I have wonderful friends. And family. I’m lucky.
But the bar can always be raised, right? Right? We all went to a friend’s house the other day. Regular readers will know about my ongoing (whining about) mental health problems. It had been one of those weeks.
What is the best thing to do to help a friend who is struggling? I am rubbish at helping other people with their mental health – I know what it feels like, not how to help.
But this friend, she knew. She didn’t ask anything of me, not even my company. I was tucked up on a day bed, in their spare room, with my youngest, and a computer playing Spiderman and the Spiderverse. I had a power nap and managed to keep up with the story.
It was the best visit ever. Thanks guys!
I had agreed to go. Waking up at 5am with a headache, which developed into a migraine, then being sick just before I had to wake the children up and get them to school didn’t mean I was going to cancel.
In the car, Mr HB asked how I was. I told him the truth, the stress of my tiny insignificant worries leaking out in tears. We picked up a friend on the way, so I wiped my eyes and pulled myself together.
We got there, and I had a nice time. A small group of friends, celebrating, taking time out from their own lives to be there for someone else on a special day.
Postscript: later, I was reminded of the pains and worries carried by every other friend that had been there, talking, smiling, laughing – holding it together.
I feel like I’m becoming a bit of an expert on self-care. What I used to think of as ‘laziness.’ Here are some of my favourite things to do to help myself through a difficult week. I’d love to hear yours!
- Go to bed at 9pm.
- Go to bed at 8pm with Netflix.
- Put my pyjamas on at 4pm on weekends.
- Drink less overall, but have one night a week getting pleasantly sozzled, having completed steps 2 and 3.
- Have a bath.
- Cancel an engagement.
- Say ‘no’ to things.
- Buy stationery.
- Visit the GP if necessary.
- Take the tablets when necessary.
- Eat delicious, healthy food.
- Eat delicious, unhealthy food.
- Do a Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.
- Read a book from my childhood.
- Doodle while listening to a CD (remember them?).
- Phone/Skype/write to a friend.
- Find where the cat is. Sit with him.
‘So hang on, you say you have social anxiety, but you perform, sing and do spoken word, and go to events to make contacts?’
Well now. Here’s how I put my game face on.
- Have an aim. If I have to, once I’ve tried to achieve, or achieved it, I can leave.
- Get close to the beginning of the line up if possible. Once I’ve done my ‘bit’, I can relax.
- I don’t drink alcohol if it’s a work thing.
- I don’t eat garlic for three days before the event.
- I leave myself extra time to sort out my hair (I could conquer the world if I thought my hair looked good).
- I recognise and accept the presence of ‘anxiety sweat.’ It smells different from exercise sweat.
- I check my teeth in the mirror.
- I (never) have tissues.
- I floss.
Christmas anxiety. A wash of feelings, pulling and pushing in opposite directions. I’m a sociable person, I love my friends. Now it’s December and I’m all ‘hopefully we can catch up before Christmas?’
I invite, or accept invitations, with joy, and then approach the days themselves with dread. Will I spend hours on my return, mulling over a throwaway comment I made, seeking malevolence in words that were not meant to hurt? Deliberately sabotaging my own friendships, and my own fragile resilience?
So last year, I stopped saying ‘let’s meet up before Christmas’ and started saying ‘have a lovely Christmas! See you next year.’
To anyone reading this who feels anxious around Christmas, I just want to say: you don’t have to see anyone, if you don’t feel like it. Look after yourself, OK? And I’ll see you next year.
Here is an update on how I am feeling.
I am nearly two weeks into taking my daily pill. I have some paid freelance work today, and I’m driving to the meeting where I’m expected to take a minute of the proceedings.
My usual thoughts at a time like this are as follows:
‘I won’t be able to keep up with my shorthand.’
‘I won’t be able to read my shorthand back.’
‘I won’t be able to follow what is going on.’
‘I won’t make my deadline for the draft.’
‘Someone will tell me I am not dressed smartly enough for this job.’
And my personal favourite: ‘Am I heading to the right venue at the correct time?’
I am driving to the meeting.
I am thinking – ‘I’ve got this.’
It was a good call to go to the GP.
So last week, I was persuaded to go to the Doctor. I have been ‘out and proud’ about my mental health since suffering two episodes of psychosis in my late teens.
But I didn’t realise I was still ashamed. Happy to be medication free since 2003, (and not just because it rhymes), over the 14 years since I have tried a range of things to stay off the daily tablets.
- Counselling x3
- Diazepam (for the bad days)
- Leaning on friends
- Maintaining a tinylife
Last week, it became clear that my less-than-good mental health is not something that is going away any time soon. I thought I didn’t care about the stigma. I do care. But not enough to risk my health and the wellbeing of those around me.
So, I’m back on the tablets. And I’m getting on with my tinylife.