Sometimes It Just Gets Better

I know it’s important we talk when we’re hurting, but I’m starting to think that, for me, anyway, it might be just as important to talk about the times like now when I’m doing okay.

Why? Let’s call it a message for my future self, in case I’m not always this lucky.

Hi Future Me! It’s Past You, I thought you might like to know that as of November 30th 2019, you haven’t obsessively thought about killing yourself for a month.  Hope you’re doing good. S x

See, one of the things mental illness does is mess with my sense of time. It makes the clock hands spin simultaneously too fast and too slow, dragging out moments of despair to infinite-seeming duration, while also making me super aware that my life is racing away at breakneck speed that there’s so much to do, and no time at all to do it and every second I crouch there in a foetal position with a bellyful of panic-scoffed cake makes it worse and worse and ….. you get the point.

In those moments, it feels like I was always that afraid, which makes it easy to believe that I will always be that afraid. Memories of times when I wasn’t are compressed to vanishing point.

Honestly, this is what makes suicidal ideation feel so dangerous. People say ‘it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem’ and that’s absolutely true, but the problem doesn’t feel temporary when you’re in it. Leaving myself notes like this one as evidence that it is temporary, well, that feels only prudent.

One of the other things my malfunctioning mental widgets make me do is disdain my own accomplishments. I move the bar every time I succeed at something, so that success is barely adequate:

Oh you wrote? write faster. Oh you ran?  run another mile, and so on.

Recently, I realised the same misfiring circuit was making me dismiss my current spate of good health. Not that I think I can take credit for my mental state, exactly;  I’ve taken some steps that contributed to it, therapy and meds etc, but it’s probably got at least as much to do with life changes, and the unpredictable tides of brain chemistry, but it’s simply the case that I have at times in the past been in a pretty bad way, and at the moment I’m not, and that’s worth celebrating.

If nothing else, mental circuits, like muscles, strengthen via repetition, and I figure any practice I can get in battling the inclination to discount to zero good stuff in my life, has to be worthwhile. Being kind to yourself isn’t an indulgence, it’s a survival strategy.

Odds are, this stint in the sunny uplands of mental health won’t last forever. It never has before, and I know, Future Me, that your initial instinct when you read this back will be to clutch it to your chest and weep tears for how far you’ve fallen, but listen to me closely, Fuck. That. That’s precisely the wrong lesson to learn from this. The swampy pit you’re currently in is no more inescapable that my present hilltop. Nor, in all likelihood, will be the pit or hilltop after that. Maybe at some point, you’ll get to settle down on a nice hillside somewhere, but in the meantime, enjoy the sun when you’re in it, and for god’s sake Stacey, try to learn to anticipate it when you’re not.

Building Resilience.

Resilience is our ability to adapt and cope with difficult things that happen in life. It’s what helps us to bounce back and to keep going no matter how hard things are. Often we’re surprised by the extent of our resilience and how we’re able to cope with much more than we might have realised. But as humans we’re hardwired to be able to cope with all sorts of things that happen to us in our lives and we have a natural resilience that kicks in when we need it.

However, resilience is something that we also can all build and nurture within ourselves and can increase our ability to cope when life throws challenges our way. We often have little control over things that happen to us in life…the death of a loved one, illness, loosing jobs, breakups, abuse… However, we can control how we respond and react when these things happen.

Here are some ways to help you build your resilience and to support you to cope when the going gets tough.

Take each day as it comes.

Sometimes thinking too far ahead or trying to deal with everything that is going on in your life at once can get overwhelming. Try focusing on the here and now. Break things down into manageable chunks and focus on getting through each day or hour. Give yourself small achievable goals and reward yourself when you complete them. Getting through tough times happens minute by minute, you are doing it already, just keep going.

Change is part of life. Learn to embrace it.

Change can feel scary and uncertain but it can be a really positive thing. Try to be curious and open to it. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned and things can happen in life that bring about change that you didn’t expect or want. However, change also brings about new opportunity. As much as we might crave security and predictability life doesn’t always work like this, by being open to change (and expecting it!) we can grow our adaptability and resilance.

Learn to trust yourself and your ability to cope.

You have an incredible ability to cope with all sorts of things that life throws at you and you are probably much stronger than you realise. Have faith in yourself and practice trusting yourself and the decisions you make. You have the ability to cope and to solve all sorts of problems and challenges, build your confidence to tap into this. You are your best guide!

Look after yourself

Taking care of yourself physcially and emotionally is really important and we often forget to do this, especially in tough times. However it’s when things get tough that it’s even more important to look after yourself. Eating properly, exercising, socialising and resting are key to resilience and being able to cope. As tempting as it is to neglect them do your best to nourish and support yourself.

Take control of your mind

Our minds can very easily take us down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts, unhelpful thinking and fear. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking but your thoughts do not control you. Practice trying to recognise your thoughts as just being thoughts and try to step outside of them even if just for a few moments. Some people find meditation and mindfulness helpful to do this. Your thoughts don’t control you and sometimes our minds can torture us but we can choose not to succumb to this. Forcing yourself to recognise that your thoughts are running away from you is a really good place to start. Even if you can only step outside them for a few seconds to begin with, the more you practice the easier it will become.

Ask for what you need and be assertive

If someone is asking too much of you tell them! Be clear about what you can and can’t do and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Being clear and upfront with people can be helpful for you and them and can make sure you’re not overloading yourself, especially if things are tough. It can also reduce uncertainty. By addressing something head on you reduce the need to worry about it. If it’s causing you stress take steps to sort it out.

Switch off and make time for play!

Never feel guilty for allowing yourself a little light relief. Even when you’re going through a really tough patch, it’s ok to feel happy at times, to laugh and to enjoy life. Try and make some time to do things you enjoy and to give yourself a break. A few minutes of laughter or playfulness can do wonders and can help you to keep going.

Let yourself feel your emotions

It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to feel however you feel and it’s good to let these emotions out! Whilst it’s not a great idea to let your emotions overwhelm you all the time, make sure you do allow yourself time to feel what you are feeling and get in touch with your emotions rather than try and force them away. Sometimes there’s alot of pressure to feel a certain way or to aspire to always be ‘happy’, but actually all of our different emotions are equally valid and human beings are designed to experience a whole range.

Be kind to yourself

We all too often beat ourselves up for struggling, for having ‘bad days’ or for not feeling or acting as we think we should. Make sure you show yourself some love and kindness and look after yourself. You’re doing great and there is no right way to be or to deal with difficult times, everyone is different and everyone copes in their own way. Show yourself compassion and love, you deserve it.

Ask for support when you need it

Make sure that if you do need some extra support that you reach out and ask for it. There is lots of support out there but sometimes you need to take responsibility for getting your needs met. Whether it’s asking friends and family or using professional services. Don’t suffer on your own!

Life is full of ups and downs, it’s a rollercoaster. Sometimes we feel able to cope and other times it’s much harder. By building your resilience you are strengthening your emotional muscles ready for when you need them! Life can be seriously tough. But so can you!

I don’t feel like celebrating Christmas this year.

If this year has left you worn out and limping towards the finish line it’s easy to dread the festive season.

There’s something about Christmas that makes it feel almost impossible to opt out. It’s everywhere. You can’t go a moment without the reminder that ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’, which of course isn’t what you want to hear when for you, it really isn’t feeling that wonderful.

Some of us this year will be hurtling towards Christmas with a sense of dread and a wish for it all to just go away. An enforced Christmas can enduce stomach churning fear and an intense desire to hibernate quietly somewhere warm and wait for the madness to pass.

Christmas isn’t always easy and it can be one of the most difficult times of the year for lots of people. There is an expectation to be happy and jolly and when you’re not feeling like celebrating it can be really hard. It’s also not unusual for your sadness to become accentuated when you’re watching and observing everyone else’s (perceived) happiness!

This can make the Christmas season feel very isolating and sometimes hard to cope with. Everyone else seems to be getting more and more excited and festive and as their Christmas radar peaks yours hits rock bottom. There is often an expectation to join in with the buzz of it all, to plaster a smile on your face and get stuck in. However, pretending the Christmas spirit has swept you away when just getting through the day is effort enough can be, quite frankly soul destroying and exhausting.

For some people, there is someone missing this Christmas and it means that Christmas is forever changed.

So what do Christmas and other milestone events mean when someone so loved is missing? How do you start to rebuild? and should we even try? And how do you cope with a world where festive momentum is building by the day all around you. I don’t think there is an easy answer to this but there are things you can do to ease the pain.

We all have times in our lives where things fall apart. Whatever the situation, whether its grief, illness, life events, mental health…things happen and often they are out of our control. And at the same time annual milestones and celebrations come and go, the world continues to turn even when for you time has ground to a halt. So how do you make it through the holiday season in one piece when life has dealt you a rough ride?

Here’s a few thoughts…

There are lots of people feeling the same as you this year. Trust me there are. They are hard to spot because they are probably the ones keeping quiet and hiding or they are putting on a brave face and doing their best to fake it and put on a show. All of us have times in our lives where things are quite frankly a little bit shit and we will all have years where we don’t feel like celebrating. This is your year but it is also someone else’s year too. You aren’t alone and you’re probably in better company than you realise. Don’t be too scared of telling people how you’re feeling, you never know, it might help them to admit that they are struggling too.

You might not want to celebrate the holiday season and you might want to totally opt out but is there someway that you could think of to look after yourself instead? Is there something you could do to treat yourself? To give yourself a break? To recognise that just because you don’t feel like celebrating doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself a break. Perhaps you want to curl up with a good book or teach yourself a new skill? Perhaps you want to set yourself a challenge or emerse yourself in nature? Give yourself the gift of a little bit of time just focused for you and be kind to yourself.

Give yourself permission to opt out if you want to. Want to skip Christmas drinks? Bail on your friends? Bunker down and hide away for a little while? That’s all ok, don’t be afraid of putting your needs first. You don’t need to feel that you have to or should do anything that you don’t want to. Traditions can be lovely things and are a nice way of people providing structure to a holiday but that is all they are and sometimes disengaging with them can be really refreshing! Want to banish turkey, christmas music and presents-why not! Want to ditch the Christmas party and catch up on Netflix instead- go for it! You might end up creating some new ways of spending your holiday time that become personal traditions that work for you.

Step outside of you for a little while. Easier said than done I know, but sometimes focusing on someone else and projecting your energy outwards can be a real boost. This year has been tough for you but it’s been tough for others too. Is there someone you know who could do with a helping hand at the moment, a chat, a kind gesture? Do a good deed and you might be surprised at the impact it has on you.

Don’t dwell on the fact that it’s Christmas. It is, after all, just another day and it will pass and it won’t be long before it will fade to just a distant memory. It might be tough and it might not be what you hoped for but it is temporary and it will be over. Don’t set yourself any expectations for how youre going to think and feel. You will be how you will be and you never know, you might surpise yourself and experiencing uplifting moments.

Christmas is a time of year where there is hope, generosity and goodwill all across the world and even if the idea of jumping feet first into it all isn’t appealing don’t be too quick to write it all off. Experiencing it for what it is, and giving yourself permission to enjoy moments and feel happy is really important. Even when things are tough, beautiful moments and things can still happen and will happen if you are open to them. So don’t fully opt out of Christmas just yet, take it for what it is and be open to enjoying elements and celebrating the good in the world; it is there. This year things might be tough but things change and time heals. The way you feel right now doesn’t define you and chances are you won’t always feel this way. Be kind to yourself, take care and stay in the moment.