Thursday, 12 January 2017

I HATE Blue Monday

And probably not for the reasons you think.

It’s the same every year. The most depressing day of the year comes around on the third or fourth Monday in January, and the media feed you story after story about how to fend off the dreaded Blue Monday.

Well I have news for you.

Depression is not a day of the year.

It is a real illness – ILLNESS.

A disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.

Stop using 'depressing' as an adjective to describe your feelings. It’s not a feeling.

Feelings are not dictated by a date. 

Stop pretending a scientific formula found this date to be the 'most depressing of the year'.

It trivialises mental health issues. You’re saying that my mental illness amounts to a crappy day at work. You’re saying that the illness I battled for years to overcome just lasts you 24 hours. You're saying that my 'sad' feelings on every other day of the year are not as valid or socially acceptable as they are on this day. 

There is a difference between feeling sadness, and being depressed.

If you have a crappy day where you feel sad and hopeless, on any day of the year, I’m sorry. I know it sucks. I know it can leave you unmotivated, exhausted, and exacerbated. But it is not depression. There is a clinical and medical difference between sadness and depression.

Blue Monday does nothing to address the reality of mental illness or the stigma that continues to be attached to it. It popularizes a 'depressing' feeling, but not the reality of living daily with and battling against a mental illness.

I would much rather see a discussion about how January can often trigger mental health difficulties, particularly in those with a history of mental illness. Not some bullshit bandwagon based on pseudo-science. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Thinking about the future

For many reasons, the future can be scary. We don't know what's to come, or even what to expect. It's full of uncertainty and doubt.

The future can be, and has been for me, a problem for our mental health. Not knowing potential outcomes can lead to overthinking, negative thinking and patterns of self-doubt and criticism.

For a long time, I saw no future for myself. And when I did learn to keep on live, I couldn't see any happiness or success in my future.

But I'm also learning that the future isn't all bad.
Where to go from here?
One of my favourite things about January, is making New Year plans, goals and resolutions. and my bullet journal has come out in force the past week in preparation. So much so, that I've found myself actually looking forward to the year ahead and what it might have in store for me.

I've set myself several goals for the year; without going into specifics they revolve around the themes of self-confidence, budgeting, and upskilling.

And I've established a habit tracker to help me break my bad habits and develop new, better habits (yes, exercise is one of them).

I've been writing down birthdays, concerts, musicals, anniversaries and other upcoming events.

And it's left me this week feeling calm, good about myself, and somewhat like I-may-possibly-have-my-life-together. Possibly.

You see, in the darkness of my depression, during the worst days and the worst years, I couldn't see a future. The thought of one filled me with dread. Because despite everyone saying things do and would get better, I didn't feel it.

It took years of work, hard work of CBT and medication and counselling and the sheer effort of forcing myself to get out of bed and carry on, to change the way I felt. And years after my initial diagnosis, things are better and I know that in future, they can get better again.

Now, the future holds one thing I couldn't feel before.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

New Year's Resolutions for Self Care

As we all start to set goals and New Year's resolutions for 2017, it's worth remembering that the most important promises we can make are to look after ourselves.

When you set your New Year's resolutions this year, remember that goals don’t have to be big or external to you.

The little things have a huge impact on our mental health, and underpinning the acts of self care that work for you in your goals for the New Year can make all the difference.

To help you focus on the little things you can implement to improve your mental health and practice self care, I've thought up a few suggestions that you can include in your 2017 resolutions.

Here are FIVE of the things you can do to look after your mental health in 2017.

  1. Take time out. A huge part of self care is having me-time. Social interaction is EXHAUSTING for me. No matter how much I like you, I also need time by myself too. I get overwhelmed by social occasions, even a day at work, and need to unwind afterwards with a cup of herbal tea, chilling in bed, or colouring-in.
  2. Get outside. Fresh air, a walk in the forest, a brief spot of exercise, sitting on a park bench - it doesn't matter what you do when you get outside. Just be there, let the fresh air hit your lungs and you will start to feel calmer and more at peace. This is something I definitely need to do more of in 2017. 
  3. Get offline. Whether it's for one day in a weekend or just one evening a week, try to limit the amount of time you spend in front of a screen, and particularly on social media. Social media can be damaging to your mental health, and often more specifically your self-esteem (I'm talking about all those group photos from a night out that you weren't on), so give yourself a well-deserved break. 
  4. Try something new. Whether it's a CBT class, yoga, or even a gym membership put your money where your mind is and commit to trying something new for your mental health. Sure, you might find it's not for you but that's okay. If you hadn't tried first, you'd never know. 
  5. Make a self care box. Seriously, I cannot plug this enough. Not only is it cute and pretty, but it’s just a relief to know you have a safe place to turn when you’re feeling down. See more on creating a self care box here
And there are so many others that you could add to this list and commit to in 2017.

I wish you all the best in the New Year - to a happier and more positive 2017!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

My Life in the Woods: What I learned in 2016

What I learned from The Romeo Project
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
I really like this Henry David Thoreau quote. He was a man of many, many talents and professions according to his Wikipedia page. And surprisingly, despite being born 200 years ago next year, his writing is still relatable. Like many a modern-day self-help books, Thoreau's book Walden is an experiment in how to live well and simply. He relocates to Walden and lives in the woods, and then writes about it. It's described as a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings, a manual for self-reliance and a voyage for self discovery.

In many ways, this year has felt a lot like Thoreau's Walden experiment. I started my Romeo Project because I wanted to discover myself, discover happiness, and find a way to live better. (Mind you, I did not have the balls to go move away to the wilderness for my experiment.) But I did spend the year taking self-help book advice to heart and trying to change the way I lived my life so I could find happiness.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
When you have a mental illness you often experience FOMO. (That's fear of missing out for those of you not down with the kids.) I have constantly experienced FOMO since I was 12 years old. I felt like I was missing out socially, by not having the right friends, any friends, close friends. I was missing out because of where I lived. I missed out academically because my illness meant I couldn't study. I felt unliked, unwelcome and alone for a long time. I felt like my personality was holding me back  until I found out I had depression and anxiety. Then I felt like my illness was holding me back.

I thought: If only I didn't feel like this I could do it. If only I wasn't depressed I would be liked. 

In reality, the only thing holding me back was me. Sure, my anxiety means I don't want to go to new places or meet new people. My depression means I can be lost in very negative and consuming thoughts. But there are ways to overcome your mental illness (or whatever else is holding you back) and live a full life. That's what self-help books thrive on - we want to know how other people overcame their burden. We consume these books in the hope that by osmosis we will feel happier. And when you have mental health problems, people just love to offer you solutions. From exercise to CBT classes, to health eating - people swear by these methods to improve your mental health.

The problem is, I ignored all advice for years. I never committed to making positive steps. I would try meditation once and without a quick-fix I gave up. I let my mental illness win. Time and time again I stood back and let my mental illness decide what I did or did not do. I never questioned it, I never challenged it.

This year, for the first time in my life, I decided that I wanted to win. Not my depression. Not my anxiety. But me.

My 10 resolutions explored methods of self care, tips for managing your inner critic, CBT, meditation and countless other tactics raved about in self-help books. I tried each method once, then moved on to another and another, constantly sampling what the world was preaching. I took not only the first step, but hundreds of further steps as I delved into potential solutions.

And there were some resolutions that stuck. I make sure I dedicate at least one evening per week to self-care. I know now that exercise does make me feel better about myself, and journaling helps me make sense of how I'm feeling. I invested time and effort in my mental health and I feel all the better for it.

The lesson
I guess if I were to sum this all up in a nice, neat concluding sentence, it would be to borrow this from Thoreau.
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
I discovered that I can be depressed and anxious and still be happy. But I still have foundations to lay. I need to build upon the methods I am using now with practice, as well as trying new coping strategies too. Finding joy and hope and happiness this year doesn't mean that I now stop making any effort. Stepping off the pedal is exactly what my mental illness would love me to do to allow it to thrive. So I keep going, I keep making an effort and I keep searching for happiness to make sure that it never goes away.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

My Blogmas of Quotes

I love the idea of Blogmas (because I love both blogging and Christmas). 

I also have two other passions when it comes to this time of the year – advent calendars and inspirational quotes. So, inspired by all of these things I have decided to do Blogmas slightly differently this year.

Every day in December, I will be sharing one beautiful quote that has inspired me through the Romeo Project. So much of the project had me stuck in self-help books, and thralling the internet for encouragement that I ended up writing down all of the heartwarming and uplifting quotes I stumbled across. And when better to root out this inspiration than during the cold spells and dark months. 

Day 1. on self-belief

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

We Don't Have to be Happy all the Time

I set out on 01 January with one goal - find happiness.

To say that I have succeeded however, is not so simple. I can't say that I am happy now, because right now, in this very moment, I feel far from happiness. I'm on the brink of a breakdown, but I'm veering on the side of safe.

BUT I can say with all honesty that I am happier than the person I was on 31 December 2015.
"Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable." - Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier
You see, happiness isn't defined in the moment. (And THANK GOD, right? Because I am SO not there). Happiness is defined by the journey, the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows.
It's about all the moments, the bigger picture, the overall state of your life.

State of your life is an acceptable term, right?

This year I have found this overarching level of happiness. While I may not be happy right now, I am happy. And here's how I know:

  • I actually have the self-confidence to yell Woohoo in zumba class and mean it.
  • I can say hello to someone and not have a freakin' panic attack over what they must think of me.
  • Phone calls are not my worst enemy.
  • I was not even the teeniest bit embarrassed when a coworker wore an almost identical outfit as me.
  • I know that I am loved. And I feel loved.
  • I put a picture of me sans make-up on the internet and didn't give a damn.
  • I took this one photo that I was ridiculously proud of.

So for those of you out there looking at this list and thinking 'What the actual hell? These little things do not equate to happiness', I respectfully disagree. For me, happiness is all of these things. They may seem like small, otherwise insignificant moments to some of you, but to me they are the feeling of victory over my mental illness.
For me, happiness is feeling self-assured, having self-worth, and being your perfectly awesome self.

Life is full of delightful treasures - what Oprah Winfrey calls the 'ahhh moments' in her book What I Know For Sure. The 'ahhh moments' let you know that you've found your little bit of happiness.

You don't have to be happy all of the time. You just need those 'ahhh moments' to remind you that you are here, you are happy, and you are loved.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

It's a wonderful life

On the 1st of January 2016, the very first day of the new year, I watched It's a Wonderful Life for the very first time.

I found myself in tears by the end, who doesn't??,  but I also felt motivated for the year ahead and the challenge I had set myself.
I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.
2016 was the year of the Romeo Project, and as I promised myself and you all, November is when I reflect on how I got on, what I achieved, and what I could have done better. And all I can think about is the very first day of the year and watching a life-changing movie.

It's a Wonderful Life taught me that me that we can plan out our lives, but the truth is that life just happens. Plans don't go our way, things don't go to plan. We can look back and feel regret.

But we also touch so many lives.
No man is a failure if he has friends.
Be good.
Live a life where you do the right thing, not always the planned thing.
You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?
I may feel regret about some parts of the Romeo Project, wishing I'd done better, wishing I'd had a stronger plan, feeling self-critical. However, I also spent the year living, actually in-love with living, for the first time. I read, I created, I appreciated, I learned, I explored.

I found that I had a wonderful life. I have a wonderful life. There was so much in my life to feel wonderful about, but throughout the past 10 months, I also cultivated some more. Because you can do that. You can create and change aspects you don't feel wonderful about. You bring other wonderful things into your life. Life is there to be lived. And this year, I lived.