This time of year as filled with people making new years resolutions and chants of ‘new year new me’. This seldom lasts longer than the ‘January blues’ and it seems we’d all be better off taking care of our Mental Health and general well-being instead of punishing ourselves by trying to become a completely different person.
While I was considering this, I remembered an article comedian John Robins wrote last year for the Metro.
How I deal with the January blues – John Robins
To read the full article (published by The Metro 15/1/19) click here
It’s interesting how much more comfortable we are with phrases like ‘January blues’, or ‘that Monday morning feeling’ than we are with phrases like ‘mental health’. There’s less stigma than there used to be, and hopefully one day we can to discuss topics like grief, depression and anxiety, as freely as we would a sore throat, or painful shoulder.
Imagine a world where you could walk into your office and say to your co-workers ‘I might be a bit off the pace this week, my partner and I are separating and I’m finding it hard to concentrate,’ as easily as you might say ‘I can’t load the copier, I sprained my wrist at five-a-side’.
There’s an interview with one of my favourite musicians, Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), where he’s asked, ‘Do you think that you’re more depressed than most people?’.
It’s such a stupid question. Answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would make you sound like you’re somehow special. If you fudge it, it sounds like you don’t want to engage with depression or mental health. In fact, it’s impossible to answer because HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW EVERYONE ELSE FEELS?!
However, somehow the brilliant Will Oldham finds the perfect answer.
I absolutely love that answer. Because in one exchange something of the experience of mental health is captured, without anyone claiming ownership of what that experience is like.
Everyone has mental health, both positive and negative experiences of it, and everyone’s experience is not only different, but different day to day. In that answer, we have a world where everyone is depressed and not depressed, we’re all experiencing emotions in different ways at different times.
I think it is harder in January, nights are just as long but lose the cosiness of Christmas, work put off begins to rear it’s ugly head, family tensions return during time spent together, and long weeks are spread out before us.
So, given that we’re all depressed and not depressed, and it may or may not be the most depressing time of the year. I thought I’d share some of the little things I do to help get through.
“Small, seemingly insignificant hand-holds, can begin to pull us out of the swamp.”
There’s a great quote from Just For Today, motivational advice used in Alcoholics Anonymous, which says:
‘Just for today I will have a plan, I may not stick to it but I will have it, I will save myself from two pests, hurry and indecision.’
With that in mind, whether I’m on top of the world or in the absolute depths, I will make a to-do list. Feeling like you’ve achieved things, no matter how small, can be incredibly empowering. And I mean SMALL. Keep your list achievable. Don’t write ‘tidy house’ or ‘sort accounts’. They’re too big and vague and you’ll feel annoyed at not tackling them.
The main point is: you are enough. You did something. Too often we feel like we aren’t in control, aren’t capable of things. And it doesn’t matter whether it was writing a symphony or emptying the dishwasher, you did it.
Hold onto that for dear life, because when it’s all you can do not to bang your head against the wall or stay in bed all day, or drink into oblivion, emptying the dishwasher is a symphony. And it’s with these small, seemingly insignificant hand-holds, that we can begin to pull ourselves out of the swamp.
Look after the basics
This is my mum’s first question whenever I’m in a state. Though my teenage self would often roll his eyes at the dreaded ‘basics’, she was right. Those basics are:
Food, drink, sleep, exercise.
If I were a woman, I would add menstrual cycle to the list. These four or five things have drastic effects on our mental health, arguably more than anything else.
Are you eating well? Are you missing meals? Are you giving yourself a shot at a good night’s sleep? When was the last time you had three nights off booze in a row? When were you last out of breath? Have you done 10,000 steps anytime recently? Is your GP doing enough about you period pain? Could you get referred to a fertility specialist?
Now I really do sound like my mum (apart from the period pain). But as boring as these things might sound, making change is eminently achievable, and can have a huge impact.
Keep your list achievable. Don’t write ‘tidy house’ or ‘sort accounts’ (Photo: Getty)
Get out and find your space
The room or house where you live, plus the mile radius around it, has a huge impact on your mood. I’ve lived in city centre areas where I couldn’t control how depressed the endless bookies, amusement arcades and kebab shops made me feel.
But I could control the nice pubs I found (eventually), the little parks, the churchyard you wouldn’t know was there unless you were in it, the really nice Turkish restaurant that didn’t look really nice from the outside, the walk to the nicer part of town.
Similarly, I could control the calming stacks of books in the living room, the fairy lights on the bookcase, my posters arranged just how I liked them, my favourite mug. In these small things, these little places, you can find a moment of calm, a bit of nourishment, and maybe a little island in the sea of life.
Finding nice spaces also helps you get out. I know I’m never going to do 10,000 steps every day, but 3,000 steps taken somewhere you like, on a day when you’d otherwise have spent sat down, can make a real difference.
Write Stuff Down
I’m a huge fan of beginning things. Tiny acts of creation can set so many positive forces into play.
Whatever you feel like, write it down, and I mean physically write with a pen and paper. It could be a letter you will never send, a diary, a poem, the start of a story, absolutely anything.
You don’t have to show anyone. I have a whole sack of stuff in the loft labelled ‘John’s Bag Of Death’, a big Ikea bag full of scraps, notebooks, poems, letters and all manner of stuff that, were it to be made public, would cause me to spontaneously combust.
But that’s not the point, it doesn’t have to be good. And it doesn’t even need to be finished! You can tear it up or burn it in a ceremonial pyre when you’re done.
I know from experience the last thing you want to do when you’re in the pit is to reach out of it, but doing so sets all manner of positive things in motion.
If you think about it, the only way anyone’s mental health ever improves is by talking, by beginning to communicate your problem in some way. If you’re in a really bad place, medication may end up suiting you, but that road will still begin with a conversation.
Begin that conversation now, think about who might be best to approach and say the thing that’s been banging round your head since forever.
Having the courage to tell someone you’re not at your best will not only make you feel less alone, but might do the same for them. If you’re struggling to think of a supportive person, then maybe be one for someone else?
Providing help for someone else can be as powerful as finding it for yourself. And it doesn’t have to be someone you know. Many places are desperate for volunteers to reach out to those who are lonely or need support, there might be a place near you.
To that end, here is an excellent list of resources for all manner of mental health support