Trigger Warning (TW) - The aim of this post is to share my experiences honestly. Some of the content may trigger an adverse reaction. If this post begins to upset you I advise you to stop reading immediately and contact a member of your support team or someone else you trust. Please note that all mental health experiences differ. You might find something here that helps you or you might not. I have listed professional resources you can follow at the bottom of the post.
My mental health has not been great and I’ve not been feeling well for about 10 months. I like to be precise on the time as it’s just how my brain works. So why am I not feeling well?
Unfortunately by the time I’d received that advice I’d already made the mistake. That error hit me hard in the mind as well as the wallet and it has taken me a long time to begin building myself back up. I’m still writing and to help support this I work part time for Time to Change, a mental health campaign I believe strongly in. Mental health awareness and treatment is something critical to our wellbeing and being able to help in any capacity is a pleasure. My own experiences have made me even more determined to further succeed in my writing career, not least because my mental health was smashed to pieces over the past several years. And I didn’t see it until a lot of the damage had already been done.
I know I am not alone, which is why I wanted to share my story and offer some advice. I wanted to remind others who struggle with mental illness that whilst there are many tunnels to go through, every tunnel has an exit.
What you can do to help yourself
1. Learn to recognise when you need help
Your ‘crisis’ signs will probably be different to mine, but it’s important you learn to recognise them once they come so you know what to do and prevent things from getting worse. The loss of several family members to cancer and other cases of life threatening illness, contributed to me making one of the worst business decisions possible when my own colleague became ill and asked if I wanted to continue running things by myself. I wish I’d said no, but I didn’t because I felt bad for my friend and I didn’t have enough income to live on. Six months later I’d lost weight, clients and family and broke down crying in front of my computer. That was when I knew I needed help. I called a friend that worked for a mental health charity and ended up receiving over a year’s worth of counselling.
2. When work isn’t working you need to do something
I plucked up the courage to tell my business colleague I wanted out. He tried to convince me to stay and to be fair offered several alternatives, but I just needed to leave.
3. Look for something you want to do with your life and try it. When something doesn’t work, learn from it and try again.
I knew I wanted to try and make a career as an author. After I’d finally left my old job, I spent the next 6 months rebuilding my website and writing a lot of new material. I published a free self-help book on career change which is still ranking in the top 10 on Amazon when you search for 'career change'. I also published a free collection of short stories that have been shortlisted in several competitions over the years. I also wrote a book on dating and several novels, 1 of which is currently out on submission to literary agents to see if I can gain some professional help and representation moving forward. I’m currently wading my way through the difficult middle bit of a 3rd novel and have started planning a 4th. Just a few months ago a fantasy story I wrote received an award in a large and well respected international science fiction and fantasy competition.
4. Speak out professionally on what you know
I’m a natural introvert but being introverted doesn’t mean you don’t like talking. I spoke at and was well received at several science fiction and fantasy events in 2015 and 2016 to help boost my career confidence (not to mention my mental wellbeing). I present and deliver masterclasses on mental wellbeing in the workplace with Time to Change. Through all of this I am still genuinely surprised that people want to talk to me about what I know and am doing after every engagement. You will be surprised by how many people like you there are out there.
5. Find like minded people and hang out with them
I joined several writers groups specifically tailored to my love of Science Fiction and Fantasy. A direct result of this brought me into contact with authors, agents and editors who represent the material I write and enabled me to make more friends and contacts. It also led to the aforementioned competition win. I probably wouldn’t have tried without these people’s encouragement.
6. Give your mind some attention
I’ve tried meditation to help my focus. My first attempt ended with me falling asleep on the floor. I’m told that’s normal so I didn’t worry about it too much. You don’t have to meditate. There are many different ways you can focus on your mind. Eg. Exercise, Travel, Reading, Writing, (my favourite demons)
7. Stay in touch
I make regular efforts to see and talk to my friends and family – talking with people who give a shit about you can help a lot and in many cases can help them as well. Win win!
8. Remember that you are not alone
This is easy to forget when it really feels like you are alone. You’re not.
1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by stress, anxiety and depression each year.
In the US it’s 1 in 5.
Mental ill health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.
95% of employees calling in sick from stress cite a different reason.
There is still a stigma surrounding conversations about mental health (especially in the workplace), but there is also a growing recognition that we need to talk and do something.
What else can you do when you don’t feel well?
Like physical illness, mental illness can take time to recover from. A good start is to acknowledge the illness. I don’t feel great as I write this, but writing is part of my recovery. Why should we be afraid of treating something that needs treating just as much as a broken leg? If my advice and experience can help you or someone you know who suffers, then that’s job done as far as I’m concerned. We must normalise talking about mental health in the same way we normalise our physical health. The mind is just as important as the body, perhaps more so as it actually…controls our bodies.
Oh and one last thing: social media often gives a warped view on life. If you read the feeds thinking ‘Why does everyone else’s life seem so rewarding?’ relax. You’re not seeing the whole picture. Many are struggling just like the rest of us. Try turning off your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for a bit. Try picking up your phone. Try making a call. Try talking.
Talking helps and it’s something we can all do.
Further reading and resources
If you’d like more information on mental health and wellbeing you can visit Mind, Rethink and Time to Change all of whom have a ton of useful resources and assistance for people suffering from mental illness and for people who want to know more about it.
Feel feel to share and comment with your own thoughts below.