I’m sitting on the sofa, with my wife sitting across from me on our bean bag, as we kick back and tuck into our new guilty binge watching pleasure on Amazon Prime - The Modern Love series. We had to switch from Netflix to Prime after we discovered Netflix had been double charging us for the last 2 years, don’t get me started on that. Anyway, the 3rd episode in the series is starring Anne Hatheway playing a bipolar character. It was shocking to see the depiction of her struggles whenever the grey smog of depression overcame her. Throughout her life, the depression had been robbing her of jobs, friends and partners. What was most touching was the scene when she finally comes clean to a friend, admitting her bipolar condition. This small gesture of vulnerability opens a floodgate for Anne’s character, acting as the catalyst that gives her the courage to reach out to others that she had shut out over the years for fear of exposing her condition. In finally revealing herself, Anne’s character experiences a cathartic release. She is ultimately overwhelmed by the support she receives when she let people in on the truth.
After watching the show, I began to ponder how important it is to take proactive steps to protect your mindset and continuously tell others how you feel. By being vulnerable with the right people, you’re able to share your challenges and problem solve with others, which is key to protecting your mindset and mental health. For example, my wife is continually asking me how I feel and whether I am ok and to be honest this used to irritate me. I think the reason for this irritation was due to my background and the environment I grew up in. Without conscious effort I had become adept at compartmentalising certain thoughts and emotions to enable me to survive and push on, as I like to call it. But I have to admit, my wife has a point. I’ve learnt that when I don’t share how I’m feeling, I have a tendency to go for long periods then blow up over small issues. So I have set the intention to develop a habit of having regular check-ins on how I feel, and it still feels a bit strange and takes some getting used to. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel emotions and my wife keeps telling me how emotionally intelligent I am (I’m sure some friends will laugh at this comment) and empathic (perhaps too much, sometimes). When I reflect over the last 4 years of being married, I realise that I do have a tendency to bottle up certain things, surprisingly. Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism just to get through the crap when it’s happening. However, I’ve realised that this worked in the past, helping me survive. But if I want to thrive in this new chapter of my life and learn to protect my mindset, I need to learn to share more and be vulnerable with the right people. I want to reiterate though that this sort of vulnerability should be reserved for “the right people”--those that you feel safe with and whose presence/interaction raises your energy in a positive way.
Given my work with performers and imminent approach of fatherhood, I have also come to realise that the practice of sharing your emotions and being vulnerable is very important to proactively protecting your mental health. When it comes to mental health, it is arguably better to spend all your energy, resources and time protecting it, because when it’s gone, the process of trying to repair and rebuild it is very painful and taxing on you and your loved ones. I have noticed a big shift in the culture and mood around me, for example, in recent discussions with friends. More and more, friends are willing to admit to suffering mental health problems or having loved ones who have been through mental health challenges. Even those that would normally not share anything like this unless we were extremely inebriated, are now very comfortable unburdening sensitive information over a chat with nothing stronger than a cup of coffee in sight. I am always shocked when someone who appears happy and put together on the outside begins sharing, revealing that they are going through immense challenges and are deeply unhappy. So I really welcome the recent change in culture and mood, where it’s becoming the norm to share information about your mental health. I feel it’s a big step towards tackling the stigma that exists in our society.
One of my deepest fears is to find out that one of my friends committed suicide and I wasn’t even aware of their depression. So I encourage everyone to pick up their phones and call a friend or better still, pop over to surprise them and take them out for a meal and just listen to see how they are truly doing. Also, to those who suffer in silence, please take that first step to trust that the people around you actually give a damn when they ask you how you are doing.
Nowadays, when my wife turns over to ask me how I’m doing, I take time to pause and reflect and share a verbal stream of consciousness with her. It takes a lot of practice to get used to it, but it feels a lot better when I’ve shared. Sometimes it may cause arguments (if what I’m feeling is about something she did or said) but it’s always better out than in and it’s never as bad as you think it may be when it stays bottled up in your head.
What steps do you take to protect your mental health? (Please comment)
What I’ve learnt that works for me is to communicate more, sharing my thoughts with my spouse and close trusted friends. The intention is to share what I like to call a “stream of consciousness”. Nothing is ever as bad as you think when you say it out loud. It’s always better to take proactive steps to discuss issues before they fester into something bigger. Also, I find it helpful to take time to reflect and monitor your emotional tank, topping it up with things that rejuvenate you. For me, at the moment, this involves rediscovering my love for squash, which helps me let off steam and switch off. It’s been a life saver during this challenging period and I hope it will help me keep my blood pressure down. I know it’s counterintuitive for a game like squash, which is played at such a ferocious pace, to be relaxing, but that’s what works for me, I have learnt now not to fight this but rather to accept what works for me. My wife comments that I look visibly more relaxed whenever I play squash, and I sleep like a baby afterwards. I had been trying to substitute squash with running, yoga, basketball, swimming, and was about to take up tennis. My wife reminded me that these substitutes may not enable me to reach the level of flow that I crave, a flow which allows me to switch off. So it’s fair to say that I’m glad I rediscovered my love for squash. Doing so has proven to be a life saver over the last 2 months, particularly after the birth of our son. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the other activities but squash is the icing on the cake that I was missing. A word of warning though, without the balance of yoga, swimming and running, squash doesn’t work. I think there is a saying that what nourishes you, also destroys you. Regarding my love of squash, I have a tendency to overindulge. However, I have learned that getting injured means I’m not able to do anything else, so I try and balance squash with other activities.
What is your version of squash? (Please comment)