It’s a tough time to be celebrating Christmas and New Year. Some parts of the country are barricaded in, to keep people safe from the relentless pandemic. Some are in lockdown. Some have emerged from lockdown to find themselves confronted by a diminishing business. And some of you, we know, always find this time of year difficult.
I keep thinking of the saying; “This too shall pass.” I like it because it doesn’t just mean that tough times are only temporary - although that’s something worth remembering when we are deep in the middle of them. It's also a good reminder to stop and recognise the good times. To make the most of them while they’re there, or risk missing them. Easier said than done.
The fact is, the easy button is to lock yourself away inside the darkness of your mind during tough times. That’s when we most need someone to override that button for us. And, why we need to do that for others.
Check in On Someone
One important principle of Peerhear - from the 10 Principles of Peerhear designed to empower you on your journey to good mental health - is ‘check in on someone.’
“People living with trauma are not able to recognise certain things in themselves, like when they genuinely need help,” explains psychotherapist and Peerhear peer support counsellor Andrew Grant. “Checking in on them creates a body of awareness of how they are feeling and allows them to face and process their emotions before they escalate into destructive behaviours.”
Andrew recalls a time when he checked in on someone who had become estranged from his family as a result of mental health challenges. He was facing a lonely Christmas. “His first response was to say he was absolutely fine, and by all intents and purposes he looked that way” Andrew says. “That’s when it’s important to dig deeper, since this common response often turns out to be a mask.”
On pressing further, Andrew says he discovered this person was far from ok. He felt lonely with anxiety rapidly building at the thought of spending Christmas alone. Andrew was able to help him stabilise his feelings, through the simple act of checking in. And also give him access to resources to help him combat his loneliness.
“You always need to think of the worst case scenario,” says Andrew. “It’s reasonable to suppose that someone facing this degree of desperate loneliness with no intervention could choose to harm themselves or even end their life. In my experience, they don’t want to end their life, only their pain. Being there to help them carry that burden of pain can change the course of their future.”
Another valuable factor of checking in on others is that it elevates your own sense of purpose. Knowing you are doing good - truly making a difference - might just be the motivation you need to keep tracking forward on your own path to mental wellness.
Check in On Yourself
Another important principle of Peerhear - one that’s arguably harder to do - is to check in yourself. If you’re anything like me, you recognise the obvious signs of when you are losing your grasp on happiness and mental stability. For those of us with a history of mental health episodes, whether through addiction or a traumatic history, listening to these cues is the single most powerful thing we can do to help ourselves.
I want to share with you a personal example of a time when I ignored my cues after the birth of my son, with challenging results.
Two days after the birth of my incredible baby boy I was floored by intense feelings of sadness and desperation, arriving from nowhere. I recognised the ‘hole’ in my chest and the simultaneous sensations of hopelessness and fear from my battle with addiction in earlier years. Even so, when my wife asked me if I was ok, I told her I was.
What followed was the darkest period of my life. One in which I was haunted by thoughts of harming my newborn. I tortured myself for those thoughts entering my head. When I eventually got help from a psychologist I learned that I was experiencing a strong chemical reaction in my brain, associated with a life changing event. I had postnatal depression.
The relief at knowing that what I was thinking was an inevitable result of letting my condition escalate was immense. But, my regret at having missed my obvious opportunity to stop this condition gaining a foothold over my life in the first place was equally strong.
We created Peerhear to help you with both
Needless to say experiences like the one Andrew shared with us and the one I’ve just outlined are primary reasons why we created Peerhear - to help you recognise those all-important cues in others and in yourself. To have someone to talk to who has lived experience in what you are going through and is only a click away.
If you need to check in on yourself with one of our peer support workers this Christmas, don’t tough it out. Don’t hesitate. Make up your mind to get in touch and we can walk through the rest of the year together.