Feeling Good?

A post for Mental Health Awareness Week

Many of you have started following my blog in the past year or so, and may not be aware that I originally began this over four years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others. From the comments I’ve received since then it appears that this has happened far more than I could ever have hoped, although I admit to having strayed off message quite a lot since then. You will probably also be unaware that I ran a series of ‘Dates To Note’ about key days in the calendar, mostly around health and social care. They can be found from the menu above, if you’re interested. Not wanting this to become stale or repetitive – I can do that without setting myself up for it – I stopped these as a regular feature two or three years ago. But this week has prompted a slight return, to borrow a phrase from Jimi Hendrix.

I’m slightly confused by this – it doesn’t take much – but I have seen various references (mostly American, I think) to May being Mental Health Awareness Month whilst here in the UK this week, from 8th to 14th May, is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, we have two ‘Dates To Note’ though as I’m British I’m concentrating on our week. This is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find their site here. The MHF do a lot of good work campaigning for better mental health, and provide a wealth of useful information on mental health matters. I commend their site to you if you want to know more. If you are in the States the equivalent organisation there is HealthyPlace, and you can find their site by clicking on the ‘Stand Up’ logo at the top of the column to the right.

For this year’s Awareness Week the MHF is turning things on their head. As they put it themselves, ‘Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.’ To support this they commissioned a piece of research which has found that, rather disappointingly, only 13% of us feel that we are thriving in this way. The report can be found here – it is fairly short and easily read, and includes a definition of what ‘thriving with good mental health’ means, in case you were wondering.

Having been diagnosed with depression five years ago, I am acutely aware that it is something which is never ‘cured.’ I’ve been off medication for more than two years now, but always have that underlying worry that I might slip back into ways which allow the depression to take hold again. My physical health has been far from good for the past two years, and this has rendered me more housebound than I would like. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I know that this isn’t good for my mental health, but physical health needs are winning out at present. If you look at the MHF site you’ll find a brief survey to complete, which gives you an assessment of how well, or otherwise, you are thriving. It is only seven questions and takes a couple of minutes. Anyone who has been diagnosed with depression will at some point have completed an assessment like this with a doctor, though this one is slightly different in its focus. Having had a few recent pangs of concern, I approached this with some trepidation. As always with such questionnaires, the important thing is to answer as honestly as possible – lying to yourself is pointless! I took the survey, and this was my result:

Click to enlarge

To be frank, I was pleasantly surprised at this, and found some encouragement from it. I would encourage you to take the survey – and if your score is low please consider visiting your doctor to talk it through. I know from my own experience that hiding from yourself, failing to accept that you might need help, can be very damaging. I was eventually off work for more than nine months, and have always felt that this could have been much shorter if I’d accepted the need to do something sooner than I did. So do as I say, please, not as I did!

The flip side of this coin is that you could take this test and get a similar result to mine, and think everything is alright. But there are limitations to such tests, and if you are at all worried about your mental health – if you feel that you aren’t thriving – it would be remiss to think that your result means you don’t need to do anything. As I say, I’ve had my own concerns recently, and these won’t go away simply because I’m ‘around the national average.’ Our mental health is precious, and I’ll be taking good care of mine, including signing up for the MHF’s package mentioned in the screenshot above. I hope you do whatever you can to look after yourself.

Regular readers will know how important a role music plays in my life. Indeed, it is one of many factors which contribute to our mental wellbeing, and is used in therapy. You may have recognised that the title for this piece is borrowed from a song, the most famous version of which is this, by Nina Simone:

I trust that listening to that will have raised your spirits a little! Have a good day, and be well.

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I’m Fine

A couple of weeks ago the Mental Health Foundation launched a campaign called ‘I’m Fine.’ Posters are appearing in key sites in London, particularly on public transport. This was prompted by their research findings that on average we will say that little phrase 14 times a week, though only 19% of us actually mean it. To accompany their campaign they have produced this short video:

A stereotypical view of our reserved British nature would suggest that we say this to avoid opening up, and because we don’t really think that the person who has just asked how we are actually wants or expects an honest answer: 59% said that they expected the answer to be a lie. And if they got the truth, would they know how to deal with it anyway? 44% of the survey sample said they had received an answer they weren’t expecting to the question, and were surprised at being taken out of the comfort zone of ‘regular’ social intercourse.

We are famed for our reserve, but this isn’t just a British thing: if you listen closely there are a couple of distinctly American accents in the video. The point behind the MHF’s campaign isn’t that we lie to each other out of shyness, or a belief that we don’t really think that others want to know how we feel. In many cases, this unwillingness to open up is hiding a mental health problem about which we feel unable to talk. There is still a stigma around talking about mental health and the campaign is aiming to help remove that. There has been much research that has shown how we bottle up our thoughts and feelings rather than seek help, and this survey reinforces that – and also the usual perception that men are worse than women when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

To find out more about the campaign you can go here. Please do, as the site contains a wealth of useful information and tips on how to support someone in need of help – or on how to seek help for yourself if you need it. At this time of year it is very easy to get wrapped up in all the paraphernalia and excitement of Christmas without realising that there may be people we know and care about who aren’t feeling the joy. So, if you ask someone how they are, make sure that you mean it – and be prepared for an answer that may be more than a simple ‘I’m fine.’ I know from my own experience how easy it can be to kid others with that reply – and in doing so I was kidding myself. It doesn’t just have to be a casual greeting – and deserves to be much more than this. It’s worth doing that little bit extra to ensure that they – and you – really are ‘fine.’ As the survey showed, 4 times in 5 that answer isn’t really true.

A Few Tips On Life

I’ve recently been invited to become a guest contributor by the good people on a blog called Make It Ultra. This is a great place to go to if you’re in need of some inspiration and I recommend it to you – and not just for my posts there! This is the second post they have done with me, and hopefully there will be more. They have featured it today in their top five recent posts, so hopefully I’ll be asked back again sometime!

This is what they posted for me:

A Few Tips On Life

I’m a little bit older than other contributors here, and while that doesn’t bestow on me any extra wisdom it does mean that I’ve experienced more years of life and what it can throw at us. Life is a series of phases: school, college, university, relationships, job changes, and then retirement. But just because parts of our life are ending this doesn’t have to be negative. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Recognize the good things in every life stage, and try to hold onto them.
Often, as in education and work, this can mean the people you have as friends. If you move on, you don’t have to leave them behind. So keep what is good – for you. You must recognise what works for you. Who do you value in your life? Would you miss them if they were no longer there? Would your life be poorer without them? Answer ’yes’ to these and you’ll know who to stay in touch with, and who were the ones who you can part with. It sounds harsh – but it’s realistic. We don’t have unlimited time, and we need to use it wisely.

2. Let the past go
You will be wasting energy if you try to recreate something which has gone, that existed in another part of your life. As we get older, we move out of education into work, and it is likely that we will have several job changes. You may well get a lot of fun from your job, but don’t expect that to be the same if you move on. You’ve changed your circumstances for a reason, so be positive and find the good in your new situation: embrace that change and make as much as you can out of it. A new job, new friends, maybe a new location – these can be very exciting. Remember Don Henley, in The Boys Of Summer? – “A little voice inside my head said, “Don’t look back. You can never look back.” Grasp what you have, not what your mind is telling you that you used to have!

3. Look ahead
Plan for your future. What you are doing now is part of your whole life plan, so do you know how it fits into that? Do you have a plan for where you want to be? That can mean job or personal ambitions, and it can be a huge benefit to us to have a sense of where we are going, of how we want our little place in the world to be. We all need a sense of purpose – it can keep us grounded and can help us when times get hard. If we know that we have goals to achieve we are better placed to overcome the obstacles that life can put in our way.

4. As you move through life, the ‘R’ word approaches: Retirement. Think of retirement as an opportunity to do new things in your life.
When we are younger, this can be something we dread. “We’ll be old! Our useful life will be over! We’ll be a burden!” Be honest, have you ever thought something like that? I guess your retirement could be like that: if you choose it to be. I retired three years ago and it doesn’t feel like that to me, honest! I started blogging in my final year at work, and am still going strong with it. I’m going to more live sporting and music events than I ever could while work got in the way. I can visit galleries and museums. I can see family and friends whenever I want to. Or I can spend my days at home with my books, music and movies. I’m even thinking of learning to play guitar, and to develop apps, though both of these are ideas at this stage! It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? It’s a beginning, not an end! In fact, it’s just the next phase in our life.

5. Be Prepared for the Unexpected
I said earlier that we should plan ahead. I know the old saying that if you want to make God laugh you should tell Him your plans. Things don’t always turn out the way we expected or planned. In my case, this meant getting divorced six years before I retired. I hadn’t been expecting at that point in my life to be making a new home for myself, and embarking on a changed relationship with my daughters, who I no longer lived with. But I – and they – worked our way through this. My life is now very different from the one I had been expecting and aiming for. But that isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a failure. It just proved the point for me that we need to be flexible and need to adapt to being hit by the unexpected.

Life is for living. Don’t waste it!

And if you’d like to see this on the Make It Ultra site you can find it here.