What's Really Going On In That Mind of Yours | #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

25 May 2019

Photographs by Rashidah Beatson.

Having an argument with your best friend in the middle of Westfield probably isn’t the best way to share your struggles with anxiety and eating issues. Sorry hun!

It was #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek last week and following a conversation between my two flatmates, a recent post from Grace Victory, I thought I’d share my story and my relationship with mental health. As well as give a few pointers on what helps me feel better when it seems like the world is caving in. 

Mental Health doesn’t necessarily display any physical signs. Of course, the physical signs can come a little later. But my point being, that you never always know what is going on up there for someone unless they tell you. And that’s the sort of relationship I have with my mental health. I have struggled on and off with anxiety for around four or five years now. It tends to come in waves. Thankfully, it’s getting much better. From the outside, I always make sure I look put together as I’m very good at separating my thoughts from my facial expressions. So while I’m panicking upstairs, I’ll look like the calmest in the room.

It was over the summer before year 11 when in the space of one week, I had dropped one stone (about 6KG). As I was already slim, it had quite a negative impact on my body and mental health. I’m pretty sure I was underweight. I struggled to eat; my stomach had shrunk from having nothing in it for a week. I experienced full-blown anxiety for the first time and I struggled a lot with controlling my breathing. 

When I returned to the weight I was before I still had bouts of anxiety, but the second year of A-Level was the absolute worst. Some days I’d turned back home because I worked myself up into a state on the way to Sixth-form. I never sat the mocks for one of my subjects and I sat my final exams in a separate room. I started to lose count of the number of times I practised breath control during A-levels.

At university, I feel anxious at times. My living situation has not helped at all and as a result, I’ve been to wellbeing a couple of times for it. However, for the most part, I manage and a little pep talk always helps.

There are not always obvious signs when someone is struggling with mental health. There can be little subtle changes in their behaviour; a little quieter than usual or not quite in the present. They may act differently towards you or even be a little more annoying than usual. These changes often happen because they have a lot going on internally, that they are less attentive to what is going on around them.

The easiest way to find out is to ask them how they’re feeling. Instead of the 'hey, how are you?', try 'Hey, how are you feeling today?' or 'How are you, mentally?' Ask more pointed questions because from my experience, if someone asks how you are it’s very easy to brush them off and evade how you’re really feeling. My best friend and I often ask these questions now, to avoid a repeat performance in Westfield, and it works as a silent 'I’m here when you need me'.

Ask your friends and your parents how they’re doing. Nothing is worse than finding out a few months or even a year later that someone close to you has been struggling internally for a long time because they didn’t feel like they could talk to you. Let them know that you’re available to lend an ear or give some advice when they need it. Use this time to encourage a conversation about something you never really talk about. Not saying you have to change the way you live but start talking about it.

As for yourself, having good mental health isn’t all about baths, candles and treating yourself. Sometimes, it’s about looking after your body and your environment. 
  • Think: cleaning, paying bills, buying groceries. It’s the simplest of things but looking after your environment is quite important. 
  • Wash your hair or give your body a scrub. I notice a big difference in my attitude when I haven’t shaved my armpits for a long time. Take care in your physical appearance. After all, when you look good, you feel good. Make an effort on the outside and you’ll start to internalise that good feeling. P.S- I'm not saying you have to shave your armpits but if you 'let things go', your mind does too. Look after your body.
  • Go to the gym/ Take up an exercise. It's been proven that working your body physically helps with mental wellbeing. It really helps me with my anxiety. Focusing on exercise and the way your body moves, for even 30 minutes, has a massive impact. It takes you away from those spiralling thoughts leaving your body to relax.
  • Change location. I find that by removing myself from a room I spend a lot of time in or the house itself, makes me feel a lot better about things. I often associate places with feelings and changing the place, clears them away. Even going for a walk around the block can help to clear your head. 

With all that said, use this week to care of yourself and to talk to those around you. Whether you share your problems with them or they share theirs; it’s a start. There’s a whole spectrum when it comes to mental health and while I put myself on the somewhat healthy end, if you’re struggling then there's is plenty of support out there from your family and friends to organisations such as Mind and Samaritans.

Love, Aoife xo