By Robbie-Lee Valentine
Too little too late
The UK’s Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries has announced plans to provide leading charities a share of a 5-million-pound support package. The grants form part of a new NHS strategy put in place to help individuals struggling with their mental health.
Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said:
“The last few weeks have been anxious and unsettling for everyone. We have to take time to support each other and find ways to look after our mental health”.
Whether you’ve struggled with mental health issues before yourself or not, you’ll probably be aware of how much attention the mental health awareness movement is finally getting. Whilst the outbreak has presented new challenges to those already living with a diagnosis – we are now also seeing an unprecedented amount of much well needed government funding to assist more and more people accessing the services. The NHS has rolled out measures to ensure all of us who’re struggling are at least offered Facetime, Skype or digitally enabled therapy packages.
My thoughts go back to February of this year, particularly to the British born TV presenter Caroline Flack, her family and friends. Whilst we may all welcome the change to the mental health services provided by the government, unfortunately it was too late for Caroline, and others like her who needed the support then, months before we saw the worst of the pandemic. Before her tragic suicide she wrote a very poignant message on one of her social media accounts,
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” – and with that, Caroline’s legacy to the world, the kindness movement was born.
Ever since, thousands of tweets have been written using the hashtag #BeKind. Did Caroline’s death form part of the catalyst in the shift of today’s attitudes surrounding the importance of, not only being kind but looking after our mental health with as much rigour as our physical health?
I don’t know about you, but whenever I begin to contemplate on the meaning of kindness, I immediately, perhaps quite rightly, think of myself doing kind deeds for others. Acting in ways that may hopefully improve the day of a loved one.. Or, even just intentionally offering a warm, loving smile to a stranger on the street. Quite simple and kind acts that have the potential to save lives.
Kindness is a seed that grows within us and flourishes with radiating love and gratitude in the soul of the receiver. But what about you? Now might be a good time to put on the kettle, make yourselves a hot drink, or the beverage of your choice and allow yourself a few minutes to look inwardly. Scan your entire body and your thoughts whilst asking yourself how you’re truly feeling. Use this time to allow your mind to accept that, although what we’re currently experiencing is difficult and unpredictable, it’s perhaps for some, quite easy to dwell on the past and worry about the future. Especially for those with an anxiety related condition like OCD. When your mind starts to wander, remember this moment of calm and serenity and bring the focus back to deep mindful breathing. You have the control to come back to this space anytime you need to.
Life Under Lockdown
Whether you’re home schooling, working as a supermarket delivery driver, or even as a nurse on the front line. One thing that’s certain is that we all have more time on our hands. What we chose to do with this time is important. More time to be reflective. Time to reflect on the amount of people that have succumb to the pandemic. Reflective and appreciative of the hard work our key workers have done to help stop the spread of the virus. Grateful for all the lives that have been saved by our mighty NHS Doctors, Nurses, Cleaners and all involved, no matter their role.
If you’re anything like me, the anxiety induced by the current situation very rarely seems to subside, even becoming obsessive at times. How can we manage this better?
My anxieties are fuelled further by the general lack of structure and uncertainty. Exaggerated by mixed messages from government, the voice of my OCD and anxiety grow louder too with every passing day.
Make a list of what troubles you most in order of anxiety level. For example:
- Spread of germs
- The children aren’t getting enough exercise
- I’ve lapsed and washing hands more than necessary
- Acting on old urges because of intrusive thoughts
Living with ADHD & Autism during lockdown
I made a very conscious decision recently.
It’s one that I hoped would set the tone of my entire day. It came about around the time I was unable to get my medication for almost four weeks because of the chaos of late. Withdrawing and feeling the worst I’ve felt for months mentally. Disappointed in myself as I had only very recently recovered from Pure O, a little-known form of OCD. I thought I was doing very well until lockdown. Despite being taught new ways of learning to manage the ritualistic and frenzied behaviour of my Autism and ADHD – I felt myself being drawn back to previous distressing thought patterns and obsessions.
These days again, as soon as my eyes would sluggishly open and I’d barely had time to focus and get my bearings – I’d reach for the remote control that’s normally hidden somewhere amongst my bedding. Reaching my hand out and searching through the sheets, passing over the bowl with the spoon that’s now stuck to it as the oat milk I ate cereal with at 1am has dried.
Feeling my way through the warm slightly damp sheets (night terrors have become a thing again), past my charger, car keys, wallet, weighted vest and all the pointless pillows cocooning me, still no sign of the clicky-thing.
Fumbling this time with my other hand through the crumbs and wrappers of whatever processed crap I shovelled into my mouth on one of my ‘don’t get out of bed for a week’ phases.
Even though I was aware of crumbs falling onto my stained t-shirt and into the folds and cervices of my bed sheets, I still haven’t had the time to be bothered to change the sheets, as what’s the point? No one’s going to see it after all. Thankfully I’m single.
Finally, after locating the remote, auto-pilot kicks in and I switch the TV on that’s bolted to my bedroom wall.
Then, either I would flick through the channels from breakfast television doom and gloom to daytime TV Armageddon and back. Absolutely sick of the C word on the news, it’s almost as bad as the B word. Or, more often than not, I`d go and make my breakfast, maybe relieve myself, be overwhelmed with the light coming into the bathroom, look at the terrible state of my flat, feel a moment of hopelessness and dread with the uncomfortable heat on my skin radiating from under the bathroom blind – it would all be too much and I’d quickly find myself back in bed under my heavy blanket with Dr Hilary.
This is how it all started before. Days and days of lying in bed paralysed with anxiety, racing and obsessive thoughts. Stimming away my energy by finger fluttering, counting in my head and vibrating my feet and toes at the speed of light. Patterns repeating themselves over and over, again and again – absolutely exhausting still I can’t sleep, all I can do is just lie there in my bed, one leg out of the duvet, on my back staring into space.
I’d be constantly telling myself what it is I needed to do. But it’s lockdown, what do I really need to do? The voice that tells me to “Go and make a cup of tea”, only conjured up dread of potentially having to go in the kitchen where the harsh white light and buzzing of the kitchen light was. “Get a shower” – but I can’t bare the sensation of the water stabbing my body. “Slice some vegetables and make a decent meal” – What if I had thoughts of stabbing myself in the stomach, or I’ll start doing something else and forgot I even turned on the oven until it’s too late. I’ll just fester in bed.
I start to replace intrusive thoughts with new mantras I learnt recently on a silent Buddhist retreat.
Om tare tu tare ture swaha
Om tare tu tar…
“You can do this”, I suddenly say to myself amidst chanting.
Before I get repetitive thought injury again, I remember I need to hear the reassuring voice of my therapist and her telling me that the worst thing I can do is to actively try to ignore my mind. I apparently possess the skills possible to turn this around. Believe it or not, we all do. It’s not as hard as it seems.
The mindfulness of Kindness
Think of ways you can help reduce your anxiety of the points you jotted down earlier.
I thought to myself, “if I got rid of the TV in my bedroom and, instead of waking up and seeking another hit of glaring light from a glass screen, I might be able to steer my thoughts to a better place. You know, open the blinds, take a leak, splash some cold water over my face”, that sort of thing.
That’s when change started to happen.
Catching a quick glimpse of my sleepy face and squinting grimace in the bathroom mirror, I gave myself a look of disdain, like I was disappointed that I was here and that another day in lockdown had begun.
But that’s not the truth.
I remembered back to being intentionally kind to the strangers on the street, my fellow running buddies (they don’t know it, but they are).
I remembered again Caroline’s words.
“In a world where you can be anyone, be kind”.
I started to chant these words over and over in my head adding be kind to yourself.
“In a world where you can be anyone, be kind to yourself”. “In a world where you can be anyone, be kind to yourself”.
I realised the reason I occasionally smile at strangers is to motivate them to keep going, keep running through the burn, through the worst of life under lock down.
Just as I noticed I was urinating all over the bathroom floor, I debated with myself trying to determine why I’m never kind to myself, why I always criticise and mock myself? Why do I automatically take myself out of the picture by assuming that being kind is all about being kind to others?
Of course, doing good deeds for others on the one hand is our duty, I believe.
What about us? What about me?
That’s it, I thought, as I finally psyched myself up to splash icy cold water on my face, wash my hands and clear up the mess on the floor.
Then suddenly again, I lost all courage and momentum. I cringed as I thought about the odd thing I was about to do.
But I did it.
I stared deeply at my reflection. A dishevelled version of the person I know’s inside. I looked at myself in the mirror again, this time with real intent. I saw the usual crop that is my messy and greasy mop, my face frames with unkempt facial hair. Then examining my expression, I scoured at the blemishes on my face, pulled my lips down and tutted at the image of my stained teeth and crooked nose – then drew my focus to my eyes. My yellowy, green tired looking eyes.
I forced myself to smile and, without thinking about it, I stared deeper, making actual eye contact with myself. Out of nowhere I heard myself saying out loud, “I love you; I actually really love you”.
Immediately I felt this bizarre wave of kindness and love ride through my body reminiscent of the feeling I often have when practising Metta Bhavana. “There’s something in this, it feels like magic”, I thought.
And from that day forward, the first thing I do now after I’ve peeled open my crusty eyes, no matter my initial thoughts, or mood, I simply smile and tell myself that today is going to be a good day and that I love myself.
You should try it.
Covid-19 Changed Me
The week-old dirty pots and pans, sticky spoons and bowls and my bushy beard all get a facelift.. My hermit haven is now filled with the smell of bleach and polish, and the noise from the washing machine vibrates through the floor.. No longer am I neglecting myself. I changed my smelly, stained bed sheets and, despite having nowhere to go except the supermarket or the coast road for a jog,
I change out of my bed clothes and put on clean, fresh clothes – and I smile again.
Our whole lives can be split into a number of very small moments like these. Now more than ever, it’s absolutely paramount that we pay extra care to those around us who’re already suffering with any mental health related condition. Just one moment of negative thinking, or intentionally doing a negative act to ourselves or to someone else, is one too many.
In whatever way makes sense to you, remember the value of the #BeKind movement. Take kindness with you wherever you go and use it as a powerful source of light for those still left in the shadows. If we adore ourselves, we turbo charge our ability to treat others, including strangers with beautiful purposeful, mindful acts of kindness.
Imagine that daily smile as the seed that flourishes within you, nurturing your soul and radiating out of your loving soul for the whole world to bask in.
Finally, remember it starts with you. Happy Mental Health Awareness week.
Rest in peace, Caroline, thank you.
Robbie-Lee Valentine x
“Never underestimate the power of kindness, it is the power you have to uplift people, instantly. Just like a harsh comment, blame or criticism hurts us and makes us feel uncomfortable, even if we know it is not true or justified, a kind comment or praise we receive from someone always uplifts us, even if we know it is not true. This is why they say praising, from the heart, is a divine quality”. – Swami Purnachaitanya The Art of Living