Mental Health Awareness Week – mental health in the modern world: Generation X
It is day five of Mental Health Awareness Week, over the last couple of days the response to the stories shared has been incredible, the stories all come from such different circumstances that I hope what it says to you as a reader is that every one is different but at the same time, you are never alone in how you are feeling.
So we have talked about the stresses on our younger generations with Angharad’s story, the challenges faced by a millennial man with Scott’s story, the changing tide of a baby boomer and the transformative experiences of a baby mama. Today we have an interview from the point of view of someone who has experienced loss at a very young age, we talk about the fragility of emotional turmoil in children and teens and the effect that it has on a lifetime of anxiety, but most importantly we talk about how to live with anxiety in an almost high functioning but manageable way. Whenever I talk to this lady it always strikes me that she has lived such a different life to the one that I have lived, but yet we are similar now in so many ways. She is incredibly resilient and wears her heart entirely on her sleeve, which I know from experience is a massively exhausting way to be but at the same time it is not something that I think either her or me would wish to change about ourselves.
Her point of view is so interesting to read on paper, which is always eye opening even though I have had many of these discussions in person with her, she has experienced anxiety and now she understands it on an educated and explorative level. She has taken a profound interest in the reasons why we feel the way we feel and dissected in a way that works for her to breakdown the wall between experiential anxiety and impartial analysis in a way to self medicate. On writing this interview she said to me “I keep rereading it — I’m anxious! Ridiculous! It’s quite exposing, and in this exercise I realise I’m finding that part hard! Guilt weighs me down a lot I’m aware — I don’t want to let anyone down.” I feel so strongly that she is so far away from letting anyone down, and it highlight’s how anxiety’s work is never done, even when there is a sense of catharsis and when sharing the remedies that work for you.
I wouldn’t call it a struggle to maintain mental health, but more of a realisation then an exploration of how and what to do about it.
I began being aware of my anxieties in University. Had experienced feelings of anxiousness and guilt from probably around the age of 12. When I got to my first year in Uni I saw posters for student counselling so signed up for 10 sessions. That was when I felt I needed to talk to someone — I was low and seemed unable to address some questions that I had in a step by step way. I’d experienced some pretty unsettling stuff in childhood and adolescence. I could identify that these were all significant transitions and would come with many emotions but I struggled to know what to do with them. I am aware now as a result of 3 stints of counselling over a 15 year period that I felt as though I didn’t know where I fitted in in my life, and I didn’t have a strong sense of being grounded. I’d experienced loss in a variety of ways and had difficulty moving on.
I had big feelings about a lot of those experiences but kept a lid on them, avoiding addressing things and would quickly turn to tears. My mum died when I was 16. I felt that I had to try and hide the tears but absolutely couldn’t, and often felt guilty that I felt like that. Now, counselling is offered for a grieving child after the death of a parent. In 1990 that wasn’t offered. I am aware that there were emotional gaps that I plugged in other ways. I feel regretful in that sense for that 16 year old in emotional turmoil. It’s so much more acceptable now to express our emotions. I work with children who have difficulties self regulating and who find managing big feelings a challenge. Our mantra is ‘use your words, tell me how you feel, it’s ok to have big feelings.’ I’m glad things are moving on. I’m aware that things have come out for years with me. They still continue to come out and I still need to manage those jittery, wobbly, what’s expected of me here, where do I fit in feelings but I can do it. Every now and again I will have an overwhelming feeling of ‘I can’t ‘ and I cry a giant cry. I have a very secure support base in my family and with close friends, and I know I can offer it to them to help, and they do.
I had a very low point after my twin babies were born. Things were tough man! There were numerous occasions when all perspective was lost and when I thought I was at the end of my tether. A very wise woman (you know who you are) taught me to manage my expectations of both myself and others and that’s a guide that has helped me so much. I was trying to be awesome, incredible, a super woman. There was a lot of pressure around how a coping mum should present herself emotionally and physically. I was being very hard on myself. I wonder if things have moved on in that area too?
Now I manage my mental health in a very practical way. Routine, structure and being organised are vital ways of me coping with a busy life in a manageable way. I like the solidity that this gives me. I am aware that in the absence of routine and structure I am far more prone to having a wobble, losing perspective, worrying over small things. I am aware that it’s good for me to embrace a break or breather from this approach, and I continue to work on this, but I still like to fill time with satisfying achievements- even if they are long dog walks and cleaning! I love exercising and push myself physically. I like the feeling of being tired as a result of this — it beats emotional exhaustion every time! Fresh air every day and lots of sleep are vital for me too. Time with my family is precious and grounding. Supporting our three children to grow into emotionally literate young people — it’s a good aide to self reflection too. I keep a little passage from Phillipians in my diary that I turn to — it encourages me to give all my anxieties to God. I also have warm, kind, wise people that I know I can rely on.
The job I do helps too. Lots of people have tough struggles with emotions, expectations, self control and self worth. The training that I’m receiving which covers some neurological science and the effect of stress on the brain is incredible. And the approaches to rebuild damaged neural pathways work effectively. When you get the opportunity to see it in action with the little person in front of you who is in a better place emotionally it has a huge impact. There are wonderful resources to use with children now to address anger, sadness, anxiety as well as more positive emotions. The stigma of ‘struggling’ I hope is diminishing. We teach them that it’s ok to have the feeling, recognise it, manage it and move on. Feelings make us human.
My advice to myself at my lowest ebb? It is fine to have these feelings. This too will pass. Don’t struggle on your own. You are more resilient than you know. You’ve got this.