This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. I didn’t want to let this week go by without saying something about mental health. In my own case I have experienced bouts of depression many times. My first was just after leaving University in 1997. Back then there was still a huge stigma around depression. I remember trying to explain to my friends and family what was wrong and feeling so completely unsupported. But the first step to getting well is admitting there is something wrong. Tell a friend, tell your GP. I was lucky at the time to receive counselling, and I went to classes at a local Women’s Centre that helped me to boost my self-esteem and self-confidence.
In the last decade Buddhism has played and important part in my life and has helped me to stay positive and contributed to my overall well being. Without my practice I would not have gotten through the traumatic birth of my twins. Today I live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At first I didn’t understand what was wrong. I had flashbacks from my twins dramatic birth and the events that followed. I would wake in the night in a state of panic, pouring with sweat. If a flash back happened during the day I would be gripped with fear. I have had some treatment via a counsellor and a hynotherapist, but there are times when symptoms still persist. I am not cured, and I will be forever marked by my experiences, but I am learning to live with the person I now am and my training as a buddhist helps me with that. Suffering is thrown at us all the time in life and the Buddha is the greatest teacher on how to get through those dark times.
Photography is also part of my personal therapy and if you have seen some of my personal project posts before you will have seen that I use self portraiture to express how I feel about my condition. When processing things cognitively is just too overwhelming, using imagery allows me the space to take a deep breath and let it all out with the click of a shutter.
Last week I experienced another flashback after taking my son to the hospital. The whole experience can leave you drained, and in my own experience I had muscle pain all over my body for two days. When I finally took myself back to work I still didn’t feel one hundred percent and after a morning shooting still life I decided to turn the camera on myself again to try and capture some of how I was feeling. When PTSD hits you it is like looking at life through a veil, life is obscured by the trauma. On the outside you look okay, you can even function pretty ‘normally’ too, but along with the threads of a normal conversation there is the background noise of your mind playing a trauma over again and again. The mind grasps for new answers, new solutions to an event that has already past. When you are able to catch a trauma track running in your head, you can reduce the symptoms. Mindfulness helps, as you are able to draw yourself back to the present moment. If you are able to speak to someone about what is happening that too can help you to feel grounded in the present and not stuck in the past. Taking a Self Portrait for me helps too. Because I am capturing the present moment. I can see myself as I am now, and not as the person I was.
Good Mental Health requires the courage to speak out when we are unable to cope with what life is throwing at us. For me when times are tough I hang on to the thought that there will be a good day. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be next week. Make a list of the things you love about your life. Seriously don’t say nothing, because there will be one thing, and that’s all it takes, that one thing to keep you going. My personal list in no particular order as follows: my kids, my photography, writing this blog, having coffee with a friend, being a volunteer chaplain, cake and a walk in the sunshine! Put the list some where you can see it and remind yourself every day what is important. It helps me, I hope it can help someone else out there too!
Perhaps when you have read this post you could take the time to share it with others. If you know someone is struggling with their mental health, please reach out, please let them know you are there for them. No one should ever have to feel alone. Let’s break the stigma around mental health issues.
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