I’m in no way a mental health expert, nor am I any kind of trained professional who can help you through your problems. What I can do is share experiences that may help you in seeking help, or simply learn to set boundaries, say no without giving an explanation, or even teach yourself how to dissociate from something that threatens your mental health.
I’ve been a people-pleaser for most of my life. I sought constant validation because I went through a period in my life where put-downs were the norm. Be it setting the dinner table to be told ‘We don’t set the table like this in our house’ to ‘What else can you do besides painting? Can you cook, or clean the house? What do you know? Did your mother not teach you anything?’. All this was usually accompanied with a laugh because when hot, unshed tears would burn my eyes, I’d be told it’s just a joke.
Sounds familiar? I know I’m not alone.
A major health concern made me sit up and smell the coffee. Brushing everything under the proverbial rug came to a point where nothing else would go under it and I had to start dealing with whatever was coming my way. Simple things like being seen online on Whatsapp were sending me into a frenzy where I’d have unread messages that ran into hundreds. I missed out on important messages, I didn’t get to see urgent messages until it was too late, and I was drowning under the rather ridiculous good morning messages and other spam I didn’t subscribe to. That’s just one of the things that I couldn’t deal with.
When I started therapy, I did bring this up with my therapist and she gave me ideas on how to deal with this. I started archiving messages from all groups to start with. Then, I archived people who sent me only adverts. That left me with the good morning forwards, obviously from loved ones, so I started filtering them and only opening them when I had the chance, or simply – Edit – Mark as Read. It worked. I also blocked a lot of people and I also gave myself a pat on the back when I quit some of these groups. It can be daunting! People laugh about it all the time but being a part of something you didn’t subscribe to is very draining.
I also started letting people know that if they wanted a faster response, they could text me or call me. I do not like to be online, available for everyone to think that I’m open to chatting, or video calls. I want to be able to choose that accessibility to me, and so I did. I also became kinder to myself and realised that I did not need to reply to anyone as soon as I got the message. I can choose when to reply, if at all. Getting a reply from me is a privilege and not a right.
Small steps at a time have allowed me to take larger strides and I’m happy to say that it’s working for me.
That’s just one example.
Learn To Say ‘NO’:
I am also learning to say no without giving an explanation. No one needs to understand why I have said no. Just the way I accept others saying no without the need to be explained to, I have come to realise that I can also expect the same. This is easier said than done because all my life I’ve had to give reason, explain, justify. I still slip up and give justifications but it’s becoming less and I’m immensely proud of myself.
Being a co-dependent for most of my adult life, it was a bit hard to unlearn a lot. I thought taking responsibility for other people’s actions was me being a hero, the ultimate wing woman. My co-dependency came about from over-protective parents. Does that happen with all first-borns? I don’t know. I didn’t lack love, that’s for sure, but I do know that my parents weren’t as relaxed with rules as they were with my younger siblings. This would frustrate me and make me very upset. Many years later I did talk to them about this and I am so glad that we communicated about this because it helped me understand where they were coming from. I also realised, while sitting with my therapist, that every point in life they were just trying their best with whatever knowledge and tools they had. That hit hard, because when I see myself as a parent and feel I could be a better parent, I have now started recognising that I am actually just doing my best with whatever I’m equipped with.
There are many things that have happened in my life that I thought I was dealing with by not being too concerned about them. I was doing that brushing-under-the-carpet thing when one fine day, it all blew up in my face and I had to seek help to get through the whole lot of baggage I had been towing with me. Health problems started surfacing and it was time to take charge of things.
Unlearn Those Toxic Habits:
Unlearning a lot of toxic traits and habits were amongst the agenda to bettering my mental health. Imagine carrying burdens of your childhood – things said in a way and perceived in a totally different way – becoming the very anchor that pulls you down and you are unable to figure out what’s going on and why you react the way you do. Trauma triggers are fascinating. It never ceases to amaze me what can get someone to fall down a rabbit hole they have been trying to avoid, consciously or unconsciously.
Take A Break:
Taking breaks from social media are also very helpful. Sometimes, you may subconsciously fall into the trap of comparing, and we all know that comparison is the thief of joy. We may have heard that not everything on the internet is true, and neither are the glossy lives of the people we know or see online are hundred percent authentic. Take a break from all this. Switch off. Read a book instead, or go for a walk. Journal, even. Write out how you feel, and you’ll find that the moment you put that pen to paper, it eases the rampant thoughts.
For me, journaling has always allowed me to compartmentalise my irrational thoughts and deal with them one by one. I recognise that I am a very reactive person and sometimes that’s not a good thing. Reacting with happiness and positivity is one thing, but getting all worked up and angry is the other extreme. My efforts to curb my negative reactions have worked wonders with journaling because I’m constantly asking myself ‘Is it worth it?’, and the answer is usually no.
Take Charge Of Your Life:
People tell me I have gone quiet and I give myself a warm hug and smile inside as I congratulate myself on this hard-earned praise even though they don’t mean it as a compliment. It has taken a lot not to get worked up quickly at the slightest provocation, and to also accept that while others may have wronged me, my slate isn’t clean either. My lashing out when angry has damaged a lot of people. I may have been grieving but that was no excuse to lash out and hurt someone else just because I was hurting.
Yes, it’s true that anger is grief with nowhere to go, but I will not allow myself to use that as a crutch for my anger for whatever reason. I have no right to lash out at an innocent bystander, and I must take responsibility for my actions and words, and apologise without giving an excuse. Especially to my children.
Simply Put – Look After Yourself:
Another thing that you can do for yourself is to look after yourself. As simple as this sounds, many of us don’t seem to love ourselves enough to do this. It’s simple things like drinking water, exercising, eating well, sleeping on time instead of mindlessly scrolling on our devices at bedtime, that can greatly help with getting life in order. Such simple things to do yet so underrated. Water has been shown to have natural calming properties, likely as a result of addressing dehydration’s effects on the body and brain. Drinking enough water is an important step in managing your anxiety. Even if you’re not experiencing anxiety, drinking sufficient water can create feelings of relaxation.
Research has shown that walking on a daily basis can help lessen symptoms associated with chronic mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Walking is free and you can walk everywhere without any additional equipment. You’ll notice that the more you do it, the more good benefits you’ll notice.
I found these wonderful tips that could help you keep your balance, or re-balance yourself.
Here’s the link to the full article:
1. Value yourself:
Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism. Make time for your hobbies and favourite projects, or broaden your horizons. Do a daily crossword puzzle, plant a garden, take dance lessons, learn to play an instrument or become fluent in another language.
2. Take care of your body:
Taking care of yourself physically can improve your mental health. Be sure to:
- Eat nutritious meals
- Avoid smoking and vaping
- Drink plenty of water
- Exercise, which helps decrease depression and anxiety and improve moods
- Get enough sleep. Researchers believe that lack of sleep contributes to a high rate of depression in college students.
3. Surround yourself with good people:
People with strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Make plans with supportive family members and friends, or seek out activities where you can meet new people, such as a club, class or support group.
4. Give yourself:
Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need — and it’s a great way to meet new people.
5. Learn how to deal with stress:
Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills: Try One-Minute Stress Strategies, do Tai Chi, exercise, take a nature walk, play with your pet or try journal writing as a stress reducer. Also, remember to smile and see the humor in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress.
6. Quiet your mind:
Try meditating, Mindfulness and/or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy.
7. Set realistic goals:
Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally, and write down the steps you need to realize your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule. You’ll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal.
8. Break up the monotony:
Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule. Alter your jogging route, plan a road-trip, take a walk in a different park, hang some new pictures or try a new restaurant.
9. Avoid alcohol and other drugs:
Keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid other drugs. Sometimes people use alcohol and other drugs to “self-medicate” but in reality, alcohol and other drugs only aggravate problems
10. Get help when you need it:
Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness. And it is important to remember that treatment is effective. People who get appropriate care can recover from mental illness and addiction and lead full, rewarding lives.
*Adapted from the National Mental Health Association/National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
The Ministry of Health in Kenya have some helpful link for you to check out. You may see them here: https://mental.health.go.ke/
EnableMe have a site where they have suicide emergency numbers and free counselling centres in Kenya
The Kenya Red Cross also has a page where you can find mental health and psychosocial support.
These are just a few links that I have posted here. Remember that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Look after yourself and be kind to yourself, too.
I had no idea that May was recognised as Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m glad I write this. It’s more as a gentle reminder to myself than anything else. 💞
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