Time to prioritise your mental health.

Last month, there were a couple of high profile suicides in the news – the talented 26 year old son of one of my favourite actors and a gorgeous 30 year old beauty queen both ended their lives. In that same month, I had been struggling with sleep and my doctor had suggested that I take a couple of weeks off to rest and work on my sleep. There were several factors that had led me to this place of not being able to sleep – but the major of these factors was that I was fatigued, mentally. Talking to a few friends and some colleagues, I realised that I was not alone – there are many people out there who feel fatigued. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we all have had to deal with keeping ourselves and loved ones safe plus the stress of the ever changing ways of working – and for our front line workers, the impact of the pandemic never gave them the chance to stop. For people that had to work from home, we have not had a chance to look at our work life balance – I know people who worked extra hours to catch up with work, because the office was at home. Then there were the people who lost their jobs or were furloughed and had the added stress of not having enough money. The world had gone through some extreme changes and this had left many in a bad place mentally – with everyone focusing on the pandemic, people had not been able to access mental health assistance and the aftermath is the increase in mental illness and suicide.

Because we wanted to keep connected, many relied on technology and social media to keep up with what friends and loved ones were up to. However, on the flip side, it also became a bit much – I had someone make a comment at work last week that they were tired of Microsoft (MS) teams. While I knew that the team needed to keep in touch and continue to communicate, I also understood where this person was coming from. We were not seeing people in person but this did not mean that we were inaccessible – zoom, MS teams, WhatsApp, TikTok, instagram and all the other social platforms ensured that we were accessible 24 hours 7 days a week. There was no time to switch off for most people and throwing in the health and economic worry had led us to a place of mental fatigue. As I thought on these things and how tired I had felt lately, I began to think of the many people out there who had been feeling this way lately and did not have anyone to talk to or felt so hopeless that they felt the only way out was to end their lives. Thinking about these things and reading about Ian and Cheslie left me sad and made me think of the many who may have ended their own lives but did not make the news. As things being to return to some form of normal, I think we need to think about our mental health before jumping into any of the changes happening around us. I know most of these changes are happening to us and we do not have much choice in opting in or out – but we can start thinking about how we respond to some of them.

While I thought on the suicide of these two young people, a friend of mine brought my attention to a young woman in Ghana who suffers bipolar disorder. She had had several public episodes where she would take to social media to list the names of men she had had sex with and these men were normally people in public offices or media – so these lists always caused a social uproar. She had lost a broadcasting job and I think this may have been due to her illness and she was recently on social media again going through another episode. My friend was very concerned about her and wanted to reach out but she was not sure how to  – also, from the narratives of this young lady, a popular Ghanaian media person had reached out to offer support – however, he had also asked for sex in the end. I felt with such experiences, she may not be very trusting of people reaching out to her and a previous person who had mentored her had made a big deal when this young lady had apologised on live TV for how she had behaved during one of her episodes. From all indication, this young woman is struggling and I asked myself where her family was – but I was not privy to the state of her relationship with her family so I did not want to lay any blame on how she had been left alone to go on social media during these difficult times. I appreciate it can be difficult dealing with people – especially when they are in a difficult place like this lady is. However, being supportive is never easy, because while you have your own mental health to deal with, you also have the added responsibility of making sure another person is ok mentally. Perhaps, it’s this feeling of not wanting to burden others that makes people suffering mentally not reach out for help or the feeling of not wanting to intrude in other’s lives that makes us hesitant to intervene when people around us are not doing well.

In November 2020, I wrote about taking care of ourself and I think it is time we started spending some time on taking care of our mental health.  I must admit that I struggled with my well being getting to the end of last year and I had a few close friends confide in me that they were also in the same place. I remember telling my best friend that I felt like running away and before I could finish talking, she said she felt the same. For 2 years, the world has been in limbo and we have all been expected to adapt to changes made by governments, who by the way have never had to deal with anything like Covid – and we are tired. There is uncertainty about the future more so than ever and with world leaders trying to find new ways to stabilise economies, more and more people are unsure of how they are going to survive. In the UK, there are several articles in the news about increase in living expenses and I know the same thing is happening in other places too. How does one deal with all these changes and remain sane? I don’t have the answers but I am learning to stop trying to control things I am not able to.

I live very much inside my head and I try to visualise the outcome of most things I do – it is not the best way to live and I am trying everyday to break that bad trait. The more I think about things I cannot control, the more helpless I feel and this then spirals into feeling like everything is worse than it actually is. So I have learnt to leave things I cannot control  – it is not easy but I try. Below are a few practices I have adopted these last weeks to help me cope better;

  • Being honest with myself – I like to get things done and would normaly do so without asking for help. In my world, I should be able to do everything I set my mind to and I give myself no grace when I am not able to complete tasks I set for myself. Crazy, right? Well, I have decided to stop that silly habit – its all good if I am in a good place to do the things I set my mind to, but if I am not able to, I give myself the permission to rest and pick up when I am able to. I have not posted the last couple of weeks, because I was tired and some of you reached out to ask if I was ok and I am truly grateful for the fact that people were not judgemental but rather concerned about my well being. It taught me a lesson, people were not going to get upset because I did not post at my usual time on a Sunday and that made me feel a bit better. We need to extend the same grace to others too when they tell us their truth – when people are not able to do things we expect them to, we should seek to understand why and not to judge them for failing to do what we expect. I am learning to acknowledge when I am tired and to rest – to be honest with myself and listen to my body.
  • Communicate – Last Christmas went by in a blur and I don’t remember much of it, the reason was, I had not been sleeping well, was fatigued and I was feeling down. But I kept going until my best friend insisted that I call my doctor – when the doctor suggested that I take some time off to rest and re-adjust my sleeping pattern, I did not want to. Who was going to pick up stuff I was doing at work and what was I going to do with my days – but I agreed with the doctor’s recommendations because I did not like the other 2 options he offered. When I spoke to my manager, I broke down – I don’t like getting emotional but this was the best way I could communicate in that moment and I was past the point of caring what others thought. I feel we need to communicate how we are feeling without fearing what others will think. We also need to be able to listen without judgement – no matter what form the communication takes, especially when people are hurting.
  • Look out for others – this particular point is hard especially when you are not feeling much better yourself, however, we know the people in our circles best and when they are not themselves, we should reach out. Most times people will lie and say they are ok, but I think we know our family and friends well enough to notice when things are not quite right. I have sat on the floor behind a fire escape door while a young woman cried her heart out about a baby she lost – I had nothing to offer but my presence in that moment. I sat there quiet until she had finished crying and it was after that cry that she decided to seek counselling for her loss – we ended up where we were because I had noticed her extremely happy and chatty one moment and then withdrawn and very quiet the next. We cannot detect everything going on with the people we love but let’s try to help where we can when we see things happening with them that’s a bit out of character.

Someone said to me last week that when people feel suicidal, it is not easy to detect because they work hard to mask that feeling and I totally agreed with her. We cannot always stop suicide but we can reach out and help people before they get to a point where they feel ending their life is the only option for them. I truly hope you and your loved ones are all well and that you are having honest conversations with yourselves and seeking help when needed. To those that have lost loved ones to suicide, I cannot imagine the pain you are going through and the guilt of feeling you were not able to help – I wish you comfort and hope you will find peace in your grief. If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out – I know life is lonely for some and you may not have anyone in your corner, seek out the suicide helpline where you are or get in touch with us via the contact us form or various social media platforms – we will help as best as we can. No matter how bad things may seem – it may not be as bad as you think.

Thank you for always taking time to read, comment and sharing your experiences with us – please continues to share your experiences so we can effect the change we need.

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