It’s no secret that I have a history of anxiety and depression – both of which are symptoms of complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). And extra cherry on top for me, this all lead to living with low self-esteem too.
Anyway, I thought I’d write something for #mentalhealthawarenessweek – because I know first hand how easy it is to let any diagnosis become an identity or a new label to wear, and how it can all add to feeling broken and unable to do the things in life that you dream of doing.
I know this is post is aimed at business owners but in all honesty, it applies to anyone who wants to sort their shit out and grab life by the balls.
It can feel overwhelming at times when your creativity is your source of income.
The pressure to always have fresh ideas, see the world in a different way, and to come up with new and engaging content and ways to help people with your creations.
There’s also the added pressure of being someone who is often told they’re inspirational and an influence on others so…
What if you’re not feeling it today, this week, this month?
What if you feel like a fraud?
What if you’re not actually feeling very happy at the moment?
What if self-doubt and inner resistance is taking over?
The struggle feels very real as it is when you’re a creative or visionary business owner or leader, and it gets tricky too with the mental health issues running in tandem with this.
To be a business owner, or a creative, or anything that involves pushing past your comfort zone – you need a solid foundation to build upon. Otherwise whatever you’re building will likely topple down – just like a house.
The thing is though, a lot of the solid foundation building is done in childhood, and if you’re living with any of the conditions I mentioned, it’s likely you’re missing the odd key piece or two and it’s up to you to work out what’s making you wobble and put it in there yourself.
That thing for me has been routine. I know, I know – not very rebel that, is it?!
Yes, my rebel nature fights this. Really fights it.
But the thing about working through this is about knowing yourself enough to know what you do need, and how to approach it your way – to make it work as an act of kindness and discipline instead of the shouty and incredibly unhelpful ‘wtf is wrong with you, you douchebag?!’ – which is never going to make any new habits, good behaviours or progress stick.
This is how routine is good for the hand I’ve been dealt with my own mental health:
Anxiety – this helps me by knowing that there’s a set of things that happen each day. Even though I couldn’t bear to have my whole day controlled and regulated, by doing an amount of regular, non-negotiable shit each day, it brings a sense of ‘this is what happens here’ – which feels safe, even though parts of me do try to resist the hairy balls out of this.
Depression – this helps me by giving me a sense of achievement. Even when I’ve been at my very worst, just sticking to routinely making my bed and a cup of tea has been a fucking win in the past. Don’t knock the simplicity when you’re in this mental head space. By pushing through when the heaviness tells me not to really can make you feel so much better. There is a fine balance though – see above about self-flagellation and make sure the pushing and discipline is done in kind parenting voice and not the one of your judgey and shaming psycho grandma.
cPTSD – this helps me by helping me create new habits. New habits eventually become new neural pathways to undo the faulty coping mechanisms my mini me created all that time ago.
Self Esteem – This again gives me a sense of achievement, proving to myself I can do things, even simple things and assists in overcoming the pushback of my old identity (the one that tries to prove I’m a useful piece of shit) in the form of resistance.
So this is my current routine. I’m 1000000% aware that this list is quite a bit longer that most of us have time for usually but I’m doing more during lockdown, because again, this is a time of much uncertainty and change. Plus, there’s not much else to do right now anyway!
#1 – Have a set time to wake up.
I know this sounds simple, but for me this is a huge one.
I have a huge amount of resistance to getting out of bed in the morning. And it’s not just because I’m a lazy bastard.
I first became aware of this unusual pattern when I lived in Berlin in 2001. By staying in bed, I was telling myself that nothing bad can happen to me here. It was my way of self soothing and a way to keep me ‘safe’.
When I went self-employed, my rebel brain tricked me into keeping this in place – cos “aint nobody telling me when to get out of bed and shit.”
It’s taken almost 20 years to spot this sneaky mind trick and try to correct it – so yeah, when I say this one is a biggie for me, I mean it!
#2 – Tea.
Clearly, it’s a fucking warm and comforting hug in a mug on a cold morning – with the added benefit that it doesn’t poke you with a stiffy as soon as you embrace it (not that that’s a bad thing, but you know, this is about productivity and getting out of bed and doing shit and shit 😉
#3 – Journaling.
Empty your brain. Literally vomit out all of your thought loops, patterns, beliefs you didn’t know you had onto that page and out of your head. By doing this you don’t take all of this stuff into the day with you.
I liken this to skimming off the scum inside your brain – doing this helps you find out that you have the solution underneath all the noise, you just have to make space for it to come out instead of looping around your brain incessantly.
The added bonus of this task is that you start to spot ideas you’d not normally notice too. It’s all about making space, making the unconscious conscious and lightening the mental load.
This takes 15 minutes each morning. I do this whilst my tea cools down.
#4 – Reading.
Something positive. Like a biz book or something. Just a cheeky 10 pages before you even dream of picking up your phone and falling into a scroll-hole. Honestly the difference to my day in doing this and the other things above before even picking up my phone is HUGE. My day is much less reactive and adrenaline fuelled. Put good shit in your brain before you put bollocks in there!
#5 – Exercise.
I’ll be honest here. This is a new one for me, but I’ve embraced daily exercise since lockdown.
Typically I go to the gym on occasion and pole dance class once a week but I resist the hairy balls out of doing something regularly. But changing my mindset from ‘go do some exercise’ (never happens regularly) to ‘go do a self discipline challenge’ (i.e I fucking dare you, I bet you can’t stick to it) has really helped spot the way I try to talk myself out of things. It’s also helped me see how you do one thing, is how you do all the things and as a consequence of this simple mindset tweek I’m now exercising twice a day.
Oh and as a reward for doing some exercise in the morning, I come home and have tea number 2 – because some of us can’t function in the real world until tea number two has happened!
So that’s my current routine and it’s helping me loads. There are other things you can do as routine and that I’ve toyed with in the past.
I am a fan of today’s hoorays (gratitude), meditation, dancing and ‘I’ve done lists.’ If you’ve ever done my happiness challenge, you’ll know these well 🙂
Writing this post has made me realise that I do other things to manage mental health which includes what I eat and my self awareness journey. But that’s probably for another post. Maybe I’ll write a part two soon.
I know this seems a lot. To me it did for a long, long time. But as Elizabeth Gilbert said in one of her posts quoted below, the stakes are far too high if I don’t take the time to do it:
“The reality of my life is this: Managing my mental health is very nearly a full-time job. I don’t take it lightly, because the stakes are high. Like many of us, I have a mind that is a very dangerous neighborhood. Left unattended, my mind will fester, rot, and roll me over the brink into anxiety and depression. I have a particularly muscular storytelling instinct — and the world has rewarded me generously for that! — but the dark side of my gift is that my mind is also capable of generating terrible, frightening, life-annihilating stories about myself and about the world. I can scare the living shit out of myself, and—in the process—destroy my life.
The battle begins quite literally the moment I wake up in the morning. With the first moment of consciousness, the insanity begins. The terrorist who lives inside my mind begins bullying and threatening me.
But I’m not powerless.
Over the years I’ve adapted practices to keep my mind flourishing and my life contented.
The first thing I do every single morning is pray. (Specifically, I pray to be relieved from the bondage of self.) Then I meditate. Then I dance. Then I write myself a letter from Love. (This is the most important part of my day, when I connect to Love herself, and ask her what she would have me know today.) Then I do a The Work of Byron Katie Worksheet on a stressful belief. At various times in my life, I have gone (or will go) to therapy, to yoga, to 12-step programs. I’ve taken medication at times. Whenever I see a church door open, I walk in, take a knee, and pray. I try to reach out to somebody every day with a message of Love, which ends up helping ME. I practice generosity, which also helps ME.
It’s an all-day job. It’s why I go to bed so early, so I wake up early, and begin tending to my mental health!
It’s a lot.
But nothing matters more, and nobody else can do it for me. I accept sacred stewardship over this mind.”
Have you got any routines that help you manage your mental health?
If this resonated with you and you want support working through this, Professional Rebel’s Courage and Confidence Crew is just what you need!
A community for unconventional, creative and rebellious women who want to develop the courage and confidence to live life unedited – find out more here!