When The Going Gets Tough…..

Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week. As well as having physical health, we all have mental health too. Some people have good mental health, others have poor mental health and then there are people, like myself, who yo-yo between the two. My mental health is currently pretty good and I pray that it stays like that for the foreseeable future. It hasn’t always been like that though.

I’ve struggled with anxiety ever since childhood, but never thought I’d be someone who’d get depressed. However, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in June 2018. I should probably have been diagnosed at least six months earlier, but was reluctant to make an appointment with our doctor as I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t coping. My family and a good friend kept gently encouraging me to make an appointment, but it was only after I had told my son that he’d be better off without me that I realised that I had to go and see the doctor! It wasn’t easy to either make or keep the appointment and I very nearly left the surgery before being seen by the doctor. Once I was in the consultation room, I broke down in tears as soon as the doctor asked how she could help me that day. After chatting with her, I left the surgery with a prescription for medication and a promise of some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I ended up doing CBT with a small group of people, which initially I wasn’t sure about, but hearing other people say that they felt similar to you was actually very reassuring. It definitely made me feel like I wasn’t alone on the journey to good mental health. Now almost 3 years on, my mental health is good. I’m still on medication, but that’s fine as it’s keeping me mentally well.

It’s been reported that there has been a rise in people struggling with their mental health since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic which isn’t really too surprising. Some people may have had loved ones die or become very ill, others may have lost their job, others have had to shield due to health conditions and some have been on the front line in hospitals seeing numerous deaths and working extremely long, busy hours. Life changed beyond recognition for so many people, in some cases with very little warning. This can knock confidence and leave people anxious and insecure. Maybe you’re one of the people who has been affected by poor mental health. If your mental health is not as good as it should be, here’s a few things that can help:

See your doctor – As I’ve said, it’s not always easy to admit that you’re not coping as well as you could be. However, it’s important that you speak with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to advise what course of treatment they feel is best for you. It may not always include medication either. If you feel unsure about going to see the doctor on your own, ask if a friend or family member can be there too. Even if the appointment is over the phone or Zoom, having someone you trust next to you can help.

Be kind to yourself – Speak to yourself in the same way that you would speak to a friend. I was very good at telling myself that I was ‘useless’, no good’, ‘a failure’, ‘a waste of space’, etc. I would never dream of saying anything like that to a friend, but thought it was ok to tell myself that. It really doesn’t help! If you’re finding that it’s hard to cope because you’re doing too much, have a look at what can be stopped or delegated to others. I was involved in quite a lot that happened at our previous church (Sunday groups, toddler group, a club for junior age children, Messy Church plus other children/youth events) as well as being Additional Needs Coordinator. It’s no wonder I got to a point of not coping and maybe, just maybe I should have left one or two of the groups I was involved in! It’s important to try and find some ‘Me time’ too. This might be watching a film, going for a walk, reading, listening to music, sitting in the garden, etc. It allows you to recharge your batteries. We like to keep a full battery on our mobile phone, yet so often allow our own battery to reach empty before we do anything about it!

Exercise – Exercise can really help your mental health. It doesn’t necessarily mean going down to the gym – something I’m quite glad about! It can be as simple as going for a walk, cycle or run. As a family we try to go for at least one walk at the weekend. It gives us the chance to chat about anything, including anything that’s worrying us. We’re fortunate that we have several parks nearby where we walk and find being around nature can also be such a help to good mental health.

Small Wins – This is something that my son suggested to me when I was first diagnosed with depression. I had been saying that I felt a failure because I hadn’t done anything all day. He pointed out that I’d got up, washed, dressed, put some washing on, made lunch, etc. – all very small things, but things that still said that I’d achieved something that day. So look out for those small wins – they can really help to take away that inner voice that tells you you’re a failure.

Pray – As a Christian I believe in the power of prayer. Although there were times where I found it hard to pray, I found that when I could pray that it definitely helped. It has been good to be able to tell God how I’ve been feeling and asking for his help to get through the day. He’s not let me down yet!

Maybe it’s not your mental health that’s struggling, but your friend or family member’s mental health. What can you do to support them?

Listen – Give them your time and listen to how they’re feeling. You don’t have to have any answers or offer advice, just the act of listening will be greatly appreciated. So often people who are struggling with poor mental health are dismissed, so show that you care by listening.

Practical support – This can be offering to do the shopping, taking children to school, making a meal, getting prescriptions etc. Basically whatever support you’d give to someone with poor physical health can also be done for someone with poor mental health. The important thing though is to ask what help they may need. When I was first diagnosed one of our friends made a lovely meal for us as a family. Unfortunately, they hadn’t checked beforehand which meant that we then had to find room in a very full freezer for some food that my husband had already bought for the week ahead. The meal was lovely, but if they had asked we would have said that it would have been more welcome the following week.

Random Acts of Kindness – This can be things like sending a card/letter, flowers, chocolates, vouchers etc. and can be such a wonderful blessing. To have something so unexpected through the post can be a real mood lifter. I’ll be honest, one or two that I received made me cry too, although they were happy tears! It also has a bonus that it won’t just make a difference to the mood of the person that you’ve done something for, but will also make you feel good too!

Check in – The people who meant so much to me when I was first diagnosed with depression were those who took the time to send a text, Facebook message, email, WhatsApp message, etc. to check how I was doing. It was great for me that they didn’t phone or visit as I’m not sure that I could have coped with having to have long conversations back then. If you do want to visit or phone, it might be wise to send a text to the person first asking if it’s ok.

Be careful what you say – Be careful not to dismiss how your friend or family member is feeling. Saying things like “I don’t know what you’ve got to be depressed about!” and “Well, your life’s not as bad as what ‘Fred’ is going through at the moment!” are really not very helpful. Something like “Is there anything I can do to help you and the family” is so much better! Also a plea to any Christians reading this – please think about which Bible verses you pass on to anyone with poor mental health. I lost count of the times that Phillipians 4 v 6 was quoted at me. This is what it says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It a wonderful Bible verse – the trouble was only the first six words were ever quoted at me, so the only thing I ever heard was the Bible says “Do not be anxious about anything!”. This obviously wasn’t ideal for someone struggling with anxiety! One day after hearing yet again, I broke down in tears when I returned home from the church (I’m not sure how I held my emotions together for a 30 minute bus ride home, but I did!). I cried out to God in prayer and felt prompted to look up Luke 22 v 39-46. It’s where Jesus is praying before he is arrested and his sweat is described by Luke as being “like drops of blood falling to the ground” (v 44). I’m no medical expert, but there is a condition called hematohidrosis which is when you sweat blood due to extreme anxiety or stress, so it looks likely that this is what happened to Jesus. Now, if it’s okay for Jesus to feel stress and anxiety then I’m pretty sure it’s okay for us too. We just need to follow his example and pray about it and see what God can do! I’m not saying don’t share Bible verses, but maybe share ones that tell the person how much God loves them and how special they are to him. The other thing for Christians to avoid is telling people that their mental health is down to them not trusting God enough. Poor mental health is not linked to a lack of trust in God. If anything, I trusted God more when my depression was a major struggle as some days I’d only get through the day with his help.

Pray – Do pray for your friends who have their mental health battles. If possible, ask what they most need prayer for so that you can pray specifically into their situation. I found the prayers from other Christians invaluable. They were able to pray for me when I struggled to pray. In fact, there were three very special friends (who got known as my ‘Depression Prayer Team’) who I knew I could contact whenever life was getting too hard for me. Usually I’d get a message back within minutes, assuring me of their prayers and sending virtual hugs. They certainly made a difficult time in my life, just the bit easier to deal with.

Anyone can experience poor mental health and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – with advice and treatment from the doctor and support from friends and family things can improve. I found that the first step of seeing my doctor was the hardest, but I’m so glad I took that step. My only regret is that I didn’t take it earlier!

Lynnette

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