You’ve probably seen I’ve been a little busy over the last few months pursuing a crazy goal – something that for so long seemed impossible finally got nailed on the 5th of May in Port Macquarie, Australia. I don't want to talk about this today (but I will in future because it taught me a lot about myself and struggling to chase our dreams with the black dog lurking close at hand). For now I just want to get back to sharing, talking and opening up about mental health.
In the last blog (a long time ago) I settled in a place of pain - accepting that struggling is ok and that we don't always need to put on a brave face (something I often struggle to accept) but even though stopping can be good for a while there are lots of tools/tips/tricks I've picked over the years that have helped me to fight (and accept) through the hard times and to ensure life carries on, with hope and laughter. I call the collection of these items my Mental Health Mindmap and/or Toolbox.
So this blog doesn't drag on this post will just be an overview of the mind map and future blogs will focus on each part of it in depth - because there's lot I'd love to share and can't wait to hear all your ideas!
Before I show the mind map there are some really important foundations to it that I try and keep at the centre of my thoughts when i'm interacting with it:
1. Mental health is different for everyone - Your mind map might look a little different and some bits of mine might make you think, "That Ollie bloke doesn't know what he's talking about." So this is not a "Bible" for great mental health but just an insight in to the tools I use. Have some fun and make your own!
2. Don't be daunted - On first sight the mind map can look busy but I don't do all this stuff all of the time (some bits I forget if I haven't looked at it for a while/others I just don't have time to do at the same time as other stuff). As I learnt from Brooke McAlary it's just about "tilting" or focusing on the stuff that we think might help in a specific situation or time of our life (hence I've just focused a lot on fitness with IronMan but now its time to tilt towards some other aspects of life that will help me in other ways for a bit).
So with that in mind here's the mind map. Normally it’s scrappily written on a bit of paper and updated every 6 months of so – but so it actually looks like something usable I’ve spent a bit of time making it look “professional” (sort of):
So basically this sits next to my bed and whenever I feel that creeping feeling of anxiety or the black dog demanding attention I turn to the mind map (of course a lot of this is now instinctual but it's also amazing how much great stuff I forget about until I review it). Here's an example of what one of my "bedside" mind maps looks like:
Below is a brief summary of each part (in time I'll link the blogs that are specific to each of these areas to this central blog post).
1. Therapy/Clinical Support
Getting support from your family doctor and/or a psychologist can be the source of so much good stuff. They don't study for years for nothing and if you find someone you connect with this can be a game-changer. This can include talking therapies, medication and whole host of other solutions which grow year on year. I know it's tough to make that step but it's a brave one. I'll get the input of an actual expert for the specific blog on this area!
I guess it's pretty obvious this is on the map but not without good reason. A lack of serotonin is a known cause of depression and exercise can help stimulate it's production - not to mention the benefits of being outdoors and the community that sport can provide to name but a few other benefits. Beyond sport there are many other activities to engage in that can provide such a vital link to others.
Whether it's reading a book, listening to a mental health podcast or sitting with friends and sharing how you feel there is so much we can learn that will help us to flourish. We've all heard the phrase, "I am the master of my soul" and I truly believe that the road to making this a reality comes from learning about mental health, who we are and sharing with each other. There is nothing more true than the saying, "A problem shared is a problem halved." After therapy this morning I just felt lighted from having opened up and discussed how I feel.
You are what you eat! Now I'm not saying everyone should suddenly go vegan and never eat McDonalds (I mean we probably should but let's be realistic). There are a few simple things you can do to help your mind flourish - eat foods rich in Omega 3 or Tryptophan (a natural anti-depressant), make treats a treat (80/20 rule), have supplements for stuff you're missing (e.g. Vitamin D in the UK during winter). Lots more to say on this - wait for the nutrition specific blog!
This is something I'm exploring more and more all the time. I'm certainly not a Buddhist Monk when it comes to my meditative skills yet but there is a growing body of research that shows how much being mindful can strengthen your focus and ability to cope with change. Before the main blog on this, maybe check out Headspace or Waking Up.
Right that's me signing off. I really hope that the mind-map helps you, it's taken me a while to gather this together and work out what works for me and I'm always learning - in fact please let me know what works for you and how your tool box would be different. In spite of the above I still have ups and downs but using these tools helps me to move forward in life with purpose, fun and hope. In a way that I am not driven by my thoughts but driven by my values.
So if you're in a really dark place please know I've been there. Just hold on and do what you can day to day because there are so many great people and ways to help out there to lead you back to a place where you want to be, and a place where you can thrive.
Thanks for being part of this community :)