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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The Real Value of Friendship

I was looking through my draft posts as you do when you’re having a break from studying, when I came across one from almost exactly two months ago entitled “The Value of Friendship”. I thought, that’s odd, I was just about to write down some thoughts about friendships that have been whirling round my head for the past few days. So I opened up the draft and had a read. I can’t believe how differently I feel now to when I wrote that post. For whatever reason, I didn’t publish that post, but I’m glad I didn’t because it was a jumble of thoughts derived from a particularly persistent phase of overthinking.

The post I originally set out to write today by piecing together little memos of writing I made over the past few days couldn’t be more different. Everything that happened since that draft was written on the 17th November really has been a whirlwind. Last week I had to take a break from social media for a few days – not for long, it probably wasn’t even noticeable – but everything became so complex and overwhelming that I just wanted the simplicity of not having access to the online world for a few days. All my time and energy was taken up by events and people in real life, so I had to focus just on that for a bit.

On reflection of what’s been happening in the past little while, I will say that my close friends and I have gone through some very tough times. I know, however, that we have become stronger because of it and my love for them is greater than ever.

I’ve realised that in life you don’t need to have lots of friends to be happy, you just need a few wonderful individuals who care about you and have shown it. We may not completely understand each other because every human is so complex, but I know that they would walk alongside me down any difficult paths that life throws at me, and I would do the same for them without hesitation.

They haven’t been there since the beginning and it’s taken me a long time to find friends like these, but by miraculous coincidence we found each other and through our friendships I have learnt to be a better friend to myself. These friends have the power to make me happy just by saying a few words, just by being there, and I’m so grateful that they have been there when I needed them, even if they didn’t know it or if I didn’t directly ask for help. They have a comforting presence, which is more than enough to put me at ease in the most stressful of situations.

It’s hard to express my love for them through something as logical and structured as words, because as with most things in life, friendships are often illogical and jumbled. I can’t express enough how much I value them as friends – they make everything seem a little brighter and a little calmer when the world seems crazy.

Through the hard times and the good, the laughter and the tears, I have learnt the value of friendship, and it’s a truly beautiful thing.

This Year I Will Be Me: Who I Am, Who I Was and Who I Will Always Be

This year I won’t set resolutions, because I don’t want to be a “new year, new me” kind of person anymore. This year – I’ve realised – I just want to be me. Wholly, un-apologetically me.

Of course, there are various things about myself that I would like to change, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from last year, it’s that you can’t force yourself to change. I’ve tried to make myself more sociable, confident and outgoing, I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but no matter how hard I tried, I always fell back to being my usual quiet self. I’ve realised now, however, that is just how I’m meant to be, and how I want to be.

Changes in our personalities and our lifestyles don’t happen because we want want them to, or because we list them as goals to achieve, alongside doing more exercise or studying more for example. It’s true that it is possible to change small things about your personality, but these changes can’t just be ticked off a list or scheduled in to our busy lives. Changes in who we are happen through the things we experience, the actions we carry out, how we think and feel. I have changed a lot last year not because I set my mind to it, but because of everything I experienced – the good and the bad – and how this opened my eyes to the world around me.

This year, I will give myself the space to grow, to experience new things and to allow these experiences to shape who I am and give me a better understanding of life and all that it entails. Last year I lost track of myself too many times – I was too caught up in wondering why I couldn’t be like everyone else, trying to fit in to places where I didn’t realise I had fitted in all along, as me. The only reason I didn’t  feel like I fitted in is because I was always trying to be like someone else. But the truth is, I can’t be like anyone else – and neither can you – because I am me, you are you and we are all unique and wonderful in our own ways. I’ve learnt that my friends like me for who I am, not for who I was trying to be. Through all the clouded thoughts and confusion last year, I forgot this. I forgot how to accept friendship in its purest form, I forgot how it felt to feel loved and appreciated. Those feelings became buried under all the overthinking and mind-trickery. I don’t want to lose this feeling again, which is why I need to be me, and let others see me for who I am.

Of course this year will be hard – there are numerous significant things that will be happening to me, such as taking my A Level exams, finishing sixth form and leaving behind some of the best friends I’ve ever had and moving to the other side of the country for university.  But I am ready for these challenges, I’m ready for the new adventures, all the good times and hard times. I’m ready because I know I can tackle them as me, just as I always have but now I know that throughout my life I have picked up my broken pieces, dusted myself down and fitted them back together, albeit with the help of others along the way, but if I’ve done it many times before then these challenges will not break me beyond repair, that I am certain of.

So I’m not going to say this year I want to be more healthy, happy, confident or whatever else I was planning to, because all I really and truly want is to be myself. My honest self – no pretending to be anyone else. So what I offer to you, 2018, and whatever you may bring, is me. This is who I am, who I was and who I will always be. Just…me.