Mental ‘health warning’
This post is being written because I, like a lot of other people out there, have suffered from a mental health condition. It still rears its ugly head at times though I manage it as best as I can through various means. Some of these have included ‘talking therapies,’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy*. Others include self-help such as exercise, hobbies and having fun events to look forward to. I’ve also used medication (yes, pills. Something I’d rather not take, but for fear of the alternative I have been reluctant to come off of them). My GP seems reluctant for me to wean off them completely. Cynics may argue that of course GPs want you to stay medicated as that is providing their pay-cheques. I’d also like to think that GPs have their patients’ best interests at heart too.
The conditions I’ve dealt with are anxiety and depression. The pair seem to go hand in hand. In my experience, they seem to flare up most profoundly at times that I feel overwhelmed, or under higher levels of stress. Of course, stress is a normal part of everyday life. It motivates us and gives us the incentive to get our work done and deal with the necessary daily/weekly/monthly chores in a timely manner. But when the stress becomes unmanageable, that’s when the self-doubt, helplessness and despair comes crashing over me like a tsunami-style tidal wave.
I am not alone in feeling like this. Lots of people experience these unsettling emotions. Maybe not necessarily to a degree that affects their life to an extent that they have to withdraw from a ‘normal’ existence for a couple of months. But enough to feel that they are merely surviving rather than necessarily living. Why do people get to such a despairing mode?
Nature vs Nurture
We are all born as unique individuals. We may be naturally ‘laid-back’ and easy- going in our characters. Little things might wash over us like water off the back of a duck. Some of us, conversely, may be more tightly-strung. At the right tension we work perfectly fine, like the strings on a musical instrument. When wound too tight, though, we are more prone to suffering high levels of anxiety. When these are exacerbated through experiences that life throws at us, we can essentially ‘break.’ Life experiences that can trigger a severely altered mood include
- more demands at work.
- a house move.
- relationship breakdown.
- money problems.
- Other major life-changing event, e.g. becoming a parent.
In our upbringing, the behaviour and actions of our parents are those that we become acutely accustomed to. For most people, the personality traits they adopt as they mature will be inherited from their parents or caregivers. If a parent is overprotective and strict, this may lead to the child (and corresponding adolescent) to become cautious. In addition they potentially feel anxious about making mistakes for fear of criticism. A more relaxed and encouraging parent, on the other hand, will inspire more confidence in their children. The child/ren will feel more comfortable with trying new activities and set-backs won’t be feared to the same extent as for a more ‘sensitive’ individual. This is not just about how parenting affects our predisposition to suffering mental health conditions. As an individual I need to accept responsibility for my innate ‘limitations’ that also helped contribute to my illness.
Keeping up with the Jones’s
In this ever-changing world, we are bombarded with media that projects success as having the latest commodities and devices, as well as having immaculate ‘show’ homes and new cars. In addition, professional careers are seen as the way to be ‘upstanding citizens’ in society. Having had a more professional career, as a scientific research assistant, and now currently being in a low-paid ‘unskilled’ role, I can honestly say I pretty much feel the same way about myself in either situation. A lot of the way I feel stems from lower self-esteem. As a fairly introverted person, I was fairly studious though not naturally academically accomplished. I got good GCSES, followed by A-levels, and subsequently a Batchelor’s degree in a biological science. It was an achievement for me to come out of University and enter my first ‘proper job.’ More so since at one point in my A-levels during a ‘wobbly’ period, I was told that I ‘wouldn’t be able to cope with going to University.’ Getting that finely-pressed and crested paper certificate sure showed them!
But just getting a degree doesn’t seem to be enough. We are told we need to get further degrees or doctorates to progress up the career ladder. Extracurricular activities such as sports, music and volunteering are touted as being Curriculum Vitae essentials as well. Now, I’m all for bettering myself, learning new skills and taking up new hobbies / interests. But there needs to be balance. It’s not necessarily going to be of benefit to become a semi-professional dancer if the money you need for lessons is competing for more essential items such as housing costs and nutritional food.
Be more realistic instead of materialistic
In more recent years, I’ve learnt to settle for less. Financially in terms of income, and materially. I have bought quite a few sex toys (*okay lots of sex toys*, and lingerie too). But I rarely spend the full RRP on items that I buy. Some items are testers, so they have been free in exchange for a review. More expensive items I have purchased only when heavily discounted. Moreover, we don’t go out as much as we used to or have as expensive holidays. This has had more to do with parenting responsibilities though, and the expense of childcare / overseas travel.
Being more realistic extends to what I can reasonably accomplish in a given timeframe. Since I tend to overthink, I sometimes may take a bit longer to get started on a task. Not only that but I sometimes underestimate how much time I will need to complete something. I’ve attempted to manage mine (and other people’s) expectations. This helps avoid disappointment plus associated ‘knocks’ to my confidence. Challenging Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS)* is a practice I frequently go back to. In times of feeling overwhelmed it’s easy to become blinkered by ‘black and white’ / all-or-nothing thinking patterns. These do nothing to help a situation, instead they paralyse us into a sense of inadequacy and indecision. I reason with myself that a decision is better than no decision. As long as I’ve considered it from as many angles as possible then I’ll ‘cross that bridge’ if and when I get to it.
This is becoming a longer post than I anticipated. To prevent myself procrastinating and worrying if what I’ve written is ‘good enough’ I will throw caution to the wind (for a change) and hit publish! Please feel free to comment if you have had similar experiences, or if you want to discuss any of the content in more depth.
I may not wish to go into all the details of my own depressive episodes, so please respect that, but I may be able to offer some advice.
*Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS) are only mentioned briefly in this post. If feedback from readers suggests that further discussion of this type of therapy is warranted, I will write more in a future post.