Mental health tool no.7: Fun. You'd be forgiven for thinking that mental health is my go-to conversation starter, given how much I can ramble on about it in my posts (not sorry) 🙈 but truthfully? It's something I'm mindful not to dwell on day to day. In a culture where everything requires a label to be valid - including mental illness - we often run the risk of conforming to our diagnosis; in other words, letting it define who we are. I had depression (and still have a healthy(?) smattering of anxiety). I also have a job, friends, passions, interests, goals and fun interests. This wasn't always the case - for a long time I felt martyred, broken, defeated by my mind... and behaved accordingly by shutting myself away from the world and not allowing myself to have any kind of fun or enjoyment. Somewhere along the line I realised that it wasn't the depression forcing this austerity upon me; it was self-inflicted. Because, contrary to the classic media portrayal of a depressed person crouched against a wall, head in hands, this isn't the total picture by any stretch. People with mental health issues can have fun, they can go out, they can enjoy their life in the context of their condition. 💃 This is of course not to say that you should slap on a smile and get on with things if you're crumbling internally. Get whatever help you need to restore your equilibrium, but in the meantime, don't discount your good days, and try to inject regular doses of fun into your routine (if socialising is too much right now, start small! Go on a solo cinema date 🎥, spend some time drawing or colouring 🖍, head into the library and treat yourself to a few new reads 📚). My mental illness has, and continues to be, a part of my life, but the whole is always bigger than the sum of its parts, and overall, I feel my life is damn good right now. I wish you goodness too. 💚
Mental health tool no 6: exercise (pic is a #tb to the Stairway to Heaven trail which almost destroyed my legs 😥). I kept a diary in the midst of my mental illness, and rereading it lately made for bleak recollections. Interspersed between the anguished accounts, however, were some hopeful rays of light. These moments all had a common thread; they involved some form of physical activity. 🏋🏻♀️ I'll happily admit to never being a sporty child - growing up, my interests were firmly rooted in the arts and creativity camp. I knocked my two front teeth out while skipping with a hula hoop, and even now will probably drop a ball if thrown one to catch 🤷♀️. I only realised in my teenage years that physical activity could be something I could enjoy without the competitive pressure of sport. Unfortunately, this revalation came at a time when I was feeling incredibly insecure about my body. Physical activity quickly became a tool of manipulation with which to shrink myself. But spiralling into depression does skew your priorities somewhat, so for me at least, body image gradually took a back seat to my overarching feelings of worthlessness as a human. 🙃 Exercise became a form of escapism - a brief respite from the unchecked chaos in my mind. In a phase where I felt so inadequate in every other aspect of life, this one outlet offered me clarity, control, a sense of accomplishment. I firmly maintain that nothing equates to the elation that comes from lifting a weight, running a lap or physical exertion of any kind. 💪🏼 (continued below)
Mental health tool no.5: Tough love. So I wrote a couple of days back about self-compassion and being kinder to myself, which is fundamental to feeling capable and deserving of improved mental health (PSA: you're never not deserving of good mental health 💖). ...that said, every so often yours truly can forego self-compassion and veer into the realm of, "woe is me. Life is so hard. Noone understands me" (if only there was an angsty teenager emoji to convey this - maybe just picture Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You and you'll get what I mean). We humans, for all our snowflakey uniqueness and diversity, are pretty similar when it comes to negative bias and toxic thought patterns. Therefore, chances are that more than one person in this big wide world does understand where I'm coming from, has experienced a very similar situation and potentially had it a lot worse than me. One of the worst things to say to someone suffering from a mental illness is, "it could be so much worse"; during my own depressive episode, it wasn't exactly helpful for me to think of others suffering too. Yet for those of us having the occasional pity party and struggling to snap out of it, pausing to step outside the microcosm of negativity we've created for ourselves and look at the rest of the world can be a great way to pull the plug on wallowing and despair. . Gratitude journals are a great, tangible way to avoid the pitfall of self-pity. I'm guilty of not always commiting my gratitude to paper, but when I can think of nothing else to be "happy" about, I mentally acknowledge and give thanks for my immense privilege in such an unjust world. I have a warm home with a fully stocked fridge; a small but loving family; the relative ignorance of persecution I may have encountered if the colour of my skin/size/ability/ethnicity/sexual orientation were different. Mental illness is tough, but you are tougher. Tough love and self-compassion are not mutually exclusive; you be gentle with yourself without succumbing to self-pity. Because which do you honestly believe would leave you feeling better - moaning about the unfairness of life or doing something to tackle it? 🤷♀️
Mental health tool no. 4: Antidepressants. There it is, the pill-shaped elephant in the room. Truthfully, I've been debating the pros and cons of writing this post all week. Will my friends and acquaintances regard me differently? Will I be able to write about this topic comprehensively yet sensitively (probably not in a single Insta post, anyway)? Of course, I understand that I've no obligation to share this info with the world. However, I've concluded that by doing so, I'm finally unshackling myself (and potentially others) from the pointless shame and embarrassment that's plagued me since starting treatment four years ago this month. Antidepressants are just like any other medication - insulin, blood pressure tablets, anti-inflammatories, take your pick. Yet they're one of the only medications that remains shrouded in stigma, rumours and misconceptions. Massive disclaimer here - I can only speak for my own experience with medication, which has been v. mild compared to many (for that I am truly thankful). Contrary to popular belief, my meds didn't leave me numb. Nor did they leaving me floating on a cloud of euphoria. They were slow acting, and the effects were subtle, almost imperceptible. So why did I start them? Well, I liken their effects to putting Domestos down a blocked drain - they helped clear out the gunk and mouldy old thought patterns clogging up my brain and cleared a path for healing to take place. Antidepressants didn't "repair" or "cure" me - I did (and am still in the lifelong process of doing) that; through therapy, pushing my own boundaries and taking care of myself again. But there's no denying that medication levelled the playing field for me. They didn't change who I am; I still laugh at the same TV shows, cry when listening to the same songs, get frustrated over the same minor conveniences that annoy all of us. The difference now is that these emotions occur in the context of a stable (for the most part!), more solid frame of mind. I will never again feel ashamed of making the best choice for my health, and neither should you. Because green tea and "positive thinking" don't cure everything, folks.
Mental health tool no.3: Self-compassion. It's taken a battle with mental illness to arrive at a point where I can give myself a break every now and again. To realise that, much as I like to think I'm invincible and can push myself to the absolute limit all day every day, I am human, and particularly vulnerable to burn out if I don't hit the brakes occasionally 🙄. I can't speak to everyone's experiences, but I know I am the product of my own circumstances. Being the eldest child in a single parent family forced me to grow up quicker than my peers (not issuing blame or feeling resentful - it's just how things were and was noone's fault). 👩👧👦 Being bullied in school left my self-confidence in shreds and I'm still even now in the process of piecing it back together. 💔 Dropping out of college marred me with an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame, to the point where I came up with a bank of excuses to draw on when asked why I left (nope, I wasn't homesick or confused - just severely depressed and anxious 🤷♀️). This isn't an exercise in self-pity or regret; these experiences, for all the pain they caused at the time, were instrumental in shaping my character. Being the second-in-command at home has made me mature, practical and more appreciative of the amazing parent I still have. Being bullied made me more compassionate towards the vulnerable and marginalised, as I know (albeit to a much lesser extent) how they feel. Dropping out of college was one of the best decisions I've ever made, as it helped me discover the career path I feel I was born to pursue. You are not your past, but it does mark you indelibly. Whether it is for better or worse depends on your perspective. These experiences have all led me to some very dark and lonely places, but now I acknowledge the wisdom they have afforded me, I can be kinder to myself without becoming rueful or embittered. "You've come through so much, go gently" I tell myself. Adversity has left me stronger yet softer; able to appreciate how far along the road I've travelled, even when I hit the occasional speedbump 🚘.
Mental health tool no.2: Bibliotherapy. I have always have been an avid reader. From the time I could toddle, language and communication fascinated me (perhaps it's something to do with being a Gemini if you're sold on astrology ♊), and even more so once I started to decipher written words. 📚 My literary tastes have naturally evolved over the years (although Harry Potter has remained a constant fixture in my reading rotation ⚡ #notsorry ); however, I find no matter what I read, there is an incredible opportunity for healing that comes from opening a book. Be it a work of fiction that offers total escapism from the confines of reality, a biography that illuminates an icon you knew only from public appearances or what you learned in history lessons, or my own current favourite - self-help books. If you're picturing Bridget Jones, halfway through a tub of Ben and Jerry's and crying into the pages of " What Men Want" (answers to that question on a postcard please 🙄), then please, stick with me for second. Self-help literature extends far beyond cheesy relationship books or quit smoking manuals; there are incredibly powerful works written for improving every facet of the human experience, understanding why we think and act the way we do and generally tuning up our brains for an optimal outlook on life. Even if I haven't learned an awful lot from reading one, it gives me comfort to know that someone out there meditates as much as I do on the human condition, and has been altruistic enough to share their thoughts with the world in the hope of helping another soul (the irony of this and what I'm seeking to do myself with these posts is not lost on me 😅). Some of my favourite self-help books include: Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin @gretchenrubin What a Time to Be Alone by Chidera Eggerue @theslumflower Body Positive Power by Meghan Jayne Crabbe @bodyposipanda How to Do Everything and Be Happy by Peter Jones Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Of course, if reading just isn't your preferred way of reading or learning, podcasts are an amazing alternative 🎧 happy reading/listening!
Mental health tool no.1: a small but strong support network. Real talk - I've never been what you might consider "popular". I'm quiet by nature and have often been told I've got an "old soul" (polite way of calling me a geriatric? I'll take it - old people are class 🤙). However, despite occasionally chasing popularity, it's never been something I've never needed in order to heal or maintain my mental wellbeing. I've only started discussing my own mental health more openly in the past year or so - until this point, only a designated few (few meaning I could count them on one hand) friends knew of my struggle beyond me feeling "a bit low". They saw the panic attacks, the anxiety-induced compulsions, and they delivered me from the precipice of despair more times than I'd like to admit (thanks guys ❤). Social media is all too often a cacophony of posts telling us we need to be out 7 nights of the week, booking the next group holiday before you even go on the first one, having countless adventures with countless friends. For the vast majority of us, life is a fairly slow and steady trek through routine, interspersed with such moments of joy and excitement. Even if socialising is your daily reality, riddle me this - how many of those friends could you talk to about feeling lonely, anxious or blue? Think about that question, then start working on curating a circle of friendship based on trust, respect and aligned values. We are all just sailing across life's sea as best we can, and when tough times come to rock the boat (as they inevitably will for us all at some point), it's vital to have a few good souls on your crew to keep you afloat. If you have one, you're laughing ⛵
In honour of World Mental Health day (October 10th, mark your calendars 📅), I've decided to take a week-long deep dive into the things that have helped to both remedy and reinforce my own mental wellbeing 💚 This year's MHAD focuses on young people in particular, and the importance of both reducing their susceptibility to mental illness and ensuring they have awareness of, and access to, the appropriate resources, should they need them. Both are laudable objectives for sure, but so too is continuing to change the discourse around mental health. I dream of a society where the words "antidepressants" or "counselling" are used as casually as "painkillers" or "physio", and not whispered like profanities. By the same token, I also dream of a world where children and adults aren't left abandoned on some waiting list, due to the powers at be failing to acknowledge the severity of acute mental disturbances. That's the tea right there - mental ill health is common, but it's also vital that it receives care and treatment just like any physical condition. These dreams won't become reality overnight or even in the next decade, but we all have the incredible power of dialogue on our side, and we owe it to ourselves and those around us to have open and frank discussions about our minds. With that said, I hope that by using my voice and experience over the next few days, I help at least one other person to check in with themselves, practise some self-compassion or seek out support if they need to do so. General disclaimer: these are my own experiences of what has helped ME. Bodies are all unique, brains even more so as they are growing and evolving constantly. What worked for me may not work for you and vice versa, so just do you and above all be kind to yourself. This shit is tough, but you're tougher 💪🏻❤
Fun fact: in Hebrew, the name Sarah means "princess". Yet here's the tea - I'd much rather be a queen. A queen never needs to be saved by someone. She would never make her happiness, success or self worth contingent upon outside forces ("handsome princes" but also "frenemies" or toxic people), so why should I? She would never let anyone tell her that the qualities she demands from a partner (the same qualities she demands of herself - honesty, integrity, compassion, a GSOH 🙃) are "unrealistic", so why should I? Or you, for that matter? Stop pressing pause on your life, waiting for someone to "complete" you. You are complete, whole, sufficient to exist in this world entirely by yourself. Of course friends, partners, human company are vital and indispensable, but they can't walk around in your shoes when things get tough. They can't earn you that degree, work for that promotion, or do the thing that's always terrified but intrigued you (solo trip, anyone? 🌍🛩). In a world that glorifies pretty, polite, passive princesses, rise up and rule your life like an effing queen. Your future self will thank you for it. 👸
💕 SELF REFLECTION SUNDAY 💕 Much like the filter on this photo, I've felt my outlook darken since returning to college; I'm stressed, disheartened and frustrated, and finding myself missing the chapter of my life I've just wrapped up. I feel like there aren't enough hours in the day, and I'm frightened by the future, or rather, its ambiguity. I'm continually climbing uphill with no idea where the slope leads to. But deep down I realise that I don't need to know exactly where I'm headed. It's easier said than done, to trust that your path is leading you to the right destination (especially when you can't always see past the bends), but it's vital to keep moving forward. Comfort and reassurance are often accompanied by complacency - staying rooted in one spot because it's familiar, unchallenging. We are shaped not in routine or habitual behaviours, but in novel experiences; we are moulded by our forays into the unknown, our mettle cast in those tests to our intellect and spirit. And of course it's uncomfortable, but nothing worth having was ever easily won. #trusttheprocess #getcomfortablebeinguncomfortable #keepmovingforward #butrestwhenyouneedto #selfcaresunday #selfrespect #mentalhealth #onwardandupward #growth #changeisgood
#tbt to this time last week, when I was eating ice cream, wandering around an amusement park and not on the verge of tearing my hair out (3 assignments, 2 work placements, a PT course and a dissertation will do that to you 😢). Simpler times... #tivoli #tivoligardens #denmark #college #finalyear #whatislife #stressed #stressedisanunderstatement
What I weigh: 🌹 a set of perspicacious blue eyes 👀 🌼 a mop of unruly highlighted hair 🍀 strong muscles which I'm building through powerlifting 🏋🏻♀️ and yoga 🙏 🌻 commitment - to my friends, my family, my job and my education 🌷 a brain which is constantly expanding thanks to podcasts, books, conversations and *yawn* lectures 📚 💐 a truckload of @fulfil_nutrition and @barebells bars 😋 ...Oh. You meant THAT kind of weight? Well I'd be lying if I said I knew - and you know what the great thing is? I have no desire to (or fear of!) finding out. We are not the gravitational pull between us and the earth. We are not numbers, figures, "shapes" (I'm told I'm a🍐 but I'd much rather be a 🍌) or measurements. How can you define and distil a human being - a marvellous molecular miracle of life - with such arbitrary parameters? We are our experiences, our likes and dislikes, our friends and loved ones. We are ourselves, and not our weight. 💜 @jameelajamilofficial and @i_weigh thank you for such an inspiring and much needed campaign. More of this please, society. #iweigh