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Mental Health Awareness Week - Why it’s important to take time out for yourself

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, BVA Scottish Branch President Kathleen Robertson discusses mental health and the importance of being kind to yourself during Covid-19.

Mental Health Awareness Week - Why it’s important to take time out for yourself Image

Sitting at my computer on a wet cold May day, I am thinking about what to write about as a blog on mental health and being kind to oneself during Covid-19. The house is quiet which suggests my two teenage boys are occupied and engaged in their ‘home’ education. Some routine currently is important as we all cope with lockdown and the effects of Covid-19 which for us as a family includes shielding my husband who falls into the vulnerable category.

My thoughts are taking me back to times in my life when I struggled to deal with my mental health. I have never written about them or disclosed publicly that I have had difficulties. At the time they occurred it was not really spoken about. You were very reluctant to go to your boss or doctor for fear of it being marked on a future reference or medical record and influencing potential job prospects. It was also a time when you were more likely to be told to pull yourself together than be offered help or support. I am so glad times are changing, albeit slowly in some areas.

It’s taken me time to spot the warning signs and recognise when I feel low or stressed. The default response to any enquiry has been a stock, rather stoic ‘I’m fine’ when you know underneath that really you are not.

A particularly low time in my life happened to coincide with another viral crisis, Foot and Mouth disease.  In February 2001, I would have described myself as career driven, carefree, happy and in a relationship which I thought would lead me down the aisle. Little did I know that within 3 months I was going to be single, described by a relative as looking ‘gaunt’, thinking of leaving the profession and had dealt with the stress of mass slaughter during the FMD crisis.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why my mental health then was not good. I was listening to depressing music, dwelling on the ‘what might have been’ and losing friends by overusing their kind ears with tales of my woe. I started to read some self-help books suggested by one of my remaining friends. I found these useful and before long I was planning a trip which changed my life direction in a positive way.

A second time I struggled was just after the arrival of my second child. I was constantly tearful, easily upset and not coping. Perhaps different triggers this time, with hormones raging combined with the realisation that my career was changing again. But there was something more. An inner recognition, an acknowledgement, of an issue which had been affecting me since childhood.

I was brought up with the old-fashioned ethos ‘you could have done better’. Sadly, I now realise this has probably affected my mental wellbeing throughout my life. Only now, approaching fifty, can I say with any confidence that I recognise this and am trying to deal with it. The scar, however, will be with me forever. I have tried hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and St John’s Wort amongst a few therapies.

Back to 2020. Up until early March I was busy. And I mean really busy. I was working every day, with planned trips to London, Edinburgh, Warwick. Saying ‘no’ to people was not in my vocabulary. I am involved in so many things that my husband told me every time I went out the door not to volunteer for anything else, or else! Covid-19 and the seismic shift of ‘Life in Lockdown’ really could have had the potential for my mind to kick in default patterns and send me back on old pathways. But it didn’t!

Maybe I am just now more experienced at recognising triggers and their potential to derail me, but this time it’s been very different.  So, what am I doing now to give my mental wellbeing a boost and prevent any negative outcomes from the huge changes? Nothing earth shattering. The good weather has been particularly helpful as it has allowed me to get out for my exercise. I have cycled or walked every day, sometimes with a child for company, sometimes with the company of a podcast (I can recommend Fortunately …with Fi and Jane or Fit and Fearless on the BBC Sounds App). I have had more time to cook for the family. We all sit down together and enjoy a mealtime, rather than rushing out to a meeting or dropping a child off at some activity. I’m learning that simply slowing down can help me. I have stopped dieting, another stress I imposed on myself, and amazingly I have managed to lose half a stone just eating normally. How did that happen?

I cannot tell you exactly what has worked for me throughout my life so far. Was it a single approach, several used together or just time? What I do now know, is that time out for yourself, for me, is so important and maybe why I am coping with lockdown better than I might have had Covid-19 happened a few years ago.

Mental Health Awareness Week
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