I am writing to you nearly a decade on from where you are now, aged thirty-one, and in a mental hospital, your life, once again, having fallen apart. I know you hurt so much right now and feel so completely alone, so desperate, and so lost.
I remember how much you cried that day you arrived. Sitting alone on the floor in the dark, tears streaming down your face and wailing loudly as the deep, self-torturing pain was released.
Although you don’t know it now, this will be one of the best experiences of your life. You will surrender so completely to the pain, give up all control and allow yourself for the first time, to be vulnerable and supported by others.
This is an extract of a letter I wrote to my younger self at a challenging part of my life, sharing some wisdom from where I am now, in a place of improved mental wellbeing. Mental illness affects approximately one in four of us, and for many people, it can devastate their life and the lives of those around them. It has impacted me deeply throughout my life and continues to be something I focus on daily and something I am passionate about raising awareness for.
If you read my previous blog, you’ll know that I look at health on a scale, which has illness at one end and fitness, or wellness at the other. I am so glad that there are many incredible services to support people with mental illness. I experienced first-hand the care and compassion from incredible people who supported me. Mental illness is also becoming far less taboo, thanks to the work of many great charities and initiatives, such as Mind, This Can Happen and Rethink Mental Illness.
However, if Covid-19 has shown us something, it is that mental wellness, not just illness needs to be considered too. Many people have now felt the effects first-hand of a slide down the mental health scale as isolation takes its toll. I am a firm believer that we should do everything in our power to help ourselves and help others to maintain and improve our and their mental wellbeing.
Being a sufferer of depression, I know how important it is to do the things that help my mental state. For me, these things include meditation and yoga, but it has also included more challenging things like forgiving myself, asking others for help, even for small things, and choosing to smile, breath and drop my shoulders down when I’m feeling tense with anxiety.
Whatever helps your mental wellbeing, give it to yourself. Sliding down that scale can be a challenging and painful journey, and prevention is usually much easier than cure! So, be nice to yourself, in the ways that work for you.
Extend a hand
I also know how those seemingly small kindnesses from friends and strangers have reached me in those darker hours. Sometimes, it is that smile, that phone call, that “I’m here for you” is all that is needed to help. It helped me to carry on when all seemed lost.
I am certainly no expert when it comes to the myriad of diseases that can affect a person mentally, but I do know that compassion and love are essential in helping. Whether curable or incurable, being compassionate to those who are suffering with a mental illness can help to support and maybe even calm or lift those who are experiencing pain. We don’t have to be experts in the illness itself to recognise that compassion, instead of judgement or alienation, are desirable.
We also don’t have to wait until someone is at the illness end of the scale before we take action. Small changes in someone’s behaviour or their normal speech or reactions, can be indicators of a slide into struggle. This can be the important stage to extend a hand and let them know you care. It truly can make all the difference. For me, it came from my mother, even when I pushed her away the most, she never gave up and continued to offer me help, love, and compassion, even though she could not understand what it was I was going through.
Mental Health Awareness
From 18-24 May 2020, it is Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. There are many ways that you can get involved, during this week and beyond. Your involvement can help us create a world with good mental health for all, so I urge you to take action. Every action, whether at an individual level of showing loved ones you care, or at a charitable level, everything helps to make the world a better place.
If you would also like to read more about my story, and the story of 17 other courageous women, please do read our book “The Pay it Forward Series: Notes to my Younger Self, Volume 3”. We each share pivotal moments that changed our lives, and passing on hope, wisdom, knowledge, and inspiration as a reminder that even darkest moments can be seen as a guiding light.