Last year I started seeing a psychologist. And before you think ‘big deal,’ ‘why should I care,’ ‘what,’ – it is a big deal and I’m damn proud of it. It takes courage to ask for help. It takes commitment, it takes money, it takes a generous mental health care plan to make it affordable, it takes vulnerability and it takes a leap of faith. It requires the thinking ‘maybe this could work.’
I started seeing my psychologist about 12 months ago for a whole range of reasons that I won’t go into. But I must admit, I was very skeptical at first. I always thought I was tough enough to get through anything myself or didn’t need help. But I’ve come to realise that everyone needs support every now and then. That life can be tricky and sometimes you need a roadmap and the tools to get you through it. That sometimes you need an outsider to see you clearly, and help you understand more about yourself.
So, a few sessions, a few breakdowns and a few lessons later, here are a few things I’ve learnt from my psychologist.
Understanding my values
I’d say the biggest takeaway from my psych was coming to understand my values. To identify them can be challenging, and sometimes it’s not until you’re grappling with things that you know are not your values. I narrowed mine down to 8.
- having a sense of accomplishment
- being honest
- being courageous
- being loyal
- feeling good about myself
- striving to be a better person
- relationships filled with love and affection
- living a life filled with purpose
By knowing what your values are, it helps guides your decisions and helps you live in accordance to your values. And to keep you centred.
Self compassion is key
I’ve learnt that I have this habit of putting everyone else’s needs before mine. And whilst I pride myself on being kind and generous, learning to put my own needs first is something I’m trying to learn and implement.
Whenever I was struggling or feeling upset, I would always downplay what I was going through and say it wasn’t a big deal, or that other people had it worse than me. It’s a skill to be able to acknowledge and respect the feelings I’m going through, whilst also acknowledging my privilege. But mental health is not a pain Olympics. There is not a ‘worse than’ winner, there is simply a spectrum which fluctuates immensely.
Learning how to be self compassionate has been a huge learning curve and is something I’m still working on. My takeaway is this – however you feel – greet it, acknowledge it, act on it and simply let it exist. It doesn’t need to be compared or devalued, just simply felt.
Make time for yourself
Sure, I may have only committed a few hours to these appointments across the year, but I feel that this left a bigger mark and highlighted the importance of taking time out to look after yourself. Whether it’s a mental health day (or a wellbeing day – as I like to call it), spending a Friday night in, calling your family just to say hello, buying some pizza, getting your nails done, spending a day reading a book – you don’t owe anyone anything, and it’s completely OK to put yourself first.
Balancing being present and looking forward to the future
If anyone knows me, they know that I always have something planned, something in the works to look forward, and that’s usually a holiday or adventure (thanks COVID). Sometimes I get too caught up with planning and organising, that I overlook what I have right now.
But saying that, during COVID I’ve been Miss Present. Taking it one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, because thinking about the future was too daunting. But now it’s July? And whilst I’ve appreciated the slower pace and more meaningful engagement of being present, I’ve failed to look forward and set goals for what I want to achieve. My worst nightmare would literally be waking up and I’m 90 years old thinking, ‘where did my life go?’
So it’s all a balancing act. Being able to accept the now and run with it, but also to make small goals that are aligned to your values, so that when the going gets tough, you’re on a path that you’re happy with.
Being real and vulnerable is hard
Let’s be honest, opening up old wounds is pretty traumatic. The way my psychologist put it was my thoughts and experiences have kind of been shoved into a linen closet. You know when you’re pushing to get that towel in and you shut the door, put your back against it and hope it stays in there? Yea that was my mind.
When you start digging deep and opening up, the doors smash open and the towels, sheets and random tennis balls all flood out, creating a huge mess all over the floor. It hurts, it’s emotional, it’s hard and it feels like you’re getting nowhere. When you start talking about it, you’re slowly folding it up and putting it back in with kindness and care.
I somehow got into a bad habit of being busy. Weekends booked out months in advance, running from one thing to the next, feeling pressured to do things, see people and omg it’s exhausting. From working out what my values are and recognising that quality time, self-development and living a fulfilled life does not equate to ‘busy.’
Take the time to go slow, balance the now with the future, say no if you don’t feel like it, get in the ocean, make no plans and go easy on yourself.
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to access a psychologist to look after my mental health. It’s something I never thought I would do, it was something I was scared to do, but it’s also one of the bravest things I’ve done. Make sure to look after yourself, especially during these hard times. Reach out to your mates and don’t be afraid to ask for help.