I’ve recently become a voluntary advocate for mental health awareness and so I wanted to write something on this topic.
Over the years, I’ve been dealt my fair share of genuinely difficult times. I’m sometimes surprised that I have come through these periods, but it has never been easy. I have dealt with divorce, death of a close family member, moving to a new house many times, career problems, bullying, post-natal depression, as well as generalised depression, panic attacks and anxiety. I’ve had major surgery and been in so much pain that I could barely stand. I’ve been a single-parent and I’ve been the main breadwinner. I’ve dealt with a child with additional needs and had to fight to get them the help they deserve.
Sometimes I have been so low, that I couldn’t even imagine getting through the next hour, let alone the next few days. I am sure there are many people who have experienced far worse than I, as well as those who have been fortunate to live a relatively easy life. I’m not for one moment suggesting that I have the answers to life. But these are a few of the lessons that I have picked up along the way.
If you are going through difficult times at present, then it’s vital to ask for help. Your family and friends are your support network at times like this. Don’t shut them out. If you live away from your friends and family then consider asking for help from somewhere else such as a charity, helplines or your GP. When I first went through a divorce, I lived far away from my close friends and family. It was my GP who listened to me and gave me hope.
So, what advice would I give to someone who is currently going through difficult times? What tried and tested advice has helped me? I’m not suggesting that this is going to help everyone but sometimes when we face a crisis, we can become overwhelmed with the enormity of resolving a problem. I have always found it helpful to do some of the following things.
Learn to reward yourself for the small victories
When you are suffering from depression or when life is really challenging, then even the simplest of tasks can seem monumental. Don’t be hard on yourself. Reward yourself for achieving even the smallest victories. I can remember going through severe depression and it was difficult enough to get up, let alone get washed and dressed. Some days I couldn’t move because I would be overcome with all the tasks that I needed to complete in that day. It was helpful not to focus on everything that I had to do and just take things one at a time. I’d end up achieving far more this way. I’d say to myself, ‘I’ll do what I can. Bit by bit. One step at a time.’
Find an easier way to do things
Don’t beat yourself up about having to be the perfect wife or mother. There were times when I was a single parent, when everything seemed to be on top of me. So, I would say to the kids, ‘Who fancies a treat day?’ I know that sounds a contradiction, but I would find an easier way to take the pressure off me such as ordering a takeaway or sticking on a film to entertain the kids, instead of playing with them myself. or having to take them somewhere to entertain them.
Appreciate the small things in life.
I’ve always believed that laughter is the greatest medicine. It’s so important to find your Happy Place and retreat to this in times of need. Friends are great at giving you some time out from your problems. But you might own a DVD that always makes you laugh, it might be music that lifts your spirit. To me, it’s gardening. Being outside pottering, pulling up weeds, planting and pruning, whilst listening to the afternoon play on Radio 4, is my happy place. I found gardening the best therapy for dealing with depression.
You won’t find the answer at the bottom of a glass of wine.
Sometimes it’s tempting to have an alcoholic drink when we feel down, as we feel that this will help us sleep or numb the pain. It’s not the case. All alcohol does is temporarily block things out. The following day, everything seems far worse and to top it all, you usually end up with a hangover.
Exercise really helps
Exercise is a great healer and enables the mind to calm down. The release of endorphins lifts our mood. I know how difficult it is to exercise when suffering from depression but sometimes just getting out in the fresh air can help us to see things differently and give us strength to face things.
Remember this will pass
When you are going through a dark time, it is so easy to be consumed by negativity and believe that this is how your life is going to be from now on. But nothing ever lasts forever. I always found it gave me hope to remember this and it also gave me strength to face what I had to overcome.
Life is an experience – it is a journey not a destination.
It’s hard when you are going through something to see your way out of the tunnel of darkness. One thing that has always helped me to find inner strength, is in realising that it is the more challenging aspects of life that teach us something. It certainly doesn’t feel like it at the time, but when we get through to the other side we can see that we have learnt from our experiences. I saw a great quote a few years ago when Radio 4 were asking famous people to give advice to their younger selves. I feel this encapsulates how I feel about life. The musician Annie Lennox said,
“When I was younger, I wish I’d known that what often seemed to be ‘the end of the World’ often turned out to be a positive and transformative experience. “
Whatever is happening in your life now, if you are struggling, then please ask for help. You are not alone.
Mental health helplines
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
Men’s Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and OCD. Offers a course to help overcome your phobia/OCD. Includes a helpline.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am-10pm)
Support for people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Includes information on treatment and online resources.
Phone: 0845 390 6232 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm)
A charity run by people with OCD, for people with OCD. Includes facts, news and treatments.
Phone: 0845 120 3778 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)
Young suicide prevention society.
Phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (Mon-Fri,10am-5pm & 7-10pm. Weekends 2-5pm)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
SANEline: 0300 304 7000 (daily, 4.30-10.30pm)
Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: http://www.sane.org.uk/textcare
Peer support forum: www.sane.org.uk/supportforum
Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.
Phone: Parents’ helpline 0808 802 5544 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)