Every year World Mental Health Day is observed on the 10th of October. This year 2020, it was on a Saturday and the focus was kindness.
I chose that instead of working or being involved online I would show myself some kindness. I did an online art class, walked the dogs, chilled on the terrace and watched some NetFlix.
In my chilled moments I did reflect on some of my mental health issues and how I overcame them.
The thing with mental health is that there are often no obvious signs that someone is suffering until their body complains, they are overcome with emotions like fear and then it can feel like it is too late.
For some, it has become too late.
Anxiety and depression can affect anyone.
When I was in the corporate world mental health was rarely discussed, but as a senior manager, I was very aware when people around me were not coping. Many a private conversation, a cuppa and a walk in the fresh air have provided someone with the space to be heard and to be empowered to take some other action towards better choices.
This is not always the case when you work alone or you are living with others whose needs come first.
Over ten ago, I found myself in front of the doctor complaining that despite the many miles I trudged every day with my dog, I couldn’t breathe. He asked me some questions and suddenly there was a space to be heard.
We talked about who I was living with, what the relationship was like, work and general health. I explained that for the previous two years I’d struggled with sleep and had tried everything I could think of. I remember him laughing at the comprehensive list I handed over. He glanced over it and said quietly ‘you have anxiety and it is no wonder.’
“There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.” ― John Green
The miracle of Prozac and my journal
Walking away with a prescription for Prozac felt like the end of the world. I felt a failure. I felt ashamed. But before long I was sleeping and a calm descended.
Despite feeling ashamed of giving in and although I didn’t want anyone to know, I found myself sharing with two friends.
Then I had an exit strategy. Changing my diet and writing in my journal became an essential part of my healing.
I was a bit silly with my diet and cut out practically everything that could possibly be an allergen to anyone, ever. Losing vast quantities of weight did nothing for my skin and my skinny legs looked more matches like every day. I didn’t love me so I couldn’t and didn’t look in the mirror.
By the Christmas of that same year, I stopped taking them. Then the then husbands mother came to live. She had dementia and he was a bully, I felt trapped and alone so I went back on the pills. It was the only way I could cope.
Knowing it was time to go
I poured my heart into my journal and I recall one night when lying awake staring at the ceiling I knew it was time for me to die. While everyone slept I Googled ways of dying. They all looked painful. Instead, I screamed silently into the slumbering beams.
Held by the most fragile gossamer, I realised I wasn’t meant to die but I was dead inside.
Shortly after his mother’s death, I weaned myself off Prozac (again) and tried to get back to some normality.
Waking up and moving on
As luck would have it, I discovered that this person had been living a double life. That was the catalyst I needed to get the hell out of dodge.
The dogs and I hightailed it out of town and onto a new country.
That was enough to send anyone into a spin. I used to stuffing my emotions down decided to let them all out and through journaling and writing books found a way to love myself.
Fast forward to a new fear
The trouble was because I had stuffed my emotions down for many years my body was taking the toll.
In January 2018 several years after I left the bully, my spine fractured and so it seems did my life.
I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. It didn’t surprise me to learn that there is a link between this and depression.
I was scared. But also determined. Somewhere under my thick woolly jumper was a brave soul who was not going backwards into a slump.
The specialist doctor simply handed me a prescription and told me to go to the gym. I was in immense pain. The fear escalated like nothing before.
The prescription went in the bin, out came a brand new journal and before long I was researching and writing.
The fear took it’s time to abate. Feel the fear always reminds me of a book called Feel the fear and do it anyway. However, the last thing I wanted was to feel the fear, or do it, whatever ‘it’ was, I wanted answers. I wanted information and knowledge so that I could work through the fear in my way.
How could I take action, if I didn’t know what I was up against? Sure I knew that the medical system that I had just encountered would not support me, but I had to know what this thing was and how you reverse it. Knowledge is power, and without it you are helpless.
In my journal, I asked what was going to come at me next? In some way, I needed to know that I could press a cancel button and this would all go away. It didn’t. At least not straight away.
Some people tell us that the opposite of living in or with fear is to live fearlessly, but these words don’t resonate with me either. I don’t like it because the fear word is part of it. Although I like the idea of being fear-less so that there is less fear.
It’s more how you reframe it – I think. This is where lots of other things like faith, trust and courage come into play. These are the friends of fear.
Emotions and triggers
I kept wondering why if the bodies prime objective is to keep you safe, why did I hurt so much? This was both physical and emotional pain. I certainly did not feel safe.
Fear is another emotion, like anger, sadness, joy, and love. In this case, the fear was triggered by a perceived threat. I felt threatened by osteoporosis and the system. I knew enough about osteoporosis as my mum has lived with it for years and that scared me too.
Triggers can come at you from anywhere, and this was certainly happening. Think for a moment outside of fear, what might trigger you to become angry or to have a gorgeous belly laugh.
The trouble was that I am visual and I could see all kinds of devastation coming at me from different angles. Which was crazy. Right at the point of hearing my bad news, I knew that my mind would go into temporary insanity. And that’s ok, I figured that’s normal, and I can deal with it. I kept saying over and over again I can deal with this, I can do it, I can…
Fight or flight
I used to teach assertiveness skills, so I knew intellectually that in relation to fear, there were several ways that we typically respond. One is to fight and another is to run away. This is known as the fight or flight response.
When we sense danger, our bodies release hormones to an area of the brain called the amygdala. Depending on your response to the danger you may experience a number of things. For example, you may get a racing heart or a bad tummy. What’s important is that you recognise your typical response.
This response is due to cortisol and adrenaline being released into the body. They, in turn, signal the adrenals (on top of your kidneys) to release hormones. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure and the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.
Cortisol also releases increased amounts of glucose into the bloodstream, which your brain needs to deal with the perceived threat. Glucose is food for the brain. The brain with an increased supply of food can do its work. When the fear response diminishes everything goes back to normal.
Problems arise when we constantly live in fear. You may have heard people who are newly diagnosed with something saying that they are constantly tired. That’s possibly because unconsciously they are fearful and the adrenals are taking a pounding. Not only was I in pain, but I was also immensely tired. My body was certainly responding to all of the triggers.
Say hello to panic
The other thing you may do is panic. What the ‘beep’ am I going to do? Panic is normal, and it’s usually our first response. Think for a moment when as you are driving away from home to go on holiday and you ask, did I turn the iron off? What happens? Yes, panic.
Then you calm down as you go through those final steps of closing up the house and you can see yourself doing what you always do, and the iron is off. Of course, you can ring a friend and ask them to pop in to check so that you feel reassured.
Fear will attach itself to the memory of the event, and you will code and remember this memory as a time of potential unpleasantness. Then what we often do is future pace our fear, and this becomes anxiety. You start to worry about things that may never happen.
Sometimes this endless worrying does bring about the event, something which is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have through constant mithering have given your body permission to bring you the thing that you fear the most.
Then there is the interference we mentioned earlier. Once you feel fear, it starts to interfere with your rational and conscious thought. The knock-on effect if you let fear take control it can have a longer-term negative impact on your health.
Fear, chaos and osteoporosis
So if you have something like osteoporosis you are sending more signals to your body which will impact your healing. All of these chemicals while having a place in keeping us safe are now contributing and feeding the condition we want to reverse.
So here we are on the playground of chaos. Before order will always be chaos. Some call osteoporosis a dis-order which to me is a system out of order. When you view your emotions and understand that you have a system that is not in order or is in chaos, it’s easier (sort of) to know that order will follow.
All will be revealed. True you cannot be certain of what is going to happen next, but the truth is old perceptions need to die. Chaos must be allowed to roam free to stir things up, so that you can start to make sense of it all
How your body responds
It can seem like time has ground to a halt as you process the news that will change your life. When I was at the chiropractor the day after I had my x-rays done, a few minutes after he delivered his verdict, I was in the bathroom.
My body reacted through the digestive system. It usually does. Years of preparing to go on stage to deliver a talk and needing the bathroom right up to the point of speaking is now a distant memory. I learned to breathe through this and now I actually I love presenting. So over time, I unlearned my response. Because there was nothing to fear, in fact speaking on stage is exciting.
But is it exciting to learn that you have been labelled with a potentially life-changing dis-ease? No, it’s not, but what is exciting is understanding that you can use your knowledge of this response to turning things around for the better.
Before I reached the exciting part I had to deal with the fear, but something else was eating away at me more, and that was trust and betrayal. I started to not trust my mind and was constantly thinking about how my body was betraying me. I was asking crazy questions about whether I could trust it to heal. I knew that it could, but this acid from my past was eating at my intuition and my intellect.
Quelling the ghosts of the past
Some choose to see a therapist or counsellor, some open wine, I choose journaling and walking the dogs.
Before I could deal with the osteoporosis, I needed to quell the ghosts from the past. So that’s what I did. I went back and looked at every time I felt betrayed and where I had misplaced my trust, and I wrote letters to each person, burnt them and let them go. When I felt cleansed, I turned to my body and considered what is the opposite. In the case of fear, it might be courage. This helped me to put what was going on in context.
You do not need to push it away, feel into it or embrace it and you certainly do not need to feed it. Noticing fear is creating a deeper connection to the bones of who we are. We create a relationship with it as we might another human, and you learn things such as trust, and faith. You trust the trigger, and you have faith and courage to deal with it. This is not a time to apply intellectual thinking, this is a time for as I have said, faith, trust and courage.
Surrender is a journey from acceptance, to letting go and onto inner peace.
It is also a time to surrender. This is not giving up this is not about waiting for miracles or asking some higher force to step in and take over. This is asking for what is needed for your highest good to be met. I was busy trying to set outcomes such as I want to reverse osteoporosis within six months and I want my fractures to heal by April 2018. We do this don’t we, set outcomes based on business rules or others expectations and based on our fear?
When you surrender remember that the key foundational thing that we need here is self-love, compassion and kindness. Once I allowed the bile to bite into my fear and faith, I asked myself did I love myself enough to deal with this? So once again I found faith and courage through self-love (kindness and compassion) and went to work on betrayal and trust.
I could see a cycle where I was prejudging myself and others because I didn’t trust that they were doing the best for me and I would not get the outcome that I desired. This leads to fear. And around we go.
When you get into this vicious cycle, a natural reaction is to isolate yourself. This is another aspect of staying safe, but isolation does not create safety. Instead, it sends a message to your cells, and they in their wisdom follow your orders and start to not communicate with the other cells in its community. Without this vital connection, healing cannot take place.
Journaling my way back to me
Sense prevailed as I journaled and the more I acknowledged my hurts and opened my eyes to another lesson the grip of terror reduced. I started to view my predicament with grace, compassion, kindness and love.
But this wasn’t before I had contemplated not being here. I wanted off this planet. Knowing that my dogs would be ok, I had a will and a funeral plan, made it somehow easier for others when this useless life and body were gone.
At night I wrote furiously and in the morning when I was licked (by one of said doggies) I was pleased that the only savagery I committed was with a pen.
How about I asked if I embrace what I have learned and choose what I want instead? What if this detour was actually the route to my salvation? I understood that I was being taught about faith and trust. I considered that rather than feel fear what if I felt excitement at the prospect of turning this around and doing some more letting go of my fractured past?
Fear and excitement
Fear and excitement trigger similar responses. One can have not so great effects, and one doesn’t. They are both drivers to change. It is up to us to make conscious choices.
One thing that always works for me is this journaling exercise. I use the word fear and find another meaning. As an example
- F- Feeling fabulous when in FLOW
- E- Excitement
- A – Acceptance
- R – Release
- F- Faith
- E- Excitement
- A -Acceptance
- R- Resilience
Have a go while you focus on your situation. It’s quite fascinating what comes out when you look at fear this way. It makes it easier to surrender. Surrendering, faith and trust are like muscles, like writing and journaling, it gets better and easier the more that you practice.
Take a walk once you have written. Take time to reflect. Physical activity can have a positive effect on your mental health.
If hindsight were a currency, I would be rich. If writing in a journal were a paid profession I’d be a mega-billionaire.
I have found that writing in a journal has saved my life many times. It may yours. Have a go, you just may find a safe place to find who you are and heal.
Kindness journaling prompts
Staying with the kindness theme for 2020 here are some suggested journaling prompts.
- What 5 acts of kindness will you do today?
- What was the kindest thing you have done for someone? Write about this made you feel!
- If I could do one kind thing for any one person in the world, I would…
Please look around you, one of your friends could be where I was. You might be there now.
Buy them a journal with love and be prepared to hug and listen.
Go well today and every day. With love.
Kickstart your journaling with one of these journaling books.