I don’t feel particularly comfortable writing this blog post.
But I do believe strongly that the more we talk about mental health and mental illness, the less stigmatised and isolating it becomes. I would hate for this to be considered navel-gazing or a wallowing post filled with self-pity, but as today is World Mental Health Day I thought I’d share my own experiences of anxiety and what has worked for me when it comes to dealing with it.
Something I’ve mulled over in the process of starting this blog is how we represent our lives online. On more than one occasion, I’ve had people tell me how jealous they are of my travels this year, how exciting it would be living overseas, how cool my life looks on Instagram. I know that I’m incredibly lucky, and I’m very grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had so far, but I’m also not going to lie – it’s been really, really challenging as well. I thought that without the pressure of full-time work, my anxiety and perfectionist tendencies would magically disappear. Surprise! They didn’t. And with more free time on my hands, I found myself fuelling the niggling worries in my head because I had more time to devote to indulging those worries.
I’ve experienced anxiety since I was a small child, when I used to fret about why I couldn’t fall asleep. It seemed everyone but me was able to drift off into the world of nod without much effort, and everyone else was getting a good night’s rest. I’d fret about being tired the next day and not able to perform well at school. This would then snowball into a fear of not getting good grades and disappointing my parents, and, not surprisingly, keep me awake at night.
Throughout high-school, where I was a boarder, I went through intense periods of being bullied and excluded. I luckily found a group of amazing friends who pulled me through what was hands-down the toughest time of my life, as well an amazing support network in my family, teachers and school counsellor. I hate to think of myself as a victim, and usually when I think back to that time in my life, it’s with a sense of pride that I got myself through an awful, prolonged period of unhappiness intact. However, as I’ve got older, I have reflected more on that period and wondered if it has in fact had a more tangible impact on my sense of self-worth and confidence than I realised.
I often find it challenging to back myself professionally, convincing myself that my work or ideas are probably not terribly useful, creative or unique. When I first read about Imposter Syndrome, it was like I was reading someone else perfectly describe my own mental dialogue at work. Working remotely means I have to restrain myself from over-communicating, as I feel a strong need to prove that I am actually working and contributing something useful. And if something goes wrong with a project, or there’s a breakdown in a professional relationship, I’m convinced that it’s either because I’m in the wrong or didn’t work hard enough to avoid the problem from occurring.
I have a very up-and-down relationship with my body. One minute it’s this amazing temple housing healthy tuna salad, magic abilities to perform yoga and the confidence to wear high-waisted jeans. The next I’m bemoaning the fact that I look like a giant next to all of my friends, I have love handles which not even my husband could possibly love, and I may as well just drown myself in merlot before face-planting into a large bowl of pasta and be done with it.
Does all of the above sound absolutely stupid? Of course it does. But I’m sure there’s a least one element of what I’ve said that resonates with you, or someone you care about. And although I’m lucky not to experience anxiety intensely every single day, when it does sneak up, it hits hard.
According to Mental Health Australia, one in five of us is currently dealing with some form of mental illness. I love how this year’s theme is ‘Do you see what I see?’, which is a call to look at mental health in a more positive light. Here are a couple of things which have helped me when I’ve been feeling low:
Make health a priority at your work
Although I personally love work drinks, sometimes you need other (healthier!) initiatives to get you out of a work slump and help you bond with your colleagues.
My last manager instituted a great team tradition that we would go for a group run every Thursday afternoon. Everyone was welcome, and we planned our afternoon meeting so that it was easy for everyone in our team to attend. Pace or fitness wasn’t important – it was just the fact that we all got outside together to do something healthy.
I go insane when I’m by myself for too long. Now that I’m working from home, I often go to a local café to work – I feel that I’m more productive when I’m around other people. If you work with colleagues, don’t feel guilty about spending time catching up with your friends for coffee, lunch or a walk. A problem shared is a problem halved (as long as it’s part of your break!).
Be ok with your own company
There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Find something you enjoy doing just for you, by yourself. Maybe it’s exercise, going to a movie, going to an art gallery or eating out by yourself. For me, when I’m feeling down, I try to do something that I know from experience I’m going to enjoy doing by myself.
Take baby-steps to healthy eating and exercise
When I’m feeling crap, I find exercise really daunting. I have a big picture idea of going from 0-50 in the space of a week, and make grand plans to overhaul my diet and exercise regime. I’ve found a great app called Aaptiv, which is like a personal trainer in your pocket. I start off with regularly making time for 15 minute beginner work-outs and build up from there.
Kate Freeman is a legend in my household. She’s a down-to-earth, no bs health-writer and nutritionist who created The Healthy Eating Hub in Canberra. Her recipes are simple, delicious and filling, and she writes great posts about healthy eating which are designed for real human beings, not photo-shopped Instagram models. Speaking of which…
Think about who you’re following online
There is nothing more soul-destroying that going on social media when you’re feeling crap and you deliberately seek out accounts you know will make you feel even worse. Unfollow accounts that make you more insecure than they do happy.
On that note, I promise to keep sharing the great and exciting things that are happening in my life. But I also promise to share an insight into the things that don’t make the cut for the highlights reel.
My mental health mantra for 2017 when I’m feeling anxious, like an imposter, fat or incompetent: just because you think it does not mean that it’s true.