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​by Michelle Thomas

Read between January 02 – January 04, 2020

Never have I read a book before where so much resonated. I seemed to be highlighting and marking notes on every page.

I have read a few books about anxiety and mental health and there are some crackers out there, with some tried and tested advice, nifty tricks and experiences that make you realise there are people out there that are on your wavelength.

So why is this one different? 

Because as the title suggests, this book covers all the shit that people say to you, the useless recommendations of new crap to try, archaic attitudes to mental health, and the tuppence everyone (who hasn’t a clue what it is like, but thinks they do) has to give. 

It is also right on the money. Some of the descriptions are just perfect. 

Therefore this book is a great read, not just for those with a mental health challenge, but also their friends and family, colleagues or just anybody really. 

It may just give you a needed glimpse into the chaos and frankly ridiculous events that have to be endured when dealing with a mental health issue, and the way in which comments such as ‘You don’t look ill” can affect others when at their worst.

Here are the key takeaways that resonated:

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1. Everyone has mental health 

“While every experience is valid and I applaud anyone who finds a way through their darkest moments, most people live their lives somewhere in the middle of those two binary states. They’re not in crisis, but they’re not coping well either.”

So many people still think mental health is something you either have or you don’t. But we are all on the ever slippy slide of the continuum, and your position can change day by day, hour by hour.

2. ‘It’ is always lurking

“I’ve tried counselling, therapy, running, dieting and two major career changes. And while I’m better at managing my madness, I know it’s still there. It probably always will be. And I’m starting to think that that’s OK, as long as I know how to manage it.”

The big black dog on your shoulder might not entirely feck off, but you can train his behaviours and learn how to curb his appetite. But it will take a lot of time and practice.

“This is my experience of anxiety: a perception of an invisible threat that I can’t explain because I’m not conscious of the cause. And because I’m perceiving a threat, my brain invents scenarios where that fear could be put to good”.

3. It’s a war with your mind

“I didn’t know why I felt so at war with myself all the time, and the term ‘depression’ didn’t seem to fit. I had good things in my life, I liked being around people, and I could usually find things to laugh about. I just thought I needed to be better at looking after myself, appreciating what I had and be more resilient.”

Nail on the head. It doesn’t always make sense or have to have a reason. And resilience is definitely key for me. In that I don’t have any. If I find the secret well of resilience power I will let you know.

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4. Taking your time to figure out who you are and what you want is fine

“My dad had reminded me that it takes time to realise who you want to be, and more time to take steps to become that person. Not everyone has a true north – a vocation, a thing that they know they must work towards doing every day forever… The fact is that some things in life take a long time to happen, and maybe they feel sweeter when we have the emotional maturity to truly appreciate them. I certainly think so.”

I totally get this, I felt lost for a long time in my career and started to feel an utter failure. But now I have finally found my place, and I am appreciating it so much and revelling in the moment. We don’t all know exactly where we are going the moment we step out of university and are thrust into the wonky world of work.

5. Can we really forgive and forget? Is it worth reigniting the pain. 

“A couple of girls from the group reached out to me, but it was too late to resuscitate those friendships. After the hurt had gone, I was left with sadness and no small amount of anger. Sometimes I’m still sad that there are very few people in my life from that period… But if we reconnected, we’d have to resurrect that old conflict.”

I often debate about getting back in touch with ‘friends’ from the past. But often we fell out or ended up distanced for a reason. This anecdote really made me think about that and switch my head off from that chatter.

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6. The pressure to be ‘someone’ – but who?

“I have no sad story to tell or any trauma in my life to blame for my poor mental health. The only conclusion I can come to is that the 20s are the most fucked-up and confusing time of anyone’s life. You have to reinvent yourself and conform to society’s idea of what an adult should be.”

See again point 4. IT IS OKAY to take your time and find out. Does anyone really ever know how to adult? But then also – do not listen to the witches covens who tell you that you should be someone else and you are not good enough.

“…suddenly, I started trying to be someone I wasn’t, because I had been told that that person wasn’t so great.”

Hell no. Been there, done that. Bought the t-shirt and many other tacky mementos of that glorious time in abundance.

7. Being too eager to please. 

“When I met people, I would model myself on them, adapt to their tastes, agree with their choices, their opinions. Soon there was hardly anything left. I didn’t dare choose a film, order a drink, request a song. I ate things I didn’t like, went to places I didn’t want to visit, generally overrode myself in order to not stick my head above the parapet.”

Hands up people pleasers! And people clones? Guilty as charged.
There is so much pressure to conform these days. I am still terrible at this to be honest, but I’d say it’s 50/50 between trying to people please or second guess others, and days when I can’t actually make a decision.

8. When life happens, and you can’t get a break

“Each of these major, life-altering events happened weeks apart, with no recovery time in between… I was a wreck. I was exhausted. I cried at EVERYTHING. I made small, silly mistakes at work because my concentration was shot to pieces, but I’d berate myself for being useless. I kept saying to myself and my co-workers: ‘I’ll be fine. I’m just tired.’ How many hidden problems does that innocuous phrase conceal?”

“I’m fine” and “I’m just tired”. How I need to ban these 2 phrases from my vocabulary. But does anyone actually want to hear if we are not? Quite a dilemma. But around trusted people, we should be honest. And we need to be honest to ourselves if there is an issue, otherwise we are never going to take actions to fix it.

9. Ignore me, pretend I’m not here

“I remember hoping that no one would talk to me, thinking that if another human so much as looked at me I’d shatter into a million pieces.”

Introvert alert! There must be so many people who feel this in social or group situations. Especially in training sessions and times of forced fun. Those are the moments where I wither. As soon as role play is mentioned I die inside and feel I may implode.

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10. When things change and you lose yourself

“My sense of self had always been connected to my job… My self-esteem was measured by how useful I was to other people… If I wasn’t useful, if I wasn’t special because of my job, I didn’t know who I was.”
Been there. 👆🏻Now here.👇🏻
“When you’ve been robbed of your confidence by a brush with mental illness, a job that allows you to learn these skills and rebuild that confidence is invaluable.”

Hurrah.

11. Sleep, wherefore art thou?

“I don’t think I’d ever slept as much, or as badly, as I did over the next few weeks. I never felt rested, just varying levels of jangling anxiety.”

Too often to even compute this anymore. It has become ‘normal’.

12. This sounds a bit too familiar. 

“I’d often misjudge my step and walk into door frames, and my movements felt dopey and cumbersome…seemingly in slow motion…feeling like a ghost, floating just a few inches outside my body…There was a lot of tripping up over my suddenly-too-big feet. I’ve since learned that this feeling of being disconnected from your body is called dissociation…”

I need say no more. Not for anyone who knows me anyhoo.

13. When you just can’t block anything out

“I started to feel a new kind of peculiar, a sort of… shudder in my mind. I was hyper-aware of my surroundings – I wasn’t able to tune out other people’s conversations.”

“My sudden aversion to loud noises, my spatial sensitivity (even supermarket trolleys seemed… sinister, like sentient steel animals, gliding malevolently in my peripheral vision as I did my weekly shop).

My meerkat moments and butterfly mind totally get this. Noises really can drive me to distraction. BUT beyond any meaning taken from this – was there ever a more fitting description of a shopping trolley? Amazing.

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