Waking up on a sunny Sunday morning, I was excited to get up enjoy my day outside. As I opened the patio doors I felt uplifted; eagerly anticipating a long, leisurely (read:lazy) afternoon in the garden.
Since eliminating the perma-shadow of mental ill-health, I’ve learnt to love the Summer months; its warm weather and long evenings. No longer feeling “allergic” to the bright light, and having found a sunscreen routine that works for a peely-wally lass like me (see my gratitude below for details), it’s quite the minor miracle!
It may sound like I’m high on the hot weather (and perhaps I am – focus, Heather), but I want to set the scene for my story.
What I learnt this weekend around how to hold onto a positive state of mind when someone you love isn’t feeling the same way.
When first C told me that on this same glorious day he was instead feeling out of sorts, my heart sank. The idea that the one person with whom I wanted to spend my precious free-time in the sunshine didn’t share my positive perspective was a real disappointment, to say the least. Immediately I felt worried – not only for him, but also shamefully for myself – as I assumed the worst: that if C’s having a “bad day” it inevitably means so will I.
Lesson #1: Other people will not necessarily want my help in exactly the same way I’d like them to support me.
I’m the personification of “misery loves company”. When I feel bad, I find sharing my thoughts and feelings helps lift my mood. Talking is how I uncover the nuances of my emotions and work out how to make things better. I seek reassurance from those I love and trust, whether that’s physical affection or comforting words.
However this is not the case for C. My polar opposite, he prefers to be left alone; to be given space and quiet time by himself. When his mind goes to dark places he hates too much fuss and attention, so my assaulting him with a “stream-of-consciousness”-style barrage of questions definitely didn’t help matters. My misguided attempt to encourage C to open up to me was entirely the wrong thing to do. Well-meaning, but nonetheless a daft move on my part.
I’d forgotten how much this behaviour bothered me when others would ask why I felt bad. Rather than helping me find answers – which I believe to be the intention of the questioner – instead I found myself feeling even more hopeless, confronted over and again with the truth of not having a solid reason for my mental ill-health.
Lesson #2: It’s not about me.
This bears repeating more than once, it’s so important: It’s not about me.
Used to being “the one with the issues” I’ve become rather selfish, I suppose. Or perhaps not selfish – I’m being rather harsh on myself – but definitely self-centred at times. Whether in the depths of depression or experiencing gut-wrenching anxiety, my perspective becomes blinkered and I see the world as revolving around me.
When in this pessimistic mindset, I also take other people’s moods personally. I automatically assume I’ve somehow contributed to their feeling upset or unhappy. This faulty thinking then affects how I behave, whether that’s acting defensively, or desperately trying to “fix” things which are invariably outside my control. I’m responding out of fear, rather than from a place of love, which almost never works out well.
Worse still, misdirecting my focus onto myself actually increases my negative self-perception. When someone I love shares with me that they feels sad, worried, or low in mood, I find myself feeling helpless. I continue to want to make things better for them, despite knowing we’re only ever able to directly influence our own emotions.
In what seems an entirely irrational fashion, I also frequently feel guilty for not sharing the same emotional headspace with whomever is currently down-hearted. My impulse is to emotionally sink, bringing me alongside C in his “meh” mindset (that’s my interpretation of it, in any case). The moment I feel the metaphorical grey clouds gathering, I’m drawn to the idea of hiding away; avoiding the light and isolating myself from the wider world. Needless to say, this is not a healthy habit.
Reflecting on where this response comes from, I conclude that it’s a throwback from my childhood. Like me, my Mum struggled to maintain her mental fitness. At times, I remember her feeling far away from me; emotionally, my Mum was sometimes frustratingly out of reach. Searching for a solution to this disconnection, my immature mind settled on putting myself into the same emotional head space as Mum. This, I theorised (although not literally – even I wasn’t that deep at such a young age!) would allow me not only to be with her, but also feel close to her. I unconsciously reasoned that she’d love me more for being like her. Unfortunately, however, sensitive, young minds like mine are not equipped to handle the emotional fall-out of depression and anxiety.
This conclusion – twisted as it may be – makes sense, at least to me. It goes some way to explain why I’ve found responding to other people’s emotional pain so challenging, and alleviates an element of embarrassment at getting things so utterly wrong at times. Hence this weekend when I noticed these familiar feelings creep over me, I tried not to judge myself and rather work out how I could act differently to break this cycle.
Which brings me on nicely to…
Lesson #3: Taking other people’s moods personally is not only unhelpful, but is also entirely my problem
I understand that we don’t live in silos, and my behaviour impacts others. However in real terms, I’ve limited influence over another individual’s mental state. We’re only ever part of someone else’s infinitely more intricate emotional picture. Given the complexity of our minds, it’s probably rather arrogant to assume such emotional power over another.
Somewhat embarrassing as this realisation may be, I see it as ultimately positive. If my reaction to someone else is within my control, then I can work on becoming better at managing my response. Whilst I cannot control your emotions, I can control my own if I so choose.
Wondering who to turn to for advice, I took inspiration from the gorgeous Gala. A bad-ass blogger with a penchant for the colour pink, Gala Darling has become one of my go-to girls whose endless passion for positivity and empowering women never fails to lift me up.
In her Wonderland series of YouTube videos, Gala explains how we’re each responsible for our own state of mind and how Law of Attraction sees it as our duty to ensure we remain within the “vortex”; an optimal mental state in which our vibrational energies align with the Universe. This may sound totally bonkers (and it sort of is…) but I find it helpful in interpreting how I can make positive changes.
So what did I do?
Well, I consciously focused my thoughts on gratitude, and channelled my energies into doing what would maximise my own happiness. Another selfish act on the surface, but this time I had good reason to put myself first. By working hard to stay in my “vortex” – my mental happy place – I was able to set the vibrational tone for my day. I stopped the negativity in its tracks and took back my emotional control. Choosing to stop, breathe, and refocus on my mindset ultimately had a positive impact on C, too. I’m thankful to have selected a different path; in so doing, it feels like I took a mental step forward.
Aside from relaying this rather long-winded but valuable life lesson, I’m also appreciative for the following over the past seven days.
This Week I’m Grateful for:
*Finding a sunscreen routine that works for me. Being an “honourary ginger”, with ridiculously pale skin and (albeit fake) red hair, I’m not typically a fan of overly sunny climes. I burn easily and have to slather on Factor 50 and spend my days “shadow dodging”; meaning I slink from one shady spot to another. At times I must look like an old-school cartoon bad guy. Thankfully, I’ve found my skin saviour in the form of Ambre Solaire Clear Protect (SPF 50) for body, and Avène Very High Protection Suncream (SPF50+) for my face, over the top of my normal moisturiser. Best of all, I only having to apply it in the morning and it generally lasts the whole day.
*Choosing to go home and garden last Friday, instead of sweating it out in the gym. Anticipating a gorgeous, sunny evening ahead, I locked my gym kit in my work drawer and instead got the bus home to garden. It was gorgeous, and I’m proud to have created a neat and tidy crazy-paving pathway by myself. This is an achievement given what I call my disordered eating “mental hangover”; those skew-ball, judgy thoughts that unfortunately linger long after my worries over weight have dissipated. Previously, I’d have forced myself to stick to my fitness plans regardless of how I felt but I’m learning to trust in my own best intentions and make decisions based on happiness and my mental health, rather than on what the scale tells me.
*Time with my gorgeous nephew, G, this weekend. He’s not quite one but is already a massive character! He’s a real giggler and we both had tons of fun playing “catch” with party balloons. G’s Dad told us how that morning G had finally befriended their cat by sharing food. Not only did baby G share his ham with a rather smug feline, but he also helped himself to the (wet!) cat food!
*My talented sister, A, who not only planned, organised, and hosted her other-half’s birthday successfully this weekend, but also managed a ridiculously busy work schedule, dyed her hair pre-work to maximise her time, and still managed to make this awesome gin bar as a present for her man. A true “wonder woman”, I honestly don’t know how she does it! She’s inspirational in terms of sheer hustle!
*Deciding to buy my own domain name. I’m now the proud owner of projectheathered.com and get a real buzz out of typing it into Google and seeing my words appear.
*My cats, who are finally growing up! K progressed in to achieve Official Kitty Killer status, gifting us her first bird. Unfortunately, it was a baby blue tit; one of whom I suspect is the adorable blue tit family that breakfasts at next door’s bird feeders.
As someone who loves all animals. I’m most definitely not happy about her killing anything per say, however I can’t help but feel proud of her for having learnt to do the very things a cat is born to do. Both her and little brother D are – shall we say “challenged” – when it comes to being truly cat-like. For example, D rolls over to let me kiss his belly, whereas “Beyon-K”, as she’s now known, demands private cuddles from C of a morning.
Witnessing their evolution from baby fluffs to fully-grown feline, I’m finding that even those behaviours which make us humans feel super sad (like bopping a bird) is a source of uncomfortable pride for me, their Human Mama.
*Rescuing a giant frog from K, who was seemingly on a roll after bringing home a bird. I never knew frogs squeaked quite as loudly as this little fella, who luckily scared K and made his way back to the safety of next door’s pond with the help of my tupperware salad box**. It’s years since I’ve seen this much wildlife up close, so it’s a real joy to be able to have such a lively garden.
**Please note, I washed the box afterwards. I wasn’t about to eat my lunch from it. Yuck-o.
K: Making of a murderer
*Our first Summer in our garden. Magnum ice creams on the lawn with C in our garden. It’s our first Summer in the new house and it’s set to be a scorcher. It’s exciting to be able to sit our private piece of the outdoors and hang out with nothing more disturbing than the sound of birds, bees, and occasionally a miow when it gets to dinner-time.
*Inspiration coming from unexpected places. Having a dramatic reaction upon witnessing the media fall-out after Love Island’s Adam and Rosie broke up, I’m mid-way through working on a heart-felt, passionate post that I’m equal parts anxipus and excited about publishing. I’m working to complete this sometime this week and look forward to the ensuing conversation.