I won’t be asking “R U OK?”
I remember a time, not too long ago, where I thought I had a good handle on mental health. That sure, there were some tough things in my life, but I had it all handled. 2018 has been a big lesson in realising that getting truly vulnerable (rather than waiting until I’m comfortable with the discomfort) is actually a sign of strength.
So what have I discovered this year, mentally? The biggest has been a “well, duh!” moment for me.
Having a rare disease which leads me to experience chronic pain also causes mental health symptoms like anxiety & depression.
Why yes, after 16 years of living with a diagnosed bleeding disorder, I’m finally recognising there are associated mental health symptoms along with my physical ones. While I don’t believe in the rigid segmenting of symptoms that western medicine engages in, I’ve observed some patterns in my body. Depressive symptoms happen in relation to present time things, like pain, physical disability and the isolation that comes from physical symptoms. Anxiety tends to flare up in relation to my brain future-tripping: worrying about successfully getting a vein 2 minutes from now, concern for how I’ll be treated in the ER, stress over how someone I’m meeting for the first time will react to me needing to adjust things for my health.
Aside from stepping up my self and health care, I’ve also made plans to care for my mental health, professionally speaking. While that is taking its course, I am doing things to support my mental health on my own. There’s lots of things I do already that can support mental health – eating a diet comprised of whole foods, regular exercise, putting emotional boundaries in place, coming off the pill a few years ago. The number 1 thing on my list, though, is
I am unashamedly, totally self centred.
I’ve spoken about how health is at the centre of everything I do before, and this tendency has only grown now I’m embracing a fuller range of my health experience. It can be anxiety-inducing to stick up for yourself, or to say no to someone else, especially when you’ve said yes already. I find it’s the single best thing I can do for my health, though. What I need to support my health (mental, physical, emotional and any other kind) changes sometimes minute to minute, and the only way I’ve found to be truly healthy is to honour what I need. Especially when it’s weird, or different to what I thought it would be 10 minutes ago.
Part of being totally self centered for my health means I need to give up the idea I can be supportive to others in the way I might like, because I always have my own mental health concerns. Holding space to support and care of other people is an energy draining exercise, and when you’re surrounded by a community of people who also have health concerns, the things they need support with are just as complex and difficult as my own needs. I’ve learned that it’s really easy to overextend myself to support others, leaving me stressed, exhausted and anxious. Taking a slower, gentler approach in managing my mental health care allows me to interrupt the anxious spiral in my head. Pausing to ask: “is this really the best option for me right now?”
So I won’t be asking “are you ok?” to those in my life as often as I would have previously, to put my own mental health care first. That is what feels right, now. Being able to hold space and directly support another person has a lot of power, for sure, but right now, there’s a different way of supporting people that I’m putting in focus. In modelling the kinds of self care behaviour I know can help me and others, I hope those around me (and you, reading from your corner of the world) see that it is ok to put yourself first, too.