I have been reflecting lately what mental health means to me and what helps me when I notice a cycle of negative thinking or feeling. All thoughts are my own and not prescriptive, below are some of my reflections and thoughts.....
When thinking of, or taking care of our mental health, I feel we need to remember that it is not just a phase we go through.
If we feel negative or are thinking negatively, it is not a problem, you are not weird, and it is not something you have to ‘get over’.
Our thinking brains have the capacity for negative thoughts just as much as positive thoughts. These negative thoughts can result in negative feelings and vice versa. You can feel insecure or overwhelmed. You can feel unsure of yourself or down. You can feel doubtful of your abilities or you can feel unconfident.
These feelings and thoughts will surface from time to time, they will ebb and flow throughout our days and our lives.
That is normal, and even more than 'normal, that is ok.
What can be destructive or detrimental to our health, is the layers of secondary thoughts that we create. Believing that having these negative feelings or thoughts is somehow weird or out of the ‘norm’. The thinking that somehow we need to be fixed or cured can cause us to chase perhaps unrealistic ways of experiencing and being our true selves.
Of course, negative thinking and feeling can cause, over time, associated ‘problems’ or difficulties but the original source is not a problem as such. Think of it like this, when you are hungry, that is only a problem if you do not have access to food at that time. You may get tired, weak, tense or moody, but if you have food, being hungry is not a problem, you eat!
So likewise, feeling negative or thinking negatively is only causing us excess problems if we do not have the skills and tools to become aware of them, to navigate them or we have no access to support.
It is absolutely a great thing that we are becoming more and more aware of Mental Health in Ireland and its importance in our daily lives. I feel part of our awareness needs to address the language we use and the perspective we have on what is ‘normal’ and ok.
Mental health just like our physical health encompasses the balanced functioning of our systems, our ability to perform tasks and to maintain equilibrium.
If we have a physical health issue, like getting injured or sick, it may knock us out of balance for a period of time. We will notice symptoms, we can treat the symptoms, take care of them, rest and seek support.
With these physical symptoms, we do not assume we are broken if we get sick. We do not jump to the conclusion that we are faulty or have done something wrong. We do not necessarily think it is ‘weird’ to catch a cold or have a fear about talking about it.
With our mental health, we can do the same. If we notice our thinking has become negative, or we are feeling down, we can begin to notice symptoms and take appropriate care.
It may feel hard to explain negative thoughts. It may feel hard to describe negative feelings. This is sometimes where we get caught and stuck in our heads not knowing what to say or how to say it. Where it can feel straightforward to say you have had a flu for a few days, it can feel a little trickier to say you have being feeling insecure or down. These caught up feelings and thoughts can begin to build up inside and then impact your work, your interactions with others and your activities or sports.
For years I felt the burden of locking my thoughts and feelings up inside. I held for a long time a deep shame that what I felt was weird or wrong and not at all the same as others.
I grew up in with emotionally unpredictable and unstable dynamics, with fear and shame at the forefront of my everyday experience. I became a master of the arts at hiding information from friends. I learned how to tell white lies to make my life seem a little more ‘normal’ or appear better. I did this for so long and so often, that at a certain point I didn’t even know how to be honest with myself anymore.
All of my buried feelings, all of my ‘real’ thoughts and experiences bubbled inside. Unexpressed, they often turned to anger and I would lash out, causing hurt to myself and others.
What was wrong with me was not that I was ‘weird’ or that I had ‘a problem’ in feeling bad. It was that I didn’t know how to express myself, I didn’t feel safe in expressing myself. I didn’t know how to start those conversations, I didn’t know if I was allowed or if I would be accepted afterwards. I didn’t know who to talk to, who would understand and I so much just wanted to feel ‘normal’.
What I didn’t know when I was younger was that I was normal. The thoughts and feelings I was experiencing as a result of turmoil or negative relationship dynamics were absolutely normal and justified.
We all have thoughts and feelings. We need to become aware of them. We need to come to a place of understanding them and we need to learn how to navigate them and make healthy choices for ourselves around them.
We can learn to see our reactions and our habitual thinking patterns and begin to unravel out of what is unhelpful. We can learn to sit with ourselves with out distracting or entertaining. We can learn to talk or write to express ourselves.
I have felt the clouds of internalising, feeling alone and stuck and I know how destructive and heavy that can all become.
Mental Health is the full picture. Thinking or feeling negatively is part of that picture. It is not part of us that will be eradicated forever or gotten rid of, but rather a part of our normal human existence that we can learn to live optimally with.
There is a lot of pressure in our current modes of living to overcome, to rise up, to be the best and maybe even be perfect. We have to include in our perspectives of ourselves and others that whole and healthy means ups and downs. It means achievements and failures. It means maybe some boring and non eventful days even negative or down days.
There is nothing wrong with you or weird about you if you feel down or negative, if you slip up or even if you don’t know how to describe exactly what is going on. What we need to do first for our Mental Health is include all of how we think and feel in the picture of ourselves, without any hiding or burying.