This week marks the annual Mental Health Awareness week in the UK with this years theme being Kindness, and indeed the tag this year is #Bekind. The week is used to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems, and inspire action to promote the message of that everyone has mental health, that there is a difference between mental health and mental illness; and that mental health is everyone’s business. Everyone has times when they feel down, stressed or even frightened. In most cases, those feelings pass, but sometimes they can lead and develop into more serious problems, and sadly this could happen to any of us at any time, either following a traumatic life event or, just because! When this happens one of our biggest issues is that we Armour up, become afraid to let people see what is really going on and open up about how we are feeling in case we are ostracised and left feeling isolated due to the stigma that is attached to Mental Health.
I know a bit about armouring up having lived mental health experience, including depression, loneliness, substance misuse, suicide attempts and self harm. For me, a turning point in my mental health was around 21, after over a decade of depression! (Yes I had depression when I was a child) This was identified for me when I attended a mental health health facility after a suicide attempt. Until this point no one had listened to me, no one heard, no one understood, and it felt like no one cared! I was alone, in denial, I felt helpless, I was indestructible, I was crazy, and I was a crowd pleaser and I was full of self loathing. All at the same time!
So while my story is for another day, it is with this experience and knowledge, that allows me to be empathetic and understanding to a lot of the issues that clients bring to me, and just because everyone’s story is different, it doesn’t mean that I cannot connect with them. It means I have to find something inside me that can identify with their story, and give me an insight into their world. I means I can feel the same emotion as them without it becoming overwhelming to the point I begin to drown as well. And I believe this is the essence of the be kind message.
The ability to keep space for another person when they need it most is one of the most powerful, unselfish and connective offerings we can make. After all, and I quote Brene Brown, “We are all wired for connection” Being Kind is less about what can I do for you and more about what can I ‘be‘ for you. It costs nothing, does not take much effort, you do not have to go out of your way to practice it.
It is simply being there for another at a time they need it most.
Not trying to solve problems, but just to let that person know you are there, no matter what their storm looks like – it is their storm after all! Some of the most important words I ever use is “I am not going to pretend to know how you feel, but I have an idea, and I can tell its a struggle. I want to be there for you, and we can journey it together.” There is always a look of relief from a client knowing they are no longer alone.
However there is a caveat. To show kindness to another, you must be able to practice kindness to yourself. It is widely known you cannot offer another what you cannot give yourself and kindness is no different. I spent a long time trying to convince myself that kindness was at my core, it was entrenched in my being and and it was what my practice was based on. It wasn’t until I realised that my self worth, and self belief were at an all time low, and that in my desperate attempt to please it became apparent I was putting so much of my focus on everyone else and allowing my own feelings, needs and issues to go on hold. This is not sustainable nor is it tenable. Cracks appear, people start to see through you and the message you are trying to convey. Not only that you, but you may become unwell, and your expectations of yourself and those around you change. And you become less and less important in your own world until it all comes crashing in around you.
Being kind to yourself is pressing the pause button now and again, and focusing on self. Its going on that run or cycle because you need some time out. Its having a soak in the bath with a candle, and some music. It’s spending time with loved ones, not because you have to, but because you want to. It’s being able to say no; or even not just now, but later! It’s paying attention to all the little things that are going on around you that you miss because life is too busy. Being kind either to yourself and to one another costs nothing, but pays dividends! It takes very little, but give so much, it takes no time, but can last forever.
So in a world where we can be anything at all, where you can be anything you want to be…