I was 18 when I went to therapy for the first time.
I would discreetly get the bus to a discreet part of East London and visit a discreet house. Discreet, discreet, discreet.
With my new shiny London life and shiny friends and shiny internships, I didn't fit the stereotype of someone struggling with their mental health. But, underneath my Facebook highlight reel of fun parties and fashion shoots, I had depression.
My story is like many you have heard before.
By now, we all know we need to eat plenty of kale and drink plenty of smoothies.
But when it comes to your mental wellbeing, how often are you checking in with yourself? Really?
My mental wellbeing is my life’s work. Keeping a healthy state of mind is an everyday, slow and conscious process. Some days I’m ahead, and others I’m behind. I know that now. I know it’s ok to feel terrible and make no apologies about it. But I also understand the process, too, and I realise that, with time, sadness and emptiness lessens and softens.
My mind and I will forever be getting to know each other. And, like any relationship, we won’t always be perfectly in sync. We’ll argue, have fights, have glorious moments and everything in-between.
Successful relationships take work. Your relationship with your mind is no exception.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to mental illness, but there are things you can do to help manage your everyday mental health. Here are some of mine:
1. Reading. Books, glossy magazines, newspapers, op-eds... everything. But especially books. Reading, for me, isn't about escapism or running away from my thoughts but, rather, finding ideas and inspiration to build upon them in a positive way.
2. Visiting new places. Spending too much time in a familiar place means your mind can run away with itself. But going for a walk somewhere new on the weekend or planning a trip to a new city? Your mind has no choice but to take a break from itself. We all need a new perspective from time to time.
3. Walking. Music optional. I often go for long walks alone. I focus on the steps I'm taking, one foot in front of the other, I admire the trees and listen to the rustle of the leaves. My version of mindfulness is intricately intertwined with walking, but the same rules apply to any kind of exercise you'll *actually* do.
4. Writing. Right here, openly and honestly, on this blog. And the fact that you're actually reading it? Even better.
5. Breathing exercises. I originally felt like a new age, hemp-loving hippie when I started breathing exercises. But it helps. A lot. Ditch your devices, go to a place that you don't mentally associate with stress and breathe in for four seconds and out again for another four. Repeat as many times as you need to.
6. Little things that make a big difference: a long hot bath, a blow dry, fresh new clothes I feel comfortable in, a bright lipstick, a statement necklace, drinking plenty of water.
7. Saying no when you need to. Last night was my work Christmas party, but I didn't go. Why? Because I felt burnt out. And while I know that the Christmas season is technically meant to be about too much alcohol, food and good cheer, my wellbeing comes first. Always. In fact, I've gotten pretty good at cancelling all of my plans when my body needs to. I suggest you do the same.
8. Sleeping. It sounds so obvious, I know. But too little sleep and too much work is a proven recipe for mental (and physical!) health issues. If you feel like you have no time for sleep, that's when you need it most. I also believe in having comfortable bedding, a good mattress and tranquil surroundings. Go hygge or go home, basically.
9. Talking about it. My life changed when I was able to tell people beyond my inner circle about how I was actually feeling. At first, it feels like you've dropped a truth bomb, but then this huge weight is suddenly lifted. Pretending takes up a lot of energy, y'all. I'm not saying you should follow each "how are you?" with a monologue about your mental health (as fabulous as that would be), but talking about it helps both you and those around you.
10. Taking each day gently and slowly. Know that when your body needs a break, listening to it is one of the most productive things you can do. Listen to what your internal dialogue is saying, too. Be gentle with yourself.