This time last year I opened up online for the very first time. It was #TimeToTalk day and I had been struggling with my mental health for some time. I suppose my blogging began from the backlash of a whole range of emotions. At the time I was in a dark place but on paper I should have been having the time of my life.
I had recently graduated from university with a good grade. Finally able to move out of my parents house just a year after graduating, I still felt discontent. Returning to my childhood bedroom away from the freedom of university felt like a huge step backwards. I guess in reality most graduates are in the same position. I was going to move in with my long-term boyfriend and had even saved up enough money from my marketing job to buy a decent little car. It should have been the dream for me but I was too distracted by my mental health. The car was an impulse purchase that cost me so much. I sold it as quickly as I bought it due it my poor mental health state and questionable lane etiquette.
Constantly trying to fix internal problems with material things and external sources – now I see that is never the answer. No amount of changing postcode, impulse purchases, substance misuse, drowning my sorrows, binge-eating or hopeless relationships will take away any of the pain that is inside. That is the shit only I can deal with. At least I know this now. The positive is that I have learned from my mistakes and am aware of these behaviours and triggers.
Working from home and living in a new city proved to be harder than I had anticipated. With no family support and my once weekly contact from the community mental health team cut to sweet nothing after moving forty miles north – I was left feeling extremely isolated. My partner at the time worked long hours and had hobbies he enjoyed, it seemed as though everyone had their life together except for me.
My borderline personality disorder appeared to make this situation so much more intense. Suicidal thoughts constantly lingered in my mind like a bad aura. Still in the midst of my addiction with no end currently in sight, I knew something had to change if my mental health was ever going to improve. My relationship was coming to an end. For a long time he was all I had to live for and I didn’t want to die. I had to do something.
I self-referred to drug and alcohol services as mental health services constantly let me down in my new city. This was the only way I could push forward. If you have ever suffered an addiction then you will understand how having the desire to change is sometimes not enough. No amount of love or ultimatums can make a person change, especially someone with severely complex issues across the board.
They say some people get it first time round but I am yet to meet that person. For most people getting out of active addiction is a grueling process. It is hard for the suffering addict and also their families and loved ones. It can break down relationships but it can also build new ones. Recovery is a long journey and everyday is a school day. Once you accept that you will never be the person you were before, things suddenly start getting a whole lot easier.
Here are some things that really helped my mental health this past year:
I have spent a lot of time asking why and wanting to ‘get to the bottom’ of my mental health. Lately I have come to the realisation that I may never know all the answers and I am okay with this. Mental health isn’t linear and neither is recovery.
Living in a new city was really challenging for me and my mental health, especially with no support. Once I accepted what problems I was facing it gave me the strength within to fight. Drug and alcohol services saved my life. They allowed me to reconnect with the world at a time when I felt so disconnected. I learned how to accept myself without the need of substances. Learning to accept the things I cannot change has been really powerful for me. Taking a step back from situations I would normally take full charge in and seeing them play out differently from the sidelines always has its pros. Meditation, yoga and writing really help me to work through my thoughts. Learning to accept the different people in your life, seeing what value they bring to it and being thankful for that.
Perspective is what life is all about. It can change the way you experience everything. Practicing daily gratitude has honestly changed my life. Despite always smiling and presenting myself as a ray of sunshine to the outside world, in the past I would really be a negative Nancy when it come to my own shit. Y’know a glass half empty type o’gal.
Practicing gratitude daily allows me to see the good in most situations. I try to pay attention to what I do have rather than what my life is missing. Each night before I go to bed I write a gratitude list, aiming to include at least three things I am grateful for throughout the day. Before my life would revolve around a main event such as looking forward to a holiday. Doing this would make every other day seem so mundane because I wasn’t sunning it up on a beach and actually had to get on with ‘normal life’. Now because I’m not fantasying about my next beach holiday, I look forward to waking up each morning and seeing the beauty in day-to-day life. I appreciate my hot coffee, bubble baths and the crisp morning air.
Another thing is I’ve noticed is that when bad things happen now they never seem so bad now. Plus I tend to get over them a lot faster than before. I quickly find lessons from the mistakes I make whereas I used to repeat the same ones over and over again. For me gratitude is really powerful.
Taking a step back
For years people pleasing was my favourite pastime. It was like I had nothing better to do, but I’d be a liar if I said I still don’t have a bit of it in me now. Old habits die hard, huh. Only now I can recognise when it is to my own detriment. If you are a serial-people-pleaser like I once was then maybe you should ask yourself if these people would also go to the ends of the Earth for you? The answer is probably no. Even if you would like to think otherwise. I would have died for some of my nearest and dearest but as soon as I stopped putting the effort in they completely cut contact. Be wary of one-sided relationships. Stop hurting yourself for the sake of others. Be sure to keep your self respect in-tact – even if it means learning to take a step back. Put your needs first for the first time. The people who truly care for you will still be there when you are re-charged.
Self-love & knowing my worth
I wouldn’t speak to my worst enemy the way I have spoken to myself over the years. Sometimes we don’t realise just how powerful self-talk can be. When we speak to ourselves like shit we feel like shit and eventually start believing we are literally pieces of tiny shit. After many one-to-ones with some amazing coaches I began to realise if I ever want to feel amazing I have to tell myself that I am amazing. Every. Single. Day. Now each morning I repeat positive affirmations to myself. Looking in the mirror and speaking to yourself can feel a bit cheesy and definitely challenging at first. But hey, great things never came from comfort zones – and everyone loves cheese right?
Even if positive mantras aren’t your thing, just try to watch how you speak to yourself throughout the day. Aim to quieten that critical voice within. Celebrate your victories. Recognise what you are good at and do more of it – this will lift your mood. Build relationships with people who appreciate you for who you are. Cut ties from those unbalanced relationships. Be more assertive. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes when you do want to. Speak up for yourself. Say what you think. Be kind to others. Don’t be an arsehole. You only have one life so make the most of it.
Stop fueling my body with toxic substances
In the past I would constantly try to fill the void I felt inside with anything external. Using substances, shopping to excess or even stuffing my face with chocolate – anything just to take me away from being me for that moment in time. Little did I know it was because I didn’t know who I really was. How could I love myself if I didn’t know who me was? From the age of thirteen I had constantly been intoxicated with one substance or another. I decided it was time to withdraw from the lifestyle and do some soul searching.
Getting into recovery was the best thing I ever did. Removing drugs and alcohol from my life has helped me view the world and the people around me much more clearly. Forever learning, changing and growing; my spiritual progress is what has given me motivation when I have questioned my purpose and strength. My mental health has significantly improved since making these lifestyle changes, so I know I am making the right decision.
Re-focusing my energy
At first removing drugs and alcohol from my life left me feeling totally isolated. They were what my entire world revolved around. I couldn’t imagine what I would do with all my spare time or even if my friends would still like me. All I knew is that I couldn’t cope with how they were making me feel any longer. After making the decision to remove myself from that circle I knew I had to put my energy into other things. At mutual aid groups and people would tell me to put as much energy into my recovery as I did into my addiction – that is some of the best advice I have got. In my partying days I would go to any lengths to get what I needed to ensure we had the best night possible. Now I will go to any lengths to ensure I feel connected, avoid my triggers, to do whatever I need to stay focused on my recovery and to stay safe.
Spending time with my family. Walking my dog. Spooning my dog. My dog being a dog. Seriously, get a dog. Taking daily morning walks. Enjoying the fresh air. Hot bubble baths. Soaking all surrounding areas in lavender oil. Mediating and practicing yoga. Being mindful. Attending group therapy sessions. Meeting like-minded people through mutual aid support groups. Volunteering for causes that matter. Singing in the recovery choir. Reading interesting books. Listening to audibles. Listening to music. Singing out loud. Dancing sober. Going to the cinemas. Creating a visible recovery community in my area. Sitting in coffee shops. Talking without fear or anxiety. Organising events.
Now I don’t spend my days and nights drinking alcohol or taking drugs I have so much time to spend on positive things. I will literally give anything a chance because there has been so many times in the past where I have missed out due to fear, anxiety and self-doubt. I read the difference between sobriety and recovery is that sobriety is simply means being free from drugs or alcohol whereas recovery means to heal. Recovery is about changing your behaviours and learning to love yourself again. This is definitely where I am at right now. It is amazing what clarity and freedom you get when you let go of drink and drugs.
–What has helped you with your mental health?
—Do you think any of these tips could help you?
Narcotic Anonymous: 0300 999 1212 (10am – midnight, everyday)
Samaritans: 116 123 (runs 24/7)