October 10th was World Mental Health Day. I meditated, went to the gym and wrote a blog post about hostels. Sounds like it was a normal day, right? Well, I could stop right there and pretend everything was okay. Instead, I want to tell my story today and help someone out there who is going through a similar journey.
On that day, I had persistent negative thoughts, and I couldn’t get rid of them. I was crying a lot, like A LOT and then hating myself for being emotionally weak. I believed I was unworthy of love and affection. On top of it all, I was doubting and massively devaluing myself. People were pressuring me to give answers on what I want to do next. But I had no fucking idea what to tell them!. The list goes on and on.
Are you having similar thoughts? You can always reach me out if you need to talk.
Mental health definition: what is it actually?
When it comes to a mental health definition, there are million and one interpretations available. But in this blog post, I am going to stick to what I understand and learn about mental health as I am going through this journey. Mental health is everything related to our emotional well-being, and psychological and physical state. That includes how we feel, behave, the way we think, and what we think of, our ability to handle stress, form relationships with others and choices we make.
Travelling solo as a female from a little country, which isn’t well-represented on a global scale, has massively contributed to who I am now, my mindset and my behaviour. I am incredibly grateful that I learnt these 10 life lessons while travelling solo. As a consequence, I started to pay more attention to my emotional well-being. I began to recognise how and why I felt a certain way.
#1 fact I learnt about mental health: Emotional intelligence is a skill to develop. It took me some time to fully comprehend what EQ is. Now I know how one can identify and practice self-awareness, empathy, forgiveness, gratitude. It’s crucial to learn how to manage your various emotions and feelings. Do I actually feel angry or sad and why?
On another hand, I admit that I have absolute shit time dealing with stress. Being a leader in AIESEC, solo traveller, and self-proclaimed feminist has not taught me as much as I wish when it comes to stress management. We all have our own pace of learning how to react to negative situations, to troubles and whatever shit life throws at us. Only now I accept that it’s normal that I am cruising at my own speed and learning to manage my stress.
Overcoming mental health stigma
I am from Kyrgyzstan, and in my experience, it is a country which has 0 culture of acknowledging mental health issues. People do not talk openly about their emotions, or what’s going in their life. So many individuals do not open up. If they do, society will quickly judge and label them “weak”. People here are not nurtured in a way to freely discuss their emotions and feelings, fears and dreams. My generation doesn’t even say “I love you” or “I miss you” to our loved ones. We do not share the ugly side of our lives, what is happening behind closed doors when you are alone, hardships we are going through emotionally and mentally. This blog post is my manifesto in overcoming mental health stigma in such a conservative society.
I honestly haven’t paid attention to mental health as a subject until it hit me personally. But I am so glad I have gone through massive changes in my life. I took a hell of a ride on the emotional roller coaster and explored opportunities to learn about myself in so many different ways. As a result, I also shifted my mindset and now make mental health a priority.
The signs of depression
It started as mild form and was quickly progressing to a severe one. I knew I wanted to make some changes. These were the signs that I was depressed:
- Persistent negative thoughts about everything: decisions, emotions, relationships, friendships, my past, present and future, goals, mistakes.
- I had no energy or motivation, and I was looking for excuses not to do things.
- Terrible sleep. Every night I woke up 2-3 times, had troubles falling asleep. Some days I slept too little, some other days I slept way too much. But I was tired, regardless of how much sleep I had.
- Emotional yo-yoing. Mostly it was a mix of negative emotions, like feeling hopeless, doubtful, worried, helpless etc. I was flip-flopping a lot when it came to my thoughts and decisions.
- Quickly losing my temper and overreacting. I would snap at people and be sharp. Something that never bothered me before was a massive issue now, and later I would create crazy scenarios in my head.
#2 fact I learnt about mental health: There were days where I simply couldn’t control myself and just wanted to cry. I was jumping from one end of the emotional spectrum to another in a relatively short period of time. Yes, crying is an excellent release of emotions, but excessive crying without any reason is a sign; it’s time to pay attention to your mental health!
Time to find a therapist
On a good note, I finally admitted to myself that I need to find a mental health therapist. The last drop was me realizing how much pain I am causing to myself and to people I love and care about. I stumbled upon a quote by Jim Rohn: “The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, “If you take care of me, I will take care of you. “Now I say, I will take care of me for you if you take care of you for me.” It stuck by me. I knew it was a time to take care of me for everyone I cared about and most importantly, for myself.
#3 fact I learnt about mental health: Mental health conditions come in many different forms. The main ones are anxiety, depression, eating disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, addiction and psychosis. It’s only for better to educate ourselves on what they are about and learn how to recognise the signs of each condition.
#4 fact I learnt about mental health: The first step to recovery is to admit you are having troubles and want to change. “I’ve got no time for this”, “I know my problems and no one can help me anyway”, “It’s not that serious, I will be fine”. How many times do we say it to ourselves?
If your friends, family, partner, anyone who knows you well, can see that you are not in a good place now and they want to help you, give them a chance. Don’t brush it off saying you are fine. Or maybe you already know that you need help. Ask for it, don’t be afraid to come off weak. You are strong and brave for facing your fears and challenges to take care of yourself.
Why is support so important?
Support comes in so many different forms and shapes, and throughout my journey, I heavily relied on my friends. When it comes to family… We are pretty tight and supportive of one another. But in this case, I was somewhat ashamed to tell my family I felt depressed. And frankly speaking, you usually will hear “Oh, come on, stop crying. Everything is fine” from your parents. And I didn’t want to listen to it. I came clean that I am struggling with depression after I had my first counselling session. My younger brother immediately called me and told me how much he loves me. My mum was distraught that I have been struggling on my own. She was away on a business trip, and she cut it short to spend a few days with me. Luckily, I also had friends who were always there for me to take a call.
First, I was in denial. Why do I need a counsellor? I experienced anxiety about 5 years ago (including panic attacks), sexual harassment in 2 different countries, a wagon of travel fails, and I was capable of helping myself. I managed mild forms of depression on my own and always overcame it. But after a particularly tricky Monday and Tuesday, I knew I want to start therapy and heal myself. I texted a friend and said that I was not capable of thinking straight on my own. I was constantly feeling overwhelmed and sad. And I was ready to seek treatment to improve my mental health.
Why should you go to therapy?
I would like you to hear me out: support you get from friends, family or partner is essential and very helpful, indeed. But it’s so different from the support a counsellor gives you. And just to be clear, I faced a mental health stigma myself. Today I want to raise awareness and say out loud “It’s okay to go to therapy and get a counsellor”.
We have limited resources to help ourselves. If you have a plumbing problem, you ask a plumber to come and fix it. Then why don’t we do it for our mental health? Why are we embarrassed to get therapy? I believe it’s crucial for us as a society to overcome mental health stigma and make it accessible. Ffs, it’s really expensive! But our mental health is priceless. You are going to spend that money on food or clothes anyway, why not invest in your own well-being? If your insurance covers it, go and take advantage of it!
A counsellor doesn’t provide your solutions, so do not go there expecting to have every problem of yours to be solved by the therapist. Instead, what I learnt is that my counsellor guides me through my cracks, helps me to analyse past and present. And I started healing by acknowledging what was causing me pain, going through those cracks and living through those emotions to finally let it go.
In conclusion: Fuck mental health stigma and what’s next for me
I am not going to sugarcoat anything and say that I am alright. I am still struggling, still not feeling 100% myself. For example, today I was having little negative thoughts here and there. Then I went to the gym and sweated all the negativity out. I know I am on a path to heal myself. And finally, almost a week later, I am finishing this blog post. I would like to raise awareness of mental health issues, as there are many of us dealing with it daily.
Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are weak, it’s the other way around. You are facing your biggest fears and problems, you are so brave for doing that! I’m proud of everyone out there who is not giving up and battling it. Be kind to yourself when you live through your pain, and then finally let it go.
I read “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. It is a self-help book, and I was kinda sceptical about it when I first started it. But there are some good things mentioned in the book. One of them is about forgiveness. The author says: “Whatever happened, it happened. Holding on will not change this fact, it will just keep the negative feelings from the past alive, keep you a prisoner to your pain, and lower your frequency.” And it just hit home for me. We forgive ourselves and we forgive for ourselves.
Forgiving and stop blaming myself was the first step in my mental health journey. And then I started my therapy, I was finally ready to heal.
While I am not a professional counsellor or anything like that, I can always listen to you and give you support if needed. Message me if you want to discuss anything that’s happening in your life.