The challenges we face
For many people 2020 has been a really challenging year – trying to stay mentally strong and healthy during such an uncertain time can be very tough. I’m sure we all have friends or acquaintances who have lost their jobs or businesses, or who have spent months shielding or furloughed from work with an uncertain future.
We’ve been affected by so many issues, such as feeling overwhelmed by global events, loneliness and isolation at home, or suddenly having to juggle remote working, home schooling and family life all under the same roof. Some of us have also had to face bereavement or sustained separation from loved ones such as having elderly parents stuck in care homes and unable to visit them. We none of us could have predicted any of this at the beginning of the year.
Our staff at Physio on the River have all had to cope with the same issues. This Saturday, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. We have decided to focus on this aspect of health in this week’s blog and the theme of ‘mental health for all’, which is going to be especially important this year following the pandemic.
Richard, one of our Physiotherapists, has had a tough time with his own mental health over the last 4-5 years; he is sharing his story in the hope it will resonate with some readers and give hope and also enlighten those of us who haven’t had this experience directly.
We will also look at how we can support our clients with some of the services we offer and also how we can simply take care of each other.
“Life is a journey” is an oft-used term when people discuss troubles, challenges and obstacles. It can often be said casually as a sort of “There, there, it’ll all be okay’ sympathetic statement. It can often be suggested between friends, workmates or family members or even healthcare professionals. It is used as a sort of attempt to appreciate that things will get better, which when things are tough, can be an extra kick in the places one doesn’t generally appreciate a kick! But here’s the thing, those three words, commonly spoken fairly tritely, are at the essence of meta-cognition, that is in this context, understanding our mind and it’s musings.
I have and continue to have an interesting journey regarding mental health. Various different issues (some dating back to childhood I subsequently learned) brought me to a grinding halt in 2016. Often being complemented over the previous 20 years for my energy, for packing so much in to a week, for being generous with my time with my family, for working 60 hours a week – week on week, for studying post graduate studies, for staying (relatively) fit. Of course, what I have learned of myself since, is that my natural behaviour is to keep piling stuff on myself and this may not surprise anyone else as it did me, but that way of being is totally unsustainable for the vast majority of us.
Modern consumer led capitalist societies have us believe that we should:
- Work long and hard
- Play harder
- Be a super parent
- A loving, supportive partner
- A high achieving career person
- Physically fit and able to endure all
- Be conscious and conscientious about the planet, politics, culture and ‘society’
When written out in black and white it is quite ridiculous to expect anyone to be able to live with such colossal and far reaching demands on their time, energy, body and mind. So in 2016 I had a meltdown. I had no choice but to apply the brakes and take time off EVERYTHING. I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (some of which was really helpful), I started anti-depressants (which after four and a half years and with the support of my GP, I have recently weaned myself off ), but they were very much a part of the way forward and not the whole solution.
After 3 months of spending 12 or so hours a day lying on the sofa, taking daily short walks and then using every ounce of mojo remaining to be a dad to my 3 children, I very hesitantly and filled with fear, ventured out to a social event. It was a gathering of 12 close friends. It was not easy. The biggest issue I had to overcome just to get there was the total lack of self-esteem and self-respect I felt. I just didn’t feel worthy to integrate into normal society.
Anyhow, with my wife dragging me along, I made it there (although I did have to leave about every 30 mins for a fresh air break). I was very glad I went because a friend of mine I have known for 39 years was kind enough to ask me how I was. This can often be tricky for people to do when they know you are struggling with mental health because they just don’t know if it is the right or wrong thing to do.
I told my friend a bit about what I was feeling and particularly that a psychologist had mentioned ‘burn out’. “Err hello….like we all knew this would happen at some point…”. As you can imagine, that made my head spin – was everyone thinking the same? Am I so weak and feeble that people knew I was to fail? As you can see, my initial thoughts were not very positive or conducive to moving me forward. However, over the coming days it was an epiphany. Of course it was inevitable, I was placing utterly unrealistic expectations on myself and the well had run dry, so to speak.
I could write for hours about my journey, I could enlarge upon many aspects of coping with mental health challenges. I could wax lyrical about the value of mindfulness, exercise, lifestyle balance, friendships, laughter, sandy beaches, poplar trees in the wind and all sorts of other positive things in my life that have made my journey progress from a lonely, dark place to a more fruitful, fulfilled, happy light place. But I won’t. The key for me to coping and moving forward was accepting and talking. Who would’ve thought that a relatively throw away comment from a friend would be so powerful as to be the catalyst in my recovery? Not me for sure.
It would be remiss of me not to share the upside of having experienced this fall and rise a la Reginald Perrin (showing my age there!). I would always consider myself a caring, empathetic and kind person, albeit with a love of dark humour (if we can’t laugh at all that is human then we are taking it all a bit too seriously), and a fierce competitiveness which mostly comes to the fore in the 6 nations! However, facing up to mental health challenges and learning how to talk about them really changed my day to day view of the world. It has, I think, made me a better person, better professional and I definitely appreciate that challenges are everywhere for all of us. Never are there more tangible reminders of this than in 2020, a year where the mental and emotional aura globally is permanently teetering on the edge of crisis it seems.
Just remember, life IS a journey. You are not alone. Everyone has challenges, issues, dark thoughts and hard to manage feelings. If you talk, you will learn about others and yourself, be connected and find life more colourful and bright along the way.
Taking care of each other
When we had to close our doors to the public after 27 years of being continuously open, I felt very emotional and uncertain of the future. My staff were brilliant at supporting me and each other during lockdown and the months that have followed. They supported each other through months of furlough and working remotely. They recently came together for a socially distanced meal at Cote to reconnect as a team.
We are lucky enough to have within our Reception team, Siobhan, who used to work as the Senior Media Advisor at the charity Mind. She works to keep us on our toes about mental health awareness.
Our Reception team will be joining Siobhan for the 10K Mind Walk on Saturday 17th October, to demonstrate Physio on the River’s commitment to mental health issues with a donation to the Mind charity.
We’d love your support!
Other ways to help your own mental health
It is widely recognised that exercise can be very helpful in improving mental health and is often prescribed to help with depression. Here are some ways that we can help with that:
- Our online Pilates and Yoga classes can be a lovely way to keep mentally well and de-stressed. Yoga includes aspects of meditation and relaxation.
- Music can help lift the spirits and our Dance, Tone and Stretch classes can be a great antidote for the stresses of life.
- Richard and Dave offer personal training sessions to keep you fit and active.
- Our massage therapists and physios help to ease the physical manifestations of stress in our bodies.
- Our Nutritionist can help you improve your diet and lifestyle.
If you are feeling anxious about coming to the clinic, we can assure you that we have all the measures in place to make sure you will be as safe as possible. We are using all the PPE, we take your temperature on arrival, we have screens up at reception and have 15 minutes between appointments to keep clients apart and to give time to clean between treatments.
To book any of our services call us on 020 8876 5690 or book online here.