As this years theme is kindness I thought I’d share some of the kind acts that have supported me in my recovery journey. Hopefully these can be points for reflection if you or someone you know has mental health challenges. When you are very unwell these things can be crucial but small acts of kindness also just make the world go round…
1. Friends being patient, the number of times I cancelled plans, forgot birthdays or spent 3 hours on the phone talking about only myself. My friends were super patient with me and that ensured i was more likely to make plans in the first place (I knew I could cancel if I felt anxious or exhausted from insomnia) and that I was always able to share with them how I was feeling. Having such steady friendships meant I knew I could always count on them, however shit a friend I was being and now I have solid friendships that have a more mutual dynamic.
2. Having a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) who always went the extra mile and had my back (or when he didn’t it was for my own good because I was being belligerent). I was exceptionally lucky to have a CPN for such a long period, it’s now highly unusual to have the same persons involvement for several years. A CPN gets to know you and visits you in a safe space, usually your home. They can help you stay on top of medication and make adjustments if needed and get to know you well enough they can pick up on warning signs you might be becoming unwell. For example one time I stormed out of a psychiatric appointment and hid in a bush and then under my bed for fear they would find me and section me. Now this sounds kind of obvious that these are the actions of an unwell person but I didn’t see it at the time and trusted him when he suggested I perhaps needed to increase my medication. My last appointment with him he told me how proud he was of me for everything I had achieved and that he really believed I knew myself well enough now to need very little psychiatric input in the future, it sort of felt like losing a family member. His kindness was integral to getting and staying well.
3. Having a supportive family. From hiding sharp objects in the house or simply picking up on warning signs and asking me to come stay my family have been a huge part of my ability to get and then stay well. Right from the beginning of being unwell they were involved in meetings with my University, mental health professionals and each other to ensure I was supported at all times. I may have spent my 22nd birthday in a psychiatric Day Hospital but it could have been an inpatient Hospital had I not had family around me. In Day Hospital I learnt (and this was literally one of the few things I learnt) about the boat analogy. This is the idea that if your boat is filled with many compartments and you hit a rock, hopefully the spread of water doesn’t sink your boat. Conversely if your boat has only one or two compartments it is pretty easy for it to flood and sink quickly. You are the boat and these compartments are your support system, the more compartments you can put in place the easier it is to stay afloat when you are unwell. I am very privileged to have many compartments in the form of people but you were also encouraged to view your hobbies, psychiatric support and self care tools as compartments.
3. Having a supportive Voluntary Services Manager. My initial role as a volunteer was fundamental to building confidence and reminding myself that yes I was a competent human being. Had I not had very patient staff around me supporting me in my role and encouraging me to have faith in my ability I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. I needed that low pressure confidence boost to get into the swing of something resembling work. I’m not sure I was always helpful at the start but by the end I was definitely contributing significantly. Had I not had a Manager who supported me in gradually building this I don’t think I would have ever gone into paid work.
4. My benefits being cut swiftly pushed me into work but it was the support of my Manager and team that helped me stay there. Starting paid work was hugely stressful, not only was I learning a new role which is always hard but I was also learning to function around human beings for 8 hours a day. Work was exhausting and I have never eaten more deliveroo in my life but it was the support of an amazing team that got me through that initial patch. Only a few years ago my friend and I spent an afternoon in Croatia talking about how I would likely never work, I just couldn’t imagine a time when that would be possible. Now I am thriving in my role and feel confident in my ability and what I bring to the job. If I hadn’t had a Manager who was flexible with my working from home, gave me the time to vent in my super long 1:1s and allowed an open dialogue about how I was feeling I couldn’t have stayed in work.
5. The kindness found in a steady relationship. My current relationship is probably the first where I have felt totally myself and able to be open about my diagnosis and it’s smaller day to day implications. I haven’t dated someone who has been so flexible and supportive and that has allowed me to feel safe and more relaxed. Usually I find dating pretty stressful and and living on my own has been fundamental to my staying well as it has allowed me to step back from people when I need to. It is a huge testament to the relationship that a) we even contemplated spending lockdown together and b) this has worked incredibly well. I am very much a personal space person and when I don’t have that I find my anxiety levels shoot up and I feel trapped. If I feel that way he leaves me to my space without taking it personally. One of the kindest things you can do for someone is ask ‘what can I do to help?’ and he is fantastic at that. By being so flexible and understanding I am able to relax and the relationship is healthier and less volatile.
So these are just a handful of acts of kindness that have been fundamental to my recovery and staying well. You might think a lot of them should be a given; your family should look out for you, your employers should be supportive and your psychiatric team should be advocating for you. But this isn’t always the case and illustrates that when acts of kindness are shown it allows someone to flourish. It’s why it’s so important to be kind and compassionate to everyone we meet, not everyone has these compartments to their boat but we all have the opportunity to temporarily take the place of one.
Now, during a global pandemic (whaaat!?) we need to be mindful of this more than ever. I have seen far too many videos shaming people in parks or visiting family in their gardens and this needs to stop. We need to be kind to one another, not make assumptions and recognise that we are all managing the best we can. We should remind ourselves that we are physically distancing, not socially distancing and say hello and give one another a smile in the street. We know peoples mental health is being significantly effected but people proclaim that ‘well it’s this or dying’, that may be true but we enter dangerous territory when we think like this. It means we begin to compare physical and mental health again in a way we have tried to move away from in recent years.
For some people the effect of isolating on their mental health is profound and we shouldn’t dismiss those feelings. This isn’t always easy, when I see neighbours in and out of eachothers houses or get a pang of jealousy when I see someones spacious kitchen and garden I too find it hard not to be critical. But I recognise that I am fed up of being in a poky flat and sharing a small space with a large office chair that dominates our living room. That I am projecting these feelings onto others, people whose circumstances I really know very little about. It’s ok to validate feeling pissed off, claustrophobic and frustrated whilst also recognising that many of us are privileged to be somewhere we feel safe. If we all exercise kindness not only are we greeted with an opportunity to make someones day but we also lighten our own load, after all, carrying around negativity is pretty exhausting.