Every time I’ve struggled with anxiety I’ve ended up realising that it’s actually a learning experience. This doesn’t mean I enjoy it, believe me – I wouldn’t wish these experiences on anyone. However, I can’t deny that every time I go through this I learn something new about myself. And I like to hope that what I learn helps to protect me in the future.
This time around I’m finally getting to the point where I’m able to see the benefits, for want of a better word, of this latest struggle.
I’m sharing a list below of what I’ve either learned or re-learned in the last couple of months.
You can still have a life alongside a mental illness
When I’m unwell, one of my most terrifying anxious thoughts is that I no longer have a life worth living. That there is no point going on or getting up every day when I have to live with these anxious feelings the whole time. This, in turn, often leads to the darkest intrusive thoughts you can have – suicidal ideation. If you’ve never experienced anxiety or depression this probably sounds like a very extreme thought process but if you have experienced the sheer debilitation of these disorders then you may understand what I mean.
What I’ve learnt this time though is that I am having a life alongside this. The best way to find evidence for this (and recovery for me is all about evidence collection!) is to use the ‘three things’ method. Finding small moments of lightness during your day and noting them down – no matter how tiny and no matter how you felt while they were happening. Similarly, a gratitude journal that encourages you to count your blessings is a great idea.
When I look back on the last two months, and at the positive moments I’ve scrawled in my notebook, I can clearly see that there have been things I’ve managed to enjoy, times I’ve laughed and periods of peace. And that is most definitely still a life.
The importance of self-care
We’ve discussed this long and hard already but I still felt it was worth mentioning. Taking time out for yourself, no matter how small, is clearly the best method for preventing mental health issues recurring and aiding recovery. Allowing myself to become too busy and stressed was clearly the catalyst for this bout.
The importance of self-kindness
I still suck at this. This current episode would not be lasting anywhere near as long as it is if I was able to more easily forgive myself for “allowing” it to happen. When you’re unwell you feel hideous enough without piling more negativity on yourself by beating yourself up with anger, frustration or guilt.
This is my biggest hurdle currently but I’m working on it. One tool that is helping me is beginning a kindness journal. Similar to gratitude, I praise myself each evening for my achievements and write down something nice about myself (whether I currently believe it or not).
Fearing anxiety gives it enormous power
This isn’t exactly a new lesson but so important (and so challenging) that I still felt it was worth noting. You can find lots of old posts about anxiety management in the Postnatal Depression & Anxiety section. In particular, 12 Tools For Managing Anxiety.
The power of positive thinking
I stand by everything I wrote in my previous post – Can Positivity Cure Depression? The days when I manage to think more positivity are always easier than the days I allow myself to fall into a downward thinking spiral. Your thoughts directly control your feelings so if you actively change your thoughts it can have a positive impact on your feelings. This is difficult, exhausting and hard to maintain – especially early on in recovery – but when you manage it the benefits are great. I’m struggling with this currently but making slow progress.
Leaning on others is not always helpful
Now I need to be really clear here. Asking for and accepting support from others during a mental health struggle is incredibly important and useful. What I’m referring to is constantly seeking reassurance. I have several amazing people in my life who I have been constantly contacting lately to ask what are essentially the same things each time. Answers that, in fact, I already know – from what I’ve learnt at therapy or from previous recovery experience. By engaging in these conversations over and over I fear I’m not actually allowing myself to grow my own resilience and belief in my own abilities to heal myself.
Get all the practical and emotional support you can from friends and family, definitely talk about how you feel, but if you are continually seeking reassurance for something you already know this may only provide short-term comfort.
That I am able to get comfort from Caterpillar and Hubs even during my darkest moments
The reason I know that these subsequent relapses are not as severe as when I first experienced Postnatal Depression & Anxiety four years ago is because I’ve been able to take comfort from my boys even during the worst moments this time. When I was very severely ill in 2013 there was almost nothing that could bring me comfort during those first, unbearable weeks. I am beyond grateful that I have a security blanket in the form of my beautiful family this time.
That nobody is ever immune
This is a tough bloody lesson and something I’m still struggling with. I honestly believed I’d kicked Anxiety for good (except perhaps during another pregnancy and postnatal period) but this experience is teaching me that, sadly, it is always possible to relapse no matter how strong you think you are, but that the lessons we learn will make any future issues easier to deal with.
There is always something new to learn and that’s okay.