In a nod to Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 I thought I would write a post on mental health.
Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. It is thought that as many as 1 in 3 people with chronic illness also have mental ill health.
I wouldn’t want to do disservice to those individuals that have experienced persistent and chronic mental ill health, this post is simply my experience of ‘managing my mind whilst battling my body’.
In my last post R&R (Rheumatoid Arthritis and Relationships, I discussed how illness impacted my relationship with myself and others. This post is an extension to that and the relationship with me, with my mind.
In all honesty until a year or so ago if I had been asked if RA and Glaucoma had impacted anything other than my physical health, I would of said no. I very much saw my conditions as physical.
I know now that this isn’t true.
It took me a long time to start looking after my body after diagnosis, largely carrying on as ‘normal’ until that stopped working for me. It has taken me even longer to start looking after my mind…
I’m not going to spend a long time talking about how I physically look after myself, those close to me will already know but in summary it consists of;
– Healthy diet (high in anti inflammatory foods, turmeric, ginger, juices etc)
– Regular exercise
– No alcohol and;
– Sleep (my days on broad street are well behind me).
What I am going to talk about is how I take care of my mental wellbeing.
So, why did it take me so long to look after my mind? Well, recognition and acceptance comes to mind. As I mentioned above, I viewed my illness as very much physical. I experienced frustration at my body and anger at the ‘why me’?
I have always been very active, growing up I was a tomboy, at school and 6th form I gave the boys a run for their money on sports days and in the gym so when my body started to go wrong my mind didn’t know what to do. I still wanted to do everything I always had only now my body had different ideas.
I hid this frustration well 99% of the time and actually during this time my career really took off. I would say that hardly anyone outside of my immediate family and friends knew I even had illness and that was exactly how I wanted it.
I would work hard and play hard and then spend Saturday and Sunday unable to move but that was okay because people didn’t have to see that side. That is called denial.
This as you can imagine can not be sustained…enter anger.
When I realised things had to change and the ‘old life’ wasn’t going to work, I was incredibly angry, again on the inside. Only those closest to me saw this side and it was usually after a drink and when I was simply too exhausted to maintain the show, the matinee had taken its toll and there would be no evening performance.
Those of you familiar with grief may be noticing a pattern here, effectively I am working through the stages of grief, and I was grieving, grieving for the old me.
So, what’s next, well in the 5 stages of grief it is bargaining. I’m not sure I really bothered with this stage, I said a few silent prayers at night, ‘please let this next eye operation work and I will be nicer’ but I guess I never really felt I had anything to trade. So moving swiftly on…
Depression. I’m going to amend this to mental ill health, I am very aware that the level of mental ill health I have experienced is minimal compared to others so I can not claim to know what acute depression feels like. Having said that I did eventually notice a deterioration in my mental wellbeing, I felt like I just didn’t want these cards, this is not me saying I didn’t want to be alive. I did, I just wanted those old cards back, the dealer must of got it wrong, I had someone else’s cards, ones I wasn’t ready to take.
I spent my days feeling sorry for myself, again on the inside. I should point out throughout this my career continued to progress and I had begun making a name for myself in my firm but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy with this, spending my time missing me and not yet ready to accept life. I think most people can relate to living in the past to some extent, whether it is the ‘what ifs’, the rose tinted glasses, regret etc. All I know is the past is exactly that, it cannot be changed or re-written, all we can do is move along… this led me to acceptance.
A very wise person told me:
whilst you are sat here focusing on all the things you can not do, you are missing the opportunity to do all the things you can.
At this point I think I was recovering from an operation and life was obviously extremely bad because of all things I could not go to, especially the gym for oooh at least three weeks! Dramatic I know, but to me it was just another way physical ill health was stopping me doing what I wanted.
It was at this point I became aware of meditation, mindfulness, knitting, colouring, positive affirmations, loose leaf tea and writing. All of these things I could do during post-op recovery or when I physically didn’t feel great.
It was hard at first, I really had to force myself to meditate and it was very sporadic. My default during recovery was to sit on the sofa, watch Jeremy Kyle and focus on all the things I wasn’t doing. The worst thing is the things I wasn’t doing, i.e. Completing a triathlon, running everyday aren’t even things I particularly wanted to do and certainly don’t do now, it was almost like I just wanted to beat myself up and torment myself…cheers mind!
Anyway I forced myself and gradually it became a bigger part of my life. I’m by no means say that I do all of those things everyday… well maybe the tea drinking but what I have is my mental toolbox. Skills I can draw on when I can feel myself struggling and the ability to recognise when I need to focus on my mental wellbeing as well as my physical.
I view my mental wellbeing in the same way now as my physical wellbeing. Rather than being reactive I am proactive. I personally wouldn’t wait until I was obese to start exercising so why would I wait until I am mentally unwell to look after my mind?
Learning about myself, learning to accept myself hasn’t been easy but it has been worth it. I am both mentally and physically stronger as a result.
I hope this has helped those with similar conditions relate and those having not experienced this understand.