This is me: a 30 year old male's solutions to mental health issues and burnout
I have to say, I find this very difficult to write. Not because I don’t want to share my thoughts, but because some things are just difficult to put onto paper.
The mind is complex and I wish I could go back to when I was 14 years old to work out why I was crying on that tennis court, or at 17 having an anxiety attack on the way home from school, or as a 22 year old feeling so isolated and distraught that I just had to leave London and spend the weekend with my parents. Looking back now, I ultimately had the idea in my head that everything – me, my parents, my friends, my girlfriend, my tennis results – should be perfect, when actually human nature is imperfect, as is the world you and I live in. During our lifetime, you and your closest family and friends will endure pain, sickness and injury, and when you accept that and follow certain directions, you move into a better place. Over the next couple of paragraphs I am going to tell you some more about this and techniques and resources I have found helpful.
Eight years ago, my mum was very unwell and I did not know how to react (rule #1: try not to bottle anything up). I just couldn’t accept that a person I loved so dearly could be suffering so much (I still look back now and think I could have done more). It wasn’t actually until she had completed her chemotherapy and been given the all clear that I broke down. I had been holding this pain inside me and this just turned into total and utter sadness, a constant black cloud over my head. All I wanted to do was cry – at work, on the train, when I was with my mates. It took time but it gradually passed. However in the meantime I began looking for solutions, I started reading (rule #2).
The first thing I learned is that you need to be kind to yourself (rule #3), it’s ok not to be ok. There is such pressure to be popular, look beautiful and to be happy the whole time. Life is never 100% beautiful and cozy and hopeful and joyful and meaningful just as it isn’t 100% ugly and uneasy and hopeless and sad and meaningless or 100% average and boring and purposeless. It’s a mix of these and dozens of other things. It is important to remember to give yourself the same kindness you would give to a loved one who is going through the same thing. You deserve to look after yourself. You deserve some comforting.
I read on and came across meditation (rule #4) via mindfulness, and I genuinely believe this changed my life.
Meditation isn’t about suppressing your thoughts and emotions. When you meditate, you strengthen awareness of everything that appears in consciousness: thoughts, emotions, urges, sensations, etc. You develop the skill of noticing it all without getting caught up in it (without indulging it). Consistent practice leads to direct experience of mind-made activity. We come to understand none of it is permanent — it arises and passes if we don’t cling to it and make it ‘mine’. Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, uses the metaphor of “brushing a crystal glass with a feather” to describe the technique. You aren’t pinning the thought down or pushing it away. Instead, you’re lightly acknowledging its presence so you can let it pass by. In short, it teaches you to stop blindly following your mind wherever it leads.
My first step into meditation, was a 10 week 1 night a week course at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green. The core skill that I learnt was 'mindfulness' - a way of paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to what goes on in the present moment in my body, mind, and the world around me. Mindfulness can enable you to see things differently, undoing mental and physical knots and tensions. It can increase your sense of personal confidence and help you feel that you have more options, giving you greater strength to face challenges in your life.
The second step was the Headspace app, the app known as 'a gym membership for the mind' used by millions of people all over the world. Using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques, Headspace helps its users to train their minds, to experience benefits including less stress, better sleep, focus and improved relationships. I started by doing 10 minutes every day of guided sessions, slowly progressing to 15min, 20min and finally 30min.
I have now moved away from the app and (try to) meditate every day for 30 minutes. I genuinely notice a huge difference in how I think and react to things when I consistently practice, but even now and again I get caught out. Which leads me on to rule #5, rest.
Rest your body, rest your mind, rest your liver. Spend time away from the hustle and bustle of London (I have actually moved my home out of London altogether). See your family. Go on holiday. Hug a loved one. This ‘always on’ life we now live in is not healthy. Only 6 months ago I had to take 3 days off because I was anxious and unwell. I was running on adrenaline and it just burned me out. Be honest with yourself, your manager, your friends and your family. I can guarantee they will listen.
Finally, I have to say, self-reflection is very important (rule #6). Life isn’t easy but you should not wallow in self-pity. You should seek help and, better still, acknowledge the true nature of life. If you and I can get rid of those unreasonable expectations that most of us have towards life (that there should / will be some idealistic order or harmony, peace and love all around us, lack of pain and suffering, etc.) we will be able to enjoy it a lot more.
People often say “I don’t have a life” or “I wish I could have a normal life”. We have a normal life (you have a life). Everyone does. That’s normal life, not this preferable image that sits in our heads.
#1 Try not to bottle things up
#3 Be kind to yourself
#4 Meditate every day
#5 Slow down and give yourself a break
#6 Reflect and seek support