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How To Look After Yourself When You Are Struggling With Your Mental Health
This week (13th-19th May 2019) is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. As someone who has struggled with mental health for half my life (I was diagnosed with depression in my early teens), I thought I would share the ways which help me to manage my dark days and how I cope when I feel that the familiar slump is about to hit.
Mental Health is different for everyone, and it’s taken me a long time to find what works for me. All I can say is, if you are struggling to ask for help. Never give in to the voice inside that tells you you are worthless, you are not. From personal experience, I’ve experienced great highs and massive lows in my life and my breakthrough finally came when I stopped trying to ‘fix’ myself and instead accepted that it is part of me, but doesn’t have to control me.
I don’t post too often about my mental health – this is predominantly a money blog after all. But I am very open about it and no longer feel ashamed to admit that I suffer with depression and anxiety. Talk around mental health is becoming less taboo, which is fantastic, but with openness comes a realm of new obstacles. I just hope that by continuing to talk, and to help and support each other that things can only get better.
It’s the obvious one, but it’s recommended because it works. I know how hard it can be to get yourself to the gym on a good day, let alone a bad day, so if that is impossible – get outside, go for a jog or a brisk walk. And if you can’t manage that do some body weight exercises at home – anything to get the blood flowing because honestly, lying in bed (though it’s all you want to do) is not going to make you feel better. No one (well most normal people haha) wants to go to the gym and work out, but it’s true when they say that no one regrets a workout after one.
Whatever the weather, get outside and get some fresh air in your lungs. Stretch your legs. Take the dog for a walk. Nothing clears my head like walking up the mountain and taking in the scenery. There’s just something about the fresh air and taking in the wider surroundings that makes my worries seem slightly more insignificant.
Whatever that means to you, do it. Schedule it like an appointment. Every Sunday night I will have a soak in the bath, even if it’s the only thing I do, I make sure I do that. Pamper yourself, have a soak, read a book, cook your favourite meal – do whatever self care looks like for you. You deserve it now more than ever.
While social media can be great, it is not the place you want to be when you are struggling with your mental health. It’s cliche but social media really is a highlight reel, and scrolling through newsfeeds when you’re in a bad place seeing everyone seemingly winning at life is not going to do anything to improve your mood. Mute your notifications, turn your phone off even. Don’t make yourself available to the world 24/7. Take a little time to focus on you.
A problem shared is a problem halved. It took me a long time to feel comfortable confiding in anyone when I felt myself slipping. I felt like a burden, like they would view me as weak. Now, I realise that’s what family and friends are for, and if they can’t be there for me through the bad, then they shouldn’t be there at all. Cut out the negativity and spend time on the people who deserve it.
Stop looking for the thing that will fix you, or cure you. Sure, they call it ‘mental illness’ but it’s not that straightforward. If medication doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you are broken. Sometimes, we just need to accept it for what it is. Don’t let it control you. Don’t let it define you. Have a bad day, allow yourself a day to wallow – but then get back to it. Having a ‘nope’ day is completely understandable and essential – allow yourself to have a mental health sick day. If you had a physical ailment, you’d take a sick day. Don’t brush off a poor mental health day as weakness. Accept it. It will pass.
So that’s what managing mental health looks like for me. So how did I get here? As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve struggled most of my life but it took until almost 30 to get to a good place. If you want to skip over the next part of this post – feel free. I hope you’ve taken something away thus far, if not – read on for my story.
You might also enjoy…My Mental Health and Organisation
I don’t want this to turn in a sob story about what a hard life I’ve had and I’m not posting for sympathy. I know different experiences affect people in different ways and this is just how mine have affected me. I’m just putting another story out there, to show that we’re all different, we all have experiences and mental health struggles can affect anyone.
I lost my Mam to stomach cancer when I was 8 and I had to grow up pretty quickly and help my dad with my younger brother and sister. It wasn’t easy for any of us and we moved a lot, my dad always looking for a fresh start, but the problems always moved with us. My dad and brother battled with their own demons throughout the years, which I won’t go into as they’re not mine to share. But I’m sure you can appreciate that it was hard.
I was first diagnosed with depression in my early teens and started trying different medication around 18. But I struggled with the side effects and often slept through my alarms and ended up late for work and after a while and trialling different meds with similar results I decided to stop and try to self manage.
For the most part I did okay, but I had a complicated life… there was always some new drama or crazy crisis going on and I was always ‘the sensible one’ that everyone turned to for help. But somehow I kept it relatively together.
It all started unravelling at 23 when I found out my boyfriend of 4 years was cheating on me. I’d moved away from my hometown, from my family and my friends to be with him. My job was 80 miles from my Dad’s house back in Wales and when we split up and I moved back home with my dad it was a massive life upheaval for me. After several months of a horrible, long commute I changed jobs and took a massive paycut to be back home, I started failing exams, lost a lot of weight and started going out drinking on the weekends (which was never my thing).
I knew I was in a bad place and after a few months of not really giving a shit about anything I finally went to the doctors. I was diagnosed with anxiety, given more medication to try and put on the waiting list for counselling which despite my past I’d never been offered before.
At the end of 2013 I met Luke. It wasn’t an easy start, I was extremely insecure and threatened by everything – I’d never been that person before but my confidence and self esteem had been shattered. Finally after a year I got my counselling, after a few sessions Luke and I moved in together and I moved out of the county. Unfortunately this meant that I had to change doctors and effectively start from scratch and go back on the waiting list for counselling. I hadn’t felt like it was doing much good anyway so decided against it.
Luke was big on fitness and got me into exercising. I put on two stone and no longer looked ‘ill’ or ‘too thin’. My mental health went through good and bad patches. Fitness helped. But my anxiety was still a major issue. I felt myself feeling overwhelmed and panicky about the most mundane of tasks. Stupid things like getting my hair cut or putting fuel in the car would almost send me into a panic attack and I’d have to psych myself up to do it.
I read every book on anxiety and depression looking for a miracle cure but I never found one. In 2015 Luke proposed and though I was obviously over the moon and threw myself into planning the wedding, I worried about walking down the aisle, saying my vows, the first dance, having pictures taken – all the things I should be looking forward to.
I decided to try hypnotherapy in a bid to cure my anxiety. But at £50 a session and a wedding to pay for I only had 4 or 5 sessions before I decided to give up and get back to self management. Again, I just wasn’t seeing the results I was desperate for.
In August 2016, 2 months before the wedding I went for a colposcopy after abnormal cells were detected in my smear test. I knew lots of people experienced this and it was probably nothing to worry about but me being me got myself worked up about it. I was told I’d get the results in 4 weeks but they never came. I spent the weeks leading up to the wedding worried while everyone tried to reassure me that if it was bad I’d have already found out.
In November, after the wedding I still hadn’t had my results and started making calls to try and find out what was happening. A few days later I received my negative results and an apology that a system error meant they’d been misplaced. All that prolonged stress and anxiety and I was fine, as everyone told me I would be.
We went on honeymoon to Australia in December 2016 and I remember feeling so insecure about my body. I literally loathed myself. I looked at other girls in their swimwear and envied their confidence and just wished I could feel like that about myself. I’d spent so long hating myself, wishing I could cure myself. And even now, married and on honeymoon in Australia, I still couldn’t find the contentment I was looking for.
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Flash forward to May 2017 and we found out we were expecting a baby. And for the first time ever I felt a small amount of pride in my body at my growing baby bump. Unfortunately it didn’t outweigh the anxiety and after a tricky work situation I found myself signed off on sick for 4 weeks at nearly 30 weeks pregnant with work related stress.
Due to my history, I was almost convinced I would suffer with post natal depression and like most women having their first child I worried about if I’d be able to do it, how I would raise a child, if I’d be a good mother. But because of my anxiety those worries were magnified to ridiculous proportions. I just wanted to be better, if not for me – for my baby.
When Elise was born in December 2017 everything changed. The anxiety was still there, but I finally felt I’d found my purpose. I was exhausted, emotional and overwhelmed, but I was finally content. This was it. This was what I needed.
And then it finally clicked, with something more to focus on than me I could pull myself out of the slumps when they came – because I had to. And I realised all the years I’d been trying to ‘fix’ myself – that I didn’t need fixing. Anxiety and depression were part of me, but they didn’t have to control me. I could have mental health struggles but they didn’t need to define me. It was like a weight had been lifted.
I joined the gym and hired a personal trainer and got in the shape of my life – just 6 months after having my baby and I was the most confident in my body I’d ever been. Elise blossomed and continued to grow and develop into an amazing little girl and though I still had days where I questioned everything and doubted my ability to be a good mother, I could wake up the next day and shrug off yesterday’s feeling as ‘just one of those days’ and feel proud of myself and the person I was becoming.
Of course, the dark days still come and they always will, but in accepting that I no longer focus on what’s ‘wrong’ me and instead use the ‘tools’ I’ve found to manage it until they pass, which I know they will.
Hopefully these ‘tools’ will allow you to do the same – sure some of them are obvious. But most of the time, the solutions are right there staring us in the face, and someone needs to tell us so that we can see them.
If you’ve found this post useful, here are some inspiring reads from fellow bloggers you could also take a look at…
Manic States versus Depression by Mrs Mummy Penny
Debt and Mental Health by Debt Camel
From Emotional Spender to Savvy Saver by The Money Panel
Free Self Care Activities by Bee Money Savvy
MHAW 2019 #bebodykind by Broke Girl In The City
My Debt Story by Miss Many Pennies
I started Katie Saves while on Maternity Leave to document our adjustment to living on less. Now back in work - I blog about making extra money, saving money, getting my life organised and being a new mum. Join me!