I’ve been blessed with great mental health for over 15 years (bar a bit of stress), but recently I’ve found I’m not feeling quite 100 percent. I’m ok, in general, but I’m finding I need to give myself some TLC and make more of an effort to take care of myself. I’m aware I’m saying that I’m ill, and that I’m ok at the same time, but this is an attempt to tell it like it is, and that’s the honest truth at present.
‘Mental illness’ can sound very dramatic (and of course it can be the biggest thing we ever have to face), but it isn’t always. Saying I’m ill, but ok, isn’t in this instance a veiled cry for help; it’s an acknowledgment that I feel a bit ‘off’, and that sometimes mental health can be like that. I don’t want to over-dramatise where I’m at, as I know so many people who are facing real health battles. That isn’t me. I’m feeling pretty positive about myself and my life at the moment, in general; other than my lack of paid work, my life is wonderful, and I really like myself. But at the same time I’ve been struggling more and more with self-doubt these last few years. To an extent, that’s a normal thing to struggle with, and as I was musing here last year, can even be healthy. But it’s got to a point where it is causing me to feel sort of paralysed at times, like I can’t make myself do anything. If that happens frequently or persistently it is a symptom of ill health, and it has been happening to me more and more often. In addition, small things have been triggering big mood crashes, leaving me feeling like all the options before me are equally pointless, and again making it hard to stir myself to do anything as a result, until I or someone else manages to shake me out of it. Not healthy. So, it’s time to talk about it.
I believe in talking openly about mental health, as there’s still so much stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it that it helps us all when we’re open about it, whether we are feeling great, or terrible, or a bit under the weather. We need to talk to allow others permission to talk, to feel comfortable discussing things when they’re not feeling right, to know how to spot the signs when something’s up, and to be able to get appropriate help. Right now, that’s what I’m trying to do. I spend a lot of time encouraging and affirming others who are sharing their struggles, knowing how valuable it is that they are being open, and now it’s time I took my own advice.
Maybe the act of talking about it will help me too, to let others know to keep an eye on me, pray for me, and encourage me to seek help. It’s already focussing my mind more on putting into practise good wellbeing advice (see below), to take care of myself and help myself overcome unhealthy thought cycles. The good news is, I know that this stuff does actually work even though it sounds a bit naff when you write it out, and can (though obviously doesn’t always) effectively treat mental illness, lead to full recovery and stop it becoming serious. I hope and pray it works for me; having been through hell in the past and not wanting to go back there, I’m taking this seriously.
Just as with ‘physical’ illness, these things can affect any of us at any time. At least a quarter of us will be battling mental ill health at any one time. It doesn’t matter how ‘strong’ or otherwise we are; a person with a strong immune system could still get cancer, a strong person can still get depression. We rightly fear cancer, so we find out how to spot the signs, and know to go to a doctor if we find a lump or have suspect symptoms. Just as there are ways to treat a physical illness, so there are ways to treat mental illness; there are therapies and medicines available that work, and we should make use of them when we need them the same as we would if we were ill or injured in any other way. And we know how important it is to share our struggles with others and not try to go it alone when we’re physically ill. Likewise, we need to be open, and we need one another. Let’s treat mind cancers the same as body cancers; they are just as serious.
Finally, a bit about faith: Christians get sick sometimes. That’s a fact of life. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned us, or that we have abandoned God. It’s merely the result of living in a broken world, where things are not as yet as they should be. I have no answers to the ‘why’, nor does anyone else. Let’s just do our best to respond to ourselves and one another with love and grace, and reach out to the God who goes ahead of us just as He has always been behind us, and who walks with us even whilst we walk the darkest paths of life. I have to admit, I’m a little scared, but I’m hanging on to these truths. And I know that being ill now does not negate my previous healing; God is still good. God is with us, and we are loved.
I hope this encourages you to be open, and keep being open, about your own health, to get to know yourself and learn how to spot the signs of something being wrong, and to look after yourself. Be blessed :)
Stuff that helps*
- Eating, drinking and sleeping healthily
- Hanging out with friends
- Keeping active and exercise
- Keeping a good daily routine
- Trying new things
- Being outdoors – sunshine and nature
- Speaking kindly to and of yourself
- Taking care of yourself – caring for your appearance and doing things you enjoy for example
- Counting your blessings
- Being present in the ‘now’, being mindful of who, how and where you are and what is in your control now, rather than dwelling on the past or future
- Finding creative ways to express yourself
- Spending time focussing on Jesus
* (This stuff is good advice, but please be aware that when someone is really sick it just isn’t always possible to follow it – just as when you have a stomach bug, and know you need to drink plenty of fluids, but struggle to keep anything down, even water – so please don’t over-advise struggling friends, they may just need you to be there for them)
There’s plenty of help out there if you’re struggling yourself – speak to a doctor, and find online resources such as this.