In the recent weeks, while I wasn't really ‘feeling my best self’, I found that I was catching myself slipping into certain patterns of thinking or behaviour which can be quite unhelpful. As most of us will know - It’s really quite common to fall back into established and well-rehearsed ways of thinking and acting without any kind of conscious awareness. Old habits die hard and all that.
It’s both relieving and frustrating at the same time when I do ‘catch myself in the act’. Frustrating, because I often feel that, by now, I should have learned or ‘cracked it’. But relieving because the ‘problem’ feels familiar. It’s one I often know how to resolve, or at least I know that given a bit of time and support, things will get better – as they have maybe 50 times or so before when I’ve gone through a bit of a wobble.
During these moments I sometimes wish I had my more chipper and confident ‘well’ self, walking alongside me, providing reassurance and just reminding me how simple it sometimes can be to look after myself properly. Alas that will never be the case, until I develop skills in time travel, or an entirely new and potentially far less predictable mental health problem.
I also think about the kind of advice I would want to give to anyone else in this predicament. However, I’ve come to learn over the years that the provision of advice is usually more beneficial for the giver than it is for the receiver. Each of us has a unique context, a unique way of thinking about things and the most deep understanding of our own situation that is possible. And so, I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ that tells people how to fix themselves, knowing fine and well that the response might be something like “Fuck off – you don’t know what’s going on inside my head”. At least, they have been words I’ve uttered to myself many times before, biting my lip to maintain an air of politeness.
So, I thought, given this context, it would be much wiser to pen a letter to myself for when I’m not feeling that great. Not a soppy one, proclaiming cheesy quotes and featuring the kind of idle, ‘inspirational’ words of encouragement that sell motivational posters and that adorn tins and cards in gift shops – but something pragmatic, genuinely helpful for me, and that speaks to my own insecurities and worries. I have no idea if this would be helpful for anyone else out there – but I hope it might be. Here goes:
Dear Depressed and Anxious Andy,
If you’re reading this right now, you must be having a bit of a shit time. I’m sorry to hear that. You know me well and I don’t do great oodles of sympathy. I can sometimes be actually quite unforgiving and carefree! But, I thought that for once, I’d take a moment to say hello and give some words of encouragement, since I know you’re probably feeling a little like a rabbit in the headlights right now and could use some help. I’ll try to keep it simple so that you don’t tie yourself in knots – so here’s some stuff to think about:
1. Remember you don’t need to be happy or content right now. Just get on with life and don’t expect happiness. That will come in time. But the most important thing for you right now, even though it might feel like wading through quicksand, is to get on with life and don’t wait for the answers or try to solve the problem. As I am right now, I know I don’t have any of the answers and I feel just fine. I’m just not trying to find the answers and I’m just doing what makes me feel good. Remember you never got better by ‘solving the problem’. So, don’t wait to solve it before getting out there and living your life.
2. There is always going to be stuff to look forward to, even if you can’t really see it right now. You’re probably filling your head with ideas like ‘I won’t enjoy it’ or ‘I’ll be rubbish company’ or ‘It’ll make me tired’. But your tired brain is too busy dealing with some other things right now to get excited about the future. So try to have faith and keep on keeping on.
3. Remember to get the right help – tell Mum, Dad, Katherine, your family, boss, Dave or your other friends. They love you lots and will be able to support you to nurse yourself better.
4. Katherine and your family will stand by you. I know you doubt that and fear that one day you could be left alone or let them down – but you are a good person with a huge heart. You have a great sense of humour and spades full of courage. I know that, your friends and family know that, and they see it as something worth fighting for. They won’t give up on you if you don’t give up on them.
5. You don’t need to be Mr Lively all the time. Everyone has off days. And even when you think you’re having a bad day – you can be surprisingly good company. But if you need to, just turn up and tag along – being around others helps you, even if it feels draining at first.
6. Yes, sometimes your job feels stressful. But you have never not been able to do your job because of this stuff and usually, it gives you some energy and focus even if the prospect is daunting or tiring. If it gets too much, reach out for help and encouragement – but don’t worry, you’ve got this and people have your back.
7. Don’t rot on the sofa. It’s OK to be there if you feel comfortable and relaxed being there. But if you’re feeling wound up, remember you rarely get better sat watching mindless shite on the telly or scrolling through your phone waiting for the world to come to you. Get up, and get on with something. If you need to rest – rest actively. Here are some ideas:
- Cook some food
- Draw something
- Do some photography
- Do a jigsaw (online if need be)
- Plan a holiday
- Read a book
- Write your blog
- Go for a walk
- Do some gardening
- Clean the hamster cage
- Do something for someone else
8. Meditate. Or at least, take 5 deep breaths, feel your breath in your nose, and notice what’s around you right now. Ground yourself in the present and you’ll find there’s not much to be afraid of.
9. Be patient. Getting better takes time. I know you will want to get back to life as usual ASAP but it probably won't work that way and rushing doesn't help. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the space and time you need to heal.
I hope that some of this might help you to feel better. It usually does. But remember, don’t just read all of this stuff – actually do it. Look after yourself and from me to you, please hang on in there – it’s worth it, honest.
Your well self
PS – One more thing. Don’t fucking google your symptoms, you idiot.
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