by Ed Peston, Communications Assistant
Each of us with mental health issues has a different set of life circumstances and a different history. But I wanted to share with you some of what I have learnt from my own journey since I first had mental health concerns years ago, in the hope that others may have some things in common with my experiences and can therefore relate positively to my own path.
I am writing this at a time when we are just emerging from a two year pandemic, and the news agenda has moved on to the distressing scenes in Ukraine. These are both examples of stressful and disrupting influences to our lives which have required or suggested some degree of adjustment to try to stay feeling well within ourselves.
When I have been faced with challenges like the above, the key for me to a positive outcome has been adjusting what I wanted and tried to do with my life, with the help of others, based on what was possible and desirable in changing circumstances.
The things that have helped in this process are as follows:-
Finding others with similar experiences and learning from them has been key to adjusting my life hopes and expectations yet remaining positive about how things are. The negative aspects of mental health issues can be offset by the way they bring people together with similar experiences who can help and learn from each other.
As well as learning about myself, I found that learning about the world enabled me to see the bigger picture outside of my own situation and put my own life in perspective. Education is also usually a social activity where one can make friends and go through similar experiences, helping to feel part of a wider community.
When medication is effective, it helps to improve symptoms, and the side effects are not too problematic. I have taken the view that pills never solve the issue altogether, but have decided for myself that on balance the pros definitely outweigh the cons. In particular, medication has helped me to stay in work, giving access to the financial and social benefits of employment.
Having the opportunity to talk to someone who is trained to listen to my thoughts and feelings, no matter what they are, has helped me deal with stress and to clarify what I wanted to do in any situation. Sometimes it can be difficult to make sense of things, and I have found there is an important contribution to be made by talking to someone who is there to help and not emotionally involved in whatever you want to discuss.
Low pressure work
Anything that provides structure in a positive way helps me to establish the routines that are helpful to a positive outlook and way of life, and to deal with problems when they come along. Work where I am not constantly stressed has been the most important one of these structures.
Family and friends
I have found that it is important to have positive relationships with family and friends, particularly those who have known me for a long time. This can be for enjoyable social activities or mutual support. We all go through ups and downs, and can be faced with different issues and life circumstances at different times. As part of this, I find that making comparisons with others is generally not helpful and enables me to be accepting of what I am able to do and how I am living at any given time, and to support others in that process too. And this helps me to generally enjoy life.
Over the years I have been able to identify activities I can do that generally help me to feel better. These are often solitary activities like reading, writing, photography and listening to music, and enable me to self-manage the way I am feeling in a positive way.
Others making adjustments
If it is important to make adjustments ourselves to changing life issues and circumstances, this is also something that we can ask for from others so that we can maintain positive relationships and a sense of wellbeing. Whether this be a particular style of working or studying we request, or appropriate give and take in our personal relationships, others recognising what we need can also be important in living a well-adjusted life.
Adjusting to the current situation
I am finding that all of the above have helped me to manage how I am feeling during the pandemic and now with the images and upset from the war in Ukraine. Everyone will have their own strategies, but in my view it is good to share these and to know that we are not alone with whatever we are facing.