My Mental Health Story Isn't Sexy But It's Worth Reading If You Want To Win The Fight

I’m boring because I’m so typical -- I’m basically a stereotype.

Two years ago, this was me: Middle class, millennial woman. Type A, overachiever. Body image issues, anxiety, depression. Great family, amazing friends, dream job, brilliant partner. Panic attacks. Tired all the time. Constantly on the verge of tears. Self-criticism dialled up so loud I needed to scream to drown it out.

I could talk about suicidal thoughts or eating disorders or social anxiety, but I’m not going to. There are plenty of insightful accounts from some wonderful people who know what it’s like. I have nothing unique to add.

But when I was diagnosed, it felt like a life sentence, and for a long time I lost hope. I lost hope that I'd ever be the cheerful, bright, positive person I'd always been. And that just wasn't the case. So I want to talk about resilience and recovery. I want to talk about hope.

I want to talk about the fact that many people recover completely from mental health issues. I am one of them, and I want to share some scientifically backed solutions and resilience techniques that helped me get well and stay that way.

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1. Be brave enough to ask for help

It’s scary asking for help. I did it through choked, strangled tears in my mum’s living room after realising I didn’t have a choice. I asked for help because I wanted, or maybe needed, to survive.

Asking for help didn’t fix everything but it made me feel less alone. It gave me permission to cut myself some slack. It allowed me to stop exerting all the mental effort that went into pretending I was fine. It got me into therapy, which changed my life. It was the first step on the road to recovery. It’s okay to tell someone you’re not okay.

Speaking up and asking for help made me feel less alone. (Image: Getty)
2. Give a shit about other people

When I was unwell, I spent a lot of time thinking about myself. What is wrong with me? Why is this happening? Why did I say that? Everyone hates me. I’m terrible at my job. Etc, etc.

After asking for help and getting it, I was able to shift that focus onto others, and that changed things dramatically. Science backs up this anecdotal evidence. There’s plenty of research which shows how being kind and doing things for others can boost our self esteem and optimism -- which is great for our mental health.

Now I try to spend more time thinking about the needs of others than I do thinking about myself. I put down my phone, hit pause on the small talk and try to be present. When I ask people how they are, I listen to the answer. I protect their stories. I hug my friends, hold their hands, kiss their faces. I compliment them. I thank them. I tell them how much they mean to me. I call them. I invite them to dinner. I rock up at parties… even if I don’t feel like it.

By appreciating, loving and caring for others, I began to feel loved, appreciated and cared for, too. I began to feel like I deserved the love people were giving back to me. And that helped me feel like I mattered.

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3. Go outside

I recently read a piece which said millennials don’t like going out. They prefer to watch Netflix and scroll through other people’s Europe pics on Instagram.

I’m so guilty of this. When I’m overwhelmed, my go-to is a Netflix marathon and snacks, rather than a trip to the beach or a walk.

This is bad. Nature is magical and it’s very, very good for your mental and physical health. No, this is not some Goop-inspired pseudoscience -- natural light and trees actually make you feel happier and calmer.

So take a book, a friend, a puzzle, a journal, or just your cute self and go hang out in nature. Again, leave the phone AT HOME -- it is a good vibes vampire.

Never underestimate the positive power of going for a walk and getting some sunshine. (Image: Getty)
4. Get off your bum and have some fun!

If you’d suggested two years ago that I try exercise for my mental health, I would’ve told you where to shove your Lululemon. People hate being told to exercise, and I totally understand why. Exercise hurts. The other day, my Pilates teacher almost made me cry.

But once I found a kind of exercise I liked (Pilates! Yoga! Hiking! Dancing!), it became a good kind of hurt -- a suffering my heart was crying out for in this world of comfort and convenience.

If you hate movement, you need to work out how to make it fun. It MUST be fun. If you haven’t yet found a type of movement you love, keep looking. It exists. And it’s a great excuse to wear that shit-hot matching active wear you bought at the end of last winter.

Here’s some fun ideas to get that beautiful bod moving around:

  • Put on some ABBA and dance around the house
  • Take a rollerblading class
  • Hike to a great picnic spot
  • Try surfing or boogie boarding
  • Get zen at yoga
  • Feel the burn at reformer Pilates
  • Bike ride to get ice cream (or some other delicious treat)

Or, if that all feels like too much hard work, just go for a walk with a friend. It’s easy, free, fun and so good for you.

And when those endorphins rush in, it’s like the magical happiness fairy has dropped by. With no bad side effects. What’s not to love?

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5. Give back to others

Have you ever noticed how people who experience a great loss often start causes, businesses or charities which give back? It’s because acts of service, volunteering, or giving back is a powerful way for us to improve our mental health. 

Giving back can come in many forms – you might give a smile, a compliment or a hug. You might pay it forward by purchasing the next person’s coffee. You might volunteer somewhere or show up for an event supporting a cause you believe in.

For me, it was swapping a job that looked perfect on paper but wasn’t for one that fulfils a social purpose, where I feel I’m making a difference to people’s lives.

Try to give back a little each day and see how it changes your mood.

Giving back to others can improve your own mental health. (Image: Getty)

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6. Unfollow toxic people on social media (and follow more inspiring ones!)

My Instagram feed used to be filled with perfect-looking people living perfect-looking lives. It was beautiful but also inauthentic, snobby and soulless. A study from the UK’s Royal Society of Public Health has found that Instagram is the worst app for your mental health, and that spending more than two hours a day scrolling leaves you “more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress”.

Now my feed is a collection of things that inspire me, calm me down and fill  me up. It’s filled with a whole bunch of unfiltered, positive and diverse images that make the world feel a little brighter. Also, I try to spend less time scrolling.

Do this with your social accounts. If a single image makes you feel bad about yourself, simply unfollow. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

There are other great ways to help build resilience and assist in recovery. Getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, meditation, and getting out of your comfort zone are all awesome ways to stay well.

I hope, this mental health month, we can begin to generate more hope, facilitate more resilience and witness more recovery. For me, knowing that things get better and tough times pass is a powerful tool to deal with the shit life often throws our way.

There is light, and life, and joy, and wonder, and so much love out there to experience. I lost it for a while. Then I found it again.

So for everyone whose feeling hopeless, know that I have hope for you.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about suicide prevention, depression and mental health visit R U OK?, contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.