I’ve had a really tough year and the only thing that has got me through it was using the key mental health techniques that I have learnt over the years. Let me share some of the moments with you.
In December last year, I ran a half-marathon in Cambodia and collapsed on the finish line (apparently, on the two-hour mark, I can’t remember). I woke up in the medical tent, with no memory. I suffered liver damage, heart damage, severe heat stroke, low blood pressure and after some time in hospital was told I was lucky I woke up at all.
I spent over three months resting and recovered from that, started exercising again and then got pneumonia. That lasted six weeks. I recovered from that, got back into exercise (again) went to the snow, swapped the skies for a snowboard and fell over and broke my arm. That too, took 6 weeks to heal in a cast, then another month to regain full strength.
As I said, it’s been a tough year. Setbacks are a funny thing, the first one, the ‘Cambodian experience’ stirred a whole host of negative thoughts and emotions. Such as ‘I trained hard, why did this happen to me’, ‘this is so unfair’, ‘I can’t handle this’ and then I felt angry, guilty, sad, unwell, hurt, depressed, stressed and the list goes on. After all, I am also mum and a wife so the thought of jeopardising the role I love the most, had me feeling broken and angry.
My husband didn’t cope well either, convinced I would be fine, arrived at the hospital and went into shock and collapsed on top of me in the hospital bed when we got the news about the severity of my injuries.
The second setback of pneumonia resulted in annoyance. In fact, I ignored how sick I felt for weeks before I went to the doctor. Then third setback, ‘the arm incident’, well, that was unlucky and as they say, the third and final setback.
But the thing about all of these instances is that are setbacks, in the sense that you can move forward not backwards from them.
In this past year, I’ve never been so thankful for the psychological skills I have acquired over the years as a practicing psychologist and the importance of making mental health a priority. Those skills were the reason why I’ve managed to move forward.
Let me share them with you.
1. Mental Health is as intentional investment – choose it.
The importance of looking after our mental health is a well-promoted message now and we are doing well in breaking down stigma and barriers. But it’s okay to say, “I’m actually not okay and I need time and space to heal.”
As I was starting to feel better, I wanted and needed time just to be, to reflect, to rest, to be quiet, to be with the kids doing puzzles and board games. I was sick of telling my story and correcting it from the rumour mill of embellishment and storytelling.
Not only did I want this; the doctors said I needed to have the quietness. Even though I was starting to feel better physically, psychologically I was still struggling. I was anxious, constantly had nightmares and was scared to run again.
But, like many other times in my life I was so thankful for my psychological skills. I started regular mindful practice, gratitude exercises, examining my faulty thinking, talking about my thoughts and feelings and made my mental health my number one investment.
We cannot have physical health without mental health, the mental health continuum can be a slippery slope down but there are things we can all do to boost our mental health by making it an intentional investment in our life.
2. Choose your friends – cut the energy vampires
When I got back from the hospital, after the Cambodian incident there was a bag at my door with magazine, chocolates and a note “I’m hear whenever you need, rest up and look after yourself’. Winning friends, right there. Compare this to, “we haven’t seen you, we need to spend time with you”. Honestly, if nearly dying isn’t a good enough excuse to pull out of an event with friends, what is?
My second lesson is: setbacks define your circle of friends. Good friends know when to lean in and lean out. They can be there without being “there”. They can offer support through a phone call, message, card or popping over for half an hour to sit with you.
Good friends don’t rush healing, but they keep you focused on getting better and allow you to heal at your own pace. So, let this be a reminder, choose your friends wisely and cut out the energy vampires.
3. Bad things happen to good people – we choose how we think
I promise you, I try to be a good person. Sure, there is always room for improvement, but in this mental journey I was faced with so many choices. Choose to never run again, choose to succumb to feeling sad for longer, choose to gain weight and not move, but I didn’t.
I chose not to only survive this but use these setbacks as a time to pause. A time to be factual and say “bad things happen to good people”. This was an unlucky incident but I am alive and I will train my brain to overcome this. I will slowly get fitter and healthier. I will see this healing time as a mental marathon, not a sprint.
One of the best sayings in psychology, and in life, is ‘we choose how we think’. We choose how we view situations and while there have been bad days, I am thankful for my life and choose to live it with passion, meaning, authenticity and joy.
Connect with Danielle here.
Danielle Buckley is a psychologist with 15 years’ experience, and has a Postgraduate and a Master’s Degree in Psychology. Danielle is an international speaker and researcher, specialising in Positive Psychology. Danielle also runs tailored workshops and retreats for mothers and girls and has an online course ‘Be Your Best Self’ that helps participants discover how to thrive and improve their wellbeing. www.daniellebuckley.com.au