Columnists / Rachel Hawkins

‘Be kind to yourself, because you’ve only got one you’

By rachel hawkins, Thursday Oct 10, 2019

Today is World Mental Health Day.

A day on which we’re encouraged to talk. To listen. To share. To reflect. To encourage. To support. To remind ourselves ‘it’s okay not to be okay’.

Because we’ve all got a mental health. Every single one of us.

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One in four people will experience a decline in their mental health at least once in their lives. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

You could be rich and ‘successful’, more money than you know how to spend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t become mentally ill.

You might have a wealth of people around you, great friends and family in abundance. People you can rely on whenever and wherever. But that doesn’t mean you can’t feel lonely or isolated.

I’m open about my experience with mental illness. But I get that not everyone wants to be, or perhaps they feel they can’t be.

With mental health being the topic of conversation more now than it ever has been, many may think that the stigma surrounding it is receding. But I don’t think it is.

Barely a day goes by where I’m not acquainted with an ignorant comment regarding mental illness. There’s still so much education required. Still so much conversation to be had and progress to be made.

Mentally, it’s been a tough year. A few months ago, my relationship came to an end. It didn’t end in a sudden or horrific way but the demise of any relationship, especially when children are involved, will always be a challenge both mentally and emotionally.

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Read more: Rachel Hawkins: ‘Life doesn’t come with a manual. Sometimes I wish it did’

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I’ve dealt with so many different emotions this last six months or so. I’ve had days where if I could, I’d happily turn my brain off for a few days just so I wouldn’t be thinking or feeling.

But as I move on to the next stage of my life I can reflect on those days and realise that I’ve learnt a lot about myself and how I dealt with those challenges.

What works for me might not work for you. And what works for you might seem utterly alien to me. We’re all different.

However, today; on World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d share with you some of those lessons I’ve learnt. Lessons that I’ll take with me as I navigate the next chapter of life.

This too shall pass
On those mentally dark days, when life overwhelmed me and I felt like I no longer knew who I was or what was going on around me, I’d take solace in an adage I’ve become familiar with. Life won’t always be this way. These feelings, as horrendous as they are, they will be temporary. Brighter days will dawn.

You are not your thoughts
When I was battling OCD after having my son a few years ago, I would suffer from the most horrendous intrusive thoughts. They were brutal. And ferocious. I was mentally exhausted, so much so, I suffered a breakdown in early 2015. I was referred to a therapist, a wonderful therapist who introduced me to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Something I’ll champion forever. CBT taught me that thoughts will come and they will go and they are not indicative of me as a person. They are just that: thoughts. We can’t control them, but we can control our actions and that is something I needed to be told.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other
Routine is key for me. I thrive on it. Having a young child and a job meant I had to carry on. I couldn’t rest on my laurels. No matter how much I wanted to turn my computer off and hide away from the world for a week or two. I just had to push through.

As I said, these are just a few things that have helped me, not just over the last six months but over the last few years.

We all have our coping mechanisms and we all have our trigger points, but the key is identifying what causes us to feel a certain way and finding a strategy that helps us through.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Because you’ve only got one you.

Read more Rachel Hawkins columns:

‘My unwavering, fit to burst pride for Bristol, our incredible city’

‘Life doesn’t come with a manual. Sometimes I wish it did’

‘I’m sticking my middle finger up to January’

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