Managing mental health is an ongoing job

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Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, said in an interview last year that although her job title may say ‘author’, her actual full time job is managing her mental health.

Illustration Chris Johnston

She said, ‘I don’t take it lightly, because the stakes are very high. Like many of us, I have a mind that is a very dangerous neighbourhood.’

My initial response to this statement was to feel frightened for her, but the more I heard her speak about it, the more I began to realise that she could have just as easily been talking about me. After years of exploring herself and trying to understand how her mind works, she said she now wakes up in the morning prepared for the battle of the day, fairly confident that she will be the victorious one. It sounds vaguely exhausting to have to begin every day like that, but when I think of the alternative, I understand why she must.

I have always been a very black or white person, and it’s taken me a long time to allow myself to see the shades of grey that so often permeate our lives. Thinking of managing my mental health all the time felt like such a foreign concept to me at first.

Because in my eyes, I was happy or I was sad, my mental health was good or it was bad. If it was the latter, I would do what I could to transform it into the former, and if it was the opposite then I would hang on with every fibre of my being until it inevitably slid away. I had this underlying anxiety that it would soon be gone and so I never truly basked in positive feelings.

Beyond Blue states that almost half of all Australians will experience mental health issues at some point. This is a staggering number and although the stigma around talking about mental health feels like it is slowly breaking down, it still feels like there is a pressure to be either happy or sad, with no middle ground. And when you talk about mental health while you’re in feeling well mentally, your words can be taken lightly, as if your sentiments are less genuine simply because you’re in a place that allows you to express them.

 

'...it is important to remember that mental health, just like any other health issue, doesn’t discriminate. So many lives are lost because people feel like they aren’t sick enough to ask for help.'

 

We see it everywhere online, famous people come out about their mental health struggles and they are so often told that they shouldn’t feel this way, because there are people so much worse off, people who don’t have access to money and good healthcare. While this is true, it is important to remember that mental health, just like any other health issue, doesn’t discriminate. So many lives are lost because people feel like they aren’t sick enough to ask for help.

If you Google ‘self care’ or ‘how to look after my mental health’ you’ll get a million and one responses. In my experience, it’s best to experiment with different routines and find practices that genuinely help you feel connected to yourself. For some people having a bath might help them become grounded, for others it might be getting out of the house and moving, or maybe taking medication and going to see a therapist every week. None of these are wrong and they’re also not one size fits all. Nobody knows your mental health better than you do. It’s important that you do things that feel like they’ll truly benefit you, not just because other people do them.

For myself, it really changes day to day depending on what’s going on, but a practice that I’m trying really hard to implement, and one that I actually do think would benefit most people, is to be really honest about how your mental health is. Just being truthful when a loved one asks how you’re doing can go a long way. And even if you’re not ready to be honest with other people, practice being honest with yourself.

Even though I am very open about my mental health now, I still find it hard to accept that just because good things are happening that doesn’t mean my mental health doesn’t need looking after. It takes me by surprise sometimes. I could describe my life and you might think ‘wow, her life is on track’, but one little thing might have me rocking on the floor. It’s moments like these when I have to sit back and consider what I am doing to look after myself, oftentimes I come up blank.

The guilt that comes with feeling down when things are going well is strange, because it almost makes you wish things were bad, because then at least your feelings are valid. It’s not true though, things don’t have to be bad for you to deserve help, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for asking for it, even within yourself.

By choosing to look after my mental health, regardless of how I feel day to day, I am releasing myself of the pressure to maintain a black and white mind. To feel free to express, even within myself, my full range of emotions, no matter what stage of life I am in, is to simply be free.

 

 

Katherine RichardsonKatherine Richardson is a freelance writer and illustrator. Her greatest loves are creating art and her cat Marmalade. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration

Topic tags: Katherine Richardson, mental health

 

 

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Existing comments

It is a battle all right. It takes a lot of courage to write as you have Katherine because self-examination of this particular issue can be difficult. There are strategies I've learned to employ during times when my own mental health is challenging. At the moment, I am walking along a pathway near my home. This pathway is shared with cyclists, other walkers, joggers and our vista: the most beautiful scenery I've encountered anywhere in the world. Importantly, there are cattle and horses in the fields adjoining this walkway and I do attempt eye contact with these beautiful creatures. Something I often avoid with humans. A trusted doctor, a good diet and creative outlet.
Pam | 10 March 2020


Sadly the emphasis on "mental health issues" has managed to take care away from the people with very serious, debilitating and totally incapacitating illnesses wrongly called "mental". Schizophrenia type illnesses, bipolar disorder and lifelong depressive illnesses have physiological bases, hormonal, structural etc. There is no cure. Various treatments and medications can sometimes make the conditions bearable. Sometimes the side effects of the treatments are themselves unbearable. Denial and refusal of treatment can be part of the symptoms of the illness. To trivialise the severity of these illnesses by the use of the bland term "mental health issues" allows the people affected to be left without the holistic and all-embracing care that they need.
Sheelah Egan | 10 March 2020


Is introspection a mental disorder?
john frawley | 10 March 2020


It seems almost a truism to watch one's own mental health. But it is not. We live in an age of high anxiety where just about everyone's mental health is under threat at some time. The keys are to be as knowledgeable as you can by reading, consulting sites like Beyond Blue or ringing Lifeline if need be. These are first steps. There are times you may need real, competent professional help. Get it.
Edward Fido | 10 March 2020


I am not sure what Sheelah Egan does or did but her comments here mark her as being extremely intelligent and perceptive. Mr John Frawley, a reputed vascular surgeon, brought in his robust common sense. 'Mental health', like 'vascular disease', covers a range of illnesses, some more serious than others. As a generalist magazine, Eureka Street covers a variety of subjects. Some of these are by generalist writers, not specialists in the field. This can be both a good and bad thing. There is nothing wrong with a generalist, such as Katherine writing on the subject of mental health, nor an intelligent person, like Pam commenting on it. But there may be people who read this article who may have serious, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. That is why I put in my comment on Beyond Blue and obtaining proper professional health care.
Edward Fido | 13 March 2020


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