How to know when you're not ok
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
It seems like you would just know when you are really not ok, right? It is not always black and white, and we should never wait until it is too late to take action.
Before I start with this blog, I'd just like to mention that if you are struggling - call LifeLine on 13 11 14. I have personally called them once before when I was ready to give up and they literally saved my life. The people who work here are honestly incredible, and can really help you put everything into perspective.
Ok, onto the blog.
This is a tricky one to write because mental health is different for everyone. But at the same time, I feel it is IMPORTANT to write for that same reason. I'm using a mixture of my own experiences, the things I learnt while studying Psychology at uni and the experiences of other's whom I have talked to on the subject.
"ARE YOU OK?"
A question we get asked a fair bit, mostly after something bad happened in our lives. Our friends and family come forward with open arms and ask us those words. And 9 times out of 10 we say yes, even when we want to say no. Why? Because we don't actually know what constitutes not being ok.
In my opinion, it is foolish to think life is going to be sunshine and rainbows 24/7. We are going to have tough days sometimes, but we can still be ok. We aren't going to go into each and every day with crazy positivity and energy to kick goals. That isn't how life works. We can feel a bit 'blah' and still be ok.
So when are we not ok?
I'm not going to give you the run-of-the-mill GP version of this, I always like to personalise my blog posts and speak from the heart and from personal experience. So here are a few signs to look for BEFORE it is a dire, code-red situation.
1. Anxiousness. Nervousness and excitement are normal, they are signs that you are a healthy, emotionally-functional human being. These things are especially normal if you are in a transition period or have some big changes happening. Anxiety is generally characterised by constant and interfering symptoms like when your mind goes at a million miles an hour, or when you get restless/fidgety, when you sweat or have difficulty speaking or experience heart palpitations.
2. Emotional Numbness. I have always been an emotional person, and this was something I hated a lot about myself for a very long time, but I have grown to love because it is me. Being emotional does not mean you have a problem, unless you become uncharacteristically emotional without a trigger (ie. pregnancy, hormones, difficult/emotional life experiences etc). I know that when I was struggling, I would subconsciously shut off my emotions as a coping mechanism. I wouldn't feel things as deeply as I would normally, so I couldn't be hurt as much as I used to be.
3. Negative Self-Talk. I think the number of people who have completely mastered positive self-talk would be quite limited, but self-bullying is a very real thing and it is a sign that you may not be doing ok. Telling yourself that you are worthless, not good enough, that no one likes you, or blaming yourself for things that go wrong are all examples of negative self-talk that may indicate a mental health issue. If just reading that sentence made you feel emotional, it is time to talk to someone. I remember sitting with GPs doing the 10-question mental health assessment on a handful of occasions, and every time we got to the mention of "feelings of worthlessness" I would get tears in my eyes.
4. Sleeplessness. I was conscious of adding this as there are SO many things can lead to disturbed sleep - from diet or lack of exercise, to using your screen too late at night. BUT - having issues falling asleep, staying asleep or even waking up covered in sweat with your mind racing can be signals that your mental state could be unbalanced. The thing about disturbed sleep is that it can then effect your mental ability and emotions during the day, so it becomes a vicious cycle. Your body needs to rest in order to recover.
5. Feeling Lonely. This was a big one for me, and is something I don't really see mentioned in other articles. Despite being surrounded by family who loved me, and friends (whether or not they were the best people for me) - I felt like I was really alone, or that there was no point speaking up because no one would understand me. There has been a shift in breaking the stigma of mental health that leads us to think we are alone, but speaking up about our mental health concerns can feel really daunting and scary. We don't want to upset our friends/family, and we don't want to be judged. The funny thing is that it would make our friends/family happier to know, especially if they have noticed a change in you, and that more people struggle than we know. If you are not ready to tell friends or family, calling LifeLine or speaking to a GP to get a referral to see a psychologist/counsellor can be a great place to start.
6. Energy/Behavioural Changes. Anxiety and depression are exhausting. Putting on a happy face requires an enormity of energy, and having your mind race all day can leave you feeling empty. You may find you can't even think about accepting that event invitation, that deciding on a restaurant, or making even the simplest of decisions leaves you feeling panicked and drained. Or perhaps you are experiencing difficulty talking or maintaining eye contact (these were two things I started to struggle with - even when talking to friends). We grow and change as we get older, this is normal. But sometimes these changes make us feel anxious, or we aren't happy with how we are changing, or we don't have the energy to be who we want to be. Sometimes we just don't FEEL like ourselves, and this can be a sign of deeper issues.
7. Relationship with Substances. Whether it is alcohol or drugs, an unhealthy relationship is indicated by using substances to alter your behaviour or even function in a social situation. I once heard a saying, that you should only have a drink when you are already happy, not to make yourself happy when you are down. It is important to monitor if your relationship with substances is changing as addiction to drugs/alcohol can severely deplete your mental health.
8. Suicidal Thoughts. I thought this one would go without saying - but it is important to talk about. This can hit in a number of ways, it can be a thought that crosses your mind and makes you really upset or it can be a thought that comes up as an emotionless "resolution" to your emotional struggles. Because I would think about it a lot (with AND without intent to act upon it), it became normal to me and I stopped thinking of it as serious. Feeling or thinking suicidal thoughts is always serious. It doesn't have to be thoughts about the act of suicide, but feelings of not wanting to be here anymore, or that no one would care, or that others would be better off without you here - this is serious. Even if you don't have any intention to act on these thoughts, you can become fixated and even the slightest trigger can take you from thought to action. I cannot stress how important it is to speak up.
But I know deep down you know this. I knew it to when I did exactly what you might be doing right now, googling signs that I need help, agreeing with everything I read and letting myself get really upset about it. Wanting to validate that there is something wrong so that you have the right to feel upset? So I want to do something different, something I didn't find when I searched for this information. Read on after the notes below.
NOTE: Beyond Blue has a generic questionnaire that you can fill out to help you decide whether or not you need to take some action and speak out. You can find that here: http://bit.ly/BeyondBlueQuestionnaire
IMPORTANT: If you feel like ending your life is your only option, if there is no time to get to the GP and wait for referrals etc, drive yourself straight to the closest hospital and tell the staff at triage exactly what is going on. They treat this with the highest urgency and you will be sent to a safe environment straight away, most hospitals should have 24 hour mental health staff that can see you too. I have used this as an option also, and it is very helpful.
If I had ended it.
On a few occasions I had intent to act upon suicidal thoughts. So I wanted to word this in a way that is, again, more personal.
If I had ended it the first time, when I was in High School, I would have missed all the great things I couldn't see when I was in that place. I wouldn't have ever realised that I was worth more than the labels people put on me, and that I put on myself.
I wouldn't have ever realised that the timid, self-conscious girl I was, could present a fashion show in front of 400 people. I wouldn't have been able to see the look on my parent's faces when I graduated from university. I wouldn't have known that the girl who spent so long hating herself for her looks would actually earn living from modelling.
I would never have met my amazing nephew and my beautiful god-daughter, two of the biggest blessings in my life. I would have never been loved in such a way that completely healed my heart and made me feel happy for being exactly who I am. I wouldn't have met some of the amazing people who made me realise that I didn't deserve to be treated the way I was being treated - and that I should never have blamed myself.
I would have missed so many amazing moments spent laughing with my friends and family - and I probably would've taken many of those moments away from my friends and family too.
I would have never explored some of the beautiful places I have seen, the ones that made me realised how big the world is, and how small some of the "huge" issues I was facing really were. I would have never realised how much more there is out there to see and develop my love of travelling.
I would have never started blogging about mental health, and I wouldn't have received your beautiful messages. I have had a few people message me to say that reading these blogs pushed to them to seek help, and that honestly makes me feel like it was all worthwhile.
I would have never been able to see that happiness has been inside me the whole time, I just couldn't hear it or see it because I losing the battle against depression and letting those negative thoughts overtake my mind. It is the most difficult battle you will face, and I never thought I'd win. But I did - and you can too.
I read some great words recently. You need to remember that while depression feels like it is swallowing you, it only exists within you, you don't exist within depression/anxiety. Picture depression to be a cloud, you are the sky. The sky CAN exist without the cloud, the cloud cannot exist without the sky.
You are bigger than whatever is going on inside your head right now. You have made it through 100% of your bad days so far - you can get through this.
Sending you love & strength as always,
Don't forget: Call LifeLine on 13 11 14 if you need help.