The Power of Talking; breaking mental health stigma

(I’m living life on the edge right now trying to type this out before my laptop restarts for yet another Windows update).

I met up with a friend today, spontaneously, but messaging her and asking if she wanted to meet up was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. I think I wrote in this post, about how I haven’t been feeling at my best for some time and of how I started isolating myself from people, being trapped in my mind and quite honestly driving myself mad from overthinking. I made a promise to myself to get out of that phase, to interact more with my friends, to be more open and honest about my feelings, but since half term started, I’ve become more and more isolated and lonely and have just generally been feeling awful.

However today I decided to reach out to my friend, who I haven’t seen in quite a while, but for a moment I stopped overthinking that I wasn’t worthy of anyone’s time and sent her a message. When we met up, I didn’t want to pressure myself to talk about how I was feeling – even thought that’s why I wanted to see her, just to be able to talk to someone who has been by my side for a long time and who I trust – so I just said to myself that whatever happens, I must be honest. And I was. I almost had a breakdown in the middle of a park but we had some really deep conversations about overthinking and anxiety and social pressure, and I’m proud of myself for actually giving an honest answer when she asked how I was, instead of the usual “good, thanks”.

Through talking to each other, we discovered that we’d been going through similar things and we understood eachother, which really meant a lot. As I’m used to bottling up my emotions, the world can sometimes seem a little mad because I overthink so much that nothing makes sense in my head and eventually nothing makes sense in real life either. But talking, casually, about mental health whilst walking in the fresh air – and eventually over a box of chicken nuggets – made it seem normal and okay.

Some of the advice my friend was giving me really made me think. She can be very philosophical in her outlook on life, and although it probably won’t have as much as an impact once translated into my words, I want to try to share some of her insights in life here, so maybe it can help others too.

One thing we were talking about was the pressure of social media, because I explained how social media is becoming a huge source of overthinking for me. It’s the pressure of being constantly social, and active and talking to other people. This need to be constantly in touch with the virtual world can make us presume that if someone hasn’t replied to a message then they automatically don’t like us, don’t want be friends with us and don’t care about us anymore. This is becoming a big problem for me, because I almost constantly pick apart all my friendships based on people’s activity on social media – it’s a downward spiral, a trap. Sometimes if a friend doesn’t reply to a message, but I can see they have been active on social media, I will think that’s it, the friendship’s over, they don’t care about me anymore, I’m not worthy of anyone’s time, there’s no point contacting other friends stop because they won’t want to talk to me either, I’m just being annoying, none of my friends really like me and so on. It’s ridiculous that social media controls my emotions in such a destructive way, and that my friend – and probably many of you – could relate. Although it’s hard to avoid social media and the pressures that come with it in the world we are living in, I need to find a balance between real life and the virtual world to be free from this pressure. I do want to have social media in my life, because I have met some amazing people as a result of it, but I also want to live in the present and for social media to be a positive addition to my life, not a negative obstacle that holds me back.

I admitted that some of the problems social media was causing me were due to the fact that I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere, because I don’t really have a set friendship group anymore and I’ve been feeling a bit lost. But I know now that that’s okay, because people come and go through our lives and I understand now that, to borrow my friend’s analogy, even if you keep watering a dead flower, it won’t come back to life. That is to say, you can keep trying to hold onto friendships that are falling apart and friends that are drifting away, but there comes a point where you need to let the flower die – for both individual’s sake – because this makes room for new flowers – or friends – to come into your life and blossom. I may feel like I’ve lost a lot of friends, but I still have a few “flowers” who I can always count on, and that’s what matters. I will meet new people and make new friends, just as the people who have slipped out of my life will or already have.

We also talked about anxiety and the stigma surrounding mental health. I explained how I’d been suffering with anxious feelings for the past month or so, probably the result of stress and pressure from college combined with social pressures, all of which has contributed to this constant overthinking and worrying about what other people think. It’s tiring – draining – to feel this way; it’s been a long time since I felt like I could do something with ease, in a relaxed way without my mind constantly racing with all sorts of irrational scenarios and thoughts. It was comforting that my friend understood and we could talk about it freely, it really showed to me that it was okay to talk about mental health, because we all have mental health and the sooner we break down the stigma around discussing it, the better it’ll be for everyone. No one should have to face mental health alone – we are so much stronger if we tackle it together.

Now I feel so much lighter after discussing all this with someone I admire and respect a lot, and I think it helped her too. Although I don’t see many of my friends often, I am now a little bit more reassured that they still do care and the friendship is still there. I can’t express enough how much today has changed my perspective on life. Although my thoughts aren’t coherent and I’ve still got a long way to go, I took a risk in reaching out to a friend for help, and it paid off. Life’s all about taking risks, we don’t always know which ones will be worth taking until we’ve taken them, but we always learn in the process.

Here’s to more opening up about mental health, on my part and yours.

 

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