Money and Mental Health

So it has been a while!  After a few weeks of beating myself up for not being productive enough I decided to take a break to focus on studying and working. With the pressure of coursework and regular work I had to put some things on the back burner.

I struggled a lot trying to maintain healthy routines for myself and avoid relapsing, with so little down time outside of work and studying it was hard to practice regular self-care. It has only been a week or so and I am trying to be patient with myself while I try to get back into a routine of self-care and healthy coping strategies. I haven’t relapsed, which I am very proud of, but am conscious that I need to get into a better routine to maintain my mental health.

Although, I wasn’t posting regularly I found a lot of inspiration from people around me. This time of year, post-Christmas, tax returns, winter weather etc means most people have been feeling pretty broke and pretty low, and most of my conversations with friends have been about how crap they feel.

A few weeks ago, walking round Brixton with my friend, she told me about a friend she wanted to introduce me too. “He has been really depressed recently but he just got funding to do a big theatre tour so he is doing much better! … I actually said to him – do you think you were really depressed or just poor?”

It might seem flippant to chalk depression down to not having money but as an environmental factor it has a pretty big influence. It’s well known poor people have poorer mental health outcomes (do a quick google search and you’ll see the outcomes for children and adults living in poverty are pretty grim!). Although, I did already know that being poor and depressed could be linked something about my friend’s comment really hit me.

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I’ve said before that the absolute worst my mental health has been coincided with the poorest I have ever been.  2015 was terrible and to be honest 2016 wasn’t a million miles better but I was out of the financial skip I had been in.  A week after Christmas I was reminded of this when I went to go see Hamilton, for the third time in 2018.  When I first heard of the show in 2015 I fell in love immediately! But I couldn’t afford to buy the album. I listened to the songs out of order on youtube, dreaming of seeing it in real life. As I left the show with my friends at the end of 2018 I thought back on that year, would I have believed three years later I would not only have the money to see Hamilton but see it 3 times?

Is that the most significant change that has happened to me since 2015? No

Is being able to go to the theatre the key to improving mental health? Not at all, a few weeks later I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed!

But for me that moment reminded me that not having money is limiting not just in terms of your opportunities but also your aspirations. If this coincides with other stress or mental health dips, then it can become a toxic mix and navigating your way out of it isn’t easy.  Making more money or paying off a substantial debt won’t happen overnight but recognising that having less financially will affect your mental health could help you to work out small ways to counter it. Winning the lottery or living on a diet of boiled lentils aren’t realistic or  practical solutions.

Financial deprivation has a real impact on your optimism about life and you need to apply realistic solutions to manage your money and allow yourself to feel better.

Stop telling yourself you should have more money

One of the most depressing thoughts is that you are the only one who is out of control or has no money. Everyone else is going on wonderful holidays or buying houses and cars and you’re sat wondering how you are going to afford to travel to work next week.

Telling yourself you should have saved more two years ago or you shouldn’t have bought such and such a thing three weeks ago isn’t going to help. Feeling guilty or angry about it won’t motivate you to change your behaviour. Tell yourself it is a problem you are capable of solving, that managing the stress, deprivation and frustration all this time is a sign of your resilience not weakness or recklessness.

Come up with a realistic strategy

Recognising that having a crappy paying job, living in an expensive place or having huge debt (or all three!) is important. Deciding you won’t go out for the next six months or will only eat cornflakes for a month is unlikely and won’t make you feel beter. Depriving yourself when you are already feeling deprived won’t improve your well-being.

Clearly define what the problem is, are you spending too much in rent? Is your debt repayment costing too much? Is there somewhere you can make a saving?

Identify clear areas where you can make changes and set dates to review it. Tell people you are doing it so they can support you with it.

Do research on websites like Money Saving Expert to find out if you could change your debt repayments, find deals on food and utilities and blogs on financial literacy. When you know better you do better.

Find cheap thrills

Saving money doesn’t mean you have to give up on treats for yourself. Some things are expensive, going on holiday for example, but it is possible to find cheaper alternatives. Save for your holiday and check or cheap alternatives for when you are there. Get rid of your gym membership and join a running club or do yoga online.  If you go out with your friends don’t drink so it is less expensive.

Don’t deprive yourself of the things that make you feel good, just adapt them to fit into the budget you have not the one you want. Be grateful for what you do have and don’t tell yourself you need something else to make yourself better or more valuable.

You’re already awesome and you don’t need any amount of money

or fancy looking pillows to prove that!

Talking as Self-Care

It has taken me a while to finish this post. The last few weeks have been really draining. I’ve swung from high to low on a daily basis, feeling empowered and out of control, struggling to manage myself and my mental health. I’ve been trying to bring myself back to the blog and see it as self-care but sometimes it is just easier to avoid things that are challenging or scary. Sometimes you’re avoiding them because it is the healthiest thing for you at the time. It isn’t always clear which category I am in.

I started this blog as an outlet to share my experiences but its hard to write about the things I have spent years hiding from everyone around me. In my most recent therapy session, I said something out loud which I don’t think I had even admitted to myself. I immediately burst into tears. Saying it out loud allowed me to just let go and be upset. I was embarrassed but it was necessary.

I have always been told I am too private,  like a brick wall, and I never really cared. I didn’t want people to know what was going on because I was so ashamed. For years I held things in and taught myself to hide what I really needed, letting it boil away inside me, till it burst out. I’d cry or get angry in situations that seemed unreasonable.  Talking to people I love and trust was a really important part of my recovery but I still struggle with it massively.

Talking as self-care is hard to define: in one way establishing boundaries for yourself (what you are willing or unwilling to share) is a key part of self-care but for me my boundaries can be so huge they can easily become barriers. Finding a safe way to talk about things is incredibly important but also goes against an instinct I have honed over decades. If it was easy I would already be doing it!

I spent 20 weeks in therapy and was told by my therapist at the end of it that they felt like they barely knew anything about me. It took a further 30 weeks of therapy with a new mental health team and a new therapist before I felt comfortable enough to talk about myself and how I felt. It still felt like I was trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, speaking with medical professionals was helping me develop a sense of security. It allowed me to go on to share what I was most ashamed of with my friends and family. Being able to say that I am really struggling in the moment is something I want to be able to do for myself. I’m not there yet.

It is much easier to write this now than it would have been a few weeks ago when I was at the bottom of a very hopeless hole. Every day felt like I was just trying to get my head back above water.  I am still on my way out of the hole but now I am able to write about it.

Talking isn’t easy especially about what you think people will judge you for but finding the right way for you will lift the weight of it.

If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying desbris in an already dangerous storm..png

Talk about it, write about it, read about it

 I’ve had plenty of bad experiences trying to talk to people about what I was going through. The therapist I spoke about often made me feel really misunderstood. Times before and since when I have tried to reach out I have been completely knocked down, been told by people I love they didn’t believe me, didn’t understand or called me a liar for not telling them earlier.

Not everyone is going to be able to listen or want to help. It isn’t their fault, it is just a sign that they can’t support you. Find people who can understand. Write to yourself about how you are feeling. Keep a diary or notes on your phone. Find a way to express what it going on and find communities who share your experiences.

Meditate

I know it is clichéd. Meditation has become the panacea for the world’s ills but there is a reason, it can really help.

I have always struggled with meditation, I still have to use guided meditations, as I find it difficult to settle my mind in silence. Using guided meditations has really helped develop my self-awareness, something I have always struggled with when I have been stressed or in crisis.

Have a look on youtube for some videos, have a listen, assess the narrators and topics and give it a go for a week. It won’t be easy to start with, nothing ever is, but meditation can help change the way you talk to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up if you fuck up

  When you are struggling, whether it’s just a bad day or a full-blown mental health crisis, it can be hard not to get frustrated with yourself. Wishing you had done things differently. Wishing you didn’t have whatever condition is causing your problem. Be kind to yourself. You are not to blame for whatever is happening. You can’t beat yourself into changing. Look after yourself. Be nice to yourself and the motivation and strength you need will come eventually.

Look after yourself and if someone is making you feel bad tell them to fuck off!

Happy New Year!

 

p.s. As you may have noticed I love Brene Brown, look her up on youtube!

Self-care songs

So it is self-care week and I am having a good week so far and feeling very conscious of looking after myself. Weeks like this are good but I know that if I don’t stick to my routines and practice regular self-care it could be very different, even if I do I might be in a very different mind space tomorrow, such is the beauty of mental health!

Music is a big part of my self-care, when I am at my lowest I can listen to songs on repeat for days, to give myself the mental boost I need to get through! So in honour of self-care week I have created my top 5 self-care songs along with a SSS from my lovely pal  who I know is also having a tough time at work!

Hope you love these songs as much as me and let me know your best pick me up, self-care songs!

  1. Star Red by Nakhane, from the album You Will Not Die

I have seen Nakhane live three times this year! I love their performance and I LOVE this song! Its about their grandmother and wherever I am, whatever I am doing it makes me smile. If you haven’t heard of them look them up! Elton John is a fan and you should be too!

 

2. Doubt by Samm Henshaw ft Wretch 32

I only just saw the video for this and I love it! This song just gives me cheesey grins and I can’t help but love its optimism.

3. T.H.U.G by Todrick Hall, from the album Forbidden.

So this song is a little explicit but I just love the beat! Always gives me the attitude I need to feel like I can kick ass at work!

4. Andinanto by the Soil, from the album Nostalgic Moments

I discovered The Soil in 2013 and they their songs got me through one of the toughest years of my life! This song came up on a playlist I was listening too so thought I would chuck it in here but I could do a top 10 Soil songs all on their own! Absolutely love their voices and no matter what the song it always manages to distract me from whatever I need it too!

 

5.  King of Wishful Thinking by Go West

So this song is dedicated to my lovely pal. It is not currently on my go to pick me up songs but the video is hilarious! For anyone who needs reminding of what the 80s looked like, here you go!

 

 

Self-care at work

The last two weeks at work have been long! I have quite an intense job anyway, I come across things day to day which most people on hear about in the news, but things have been especially bad recently. Working in the sector I do has made me very aware of secondary trauma and the need to “protect” myself and those that I manage from it but I can still get overwhelmed. In the last few weeks there have been a lot of things happening at work to add extra stress and the week before last especially got too much for me.

I had too many problems to handle at once, so I fell back into unhealthy coping mechanisms, and by last Sunday was in a very dark place. The problem I have with my negative/ unhealthy coping mechanisms is that they are so easy to use. They are easy because I relied on them for so long, they helped dull the problems I had, distracted me from what I didn’t want to deal with and helped me just keep ploughing through. But they don’t help long term, it might have shifted the problem but it is still there and the longer it goes unresolved the bigger and worse it feels. When you numb yourself to pain and stress you also numb yourself to excitement and joy. If you can’t feel the highs then how will you convince yourself there is anything better waiting at the end of the lows? Most likely you won’t, you’ll look to the same unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with what feels too difficult to deal with.

I’ve seen where I end up when I keep ignoring things and just try to struggle through, pushing myself to a point where I can’t take it anymore, and I know now that it doesn’t work. I need to reassess and look after myself before trying to tackle the external factors which are causing me problems.

Whatever job you have there are going to be problems. If you work in a bar you’ll spend shifts dealing with rude drunks who treat you like scum, in a corporate business you are constantly having to meet targets and if you’re a nurse then… good god I can’t even imagine!

Anyway, the point is stress is contextual. Whatever job you have it can really impact your personal life and self-care is a really important way to manage stress at work. If you don’t find space to de-stress outside work you won’t be able to deal with the stress of work. Now self-care can be looking for a new job to get away from stress at work which is too much but it isn’t going to be immediately effective. Self-care can’t solve all your problems but does give a light relief. My light relief might be quite different to yours, but regardless of what it is, the important part is not what it is but recognising what is healthy and helpful for you. Self-care is regular practice which refreshes you, gives you a chance to enjoy something without judgement and lets you process and let go of the stress in your life.

Set up clear routines, having a clear process in the morning and evening are great ways of resetting after a hard day. Whether that is cooking, showering or reading it will be useful is setting a mental boundary between work and home. My colleague told me she uses the drive home to process her day at work and by the time she gets home she feels able to relax. On occasions when she has to finish a report or something and works at night she can feel the tension come back.  If you forget or miss part of your routine don’t beat yourself up about it, just keep trying to build self-care into your routines.

Give yourself a break.  Lots of work places don’t have staff rooms or don’t have set times for their staff to take a break.  Especially when your colleagues don’t take breaks or time for lunch it can be awkward for you too but you deserve break. Take the time you need, if you don’t have a table and need to use your desk put your computer on sleep, don’t let yourself be distracted by work or go outside and find a nicer spot to eat.

Make plans. I have just started this myself, I used an old meal planner book I hadn’t used to plan out my next two weeks. I wrote out all of the self-care I would do for myself, yoga every other day, laundry twice a week, phone calls to family, deep cleaning my teeth. As I have said I can easily get bogged down, come home from work frustrated, stay in my room watching tv and then beat myself up for not being more productive. This week I haven’t done everything I said I would on the list but I have done a lot of it and I’ve felt much better mentally.

Chair dancing. So this one is very specific to me but might work for you too! I get really unsettled in office environments, I like being able to move around and work with people face to face but that is pretty rare in the office. So when I am feeling frustrated or unsettled I put on my playlist of favourite songs and do a little lip-synch/dance at my desk. It is stupid and I sometimes worry that my colleagues will spot me but it makes me smile! For those 3-4 minutes that’s all I need.

Whatever you choose to do, give some of them a try and write down how you are feeling at the end of the day. This will help you reflect on what works and what doesn’t.

Pick me up buttercup

Self-acceptance as self-care

In the last decade or so there has been a series of laws bringing about greater equality for previously marginalised groups, but alongside these there has been a rise in politicians, celebrities and others vocalising their refusal to accept people outside the ‘norm’. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to live in a community which verbally, physically or violently denies your right to exist. Being bullied as a child really shaped how I viewed my self-worth as an adult, as the voices of those who told me I was worthless or “wrong” then became my own critical voice. Self-compassion and acceptance were crucial for me to overcome my own mental health issues and whether you’re battling internal or external bullies accepting yourself could be life changing.

I’m surrounded by accomplished, talented and kind people but often they’ll bring up conversations about what they haven’t done, how they have failed or that they aren’t moving fast enough towards their goals. I knew I had beaten myself up for my failures and flaws but after a conversation with my aunt recently, who has had a successful professional career, owns her own home, has travelled around the world, retired, retrained and leads a very fulfilled life, I realised how pervasive it can be. She told me she had been worried about not feeling she was capable of starting a side project, looking at this highly accomplished and experience women I realised how difficult it is for so many people to see their accomplishments and accept themselves for what they are not what they should be. Surely if I had all the things she had I wouldn’t mind about not writing a journal regularly or not having more success with a small business which was inspired out of a hobby she had. But knowing how little credit I have given myself my whole life I realised, I would be doing the exact same, I have made a lot of progress but I still struggle to accept myself as I am and not question my ability to succeed at anything.

Why is it that we can never see the talents and accomplishments others see in us? Why does praising ourselves or patting ourselves on the back make us feel like we are being big-headed, over-confident or smug?

Or maybe you think that you are just realistic? I remember having this conversation with my therapist, “how can I accept myself without judgement when I have failed and done bad things? How can I accept the things I know are bad about myself? I want them to change and if I accept them then I won’t be motivated to change them.”

Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you’ll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you’re worthy of”, Robert Holden, Happiness Now!

But acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t work to change things it just means you don’t need to hate on yourself for them. Beating yourself up for the things you dislike about yourself or your life isn’t going to make you feel any better! In fact, I spent so long hating myself for being such a horrible failure I became convinced that I would never achieve anything, I couldn’t imagine myself content or healthy, I bullied the hope and optimism out of myself.

But how does this link to self-care?

Self-care is different for everyone, what I do to make myself feel good (eat pickles, watch Moana or do some yoga) might not have the same impact on someone else (who prefers bacon, kick boxing and star trek) but the point of self-care is to feel better and remind yourself you deserve nice things.

If you don’t accept who you are and what you have achieved then how will you feel happy with yourself? No matter what you do there will always be something else that isn’t right.

Things will change, your body, your job, your relationships, your community, all of the things which help shape you will themselves look different and you won’t have any control over it…

Self-acceptance will allow you to go through changes and steady periods without judgement. Things will keep changing, you will change, you will achieve but you measure yourself exclusively on it, it will be part of the picture of who you are, not a stain you’re a trying desperately to wipe off.

Ways to practice self-acceptance

I really, really, really struggle with this. In therapy I did a lot of activities focusing on bad thoughts I had about myself and more accepting/compassionate ways I could think about them. I found it excruciatingly difficult and then felt guilty about not being better at it. But it helped speaking to other people about it, hearing that they found it hard too and being told the things they thought were positive about me so I could use that to

Since I am still very much on my own journey with this I will borrow some advice nd guidance from Oprah

Step 1: Making contact with your inner self

This implies paying more attention to self-care. Through meditation, self-reflection or contemplation, and the experience of quiet at least a few minutes every day, you make contact with your inner world. You learn to appreciate and enjoy it.

Step 2: Honestly facing your inner obstacles and resistance

Most people don’t like to face their weaknesses and flaws because they judge against them. But you are only human, and you will find that your sense of insecurity and anxiety represents feelings from the past that can be healed. In fact, they want to be released if you will give them a chance. The first step in healing is to look inside and let the process of releasing begin. Healing can proceed along many avenues, from therapy and support groups to energy work, massage, mind-body programs and various Eastern medical approaches.

Step 3: Dealing with old wounds

One could also call this advanced healing. As old residues of negative emotions are released, you find that you are stuck with resentments, hurts and scars that must be dealt with. Beneath the scar, such wounds feel very fresh. It takes help from someone else who understands the situation to go into these dark places—it could be a close friend, mentor, confidant, priest or therapist. No one can do this work alone, I feel, but I’m not underlining any sense of danger or fear. The work can be done safely, without anxiety, and once you start, there’s a tremendous sense of exhilaration, even triumph in the process. Just find someone who has walked the path successfully and sympathizes with you fully.

Step 4: Forgiving your past
You shouldn’t jump too quickly into forgiveness. It’s all too easy to pretend to yourself that you forgive old hurts and abusive treatment, when, in fact, what you are eager for is to escape the pain. The absence of pain, achieved through healing, gives you the right foundation for deep, lasting forgiveness. Self-acceptance is required first, and the realization that you—and everyone around you—have been doing the best you can from your own level of awareness. This can be quite a challenge when someone has hurt you deeply, but you can’t fully separate from wrongdoing until you accept that others are trapped inside a reality they can’t escape.

Step 5: Accepting where you are right now
This, too, is a stage you shouldn’t jump into too quickly. The present moment isn’t free of the burdens, memories and wounds of the past. They must be attended to before you can look around, breathe easily and love the moment you are in right now. A good beginning is to catch yourself when you have a bad memory and say, “I am not that person anymore.” For the truth is that you aren’t.

Step 6: Forming relationships where you feel loved and appreciated
The path to unconditional love isn’t meant to be lonely. You should walk it with people who reflect the love you see in yourself. You are likely to look around at some point and realize that not everyone among your family and friends is in sync with your aspirations. Without rejecting them, you have the right to find people who understand the path you’re walking and sympathize with it. They are more likely to appreciate you for who you are now, and who you want to become.

Step 7: Practicing the kind of love you aspire to receive
I encountered many people, most of them women, who were constantly waiting for “the one” to show up and sweep them off their feet. But the only way to realistically find “the one” is to be “the one” yourself. Like attracts like, and the more you live your own ideal of love, the more your light will draw another light to you. This single point, I am told, has helped the most people find their love.

If you spend time every day with one or two of these steps, you will find a practical road that takes you to more love than you have in your life today. The steps unfold naturally once you begin to devote attention to them. You were born to be perfectly loved and you are completely lovable. The loss of that status is what’s unnatural, not wanting to return to it, and the return means reconnecting with your true self. The path has been walked successfully for centuries, so I hope you take heart and join the fortunate ones who aspire this high. There is no better time to begin than now.

Self-Care on a Budget

At one of the lowest points in my mental health I was also really poor. I could barely afford to pay my rent every month, I’d take loans from friends to cover the difference, I would search my room for change to pay the bus to get to work. I had very little and the little I did have went on coping mechanisms which didn’t help me overcome the deep depression I was in.

I didn’t see it at the time but the deprivation I was experiencing in terms of my finances was having a big impact on my ability to feel deserving of self-care. Deprivation comes in many forms; love, food, finances, opportunity. Not having what you need or want, especially from a young age, can have a really negative impact on your outlook and ability to look after yourself. The deprivation I experienced as a child made me believe I didn’t deserve good things. I wasn’t good enough to deserve love or comfort or to achieve. Everything I had was always tainted.  But not believing I deserved those things didn’t stop me needing them. Psychologically everyone needs to be comforted and loved, by others, and by themselves. But having no money was a real barrier to getting the things I needed, my negative coping mechanism worked to silence my needs and desires but strengthened my feelings of worthlessness.

It would take years for me to allow myself to have good things. When I did “treat myself” I always punished myself later or felt hugely guilty for spending what I had on something frivolous. As frustrating as it is to hear when you are at your lowest, it takes time, it takes repetition, you need to remind yourself that no matter how terrible you think you are – you deserve to be loved and comforted.

Finding those comforting things is much harder when you have no money because you have to think creatively as to how to do it and when you’re depressed your creativity isn’t all that high! But remember continuing to beat yourself up and avoid the things that will make you happy doesn’t help it just perpetuates it! You feel awful, you can’t afford to do anything nice, you feel worse, you beat yourself up for not having saved/being able to get a better paid job/ being able to get over it, it’s a pretty shitty place to be.

The first and easiest (but scariest) self-care on a budget tip is… tell someone.

I was always telling people I had no money, they knew I lived in a nasty cheap flat but they didn’t know I was having panic attacks. They didn’t realise I was feeling so wretched that I was suicidal.

Self-care is about looking after yourself and a key step in looking after yourself is letting other people know you are struggling to do it alone. It isn’t easy to tell people you know and you might want to call a helpline like the Samaritans or your GP. Whether you call a stranger, your parent or your doctor, tell yourself this is you looking after yourself. This is self-care, it might not feel like a treat and it won’t change how you feel immediately but it is a really important step.

I still hate talking to my doctor about my mental health but I know after all the therapy and opportunities to try new more positive coping mechanisms it’s an important part of self-care. As is telling people. I didn’t want people to know because I didn’t want to be pitied but really I deprived the people who loved me the chance to do something nice for me which could have helped me.

Do something silly

Being depressed really, really sucks. Your self-esteem is non-existent and being around people, at least for me, made me so anxious I felt exhausted after it. Depression and anxiety have a physical effect on you, it affects your nervous system, your muscles tense up and your immune system takes a hit too!

When you’re in a real crisis going to the gym, jogging or even just walking round the park can be too much. So just find a way to move your body which makes you smile, dance to a song that you like, try doing a forward roll again, do finger painting! Just consciously use your body in a way that makes you happy. Whether for five minutes or fifty just move around, you don’t have to leave your room. Just move around and if your confident and have the space maybe find a youtube video.

If you have an idea of something to cheer you up try and add it into your routine, dance for five minutes while brushing your teeth? It will help to ease the stress in your body which will have a knock-on effect on your mood.

Have a look here for inspiration and here for more info on joyful movement

Allow yourself to have nice things

 I always told myself I couldn’t afford nice clothes or to go out anywhere so I felt trapped. I told myself it was shallow to want to spend money on gigs or clothes or a haircut but really I wasn’t allowing myself to do the things I enjoyed. Yes if you have no money you can’t go wild and buy everything you want all the time but that doesn’t mean you can’t go meet a friend and have a coffee and some cake. Budget for it and do it, you’ll feel better for not having to feel guilty and doing something nice with someone else.

For some more info on deprivation and psychology check out these podcasts for a little inspiration

https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/4/how-to-stop-pursuing-weight-loss-with-ijeoma-oluo

https://player.fm/series/series-2372201/dr-robin-smith-the-truth-about-being-emotionally-full

If you have any tips for self-care on a budget then let me know! Always looking for new ways to look after myself!

Creativity for Self-Care

I used to volunteer in the Calais Jungle before it was destroyed in 2016. It was unlike any other place I have been, simultaneously heart breaking and magical. A group us would arrive in the Jungle with bags full of crayons, sequins and other bright shiny things to play with the children who lived there. After running activities like this for a few months, we decided to organise a day of activities for adults and children, with kites, music and arts, bringing together different groups in the Jungle.

We set up a marquee on a hot dusty day and as the musicians began to drum, curiosity drew residents of the Jungle over. We had expected the adults to be interested in the kites and music and organised face painting for the children. The adults and teenagers were interested in the music and kites but we were amazed when the older men came over to the marquee requesting flags, stars and maps to be painted on their faces and arms. They asked for glitter to be sprinkled on their finished designs. They laughed when my ‘artistic’ attempts at more complicated designs ( like a request for a portrait of Nelson Mandela!) failed and shook my hand with thanks when it was done.

There had been a lot of division between different ethnic groups in the camp in the past weeks and months, some of which turned violent, but different groups sat side by side under the marquee that day complimenting each other’s flags, asking about what they meant, smiling and laughing together.

I was exhausted by the end of the day. Everyone was. But I remember being told by another volunteer a man had come to them, broad grin painted across his face, and said he had ‘felt like a child again’, free to laugh and be silly, to disconnect from the reality of his circumstance. I was honoured to have been part of something so special.

I think about this day a lot and what it meant to the men and children I met that day. It reminds me  that even in the most trying times, when there is little positivity to be found you can find solace and joy. It isn’t always possible to find your own way out a dark place and not everyone can depend on people rocking up with a marquee and face paints to cheer them up! Still, it is worth remembering the benefit of simple things for getting you out of a slump.

Singing, painting, dancing, new friends, old friends, reconnecting with childhood joys all act to sooth the pain that comes with mental ill health or stress.  The key things to remember are:

It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, start small and expand. Some things I enjoy the most (swimming, music, dancing) have a financial cost attached or a worry (will people judge me in this swimsuit, what if make a mistake etc).  If it feels too much, find something else, give it a go and enjoy the freedom of it. Find a video online and dance with a friend in your house. Find a choir you can join for free. Whatever gets your heart beating, give it a go!

Change your environment. I love watching movies in bed. I love a lazy Sunday morning in bed with a cup of coffee. As restorative as it feels to rest like this I know it is a fine line between rest and a slump. A day in bed can become days hiding away from people. When you know you are in a slump or a depression, change your environment. Even if that means you migrate to your living room or your friend’s bedroom, mix it up and give yourself a fresh place to restore. Even better go out, do some research and find a free gig or exhibition, find a new museum to explore, find a group on MeetUp that interests you. Change it up and congratulate yourself on trying something different or picking up an old hobby.

Find company. In my darkest depressions I could barely respond to a text. I hardly ever made it out my bedroom. It’s a vicious cycle, you’re depressed because you’re lonely and isolated but you don’t have the energy to make it out. Reaching out is a key part of self-care, admitting you are struggling to people gives them the opportunity to help. If you have the confidence to meet new people great but if you don’t reach out for the safety of the people you know love you and understand. Everyone gets low and it won’t last forever but feeling supported when you do is like hot tea for a sore throat, cosy and healing.

Whatever you do for yourself, remember it won’t last and that is ok. That day in the Jungle was magical but I know it didn’t change the reality of what those people were living. I’ve stayed in touch with many of the families from that time and there were plenty of dark hours, days and weeks ahead of them. Just remember not to judge yourself because it doesn’t last, love the moments of joy and restoration you find.

Every moment can’t be beautiful but the memory of those that were will give you strength and remind you that you can overcome your dark thoughts, with the help of a little glitter or friends.