Mike Owen; who has two Congenital Heart Defects and is an ACHD advocate; shares some of his mental health tips for #MensMentalHealth Awareness week. Mike confronted the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness in his own way.
Even The Strong Need A Hand To Get Along
We hide negativity for several reasons
We don’t want to appear weak; we don’t want to worry others, we don’t want to be seen as a failure, we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are struggling and we don’t think anyone would listen. Soldiering on and battling through, only serves to hide the truth. False strength masks pain. Then, even though you are scared to show weakness, frightened to ask for help, an unexpected hand reaches out offering physical and psychological help.
Accept the offer, embrace the opportunity, don’t feel embarrassed, weak or a failure and take that first step, it may possibly change your life. Even the strong need a hand to get along.
Be honest with yourself.
Every post or comment about Mental Health plays their part in reducing the stigma and normalising the subject. Unfortunately, many posts pledge positivity for the days, weeks, months and years ahead and negativity is never dared to be mentioned. But I think it’s important to say that a life lived with total positivity is impossible, counterproductive, and, in the most complex situations, very dangerous.
Life is full of negatives, that’s the reality. To say that is not to be a doom and gloom merchant but to recognise that bad things happen. People get sick, jobs are lost, accidents happen, dreams aren’t always fulfilled, marriages breakup, and friendships end. Pulling on positive pants, painting on a false smile, and pretending that everything in your garden is rosy doesn’t stop negative things happening and when (not if) they do, the shock of unpreparedness can cause greater fallout as the positivity is instantly flushed away. And the fall from false heights is more devastating.
When my counsellor warned me to “expect setbacks” during my recovery, he told me so that I’d be prepared for the inevitable negatives that were guaranteed to occur. Armed with his prediction, I was able to accept and even embrace the negative moments when they occurred. This didn’t diminish the power of positivity, in fact it expanded its scope and brought greater freedom.
False, forced positivity can have a devastating negative effect on someone battling to recover from a mental illness, especially those who, under the surface, are very vulnerable. Being genuinely positive is a major factor in recovering from a mental illness but this needs to be balanced with recognition that negative situations are all part of life’s rich tapestry.
They should be openly expected, not hidden behind a flimsy, tense front but treated with strength, kindness, and sensitivity! Positive steps from life’s negativity.
Expose Your Vulnerability (Part 1)
My mental illness diagnosis came as a massive shock to me as, up until that point, I either hadn’t realised that I was feeling vulnerable or didn’t want to admit to my vulnerability for fear of being portrayed as weak. I’d chosen to numb the vulnerability.
But we can’t say, here’s the bad stuff, here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment – I don’t want to feel these. We cannot selectively numb. So, when we numb the bad things, we also numb joy, we numb gratitude and we numb happiness. Then we are miserable, we feel even more vulnerable and it becomes a dangerous cycle.
The diagnosis exposed my vulnerability, allowing me to let myself be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.
To learn to love again with my own heart even though there was no guarantee. To rediscover gratitude and joy, and instead of catastrophising everything to say I’m just grateful because for feeling this vulnerable means I’m alive.
And most importantly, to believe that despite all my vulnerability, I was enough.
Expose Your Vulnerability (Part 2)
The choice to expose your vulnerability, hidden behind self-imposed armour, to world that has other priorities is not an easy one to make. There is danger that others will misinterpret your bravery and strength for the exact opposites. Others may become upset and concerned by the previously hidden challenges that you reveal.
Take it from someone who has successfully hidden my vulnerability, from even the closest members of my family for 47 of my 56 years, the definite positives far outweigh the perceived negatives. Expose your vulnerabilities, be heard; seek the help that is available, make changes to your life (psychologically, physically or environmentally) to help alleviate and challenge your difficulties.
Peel away the armour and feel your body breathe and live again, wholeheartedly!
Embracing Your Vulnerability
Embracing your vulnerability is not weak, it takes courage, strength and can change everything.
Either you continue to hide your vulnerability, all its darkness and suffer from escalating symptoms or you remove your armour, become unstable, expose your vulnerability, change your path and reconnect to love, joy, and empathy.
That moment will change your destiny.
From that point, every step you take, every obstacle you overcome, every battle you win, every setback you endure and every inch of progress is fuelled by the very thing that had held you back for so long.
And when you embrace your vulnerability, you will be able to recognise and emphasise with others, to relate to their vulnerability and to let your vulnerable self be seen.
The release allows you to start to love wholeheartedly without strings, certainty or guarantee in a way you’ve never loved before, to feel deep joy, a lightness, and infinite gratitude.
It’s In Your Hands
We can’t decide what life throws at us, but we can decide –
which ones we catch
which ones we drop
which ones we let go over our heads
which ones we throw straight back … and how hard we throw them!
It’s in your hands!
Release The Weight
Strength is not hiding your feelings behind a fake smile or a flimsy wall of false positivity, they just allow your unfettered weaknesses to fester and spread until your body breaks down. It’s normal to not feel good all the time. It’s ok not to feel ok.
It takes strength to show your true feelings and ask for help.
You owe it to your mind, your body and your future to release the weight.
Self-priority: never feel guilty about turning yours up once in a while. It’s not weakness, selfish, or embarrassing; it’s strength, necessary, and life changing. In a world of millions of uncontrollable priorities, be kind to yourself.
You’re worth it!
The power to lift yourself, is the greatest strength of all!
Being Your Personal Best
Visit, enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Walk at your pace, headphones off, listen to the many and varied sounds, both natural and man-made that surround you and give your brain time and space to process the thoughts that whirl through your mind.
Acknowledge them, expose them, challenge them and rationalise them, reducing their hold, relinquishing their control and pushing back on the anxiety that relies on them.
Small, maintainable and achievable steps in your direction, at your pace and within your capabilities.
And if you are struggling and the fear of failure looms again, keep stepping in whatever way is manageable by you.
If beating your Personal Best is sometimes impossible, being your Personal Best is always achievable!
Mike is the author of the book KEEP STEPPING: A step-by-step journey to a better view of mental illness. Get your copy of Keep Stepping from Amazon Smile.