Men’s Health Week 2021: day 4 – Discover #discoverthursday
For day four of Men’s Health Week, we are encouraged to discover something new, the suggestion they provide us with being ‘discover a book that you haven’t read before’.
This suggestion is really quite apt for me because reading or ‘bibliography’ was actually in part responsible for my survival and recovery from severe mental illness.
Discovering while you recover
Anyone who’s ever experienced severe depression knows how catastrophically your energy levels are depleted. It’s almost impossible to do anything that requires any kind of physical effort to help yourself and my advice would be – don’t even begin to try!
The messages in the media that are instructing us to ‘exercise’ are worrying me because for mental illness there’s no way you can use exercise to improve your symptoms – for mental ‘health’ (well-being) yes of course, for mental illness – absolutely no f’ing way!
When you’re suffering to the extent that I was (when I was literally ‘dying to stay alive’), even getting from bedroom to bathroom can be an act of excruciating effort, so there’s no way you can go for a run or even a walk really at that stage.
You need to conserve your energy until you feel well enough to use exercise as an aid to your well-being, but it is still important to find an activity that you can engage with while you are ill, especially when you are in the recovery stages.
Discovering the present moment
For long stretches of my illness, I didn’t really do anything at all except sleep because it was the only escape route I knew that could release me from the mental pain and raging suicidal thoughts.
It wasn’t until my last episode (which lasted nearly four years) that I discovered that I could actually do something to help myself.
I knew that there was no way that I could do anything that required expending even the smallest amount of energy so it needed to be something sedentary that I could quietly engage with without too much effort.
The problem was that my interest in living was so decimated that even my concentration seemed to be affected, and I couldn’t really muster up the energy to do anything except resisting my suicidal urges for a ridiculously long time.
However, I did eventually find that if I forced myself to engage with reading, the act of focussing the stunted brain meant that I could access the present moment and escape (if only temporarily) from the barrage of negative thoughts that so often plagued my mind.
When I discovered this revelation, I decided to read all the time, and I must have devoured nearly fifty self-help and depression/ bipolar memoirs over the space of about six months!
I learnt so much from these sources that I very slowly started to improve - I learnt how to challenge my own thoughts, and used practical steps, and although it wasn’t enough to steer me out of the illness in the long term (I was ridiculously ill), it did help me to somehow stay alive.
I blogged my way through the process and found that I could also access the present moment through writing – although my writing admittedly was wood because my capacity for creativity of thought was still so unbelievably restricted.
I found that I had so much knowledge that I sat down and began to write my own book. It’s now four years since I wrote the first word of a combined self-help/memoir called ‘Dying to Stay Alive!’ which is still sitting on my laptop – Please God will an agent hurry up and help me to get it published - the wait is agonising!!
Rediscovering old passions and discovering new ones
Since reaching full remission from bipolar disorder about eight months ago now, I have slowly reclaimed interest in all of my former passions, and the process of rediscovery has been really quite fascinating because as well as my old passions, new pastimes and pleasures have sparked an interest in me too. HALLELUJAH for that quite frankly!
There was a time when I thought I would never be able to ride, write or exercise ever again, yet here I am riding out for a racehorse trainer, blogging, writing a book, walking, studying French, doing up a cottage, socialising and wild swimming again – the transformation is miraculous!
Since getting better I have also discovered new things about myself too, like the fact that I am now interested in gardening! This has come as a bit of a surprise considering I never really showed any interest in nature before the illness, yet now I find myself googling names of flowers and planting advice and asking people what to spray on roses to get rid of greenfly!
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir
Through lockdown I started walking every day in the woods around South Oxfordshire and have continued to do so over the last few months.
Noticing and discovering the changes in season, as well as the resurgence of plants and flowers, has been so amazing for me because for so much of my adult life I’ve seen nothing but darkness. I've seen everything from snowdrops in February, to daffodils, bluebells and now foxgloves which I saw for the first time yesterday (see pic above).
Now I take interest in the smallest things, and I’m way more content than I was even before the illness ever presented itself. That, and being prioritised in the Covid vaccine roll-out are the only two good things to ever have come out of having bipolar disorder!! Anyway, I will take both because my outlook is completely different and I think I’m a better person too.
Music has not featured in my life for so long because with depression I just wasn’t able to appreciate it in any way at all.
However, over the last few months, I have been rediscovering music and listening to all sorts of artists from the past which has provoked such a sense of nostalgia.
I have also discovered some new music and have been listening to a wonderful French singer called Indila who sings about mental battles, the ego, ‘the war within ourselves’, and something called ‘Tourner dans le Vide’ which literally means ‘Turn into the void’ – obviously I relate to all of this entirely!
I was listening to one of her songs yesterday, when I was out walking and she was singing about how life can be compared to a boat in the waves, repeating the refrain:
“Avec le temps tout s'éloigne Avec le temps tout se soigne.”
She’s saying that with time everything fades away, and everything heals itself which I thought was a pretty relevant and fitting message for myself, and anyone else either suffering, or recovering from a battle with mental illness.
Discovering the U.K
I’ve heard so many people complaining recently about the fact that they are going to be unable to go on their holidays abroad this year.
After the nightmare I’ve been through, I’m just thrilled to be well enough to be able to appreciate a sunny day in England so I’m really not upset by the current restrictions and like many other mental illness sufferers - I never was either!
I don’t know why people can’t see this as an opportunity to explore the U.K this year and support British tourism.
I’ve already been up to Shropshire, The Cotswolds and Northants to see friends over the last few weekends and I’m going to be going to Wales, and Norfolk later in the year as well.
I’m looking forward to discovering new places and to be honest as long as I’m well, I couldn’t really care less about anything else!!
What is anyone else doing for Men’s Health Week and the CAN DO Challenge on #discoverthursday? Please do let me know!
I’ve had some really lovely feedback since I wrote my first Men’s Health Week post on Monday so thank you! Please keep sharing these posts so that I can reach more people and please keep the suggestions for future posts coming!
If you would like to know more about the CAN DO Challenge and how you can get involved then you can find more information here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,