Mental health self-awareness - Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
Updated: May 13
Lockdown was clearly placing a strain on us all and this could be a good chance to take a look at our own mental health now and in the past. If we strain a muscle, we get a physical pain to remind us. Mental health is different but we still get indications. Looking back at your mental health over the years might help you understand your current state and help with self-awareness to become more mentally resilient.
As a trustee of a mental health charity, I recently used hindsight to trace the ups and downs. After a traumatic relationship break up in my 30s, I was clearly quite down for a couple of years. I was more introverted, my confidence was lower and I struggled to properly connect. I tried to reach out to my friends but I did not know how to do it. I hid my feelings and loss. Naturally it took me a long time to get over it...if I ever have.
I once lost my driving licence and I felt a lot of shame. I really beat myself up for a long time and being isolated without a car did not help. Once again, I kept it to myself and put on a brave face. When I was in the military, I came back from a largely uneventful tour of Afghanistan and it took me 6 months to readjust. I did not recognise a difference, but my partner did. I was sad at the loss of so many young guys; I got scared during one incident where I felt like I was not in control. I had vivid dreams when I got home. Then it passed. Following the death of my nephew, by suicide, I was grief stricken. I was in shock and my mental health suffered as I went through the grieving process. Throughout all of this, I have always had a harsh inner voice that dwells on my mistakes and focusses on the negatives; the inner critic is always striving for me to make improvements.
At the time, I did not stop to think that grief or a traumatic break up would affect me mentally. I spent lots of time thinking about my physical injuries; I often pushed physical rehab too hard trying to get back to sport and ended up making the old injury worse. But I never stopped to think about my mental health. And by not doing this, I prolonged periods of unhappiness and I left myself vulnerable. Looking back, my mental health gives me lots of lessons and now it seems like natural reactions to events. Now I know that we are hard-wired to be self-critical – cavemen lived longer if they ignored the natural beauty surrounding them and concentrated on improving on their mistakes, so they did not get eaten! My brain is trying to help me survive but I don’t always need that in modern life and I have learned to let the self-critical thoughts wash away. Relationship break ups are among the most stressful things in life. I probably needed some closure and self-care; I definitely should have reached out more to mates.
Lockdown can be lonely for us all, maybe we cannot do the things we love in life or the things that improve our mental health. It is natural that our mental health will suffer and fluctuate. We can be mindful of this and think of ways to protect ourselves and plan for a future where we can visit loved ones, play sport or even have a pint with mates.
Looking back at your mental health can help and can hopefully make you more resilient in the future. The stigma still exists but that is changing; the first step is acknowledging that we all have mental health issues as we are humans and we live a life that has ups and downs. Once we accept this, we can help ourselves and others.