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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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!
If you do find that you are struggling with mental health issues or are feeling as though you can’t cope with life, what do you do? And where do you turn? This month, I’ve connected with some mental health practitioners to provide guidance as to what the different mental health practitioners do, to guide those of us seeking therapeutic help and guidance.
Interview with a Social Worker:
What does a social worker do?
People normally think of statutory social workers who are involved with the removal of children. This is only one area of social work, and you need to be designated to statutory social work.
Our goal within social work is about how to develop communities and to help communities thrive. We work with individuals, groups and families. We consider what are your resources – what are you lacking and what have you got. Social work is about developing and helping people thrive individually, group and community.
We look at using resources. For example, how do we help families, we try and work with what you have available to you. If you are struggling to move, we build in exercises to help you move within your environment. We play to your strengths and sensory capabilities. It’s about using the resources you have to manage mental wellness
What is the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?
Although social workers are not involved in any diagnostic work, they work with people, and can be your first source of therapeutic healing. We can refer for extra support or input around diagnosis if required. We help clients develop skills and help to manage symptoms, once they have a diagnosis. We look at the impact on your life, and what we can do with that. For example, what are your triggers for depression, and when you see that happening, what do you do, what are your options, and strategies in this space eg checking in with a friend.
Social work gives clients practical resources. What does your depression mean practically? Where is it stopping our life and what can we do
When would someone need to see a social worker?
There is no one size fits all when it comes to treatment. Depending on approach you’re needing, at the time, it will determine who you approach. At the end of the day, if you are struggling to function – you need to speak to someone. And you need someone who is going to listen and understand to help you pick up the different threads. If you feel like things are unravelling, you should seek help, before you feel like you’re too stretched. It’s hard for many people to admit that they’re not coping.
How do you find a social worker?
The best place is to look at the SAASWIPP Website, and search by interest topic. Social workers need to be registered to be on the website, and you will find information on whether they are cash only or you can claim medical aid. All this information will be available
Anything you would like to add?
Different people connect with different practitioners – this is about a process and a journey. While there has historically been a hierarchical perception and at times, real division between psychologists, there is most definitely space and a need for both. Even as mental health practitioners, we should always be working within the best interests of our clients, ethically and professionally. This should always guide practice.
It was the middle of the night. And the fourth night that week that I was up at 1am, unable to sleep. I was reading package inserts to see the dosage I would need for overdose. And bemoaning the fact that based on the number of tablets I had, I would only damage my internal organs, and be forced to face the world anyway.
I’m no stranger to suicidal thinking. I have never ever attempted suicide, but I know far too many people who have, and of too many people who have committed suicide.
When it comes to suicide, people are confused by the act, think that it’s selfish, question what would drive someone to take their own life? It’s considered an act of weakness for people who are not brave enough to face the trials of life.
And in contradiction, when we hear someone talk about how they want to die, or they want to commit suicide, we brush it off as attention-seeking behaviour. If nothing else, please give these people attention. Rather a few minutes of attention to hear what is bothering someone, than a lifetime of missing someone who saw no way out other than taking their own life. And we are always left wondering why a person would take such extreme measures to end emotional pain. So let’s have these conversations before we have to grieve a loss.
Some things to understand about suicide:
It’s not death that the person desires, but the end of deep emotional pain.
The pain from challenging life circumstances is ongoing and there seems to be no end in sight.
Deep feelings of hopelessness
A deep-seated sense of loneliness and feeling alone in the world.
Self-hatred so deep that the world would seemingly be better without them.
Having nothing to live for because of perceived failures.
A sense that death is the only escape.
Certain medications have been known to cause suicidal thinking.
What can we do if we sense our loved ones are feeling suicidal, or if someone we know expresses suicidal thinking:
Help them seek professional help. Either psychologists, psychiatrists, suicide helplines.
Listen to them. Without trying to give advice, just listen. Accept how they are feeling – it doesn’t mean you are condoning the act of suicide, but that you are condoning them having very difficult feelings.
Anyone suffering with suicidality needs to be seen and heard, and shown that they are valuable and that the world needs them. Someone considering suicide, might feel like there is no one in the world who cares about them, and it may take just that one person to listen to make a difference.
The conversation you have needs to be matter-of-fact. If you react with emotion, like daring them to do it in anger, or acting shocked, or being judgemental, it will create further distance and feelings of loneliness. At this stage, this person needs to feel connected, and not experience any further challenging emotions.
The person may experience shame for feeling this way, but don’t let them swear you to secrecy. You need to seek help from a professional. Ask them if you can contact a family member.
If someone has expressed suicidal ideation, do not leave them alone, and do not leave them with the means to commit suicide. In that moment, seek the help that they need, through a suicide hotline, contacting hospitals, psychiatric facilities.
Show them that they are not alone in the world, and that you are there to listen to them. Sometimes that’s all someone needs is one person who shows them that they are wanted and needed.
Risks and warning signs:
Talking about death or suicide
Giving away possessions
Change in behaviour
Not experiencing belonging
Feeling like a burden
Isolating from friends and family and withdrawing from activities
Calling people to say Goodbye
If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, first and foremost, seek professional help, or contact a helpline. And, if you are prone to suicidal thinking, it’s a good idea to have a safety plan for yourself:
Know the warning signs, of how your mood, thoughts and behaviours change
Have a list of people you can turn to (in the depths of emotional pain and loneliness, we sometimes forget who those people are)
Make a list of activities to distract yourself (if you are feeling hopeless you could struggle to think of anything other than suicide)
Make sure that you don’t have anything that can be used to commit suicide
Make a list of relaxation techniques (e.g yoga, meditation, deep breathing, dancing)
Make a list of professionals, and helplines you can contact.
At the end of the day, suicide is preventable, and it is important to have transparent conversations with loved ones whom you think are at risk. And if you are someone experiencing suicidal ideation, know that there is help out there, and it’s not weak to feel suicidal, nor is it weak to seek help.
For a moment in time, we have stopped talking about COVID-19, and focused on humanity, and the current discourse is about how none of us should be silent about racism. There is a call for us all to be anti-racist. As people of colour, if you do not speak up, you are agreeing with racism. As white people, you are colluding with racists by not speaking up.
I am a believer in justice and standing up for the disenfranchised, because I know what it is like to not have your voice heard. Without systemic justice, though, nothing will be fixed. Within a system that is just, individuals all have access to all opportunities. And no one is discriminated against for individual characteristics such as race or gender or socioeconomic status. Or, mental health.
Historically, mental health has been developed by white males, and still today, the majority of the field is still white, so where does that leave the unique challenges of suffering with a mental illness as a person of colour. A lot of research has gone into the diagnosis of mental illness and the development of the diagnostic tools. And these are reviewed to ensure that our definitions are relevant to the context within which we live. However, we are still using diagnostic tools, which are predominantly developed with a Euro-centric, Western understanding of human behaviour.
As an example, there is still an underdiagnosis of girls with ADHD because the symptoms were initially based on boys, and hyperactivity may look different for a girl, which is why many women are only diagnosed with ADHD in mid to late adulthood. The same goes for Autism. And because women are socialized differently in society, women on the Autism spectrum, are able to hide their symptoms, because there is a societal expectation to fit in, and behave in a certain way to be regarded as a woman in this society.
There is also an underrepresentation of men with mental illness, because there is still the stigma of mental illness being an indication of weakness. Men are not readily willing to admit that they are suffering, and also willing to seek help, for fear of not “manning up”, or appearing weak. Boys are taught that they are not to ask for help, or cry.
What about the cultural meaning of “hearing voices”, such as when the ancestors are speaking? Or when you are called to be a sangoma? There are a number of beliefs within the African, South American or Asian cultures, which can be explained away as a symptom of a mental illness. So how do we differentiate between cultural understanding and mental illness symptoms?
Aside from the stigma of mental illness, there is the stigma of seeking help for mental illness, and seeing a psychologist for a “white” disease. As a person of colour your family might not understand or agree with you struggling with a mental illness, and you might be judged, or ostracized for seeking help for a mental illness. And being that many causes of mental illness relate to family dynamics and triggers as a result of lack of family support, this presents quite the predicament.
And finally, access to mental health practitioners. The majority of psychologists are white, and the majority of therapy is conducted in English, and Afrikaans. When searching for a psychologist, you may want to see someone who fits the same demographic as you do, or speaks the same language as you. How difficult must it be to undergo therapy to uncover deep-seated emotional and identity issues in a second, or third, language?
Also, the socioeconomic barrier for people of colour in having access to the mental healthcare professionals that they may need. A number of studies have been conducted on the inequality of healthcare systems, and mental health care is a privileged form of care, which further creates a barrier between the races and socioeconomic classes. Healthcare systems in South Africa have been shown to be unequally distributed within the country.
It’s also important to consider the fact that certain behaviours are prevalent amongst the impoverished, and when impacted by mental illness, they are not subtyped as being afflicted by mental illness, but are viewed as criminals or deviants. Because of unconscious bias in regards to race, there are certain characteristics attributed to certain races, like violence, which have the potential to result in misdiagnoses, or underdiagnosis. As an example, being lazy is attributed to being black, but one of the key symptoms in ADHD or depression is reduced productivity. This will be missed as a diagnosis, if it is assumed that the person is inherently lazy.
When considering mental wellness within the context of race (or gender, or sexuality), we need to acknowledge further layers of challenge, and stigma associated as a result. And ultimately the fact that anyone with mental illness, regardless of demographic wants to be heard and cared for, and understood.
Counselling Psychology in South Africa by Jason Bantjies, Ashraf Kagee, and Charles Young
HPSCA Report of the Working Group on Promulgation of Regulations
Synergi Collaborative Centre briefing paper on priorities to address ethnic inequalities in severe mental illness
The global pandemic has us all a little fearful, and paranoid, and stressed and anxious. And as someone for whom this is a daily experience, I thought I would share some ideas for maintaining mental health during these very uncertain times. Partly from my own experience, and partly from the advice from my psychologist:
Routine routine routine
It may sound boring, but one of the best things that has worked for me, has been maintaining a routine, albeit very different from my pre-global pandemic life. During these uncertain times, there is not much that we can control, but how we structure our days is something we can (relatively) control. Having that structure lessens my anxiety because I know what is coming. There is a lot to be said for having a plan. And look, it doesn’t always look the same, but if we have this plan, and try and stick to it, it gives us one less bit of uncertainty in our lives. And a small semblance of peace.
Our minds are overwhelmed with work, the Corona statistics, home schooling, staying fit and healthy, but also wanting to eat everything in sight (which is rarely a carrot stick), concerns about the health of our family, the general paranoia of not being able to touch anything before you’ve washed your hands and sterilized.
Spending some mindful time doing yoga or meditation will do wonders for your mental health. The key objectives of the yoga or meditation is to spend some time focusing on your body, and allowing thoughts in and then letting them go. These types of mindfulness activities, allow us to clear our heads, by making us focus on our breathing and body position. An easy meditation you can do for a few minutes a day, is body scanning: start at your head, feel its position in space, tense and release your face/jaw, and then continue to tense and release as you move down your body, from your shoulders, arms, chest, abs, legs, to your feet.
Spending time focused on something other than the thoughts running through your head will give you a space to think more clearly, and help with that feeling of overwhelm. Meditation has been scientifically proven to calm anxiety, so I definitely recommend spending some time out of your head.
3. Self Care
Ok, so right now, we’re able to go to meetings in our pajamas and slippers and no one would know. My advice here is to get dressed for work. And yes, for most of the week you will wear your apocalypse gear (stretchy pants /workout gear/ day pajamas), but try at least 2 days in the week to dress up for work, do your hair and make-up, wear shoes you can go outside in. Getting up and getting dressed is sometimes one of the easiest ways to alleviate anxious feelings. Look good, even if you aren’t feeling great. It helps, in a weird way, but it does.
Include some selfcare activities into your day. Selfcare isn’t always big activities like sitting in your bath, with a face mask, reading a magazine, with a glass of bubbly. It can be something as small as rolling your shoulders a few times at your desk to relax your body if you are feeling tense. Spend a few seconds deep breathing to calm down. Looking at a photo of your family. Micro selfcare is about anything, no matter how small, that is going to aid your feelings of anxiety or uncertainty.
So before the global pandemic, I had fitness goals, which have subsequently been put on pause. But nonetheless, exercise gives me energy. And in the moments when I’ve felt awful, lethargic, and demotivated, doing some form of exercise gives me those endorphins and energy to get me through the day. It doesn’t have to be a lot, I am currently doing about 15 minutes of basic functional fitness, using my body weight and things I have around the house, like chairs, and my children’s board books.
You don’t need to come out of this global pandemic fit enough to complete an Ironman, but doing a few minutes of exercise a day, will definitely help with the stress, anxiety, paranoia, loneliness, and general overwhelem.
5. Limit social media and news coverage
Social media is like a lifeline to the outside world, and if we stop, what are we going to do with our time? And if we stop scrolling, where are we going to see all those Corona memes? All true. But being on social media, and reading the worldwide corona stats daily will function to make you more paranoid, and feeling less than you are. Seeing all these super moms out there with perfect home school routines, and time to make their own playdough and paint, and making nutritious meals and snacks for their children, while your child ate cereal and a chicken nugget for supper while watching his 100th episode of Paw Patrol, is bound to make you feel like a failure. Not something you need right now. Also, try and limit your intake of news on Corona. We need to know what is happening in the world right now, but try to not go down a Corona media black hole, it’s just not healthy. Another tip, is to read/watch serious news in the mornings/early afternoon, going to sleep with those hard hitting news stories, can cause undue stress, and impact your sleep.
But stay on social media, we need those memes. Humour is so valuable in a time of crisis. So keep reading and sharing, but try and limit the time you spend there, to protect your mental health.
6. Video calls
Video calls is an awesome way to keep your distance, while staying connected. I’ve been able to stay in touch with my family and friends, and my kids are able to show them their toys and art that they’ve made. My kids have used Zoom for classes with their teachers, and parties with their friends.
Also, I happened to celebrate my birthday a few weeks ago, and we took to Zoom to party. We shared drinks, danced to music, it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had. I don’t know when last I’d laughed like that, since social distancing. It helped me to feel close to family and friends… healthily.
When you’re feeling lonely, video call a friend or family member or five. That’s one of the most difficult things we are going to experience during a pandemic that requires us to stay away from people. And we humans are social beings. Even us introverts. We all need our people time. So reach out when you need to.
For me, one of my favourite things to do is to sit with a good book, or spend some time writing creatively. These type of activities have come in handy while I’m staying home. A few suggestions are reading, colouring in, knitting, painting, playing with playdough, sewing, drawing etc. Activites that will allow you to sit quietly for an hour or two. These type of activities are also mindful activities that enable you do move outside of your mind, and focus on doing something practical.
Another suggestion here, is to dance. It may not be a calm activity, but who feels stressed after having a dance party in your lounge? (knowing that you can literally dance like no one is watching). So move that coffee table out of the way, put on your favourite tunes, and dance it out.
8. Writing – even if you don’t normally
Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, it is really helpful to journal right now. We are all overwhelmed by what is happening around us, stress about the “new normal”, fear for ourselves and our families, having to fill multiple roles, and feeling lonely and distant from our friends and families. And it is so useful to get those thoughts down on paper. If you are lying awake at night, get out that journal and write down the thoughts that are keeping you awake. It may start out as a grocery list, but then evolve, like “buy tomatoes. Replace remote batteries. Why does my life suck right now? Is it because my dad never showed me enough affection?”
Hey, who knows, maybe you’ll find a hidden talent you didn’t know you had.
9. Sleep and wake times and meals
One thing that has become so easy is eating all day, but then also staying up all night because we’re binge watching Netflix, and then we wake up late. My advice here is to try and maintain the same bed time and wake up time. It won’t necessarily be the same as before, but it will relate to that routine you have set up for yourself. It sounds simple, but once again, something that you can control during a time when there is so much that is out of our control.
Closely linked to this is sticking to meal times. And yes, we are snacking an inordinate amount, but we need to ensure that we have our regular meals. If this is out of control , it can negatively impact your mental health. One thing I try and focus on, as a sufferer of anxiety, is to limit my coffee and sugar intake, and to ensure that I have regular meal times and snack times.
10. Time outside (Vitamin D)
Finally, spend some time outside, in the sun. We need to make sure that we get our vitamin D. Maybe have your lunch outside, or when you are journaling, do that outside in the sun. Also, something simple that you can do for your general physical health that will aid your mental health.
There is not much that we can control right now, so try focusing on what you can control.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am a mother of two. What I did
not mention is that I’m a mother of two children, under 4, who are 20 months
apart. That is enough to make anyone go a little crazy. And then to top it off,
my second pregnancy was complicated, and then my son had heart complications,
and then the cherry on top was me getting retrenched while on maternity leave,
on the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. More on that in a later post.
And did I mention that I had been suffering, undiagnosed, for at least the last 30 years? I started on the road to recovery roughly 2 years ago, so I thought I’d start with a post on mental health.
Words of Affirmation
Now, here, I’m not talking about
platitudes, or those messages you leave on your mirror to motivate you as you
start your day. What I’m talking about are those words that speak deep into
your soul. For all my life, I have struggled with issues of inadequacy and
feelings of not being good enough. I need to remember that I am capable, and
that I do not need to hold myself to anyone’s standards but my own. And also to
remember why I started. My word of affirmation is tattooed on my arm, “Powerful
beyond measure”, from the Marianne Williamson poem:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson
Hydrate. Eat your vegetables. Get a
massage. Stay in bed all day. Get up and shower. Read. Watch a movie. Whatever
is healing for you. We need to find ways in which to look after ourselves, and there
is no one-size-fits-all.
Some days, self-care is about getting up and doing the things. And then other days, it’s staying in bed because facing the world is harmful. But the most important thing is that we take time out to look after ourselves. And heal. Whatever that looks like.
What was your left hand doing while your
right hand was brushing your teeth this morning? Not many of us can answer
this. Because we are very rarely living in the moment. By the time we start
getting ready for work in the mornings, we are already prepping for our 9am
meeting in our heads. Mindfulness is something I am trying to practice,
particularly with my kids. To be honest, I’m learning from them to live in the moment, while I try to parent consciously
(also something I will chat about in a later post).
Something helpful that I was recently
guided through, was paying attention to your body when you feel an emotion.
Even if it’s a positive emotion, it just means that we are being more present.
Once we can acknowledge our thoughts, our emotions and our physical reactions,
we can start thinking about how to react, and what we need to do before we feel
overwhelmed by the emotion.
I’ve got a squishy toy in my desk drawer,
for when I feel tension, or stress, or the need to emotionally eat. And it
helps me release the anger, or stress in a different way, if I’m not able to
take a walk, or scream or exercise. All methods I use to manage difficult
In the moment, when you start feeling
overwhelmed, try a grounding exercise. Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things
you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you
can taste. What a grounding exercise helps you to do is to be take the focus
off the emotion and focus outside of yourself.
And if you can, dance it out.
Linked to mindfulness, is spending some
time in meditation. I struggle to sleep, and I started using a meditation app,
to meditate just before I went to sleep in the evenings. Just spending 5-10
minutes focusing on my breathing, did wonders for my insomnia. I managed to
fall asleep quite quickly, and I have also been managing to stay asleep throughout
What is also helpful, although I am the
first to admit that I haven’t been able to, is to try and get a meditation in,
in the morning, either before you get out of bed, or before you leave the
house. Whichever is more stress provoking. And also, before you go into the
office, spend 2 minutes in your care, focusing on your breathing.
I do a lot of meditation with my therapist, and in the mom’s group that I’m a part of, but outside of these, I have a meditation app. At the moment, I’m using Headspace, but there are plenty available in your app store. You can find one that works for you
Sometimes, you just have to. (under the
guidance of a licensed medical professional of course)
I will admit that I was very hesitant when
my therapist first suggested using medication, but now that I’ve found the
right medication, at the right dosage, it’s changed my life. For me, the
medication, helps stabilize my mood so that I can face everyday life. And then
I see a therapist to help me deal with everything else. Medication can fix
today’s mood, but it cannot fix the past. How I see it, it brings my mood to a
functioning level, just like everybody else, so that I’m better positioned to
deal with life stressors. It doesn’t
mean I float about and never experience stress or anger, or sadness. It just
means that these very normal emotions don’t debilitate me, like before.
Some tips from my journey. While a GP and a
psychiatrist can both prescribe medication, my preference is a psychiatrist,
because it’s their area of specialty. And they will be able to assess why the
medication is not working, or maybe it is working and the real reason you’re
feeling down is PMS (it’s happened to me), or other such things. And also, if
you have a good one, they won’t just look at the diagnostic criteria, they will
look at you holistically, and consult with you on how you are feeling, what is
happening in your life etc etc. Generally because they spend their entire day
working with mental illness, I feel like they are more equipped for when you
bring your concerns to them.
Also, you may be wondering how it works.
And that is what most people worry about, is that taking psychiatric medicine
messes with your brain chemistry and who are you. So I am not equipped, to
explain it, and also I am not a qualified medical professional so cannot be
dispensing medical advice, or explanations. What I will explain here is how it
happens from the patient side.
Once you are diagnosed, your psychiatrist
will prescribe medication that she/he feels is right for you based on a variety
of factors. For example, when I started medication, I was still breastfeeding,
so that had to be taken into account. And that medication is the only
medication I am on, so I didn’t have to worry about interactions with other
medication. You will start taking your meds, but you won’t necessarily feel a
change for at least 4 weeks. Which is why you will need to go back and meet
with your psychiatrist. If it works – great, then you will stay on those meds for a
period, determined by your psychiatrist. And so it will go. Sometimes, you’ll
be fine for months, and then it won’t work, or something will happen and you
need to adjust your meds, but your psychiatrist will keep a close eye on you,
and also, if you do feel changes that are concerning, contact your doctor. On
one type of meds that I was on, I felt numb, which is kind of a feeling I was
struggling with, as part of depression, so that was defs not working for me.
And a final note on treatment, I am currently seeing both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, for an holistic treatment. Together they deal with all my stuff both inside and out. Like I said before, medication helps stabilize your mood to “normal” levels, and then a psychologist will help you with other factors which lead to you seeking help.
You may be one of those lucky people with a
large support group, but if you are not, there is a host of therapists out
there. You may need to search for a while to find one that you have rapport
with. I went through 3 before I found The One. Also, if you are lucky enough to
have friends and family who are good at dispensing advice and providing support,
that’s great, but sometimes professional help is what you really need,
particularly if there is trauma or mental illness involved.
One last note on my starter kit, my disclaimer on the above
is that I am by no means a mental health professional, these have been my
experiences, and you may have completely different experiences. What I will
urge you to do though, is if you are feeling big emotions, that are
overwhelming, or are causing you to not be able to manage your everyday life,
seek help. You do not need to suffer alone.
I was born Leila (pronounced LIE-LAH) Gardner on the
Thursday the 12th of April 1984, by Caesar, on a date chosen by my
mother, so that I wasn’t born on Friday the 13th. And while it may
sound like an overshare, there is a lot to be said of your birth experience and
how it impacts the rest of your life. If you believe in the weird sciences. And
I tend to flip flop between the weird sciences and the actual sciences. Just
like my name is spelt like LAY-LAH, and pronounced like LIE-LAH.
Just like my name, I am complicated. And generally don’t fit
into the boxes. I can be a lot for some people. And it’s taken me 30 some years
to realise that that’s ok. I hope you’re all still reading, because I’m just
To describe myself, in one word, I would say: quirky. And I
hope that this blog will give you some insight into my quirky world.
A world which I inhabit with my husband and two kids. My
birth family is spread around the world, but I have a big family of inlaws who
mostly live within 5kms of me. We like each other at least. And then there is
my friendamily, made up of people that share my brand of crazy.
By day, I am a marketing “professional”. And that’s all I’d
like to say about that.
By night, I’m everything else. I do a little ballet because I enjoy dance and I wanted to do contemporary, but it clashed with my son’s swimming. Hashtag momlife. I do a bit of writing. Not this blog only, but I’m writing a screen play and a novel. The plans/outlines of which mock me every day as they are above my dressing table. And then I try and fit in some running and some swimming and other fitness type things.
I used to consider myself a triathlete, but now the only tri
sports I do are feeding my kids, bathing them and getting them ready for bed.
Also, I bring this up, because it’s a part of me, although I don’t allow it to define me is that I suffer with Anxiety, Depression and ADHD. And I hope I can share some insights of living with the triad of mental illness and my journey towards mental health. So while I am on this journey, of mental health, motherhood and other things, I hope I can share my life with you and maybe you’ll laugh, maybe you’ll cry, because you’re laughing so much. And maybe you’ll just think I’m weird but carry on reading anyway. But hopefully I’ll make you feel ok, and maybe I’ll inspire some of you. To do what, I dunno. But if you feel good then my work here is done.