This past year has been a really hard, challenging and insightful time for me and after removing all social media from my phone today and reflecting just what I’ve been through this past year, I realised I’ve learned some very valuable life lessons along the way. Some lessons I’ve learnt are lighthearted and little ways to stay positive (like surrounding your room with photos of the people you love and positive quotes), others are lessons I’ve learnt through tough experiences which are the ones I wanted to share a few words of wisdom about.
As many of you will know after reading ‘My Mental Health Story’, this time last year I was in Florida and experiencing some of the most severe panic attacks I’ve ever had as well as horrific spells of depression which made me see the world as a very scary and damaging place. Since then I have had my ups- there have been times where I’ve been able to act as a ‘normal’ university student- being able to complete my work without having to have extensions due to health issues (which was amazing), going out-out with friends without having severe panic attacks and just generally enjoying life the way a nineteen year old should be- but I’ve definitely also had my downs. Reflecting on the past year for me is quite painful- part of me feels like I’ve made no progress, whereas another part is so proud of myself for not giving up and still being here, trying every single day. Last night I had a particularly bad episode (one which I was searching ‘pain-free ways to…’, I’m guessing you can work out the rest of that sentence) as a result of having a lottt of pressure and stress in my life lately, a time which I think is pretty much perfect to reflect on the things I’ve learnt and how to use them now I’m experiencing a pretty crap time. Hopefully this round-up will not only help some of you lovely lot, but also me in the future so I can start having carefree times again (especially if they involve cocktails).
Onto lesson numero uno…
1. Healing is not linear
This is always a concept that I’ve really struggled with. As a self-confessed perfectionist, I’ve always tried to be the very best version of myself. Within one session of grief counselling (more on that later), my counsellor had a pretty good understanding that I expect waaayyy too much of myself and I always have done. Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s a great thing to strive to be the best version of yourself, but when it becomes damaging to your mental health, that’s when you might need to re-evaluate things. Up until when mum died I think I had a healthy perspective- I would aim to get the best grades and be the most compassionate friend, but if one day I couldn’t be perfect then that was okay. However, since my GCSE’s I’ve always expected so much of myself- whether it be to be the ‘most supportive friend’ and trying to solve every person’s problem I could and be chronically worrying about it to the extent where my anxiety would go crazy, or making sure my revision notes were absolutely perfect- I’ve always expected myself to be this perfect Lizzie. What I’m starting to slowly come to terms with is that I, along with everyone else, will never be perfect. And this applies to healing processes too. I always have a go at myself on my bad days, saying to people things like ‘Why am I like this, mum died 4 years ago’ and ‘I should be able to be normal, I should be able to go a day without panic attacks’ which ultimately is really unhealthy as I’m trying to live up to that perfect image of myself which just doesn’t exist. What I’m learning now is that it really is okay to have rubbish days, ones where I just feel weak and cry and stay in bed all day, because ultimately, as I start to heal, those rubbish days will become further apart until one day, I’ll only have one every blue moon. So, if you’re struggling, my advice to you would be to on those days where you feel like absolute poop, just feel the sadness in that day and look forward to a day tomorrow where you will be closer to your goal, rather than expecting yourself to be perfect. At the end of the day, healing takes time, but you will have your good days and someday almost every day will be a good day, just don’t be too hard on yourself.
2. The easy decision is not always the best one
Sometimes, the easy decision is the best one- craving an ice cream on a hot day? Have the ice cream! But with more important life decisions, sometimes it’s better in the long term to take the harder route. I learnt this when it came to making a decision about whether I was going to go back to uni. The easy decision (as I now realise) would’ve been to go back, to carry on with my studies and to not drop out of my dream uni, but think of what damage that could’ve done to my mental health. Instead, I chose the harder decision- I was going to drop out, leave my friends up in York and lose my place at the uni I love to look after myself. It was such a hard time for me- I felt like a complete failure, but now I’m proud of myself for doing the harder, and right, thing. So if ever you have a tough decision to make in life, try and always think about the future you and not how you feel right now, it may be super hard but your future self will thank you for it!
3. Some people are just going to be horrible to you, no matter how much you try to be kind to them
A controversial topic at the moment in my life, (as you probably would have seen, I had to take down my ‘Friendship Heartbreak’ post due to nasty words being said) but one that has taught me one heck of an important lesson. Throughout my life I have always tried to be the most supportive friend, the one that I needed back in the day when I was badly bullied. I don’t talk about it much but I was really badly bullied in primary school (mostly about how I was overweight at the time) and people saw my kindness for others as a spot of vulnerability, using it to cruelly bully me. I won’t go into detail right now but that time in my life has had a massive impact on how I see people. Sure, I could’ve stopped being kind but that’s not the person I want to be so I flipped the situation. I thought about what little Lizzie would’ve needed in a friend and from then on I’ve always tried to be that person. The one you can rely on, the one who will never give up on you, the one who will support you through anything and everything. Unfortunately, with this comes the (unconscious) assumption that other people will be that friend to you. As I’ve learnt over this year this is definitely not the case. As with my old friend, she gave up on me because of my mental health, and another situation with a girl of the blogging world who would just make me out to be a horrible individual with malicious intentions, ‘copying her’ amongst other accusations, despite me always trying to be supportive and completely honest with her. In these situations it’s important to find the good- in my ‘offline’ life (Sabs, Rach, Tal, Ella, Steph, Grace- I love you gals so much) and in my ‘online’ life (Nat, Em (especially!), Madden, Grace (a new favourite!), and all the other lovely girls that comment and message me such lovely things- you guys are rays of sunshine which makes this journey way more fun!). Anyway, the lesson I’ve learnt from these experiences is that no matter how many chances you give people to be nice to you, some people will just repeatedly hurt you and it’s important to recognise that it’s not your problem, it’s theirs, and if they can’t see your good intentions then that’s their loss! I think it’s important that if anyone ever is horrible, to firstly try and see it from their point of view. If there is no logical or remotely good-intentioned reason why they are being mean, cut them out and keep your head up- remember, ‘not everyone you want deserves you’.
4. Look after yourself, buy the pretty dress and eat the damn cake!
When I say ‘look after yourself’, I mean with every little thing. Drink enough (2L a day everyone!), eat well, take care when crossing the road, watch a Disney film on a sad day and go out and celebrate life on a good day. What’s that saying? ‘You can’t pour from an empty glass’. If you’re anything like me and you love to look after people, you have to learn to look after yourself first so you have the energy and resources to help others. This means making sure your body is happy by eating well (and no yo don’t have to turn into a rabbit- just a balanced diet, and make sure you eat enough! I’m guilty of not wanting to eat when I have bad episodes but it really does help with the energy levels), sleeping as much as you need and doing things to make yourself happy. My boyfriend will probably disagree with this for me (considering my current financial situation) but if that thing that makes you happy is buying a super sassy new outfit to get your confidence levels up then do it! If you’re out for tea and cake and feel a little self-conscious about your weight but want that Vickie Sponge- eat it! Do not feel guilty and realise that everything is best in moderation. Another way to look after yourself is to just talk to people who you love and trust. If you’re having a crappy time, tell them- not only will it lift a weight off your shoulders but they can help support you and lift your spirits when you’re feeling a bit down, which in the long-run, looks after your mental health. Try to be as positive as you can and remember to not save things for a special occasion- life is a special occasion so do whatever the heck you want to do!
5. Grief always needs to be addressed and dealt with, as painful as it is
This is something that took me a looong ol’ time to learn. After mum passed away I wanted nothing more than to never talk about it as it hurt too much. This resulted in me having ‘bad mum days’ when everything that I’ve been thinking, but not saying, would come out and I’d be a mess for the day. Following that bad day, I would once again bottle everything up and the cycle would repeat and repeat. So Dad finally got me to try grief counselling once he made me see that perhaps the reason for my mental health problems is because of that cycle- never truly talking about how I’m feeling so it manifests into anxiety/depression. I’ve only had one session so far but can already see it’s going to help me a lot. And this is the same for other things, not just grief. Things you’re feeling almost always need to be addressed at some point otherwise they could make you feel sad, alone and like you’re struggling by yourself which is almost 100% guaranteed to be not true. I’ve learnt that no matter what I’m feeling, even if people can’t help me, it is so much better to not face things alone.
6. Family is everything (a mini lesson I’ve learnt)
Following from my last ‘lesson’, something that I’ve learnt throughout my life, but especially this year through all the crappy times, is that family is everything. I use the term ‘family’ quite loosely- of course my blood relatives are family but also to me Will is my family and my bestest friends are my family. I honestly don’t know if I would be here typing this if it weren’t for their support and I just want to encourage you, if you haven’t reached out to your ‘family’ in a while, to not take them for granted and to show them how much you love them. I’m so unbelievably lucky and grateful for my family and I’ve learnt in this past year that they are just the most amazing people I know.
And that’s my round up of the most important things I’ve learnt in this last year. I’m still going and still fighting and I’m determined one day to use this knowledge to really help people.
So much love to all of you,
(Just going to leave a lil’ collage of some of my favourite encouraging quotes- anything tough you’re going through, you got this x)