Mental health & wellbeing matters: dealing with feeling low

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In our weekly spot where we talk about mental health and wellbeing, a few words of advice on what to do when you’re feeling low.

Welcome to Mental Health & Wellbeing Matters, our little space on our site where we talk about things that may be affecting oyu, or people around you. . If you’ve not read one of these pieces before, it’s a place where we write about things that may be affecting you, us, or people around us. We know not every article we run is going to be of use to everyone, but hopefully across this series, there’s something that’s of use to you. Comments are very welcome, and appreciated. We want to keep trying to improve these features.

This week, we’ve got a post from someone who has asked to remain anonymous. We know who it is, and they’re happy for these words to be published. Hopefully, they’ll be of use to someone out there. You all take care of yourselves.

I’ve often struggled around April every year. Not quite the cosiness of winter, nor the buoyancy of summer, the challenge for me is often an existential one. It’s as if, after the excitement of the new year has faded, lots may have changed on the surface but in reality, nothing has at all. 

As if we go round in circles with our same problems and all that’s really happened is we’ve aged a bit. Where are we going? What are we doing? These are questions I’m aware no one has the correct answers for. But there they are nonetheless.

Other slightly more superficial questions arise: the sun’s started to shine, so why am I not happy? Plus, my difficulties pale in comparison to someone fleeing conflict right now, for instance, so what right do I have to feel blue? The gap between how I feel I should be and how I actually am in both these scenarios is what makes things all the more difficult.

It came on slightly later this year. Who knows why, but sure enough, a couple of weeks ago, there it was. It starts with a kind of doubt, a nagging little voice that questions what I do and say. “Why did you say that?”, “What a stupid thing that was.” “You sound like an idiot.” You know the kind, I’m sure. 

I can put them off at first, laugh most of them away. I know on some level that no one really cares so neither should I. And after all, it’s a little voice that lives inside my head, so surely I’m the master in control. 

But the problem isn’t so much the things I do or say, it’s the way that little voice grows louder and louder. Before long, it’s no longer a little voice but a very dominant dictator of how I think and feel. It’s as though I’m not really me.

To make things worse, I pretend I’m fine. But every fake smile leaves its mark. It’s only on my way home from workthe first time I’m really by myself most days – that I realise just how false I’ve been acting.

It might sound like there’s a straightforward solution: just be myself and stop pretending. Sounds easy enough. But, however us humans are made, there’s always something that wants to save face, afraid of being the sulk in the corner no one wants to go near. So I put on a front, an act, that masks how I really feel.

Negative thought spirals ensue. Those existential questions about where we’re going and what we’re doing become related to me as an individual. Where am I going? What am I doing?” Eventually they can reach their most damaging: “what’s even the point in me at all?

I’m no psychiatrist and couldn’t tell you the line between clinical depression or simply feeling a bit rotten. My family has had a history of mental illness, which has led to two suicides, including my uncle’s, and another earlier this year.

Logically, I struggle to comprehend anyone thinking their absence from this world is the answer. It never could be. Nonetheless, for anyone reading this who feels like that, I feel your pain and you’re certainly not alone.

What I would like to give, however, is a few words on hope and a couple of things that have helped me. None of them are new or particularly groundbreaking. But I’d just like you to know that when you are at your lowest, you’re definitely not alone and, believe me, things will be okay.

Number one has been said countless times, but it really is a vital first step: talk to someone. I don’t just mean mentioning it in passing but find someone you know who really cares and get it all out. Humans are remarkable creatures and their ability not just to listen but to make someone feel heard is a miraculous thing – it’s the basis of all relationships, even communities.

The other day, alarm bells were ringing in my head. I had to make myself go and see my Mum, who I hadn’t seen in a while, just to talk to someone who would listen. I’d been with a group of mates at the pub – and all the continued pretence, worsened by drinking, wasn’t helping and I knew it deep down.

Next – and this is quite a tricky balance to strike – when talking to that person, try and distinguish between sharing how you really feel and ranting. It’s good to vent but listing all your problems and casting the blame on others is only likely to make you feel worse. Ask yourself what you’re really in control of and put everything else aside.

Equally, if you’re alone, self-pity is the thing to watch out for. In an odd sense, it can sometimes even be comfortable to wallow in our own misery, to think the world’s against us and essentially give in to that overpowering, life-sucking voice. (If like me you’re a Radiohead fan, this can often be accompanied by the sound of Thom Yorke’s existential wailing).

Of course, it’s okay to accept how you feel and indeed you should. But just try and catch yourself when that steps over into something else that could be more damaging in the long-term.

Finally, in this short, simple, completely unofficial guide, give yourself time. We’re all familiar with the imagery of our emotions and mental states being as changeable as the weather, in a state of constant flux. Just know that, however bad you might be feeling, things will pass.

If you need to take some time out from some of life’s demands – school or work – then do. I’m definitely one that forgets this. In fact, sometimes when I feel a bit shit, I double-down on my work, thinking it will somehow help me. In some ways, it’s good to be distracted, but you’ll know in yourself whether you’re merely suppressing something.

So, as part of practicing what I preach, I’ve just emailed to ask for a couple of days off soon. Just to recoup some energy and reconnect to what’s important to me.

Life’s pretty amazing, really. Of course it comes with a whole myriad of questions, many of which will likely never be answered; there’s an incalculable number of emotions, thoughts and feelings to experience too. Just because it’s remarkable, though, doesn’t mean we always have to feel remarkable.

If you’re reading this and are feeling low, I wish I could reach through the screen and my arm round you. So consider that metaphorically done. You really are not alone. Just hang in there, things will get better eventually.

A huge thank you to our contributor. This column will return next week.

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