Tag Archives: mental wellness

I’ll be happy when…

  • I’d be happy if I found a new job…
  • I’ll be happy when I get a promotion…
  • I’d be happy if we had a bigger house…
  • I’ll be happy when I retire…
  • I’d be happy if I could get pregnant…
  • I’ll be happy when my family’s complete…
  • I’ll be happy when my children leave home…
  • I’d be happy if I could lose weight…
  • I’d be happy if I found a partner…
  • I’d be happy if I wasn’t chronically ill…

So many of us spend our lives chasing happiness around as though the next big thing will be the answer. Unfortunately, we often find that when we arrive at what we think will produce these magical feelings, we don’t feel happy and we need to set the next goal.

Ambition is good, aiming to achieve the next goal and believing it’s possible is how we better ourselves. However, pinning our hopes of happiness on achieving this next goal doesn’t work!

It’s as though happiness is always over-there-somewhere, this intangible thing. The reason we never quite achieve happiness is because we think happiness comes from something outside ourselves. But happiness must come from within.

Person standing on a very tall ladder reaching into the sky

I spent my teenage years and young adult life thinking I would be happy when I achieved the next stage of becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, each stage was never quite as I imagined and always brought a lot more stress. On top of my faulty belief, I was also depressed. Mental illness requires support and/or treatment from a trained professionals. If you think you, or someone you know is mentally ill, there’s no quick fix, I urge you to seek appropriate help. However, anyone can re-frame the beliefs we have around happiness (thinking it’ll come when some goal is attained) and we can, almost overnight, feel happier.

What if your current situation was ok? What if being: in education, in your current job, single, childless, your current weight, in your current state of health, wasn’t fraught with judgement? It’s what you think about your current situation that’s getting in the way. What if you could find contentment which, in turn, could mean happiness?

People who are unhappy with their weight are generally judging themselves as greedy or lacking in self control. People who are unhappy at work might be judging themselves as underachieving, perhaps comparing themselves to peers. People unhappy with their relationship status judge themselves as unattractive, undesirable, failing in some way. Someone who’s childless may think they’ve failed in some way.

What you’re doing right now, your current situation, is part of your journey, it is shaping you, developing you, strengthening you. Judging ourselves is cruel, unhelpful, unnecessary and only leads to unhappiness!

Person lying on the ground smiling broadly with a dog by their side

Maybe you’re not precisely where you want to be but that’s ok.

Being content is not an excuse for apathy. If changes need to be made or you desperately want something, you can still strive, but if you stop judging your current situation it’s amazing how much more energy you have to fight for what you want!

Most of us have a friend who was single, very “keen” for a relationship… wasn’t it when they stopped behaving so “keenly” that they found love?! And, how many people have got pregnant the moment they stop trying?!

Once we’re ok with being who we are and where we are, we become happier and funnily enough, change becomes more possible!

Some people become stuck in mental illness, often using maladaptive coping strategies over and over. Often they’ll feel angry with themselves for “doing it wrong”. Thoughts such as “if only I could sort myself out” or “if only I was a better person” or “if I had better support” are very common vicious cycles. But what if these could be re-framed as “I’m doing my best” and “I have some support I could use”, the picture looks different. Of course, I know it’s not as simple as that but being ok with who we are and what we’ve got can free us up to see where and how small gradual changes can be made.

Illness and wellness are not binary

Illness – a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.

Wellness -a state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.

I was ill with anorexia and depression for many years. I spent a long time in recovery, making steps towards wellness, it was a tough journey but I got to the point where I felt I could say I was recovered a couple of years go.

A stable mood, a stable weight, a life focused on the future rather than having to focus on managing my mental health and many other markers of freedom have been reached.

But I still have to do a lot to manage my mental health. To maintain my mood I need to manage my weekly and daily routine so that I manage my energy levels, get enough rest and carefully consider how much stress is acceptable and what activities I can manage. I practice mindfulness as it helps me stay in the here and now rather than panicking about the future or dwelling in the past.

To stop myself spiralling into anorexia, I have to eat regularly but avoid rituals or strict habits. Over eating and under eating are ok but I must always be on the watch for the “anorexic voice” – it’s easily triggered by today’s diet culture chatter and irresponsible social media postings.

I am no longer “ill” and I “actively pursue” wellness.

I have heard some people say they are chronically ill because they will be on medication for the rest of their lives. I have tried coming off my medication, tapered gradually, but my symptoms returned. I have had to come to terms with the fact that I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life – but I don’t consider that to be the definition of illness.

Someone who has high blood pressure usually manages their blood pressure with lifestyle and medication in order to keep their blood pressure within normal limits. Someone who has diabetes uses lifestyle, medication and/or insulin to keep their blood sugars within normal ranges. Equally, I use lifestyle and medication to manage my mental health.

Even though I continue to need to manage my mental health I don’t think considering myself as an ill person is helpful. For some people, holding onto an identity as an ill person can have a negative impact on self esteem and ability to develop and grow as a person. But if I consider myself well and/or recovered, there’s the risk I might take my eye off the ball and not give my health the attention it needs.

So if I am neither ill nor well, what am I?!

Maybe I don’t need a label for what I am!

Sometimes I am more well than others – I have to work hard to stay well, that does not mean I am ill. I do not have to let this define me. I’m learning, despite what some people will have you think, not fitting into a category isn’t a bad thing!

The power of silence

Does anyone else find the world too noisy?

I think we’ve forgotten what quiet is like. Some people find silence awkward or uncomfortable, but I think that’s only because people feel a pressure to fill the gap.

Take the pressure away and silence is just that, some quiet time – there’s nothing intimidating or scary about that.

Yes, I know there are times, perhaps when meeting someone at a party, when small talk is polite, social etiquette is fine but that’s not what I’m talking about.

To be able to be silent with someone is a sign that the relationship has reached a deeper level. That you can just be with this person, without the pressure to fill the gaps says you’re totally comfortable with them.

Silence allows us to just be!

There are people who think out loud – I find this baffling but accept that’s what they need to do. It’s important to understand lots of people need time and space to think inside their heads.

I find it very difficult to concentrate when there’s extra noice around. I have make a conscious effort to block it out, it takes a lot of energy and this detracts from the actual thing I’m trying to concentrate on!

It’s amazing what we can discover in the gaps!

In my counselling training we’ve discussed how important it is to leave silence for our clients. It’s important to give them time to think, it’s only by doing this do we get beyond the practical facts of the situation and into the deeper feelings etc.

As a Christian, I pray daily. For me, this is not a formal process, I chat to God in my head. God does not need me to talk using my external voice. There are times I pray with other Christians. Praying out loud is something some people feel a pressure to do and can get quite anxious about saying “the right thing” – as far as I’m concerned there is no “right” way to talk to God, he knows everything that’s on our hearts, he does not need us to utter a word. The only reason to pray out loud is for the benefit of those around you, this is only necessary in specific circumstances. I pray weekly with a group of people where we share some prayers points, then we sit in silence for a few minutes – in this time God hears the prayers of every individual, instead of just the vocal one! Prayer is a 2 way thing – when Mother Teresa was asked what she said to God, she answered, “I listen”, when with excited anticipation she was asked “what do you hear God say?”, she replied “he listens” – I know this will not speak to everyone but for me it’s one of the most enlightening things I’ve ever heard.

Silence can be refreshing!

As a musician, I couldn’t write a blog about silence without mentioning John Cage’s 4’33”. I’ve never experienced it but I’m in no doubt, sitting in a concert hall full of people (adhering to concert hall etiquette), listening to nearly 5 minutes of ambient sound would be pretty powerful! Music is made up of notes of varying tone, pitch and duration with gaps of silence; John Cage challenges his audience to listen but he’s removed 1 aspect of the music. So, the debate continues about whether it’s music but there’s no doubt it’s an experience!

The therapy session that said to me “this therapist is for me” was one where I sat in silence. I thought he’d be angry that I wasn’t using the session productively – I felt pressure to fill the gap (it wasn’t silent, I was sobbing…) but I couldn’t put any of what I was feeling into words. Looking back, I was angry, but I didn’t have the word, I felt overwhelmed but didn’t know what it was. As a side note, my therapist wasn’t angry with me, he gave me what I needed – time and space to just be.

When I find silence, I can actually feel my ears relax! As a highly sensitive person, noise can be anxiety provoking, some sounds drill into my head as a physical sensation. But when I find silence, I feel my ears say “thank you”!

How about you try it? For a lot of people it will be difficult to find some quiet, but try, sit with your thoughts, don’t get caught up in them but mindfully notice them and see where they go! Quiet can nurture creativity, an inner calm or a deeper understanding of ourselves – it’s worth giving it a go!