Mental health self-awareness: Doing a little soul-searching

The following is adapted from a story I shared with my online community. I’ve received many thoughtful responses and pieces of advice, which I’m very grateful for. So if you’re from there and you’re reading this, thank you so much, and sorry there’s not much new here for you here!

Confession time. So, that self-improvement journey I mentioned? It’s actually a mental health journey.

I’m dealing with a long-term issue, and for the most part I’m on the way up. But, as you’ll see below, there are down times too.

This blog just turned the corner into mental-health-ville. Enjoy the ride. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of sunshine ahead!

My mental health day

Despite what my last two posts may have you believe, I’ve been really stressed out for the last little while.

I hit the wall this week. To be honest, I saw this coming and didn’t do anything to stop it – but I didn’t expect to break so soon.

It was a beautiful sunny day out, so rather than hide indoors, I did what any sane (?) person would do in this situation: I took a pen and notepad and went down to my local park to do a little soul-searching.

Park & write
Greetings from sunny Katherine Mansfield Park!

Maybe it’s a coincidence that my local park is named for a famous author. Because I got inspired to write. A lot. I drafted this entire post there over the course of two hours.

All these things that I’ve done

This was set in motion two weeks prior when a change was announced at work. I can’t do much about my work situation (besides job hunting – let’s not even go there), but I realised there are a lot of factors that are completely in my control. So I came up with a laundry list of all the things I’ve done that might have led me to this point.

tl,dr: I tried to do too much at once.

  • Alcohol. Between work drinks and other social events, my alcohol consumption has shot way up lately. I never developed a tolerance for the stuff so it hits me really hard – great on the night, not so great in the following days. And of course it messes with my sleep.
  • Coffee. About a month ago I went up to three cups a day, and that third one really bites. I basically turn into a jittery mess for the rest of the day. And even though I don’t drink it after 2pm, it probably messes with my sleep. (There’s a pattern emerging here.)
  • Screen time. I spend most of my workday on a computer with two screens, and then I go home and turn on the laptop. I’ve known for a long time that looking at screens in the evening messes with my sleep, and yet I keep doing it. It’s hard not to. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing else to do.
  • The blog. Yes, the one you’re reading right now. I stayed up late on Sunday night for last week’s post. Exactly what I wanted to avoid. I have other material ready to go but I wanted to put that out while it was fresh (like the muffins). See the above point about screen time.
  • Baking. Like the blog, I’ve only just started this. But I stayed up Monday night to bake for a work lunch that I didn’t even make it to. (I brought the muffins in for the team the next day!)
  • Food. I make healthy-ish food for myself, but lately I’ve been eating out more in the interests of time and/or social life. Healthy options are available (usually) but I don’t tend to take them. There’s also work afternoon teas (which at our place are mostly cake and chips), baked treats (not just the ones I make) and questionable snacks (such as waffles at 3am).
  • Gym. I joined a month ago and I have a weights routine figured out (yay!) but my body isn’t coping at the moment. I can get through a session just fine – in fact I really enjoy it – but it really drains me for the next couple of days. I get that there’s a temporary phase of adjustment when you start working out, but the timing hasn’t been good. It’s also a big investment of time, especially since I’m doing yoga there as well. We’re talking an hour a day here if I do it all.
  • Busy weekends. I had two full-on weekends in a row leading up to this, which means I effectively didn’t have a break in over two weeks. I used to stay home gaming all weekend so I’m not accustomed to moving at this time of the week!
  • Social media. I’ve recently become part of an amazing local community. I invest a lot of time and emotional energy here, and up to now it’s been repaid in spades. Many of the above things have come about through this group, and I’ve had some great new experiences. But the site itself is quite addictive, and it’s become my go-to distraction – not good when I need to get stuff done.
Ok, laundry listed. Now what?

On the face of it, this might sound like a fun, fulfilling lifestyle. But here’s the thing: I’ve taken on most of these things in the last month, and many of them for the first time. And in every case I’ve invited more stress into my life. None of these things is overwhelming in itself – it was the cumulative stress of everything at once that got me.

At this stage I’m not going to single out any of the above to dial back, even though it may seem obvious in some cases. I hope to address them all in due time – for now I’m just getting it out on the page.

But something’s gotta give. And I don’t want it to be that last one.

Note to self: Too much sunshine can be bad for you!

For those of you in the UK, Monday 14 May marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is stress, and this site contains some excellent resources on managing stress. Give it a read, and take a moment to think: what can you do to reduce the stress in your life?

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