May is Mental Health Awareness Month and come midnight tonight it will be over. I haven’t written about mental health in a while. I posted to Instagram regularly about it, but I couldn’t seem to organise my thoughts into any kind of cohesive formation to write more than a few words. I started the month fresh out of hospital after a long, intensive inpatient stay. When I was discharged, I was so happy to be free; free to make my own food and eat whatever and whenever pleased me, to sleep in my own bed, to come and go without looking for permission or explaining myself to anyone, and lots of other things that before, I would have taken for granted. The expectation versus the reality was extreme; suddenly, having had my freedom returned to me, I didn’t know what I wanted to eat. I felt the need to stick to the hospital mealtimes, which made me become neurotic about the timetable of my day. My bed felt strange; for months, I hadn’t had a duvet. I missed the layers of hospital blankets and starched, crisp, white sheets. I found it difficult to leave my flat; I live alone and I had never before been so profoundly aware of that. I had to keep checking over and over again that I had unplugged everything, the lights were off, there were no taps running, etc. The freedom was actually smothering after being looked after 24/7 for so long. It didn’t help that my boyfriend left me just three days after getting discharged. It was the most alone I have ever felt. I knew something needed to change, my life was not moving in a positive direction and I was stuck. I started to think about the core elements in my life and to look at the things that make life worthwhile. I was lucky, my physical health was good. I wasn’t in any pain. I had a roof over my head. I was able to teach yoga and I also had the space to do my own practise. I had the freedom to paint and write with ease. I wasn’t struggling for money. Despite my boyfriend leaving me, I still had a strong support network around me. So, why was I struggling so much?
Taking all things into account and trying to “take a helicopter look” at the situation, as my dad would say, I could see that many people would kill to be in my situation. There were certainly people out there that would look at my life and wonder what my problem was. Likewise, people that I thought had it all, surely had their own crap that they kept hidden from the world. I’m not saying that depression, or any other mental illness for that matter, are created by the mind. Undoubtedly, there are afflictions that occur in the mind, but- but- that does not mean they are not real. The conclusion I came to was this; three people could be in the same situation and respond and react in three totally different ways to one another. Reality is black and white, however, the way that reality is interpreted can vary widely from person to person. I might be envious of someone that lives in a huge house and has a walk-in wardrobe and while I’m lusting over all that closet space and room for the shoes and bags I would surely own, someone else is looking at my little one-bedroom flat (very small wardrobe) and thinking just how much they would love to be where I am- the wardrobe may be small but the tent they are sleeping is smaller and it’s cold and it doesn’t have indoor plumbing.
Reality is perception and we create that reality. What we believe reality to be becomes the reality we experience. Whether it be belief in ourselves, belief in others, or, belief in the world, if we have unhealthy beliefs, our lives will be negatively impacted. Our confidence will shrink, we will begin to feel self-pity or engage in self-flagellating behaviour. For example, Person A has an unhealthy belief with regard to himself. He wasn’t the brightest in school, his good grades were in woodwork and art but he struggled with dyslexia. He believes that he is not intelligent enough to ever make much money. He also has unhealthy beliefs with regard to others; his parents divorced when he was young and so he overreacts in anger or jealousy when his girlfriend does things that he perceives to be distrustful. Finally, Person A also has a very negative belief system in the world. He is disappointed in the world around him; a local shopping centre in the town he lives in closed and he had friends and family member who lost their jobs. He wants to know why, he believes the situation is unfair, he believes his friends and family are victims and the people behind the closure are bad people. Now, taking all of this into account, Person A seems to really have it tough. He is always complaining about something and he is always angry at someone. He has all these negative beliefs keeping him stuck. His reality is grim and grey and that will not change, not until his perception changes and his belief system changes.
I used to be extremely critical of myself and I held myself to very high stands. As such, I held those around me to the same standards. I also had a very bad tendency to expect people to just know what I wanted without me having to ask, and if they didn’t provide me with whatever it was I was looking for at the time, I thought that meant they didn’t love me or care about me because if they did they wouldn’t have let me down. I kept not telling people what I needed, whether it be an emotional or an actual physical thing, and people kept not giving it to me. I then believed that the problem must be with me and I didn’t deserve whatever it was I needed, or, if I needed it that badly, I should be able to get it myself. I was under pressure all the time because I wouldn’t ask anyone for help for fear they wouldn’t follow through and, once again, I would be let down. I hated being let down. I now know that I cannot be all things to all people, including myself. We are pack animals, we are social beings, each one of us fulfilling different roles and needs within the group. Animals that shun the pack? Well, they get eaten by lions or dragons or something.
Shit happens. A ball is thrown and breaks a window- a belief that the window is not broken does not fix the window. However, acknowledging the window is broken is much more powerful and positive than cursing whoever did it and plotting your revenge. We all lose sleep at times over things that are outside of our control. Shit happens. We can’t wish it didn’t happen, however, we can decide how we are going to react. The principle of mindfulness is to regard everything as temporary and each situation is unique and to be experienced as such- everything in this life is transient. Pain, sadness and frustration are all parts of the human existence, however, suffering doesn’t need to be. Suffering is created when we view or respond to incidents with unhealthy beliefs. “This isn’t fair”, “I don’t deserve this”, “Why me?”, are constantly said and constantly thought, yet they do not improve whatever situation was their catalyst; in fact, alongside dealing with whatever the occurrence was, the person is now carrying the added burden of their judgement on top of that.
Knowing is easy. Believing in something and putting it into action is a different story. Sometimes I still experience suffering because of the belief- one which I know to be impossible- that people should know what I need without making me ask for it. Things don’t change overnight. We are human and we are fundamentally flawed. That being said, I do not want to be a catalyst for suffering in my own life. I am learning to ask for what I need and to realise that if I do not get it, it is not a reflection on who I am or my place in this world. I’m slowly learning.
I hope you all had a good month of May. More than that, I hope you intend on having a good June.
My love to you all,