Ever since I had to face up to the fact that my mental health wasn’t as super-duper as I’d always thought it was, I’ve worked at making things better – no matter how uncomfortable.
This has included sitting down with a psychiatrist and spilling my mind out on to his desk, changing a lot of my attitudes to work, pressure and workload and (re)starting healthier habits.
While I don’t feel like a ‘new man’, I’m happy to say that I’m definitely feeling better. Life feels a bit easier to cope with, I’m more optimistic and even a little less anxious. It’s only been a couple of months since I put my hand up and asked for help, but it’s nice to see some progress all the same.
However, as I’ve made so many changes, it can be hard to figure out what’s actually making a difference. I’ve thought about this quite a bit this week and I’ve narrowed it down to the following – this isn’t advice or a series of suggestions, but just a reflection on what I think works for me. A sort of ‘self-care starter pack’, if you will:
1. Fuck this, fuck that
I spotted a list someone had shared on Instagram a few weeks ago, which they called their ‘Fuck this and fuck that’ list. Simply a list of annoyances and frustrations that they committed to paper, rather than raging about to other people. It genuinely made me smile, especially as they’d headed the page with beautiful calligraphy.
My version is to not get bothered by the inconsequential annoyances and setbacks in my daily life and simply mentally repeat “Fuck this. It doesn’t matter”. It’s been a welcome release.
I’m back running, even when I don’t feel like it. I’m in training for a half-marathon in October and while my performance is nowhere like where it’s been in previous years, finishing a run feels good and helps me sleep better.
I even ran in both Osaka and Tokyo earlier this month – despite the heat and humidity. The benefits definitely outweighed the costs.
It’s the backbone of wellbeing, as far as I’m concerned. And my previous bouts of serious insomnia were just too horrible to want to experience again. So I’ve been focused on ensuring I get enough sleep on a regular basis. Sleeping helps me see the world in a more realistic, less fatalistic, light.
I’ve maintained an electronic journal, via Day One, for several years now. But this year, I’ve started recording my thoughts and ‘adventures’ on paper. And what a difference it’s made. In the last month alone, I’ve felt the benefit of putting pen to paper: a slower, calmer mind, more clarity on what’s really important and the ability to put life’s events into context.
Right now, I’m following some of the ‘Bullet Journal’ methods outlined on BulletJournal.com. I still have an online calendar and projects and tasks live in ToDoist, but regular brain dumps into the notebook calm me down and help identify where I can put my energy and attention next.
I don’t want to sound like someone who’s just joined a cult, but it has been a superb addition to my mental health toolkit. And it’s all down to a cheap-ass pen and a generic A5 notebook from Muji.
I’m not necessarily talking about mindfulness meditation here, though I do use Headspace on a semi-regular basis. What really seems to work for me is regularly refocusing my attention on the here and now and working more intentionally on one thing at a time.
Nobody can multi-task effectively, but we often try to or feel we should be able to. Giving my attention to one task at a time helps calm down my busy, anxious mind and gives me a sense of achievement when I complete things. This is in stark contrast to my usual busy, anxious mind, jumping from task to task and looking for threats (real or imagined) in my environment.
6. Normalsing things
‘Normalising’? I’ve focused on putting my experience into context and understanding there’s nothing wrong with experiencing mental health challenges. As a psychologist, I understood this conceptually, but also believed I was somehow immune. Which almost certainly contributed to my condition in the first place.
One of the most impactful things I’ve done in this space has been to read ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet‘ by Matt Haig. To be precise, I listened to it, on Audible. Several of the points he shared about his own mental health were significant lightbulb moments for me, particularly his description of crippling anxiety.
I started the book just before I went to Japan and remember distinctly stopping in my tracks near my office as I listened and thinking ‘This is me!’. Understanding that my frame of mind wasn’t unique and hearing it described so eloquently was an eye-opener. The only downside was realising that my anxiety had been problematic (and exhausting) for a lot longer than I’d realised.
Wait, aren’t you on happy pills?
I haven’t forgotten these. I’m positive the anti-depressants have started to make a difference and have cleared some of the mental detritus and emotional turmoil. They’ve allowed me to make the behavioural changes which support everything else. A sort of ‘virtuous circle’.
But I’m not going to be taking them for ever. So, from my perspective, it’s important to clarify and commit to the habits that support my wellbeing on an ongoing basis.
I feel like I’m finally turning a corner, but I’m also clear that there’s a lot more work to do. It’s important I don’t get cocky and slide back into bad habits when it comes to workload or life’s commitments. I started the year wanting to make it a ‘Year of Less‘ and that’s something I’m determined to apply more significantly on an ongoing basis. Fewer commitments, fewer worries about stuff that doesn’t matter, fewer belongings and junk and fewer (but more meaningful) priorities.
Onwards and (hopefully) upwards!