(This post is part of a series of posts about mental health. You can find the first one of these posts here.)
I knew i needed a rest, to go deep and quiet. But it’s all very well to say you have to stop. What i didn’t know was how to do that.
I had three kids, a husband who ran his own successful (and sometimes really stressful) business, responsibilities at church, occasional work, big stuff happening in my extended family, friends who were grieving, friends battling with infertility, and at least a dozen other friends with tiny ones just trying to get through the day. And besides all that there was the little matter of my own ambition – the stuff I really wanted to achieve. There was a lot going on.
I had to get up, the kids had to get dressed and be fed.
I had to take one to school and one to nursery.
I had to make tea.
Occasionally I had to clean stuff.
I couldn’t go to bed for days, that wasn’t an option available to me. And i don’t know if i would have got well any quicker if I had. Maybe. But maybe not.
Apart from the non-negotiables I tried to cut as much other stuff out of my life as I could. I tried to not be in any situation where stuff would be required of me. I sacked off meetings, and pulled out of a big work project (this was a challenge to do but once i had done it I felt so good!).
I didn’t go to church but went for long walks on my own on Sunday mornings, or sat and watched repeats of America’s Next Top Model (I know… classy). Occasionally I bought ready meals or called for take-away instead of cooking everything from scratch. In the evenings as soon as Matt got in (around 6) I would take Ed (only 5 months at the time) and disappear to feed him in front of the TV. I let Matt do bath and bedtime while I watched Emmerdale.
It might sound like a small thing but, when everything is a threat to your stability even my choices in TV had to be carefully made. At the time i couldn’t risk watching anything that might trigger a negative or anxious thought process. I had to protect myself from even fictional pain.
Then, I had to start saying ‘no’. That is not an easy word for a people pleaser to say. I like to make people happy and say yes when they ask me to do things.
Someone wiser than me told me once that sometimes you have to say ‘no’ four times before people hear you or take you seriously. Especially if you are the kind of person who says ‘yes’, a lot.
Without apologising, or feeling you have to justify why; just to say ‘no’.
And then if they try and persuade you, say ‘no’ again, politely.
Then when they try and convince you it wont be much work and they will make it as easy as they can for you; ‘no’.
And again for good luck.
Saying ‘no’ is a bit nerve-wracking at first but is quite empowering once you get into it. I have found it tricky. Like a lot of things, it gets easier with practice.
Making these changes took a while. I would often forget that i needed to rest, and plan things, or offer to help a friend out, only to spend the next few days panicking about it and figuring out how I could get out of it.
One of the most difficult things I had to do was to have to stop seeing some of my most lovely friends.
Quite a few of my favourite people were in a bad way too (through various other horrible circumstances and situations). I just couldnt handle their pain on top of my own. I offended some very special people at this time. I didn’t mean to and i didn’t want to. But I needed to get well, and for that I needed to dramatically reduce the stress in my environment, so I could concentrate on recovering (or re-filling my bucket). To those lovely people who felt I abandoned them, I’m still gutted that had to happen, and thanks for bearing with me.
I cant pretend these were easy changes to make. They might not seem like big things, but every time I stepped back from a responsibility, or didn’t do something I had planned to do, I felt guilty and like a failure. I had to try and not pay too much attention to these feelings (not easy!) and do what was necessary.
Did you notice how I just slipped in the fact that I have responsibilities at church? Subtle, no!? I am a christian and attend a large church in Liverpool. Some of the ideas I had about my faith have not helped me at all when dealing with my depression. There was a lot of bad thinking on my part about who God is and who I am. I have wrestled with it A LOT over the last four years. I’ll write about it at some point.
(extra points to anyone who noticed the wrong edit posted yesterday… fixed now!)