Life is what you make it, right? No regrets, right?
I’ve recently started to come more around to this way of thinking. However, it has not been an easy mental shift. I used to agonise over lots of decisions, worry about what others would think and over analyze things afterwards wondering what I should have done instead. Sound familiar at all? This type of thinking is NOT productive for me. So I have moved away from it.
We are all the sub-total of our experiences to date. There is no destination , no perfect life or status level, where we can stay stationary, believe everything is perfect and be happy for the rest of our days. Even people who win the lottery and are rich beyond their wildest dreams can be extremely unhappy and unfulfilled. More money, position or power brings a new found responsibility and usually just a new set of problems (often bigger and more overwhelming.)
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I totally subscribe to this thought and I treat life as a journey full of rich experiences, whether good or bad. This thinking has really helped me through the toughest times of my life, especially when I have felt broken and almost beaten. This concept helps me to look forward and realise that just to keep going, however slowly, will be to move forward and move through whatever is going on for me. This idea helps me to project myself forward and think of a better place in life as a result of unpleasant experiences, in short, it helps me reframe these experiences. One of these times was my first wife telling me she wanted a divorce, when I had just returned home from Afghanistan. This was a complete shock for me and in hindsight I can reflect that I didn’t process my time treating casualties on the battlefield, but rather focused on my failing relationship instead. I am a stronger person now because of the timing of these two events, however it was a tough tough time to get through. Add in, leaving the RAF shortly afterwards and life was quite messed up for a while…
In Land Rover terms, often we can become bogged down in difficult terrain off the main road of normal life and we may need to engage 4 wheel drive to keep going, sometimes even change down into the low gearbox for a period of time. Even though we may be travelling very slowly, we are still moving and still making our way through life. I do this by looking after myself, being kind to myself and returning to the basics of the 5 ways of Wellbeing. These basics keep me going on a level which is sustainable. For an extended period last year, just doing this each day was what I needed to do, so I took time off work to improve my health and wellbeing. Sometimes that’s what we need. I also listen to a lot of Foo Fighters on max volume and take my frustration and anger out on my punchbag, which is a really positive way for me to the ‘Be Active’.
Just like a game of snakes and ladders, life is often a journey full of ups and downs, twists and turns and 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. Since I have realised this and can let things pass which are outside my control, without worrying, has been a true enhancement for my Wellbeing. Releasing emotions and feelings have also meant that I feel better sooner and can move on with what’s important. This frees up my stress container for other things as they queue up to bombard me in the busy 21st Century life we all lead.
Just over a week ago I completed my Mental Health First Aid instructor course in London. Afterwards, on my way home, I was back in Afghanistan for a second or two as I crossed a busy street. I decided to run across the second half of the street to beat a bus. Suddenly, I felt like my legs were so heavy and slow and I felt the weight of my body armour and backpack, when in reality it was my briefcase and daysac full of books.
This was scary, because it was real, so real – it was what I was experiencing and I didn’t want to go back there. I didn’t want another proper full-on flashback. (See previous blog).
Before I reached the far kerb, there was a loud bang and people were ducking and looking frightened as they scanned around – I really noticed people’s fear and rapid body movement, as they tried to locate and identify if there was a danger to them.
I immediately recognised the noise as a vehicle (probably a motorbike) back firing and so I wasn’t worried at all. I was back on a busy London street now! I scanned for the bike and sure enough, there it was pulled into the kerb with the rider looking down at it, trying to discern what was wrong.
Some people were still standing still and scanning, wondering what was going on and if it was safe for them to proceed. I just kept on walking towards the station and wondering WTF was going on in my head. But I felt good, it was a blip and I was safe in London. If things were really bad, I’d have been the one taking cover and scanning the immediate vicinity for any threats.
Recovery is a journey…
The next few days seemed to fluctuate between ups, but especially downs for me. I could slip into ‘low mood’ easily, too easily. When that happens, I go back to basics to care for myself and build myself back up from there. Just as our physical health varies day to day and in the short term, so can our mental health. But however serious the symptoms or a diagnosis may seem, we should focus on the individual and assist them with their needs and recovery, rather than labelling someone and so passing judgement on their limitations or capabilities because of their distress. Non-judgemental listening is key to Mental Health First Aid and is something we all need to understand and practice.
More and more I am learning that recovery is a journey, just like life. Never complete, always something to do. It may be interesting, often challenging, but always with hope for the future. Just when you think that you have thought through something or worked through an issue, it rears its head again and once more you have to deal with it. But you know what, when you have been through it before, you know that you can do it again. Slowly slowly, as they say in Nepal.
So next time that you feel down, irritated, anxious, angry, overwhelmed try shifting to 4 wheel drive or the low gearbox. Be kind to yourself and find your road to recovery with the 5 ways of Wellbeing (be active, give, take notice, connect, keep learning). Discover your mental strength through simple conditioning. You can develop mental fitness and resilience through practice and trianing, just like physical fitness and strength. When that feels like too much, try reaching out to someone you trust and talk to them, tell them how you feel. This lightens the load for me and guess what, you are actually also using ‘Connect’ from the 5 ways of Wellbeing, which helps this method work on another level too. #itsoktotalk
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