My first blog post in two months went out on Friday and in that I promised I would write a follow up to my mental health post published all those weeks ago… here it is.
This week (ending today) has been Mental Health Awareness Week so it seems only fitting to write this now. In fact, it got my arse in gear in terms of when I should write this. It gave me a little bit of focus and helped give me a “deadline”.
And focus is what helped me pull myself out of the huge funk I found myself in at the beginning of the year. Whereas everything was blurry, confusing and (gird your loins for a metaphor or two here) hard to read before, I finally managed to find the skills and foresight I needed to bring it all into focus and start sorting myself out.
Long story short: I am SO much better. Things aren’t perfect – I still need my metaphorical glasses to help me see things clearly – but I’m now coping in ways I really wasn’t before.
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Which brings me to the big question… how did I do it? And what did I think were the actual root causes? (Okay, TWO big questions.)
First of all, considering all the amazing/kind/thoughtful comments left on and stories told in the blog post I wrote in March, I think the main cause of my spell of intense sadness (for reasons which shall become clear I feel depression is too strong a word for what I was experiencing) was being physically unwell. To the point of one ailment after the other dragging me down to the point where I simply gave up trying to enjoy life in any way shape or form.
All I can remember over that autumn/winter period is either having a stinking cold [not Covid], headache after headache, my tennis elbow continuing to give me pain, onset arthritis in my fingers (made worse by the cold) and the pain from the minor surgery I had to remove a mole*. After getting better physically and finally being clear of all these ailments, I’ve now realised that I’m a pretty strong person mentally who is able to cope really well in a crisis; in the various times in my life where drama has happened, I seem to be able to find a complete calm and ability to cope and help others.
*You can read more about all of those things in March’s post
That mental ability to cope with all the sh*t I was dealing with seemed to disappear with my lack of physical strength and chutzpah. I found myself literally curling up into a ball [on the sofa] and wanting to shut the world out day, after day, after day, after day. I just “gave up”.
And in hindsight, I can safely say that I’m not someone who is predisposed to depression. The other day I thought about how I’ve coped with all the major decisions in my life: by being pretty easygoing. I’ve sort of “floated” through life a little (in a good/positive way, not in a naive way). I’m an eternal optimist, and nearly always have faith that things will work out in the end, even if the road to get there is somewhat rocky. I don’t get worked up or super major stressed when drama is happening – that’s the “can cope in a crisis” coming out in me.
I have two great examples of times in my life that should have stressed me out but didn’t:
When finishing primary school (age 11) and deciding which secondary school to go to, my teacher suggested to my parents that I enter the exam for a (very good) independent girls’ school 15 miles away. They asked me if I actually wanted to go to that school, stressing the fact that I wouldn’t be going to my local secondary up the road and would, therefore, be leaving my friends. My response? Apparently, I shrugged my shoulders and said “Yeah fine, I’m happy to do that”. And my memory of it at the time was that it didn’t seem at all scary or something to worry about. I was quite looking forward to the challenge and something different. Just… easygoing about it all.
The other example is when I lost a job many years ago when working in retail. I was effectively sacked for reporting the store (a very small upmarket homewares store in London’s Chelsea) for not having any fire extinguishers and locking fire exits to prevent shoplifters from making a quick escape. This was despite me repeatedly telling them they were breaking a dozen Health & Safety rules (in my previous job I did the staff H&S training so knew what I was talking about). I pretty much welcomed getting the sack, because they obviously didn’t value the safety of their staff. I also turned up for work the next day just to put the sh*ts up them, because they KNEW it was unfair dismissal and didn’t have a leg to stand on. Long story short: they had to sort out their shop floor H&S within 24 hours or face a fine (which was, therefore, safer for the staff who worked there) and I found another job in a week. I remember feeling perfectly calm and only too pleased to get out of that place.
So yeah – calm in a crisis. I’m an organiser, I like a challenge, I like to sort things out, to make things good again. I like to think I’m good at helping others (especially in said crises).
I guess that the first part of this year – and all the lockdown months that led up to it – were the biggest test my strength of character has ever been put through (major life event or tragedies aside). Normally it’d be a lot to cope with. But add physical debilitation into the mix and it broke me.
But I’m glad to say: It was temporary.
Self-care – and how it helped me
Thankfully, I had an army of friends – both IRL and online – who rallied round to help. (You all know who you are… I can’t thank you enough.) Even the brief messages of “thinking of you” helped. Slowly but surely I started to feel better. But what I also ensured I did (and I can’t emphasise this enough) was to make myself LOOK better.
Now I KNOW that seems superficial. Really, Catherine? You concentrated on your appearance to pull yourself out of your intense sadness? Isn’t that a little… self indulgent?!
Well in a word, no. I can honestly say that if you’re feeling a little blue, or very sad, or depressed, having a tired, miserable face look back at you in the mirror isn’t going to do anything to help you feel joy. By February this year I HATED the way I looked. I was finding photo shoots almost impossible to find any sort of enthusiasm for. The last thing I wanted to do was look at photos of (or even a reflection of) myself.
The crunch came one day when an old friend paid me a compliment about my appearance. It came out of the blue, when I was feeling just about at my worst, and it was a really, really nice, unexpected compliment. In fact I was so taken aback that I immediately went and put on some makeup and brushed my hair (I think it was the afternoon and I was still – surprise surprise – in my onesie and looking like I was auditioning for The Great Unwashed). I felt so ashamed that they’d paid me that compliment and my appearance that day was responding with a bag-lady-on-a-duvet-day look that it made me spring into action.
I got dressed, put on some makeup and brushed my hair. Once I’d done that, and although I was still looking somewhat washed out and tired, a tiny bit of sparkle had returned to my eyes. And from then on, each day got a little better in terms of the effort I wanted to make. The ailments came to an almighty end after a three-day blinding headache finally dissipated and I started to feel like myself again. I was able to put makeup on every day. I dyed my hair. I craved having long nails again (I missed them and haven’t had them long-long in about four years). In fact I went to town with the personal appearance thing, because with each thing I did to make myself LOOK better, I FELT better.
Over time – and up to this point now – these are all the things I did in terms of self-care:
Things I did to help me feel better about the way I looked
- Started the fake tan early rather than waiting for beach weather (see the photo below)
- Gave myself a full mani-pedi, including creating my own nail extensions at home (I’d missed my long nails)
- Finally dyed my hair and got it trimmed when salons opened again
- Undertook a major hair removal session by epilating everywhere(!) and even invested in a home laser hair removal device
- Continued with my daily Revitalash and Revitabrow serum applications to get INSANE natural eyelashes and hugely-improved eyebrows
- Had botox injections (I hadn’t had any for 18 months) to take away my “11s” frown lines and a few forehead lines
- Put on at least a little makeup every morning
- Put on jewellery every day, even if it was just an earring stack and ear cuffs (I always feel prettier when wearing earrings)
- Moisturised my legs and feet every evening before bed to prevent dry skin
- Used a jade face roller to massage my face every evening
- Used semi permanent makeup regularly to recreate my long since-disappeared freckles (not just every now and then) to create a sunkissed look without the sun
- Used my LED light therapy mask more regularly to improve the texture of my skin
- Bought a lip plumping enhancer/light therapy tool and lip gloss plumper (I don’t want fillers but the former boosts collagen and helps with fine lines)
- Reviewed the supplements I was taking and made sure I was taking the right ones for hair, skin and nails (as well as ones for general health)
- Whitened my teeth again (the last time I had them whitened was professionally four years ago, I’m still finishing the current course)
Wow… I didn’t realise I’d actually done so much until I typed it all out. That’s a pretty impressive list! I set myself a goal of getting a new look, and I decided to go for sunkissed, beach babe goddess with long golden hair (with a touch of my usual pink). A somewhat tall order considering I’m naturally a pale, curvy, greying nearly 50-year-old woman, but WHO CARES? I switch up my look regularly anyway, and in the true spirit of #IWillWearWhatILike, I can do the whole beach babe look if I want (without the actual sun, of course). If it makes me happy, that’s all that matters.
And next on the list – and more importantly – being ailment-free for more than five minutes meant I could get on with the health and fitness side of things:
Things I did to help me feel physically better
- As soon as I was able, I ensured I walked every morning again
- As soon as I was able, I got back into my routine of doing 45-60 minutes of weight training every morning after my walk
- As soon as I was able, I returned to running again, building up distance and frequency each week
- I forced myself to get up at the same time every morning and stopped the random lie-ins, meaning I got more done in a day
- I cut out the booze, pizzas and chocolate
- I concentrated on having three square meals a day and not skipping any
The diet and exercise are going well (you can see the results so far in the photo above). I don’t do “fad diets” – I just do the moderation thing, with a ton of fresh veg, a good amount of protein, a little fruit and a few carbs. I don’t deny myself sweet treats but I HAVE to keep them to a minimum by simply not buying them. The pounds that I piled on over Christmas and winter are coming off, slowly but surely, but it’s all about FEELING better and knowing that I’m not sabotaging my body for later life.
And as well as the self-indulgent appearance improvements and the all-important health and fitness aspects, I knew I had to change my thinking to get myself out of the hideous rut and negative thoughts processes that took over my life the last few months. These next few things didn’t come easy – please don’t think I just thought one day, ‘Oh I’m okay now, I can do x, y and z to help me feel better!’ – believe me, they took a while:
Things I did to help me feel better mentally
- I decided I’d set myself a mental/partly physical challenge – one that I became almost a little obsessed with (but in a good way): I decided to memorise and learn to sing the lyrics to the 90s song “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. If you’ve never heard it, it’s basically a three-minute tongue-twister sung at record speed (I’m 95% there and still practise every day… let’s just say ‘poor Keith’, having to listen to it sooooooo much)
- I stopped worrying about when I was ever going to publish on the blog again. I simply had to “let it go” and come back to it when I was ready
- I decided that the blog is going to have to be more organic in terms of what and when I post (I’ve had to let go of the Tuesday link up, for example)
- I did A LOT of clearing up in the house – decluttering is an incredible mood booster
- I finally managed to tackle my Inbox which was overflowing to the point of insanity
- I made a massive effort with the friend I felt I’d neglected last year when they desperately needed someone (I didn’t check on them enough and finding out what they went through devastated me). I now make contact far more often, I sent a care package, I message most days to make sure they’re okay, etc., etc. I started checking in on other friends more often too, using the #TwoOkRule to ask a second time if they’re really coping and not just saying “Yeah I’m fine” on autopilot like I was
- I learned to be honest about what I could and couldn’t cope with, take on, help out with, etc. Saying ‘no’ is something that we all know we should do but all too often we feel guilty saying it. I didn’t say yes to anything (whether that be work-related, for friends and family, etc.) I felt I couldn’t take on and do to the best of my ability
There we have it – that’s all the things I did (that I can think of) that helped me get out of the horrible sadness I found myself in. It was definitely temporary. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I sat down and cried for seemingly no reason. If that’s not a sign of getting better, I don’t know what is.
I know I’ll still have the challenges of whatever life throws at me to come, not least menopause… I mean, the night sweats are getting ridiculous, I go to bed cold so pile on the blankets, only to wake up at 3am in a pool of sweat. My periods barely last two days. How bad full menopause will be for me I don’t know, but I know for a fact I’ll be straight onto the doc for HRT if I feel I need it*.
*If you didn’t watch the Channel 4 documentary Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause then you MUST watch it on All4 catch up if you can. That 20-year-old women’s health report about HRT causing breast cancer (the reason why SO many women won’t go on HRT) gets blown out the water. But that’s a blog post for another time.
And what I had was extreme, intense sadness, not depression – I’m sure there are some who may disagree with me, but I feel I know myself best – because it only took a few factors for me to rise out of it. I’m actually enjoying the self-indulgence of improving my appearance (it’s a crazy-good mood booster). I’m feeling more energised from the regular exercise. I’m smugly euphoric at being able to sing along to “One Week” like a boss.
So if I’ve gone from sitting on the sofa every day in a onesie, crying my eyes out and looking like sh*t to feeling and looking a little bit badass almost every day just within the space of a few weeks, then I know that with support, the want to improve your situation and a little determination I’m sure there’s hope for everyone – even if it takes time.
Because even things improving a TINY bit every day over a long period of time is something to hold onto and strive for, are they not?
The questions I’d like to ask you are:
~ Have you had a similar experience with being able to pull yourself out of an intense sadness?
~ Do you think that your own personality has defined the way you cope with life?
~ Would you like to read a more in-depth blog post about any of things I’ve mentioned (from getting insanely long eyelashes to the lip-plumping tool to thoughts on menopause)?
Tell me in the comments…
Stay safe XOXO
P.S. Once again I want to thank everyone who sent me texts, left comments, called me or left voicemail messages. Every single message meant the world to me.
★ THANK YOU THANK YOU ★
I always add this: a final note on getting help…
If you’re having the sh*ttiest time in life then please, please, please reach out to someone. Whether it be a friend, a relative or a professional, just reach out and ask for help. Things can get better… just don’t try and get through it alone. There will always be someone who can help you.
If you’re in the US, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Test Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Linking up to… Monday: Inspire Me Monday, Ageless Style Linkup (first Monday of the month), My Glittery Heart, On Mondays We Link Up || Tuesday: Style With a Smile, Trend Spin/Walking in Memphis in High Heels, Turning Heads Tuesday, Spread the Kindness, Confident Twosday, Happy Now Blog Link Up || Wednesday: Style Me Wednesday, WowOnWednesday || Thursday: Chic & Stylish || Friday: Fancy Friday, On the Edge, Fabulous Friday, Fabulous Friday’s Link Up