What if?

Yesterday was World Mental Health Awareness Day.  According to Mind 1 in 4 people in the UK (where I’m from) will experience a mental health problem in any given year.

Since 2012 I’ve had suffered from depression.  At first I became an extreme exerciser, in part I believe, to stave it off.  Now I comfort eat and sleep a lot.  I speak about my depression in intellectual terms to myself and others, I still think one day I’m going to wake up and it’s all been a big mistake and I’ll get on and lead a productive life.  Outwardly there’s nothing wrong.  Many people with depression have varying degrees of functionality and are excellent” presenters”, presenting the appearance that everything’s ok.

A chronic condition creates a new normal to those living with it. You know you’re depressed but it’s just how you live life now.  You sleep more, eat more and stay indoors.  You get used to a lower quality of life and to letting people down.  You don’t expect very much from yourself while simultaneously filling your head with a deluge of “shoulds” and remaining trapped in a cycle of guilt.   Since wellness requires a plan and diligent effort you’re caught in a situation whereby don’t feel like doing anything, and you don’t care about yourself enough to do anything, and so the downward spiral continues.

I’ve had even lesser acceptance of anxiety.  It’s been totally off my radar despite a panic attack in front of my father where I couldn’t breathe.  It’s only because I’ve been recently struggling to leave the house that I’ve had to reflect why.  It sucks to know I have two things to deal with now, I’ve come to realise I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and be ok.  This is something I’ve got to live with… and I don’t know how long for.

There is an acting exercise called “what if?”  It’s used in workshops and rehearsals particularly if you’re struggling to access an authentic response as a character.  You act “as if” a set of circumstances were real.

No one wants to be depressed and so denial about depression, anxiety or other mental health issues is understandable and, I suspect, common.  You think it’ll pass…you hope it will, but years later things have not changed, and every day you live is a day you don’t have left.   If a person were instead to ask, “what if I have depression and anxiety?” and play with that scenario like an actor would there is the opportunity to form a response.  For me the “what if?” questions moves me to developing practical solutions since the acceptance stage has already been achieved.

So… “what if?”…

As with many chronic conditions there are good days and bad days so on my good days…

I’d use the energy and focus I have to make some plans that would give some structure.

I’d develop lists and checklist in advance so I don’t have to expend thinking-energy on the not-so-good-days.

I’d enlist a couple of close friends to help support me and explain what are the most important things they can do.

I’d complete tasks that will help get through the bad days in advance, such as an online food order (even if I’m not currently short of food) of a gazillion tins of soup, which means on bad days I’d at least have something hot and nutritious to eat that’s easy to make.

My pre-made plan for the worst days  would be a) touch base with one person b) remind myself not to be so hard on myself c) go to bed.

I’d make a meal plan and be stricter on taking my tablets.

I’d break things down into small steps and not make myself responsible for everthing around me.

I’d outsource more and  get a cleaner in.

I’d look up washing and ironing services, especially those that pick up an drop off.

On the good days I’d research resources and down-load, pre-load or bookmark any that seem especially useful.

I’d look into what helps other people manage depression and anxiety and find an online forum or support group.

I’d decide on a couple of self-care behaviours I’d like to have regularly in my life.

I’d journal more.

I’d let myself have a hobby for pleasure instead of constantly issuing myself list of activities I “should” do because they are “productive”.

I’d be gentler, kinder and more patient with myself.

I’d encourage myself more and tell me that it’s going to be ok.

If I stand back and look at my “what if?” responses there aren’t any bad, silly or counter-productive things even if I’ve got it all wrong and don’t really have depression and anxiety.  I’d have discovered some resources that could help someone else.  I’d have allowed myself a hobby and created more structure for myself.  I’d have created the habit of using kinder self-talk and of delegating more often. I’d be thinking about what I can set up that will help me in the future when my energy levels are good to do something now.  None of these are bad things, all are good ..for anybody, whatever their circumstance.

If you struggle with acceptance ponder, journal or talk about what the“what if?” would mean to you.

I do want to live a full life, in spite of current chronic illness.  On days like today, I remain hopeful that this is indeed possible.

For more information on World Mental Health Day click here



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