Do you have all four legs on your mental health table?

Recently, I’ve been binge-listening to a podcast called “Economic Update”. Sounds like a real snore-fast, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s soothing, gripping and depressing all at one.

In an episode from a few months ago a regular guest, Dr Fraad, was talking about what support humans need to maintain good mental health. It stemmed from a question about why do Americans kill each other more than Europeans, but it was connected to what mental support we need and how best to provide them.

In order to not become so hopeless that we murder people, or resort to substance abuse, or become motivated to hurt anyone (including ourselves), we need all four legs on our mental health “table”.

Your Soul

We need a personal connection with someone. Unconditional love that you can depend on. Whether this is from your partner, children or bestie, doesn’t matter. It’s about a connection you have full confidence in having forever.

Your Circle

You need friends and acquaintances that help you keep moving. They might be friends you hang out with all the time, or it might be colleagues you only see at the office. These are people that help you thrive, motivating you and generally making you feel good.

Your Cause

This is the group of people who share your beliefs or interests. Traditionally, this was often a religious group you would meet regularly, but it could be a charity you volunteer with or even a special interest website where you chat with people who share a hobby with. You may not be friends with anyone there, but you feel connected by your shared cause.

Your Purpose

You need to feel part of humanity as a whole. You need to be aware and really feel that you are more than just another blob wandering about this planet. You mean something.

Do you have them all?

While I have heard a few similar methods of self-evaluating mental health, this one was a little different. I didn’t think I understood the difference between “cause” and “purpose” in this method, but I thought back to some of my most happiest times. Working in my cause, helped me feel like I had a purpose, but the emotions behind the cause – the reasons I enjoyed it – gave me more purpose that the work itself. I’ve drifted away from some things that gave me this sensation, so although I found this metaphor slightly awkward, it did make me think. That’s always a good thing.

 

What do you think about the mental health table?

The 3 Words That Got Me Happy – and Keep Me There

Do you ever feel afraid that depression is hunting you down?

I used to hate myself. Although I would occasionally feel as though there was something in me of value, it was so deep inside an internal vat of muck and self-loathing, it was never reachable. I am a fortunate one who came out the other side and now I’m living a wonderful life. But there are moments when I feel the darkness is lurking, ready to dissolve all my hard work and return me to the barely functional state I in which I previously existed.

If you’re clinically depressed, there is help out there in many forms. But what if you’re not? What if you feel yourself teetering on that edge, afraid of falling into a pit of despair, but also afraid or reaching out because you don’t want to be dependent on drugs or therapist, and think you should be able to manage it yourself?
Let me tell you what three words got me on the right path – and keep me there: Logic, Influence and Oops.

 

“Logic”

When debilitated with depression, logic serves no purpose. You can’t reason with a depressed person, because the logical component of the brain is no longer functioning normally. But if you’re on the edge you should still be able to do some basic mathematics.

Quantify your life. How many pieces make up your life? Does that number sound right to you? And how does each piece fit?

A few years ago, I logically examined my life in this mathematical way, because I figured that “numbers don’t lie”, so I should be able to see if things didn’t add up. I divided my life into 4 pieces: Career, Family, Social and Soul. Under “Soul” was my work with the community, and it was 10 out of 10. It made me very happy. But the other three pieces didn’t fit right. I felt that each piece was pulling me in different directions and that I was slowly losing control. Scores for Family and Social had been slowly creeping down over time and the end of a fulfilling secondment had seen my Career score take a major nosedive. A massive 75% of my life was not up to my own standards. No wonder I was feeling so uncomfortable!

 

“Influence

I realised that the reason why I was so happy in my Soul activities, and why I usually had a high Career score, was these were the environments where I felt safe to be my authentic self. Over time, I had allowed myself to be negatively influenced in the other environments. I had tried to adapt to every single comment, critique, request and demand in order to feel comfortable in that environment, and instead I was feeling crushed by expectations. Worst of all, they were expectations I didn’t want for myself in the first place!

This meant I had a choice: I could be myself and be happy, or be designed by others and be unhappy.

To achieve this meant that I had to not be influenced by the opinion of others, and that meant accepting that my choices may negatively impact others – if they chose to respond that way. This wasn’t me being uncaring – I still cared about my family and friends – I was simply choosing to care about myself as well.

Since my life was 75% out-of-whack, my decision was to restart my life. I would live overseas for a while, away from the people I’d inadvertently given too much power, so that I could rebuild myself as someone who was strong and authentic across all elements of my life.

Immediately, my strength was tested as I faced the response to my decision. I embraced the positive responses and refused to be influenced by the negative responses. I explained my actions to those I wanted to share with, and simply stood my ground with others. My honesty, strength and authenticity surprised some people, and to be fair, it surprised me too!

Some were shocked (“How can you quit a permanent job?!?”) and labelled me as irresponsible. But I stood up for my own opinion: I valued the comfort of inner contentment over the comfort of security, and now someone else would be lucky enough to have the job I once loved and had now outgrown.

Many shared their concerns. Yes, it’s a sudden decision, and I might get homesick, and I might struggle to find a good job, and it’s going to be hard. I could have let these thoughts stop me, like such thoughts had done to me hundreds of times before. But I distanced myself from the emotion. These were fears that they had, not me. I was feeling extremely positive about my decision, I had researched and planned for the potential hazards and saw no need to let others’ fears intervene. I finally owned my own life.

 

“Oops

Having freed myself from being negatively influenced by others, there was a greater challenge to face – the negative influence of myself. I had to make sure I didn’t derail my own success. I knew such a big change wasn’t going to be with hiccups. My suitcase broke. I locked myself out. I got trapped inside a men’s toilet cubicle (yeah, that was particularly embarrassing!). The old me would have felt crippling disappointment and shame after any of these events. The new me adopted a different approach.

I don’t even know how it came about, but I started saying “oops” when something didn’t go to plan. It was remarkably liberating! Instead of self-deprecating statements such as “God, I’m stupid”, “How could I do that?”, or a defeatist sigh, I just said “Oops” instead. Mentally, it was like scrunching up a piece of paper and throwing it in the bin. I acknowledged the mistake, dismissed it and moved on.

I say “Oops” to forgive myself – instantly.

 

3 words = 3-Step action plan

It can be damn hard work to maintain happiness. You’ve got to break old habits, retrain your brain, eat well, exercise, think positively, live in the moment, plan ahead and think about yourself while caring for others. Some days it just feels like too much effort! Why do all that unpaid work when you can just cruise meaninglessly through life, like so many people appear to do?

Because life can be more enjoyable than that.

Logic, Influence and Oops: Analysing your life, choosing who influences you and accepting yourself for who you are. These three words led me to the best decision of my life, and when I stray too close to the canyon of depression, these words work act as a three-step action plan to steer me in a better direction. Or, more accurately, they are motivation to give myself a kick up the butt and fix my concerns by myself.

How do you take control of your life?

 

Image copyright AJ Jain.