a desire for suicide. Although that being said, it is important to note that this act is usually related to trauma, or depression, or anxiety, or other mental illneses, and the person could be experiencing serious emotional hurt that they may be suicidal, but the act of self-injury itself is not necessarily a suicide attempt.

    Myth: They are crazy or dangerous

    Fact: Not crazy, but yes, most likely suffering with a mental illness like depression or anxiety. Anyone engaging in self-injury is hurting more than anything, and struggling with life, or some kind of difficulty.

    Myth: The wounds are not bad therefore it’s not that bad

    Fact: Engaging in an act of purposefully hurting yourself is bad enough, whether or not that is a surface wound, or an injury that requires stitches. Most people who engage in self-injury will need to learn a healthier coping mechanism to deal with emotional overwhelm.

    wrist with win no scars, and wrist with lose with self-harm scars

    What to do if someone I know is self-harming

    Deal with your own emotions first – you need to acknowledge your feelings which might include anger or disgust before you address the act of self-harm. There is a lot of guilt and shame surrounding self-harm, and the emotions related to why the person would self-harm, so do not approach them if you are feeling anger or disgust

    Learn about the problem – it’s confusing and mysterious. So find out everything you can about self-harm before you speak to them. It will also help you deal with any feelings of discomfort if you have an understanding of self-injury

    Don’t judge – try and avoid any type of judgment or criticism. This type of reaction will only make the situation worse, and create more guilt and shame which will start the self-injury cycle all over again.

    Offer support, not ultimatums – If you want to help, be available as a person who is willing to listen to the persons’ problems, and who is willing to help them find solutions to their emotional distress. Express concern about what they are doing, but offer to help. And make sure that they know you are available whenever they need to talk. Self-harm can be a lonely and isolated road, and anyone would want to know that they have someone there for them

    Encourage communication – Encourage them to express their feelings, that you are offering a safe space for them to share how they are feeling, so that they do not have to use self-injury to release those emotions.

    Remember that self-harm is usually part of a larger condition, relating to the emotional distress, and it is a coping mechanism for extreme emotional distress, or feelings of emotional numbness. So, if you know someone who is engaging in self-injury, try and encourage them to seek professional help, and at the very least, offer them a safe space to talk about how the feel.

    They need to be seen, and heard, not judged and hated.

    Sources:

    Nami.org

    Mind.org

    Helpguide.org

    Uncategorized

    Don’t stop believing… in yourself

    It’s self-esteem month, and there are a lot of tips and activities, with suggestions of how to boost your self-esteem, and these are all great. I believe in gratitude lists, and reminding yourself of what you have done well, and all the other activities that are out there to boost your self-esteem, although I am also a firm believer in the journey of building your self-esteem. And it’s a lot longer than a month.

    Woman hugging herself

    Throughout my healing journey, I have a learnt a lot about myself, and what is truly part of my character, and what is a symptom of trauma, or low self-esteem or mental illness. One of the most challenging parts of my therapeutic journey has been the work I have put into building my self-esteem.

    Self-knowledge. The first step of the self-esteem journey. I spent a large part of my life pretending to be someone I’m not, and not knowing who I really am. Listening to music, influenced by my friends and family. Reading books that were also influenced by my friends. Watching movies that were revered by the industry bodies. I had to work on the idea that I might like books that are labelled as “holiday reading”, even though some of my friends would look down on books like these, because they are never going to be in the running for a Nobel prize. Or watching TV shows and movies that bear no intellectual message, or are not beautifully crafted independent films, with a deeper meaning. It is ok to watch movies and TV, purely for entertainment value. I had to re-learn what I liked, whether or not it would get outside approval.

    Self-acceptance. The next part of the journey, might be the hardest part for me, and if I’m honest, I’m probably still building on this phase of my self-esteem journey. Now that you know who you are, regardless of what others think, or whether there is anyone with similar interests to you, it’s time to accept that this is who you are. And that others might not accept you, for who you are. Others might think that the things you enjoy are silly, or childish, or unintelligent, or nerdy, or lame. But the most important thing to remember, that this is who you are, and as long as you know that about yourself, and you can accept these aspects of who you are. No one else needs to.

    Self-love. Knowing who you are, accepting who that is, but then loving that person. Being ok with your stuff, with who you are, with what you like, what you enjoy doing, and believing that that person is ok, and deserving of love, and then loving that person. The belief that you are good enough. Coupled with the knowledge that others out in the world may not agree, and may not love you, and may judge who you are, but to know that you are ok just the way you are. Sure, we could all use some personal development, but it doesn’t mean a regression to self-hatred. You can have a high self-esteem and self-love, while still acknowledging that you are not perfect, and there are aspects of yourself that you want to improve.

    Self-knowledge to self-love

    Although all of this is the long game. In our day-to-day lives, there are little things that you can do to boost your self-esteem.

    1. Exercise – gives you a boost of endorphins, and if you can get outside, that is even better, because you can boost your mental wellness by being outside, which inevitably boosts your self-esteem, and Vitamin D, from spending time in the sun, does wonders for your mental health.
    2. Start a compliment jar. For yourself. Write down compliments about who you are, good things you have done, positive notes for yourself. You can always return to this when your self-esteem is a bit low, to remind yourself that you are good enough.
    3. Mindfulness. A lot of our low self-esteem issues, stems from our comparison to others, and to our future or past selves, and feeling like a failure for having not achieved “what we’re supposed” to have achieved at this point in our lives. But if we stop, and focus on the here and now, and the person we are in this moment, and the things we have achieved today, even if it’s just getting out of bed, or washing your hair, getting to work on time, remembering a friend’s birthday. It also helps, when you have a negative thought, to stop and think about it, what it means, why you think you’re having it. Try and imagine you are talking to a friend who’s just said something negative about themselves, and how you would respond to them.
    4. Meditate. Meditation has been proven to change the structure of the brain. Spending some time in meditation, even if it’s just for five minutes a day, can be an excellent source of mental wellbeing and self-esteem boosting
    5. Stretch your body. We carry a lot of tension in our bodies, and we cannot feel positive about ourselves if our bodies are aching. So spend a few minutes a day stretching. There are some great youtube yoga videos (ranging from 5 minutes to an hour, whatever your needs and time allow for)
    6. Journal. Spend some time getting those negative thoughts you’re having about yourself out onto the page, and inevitably, you will critique them and work through them. It can be a way of challenging your negative self-talk.
    Woman patching broken mirror with plaster.

    Low self-esteem can lead to many challenges in your work, home life, and personal relationships, and can lead to depression and anxiety. But focusing on yourself, and reminding yourself of your value, and why you are good enough, can boost your self-esteem. Good luck on your journey!

    mental health · mental wellness · pandemic

    I found hope in a hopeless space

    No matter the circumstances, as long as we have hope, we can survive them. And that is the most difficult thing that I have found during 2020, is that I had no plans, no certainty, nothing to look forward to, and all I was left with were feelings of hopelessness.

    But coming into 2021, which is feeling a lot like 2020, the sequel, I needed a mind shift. I needed to find hope in hopeless situations. The pandemic is causing us to do some serious soul searching, it’s taking away the things that make us human, like our connections with other humans, our freedom to roam and explore our worlds.

    flower growing through crack  in concrete

    I have decided that this year, I will try and focus on the silver linings. One thing that the pandemic has given me is the blessing of family time. As a working mom, I very rarely spend a lot of time with my children outside of the weekend, but I was lucky enough to have time with them at home. We were able to do yoga routines, and artwork together, and jump on the trampoline. I have been grateful to be able to watch them grow up and learn, and change as the year wore on.

    I have also been granted more time to incorporate more reflective activities into my day. Last year, I started morning pages, which has been a great way to start my day, through journaling. It’s like clearing out my thoughts so that I can focus, and be mindful of the day ahead.

    Because of the isolation, and uncertainty of the pandemic, I have suffered quite badly with anxiety and depression, but the silver lining here is that I have more time to practice yoga, and spend more time in meditation, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I was working from the office. And I’ve managed to incorporate these activities into my day so that I do at least 5 minutes of yoga and 5 minutes of meditation every day, and these have aided in me being more mindful and remaining in the present.

    Person between barren land, and lush grass

    Activities that really help me out when I feel numb and withdrawn from the world are reading and writing. Writing, particularly, because it’s such a big part of who I am, and because I feel so passionately about writing, and because I feel energized once I have spent some time writing. I have had more time during my day because I am not commuting as much, I have been able to carve out time to write more.

    Because I do not need to wake up as early to get to gym, to get home in time for the school run to get to work in time, I have more time in the evenings, and have been able to spend more time reading. Admittedly, when my depression is really bad, I struggle with this, but my workaround for this is to either use audiobooks, or alternatively choose books that I am able to get lost in quite easily.

    Painting of "hope is the thing with feathers"

    This year, I want to spend more time on creative pursuits, like writing, and photography, and also to just be in the moment with my kids so more dance parties, and more playtime. And this year, instead of being so isolated, I want to reach out to my friends, because even when I do not feel like surrounding myself with people, I always feel better afterwards.

    No matter what you need to do to find your hope in what may seem like a hopeless situation, I encourage you to do it. it doesn’t have to be big. Some days, all it is is getting out of bed, or cooking a meal. Other days, it’s running 5km, or finishing the book you’re reading.

    Let’s refocus this year, and find our hope.

    "once you choose hope, anything's possible" Christopher Reeve
    mental health

    New year, same old me

    It is incredibly hard to set goals during a pandemic. How do you make plans and set intentions for an uncertain future? And, therein lies the beauty of setting powerful goals. Because when there is nothing external to yourself to aspire to, or to covet, or for external validation, all there is, is what is within you.

    I stopped making New Years Resolutions about ten years ago, because I felt like calling them that set me up for failure. I started focusing on the six areas of my life, and set goals within these areas. For example, health and fitness, spiritual, career, intellectual, social, and so forth. And last year, I took it to the next level, by incorporating all of this into a bullet journal to help me track progress. And then the pandemic hit. And all planners became obsolete.

    But, at the end of last year, I still, in hope, bought my usual planners, including a new Bullet Journal for 2021. And I used the concept of the “Level 10 life” to set up my goals for the year. One of the gifts the pandemic has granted me, has been time for reflection. I usually fill my life with busy activities, and plan every moment of my life. I haven’t been able to do that. So I have been able to use my time better, and I realized, that what I actually want is to slow down, and engage, and be mindful, play with my kids, and not focus on the side hustle, and always being excessively productive.

    The world is so focused on being busy, and doing all the things. That we forget to stop and appreciate all of the things. Lockdown has gifted us with the time to be able to appreciate the ‘small things’, such as connecting with friends and family.  

    So how does that impact on setting goals for a New Year? I started by listing all the areas of my life, from spirituality, to family to career and social life. I then looked at each, and rated them on how much focus I have been able to give them, and after this I could see which areas of my life needed more of my attention. I admit that this sounds quite complicated, but the idea is that you focus on an area of your life that you feel you have neglected, instead of setting hard targets, like “lose 10kg” or “complete marathon”.

    Viewing goal setting this way enables us to not be so hard on ourselves, and not have hard targets to be achieving by the end of the year. A goal can be to rest more, which is something I need to do. I need to be more comfortable with doing nothing, while resting and recharging. This way of planning for the year enables us to set more gentle goals for the year, like rest, connection, be kind to yourself, spend time outside, have fun.

    I suggest that when you look at what you want to achieve this year, that you consider what it is that you, yourself, are longing for, and focus on that. It doesn’t have to be an external goal like losing weight, running a marathon, because that’s what this pandemic has taught me. That I’ve been too focused on external validation, and what I need to achieve to feel better.

    This year, let’s focus on our dreams, and what we need for ourselves, and not reaching some imagined target. This year instead of hustling hard, I’m going to rest hard, and be productive at mindfulness, and slowing down.