I have struggled with mental health issues my whole life. Varying degrees of sporadic anxiety and depression have prevented me from achieving past goals, helping others, taking care of my physical health, enjoying a good social life, pursuing several career paths. I look back at most of my life and realise that these two dark clouds – depression and anxiety – have covered me wherever I have been.
The key, I have found, is to not blame myself for any moments that may have occurred when mental health has prevented me from doing something. It took me many, many years to overcome the habit of laying heaps of blame at my own door, bemoaning my past actions, telling myself I should have pushed myself more. I found that such a way of thinking added many more layers to my already poor self-image. By blaming myself in such a harsh, direct way, I convinced myself that I was useless, powerless, and would never amount to anything. I held myself back, told myself that there was no point in applying for such and such a job, or pursuing a particular flight of fancy. I pitied myself. I bullied myself. Deep down, I hated myself.
I was wrong.
When I started to give myself a little more slack, things changed. Rather than beating myself up for having to cancel on a coffee date with a friend, or failing to get out of bed on time, I simply stood back and asked myself: ‘Why do I feel like this? What led me to think or feel this way?’ By reviewing myself analytically, in an unemotional way, I was able to pinpoint what had led up to my bout of social anxiety or depression and to learn from it. I realised what steps I had to take to prevent the behaviour from occurring in future. Often this involved simple lifestyle changes, such as ensuring I went to bed on time the night before, or I didn’t consume too much coffee. More often, it involved being kinder to myself, and not telling myself that whatever I was about to do would go badly and that I would surely fail. Moreover, being kinder to myself meant not piling so much pressure on myself. If I had a job interview lined up, it involved telling myself that, ‘Yes, it would be great if you performed well at this interview. It would amazing if you got the job. But it also isn’t the end of the world if you slip up a couple of times, or if somebody else gets chosen over you. Don’t worry about it.’
It was this new attitude, this new way of allowing myself to fail, that helped me achieve so much later down the line. And it wasn’t just formal tasks such as job interviews wherein I applied this attitude. In social situations, I stopped telling myself that, ‘People won’t like me. What if they think I’m weird?’ and started assuring myself with, ‘If they don’t like me, who cares? I’ll probably never see them again.’ It was because of this attitude shift that I was able to bypass the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ approach, and simply be my own self instead. And I started telling myself that even if I did fail, at least I tried.
This might all sound so obvious to many people, but to me it never was. Giving myself the benefit of the doubt or the room to fail did not come naturally. I had to earn my own trust. I had to fail and fail over and over again, before I came to realise that it wasn’t really the end of the world to do so. If anything, failing so many times makes all of the times I achieve something ever so sweeter.
I suppose that the main message that I want to convey in this post is that things are never as bad as your own mind convinces you they are.
You’re convinced that somebody doesn’t like you? How do you know that they’re not thinking the exact same thing about you? Moreover, why does it matter whether they like you or not? Perhaps if you stop caring about someone else’s thoughts about you (which you can never truly know), the pressure you’re feeling will dissipate.
The most important thing is to trust yourself, to allow yourself the room to make mistakes. You only have one life, and you don’t want to waste any of that time worrying about things you can’t change or predict. You should cut yourself some slack, allow yourself the space to feel any way that comes naturally.
Never tell yourself that you can’t do something. Never tell yourself you have to do something.
Never give up on yourself. There is always a reason to keep going. If you feel as if you’ve lost your way – that you are unsure of what to do, what to pursue, where to go – simply tell yourself that it’s okay to feel that way. There is always time to veer yourself in another direction.
I may write more posts about mental health in the future, as it is something that I’m really passionate about. Not only is it my own mental sufferings that have led me to create many works of fiction in the first place, but is also due to a desire to help others that may be struggling that I am inspired to create. Even if I create something that only helps one person in the smallest of ways, I will still have achieved something.