5 Things I Wish I Knew For My Mental Health

That there’s always choice.

A given perhaps, but I railed against this concept for years. I’d had no choice or control over things that had happened to me in my personal life, particularly childhood ones, that severely and severally affected my mental health. This belief pervaded personally and professionally, and I accepted all life’s ‘ups and downs’ without question or challenge. Years later, during counselling training, I remember getting angry discussing this concept. “Sometimes we have no choice about what happens to us, but we do have choice how we manage it” my tutor gently explained. Whoa and wow! ….what profound, overwhelming and impactful learning. I realised how I’d been wasting my personal resources - time, effort, energy, focus, ideas etc – emotively and destructively trying to make sense of what had happened, personally and sometimes in the workplace too, instead of constructively thinking that’s happened, how do I manage that? What are my options, choices? What would I like to have happen? Remembering too, this applies to when anything happens to us too!

Tips: Remember my tutor’s wise words. Explore and focus on what you can control and change i.e. yourself, your reactions, responses etc, not on what you can’t.

The difference job-passion makes.

A late convert to this concept! Despite great exam results and university possibilities, my father got me a job in banking and that was that; no-one said no to him. Yet, I worked hard, progressed, was successful and became a high achiever. In hindsight a great achievement considering banking was a man’s world then and girls generally worked in secretarial, nursing, teaching etc. Years later, performance management and workplace thinking, and many individuals too, enthused this concept around successful jobs and careers. I didn’t get it, nor understand; it’s just a job, right? Later, during counselling recovering from a suicidal depressive episode, I discovered my passion to help others as I’d been helped. Then I got it! Having passion made a difference, giving me motivation, inspiration, aspiration, a fire in my belly, sense of purpose and energy that I hadn’t had before. Passion inspired a dream and I made strategic choices to make it happen. So I love Oprah Winfrey’s quote “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

Tip: Even if you don’t know what your passion is right now, be patient, stay open minded and curious about what excites you.

It’s good to have dreams.

I didn’t. An overwhelming belief of personal failure had underpinned my mental illness. However, I thrived at work. Work was my escape, saviour and antidote. The one thing I believed I was good at; my only success. Yet, I never looked up to see where I was going. I didn’t have a cherished aspiration or ambition. I was a doer not a dreamer! Instead, maybe linked to beliefs about choice, I went with the flow, accepting situations and opportunities as they arose without making conscious choices. This had its benefits though. I still progressed well, gaining extensive expertise and a highly respected market reputation, again in a male dominated environment. However, when I discovered my passion, a dream unexpectedly materialised too. Making it reality seemed insurmountable sometimes being known, trapped almost, in one career but aspiring to another. My resilience, my bounceback-ability to make it happen was severely tested at times, but my dream was worth it.

I now believe Mr. Noel ‘Supervet’ Fitzpatrick’s quote “Anything’s possible, we just don’t dream big enough”.

Tip: What’s your dream? What do you know? What are you good at? What interests/excites you?

To let my light shine.

When I started work, workplace thinking was ‘your work does the talking for you’. Good work would be recognised with promotion and progression, and mine reflected that. Gradually workplaces became increasingly demanding and competitive. Disappointment and frustration, eg. overlooked for promotion, underrated achievements and value add, sometimes affected my mental health. I realised my reliance on this thinking was no longer enough, and I needed to start talking too. However, talking good things about myself conflicted a lifelong, childhood belief that that was boastful, arrogant even. Then my mentor quoted ‘Your playing small does not serve the world’ and ‘It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us’, from a Marianne Williamson poem. How astute! as that was me. So, I learned the art of self-promotion. Not in a forceful, shameless way but the skill to share, inform others of my successes, competency, achievements, abilities etc, to good effect and, equally important, know what I wanted when asked and becoming a ‘go-to’ person for others.

Tip: Learn to self-promote; what do you want to be known for? How would you like people to describe you? What would you like them to say about you?

To take care of myself.

I didn’t for many years. I had no self-worth or esteem. Another childhood belief was putting myself first was selfish. Work had been my saviour particularly during my mental illness and, for me, it was my sole success. I put work first, giving it everything. Doing so, I didn’t hear or listen to my body’s physical messages. Constant tension had many side-affects - numbness in my arms, hands and fingers from pinched nerves in my neck and shoulders, headaches, migraines and ocular migraines – at one stage tested for a brain tumour. My life-threatening illness during my depression, was internalised stress/depression related. I learned a very hard, but simple, lesson summed up in The Three Degrees song title “Take good care of yourself”.

Finally, for many years I wanted to be ‘normal’. For me that meant escaping my personal demons, having, and doing a good job, nothing spectacular, nothing risky. I wanted to fit in, I did not want to be different, nor draw attention to myself. Now I’d quote Maya Angelou –

“Don’t try to be normal as then you’ll never know how amazing you can be”.


Text written by Sylvia Bruce

Preview Image by Matt Flores

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