‘I’m not okay just now’ was the message I finally sent to my husband. Me and my (gorgeous) other half have been together for years, married for 2 however through the years I found myself becoming less and less tolerant of his struggles with his mental health. To give context, my husband suffers with severe anxiety/depression and through the years I’ve always been happy to be his main support.
When we met on our first date, him awkwardly staring at the ground when we first met was adorable but fast forward a couple of years and his depression and anxiety was now him crying, screaming, telling me he wanted it all to end. I made sure that I was there, trying to comfort him, being that shoulder to cry on and then shrugging it all off the next day and act like nothing happened to everyone else around me. That’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember but this was killing me inside. I could see myself changing as time went on, becoming less of that fun, happy person but I couldn’t piece together why.
Then the worst happened, in one of my husband’s episodes, he told me ‘There’s nothing I love about you anymore’. Those words were cold, hard and like a punch to the stomach. He continued by telling me that I wasn’t the person he knew when he first met me, I wasn’t care-free, happy or fun anymore (except when I forced myself to be at work) and the worst of it all, I knew this, I was a shell of the person I used to be.
Around this time that I travelled to London, 438 miles from home, to go through my qualification to become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor. I put all of this to the back of my head and went for a 7-day course talking about a variety of different mental health topics, with an underlying theme of self-care and how hard it is to get people to take it seriously.
Day 3 of the course came and different people came in to talk through their real-life experiences. The speakers were great, and I remember being able to relate to them all so easily and as each one of them spoke about how they valued self-care, I burst into tears. In the middle of the room. With 15 grown men and women around me.
Normally this would be a situation I would never speak of again for sheer embarrassment but never have I felt more comfortable crying as I wasn’t the only one. Never did I feel freer than facing the fact that I had neglected myself for so long
That night, I travelled back home but I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had neglected myself and I needed to work on me as I could see the people I had begun pushing away, the fakeness I was constantly portraying to people and how much I had just forgotten about me. I remembered that I’m a person too and I deserve care. The next day I was in work speaking about how much I enjoyed the past few days but in the back of my mind I knew I needed to speak to my husband about what was going on with me, so back to where we started, sending my husband a message saying ‘I’m not okay right now’.
I had felt for so long that by admitting this I would be admitting defeat but then I asked myself ‘Who am I admitting defeat to?’. I felt I needed to be this strong person who couldn’t be down as I would be letting others down who rely on me for support but I’m human and I need help just like everyone else and the first way of helping myself, creating boundaries. I needed these to make sure I looked after myself and made sure that I put myself first more often and I want to share them with you –
1) Saying No Isn’t Selfish – You can’t be on all the time and you can’t be there for everyone all the time, you WILL burn out. In a world where we can reach everyone in an instant, we are all expected to be available 24/7, whether that’s work or personal life and that isn’t feasible, so try and become more comfortable with saying no. In this context, if someone is coming to you for support and you don’t have the mental capacity to deal with it, be honest with them and tell them why you’re saying no, this isn’t selfish, and you shouldn’t feel bad for doing so.
2) Take Time for Yourself – This means doing something you enjoy, whether that be walking, painting or sitting on the couch getting lost in the virtual world of a game (my personal favourite) and make sure you do at least 1 hour every day. I can already hear you all tut at the screen but let’s be honest, how many times have we all sat on our phones only to realize we wanted to go to bed hours ago. This acts as a ‘reset’ button for us and it’s the same reason we must take breaks at work to make sure we’re performing at our fullest.
3) Don’t Take Ownership for Others – You can’t control how other people are going to react or feel on a certain day. This was something I was particularly guilty of and feeling as though I should be able to ‘fix’ my husband and every time he had another bad episode, I would feel guilty and angry at myself for allowing that to happen as if I was to blame and for any of you feeling the same, this is not true. You cannot take ownership for how anyone feels, you can however take ownership of how you respond to how that person is feeling.
4) No-one Dictates How I Feel – I’ve been told many times that I need to watch my mood as I’m usually that fun person and when I’m not like that, ‘it brings everyone else down’ especially from managers. Similar to my rule above, your mood does not dictate how others should feel, they are in charge of your emotions just as you are of yours. I said before that everyone can’t be on all the time and that goes for your mood as well. This isn’t an excuse to be horrible or cruel to others, always be kind, but don’t feel that you need to change your mood to suit other people.
I live by these now and number 4 is my most important one. These have strengthened my resilience and my relationships, but I want to end on one other note.
It can be quite easy to forget about the people who support, the people who want to see nothing but their lover/best friend overcome it all and succeed and trust, this isn’t me wanting anyone to feel bad about having that person who’s their support or feeling that they should keep an issue to themselves, in fact quite the opposite! What I am asking of you all however is when you’re speaking to that person who you know has poor mental health, spare an extra minute or two and check in on the people supporting them. Chances are they’re struggling too.