checking in on my own mental health – 2019

A year ago I wrote this. It’s kind of an inventory of all the things in my life that have an effect on my mental health, and an interesting snapshot of where I was at twelve months ago. I found it helpful to write at the time, almost as a form of therapy in itself – just laying everything out there and saying “this is what it is”.

So a year on, I want to do it again. This week is once more Mental Health Awareness Week, which our government in their infinite wisdom have marked by turning on a green light.

Which brings me to the first thing to talk about…

Brexit, and general cultural uncertainty

What the hell is going on in the world? Like, seriously: what’s happening?

It feels like we’re stuck in a perpetual catch-22. Impossible situations, political stalemates, the absolute certainty that nothing we can do will ever change anything.

We’re hurtling towards a climate rebellion, but the biggest issue of the day is how many ovens you should have in your house. (The answer is one, of course. Who has FOUR ovens?)

Sure, these are things that are mostly disconnected from our lives. But it’s a backdrop. And if the big things are so uncertain, what are we meant to do? And will there even be a planet left in 10 years time?

No to mention the last season of Game of Thrones being a complete and utter disappointment. A decade of our lives wasted.

We may not feel it, but we’re experiencing existential trauma on a daily basis. No wonder I’m so tired.

Health

I’m well! Well enough, at least. I get the odd cough and cold, but typically I’m not in a bad state.

I’ve started experiencing a couple of mysterious symptoms recently though. Like perpetual jaw ache, and weird, dry rashes on my hands. But I don’t think I’m sick, I think I’m stressed out. I sleep and eat ok, so I don’t know for sure.

I also worry about my weight. It’s been steadily going up since the start of last year. I’m still not overweight by any stretch, but I keep catching myself in mirrors, or see pics of myself and not liking it. Especially around my face, like the cheeks and chin. And my stomach is getting bigger – I’m literally balancing my laptop on it now to write this. A stomach should never be able to be fulfil the function of a lap.

But at least my arms haven’t fallen off.

Living situation

I’m in the same flat I was a year ago, which is great. I love where I live and I love the place we’ve got.

Unfortunately one of my housemates is moving out soon, which means either moving to a new place (not ideal), or finding a new person to move in (even less ideal, if they’re a randomer). That’s throwing some more stress onto my plate of course. Moving to London was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and I’d rather not have to go through any of it again. Even though it would be easier now that I’m ‘here’ already.

But I like my housemates. And I like my housemates’ friends and partners. So all good.

Work

I’m at the same place I was last year. Which is good! I like it there. The people are nice, and it’s an exciting place to be.

Is it a relaxing job? Not always no. And I’m not the best at enforcing my own work/life balance sometimes. I stay late too often, not even getting much done when I do. It’s almost like tearing myself away is giving up somehow. I dunno – room for improvement here.

And there’s been stressful times, especially in the last few months. My job involves trying to keep an impossibly-large number of people happy. And ‘caring too much about keeping everyone happy’ might just be my single greatest character flaw. So when I can’t do it, or don’t manage it, that really upsets me. Especially when a lot of it cascades at once, and you just feel like a bit of a failure.

Hopefully I’ll grow more secure and confident with time” I wrote last year. Have I? In some ways, yes! I take a more active role in things than I did before. But I’m not a natural leader, stepping up to things doesn’t come naturally to me. That said, I’d set myself goals around things like public speaking that I never thought would be possible, so never say never.

Love

I’m currently with someone I really like and is making me happy. We just spent about two weeks straight together, which was very nice.

They’re into board games and movies and games and comedy, which is all I could ever ask for. So even when I’m not feeling my best, I have someone to support me. Which means a lot.

Family

The fam seem cool I guess.

I’m a bit worried about my aunt. She’s gone from ‘annoying aunt’ status to ‘ok actually not well now’, which has been hard. It makes spending time with her difficult and sometimes resentful. I don’t think I had a very happy Christmas in 2018, partly because of this (but also because I drank so much beer it cramped my legs up and I couldn’t walk).

Other family stuff is fine, or I simply don’t think or talk about it.

Social Life

This was my big deal last year. Parties and being social and the associated fear and anxiety. Does this still happen? Yes. But is it a major problem in my life? Not as much.

In the end, the CBT did help overall. And I also just grew into my own skin a bit. I think I’ll always be a bit of an outsider. Mainstream stuff usually doesn’t bother me to much (except Game of Thrones, where I STAN AN ICON… sorry I don’t know what that means either). But also I’m quiet, I take time to warm to people. And too much people-stimulation simply tires me out. I like to get away and just be by myself sometimes. And that’s cool.

If anything, I’ve gone quite far the other way. There’s been stretches of weeks where every night there’s been “a thing”. Like maybe a work social followed by a film the next night, then dinner with uni friends the next night, then comedy the night after that, and a work event the next day. In isolation these things are fine, but I do struggle when it piles up. Even if each thing is something I want to do and have, in fact, chosen to do. I do find myself simply tired of stuff, the very things I moved to London to do more of.

Creativity

I feel better when I’m being creative. That can be messing around on Photoshop, writing stupid stuff on the blog, or trying to tweet something so mad that even I wouldn’t retweet it.

And I’ve found a great outlet for it this year through stand-up comedy. I did a course for five weeks at the start of the year, culminating in a showcase for at my favourite comedy pub: The Bill Murray.

That was really fun. I’m seven real gigs in so far, and I’m trying to keep it up. It’s a tiring hobby though – late nights in far-off pubs. And you have to bring someone with you, who’ll patiently sit though two hours of people-that-aren’t-you to listen to your same five minutes they’ve heard before. Anyone that attends comedy gigs as a ‘bringer’ for their friends is a saint in my eyes.

It’s a lazy trope, but it’s true: that stand-up is kinda like a form of therapy. A confession to strangers about your deepest flaws, worries, and fears. I talk about my anxiety in my stand-up, about the things I’m scared of. “I don’t like feeling like I’m under suspicion – it’s why I’ve never won a game of Cluedo in my life” quips on-stage Cook, someone who genuinely pretends to be bad at walking when behind someone at night, in order to seem less threatening.

So yeah, comedy is good and telling jokes is great for your mental health. More comedians than you think struggle with this stuff (and everyone thinks every comedian is secretly depressed, so there you go). Come see me sometime!

I’m also working on an exciting podcast project. It’s about friendship and mental health, but that’s all I’ll say about it for now…

Mental Health

Am I good? I don’t know.

Ostensibly, yes. I’m not on medication right now. And I’m not in therapy.

But I don’t feel good. My phq-9 score hovers around 13, marking ‘moderate depression’ and I strongly identify with the “feeling bad about yourself” and “little interest or pleasure in doing things” parts.

I’ll still feel quite down a lot of the time. But I’ll more commonly just feel kind of blank. Like spaced out, and not feeling anything. Like a numbness after being over-stimulated. I think it’s probably coming from the work stress.

I have a worrying amount of symptoms from the ‘signs of burnout’ list I just googled. Which seems bad. But I think that word sums up how I’m feeling now. A mix of tired and disinterested. I’m bad at taking time away from work, so often I’m just operating in a near-constant daze.

I think I need to take time for myself more. To properly sit and think about what I care about right now, and what I’m doing for me. But it’s hard to do that when so much is happening ALL THE TIME.

Like my phone notifications are the worst. There’s been so many times I’ve been thinking about something when a notification comes in, then another, and another. Your train of thought is constantly interrupted, with things that all demand your immediate attention. Too many WhatsApp groups or people bothering me for stuff. I just want everyone to leave me alone sometimes. But also I don’t want that. Not really.

Am I feeling anxious? Of course. Anxiety practically defines me, and I’ll never beat it. I can just learn to live with it.

But I’m ok

I’m happy enough most days. I really can’t complain about my situation when so many have it so worse off. And I recognise my privileged position – that at least some of my worries are borne from the lack of not having to worry about so many other things. I have my health, and some wealth, and work, and all manner of advantages.

And things are on the way up, probably. At least, better than twelve months ago.

Let’s just see what happens over the next year. Let’s keep an eye on each other, ok?

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