Today, the lovely Jen Ronan has shared a really heartfelt piece on the Stigma around mental health on www.thejournal.ie. Jen is a mental health advocate, and can regularly be seen on TV3’s Midday programme, telling it like it is. Today she shares a blog post with us on how she manages to get through the tough times….
Speaking as someone who falls in and out of The Bunker mental health-wise fairly regularly, I’m pretty much a top-class expert when it comes to focusing on The Little Things to give my poor beleaguered mind a brief respite from firing on all cylinders in Crisis Mode. A crisis, I might add, which never fully materialises. The joys of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
(Which, by the way, is a deceptively benign name for a chronic and debilitating condition that has physical as well as psychological symptoms and can drive people to the point of no return. Not your average dose of The Fear of a Sunday morning, or a few butterflies in the stomach on the way to work during a pressure-filled week. I’ve had those too, and there’s a world of fucking difference. Just saying.)
Anyway, having come out of a fairly hectic week or two where my anxiety shot through the roof and hit the moon square in the face for a couple of days straight, I found myself relying on some Old Faithfuls, some reliable habits I’ve formed over the years as coping skills to help get all my anxious despair-filled ducks in a row. Once the busy hectic weeks calmed down and I had a lovely weekend of relaxation, I found myself analysing what I did in the midst of the madness to try and get my mental health somewhat back in check, because I simply didn’t have time to turn myself into a human duvet burrito and eat my weight in microwave popcorn. So here are a few things I did to keep myself afloat, until I could afford to sit and chill the fuck out and press ‘reset’. I’m sure they’re common to many like-minded folks in the same position.
Note: There are zero references to the gym, or exercise, or eating healthy here. If that’s what you’re looking for, then my friend, you are barking up the wrong blog.
1: I Make A List. Like This One.
You know what everyone on the internet loves? A good list. And, to be fair, so do I. In fact, sitting down and simply writing out one with good old-fashioned pen and paper seems to be one of the very few things that can give my poor noisy head a bit of peace when my grip on adult life completely shits the bed. This, unfortunately, happens more times than I am comfortable with – but them’s the breaks when you have dodgy brain chemistry. Shit. Just. Happens. So sometimes, I summon the wherewithal to pump the brakes on the juggernaut running through my mind when trying to complete even the most menial of tasks. After it screeches to a halt, I need to sit down and shut the fuck up both inside and outside my head, and sift through the dust and the tumbleweed and barbed wire surrounding it. Bit by bit, I’ll find little bits of whatever relevant information needed to manage the day / week / work event / assignment in question, and I’ll jot them all down on a nice clean piece of paper. If I’m feeling saucy, I might even alternate pen colours, or use bullet points instead of numbers. (I know, I’m a fucking loose cannon maverick type with nothing to lose. Don’t you dare fall in love with me.)
2: I Talk To Myself. Regularly. Out Loud.
Some may say this is the first sign of madness; I say it’s the first sign of sanity. It’s acknowledging the fact that I am my own best personnel manager, as fucked up and flawed as I am. No matter how I try verbalise to the horrors that go through my mind on a regular basis every nanosecond, it all comes out far less malignant and dangerous and toxic than it actually is. No language does it justice. If there was some way to put a 24-hour surveillance bug in my brain and give them a non-stop live stream feed to the relevant mental health professionals, they’d be the ones needing a full arsenal of meds and therapists – and probably an exorcist. When it’s bad, it’s pretty fucking grim up in here. So who better to talk myself through some relatively minor mini-episode happening in The House of J-Ro than me? It’s the Out Loud bit that’s key though. No point in me adding to the inner noise with some pithy motivational phrase that you’d see on the wall of a meathead’s paradise gym. An out loud voice demands to be actually ‘heard’. Not pissing into the wind alongside the disgustingly horrible internal cacophony of insults I throw at myself when I’m down in the bunker of black anxiety and terror.
3: I Make My Bed.
LOOK, I’M TRYING ALL RIGHT? Jeez..
If you’ve read the previous post of mine below, you’ll know how much I love my bed. I flippin’ ADORE my bed. Not necessarily the physical structure of the bed I’m currently sleeping in, but the abstract concept of a bed that I inherently have regardless of my location. I love that as part of the job description of being a fully functioning human being, I am required to lie horizontal, on a soft comfortable surface, undisturbed, in peace and quiet, for a sizeable portion of every 24-hour period. WITH DUVETS AND PILLOWS, IF YOU DON’T MIND.
Seriously; how fannytastic is that? So, when I’m all het up and my week is looking like a clusterfuck of mental hurdles, I try (that’s the keyword here; I’m not a naturally tidy person) to at least ensure that a few times a week, I can come home, walk into my bedroom and look at the most inviting sight my eyes have rested on since a box sporting a Krispy Kreme logo. It definitely soothes the soul after a long day slaving over a hot stove of abusive inner dialogue and blind panic teamed with gravity-defying nausea. Or, as I like to call it, Monday.
4: I Hate-Read Things. Seriously, It’s Great Fun.
This is not for the faint-hearted. Nor is it for those who still believe in the goodness of humanity. I, on the other hand, am neither of those. I work on the internet, and have done for a number of years – so I’m well-placed (along with anybody who has a smidge of common sense) to declare the following: Human beings, left unchecked and with the shield of anonymity and lack of consequences, are capable of being an insidious, illiterate, racist, misogynistic, misandrist, dumb-as-fuck, self-centred bunch of keyboard wankers; who get their rocks off typing their uninformed hate-mongering detritus with one hand while furiously mashing their genitals into a sticky indignant 3D flesh-collage of righteous indignation.
That being said, have a trawl through some comment threads under various online newspaper articles if you want a good old laugh at what passes for an opposable thumb owner with wifi access these days.
5: I Love A Good Bedtime Story. No, Seriously.
I mean it. IT’S THE FUCKING BEST. Many years ago, when I was in serious danger of losing my actual mind and / or doing harm to my physical self in the process, I was on all manner of meds prescribed specifically to keep me from destroying myself with anxiety and panic attacks during the day, and meds to keep me out for the count at night to make sure I at least got a couple of nanoseconds worth of sleep. Those days, my aforementioned favourite place of ‘bed’ was more battleground than blessing. Back then, for a number of months, it held nothing but night terrors and internal monologues telling me how little I’d be missed, and offering a number of suggestions on the best way to exit the planet that would cause the least amount of trauma to anyone connected to me.
Make no mistake, all of those meds were absolutely necessary and most welcome – because I’m still here, and I’m not doing too badly. So I have fuck-all regrets there, in case anybody has an issue with things like that. Anyway, once I was out of the woods, it was time to try and get back up on my own two feet. I came off all the tranquilisers and sleeping tablets (eventually – they were too good to want to give up for a while, but ultimately I did) and had to start relying on myself to try and get to sleep. Then one day, I made a change to my sleeping habits. I decided to stop my old pre-breakdown routine of listening to music at night, because I couldn’t handle listening to any of the music I loved – it was too evocative. I was too invested emotionally to simply listen and drift off. I needed something to soothe my mind, and let me sail into some sort of peaceful oblivion without conjuring up any painful memories of sad, or worse – happy times.
I needed something else to focus my noisy brain on, so one day I went looking for some audiobooks. The first I found was the Harry Potter series, and I figured because it was something that I knew well, it would be a good place to start. The suspense of the next chapter wouldn’t keep me up at night, and it wasn’t something that would send me spiralling into a dark political conspiracy anytime soon. But the clincher was who was the reader: Stephen Fucking Fry. I was hooked from that point on, and his calm, joyful, dulcet tones have been one of the best antidotes to insomnia and despair I’ve had the privilege to lay ears on. If you feel like trying it out as an alternative sleep aid, you could do a lot worse. See also the works (and the occasional reading voice) of Neil Gaiman and Bill Bryson. Absolute goldmines for a good mental health-infused night’s sleep.
I have way more than these, obviously. But that’s for another day. I hope you have a few yourself. Any little battle won against mental illness is well worth shouting from the rooftops, don’t you think?
Much love 💘