Learning – A Mental Health Update

I’m sure many of you would have picked up on the fact that the past few months haven’t been great for me. They’ve been pretty miserable in all honesty. And not because my life has been bad, in fact – my life has been pretty awesome as of late – but because my depression and anxiety have hit a pretty difficult stage and it has massively screwed me over.

The start of this year was brilliant. I was in my element with research at university, I was loving living at home, I was busy tutoring almost every day, I somehow had time to socialise with my lovely friends, and I was very, very busy. Too busy to heal, to reflect, to take any time for me, but I was happy. I think I was happy because I didn’t have any time at all to address my illness. I did what I always do when bad things happen, I ignored it. I ignored my mental health issues and carried on.

Then the busy period stopped, and I suddenly had all this extra time with which I began to internally freak out. I started thinking about who I am as a person, I started to think about my future, I started to second guess what I was doing within every aspect of my life. My anxiety started to build, I had more panic attacks, I began to feel tired and miserable and I cried A LOT. I had to get my medication increased, I had to pull out of a very important review at university and I spent a lot less time at school and a lot more time feeling like shit. And, this was all going on while I had just started a new relationship; which threw me even further off balance and resulted in me lashing out at this lovely guy who didn’t know how to handle me. I wasn’t doing great.

It didn’t occur to me, in the highs of the early months of this year that I was still sick and that it could all come crashing down again. I didn’t learn any skills to cope with depression and anxiety because I was so busy living my life. I felt better. So, when things started going awry again I couldn’t cope, I didn’t know how. My mind couldn’t cope and my body certainly couldn’t cope. I didn’t know what to do.

I broke. My boyfriend dumped me. My heart shattered, because it was too full of misplaced love. My mind was too full of “stuff”; of my aims and objectives, of the expectations I put on myself. My mind broke too. In this time of broken self-reflection I realised something very important; that love that I’m too full of needed to be redirected to ME. I needed to redirect my thirst for knowledge towards learning the skills I need to get better, the skills to cope with stressful situations without faltering. I needed to acknowledge the fact that I am on a journey to heal myself, it was never going to be as easy as taking a magic pill – I needed to change the way I function as a person.

Scary, deep, internal stuff.

To make this change I started trying to look after myself and my mind a little more. I started going to counselling to talk through my issues; so now I have a double hitter way to help me through this illness – medication and therapy. My counselling sessions have taught me that in order to be happy I need to treat myself like a deserving, loved human. I need to breathe deeply, to exercise daily, to eat well, and to get a good sleep every night; to have an evening and a morning routine. I need a good support system to talk to and rely on when things get rough. I need to balance my busy life with relaxation and alone time. I need to relax.

I have also started a mindfulness and grounding workshop series, which is helping to reduce my anxiety by calming those future and past frantic worries, by refocusing energy into acknowledging the present. Mindfulness has taught me that it is OK to have NOTHING going on in your mind, even if it’s just for a moment. It is making me so aware of how amazing my body/mind connection is. It is making me aware of the present and it is also helping to boost my concentration and is the best and easiest way to relieve stress. It is as easy as taking some deep breaths and focusing on each of the five senses in turn. Being mindful and grounded builds a foundation for living life in a much more calm and focused way.

Good things have been happening to me this year, and I really want to be able to acknowledge them fully and to be proud of what I am achieving, it’s hard though, because as much as I can recognise that I’m doing well – most days I don’t feel like I am. If I write it down, I’m like, ‘hey, you’re doing pretty damn awesome Anneke. LOOK’. I get to go to university every day to build things, and paint things, and draw, because I am researching a passion of mine. I get to be creative all the time, and I am good at it. I have taken to tutoring like I was born to do it and I have been a great tutor to so many students. I am 23 and I have recently presented my research at a public lecture and will soon be jet setting off to Brisbane to present my research at an international art conference. I mean, how cool is that?! That little architecture student who makes weird things out of cardboard that other students turn their noses up at is going to be presenting her work to artists, art historians and curators. Suck it.

It makes me proud that I am doing so well, especially when most days I could easily hide in bed all day and disappear into my sadness but I still get up and do my work, albeit a little slowly. It’s going to take me a little time to be able to properly accept that I am doing well in my life. Once I am happy and healed and healthy, then I will be able to fully grasp how cool my life really is. But that’s going to take time.

That’s where I am at. I’m doing OK, but I still have a little way to go. I know I am getting better because I have days where I can’t stop smiling and days where I just want to cry, I have days where I’m full of energy and days where I am exhausted and moody, but that is a massive improvement on those endless days of tired numbness I suffered last year. Hopefully, soon the happy days will outnumber the sad days, and I won’t cry for no reason, and I won’t self-destruct, and I’ll be able to function like a normal, healthy human.

But for now, I’m just going to keep learning how to improve, I’m going to continue to be thankful, I’m going to make sure I look after myself fully and completely and I’m going to take my time to get better.

And, of course, I am going to continue to outwardly sparkle, as I always do. Because, really, everyone needs some glitter in their life.

XO

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