This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and I've invited a long-time friend of mine (another Louise!) to guest blog about her experiences of mental health. Take it away, Lou G!
This week is one dedicated to breaking through the stigma that's attached to discussing mental health issues, and educating those who are still learning about how mental health affect people differently.
The hardest thing for me isn't how to write this piece, but where to start. Which story to share. I may only be in my mid-30's but life's thrown a few challenges my way and I have had many a battle with my own mental health.
From a young age, I remember being seen as different. I was loud, quirky, weird and a bit eccentric. An overly enthusiastic kid with a side of harmless trouble thrown in for good measure. Teachers and other parents were a bit wary of this crazy ball of energy bouncing around the classroom.
Luckily I was a pretty hardy soul, comments went over my head whilst I distracted myself with the next shiny thing that drew in my interest. The problem is that as you get older, you become aware of what people are saying and thinking about you. No one took interest in WHY I was maybe like that. It's just how I was, so I grew to accept this too.
Be yourself, everyone else is taken - Oscar Wilde
It didn't matter what I tried, I could join all the societies and clubs, run toddler groups as I entered motherhood, join the PTA and more. I would be known as the YES and the IDEAS lady. Want something done, ask Louise, she will probably have the energy to do this. Want some good ideas about how to fix a problem? Louise will probably have 100 ideas and again, being the YES lady, she will probably offer to run every one of them herself too.
And in my bid for acceptance, I did it ALL.... This ended up being more detrimental to my mental health than I realised, and a link that I failed to spot myself.
Everything I signed up to was attacked with every ounce of energy I had, to the point once a project was finished I suffered serious burnout. I was so keen to please and be accepted and people to say, WOW; that's the sort of person we want as a friend, not just as a dogs body... that I just kept going.
My husband would step in and try to warn me, seeing negative patterns in my behaviour, but unfortunately for him, I was in denial there was anything else going on. I just liked to be busy and wanted people to need me and the excitement of running all these projects I found addictive.
Two years ago I started to see some behaviour in my youngest daughter that I recognised. She was struggling to find her place within school, the kids were wary of her overly creative storytelling and enthusiasm, the teacher was calling me to complain she was distracted in class and was concerned it was due to her being mentally incapable of doing the work (just to clarify here, she was being expected to sit and trace and colour in alphabet letters for ten minutes, something she had been doing since the age of two and that she was bored to death with doing...).
Not only did I feel upset for her, but it took me back to my own childhood. I could see the whole thing playing out again. Parents weren't encouraging of their children being friends with a kid that may encourage their own kids to become distracted and a little on the weird side.
I knew there was something more to it, and luckily, worldwide, there is now a better acceptance and understanding of kids who maybe were struggling in school due to being different. I pushed for an assessment. If anything I didn't want my daughter to go through the same unnecessary challenges as I went through if there were answers available.
As we sat with the doctor, they noted the pattern I was expressing through my own journey and my daughters and asked me if I had ever thought about getting an assessment. It had never occurred to me that it would still be relevant, I was 34 and had managed so far without an assessment... Yes, I was still doing all the things above, still heavily distracted, disorganised, prone to burnout and depression, but I hadn't even considered my own mental health was worth looking into...
A few months later I was being told I displayed very strong signs of having adult ADHD and a very mild form of bipolar. I was in shock at first... would I now be expected to go on drugs to help me manage myself? I was a bit freaked out to be honest. I had lived my whole life without medication and I wasn't planning on my own daughter (who also got diagnosed with ADHD) taking medication for something that I hoped we could try and work through.
What I have I done to try and help myself? The same things I would suggest to anyone, no matter what mental health issues they are battling.
* Learn who you are
Taking the time to understand yourself is VERY important. No matter if you have bouts of depression, suffer from loneliness, anxiety, or maybe something more pronounce: take time for YOU to understand why and if there are any underlying reasons.
* Accept yourself
YES!!! Sometimes I am a bit mental or different and that's ok!
* Believe it
Yes, I am repeating the comment above but as I shared in my own journey, I thought I did accept myself. Even though I had this basic acceptance of myself I still found myself falling over at the same hurdles time and time again.
Today you are are you, this is truer than true, there is no one else that is 'youer' than you - Dr Seuss.
*A diagnosis is ok
There's still so much stigma attached to going to the doctors and asking for help. We are all human, but some people would be more likely to go to the doctors for minor aches and pains than they would for something as important as mental health and well being. It's not irrelevant or less worthy than physical well being!
The more people who can stand up and say they are living with or have gone through a journey with their own mental health, the more it helps others come forward and talk about their experiences and maybe, seek help. The less we hide away from mental health issues and discard its importance of being accepted worldwide as an OK subject to talk about freely, the more we normalise it and can help people find the confidence to continue the discussion. By owning a bigger understanding of yourself, you give yourself the chance to set more realistic limits, goals and boundaries for yourself.
I HATE this word, but what I would say instead is take time for you. Not to go shopping or do errands you normally do all day, but do things to let your head calm down.
Read a book. Sit in the sunshine with your eyes closed, feeling the sun on your skin and listening to the world around you. Watch a thunderstorm. Be aware of others around you, open your eyes.
Everyone has their own story, their own journey, be mindful of that. You may feel alone but you are surrounded by many who are also going through their own journeys too.
*Never use it as an excuse
If your mental well being has affected others, be aware of that and make it right. Your behaviour could have a knock on effect to others, and as I've said above, you can't understand anyone else's journey fully, but you are responsible for your own. Mental Health is never an excuse to be cruel or mean to someone. You of all people know the power of an encouraging word or a hug, a smile and know how an angry face when you are feeling down can be the thing that causes you to break, and feel worse. BE 'MINDFUL' OF THAT.
Through an acceptance of myself I am hoping that I have found myself a happier place. I have connected online with other adults with ADHD to see how they have managed their own journeys. Being self-aware has given me the tools to take little steps in finding a better life balance for myself.
If I volunteer to do something, I do it not for the praise of others or the need of their adoration, friendship or the desire of feeling wanted. I do it because I want to and because I want to feel my own self-worth. I'm also very aware that being busy all the time isn't THE answer.
I am sure life will still find a way to present me new challenges, new adventures. But for now, I'm happy to know, that I quite like me, especially now I know who I am.
Life is a journey and most journeys include ups and downs, right paths, wrong paths, moments of feeling lost or moments of absolute joy. Not all of us walk the same path, some of us are lucky enough to have our paths cross each other, to share a moment in that journey together.
Above all, this is YOUR journey and YOU are responsible for the direction you take it, so if you can, try and make sure to enjoy the little things and appreciate where you have been and all you have achieved.
Find me on Twitter @OnceUponALouise
Thanks chick, great stuff! I can certainly relate to "busy = happy" ... An attitude I learned to fight against a few years back. A good reminder.
Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week here, and be well!
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