Please note: I’m not a medical or mental health professional. All advice, knowledge, suggestions, and etc. that are shared in these posts are based exclusively on my own personal experiences treating and coping through mental health and self-care practises. Please read at your own discretion. Thank you.
Last year—the year of 2020 and the pandemic chaos—taught me a lot about the mental health challenges that I still struggle with on a daily basis. When this year began, I had told myself that I was going to take a higher initiative at mending these concerns that still weighed me down. But 2021 has turned out to be even more exhausting for me mentally and emotionally than the previous year, and because of that, I’ve actually fallen deeper into the very problems that I hoped to improve and cope through.
I’m not perfect and I definitely haven’t mastered the art of self-care/self-love and mental health treatments. It’s a constantly evolving process that requires energy and intent with every morning that I awake and every night when my head hits the pillow. Coupled with my Depression and my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, there are days when I don’t want to keep putting forth this effort and energy at all. I would rather just lay in the middle of my office, on the floor, and stare at the ceiling fan as I wallow in my frustrations. However, if I did that, if I truly allowed myself to just sink into the darkness where no effort was needed, then (for me) I’d be letting the very tribulations that I struggle with win over my heart and my mind, and my life would be left vehemently unfulfilled.
Twenty-twenty has taught me one very important lesson: life is worth the fight, even when our bodies and our minds seem utterly desiccated of will power and determination. It took me quite a long time to accept one simple yet very harsh truth and that is that no matter what we are faced with, somewhere within us we are capable of making it to the other side. We just can’t give up. It doesn’t mean that things won’t be fucking excruciating or frustrating or even damn near hopeless and helpless, but pushing through all of that, especially during the worst of times, is what makes us stronger, wiser, and more self-loving.
Today, I wanted to share with you the three biggest mental health hurdles that I deal with on a daily basis, and the three things that I had hoped to start facing when 2021 began. I openly admit that the whole “taking the initiative” bit didn’t work out for me initially, but there’s still another six months left in the year and it’s never too late to stand the fuck up, even when one has really bad knees like me. I’m going to briefly outline what the problem is and then share a short, rough plan that I’ve concocted for starting my self-care journey on healing these hurdles.
It’s really important here for me to differentiate resolutions and defeat with healing because these three things that I deal with are very much attributes of my mental health illnesses, symptoms that can be treated rather than insects that need to be squashed, so to speak. This helps to create a positive association and reinforcement with what I’m trying to do and the goals that I seek to achieve. Positivity is fucking key when dealing with anything pertaining to mental health (as I’ve learned via my own experiences over the years and years).
Hoarding Negative Feelings
The Problem: When I feel immensely hurt or upset, I tend to hoard all of my negative feelings. I’m not comfortable discussing my feelings out loud, even with a therapist or psychiatrist, because I was taught at a young age to basically bite through the pain, so to speak. As I got older, I’ve realised this is a toxic mentality that needs to be treated. While I have taken great strides at learning to open up more when I’m bogged down with horribly dark feelings, it’s a humongous challenge that I’m faced with daily.
The biggest issue with hoarding all of our negative feelings is that when we lock them up into a metaphorical bottle with a tightened lid it allows it to fester. It can feed off our thoughts and feelings and grow stronger and ever more malevolent. The longer that we keep it bottled, the bigger and more intense it becomes. When that bottle finally explodes, not only can it be extremely harmful to us, but it can be devastating to the loved ones around us.
Recently, I had a falling out with one of my best friends. I don’t want to share all of the gritty details, but they ended up giving me an ultimatum in the face of me having to deal with physical health treatments and diagnoses. This person is well aware of my heart conditions and that I’ve had some alarming new symptoms arise within the last couple of weeks. So, that ultimatum made me feel absolutely horrible. When I was faced with this ultimatum, I accepted that this friendship was no longer healthy for either of us, and that we needed to part ways. While logically, I know I did the right thing for both of us in the long-run, especially myself (sometimes you need prioritise yourself above others and saying NO becomes vital, this is self-care 101), it left me utterly decimated on an emotional and mental level.
The negative emotions that began to take root inside of my heart and my mind afterwards, made me feel worthless in just about every aspect of my life. I started to believe that I was completely at fault because “I’m always sick,” or that I should’ve been more understanding to them and by not doing so, I was being a terrible friend. The list goes on and on and on for miles. That is not a fun way to live, to always feel like I’m a walking failure, or unintelligent and uncompassionate, or unworthy of love and acceptance (to name a few of the worst ones), etc.
A couple of days ago, while I was sitting in my room, I burst into tears. Not from the sadness of losing a friend, but from anger and frustration. It took me wholly by surprise because I hadn’t realised I was feeling this level of rage. I cried and I put a pillow over my mouth so I could scream (it was 2am and I didn’t wake up Madame Gabs or neighbours) and it just poured out of me like a giant fucking flood. It was so incredibly cathartic. But also unbelievably draining. I slept for two days after that. This showed me that I was ready and desperately needed to treat this incessant need for bottling negativity for another day. It’s true that I like to save things in case of emergencies, however, this shite is not save-worthy.
The Plan: After a lot of introspective exploration, I’ve come up with three different ways to deal with negative feelings as they arise so that I don’t hoard them within myself. Is this a perfect, fool-proof plan? Probably not by a long-shot. Is it a good place to begin and then evolve as I go? Absolutely, and that’s all we can really ask for when starting a treatment plan for mental health hurdles.
My first idea is a pretty standard and common one. I will write (or type up) all of my negative feelings on a piece of paper (or papers). No matter how petty or mundane or immature, every ounce of the anger, sadness, and anything else that I’m feeling within myself that I know can fester into a toxic waste pile, I’ll put into the pages. Then I’ll take those pages and I’ll burn them (safely in the fireplace). As a Buddhist, fire is viewed as something that’s cleansing. So by expelling the negativity from my body and then burning it, I’m quite literally cleansing myself of these unconstructive and potentially damaging thoughts and feelings.
My second idea is to utilise my punching bag. I like to do kick-boxing and martial arts as part of my physical therapy routine for my heart and lungs. I confess that I’ve had serious anger issues my entire life. During the dark period of my life (2013-2017), my anger was at its absolute worse. I was alienating everyone around me left and right. In 2018, I picked up kick-boxing and boxing as a means of channelling my anger into an exercise routine which also allowed me to physically indulge in my ragey impulses without self-harm or harm to others. I also have small bean bags on my desk for those bad days when I have an insatiable impulse to throw things. I will throw bean bags at the walls (I have tapestries with targets on them for this purpose). Because of these two coping methods, I am far less angry of a person now. Patience and the ability to breathe through my initial anger inclinations has become so much easier, and it’s been one of my biggest success stories for mental health healing.
When I do this as way to process through negative feelings, I say what I’m feeling out loud as I punch the bag. I visualise it sometimes on the bag itself and beat the heck out of it. It’s supremely cathartic and gives me a physical way to channel that dark energy in a way that is safe and less dangerous (fires can be tricky).
The third way, and the most difficult one yet, is to talk it through. Madame Gabs knows me well enough to know when I need to talk about something. She’ll take me out for coffee, we’ll go on a drive and listen to music and then when I feel mellow enough, I’ll start talking. This is something I need to ask for rather than just wait around for someone to prod me into doing it. As I mentioned before, I’m atrocious at asking for help or talking about my feelings. Even so, I’ve discovered over the years that what I’m worst at with respect to my mental health is usually the tool that I need to utilise the most.
The Problem: This one ties into the above hurdle a bit because all of that negative goop leaves me with a steaming stack of self-loathing and self-doubt. I tend to second guess myself when it comes to things I’m supremely passionate about. A good example includes this blog platform, BiblioNyan. I tend to feel fairly anxious and nervous every time that I schedule a post because I’m always worried it won’t be up to par quality and content wise with respect to the bloggers that I follow and engage with. British English is also my third language, so there’s always the worry that I may misuse a word in a sentence or that my grammar and spelling will be all kinds of muck.
I was talking to one of my closest friends a couple of weeks ago about how much I tend to second-guess myself and how intensely pessimistic I am. She gave me a very short book on the power of affirmations and then talked me through writing my first set of affirmations. It was during this process that I recognised how ginormous of an issue my self-doubt and fear of self (as well as fear of success) was within my mind. It took up a huge chunk of mental space that could be better real estate for something more useful and productive. That’s when I knew that she was absolutely right, I had to change the way I perceived myself and my abilities at being successful, even it that merely entails building a decent friendship or learning to look in the mirror.
The Plan: Like the previous section, I have three techniques at healing my self-doubt symptoms. The first is continuing that pointer that my mate gave me: positive affirmations. For example, I have sticky notes along the edges of my monitor that have writing affirmations scribbled on them. When I sit down in the morning to work and glance over at them, it really helps to kick off my day with a bite of positivity, which feels nice.
Another practise of affirmations that I’ve begun and have already noticed a huge difference in is one where I say my three current goals in the morning when I wake up, sporadically throughout the day, and then again like a mantra as I go to bed. For example, my current affirmations include the following: 1) I will stay super hydrated; 2) I love eating fresh fruits; 3) I will not have a bad day. The reason I went for these specifically is because I wanted to start on what would benefit my physical and mental health the most, as well as the desire to start small. Ever since I started doing this (about a week ago), I’ve already noticed that I drink at least two to three bottles of water a day (I’ve a metal one I refill with filtered water from a pitcher, I loathe plastic bottles) where I used to drink half a bottle if I was lucky and remembered to do so. I’ve been randomly craving and enjoying more fruit through my day, even fruits that I don’t usually like eating (like white peaches).
With respect to the last one, when something does sprout up that would typically ruin my whole day, it only makes me feel down and depressed for an hour or two before I process it and move on, as much as I can. With respect to self-doubt, a couple of days ago, I started work-specific mantras and while I haven’t noticed many changes as of yet, I’m pretty optimistic that it shall improve the perception that I have of myself and the work that I do relatively soon, as the other affirmation practises have done.
The last method I have for healing my self-doubt is actually the hardest one and one I’ve been struggling with the most (so, naturally it’s what I need to do) is to look in the mirror, look into my eyes, and say positive affirmations that way. Because I have abhorrent self-image issues, I never look in the mirror. Looking my own reflection is extremely discomforting to me, but by not being able to do this, it contributes quite fiercely to my self-doubt and self-loathing mindsets. That is why this is such a crucial practise for me to partake in if I ever want a snowball’s chance in hell at treating the negative ways in which I identify myself.
The Problem: I love sweets. I mean, I am obsessed with sweet treats. Do you know that typical anime character that’s in almost every anime who loves eating cake? That is me right down to my bones. However, when I am stressed out, I cannot stop eating full meals or salty foods, specifically. No matter what, I always feel like I’m starving (when I’m stressed, I mean).
For example, a few weeks ago, I had a big, delicious meal at my mum’s house (she’s a cooking aficionada) and afterwards when I came home, I found myself feeling hungry again. Madame Gabs called me out for stress eating. I thought she was being silly, but a few hours later when I got sick to my stomach from eating too much fucking food, I recognised that she was correct.
I’ve struggled with stress eating since the days when I was stuck in an abusive marriage. That is when this habit began (along with my stress shopping, which I’ve treated quite decently thanks to local libraries and Kindle Unlimited) and I’ve never really been able to shake it. With the rise of my congenital heart illnesses and other physical ailments, finding a way to cure this hurdle has become incredibly imperative for me. But no matter what I do, I always fall back into its trap.
The Plan: I don’t have a set plan for treating my stress eating challenges, not because I don’t believe it can be treated, but because everything I have ever done hasn’t worked long-term. I have a few ideas of where to begin, but for the most, it shall be one of those things that I will have to take by ear (I think that’s the idiom).
One of the first things I do plan on doing is reading about healthy eating. I’m not talking about the normal act of eating vegetables, fruits, and lower fatty foods, although I should probably do that as well, but rather the act of being mindful of the physical act of eating. In order to full grasp what is still triggering these stress eating episodes, it’s essential for me understand my relationship with food. In order to do this I’m going to turn to the best tools out there: books. I currently have one book checked out from the Libs on mindful eating and I have a couple more on hold that I’m going to pick up in a week or so once they ship to my local branch.
The second thing I want to do is to research new ways to cook my favourite ingredients. My go-to meals tend to be greasy comfort foods, such as curries and fried rice. While they are my favourite dishes, the routine of turning to them has become way too easy and habitual and frequent. By concocting new recipes and even new cooking methods for old-time favourite ingredients, I’m hoping to build a physical relationship with the food I consume, which in turn shall help me become more conscious of it as I consume it. There’s also a whole meditative aspect to understanding and building an intimate relationship with food that’s inherently positive that I’m looking forward to engaging with from a Buddhist’s perspective.
Aside from those two elements, I don’t have sturdy plan. My belief is that everyone has a unique relationship with food that can be influenced by environment, culture, beliefs, and so much more. That really shapes how we look at food. For some people, eating is a very family-specific event, while for others it’s just another automatic response for survival (for example, reaching for a cup of ramen just so one’s stomach won’t growl). For others though, it can become a companion and a crutch during difficult times, and that becomes a co-dependent relationship that is unfathomably difficult to break or part ways with, which is where I’m at. Knowledge and understanding is definitely going to be my best way of changing this harmful “friendship” into something more fulfilling and self-loving, and I’ve never done this level of research before out of fear. So, it’s a new step and one I strongly feel (and hope) will be the change that I need to make this stick for life.
Those are the three mental health hurdles I would like to heal over the next six months. I’m not jaded enough to think that six months is all I’ll need. Above all else, these are smaller parts in a bigger lifestyle adjustment so that I can live the best life for myself possible. One where I’m not encumbered by the things I have the power to change but don’t out of shame and misunderstanding or even just fear.
Self-care isn’t always about taking bubble baths or indulging in your favourite cup of overpriced coffee, although that can be nice on occasion. It’s first and foremost about learning how to make thoughtful adjustments to your life so that you can live with more peace and respect for yourself. The best way for me to learn to accept and respect myself is to acknowledge my problems areas and admit that I need help or treatment in said specific area. In that way, rather than running away and hiding, I’m facing it and working with it to find common ground.
If you’re curious about my journey with treating stress eating, or any of the other things I mentioned above, please let me know in the comments and I can give regular updates so that it may help others out there. I promise to always be candid and upfront about both the successes and areas of failures equally because mistakes and the occasional step backwards can help me to learn and grow and should be embraced, not shunned.