For me mental-health has always been something I’ve been aware of but observed from a distance. Bar the usual teenage stuff I’ve always been fortunate enough to sail through life pretty happy go lucky. That’s all changed in the last 5 or so years though, starting from when (cliché coming), yeah you guessed it… my parents got a much needed divorce while I was at college.
In the months and many years that followed one thing seemed to come after the other. My Dad, who eventually became too toxic to have a relationship with, spiralled into substance abuse and gambling addiction. This culminated in several suicide attempts, lots of violent arguments, fall-outs, police being called and even organised crime. In hindsight I think it’s likely these were all ongoing issues for many years somewhat disguised by the illusion of the cliché happy family. I think this is a key takeaway. It’s easy to see the harrowing and unfathomable end game of mental-health, but we can all just be one trigger or slow & steady trickle away from our own story too. This all coincided with another close family member suffering with severe depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts alongside gambling addiction and substance abuse too. This journey saw them become effectively homeless, coach-surfing and sleeping in shelters. Things always have a funny way of working out though and they now work in mental-health themselves.
It all sound a little dramatic but with each day that passed it became my new normal and my default subconsciously became to survive rather than thrive. Looking back now it took its toll on my mental health severely, even if it came in the post later down the line. Studying at University gave me a lot of free time to escape and ignore a lot of the psychological fall-out, then I got my post-graduate job. I’ve done my best to put on a brave face but truthfully have been at my lowest ebb over the last year or so. Suddenly I found myself in the epicentre of a brutal and hectic commute to and from work every day leaving me anxious, exhausted and depressed, searching for the sense and humanity in it all. I was also suffering with ongoing health issues including an episode I’m told resembled many symptoms of a seizure or stroke but wasn’t. Add to this an existential quarter-life crisis of sorts struggling to understand why the world is the way it is and my place or purpose in it. Now you’ve got a perfect mental-health storm. Days felt infinitely long and were spent hiding at my desk, headphones on listening to a podcast or music and just doing what I could to stay afloat while trying my best to project my usual happy go lucky façade. Then, after months of working from home on and off with my ongoing physical and mental health struggles, Coronavirus came and I have moved out with my girlfriend and dog Bertie.
While coronavirus has definitely come with some overwhelming negatives with much of the social & economic fallout yet to be felt I am feeling strangely more positive than before. The drip torture of the daily commute and the toll it can take on your work life balance being removed has obviously helped, but I’ve tried to use the opportunity as someone lucky enough to still have a job and no family to look after etc. to reset. Sometimes it takes getting to rock-bottom or a catastrophic event like this pandemic to put things into perspective. If you’re lucky it can help you lay the foundations of what you want the world and your place within it to look like. As a big idealist and deep-thinker I often find myself overloaded and burnt-out by existential thoughts constantly whirling around in my brain. Ultimately I still struggle with the rhythm of society’s dance and the thoughts these ignite about a perceived lack of empathy and justice in it all. It’s easy to get into negative thought feedback loops but desperately hard to escape them. More recently, I’ve tried to surrender a little to the world and the weirdness of fate. I’m feeling anxious but also energised by thoughts of what our new normal will be or indeed what “normal” we want to rush back to and whether it’s even worth it? I’m hoping this pandemic can be a cultural intellectual ice-age of sorts and when all the chaos and fear thaws a new normal will be born. The time working from home has afforded me has reconnected me with the little things that are good for the soul and my own peace.
I think it’s one of the grating problems with the world and for our mental health that we’re all going at a million miles per hour just trying to get stuff done. But when you actually slow down, I like to think at least, there are little restorative gems of ecstasy to be found in the simplest of things. I’ve also tried to address everything in my control to embody the changes I want to see in the world, alongside an increasing understanding to not put so much pressure on it all. I’m trying to engage the fundamentally idealistic empath inside me in a more productive way rather than the bleak nihilism I was previously edging towards. Having the time to write, meditate and get out into nature more again have really helped. I’ve also since taken on a role as an Engagement Champion and volunteered to share this piece as part of my company’s new Mental-Health initiative. I think it’s important, as someone that’s seen first-hand how quickly one person’s negative spiral can ignite another, to acknowledge that pain and negativity are often a currency passed from parent to child or stranger to stranger until someone says no. It’s of course a million times easier said than done and maybe not always possible but there’s a quote I always cling to and try to live by when the chips are down. “The habitual tendency when things get tough is we protect ourselves, we get hard, we get rigid. But… that’s the time to soften and ponder how we might play or dance with the situation.”
So be kind to yourself as much as others as everything starts small even if it can be easy to drift into big concerns about the world and your place in it. Sometimes it’s the little changes you can personify that can be little dynamites of change or hope. Maybe you feel a full-blown breakdown coming or even just feel a little MEH but I’m learning to try to surrender a little to it, try to understand and navigate things as best I can, then let it go or better still, harness it. Life can be brutal but it’s also a beautifully complex collage of chaos that when you look back suddenly makes a lot more sense. Without the bad we would have no barometer or appreciation for the good and there is so much of it to be had. Hope my ramblings have made some shred of sense and in the words of the great Wim Hof… all the peace, all the power! See you on the other side & thanks for listening.