When you look at the posts on this site, the majority of them focus on my mental health. This is because I find writing extremely helpful when I’m struggling. It’s been my primary coping mechanism for over a decade now. However, it took far more than just writing to get me out of my rut.
Lockdown was a strange time for everyone but without the ongoing pressure to socialise and conform, it was a very useful period for me. Once I got used to and accepted the situation we were all in, I was able to take the time to truly think. And I was able to come to some realisations that I believe helped me take that final step out of depression.
This is a post that vocalises those realisations. Whenever I write I do so with the hope that my experiences may be able to help others. I hope this blog can do that. But I also want to emphasise that I put a lot of internal work in to reach the point I’m at, and medication helped me do that. A new perspective may be beneficial but if you’re truly struggling, please seek medical help and don’t attempt to do this alone.
So, with all the preaching done, here are those realisations that helped improve my mental health.
Life is like a game of snakes and ladders
I think the majority of people will agree that one of the most cliché phrases out there is: “life’s like a rollercoaster”. To some extent that is correct, however, no matter how many times a rollercoaster goes up, down and around it’s still a set path and that just isn’t how life works. You can’t control when things improve and when they get worse. It all comes down to chance, a metaphorical dice roll.
The reality is, whether it’s your health (mental or physical), career, relationships or something else altogether, things will always fluctuate. Sometimes those changes will be obvious, they’ll occur over time. But on other occasions, it just happens. With no explanation, you’ll slide right down a snake. So you should never feel like you have to explain why you’re feeling the way you are, whether you’ve suddenly reached a new high or plummeted to a new low.
I think accepting that things don’t always happen for a reason, is a really important step in coming to terms with any kind of trauma or upset. As humans, we want to be able to blame something or someone for our struggles, but that’s not always possible. Even now, 24 years after my diagnosis, I try to find a reason for every seizure I have but sometimes the cause is just epilepsy. Sometimes feeling sad is just depression.
Life is a game of snakes and ladders. Yes, there’s a small amount of strategy in it, but the majority is just luck. And the thing that is most important to remember, is that even if you just slid halfway down the board, your next roll may land you at the bottom of a very tall ladder.
Everything is relative
Everything is comparable to something. However, when it comes to this way of viewing things, it’s less about the comparison itself and more about what being able to make that comparison means. The example I constantly remind myself of is; you can’t have bad without good and vice versa. Think about it, if you’ve never experienced bad, how can you even argue that you know what good is?
I try to reiterate this whenever things aren’t going so well. I’m only feeling bad now because things have been better. Looking at emotions in a comparative manner is not always easy, but being aware of the fact that things have changed in the past can act as a reassurance that they will change again.
Viewing emotions and experiences in this more linear manner can also help when it comes to empathising with other people. One difficulty I have, as a result of my autism, is that I struggle to relate to other people’s experiences. If someone comes to me with a problem I’ve never personally faced I cannot mentally process how they’re feeling.
Growing up, I never understood why my peers got so upset by minor ailments. What they were dealing with was nothing compared to what I dealt with. But now, I understand, the reason others find things like the flu so difficult is that that is the worst they’ve experienced.
Realising that everything is relative and being able to apply that to different aspects of life has helped me immensely. And it links in well to my previous section too. I can now reassure myself that even if I’ve just fallen down a long snake, it’s not necessarily the longest snake I’ve slid down. And from that, I have proof that there’s always a ladder somewhere along the board.
Focus on what you can control
As this post has already iterated, a lot of life is completely out of one’s control. As someone who is neurodiverse, this can be very difficult to cope with and it’s made even harder when you have a co-occurring condition which literally removes your control. So I made a deal with myself to focus on what I could regulate and not what I couldn’t. For me, this meant putting my mental health first and focusing on that instead of the seizures. I mainly do that using distractions, so here’s a small sub-section on that…
Now distractions aren’t a long-term solution. But I know waiting lists for support and general progress can take time so they are definitely useful when you need a quick fix. For me, the aim of distractions is to simply stop myself from overthinking. Find something that you can become fully immersed in. Whether it’s a tv show, a podcast, an audiobook or something totally different it doesn’t matter. Just try and find that thing that helps you switch off from your worries and give yourself time to indulge in it.
I won’t deny, I spend far too much time sitting in my room watching TV. But I know if I didn’t allow myself to do so I’d be in a much worse place overall. I’m not a psychology expert but I believe that by allowing my conscious mind to log off, I’m giving my subconscious the time it needs to truly process all my thoughts and feelings.
So if you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, cut yourself some slack. Take time to separate yourself from triggering situations and relax. You’ll get far more done in the long run than if you force yourself to push through. This is also where hobbies can be really helpful, I often knit or crochet whilst I’m watching TV, again it’s just something to focus on and use as a tool when life, in general, gets too much.
Back to the main point, it can be very hard to accept that something is out of your control. And when you feel out of your depth, it’s totally normal to want to gain governance over the situation. However, this is not always possible especially when other people are involved.
Over the years there have been times when I’ve attempted to control the behaviour of others as a way of taking charge of a challenging situation. This is not a viable method of coping, it is selfish and manipulative. And although that may not be one’s intention it still doesn’t make that behaviour right.
Essentially, what I’m suggesting is that when you are feeling out of control take a step back and ask yourself, what about this situation can I change? Maybe stepping outside will help me clear my head. Perhaps putting on headphones would make this environment easier to cope in. Maybe listening to some music will distract me from these overpowering thoughts.
So much about life is down to chance but we do have control over the little things. So focus on that and eventually you’ll feel more in control of the bigger picture.
Respect your own boundaries
After lockdown and having so much time to myself it became clear just how overwhelming the smallest of social engagements can be. During my school years, I would often get left out of social events. This became a big anxiety trigger for me, so I’ve always said yes to invites even when I’ve not wanted to go. However, I realised that turning up to a bar and having a meltdown is less enjoyable both for myself and my friends than if I don’t turn up at all.
So I decided it was time I began respecting my own boundaries. The first time I did this was back in March. My best friend of over 20 years made plans for his birthday. He wanted everyone to meet in a pub for the afternoon and then go to a bingo bar in the evening. I knew the bingo bar would be too much so, despite my inner voice telling me my friend would disown me if I didn’t go, I told him I’d go to the pub but head home after that. And besides testing positive for COVID the next morning, I had a brilliant time.
Obviously, being as close to him as I am meant I didn’t have to explain my situation. Whether I’d be able to say no with as much ease to someone else I don’t know. But what I have begun to do is prioritise. If I know I have an important arrangement or appointment on Wednesday, then I make sure to keep Tuesday and Thursday as free as possible. I avoid doing too much in too short a space of time.
Keeping my schedule spread out allows me time to both prepare and recover from events. It gives me the space I need to distract and relax without feeling like I’m missing out. And it keeps me in control of the situation. Do you see how everything fits in together?
As I said at the start, it took a lot of internal work for me to get as far as I have. I’m naturally overanalytical and revisit conversations and situations in my head constantly. Not everyone thinks that way. This is why I’m sharing my realisations with you.
Accepting that things aren’t always easy and not always in your control isn’t something that happens overnight. You can’t choose when those realisations will become ok. But acknowledging the situation you are in is the first step and then taking control of what you can comes next. Allowing yourself the time to simply relax and indulge in what you like whilst learning to respect your own boundaries is how that process of acceptance becomes easier.
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