You’ll see from my blog post here that I have had a bit of a break from blogging. One of the reasons for this is that health wise I haven’t been 100%. When my physical health isn’t good it really gives my mental health a bit of a knock. When this happens I talk about ‘hitting a bit of a low’. I’m not quite sure where this expression came from. It’s something I certainly heard when I was growing up, and I think it describes aspects of my mental health perfectly.
‘Hitting a bit of a Low’: My perspective and experience of mental health issues; depression.
Throughout my life I have experienced periods of time when I have been hitting a bit of a low . When I hit a low, I find it really tough to get going again. Sometimes I cannot pinpoint a ‘cause’ for them. Other times it’s because I am experiencing challenging life events, extreme stress or illness. They are essentially periods of depression. However, I’m not overly keen as identifying them as that, because to me that feels a bit overdramatic. A bit like calling a bit of a sniffle, flu.
Varying degrees of depression; The Flu vs ‘A Bit of a Sniffle’
I appreciate that talking about a mental health issue as ‘a bit of a sniffle’ might be a bit controversial. Please don’t think that I am underestimating the impact and effects of depression. I’m absolutely not. Let me explain.
Personally, for me depression manifests itself in varying degrees of severity. I have only really experienced one or maybe two periods of textbook like depression. Both of which I believe were connected to vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency. (More of this in a later post!) It was like a very dark and deep black hole that I couldn’t claw myself out of. No matter how hard I tried. It took me months to get back to feeling like my normal positive self. This is what I see as ‘flu’, in terms of the severity of the depression I experienced during those periods of my life. It required medication, some talking therapy and some work related changes in order for me to feel well again.
In contrast, for me the ‘sniffles’ are periods of low mood that occur for me, from time to time. When life just seems to get on top of me and I struggle to get going with anything. I just want to kind of hibernate, everything seems like just far too much effort! Usually, I can move through this by getting myself out and about, exercising and making plans, keeping myself busy and active!
So, a bit of sniffle… That’s where I’m at right now.
Now, that I’ve been through this a few times I find it much easier to recognise when my mood drops. I’m also getting better at knowing and understanding the steps I need to take to help alleviate it. So that I can get back to my normal self, as soon as possible.
What causes it?
This particular ‘hitting a bit of a low’ I can pinpoint to a couple of things. Firstly, now that my sons are pretty much grown up and starting to make their own way in the world. (My baby will be 17 in July) I’m really struggling with this feeling of a lack of purpose. It feels like I’m losing my identity as a mum. Quite honestly, I don’t really know what to do with myself. Secondly, I’ve been having some issues health wise. Nothing major, basically, ‘lady problems’! But, they have really knocked me for six. Simply because there just seemed to be no end in sight. I’ve seen a consultant at the hospital now, I’ve had some surgery and I can feel my mood start to lift because I know that I’m closer to some kind of solution and hopefully resolution of the issues I have been experiencing.
I’m rubbish when I am ill and it really affects my mental health. I hate the lack of control and feeling of powerlessness. It also makes me feel really anxious. Although my sons are in their late teens, I worry about what life would be like for them if anything happened to me. Particularly my eldest, as he has ASD. I think this is because I am their only biological parent, and that I have been a parent all of my adult life and I find it really hard not to ‘mother’! My boys have a wonderful stepfather who is an utterly brilliant parent. They also have amazing grandparents, aunts and uncles who would no doubt step in, but it’s just not the same as your Mum is it?
I also struggle to tell people how I really feel about what is going on. I find it very difficult to let go and let other people help me I would much rather just work it out in my own time. I’m a ‘fixer’ I slap on a smile, grit my teeth and keep going because for a long time that was the only option I had.
Taking care of your mental health is as important as any other aspect of your health, and all too often we neglect that aspect of ourselves and then wonder what went wrong when it all starts to unravel.
How to take better care of your mental health…
Nutrition and Exercise
A major contributor to good mental health is eating well, proper nutrition and exercise. This helps to keep all those, mood enhancing vitamins like B12 nicely topped up! I hold my hands up and admit that I often fall short in that respect, my diet is pretty appalling at times. But I am starting to improve thanks to the Reinvent programme. Unfortunately, these past few weeks as my mood has dipped so have my habits, at precisely the time I need to have good eating habits!
Healthy relationships are also essential for good mental health. Friends, family, whoever they are, if they make you feel bad about yourself, repeatedly, and the issue can’t be resolved, or they drain you, then maybe it’s time to put some distance between you, take a break or end the relationship.
A very wise woman once said to me, you can’t make everyone happy, so you should please yourself. At least that way someone is happy! This is good advice! Seriously, it’s ok to put your wants, needs and desires first. If you are happy, it makes it much easier for you to have positive and beneficial relationships with other people.
Being self aware
But I think the most important aspect of taking care of our mental health is being as self aware as possible. Reflecting and identifying our crunch points, working out what we can do to help make ourselves feel better, (Mine is exercise and making plans!) Understanding when we need to ask for help… And asking for it!
As human beings we are super complex, the mind and body aren’t two separate entities, they work together and influence and impact on one another, nutrition, exercise, hormones, ill health, stress, major life changes… It doesn’t take much to feel out of whack.
Ask for help
What we forget is that it’s ok to feel this way, and it’s ok to seek help and treatment if we need it to get back to good health. If you had a broken leg and left it untreated, and attempted to keep going as normal, quite frankly, people would think you were a bit of a twat! We should apply the same logic to our mental health.
But that’s much easier said than done. When it comes to my own mental health, I can be a bit of a twat sometimes, but I’m getting better at it!
Luckily there are some fabulous online resources that can help to point us in the right direction when we are ‘hitting a bit of a low’.
I thoroughly recommend the fabulous Bryony Gordon as a starting point. She is a journalist who has written extensively about her own mental health struggles and started a brilliant support network through Mental Health Mates which organise meet ups for people with similar issues to get together and chat and support each other.
There are also more formal health resources available through the NHS and you can usually self refer to an appropriate service in your local area.
You might also find MIND a useful resource.
But whatever you do please, please speak to somebody. You don’t have to work through it alone xxx