How does one’s environment affect their mental well-being?
Environment is instrumental to our mental well-being. Environment spans so many aspects, it’s not just having a lovely bedroom, it’s also the people we are surrounded by – whether that be by choice or not. It is also understanding how different environments affect us. For example, I really struggle with lots of clutter that isn’t mine. I have ADHD and I’m very sensitive to outside stimuli. I work very hard to create a harmonious space around me. I grew up in a house with a lot of toxic energy and this had a detrimental impact on my mental health. Therefore I am so protected in my older age as to who I let into my space. I need to keep myself protected first and foremost. However I appreciate that environments fluctuate. For example, when I am depressed I tend to neglect keeping my environment clean and tidy – however I’ve learnt to not beat myself up about this. My environment will change from day to day, and putting pressure on myself to always have perfect harmony around me is actually counter-intuitive.
How do you deal with your own mental health?
Dealing with my own mental health is a daily journey. I’m very aware as to how my day starts can have a lasting impact. When I have sleep troubles and, particularly at the moment with lockdown, when I get out of bed late it can really send me into a spin for the rest of the day. I start small with my mental health, instead of thinking of the mammoth task to tackle I see it as small acts of kindness to myself. Whether it’s making myself a cup of tea, whether it’s taking the decision to ignore social media for a day, or run myself a hot bath. It’s also changing how I speak to myself. I had anorexia and bulimia, and the lasting effect of the internal dialogue I had with myself continued long after I had been in recovery. I make a concerted effort to tell myself something kind and compassionate every day. Looking in the mirror and saying ‘I like my body’ or ‘I like myself.’ It is difficult when you start, but after time I realised just how much it helped improve my relationship with myself. Speaking for myself, my mental health is very much based on the relationship I have with myself and my inner child. My childhood trauma had a lasting impact on me, I felt worthless and that I wasn’t deserving of love. I had to break this narrative and begin to treat myself with the love and compassion I wanted as a child and felt I didn’t receive. Not every day is perfect, I try as much as I can to take care of the current moment and have faith the other moments will then look after themselves.
Do you believe that the stigma around mental health has decreased to a notable extent in your community? What may be the reason for this?
I believe my immediate circle are very stigma-busting. I’m fortunate enough to have built a life with people, on and offline, who care for others and believe in mental health change. I believe social media has been a double-edged sword in this. As we find ourselves locked in our houses, many more of us are spending time online and I have found a fantastic community who are all open and have no stigma in regards to mental health. I’m a queer socialist, and people in those circles tend to be very accepting and without much judgement. However I truly believe it is easy to get caught in an echo chamber, and believe because those around you think and act in a supportive and forward thinking way that the rest of the world is like that. It’s sobering when you expand beyond your circles and realise there are still a lot of people who don’t believe in mental health support. They have stigmatising views and see mental health as something ‘dangerous’. Whilst there is more talk on public platforms about mental health, many films and media are still stigmatising of mental illnesses.
What does mental health mean to YOU?
The million dollar question. I’m asked this a lot and never really know how to encapsulate what it means to me exactly. It’s such an overarching term. Mental health meaning in the dictionary sense is ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.’ Which sums it up fairly spot-on. In the general sense. For me, we then have several subcategories of this. Mental health isn’t just being ill, or having a disorder, or a stereotype. It’s like a fingerprint. No two people are the same. Your happiness is also part of your mental health. It’s not anything shameful. It’s who we are as individuals. It builds our relationships, it gives us creativity, it makes us special. Mental health is those tangles, spirals, lumps, bumps, and swirls that make up who we are.
Why do you think that there is shame surrounding mental health topics? Why do people refuse to talk about it?
I believe mental health has been stigmatised through the media. People with mental illness have been portrayed as stereotypes, dangerous, different and to be avoided. They have been dealt with in a sense of ‘fear.’ Horror has used mental illness in their ‘monsters.’ There is also the phrase ‘stiff upper lip’ in British culture. This notion perpetuates the idea that emotion is a sign of weakness. ‘Oh don’t be so soft’ ‘man up’ ‘suck it up’ there’s a litany of phrases banded around to force people to quell what are deemed as ‘negative’ emotions. This stunting and suppression has a lasting impact, it also bleeds the idea into society that having mental health is a lack of control, a mismanagement of emotions. It then spreads and people begin to harbour shame, and shame silences. It’s been handed down generationally and it’s time we break this stigma.
How do you express yourself to the world?
I express myself through my writing. I find it hard to speak to be people very close to me, I think many people do. We don’t want to worry people. We don’t want to ‘cause a fuss.’ I’ve found through my writing I can be vulnerable and work through my emotions, all of them. Happy and sad. Up and down. I started writing spoken word poetry. This enabled me to have a third voice. Whilst I drew on personal experiences it wasn’t me directly saying this. I then moved onto writing plays, and again this was another mouthpiece for me to share the tangles of my mind. These two mediums helped me build the confidence to start my blog and begin writing first-hand of my experiences. These are me, these are raw, these are truthful. I am now so grateful for the community I have from my blog, and it has enabled me to express myself in a more direct manner.
What are some challenges you have faced in life and proud of how you faced it?
My mother passed away in August 2019. It was also in the middle of a really tough period of my life. I had been hospitalised several times for mental health crises and suicide attempts. I blocked out what had happened. I indulged in alcohol and drugs, I was told ‘oh you’re handling it so well’ when in reality I was suppressing it. Any time something arose I would reach for my numbing target behaviour. I have now readdressed my relationship with alcohol and drugs and have joined AA. I’ve got myself into therapy and I’m working through this grief, as well as the childhood trauma I experienced. I am proud of myself for engaging with these growth methods. However I appreciate that they are not a quick fix, and it is a battle everyday. Recovery isn’t linear but we need to engage with the tools to move forwards.
If you change something about yourself, what would it be? And why?
I wish I could learn to stop putting so much pressure on myself. I get so easily caught up with what others are doing, how much better than me they are doing and I can spiral. I convince myself I need to be doing more, or should have achieved more. I would like to be able to pause and appreciate more often. I want to practice more gratitude and compassion. I am aware of this, and I’m trying. Gratitude journals. Stopping the negative self talk thoughts in their tracks, and meditation are all helping. Some days are better than others.
What are some self-care practices that you recommend?
Meditation. Top of the list for sure. I subscribe to the Calm App, and their 10 minute daily meditation is such a delightful aspect of self care to my day. Sometimes I have to fight myself to do it, other days I don’t – however the days I do it only improves my day. YouTube has lots of free meditations for 5 minutes plus. I believe how I speak to myself is self care as well. I’m learning to parent my wounded inner child. I try to consider that when I’m speaking to myself, I’m speaking to the child within me. Patience, compassion, kindness and encouragement. This is what brings the best out in a child, inner child included.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I would love to write a book. I’m looking forward to the theatre industry returning in a post-COVID world and I can further my playwriting ability. I hope to reach 1 year sober. I hope to find an inner peace. Big ask I know. I’ll say I hope to continue with what I’m doing. I hope writing will enable me to meet incredible people. I hope to continue working on myself, and I really hope to help people.
What would you want the Revive audiences to know about you?
That I’m trying to approach mental health in my own way. I make fun of myself and my illnesses because that helps me. I can’t focus on the dark and weight of it all because that doesn’t help me. I swear a lot when talking about it. I’m incredibly honest, and at some times totally blunt. It doesn’t appeal to everyone, and I’m not trying to appeal to everyone. We all need to find our medium to express ourselves, and this is mine. I don’t take it personally if my approach isn’t palatable for all. There will be someone out there who likes it. There will be someone out there who you like. Also if you see me comparing myself to others, or trying to be someone I’m not… tell me to shut the f*ck up.