by Kelly Ronaldson. Photo by Naomi August.
This time last year, I was halfway through my first year of university, living in the heart of my favourite city, and on my way to securing my dream career. Things weren’t perfect, but I had an incredible group of friends, a revitalised love for writing and a newfound hope for my personal future. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out exactly the way you want it to. Within a few months, my mental health began to deteriorate as a severe wave of depression took over and eventually led me back to where I started. Three weeks ago, I packed up everything I owned, drove 250 miles and moved back into my mother’s house.
What I hadn’t considered was how living alone for the past year had clouded my memories of living in an environment where discussions of mental health issues were extremely limited. The truth is, not everyone has the ability to reach out to friends, family or partners and explain what they’re going through. With such a negative stigma surrounding mental health, those who care about us are likely to deny, trivialize or dismiss our feelings and our symptoms, simply because they’re struggling to understand, and trying to explain ourselves over and over can be exhausting.
Living in an environment like this can be toxic, and speaking from personal experience, avoiding these types of conversations can lead to conflict, hostility and emotional repression. Not everyone has access to a healthy and encouraging support network, and having no one to turn to can be incredibly isolating. There are plenty of resources online for people who are trying to help loved ones with mental health issues. But where are the resources for those of us who have to work towards becoming our own support network and deal with our mental health struggle alone?
One of the most significant things I’ve learned on my own journey is the importance of making time for self-care. Even the smallest things will make a difference, like brewing a cup of your favourite tea, or just watching a silly, feel-good movie. It’s the kind of thing you’ll find in every single self-help book on the market, but it’s there for a reason – it works. Sometimes shutting the world out every once in a while and taking a mental health day can be extremely beneficial too, or focusing on something that you’re passionate about. For me, this involves throwing myself into my writing, and pushing myself to discover as much new music as possible, ultimately tackling my own isolation on a social level and serving as a useful and enjoyable distraction.
That said, a crucial element of being your own support network is not allowing the distractions to take over. Let yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, and if necessary, write it out. Journaling is one of the most common methods for coping with mental health, as it allows us to process and understand our emotions – particularly when we have no one else to confide in. Find whichever outlet works for you, and roll with it. Meanwhile, take note of what your triggers are and learn when to say no if something doesn’t benefit you or make you feel good. This has without a doubt been one of my toughest life lessons, but you should never apologise for putting your mental health first.
With this in mind, make it a priority to get the treatment you need. For some people, this is medication; for others, it’s therapy. Do your research and find out what resources are available in your area. From mental health projects to activity clubs and support groups, every local community has something going on. Ask your doctor, email your local council, or search online, but make the most of local support. Some of us don’t have an immediate support network to rely on, but if experience has taught me anything, it’s that there will always be someone to listen if you take the first step and reach out.
I’m nowhere near where I want to be on my mental health journey, and I know that it’s going to take a long time for me to get there. Taking a step back and moving home, no matter how stressful and hostile the environment may be, has actually been incredibly helpful. Allowing me to employ these techniques and understand what my real needs really are is the most useful thing I’ve learned in 23 years. The most important thing is to remember, however, is that we’re not actually alone; everyone has a story to tell.