Thoughts on… change, mental health and self-care

This week on the blog we’re hearing from me! (Maddy) I’ve been working at Mind Waves since May 2021, and during that time, a lot of things have changed for me. Over the past year and a bit, I’ve graduated, started and finished a masters, facilitated my first series of creative writing workshops here at Mind Waves – and loved it – wrote three quarters of a novel (but the less said about that the better), and went back to nannying alongside my work here. There are, of course, things that I haven’t achieved this year that I would have liked to – I still can’t drive, whoops – but all in all, it’s been a busy time and I’m proud of myself. Despite this, I have struggled a lot this year and my mental health has been up and down. Reflecting on these goals that I’ve managed to achieve, and the rocky road to getting there, has got me thinking a lot about change and how it affects my mental health.

Although I’ve had my struggles in the past, I am at a point in my life where, for the most part, my mental health is pretty stable. I have a routine that suits me, healthy coping mechanisms and a support network of friends and family. I do notice, however, that during times of change, my mental health can take a big dip. I think that this is due to the fact that when we’re living through a period of change, no matter what that change may be, we can neglect our routine or find it difficult to find moments to pause and take stock of the way we feel.

For example, I have a condition called chronic migraine. I’ve had it for almost ten years, and I have a complex personal list of triggers that sets me off. Listing them all here would take more time than I am willing to spare – and I bet some of them would surprise you. Some months I might have 3 migraines, some months I might have 30. There are lots of things I do to help my migraines; go to bed early, eat a balanced diet, get lots of fresh air etc. But sometimes, I neglect this ‘migraine lifestyle’ and my headaches get worse and more frequent. I try to operate on an 80-20 split of treating my body like a temple, interspersed with the occasional night out and bottle of wine.

When things get busy, if I’m travelling around or things are particularly hectic at work, I have a tendency to neglect the routine that I know works for me and my health, and I suffer for it. It’s hard to shake off feelings of shame and guilt around this, as I spent a large portion of my teenage years feeling like my chronic illnesses were my fault. Spoiler alert : they are never ever your fault, be they mental or physical. It’s hard to strike a balance with looking after yourself and cutting yourself some slack, but at the end of the day, my number one migraine trigger is stress and anxiety, so it’s in my very best interest to be as kind to myself as possible, or I will literally get sick.

I think my migraines are a pretty good analogy for mental health. You have to try and look after yourself inside and out. We all have the things that we know help and make us feel better. But when things get busy, or when things change, I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of skipping a therapy session, isolating ourselves from our loved ones or burning out on social activities. We’re all human, and it isn’t possible (or fun!) to be perfect. I think, what I’m trying to say, is that it’s never going to be possible to eliminate all change and stress from my life, and I can’t always follow my healthy routine exactly. And that’s okay, because I’m trying!

I believe that true self-care isn’t green juices and yoga. Looking after yourself often feels boring and tedious, but that means that it’s working. There’s no miracle cure-all for mental illness, and pretending that there is, is so unhelpful to all of us that suffer. During times of change and upheaval, looking after your health might mean a twenty minute power nap on the morning commute or a long gossip-y phone call with a friend. It might mean eating a balanced diet all week and then going out for pizza and beers on Friday. It could mean spending Sunday morning running an errand that you’ve been putting off or laying your clothes out for work before you go to sleep. We look after ourselves in a thousand tiny ways every day, and even though progress and recovery isn’t linear, I am sure that we’re all doing our best.

Thanks for reading, now I’d like to hear from you! I felt nervous writing this, because it felt more personal than some of my previous posts, but now I feel better. I hope these few ramble-y, meandering paragraphs have inspired you to share a little bit about how you manage your health; mental or physical. How do you look after yourself during times of change or upheaval? Do you struggle to be kind to yourself, like I do sometimes? Get in touch if you want to write something for us – there’s no minimum or maximum word count! Email,  tweet us at @MindWaves1 or DM us on Instagram at mindwaves_scot

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