The Mental Health Tip I See No One Talking About
It's a bit of a blue day up here at Freedom Food HQ.
Last weekend I got struck by some virus. Some say it was the flu. I'm still not sure. All I know is that it knocked my body out of balance - and it seems also, my mind.
Being someone who has a lifelong history of mental health challenge, I can safely say I'm not suffering from depression, and I'm not depressed. Although I "feel" depressed, I'm not depressed. Thanks to my life experience, I have the wisdom of knowing what is, and what isn't depression (...an important topic for another day).
But today, I wanted to share with you one thing that you must do first, to help you feel better. And no, it's nothing that you've heard before. I'm not going to tell you to go talk to someone, eat some vegetables or go and exercise. Yes, those things are important, but for many people its actually a step too far.
You gotta walk before you run.
Let me explain.
When someone is feeling a strong emotion (be it depression, anger, stress etc), we can grade that feeling much like we grade pain. One person may have an Emotional Intensity of 1/10 (like how I'm feeling with my virus), while another person may have a 10/10 (perhaps someone who is suicidal). But the mistake everyone makes is to treat those emotions as either "good" or "bad"... "there" or "not there".
And here's why that's not helpful.
Let's take someone who is so deep in despair that they believe taking their own life is the only way out. So you say to them "do you want someone to talk to", or you might say "can I help", or you may say "what would make you feel better".
If someone is suicidal, please reach out to them AND keep them safe.
But you must also understand that when a person is so emotionally charged, brain neurons are firing in very different ways to you or I. There is very little access to KNOWING what would make them better, and even harder still, being able to BELIEVE that it would work. So there's little chance of there being any action around "feeling good". When someone is a 10/10 intensity, the brain looks very different. The cognitive processing you or I would do at our 1/10 intensity to feel better does not exist at a 10/10 intensity. And this applies to anger, stress, anxiety... all emotions!
At 10/10 intensity, they are at the bottom of a very steep mountain. And that mountain is covered by clouds. The brain is not firing on all rational cylinders. A common thought in this state is that people just don't care, or that we (the sufferer) are just being a burden.
So, let's say you decide to climb a mountain (an actual mountain, with grass, rocks and things). And let's say this is the first time you've ever climbed it. You stand at the bottom, and look up and say "Shit, that's high... I hope I can do it". Or you might say "You go ahead, I don't want to be a burden on you". A few hours (or days) later, you're a mere 100 metres from the top. You look up and say "We're nearly there, lets run!"
That's the difference 10/10 emotions and 1/10 emotions. At the bottom, everything seems insurmountable, and we feel like a burden but near the top, everything is possible.
So when you say "What can I do to make you feel better?" - A 10/10 has no idea, A 1/10 (like me with my virus) can easily say, "a funny movie or a day at the beach would be nice". Even writing this article is helping distract my low feelings. But to a 10/10 you're speaking a foreign language. What is this "better" thing you speak of? Does it even exist?
I know. I've been a 10/10. Drugs and alcohol made me feel "better" at one point.
So, what's the solution? Like I said, you gotta walk before you run.
Instead of expecting a 10/10 intensity emotion to just magically disappear, it makes more sense to move it down the scale. Just like you would if you broke your leg and had 10/10 pain. It will take weeks, maybe months for that pain to subside. And even then, you may still have 1/10 pain for 12 months. But the goal is to decrease... not eliminate.
Now, that's not to say there won't be moments of peace, safety and happiness during that time. Because remember, a ratio needs to equal 100% right? So if you are at a 9/10 Negative Emotional Intensity, guess what? You also have 1/10 Positive Emotional Intensity! We're climbing that mountain step, by emotional step!
I hope this is making sense. Emotional wellness isn't a static thing. It's not about "feel good" or "feel bad"... "depression is here" or "depression is not there".
Accept the scale exists. Know where you are along it, buckle up and ride it out.
- Instead of feeling good. Just start by feeling 'less bad'
- Instead of feeling happy. Feel the sad! But aim for less sad.
- Instead of feeling so angry you could hit someone. Just feel angry enough to break your iphone instead. Nothing like breaking something expensive to bring you back into your mind.
- Instead of feeling not anxious all day, just find 20 minutes practice present mindfulness.
- Instead of being jealous of all the "super moms", just be jealous of one mom.
- Instead of thinking you're a failure at everything, start by thinking you're a failure at just some things!
Isn't that a lot easier to digest than trying to "fix" yourself, and then beating yourself up because you didn't fix yourself in the space of 24 hours?
Remember, at a 10/10 Negative Emotional Intensity a person literally believes that happiness, peace or safety is not within their capacity. But at a 1/10... or even a 3/10, the brain can start to see possibilities, and create solutions. Start by feeling less bad, instead of all good.
You cannot create anything from a place of deep dark despair, anger or anxiety.
My mum used to say to me "Just be happy".
Of course, she was trying to help in the only way she knew how. But telling a 10/10 depressive to "just be happy" is like telling a menstruating woman to "just stop bleeding". It's ridiculous. And be cautious, even saying the words "I know what you mean" can be hazardous. Because you don't know what they mean until you demonstrate it, AND THEY believe it. It's not about you and your experience, it's about them and whether their brain processed meaning out of it.
I'll admit, I need YEARS more practice at this. I'm an "advisor" I help people move forwards - but even I need to know when my advice isn't needed. We all need to practice.
So, how do we help ourselves, or help our people get to that next number down? That my friends is the journey of life. Everyone is so different. I have a friend, who often hangs up on me, or walks out when he's in a 10/10 Emotional Intensity. It annoys the hell outta me, but it doesn't matter, usually, that's what he needs to do to get his number down and move towards a place where his mind can create a solution.
As for me, the other day I just let myself complain. blame and cry (in the privacy of my office). I chose not to fight it, I let the negative out, and I felt a little better. And the cool thing is, within 5 minutes of doing that, something good showed up in my inbox. (FYI that's manifestation via energy clearance... another fun topic we'll talk about one day)
Back in 2015 I got really sick. Physically and mentally. When I was down in my 10/10 depression and 10/10 anxiety, every day I did three things. I kept telling myself, its ok, it'll get better (a bit of fake it till you make it). I kept creating momentum. Whether that was just writing an article, or going for a walk. And I rested whenever I felt like it. I took naps in the middle of the day andbinge watched Netflix. I just kept doing those things, and the intensity dropped. I didn't try to get happy or "fix" myself. After 8 months of being in a 7-8/10 intensity I went on meds for 3 months. But ONLY 3 months, because that was just enough space for me to create new thoughts and solutions, and momentum.
Once the intensity is lower, it's a better place to start talking about "How to be happy, calm and relaxed tactics". The brain is able to start seeing why the negative emotion was there in the first place, and start to solve it. What is the magical low-intensity number? Its different for each person. For me, it depends on the emotion - even a 3/10 anxiety can block all solution based thinking, but a 7/10 sadness, can still spur me into action.
Finally, you can help someone by sharing this article and helping them see that it's not all or nothing. Help someone understand that it's just a process. Yes, its a fucking slow painful one at times, but the one thing I can guarantee you is that you're NOT alone in the slowness of the recovery. You just gotta take the next step up that mountain, pause and take rests. Have a cry, throw some rocks and then keep climbing. You will eventually find yourself 100m from the top saying "I'm nearly there... lets run!!!"
And if you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, please visit this website for people you can call, or ask someone to keep you safe. You are not a burden, you're a human.