Its been Mental Health Awareness week this week and has presented plenty of opportunity for learning and reflection.
I am extremely grateful to Neil Hughes who shared his very personal story with us on the ‘Feel Better Together’ call about anxiety. It was extremely moving and powerful and it really highlighted for me how it is so ‘good to talk’ both for ourselves and for those listening. It is so important to be able to express how we are feeling, but also for people to hear they are not alone if they are struggling personally with difficult emotions. I know he reached a lot of people in a very positive way and I will always be so grateful for that.
However, what it also confirmed to me is that despite having similar struggles, we are all unique, with our own stories to tell and our own journeys to go on to manage difficulties in our lives. Neil was very clear to say that what worked for him in terms of managing his anxiety was from his own personal exploration.
He told the story of how he had always been an anxious child, but just accepted that this was just how life was. He didn’t know any different. So, he continued to live with it into adulthood, worrying about anything and everything. Eventually it accumulated to the point where he experienced a whole year of living in a state of constant acute anxiety. This was the turning point where he decided he couldn’t continue to live like this. He began trying to ‘fix’ his anxiety. He went to the Dr to investigate if there was anything physically wrong that might be causing it, and made several changes to his life, including moving to a new house, changing his job and his girlfriend. However, this had minimal impact.
At this point he was in a state of despair and willing to try anything, and he began to open up. He had counselling, therapy, read every book he could get his hands on. and went to a number of different retreats…. And this is when things started to change. He started to learn about his thoughts and feelings, and his reactions to things. He also became acutely aware of the way he was talking to himself.
Neil now talks openly about his journey. He is a comedian, a writer, and a public speaker in schools, universities, and workplaces, which is just brilliant and will be helping so many people.
There are similar themes that come up each time on the ‘Feel Better Together’ call. We often touch on the importance of allowing ourselves to be fully present in our experiences, however uncomfortable that might be. However, there was also something about distancing yourself from the experience. I am someone who tends to overthink things, but Neil says that if you can just allow yourself to accept what is happening and look at it with curiosity and as a way of learning more about yourself, you can develop ways to manage it. As a comedian he is also able to smile and add humour to the situation, which is where his concept of ‘walking on custard’ developed from and the subsequent book. Please do click on the link for more details about Neil and his books.
He still experiences anxiety from time to time but now has the tools to deal with it.
Once we take the time to get to know ourselves, we can learn to accept those parts of ourselves that show up every now and again, accept them, experience them, and see them for what they are. Thoughts and feelings are fleeting, they will come and go. They do not have to define us, but they are a real opportunity to learn.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Neil for sharing his story. It must have been so distressing and exhausting to have lived with such acute anxiety or so many years, and it must have taken a lot of time and energy to overcome it.
I have struggled with anxiety on and off. It has without a doubt had an enormous impact on my life career wise. It has in fact led me to run away quite literally from two careers I trained very hard for!
My latest experience of anxiety was also a turning point in my life. As we all know suppressing things is not a sustainable way of dealing with things and they bubble to the surface eventually. My anxiety eventually spilled over quite literally through endless tearful moments, and I became unable to stop myself crying frequently at work (not at all embarrassing!!) Luckily, I am very fortunate to have lovely supportive friends and was encouraged to access CBT through my work.
This was a couple of years ago now, but it was so beneficial and has led to a continued journey of learning more about myself.
I find mental health fascinating. Having worked in acute mental health briefly (leaving my first career in OT ironically due to experiencing panic attacks), I have remained fascinated by it.
I therefore find it particularly inspiring to listen to people who have taken that long and difficult journey to living life a different way.
It was wonderful to hear Neil say that things are going really well for him at the moment. I feel very privileged to have listened to his story and am so grateful that he shared it with us in such an open and true way. The warmth and compassion with which he responded to all the questions from the group was also wonderful and the session was such a tonic to us all.
It is mental health awareness week this week and I would hope that if you take anything away from this blog at all, it will be that it is indeed so ‘good talk’. I would also encourage any of you to begin that journey of self-discovery, take a moment to breathe, and be a little kinder to yourself. We can all learn so much if we take the time to reflect. But remember to smile at yourself as you do it. Step outside yourself and just be curious! Life will never be without its challenges, but if we can learn some tools to manage it, it might just be that little bit easier to deal with.
I volunteer for a brilliant local group called ‘Mental Health Together’. To mark Mental Health awareness week, we have been completing a ‘virtual Mindfulness challenge’ and it has been wonderful celebrating people just taking mindful moments throughout the day. Please do click on the link of you would like to join any of our virtual events.
I also listened to a brilliant podcast this week that ties everything together perfectly. It very much echoed Neil’s view of how everyone’s journey is very personal to them. It focuses on the importance of breathing but it also touches on the familiar themes of mindfulness, self-development and self-compassion. It was a wonderful podcast. Please do take a listen and share with anyone who may benefit. Feel Better Live More Podcast
Next week on our feel better together call, I am delighted to welcome my wonderful friend Su Menon to lead the call. She is a holistic health and fitness teacher and will be sharing her approach to self-care with us. Please click on the link to find out more about her. I hope you will be able to join us. Please just click on the link for all the details.. ‘Feel Better Together’ call
Thank you, and take care, H x