Self care and breaking the stigma of mental illness

Beautiful flowers at the Byron retreat.

Beautiful flowers at the Byron retreat.

Just before Christmas I caught up for brekky with a couple of fellow Byron retreat participants, Teresa and Narelle, where the topic of conversation turned to depression and the way it can be indiscriminate; that it can hit anyone – even those you least expect.

Teresa is that person. She is extroverted, bubbly, great fun, hilarious and was the life of the retreat – along with the most fabulous Ally. Yet a few years ago, due to certain circumstances, Teresa suffered quite debilitating depression for three years. Today, you’d never know it and indeed people have said to her that she’s the last person they’d expect to have depression. With that she responds “well it’s an illness like every other illness – would you say that to someone who has the flu?” Exactly. Teresa says “A weird part of me takes great delight in telling people I had it, just to see their reaction. My biggest, constant  fear is that every time ‘something’ happens – coz life always throws curve balls – that I will slip back in to the black hole.”

We also talked about self-care at the brekky. One of the things that has saved my sanity for many years is self-care. Walking with a friend, running, time to myself, watching trash television(!), reading, photography and catching up with the people who lift my spirits. The half marathon I trained for in 2011 was also critical in my self-care. Note to self: must start running again!

Teresa has also developed a self-care strategy which she says keeps her on the straight and narrow.  She goes to a group gym session which is like a group therapy session – they talk the whole way through and have lots of laughs. Walking – “the minute I move I feel better”, socialising – even if she wants to be alone…but also giving herself permission not to go if she feels a bit flat.

This self-care combined with counselling (Teresa goes once every 2 to 3 months, even when she’s feeling good), natural therapy and Chinese medicine has helped her avoid falling into depression again.

It might sound cliché but we need to talk about this stuff to rid ourselves of the stigma surrounding mental illness. We really do. It’s funny but when I’m standing in the school yard waiting for my kids, I sometimes look around and see people chatting and laughing and wonder if I’m the only one who struggles a bit some days. I know I’m not the only one, yet I don’t believe it’s talked about enough.

There’s a brilliant article in this month’s MiNDFOOD magazine on functional mental illness – people who appear to lead rich and fulfilling lives but given their need for support is less severe, it can often be forgotten. Seeking support is crucial and self-care cannot be underestimated. And it needs to be done without the guilt, particularly if you’re a mother. I’m pretty sure the dads who nick off for a game of golf every Saturday don’t feel guilt.

Thanks to Teresa for letting me use her as an example for this blog post, it was a very generous offer and I look forward to the next brekky!

Do you talk about your mental illness? Do you have a self-care strategy?

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8 Responses to Self care and breaking the stigma of mental illness

  1. Sandra says:

    So glad to hear a real account of managing depression. Too many people believe it is something that magically goes away or you simply “get over”, that when you appear happy, you are no longer depressed. Much more discussion needs to take place and I am feeling the ground swell. Great post. Thank you both xo

  2. Lisa, I have started becoming more and more open about my mental illness. I have different strategies depending on the day. My self-care consists of reading, writing, sleeping and exercising. I tailor my needs to the day.

  3. MichaelaC says:

    Thank you for writing this. Self care for me is being careful what I feed my brain I.e. TV, news etc and staying well-rested. That last one is very tricky.


  4. katejames00 says:

    Great post Lisa. Those simple but practical tips are really useful.

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