It’s May. So it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. As a See Change ambassador, I try to make at least one post in the month of May that deals with mental (ill) health. By the skin of my teeth, here is one for 2014.
Yesterday, an interview I gave appeared in the Irish Times. Now, it might seem a bit daft, but sometimes I forget that people read the paper. More to the point, I forget that people I know read the paper! Then I’m a bit stunned when they refer to something I’ve said in a piece I’ve written, or been interviewed for. To be honest, reaction to my pieces has always been kind, but the reaction to this piece has been overwhelming.
One of my oldest and dearest friends shared it on her FB page and, via that share, I got a slew of messages from people I’d been at school with, people I hardly knew and people I know quite well. They were all generous, supportive and from the heart. Three parents spoke to me at the school gates today – with another running up to me as I was stopped at traffic lights – to say they’d read the piece and to share kind comments.
So then I got to thinking about friends and how they sustain us.
A few years ago, I started to worry about myself. I worried that I was becoming selfish, unkind and harsh. I worried that I was becoming judgmental (a trait I really hate to see in myself) and intolerant. Why? Because I was ending friendships and relationships and I thought it reflected badly on me. In the space of a year, I had managed to turf two people out of my life whom I had regarded as friends. I was uncomfortable with myself. I thought it meant I was A Bad Person.
Gradually, it dawned on me that, instead of falling out with them, I was falling in with myself. I was making a stand and saying ‘no more’. I was seeing unacceptable behaviour and calling it for what it was for the first time ever. I was telling people that I could no longer be treated badly and take it. I was saying ‘I deserve better’. Of course it felt uncomfortable. Doing anything for the first time feels uncomfortable. Especially when it is against all that you have been told is ‘good’ and ‘right’ and ‘acceptable’.
Sometimes, though, you have to put yourself first.
Part of that was choosing my friends and not feeling obliged to maintain ties with people who were damaging – or even people who took me for granted. I was astonished at how much better I felt. Suddenly, I had more energy, I felt better, I had less angst. I was able to follow my dreams without worrying about having my ideas (and, by extension, myself) knocked, ridiculed or torn apart.
These days, I surround myself with wonderful people. People who are kind and generous and thoughtful. People who share my fundamental values – even if we come from different backgrounds, religions and generations. They don’t always agree with me – but they always respect me.
Weeding out the people from my life who were toxic, destructive and abusive (even if that abuse was just unkindness and/or taking unfair advantage of me) has been a huge gift to myself. Being around people who think I’m all right has done wonders for my mental health. It wasn’t easy to start with, but – like so many other things – it has become easier with practice. I’d highly recommend it. 🙂