Yesterday was ‘R U OK? Day. A reminder to check in with people around us, those close to us and anyone who we may suspect aren’t doing so ok. I’m taking this opportunity to share some thoughts about mental health and also share a personal experience. ❤️
Mental health and well-being is just as important as our physical health and wellbeing. Those with struggles often hide it very well, so it’s important to still be open, ask, communicate. And sometimes those with struggles are not aware of just how not ok they are. Often it’s family, friends or work colleagues who notice a change in someone. Perhaps it’s low mood, they may be isolating themselves, it may be anxiety, constant high stress levels, sadness or persistent worry. We need to check in with these people, they may not be aware of what’s happening.
We all have hard days, days full of anxiety, stress or perhaps days where we feel really low. When such days are regular and ongoing, if we feel like things are a struggle and can’t seem to find ease with life, peace, that happiness feeling, a carefree outlook or if we can’t seem to manage or reduce stress this is a sign. This isn’t healthy. And it doesn’t have to stay that way. Asking for help can be really hard or maybe even feel impossible. This brings me to share my own experience of stress and anxiety.
So firstly, last year I experienced a period of constant stress. It felt like I was treading water most of the time, while having a blanket on top of me. Imagine? The weight. The exhaustion. The cause of this? Essentially an ongoing juggling act of too many things. Running a business, growing a business, working part-time, enjoying side projects (how I managed to still fit these in is madness!) and trying to fit in life, a social life, home life, etc. I found it so hard to properly switch off regularly, I wasn’t very good at pausing. I was also very good at looking after my clients and those close to me, but not so good at looking after myself. I wasn’t in tune with myself, like I always had been. And I will note here that since a young age I took interest and was good at taking care of myself. My love for nutrition and wellness in high school ultimately lead me to study nutrition and do what I do now.
There was always so much to do, so much I could do. My mind was always ‘on’. Now when you’re an individual who is very driven, a lover of life, of challenge and adventure it can be hard to slow down or to pause. I was so focussed on getting further, to arrive at the place where ‘everything would be easier’. I enjoyed the journey but was too focussed on what was ahead of me. Rather than slowing down I sped up.
Ongoing stress lead to me to develop underlying, persistent, crippling anxiety. My anxiety was so sneaky and became so bad I wasn’t entirely aware of the extremity of it. It was as if I was on overdrive, always. My stomach felt like it was in a knot, most of the time. I did become aware of my anxiety and tried to make changes but I wasn’t very successful. My partner, family and friends were worried and tried to help. But I was certain that I could pull myself out of this and change things. Over time what resulted was me losing a lot of weight. It was completely unintentional. I love food, I still enjoyed food but struggled to eat as much as I usually did. My knot of a stomach didn’t allow it. And I was so focussed on racing along, that I didn’t actually notice what was happening. It sounds crazy but it’s true. I also wasn’t sleeping well for such a long time (I’m talking almost a year) … I became a shadow of myself quite quickly. It was frightening.
Now, I will repeat that I did have an incredible amount of love and deep concern, and attempted action from my partner, family, and friends early on and over and over again. I listened, tried my best to change things but it wasn’t easy. I was seeing a psychologist during this time. She was brilliant and helped me a lot and over time I did make changes. In some ways things improved. But I wasn’t able to recognise that things still needed to dramatically shift. My appetite also wasn’t improving. I often felt beyond frustrated with feeling like I wasn’t ‘getting anywhere’ when in fact looking back now I was actually doing well. I just took on way too much and had way too high expectations of myself. My appetite remained average and my sleep remained poor.
It took several things for me to stop, listen deep within, take charge, ask for and accept the help I needed. Moments like physically not being able to finish off a plate of food, as I normally would, to have this feeling of my stomach being in the tightest knot ever was a clear sign. Having a panic moment at my GP when I actually saw what I weighed was incredibly frightening (I mean Christ! Never ever in my life would I imagine that I would drop so much weight unintentionally!). I desperately then knew I wasn’t myself. Something was wrong. I wanted to be myself again. I’d officially had enough. I loved food. And wanted to feel like me again, really strong and, my typical lover of life happy carefree self.
So finally, in the space of a year, I spiralled down and not due to anyone else, it was entirely my own doing. Once I hit rock bottom and realised that no matter how hard I tried I could not help myself I jumped full pelt into being aware of the help I needed. With my GP and fabulous psychologist I embarked on a several month journey of recovery. I allowed myself to take some real time out too, finally. I decided to try medication for a period of time and it really helped me. My appetite returned, man that feeling of hunger and satiation after a delicious meal! I felt in tune with my body again. I also slept better, night after night. Wow, what it feels like to actually have a sound sleep! I felt calmer, stronger and better things followed.
My weight steadily and healthily increased to where it is now – my healthy weight. A weight which I feel great at, a body that I can think clearly in. My physical health returned to normal.
I now have a very deep understanding of the power of stress and anxiety. I have a deep understanding of the resistance to asking for or accepting help. I know how one may not recognise that they may need help. I also have an appreciation of how quickly you can find yourself in a state of not being ok, and actually not knowing how the hell you got there.
A question or conversation can make all the difference. If you know of anyone, or if you yourself are not feeling so ok, know that you’re not the only one. Know that it’s ok to not be ok. And also know that if you’re not feeling like yourself, for example always on overdrive or often down or stuck, you don’t need to stay there.. please take a tiny step in changing things for yourself. I hope this story helps even just one person out there not experience what I did.
One more thing. This is not a cry for help. This experience is in the past, I am now myself again. I have the most amazing partner, family and friends around me. I am also well aware of how privileged I am and feel lucky to live within the community that I do and to be able to do what I love. We have choices in life. I chose to do a million things. I chose not to listen to my body early on when it was clearly exhausted. I thought ‘oh yeah, I’m made of steel, I can do this’. Well, actually I’m not made of steel but I’m incredibly strong, and so are you. We are not made of steel, we are only human. We need to look after ourselves, no matter how driven, capable, resilient or crazy ambitious we are. There are several positive much needed changes I made to my life after this experience which I will share another time. I still run my business, I still work part time but also have daily activities that keep me centred, help me pause, reduce stress and enable me to feel balanced.
So, to finish off, if you ever feel stressed or anxious.. simplify, slow down, be present, count your blessings, communicate, do the things you love, things that make you happy, ask for help when you need it, give love and care and accept love and care.
If you want to talk to someone or if you are worried about someone else however have no idea where to start, know that you’re welcome to contact me. I empathise and would love to help.
With care, Lara x