“I’m a strong believer of self care, and feel that mental health awareness and acknowledgement is crucial for the make up of a healthy human. Unfortunately, I haven’t always thought that. I wouldn’t say that my childhood and teen years were bad, in fact I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories that are filled with close friends and an amazing family – but there was a huge elephant in the room (‘the room ‘ being my brain) that I refused to pay attention to until only a few years ago… my anxiety and depression.
Growing up as the eldest child in a fairly large, and not your classic nuclear family had a lot of ups, and a lot of challenges. I was able to watch all of my siblings grow up, and have memories of most of them as babies. I was able to form a close relationship with my mum, and to this day I see her as one of my best friends. There were also a few factors that made my family not so ‘ordinary’. A couple of my younger siblings have Asperger’s Syndrome, this meant a lot of the time of our family went into appointments, therapy, and general extra care.
Around the time of my pre-teens and into my time at high school, I started putting A LOT of pressure on myself. I convinced myself that I couldn’t be a burden to anyone, as I felt my family had enough on their plate. This expectation that I created in my head resulted in an anxiety that grew and grew the further I got into high school. By the time I started university I found that my ignorance towards my mental health had eaten away into my self confidence, my sanity and my happiness. I became depressed, really depressed – but I was still confused because in my mind I never had anything wrong with me. I had finished VCE with really good results, I was thriving at university and I was holding up two part time jobs at the time – I felt like there was no reason for me to be feeling sad or down.
Eventually, there was a breakdown in my relationship and I soon found myself alone with my thoughts. It was the first time in a long time that I had no distractions to keep myself from paying attention to my health. When I met James (my boyfriend of two years now), a lot changed in my life. I started to acknowledge what it was that was causing me to feel so down all the time. I realised that this weight that I had put on my shoulders years ago was affecting me in ways I didn’t know possible. I had insomnia, I was always tired and ridiculously emotional, and always seemed to be getting sick. This was the first time I listened to the chaos in my own head and I knew I had to do something about it.”
I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into my mental health story. While what I’ve told you is probably only an eighth of the entire picture, I hope it can position you in a place of understanding, and perhaps you can relate to some of my story. I’m writing this blog post in collaboration with a lovely blog I came across called ‘Inside Indigo’, a site that is focused on creating a place that people can go to if they feel they need some tips, advice or comfort when it comes to mental health.
I wanted to create a post that focused on the acknowledgement of anxiety, depression or anything else that could be going on in your brain space; and what that acknowledgement can lead to. In this post I will share a few of the things that I find crucial in the assistance and care of my mental health, in hopes that it may help some of you!
T H E F I R S T S T E P
You guessed it, acknowledgement. It’s probably the biggest decision you will ever make in the journey towards a true understanding of yourself and your mental health. If you never acknowledge whatever is going on internally, you’ll never know how to deal with it. For me, I was first able to acknowledge my anxiety and depression as a result of a significant life change, this was the end of my long term relationship. My entire life as I knew it changed, I found myself around different people, different places and different life situations. This resulted in a lot of reflection and realisation. I noticed that I was questioning decisions I was making, and how they were affecting me. This was my first moment of acknowledgement.
S L E E P
While it may seem like an obvious point to make when it comes to looking after your mind, I find it to be one of the most important. I used to have a really bad relationship with sleep. I worked hospitality jobs, and would have shifts at night after a long day of uni. This meant I would get home at anywhere between 8-10pm, and I had a lot of homework to do. I would stay up super late on my laptop, often in bed, until about 2 or 3am. I’d then wake up sometime between 5-6am, and would drive to university super early to avoid the traffic. As a result of sleeping only 3-5 hours each night, I’d binge sleep on the weekends and would sleep up to 12 hours. It made keeping to a healthy routine super tricky and I would never recommend it.
Now, after being on medication for a few years that helps me sleep I am forced to have a better attitude towards sleeping. I now will only take work that doesn’t involve night shifts, and rarely weekend shifts. This means that the early evening is spent studying and working on projects like blog posts. I take my medication around 7pm, which means that my brain stops being productive around 9pm. This works really well for me as it forces me to stop what I’m doing and go into what I call ‘wind down time’. During this time I’ll either read a book or magazine, tidy up my house or watch something on Netflix – basically tasks that don’t require much brain work. Then around 10pm I’ll be ready for bed. I end up getting about 8-10 hours sleep each night, which is required for my medication.
This healthier sleep routine results in a me that is SUPER productive during the day. I’ve found I’d rather have high energy during a 9 hour period during the day than being in a constant state of low to medium energy.
T I M E O U T
Having days off is nothing you should feel bad about, especially if you’re a highly strung anxiety nut like myself. People like us have minds that are constantly turning and filled with thoughts and tasks that need to be done – so it’s important to try and get it all to slow down every now and then. There’s a few different ways that I like to get my mind into a quiet state, here’s a few of them that I find most effective for me:
- Taking my dog Sydney for a walk. If you don’t have a dog, just try going for a stroll around a park. Even if it’s only a short walk, it makes the world of a difference.
- Throw yourself a pamper night, for one. I find that doing a more in-depth skincare routine every now and then (so, a face mask, hair mask, exfoliation and all that good stuff) keeps my mind busy in a way that is ordered and simple. The small tasks that you may do whilst looking after your skin are enough to calm the mind whilst still giving you something to focus on.
- MEDITATE. This one is really important. For such a long time I thought the notion of meditation was stupid and extra. Then I gave it a go after the constant recommendations from friends and professionals. I like to use the app ‘Buddhify’ as it does a really good job at providing a range of mindfulness sessions catered to different life situations.
B O D Y L O V E
This is one I still struggle with. My body image is not and has never really been that positive. Habits of self-shaming, nit-picking and obsession have stayed with me ever since I was a child. Those habits are hard to crack, but I still try! They always say, healthy body, healthy mind. I find this to be very true. While you may not be unhappy with your appearance, it’s still crucial to look after your body and not neglect it. This means drinking lots of water (which on it’s own makes the biggest difference to your mind), eating lots of fruit and veg and staying active. Now, you don’t need to be the biggest gym nut in the world to stay active. You can do any small activities that work towards a healthier you.
Active minutes can be built up by making sure you hit 10,000 steps a day (most smart phones track this now), aiming to spend a bit of time in the sun each day, and trying to say YES to good-for-you activities. This might involve going on a hike with friends on the weekend, riding a bike, and of course spending some time doing more intense exercise. This doesn’t have to be at the gym, it can simply be going for a jog around the block where you live.
I hope this little introduction to my experience of dealing with anxiety and depression taught you a little bit more about myself, but I also hope that you found some of what I said useful or comforting. Keeping in touch with our minds and understanding what it is that they need is such a crucial part of living as super productive human beings! I’d love to hear about some of your journeys with anything going on in your head, let’s talk mental health! Be sure to check out Inside Indigo for more wonderful and helpful tips and articles too.
Much Love, Ebony xo