That title sounds a bit strange. Particularly when there are millions of people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. But from a mental health point of view, the title is absolutely correct. Those that help people suffering with mental health problems can only really support them and offer advice. But if that person doesn’t want to put some work in and help themselves, nothing will change.
The blunt truth of the matter is that working through your mental health problems, learning to live with them and cope with them is hard. Really hard. And what makes this even worse is that a lot of mental health problems (depression in particular) mean there is absolutely no motivation to do anything. Motivation is so, so important. But what you may not know about motivation is that it is ‘self inflicted’. For years I would wake up, decide what I was going to do for the day, and wait for the motivation I needed to get out of bed. But motivation doesn’t work like that. If you want motivation, then you have to start the ball rolling by getting up and doing one thing on that mental check-list. Surprisingly, once you have done that first one, you move on to the next one. Before you know it, you can feel that motivation switching itself on. As I have learned the hard way, if you lay in bed waiting for that motivation, you will remain in bed all day. And I have spent years just laying in bed all day.
Motivation helps us continue what we started. And it snowballs from there. But motivation alone isn’t enough for you to help yourself. You need determination. And that only comes from a very strong desire to do something (usually a longer term goal). So the simple answer is to set a long-term goal, such as beating the depression or learning to live with what you have. It doesn’t matter if it seems impossible now.
More than motivation and determination, you need strength to beat this. But this is a tricky one, because mental health problems drain every ounce of strength we have. But how to you build up strength? How to the athletes to it? Well they start off small. They set a small goal that challenges them a little, but it is something they can do. Take weights for example. People start-up on the small weights, say 14 kg, and do their ‘sets’ on that. It might hurt a little towards the end, but that is good!! Once they have mastered that weight set, they add more weights, and repeat the process. It may be a long process, it may hurt a little, it may be tedious and boring, but you know for sure, if you start off small, you can build it up. I have seen many people give up because it is too hard… but as I said to them you are just making your goals too big right now, stick with what you know you can handle.
Having a stubborn streak, as so many of us do, is a real help. If you are stubborn with yourself, you are less likely to fail. Being stubborn falls in with determination and strength quite well. Being stubborn means being determined not to change your mind. If you are not stubborn at the moment, it is easy to build that up too. It is a case of believing in yourself and the stance that you took, and it doesn’t matter if people prove you wrong, because you had the guts to stand up for what you believe in.
When setting goals, that is the perfect time to get your mental health workers involved. They can help you set positive goals that will help you, and they will support you when you fail. When you fail (not if, but when, we all fail sometimes) it can feel like a huge setback. It can feel impossible to get back up, and a lot of times we don’t even want to get back up. But the quicker you do it the better. The longer people are in these ‘black holes’ the harder it is for them to climb out, and the further they get sucked in.
When setting goals, it is important to have a main goal that you want to achieve. In this case, it is being able to deal with the troubles you have and being able to live a relatively normal life. But it could be anything from getting a job, to rebuilding family relationships, to leaning a new instrument, to learning how to cook healthy food, to… well anything really. Once you have set your big goal/s it is time to figure out how you are going to make it there. This is where your mental health professionals can help, but if don’t panic if you don’t have one of those. You are able to do it yourself. Start with small goals, and work your way up.
It is important to reward yourself each time you finish a mini-goal. That positive reinforcement is not only a great way to reinforce that you CAN do this, but it is also motivation to reach that goal. The rewards should increase each time you do something harder. You could start of rewarding yourself with a chocolate bar, a half hour break, a bit more TV time, a luxury bubble bath with bath bombs, anything you want. It would be easier for you to list your own rewards rather than me making a list here, as only you know what you will enjoy. It has to be something that isn’t part of your day-to-day life, but still something you like and is easy to get hold of or do. Don’t forget that the first few rewards should be something small, and you can adjust the rewards to what it is you have achieved. Writing them down is great too, because it is nice to see things checked off on a list, and it is a reminder of what you have done. The most important thing is to feel proud of yourself after each goal is reached.
A lot of people struggle with this, feeling that they are not worthy of the help and that it should be used on someone better, feeling that no one will be able to help you, feeling that you do not trust these people, feeling worried about what they might think of you, feeling anxious and closed off, feeling worried about what they might say… and a myriad of other reasons. However, if you genuinely want to improve your life, whether you have mental health problems or not, you are going to need help along the way. If you would let the doctors help you when you have a broken leg or are having surgery, why would asking for help for your head be any different?
Help can come in many forms. In my case, my family are my main supporters. They are the ones that take me to appointments, (just yesterday my dear dad came and picked me up, and took me to the hospital for an ECG, and then drove me home again) they are on the other end of the phone if I need to talk. I can’t put into words how much they do for me. It can come from friends, loved ones, strangers, blogs (like this one, hopefully), from professionals, from fortune cookies, from a page in a magazine…anywhere.
I know how hard it is to ask for help. I held on to a horrible, dark secret for 7 years, right up to when I was a 13. I didn’t talk about my emotions, and yet I acted out a lot. The pain burned inside me for so long that I looked for ways to release it. I started self harming to try to distract myself from the pain inside. I lied through my teeth for years, as I was completely unable to tell my parents the truth. They were in despair. Whenever they tried to talk to me I shut down completely, with no facial expressions and one word answers to their questions. It was, and still is, a protection method for me. The trouble with bottling things up is that there is a big explosion at some point when that person has no more room in his bottle, yet is continuing to try to stuff things in. That explosion can hurt a lot of people, particularly your loved ones.
For me, the end result of bottling things up is a liver massively damaged beyond repair, thanks to a decade of overdosing. It also resulted in me being sent to a funny farm for 3 months, and in the gut wrenching painful decision that my daughter would be better off living with my parents, as I was so unstable. If my parents were unwilling to have her, she would have ended up in care.
That explosion was 5 years ago now, and I have worked really hard at trying to improve myself. I am getting there. I shared that story in the hopes that you don’t have to go through this like I did. Asking for help is hard at first, but it gets easier.
Good luck! Finding the right person to talk to can take a long time, but once you have found them you would be surprised how much better things can get. It is a long, treacherous road to recovery, but with the right support, and the right motivation, determination, strength and stubborness, you can navigate your way through.