This past week was ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’.
Mental health is such an important message to me because I have suffered from depression.
It may seem hard to believe, because people tend to only see the happy, jolly Ash. However, as it is with many people who suffer from a mental health issue, even I didn’t realise I was depressed.
Some of you many know this story, but I think it’s a topic that you can never talk about enough. It’s the best thing we can do to remove any remaining stigma.
It all started when I lost my sister in 2001. You see, I made the terrible mistake of taking it upon myself to organise everything, from the repatriation to the funeral.
I even made sure my parents saw professionals to help them through their own grief.
But I didn’t look after myself.
I was tough. I didn’t need to talk to anyone, I had friends for that.
I was so afraid to show weakness.
Instead, I was reaching out to others, offering to help them. Lending an ear if they needed to unburden themselves of their own problems.
As I said, I was ‘tough’.
But the sun was shining and I couldn’t shake the feeling of melancholy. Things didn’t feel ‘right’ but still I hide behind my forced façade of humour.
I just got on with life and pretended everything was ok.
Even when my business at the time was failing and Josie was in Cornwall, I ignored the loneliness I felt.
I was fine. Except, I had real trouble sleeping and my chest felt incredibly tight.
Walking upstairs was a struggle and, although I was shattered, I would lie awake at night.
Then, one day in 2013, I decided I needed to visit the doctor.
“You’re suffering from depression”.
I looked behind me to see who he was talking to.
“You’ve three choices – take pills, have therapy or do nothing”.
Drugs like that scare me, and with such physical symptoms I knew ‘doing nothing’ wasn’t an option.
So that left therapy.
It’s amazing how much difference just talking can make. Opening up and letting everything inside of you go instead of holding on to it.
For once, I wasn’t just ‘being tough’.
Mental health doesn’t just go away, of course.
It’s still there. Sometimes I can feel it sneaking up on me, but now I can (usually) recognise the signs and I can (usually) head off a slump before it becomes a crash.
It’ll probably always be part of me. But that’s ok.
I’ve learnt to like myself and have accepted that I’m not perfect.
What I’ve also found by being open about it, it’s made me realise how many other people out there struggle with similar issues.
It’s made easier by sharing.
It’s also made easier by understanding.
People with mental health issues aren’t freaks. They’re not going to attack you with an axe or shout obscenities at you when you talk to them.
They’re just people and like you and me.
They want to talk and be talked to, not shunned or ignored because it’s easier.
Maybe you have a friend who isn’t quite themselves at the moment.
Pick up the phone, say hello, and just listen.
And if you’re the one that isn’t feeling quite right, here’s the 5 things that I find helpful when The Black Dog shows up”
I can’t tell you how good it is for you. It doesn’t matter what it is. You don’t have to play sport but just get sweaty, raise your heart rate and do it regularly. Me, I train. I throw iron around and playing golf and it makes me feel really good.
We need fresh air. Get outside every day, go for a walk or just stand in the rain. In the winter it’s especially important. Feel the wind on your skin, be in some natural light and experience all the sights, sounds and smells that surround us all the time that we don’t notice because we’re cooped up inside.
Have some you time.
This might coincide with one or both of the above but just stop for 10 minutes. Put your phone away, find some quiet space and just be. There’s no need to sit cross-legged on the top of a mountain with your fingertips touching on your knees. Just take a moment and breathe.
The easiest way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal. Just jot down each day what you’re grateful for, what good stuff is going on even if it seems inconsequential. They add up. It’s so easy to look for crap stuff in your life when you feel crap so you can justify it. Force yourself to look for the good stuff instead.
You don’t need me to explain this one. Just do it, even if you don’t feel like it. Pretend you’re rehearsing for a really bad play or something but just laugh out loud.
Don’t be afraid to be a friend or go to a friend for help.